How does the US-made balanced budget statement amplifier hold up to the more expensive offering from Hong-Kong? Using three great planar-magnetic headphones and one classic dynamic, they are compared side by side. Here is what the Audeze LCD-2 and LCD3, the Hifiman HE-500 and HE-6, and the Sennheiser HD650 revealed, track by track, headphone by headphone and amp by amp.
Track by track comparison
Chick Corea “Pledge for Peace”
HD650 With Taurus I feel the sound is slightly clearer than with Mjolnir, with more air around instruments. The sound signature feels pretty similar.
LCD3 The Mjolnir does a nice job. But still, the transients have more texture, the space is deeper, the attack is faster with the Taurus. But as I noticed on another track, the flatter presentation of the Mjolnir feels for some reason slightly less fatiguing, I notice I prefer the volume a bit lower on the Taurus.
HE-6 On this tune I like Mjolnir for its smoothness, and in an exclusively good way. Maybe the Taurus is more revealing and that the recording is mixed in a way that suits the Mjolnir better. Even though the Taurus has got more air and detail, I still like this sound signature of the Mjolnir better for this song with this headphone.
HE-500 I definitely prefer the more spacious presentation of the Taurus. Just feels like there is more going on.
Thomas Dybdahl “This love is here to stay”
HD650 Same thing as with the first song, a bit more clarity with the Taurus.
LCD3 I feel the Taurus is giving me me deeper and fuller bass, and a more open and detailed sound. Mjolnir is not bad at all, but I feel like I am missing something when I coming directly from the Taurus. On this track, however, the slight excessive bass and extra detail on the Taurus might be argued to make the music flow less smooth – the Mjolnir feels more consistent, or homogeneous, making it a nice listen. Still, having to pick a winner I do in the end prefer the Taurus.
HE-6 The Mjolnir plays well, but the Taurus is more spacious and precise. It is fuller sounding.
HE-500 The Taurus is fuller and warmer, more spacious, the Mjolnir feels flatter both in terms of dynamics and soundstage.
Jørn Øien Trio “It should be obvious”
HD650 Again, the general tonality is pretty much the same, but the Taurus is just clearer.
LCD3 The sense of space I get with the Taurus is just simply in another dimension on this “percussionist’s dream” of a track. Not that the Mjolnir is bad, but it doesn’t match up. The clarity, openness, richness in overtones, imaging – it is the Taurus that take the show.
HE-6 The voicing is quite similar, it is sometimes hard to tell them apart on this track . The Taurus has a better image depth, the Mjolnir feels like it flattens things out a bit, but has a nice general tone.
HE-500 Taurus is sharper cut, more spacious. Slightly more emphasis on the mid-bass. The Mjolnir has this slightly smoother way of presenting music, which has got some appeal – but is not compensating enough.
Olga Konkova “As Before”
HD650 The soundstage is way deeper on the Taurus. Taurus also feels smoother and fuller, yet more detailed.
LCD3 Also here, there is more punch in the bass, more image depth, feeling of space and clarity with the Taurus. Vocals are more upfront, the decay lingers more, the tiny stuff that timbre is made of gets more attention with the Taurus. The Mjolnir feels more polite and unobtrusive. It has a flatter presentation, in both image and tone. Some might like the politer sound signature better, but no doubt the Taurus is the more impressive performer.
HE-6 It feels like the Taurus has a little bit more clarity and extension at both ends, it just digs out a bit more. But still, Mjolnir has its own right. Smoother. But really, on this track it isn’t too much of a difference.
HE-500 The piano is better defined on the Taurus, and the vocals have more texture to it.
Morrisey “Irish blood English heart”
HD650 The black is blacker on the Taurus, the sound just linger in a clear and natural way. This is especially apparent when the soundscape isn’t too crowded. On busier passages it isn’t as apparent, but Mjolnir has a thinner, slightly sharper tone. Though it is enjoyable, the Taurus is just a bit better.
LCD3 The cymbals rings just a bit more vibrant on the Taurus, and the image depth – as always – is superior.
HE-6 Though the Taurus feels slightly faster, there isn’t really too much difference on this track. The two amps perform equally good.
HE-500 More “zing” in the cymbals, more upfront vocals, more texture on the Taurus. In busy parts it has a more defined presentation. But the Mjolnir has a pleasing way of making you lean back.
Hilary Hahn, Jennifer Higdon – “1726”
HD650 As good as this sounds on the Mjolnir, the Taurus again gives a better sense of image depth, a natural tone that lingers just a bit longer. Things just seem to flow with a greater sense of ease, at the same time it is detailed and precise.
LCD3 Mjolnir is again the softer, more polite amp. The usual differentiating aspects are all there. I feel the Taurus is both brighter and fuller, and again the urge to play Mjolnir a bit louder is there, or it allows me to.
HE-6 The Taurus is just clearer and cleaner sounding. The highs are more pronounced and clear, the background is blacker, soundstage is deeper.
HE-500 I feel the same as with HE-6, but at the same time I appreciate the more laid back way of the Mjolnir, which has its charm.
HD650 Critics of the HD650’s sound signature sometimes refer to the “HD650-veil”. There is no trace of that on neither of these amps. They transform the sometimes overly smooth and laid back HD650 to snappy and detailed up-front cans. Almost too much for someone who loves HD650 for their delightful smoothness. But let me put it like this: If you think the HD650 are dull and laid back, you haven’t heard it on one of these amps.
LCD3 plays very well on both. They have somewhat similar sound signature, not very dark, not too bright. The Mjolnir is very good with the LCD3. But the Taurus is better. There is a more punchy bass, richer highs, the various sounds linger for that extra fraction of a millisecond in the natural, life-like way they should. Image depth is just clearly better, so is separation and precision. The Taurus feels faster and punchier.
The place where Mjolnir scored a point was in relative perceived smoothness. It was easier to lean back with the Mjolnir, probably because there is a sense of less stuff going on. But the Taurus has got a secret card here. I did the comparison with Taurus in balanced output mode. With standard mode, you lose some of that ultra-high precision, but gain smoothness.
HE-6 I find the general differences to be the same with the HE-6 as with described above. Taurus is clearer, with blacker background, more detail, better image depth. To which extent the difference is significant varies from track to track, and sometimes I even prefer the Mjolnir purely because of its smoother voicing . But Taurus always feels technically superior.
HE-500 Basically, the HE-500 confirms the impression mentioned above, and I found the Mjolnir to fail giving the HE-500 what it needs to create a good illusion of image depth.
Both amps have high power outputs, they are designed to be great all rounders. They have a similar, neutral sound signature. They both have a fully balanced design and pre-amp outputs. However, as good as the Mjolnir is for its price, it cannot stretch far enough to be the equal of the significantly more expensive Taurus.
Auralic Taurus mkI
Audeze LCD-2 rev.1
Audeze LCD-3 (non-fazor version)
Tests were done using the Violectric V800 DAC fed by a Squeezebox touch. Both amplifiers were connected to the DAC via balanced XLR cables.