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In-Ear item created by AxelCloris, Nov 28, 2016
Pros - Incredible sound stage, lovely bass extension, ultra-low THD, coherency
Cons - Leak, less isolation than your typical IEM, cumbersome to put on
IntroductionOver the last few years, Audeze has gotten a lot traction in the prosumer marketplace. It first started with the EL-8 series ($699), an open-back and closed headphone design that featured many of Audeze's planar magnetic technologies all wrapped in a snazzy German designed package. Perhaps even more importantly though, the EL-8 also became the launching pad for the CIPHER, a 24-bit DAC with DSP Lightning cable that provides an end-to-end audiophile class solution for any iDevice. Then of course came the SINE ($449), the world's first on-ear planar magnetic headphone and really the company's first honest attempt at "planar for the masses."
So in many respects the announcement of their first planar magnetic IEM line, the iSINE 10 ($349) and 20 ($549), shouldn't come to you as a shock. However, unlike the other aforementioned products, what is surprising is its design: From its hexagonal mesh outer shell to the fact that you need an attachment to even wear them, the iSINE is an unconventional product to say the least. Audeze was kind enough to send me a pair of both iSINE models to find out exactly what "unconventional" actually sounds like.
Trickle Down Economics
Believe it or not, Audeze has been working on the iSINE since 2015! The seeds for a planar magnetic IEM were first planted when Audeze introduced their Fluxor and Uniforce diaphragm technologies in the EL-8.
If you remember from my LCD-4 review, Fluxor is an array of magnets that are laid out in a certain way that optimizes the magnetic force on the diaphragm. Then their Uniforce diaphragm technology employs variable trace widths in the voice-coil to ensure that force is uniform across its surface. Used in tandem results in better control over the driver which in turns means lower distortion and improved imaging. The 20 has a longer Uniforce voice-coil than the 10 which is why it costs $200 more. But both iSINE models have less than 0.1% of THD overall, even at large volumes (100db!), which is unheard of in the IEM world.
Although the iSINE did benefit a lot from the technologies developed for its older siblings, everything else had to be designed from scratch including the housing, the materials used, and its assembly. Both the 10 and 20 employ some tricks of their own too due to their challenging form factor - like a specially built waveguide that is not hollow and helps minimize internal reflections and cancellations across the frequency range. And of course Audeze once again hired BMW's DesignWorks in conjunction with Spiderman to come up with its design.
When I said that the iSINE is an unconventional IEM, I wasn't just talking about aesthetics. First and foremost, the iSINE attaches to your ears rather than fits in them like a traditional IEM. So both the 10 and 20 come with a myriad array of different attachments to accommodate the wide ranges of ears out there.
If you have just the right set of ears though, you can try out the included SureFire EarLocks attachments. These little strange retention rings fit in key points on the outside of your ears to securely attach the iSINE in place. Audeze includes both a medium and large set which should cover any normal pair of ears.
Personally, I found the EarLocks to be very comfortable but not very sustainable. The problem is the iSINE's are a bit heavy compared to your average set of Apple earbuds, so under heavy movement they would start to get loose and eventually fall off. I even watched several YouTube videos to ensure I was using the EarLocks properly too, and I was. My guess is if you do have just the right internal ear layout then the locks might be a viable solution.
Most of you however are going to use the plastic hooks. Unfortunately, you can't just slip them on like you would a normal set of IEMs. You literally have to stretch the hook out first and then place it in between your head and outer ear. I find that using two hands is the best approach. I use one hand to manipulate the hook while the other to hold the iSINE in place.
The good news is that though you do have to perform some initial gymnastics to put the iSINE on, once they are on the hooks feel extremely comfortable. I have literally listened to both the 10 and 20 for six plus hours straight with no issues to report.
In terms of tips, Audeze supplies a small, medium, and large silicone set. Audeze recommends starting with the small set and then moving up in size until you get a proper seal. The iSINE tips don't need to be buried deep in your ear canal so don't force anything. All you are looking to achieve is a proper seal. And if you prefer to use some Comply foam tips instead of the ones provided you can. However, I found the tips that Audeze supplies work just fine.
Some folks have complained that the iSINE line doesn't isolate as well as your typical IEM and that's certainly true. But I haven't had any problems to really speak of. For example, I had "Rosie", our family Roomba, vacuuming next to me and I couldn't hear her at all once headbanging begun. Again, finding the right sized tips is key to getting a proper seal. So definitely go through the motions of evaluating each tip provided until you find the one you are most comfortable with.
Finally, the cables Audeze decided on are also both good and bad. They are good because they have zero microphonics to really speak of and seem to be tangle proof. They are also bad because the two-pin connectors are fragile. The manual recommends to not take them on and off repeatedly and I can see why. I think Audeze should consider a screw on type design that my Roxanne's use for its multi-pin connectors. That would prevent the pins from bending if you tug on them too tightly. For now, just be gentle.
The SocialiteIn many respects, the iSINE's greatest strength is also its greatest weakness: They are a semi-open backed design. Put simply, they leak. So if you work in an office environment or in an area where the faint sound of a really killer riff is not acceptable, these aren't the IEMs you are looking for.
With that said, I've been using my pair at work every day now for several weeks without issue. I work in a standard sized cube in an open office layout. Of course I have very nice colleagues who understand my metal is very important to me (read: they don't want me to go postal). I also listen at fairly low volumes too, so whatever leakage does occur is still very minimal. But the bottom line is that they leak, plain and simple, and there is no getting around that fact. Caveat emptor.
Honey, I Shrunk The Audezes!
My normal IEM setup is a pair of custom Jerry Harvey Audio Roxanne's ($1745) as well as my Etymotic Research HF-5's ($129). Both iSINE models fit squarely in the middle of that price range which should make for an interesting comparison. Most of my listening was done through a Chord Mojo ($529) which is any pair of IEMs best friend. Trust me on this.
I am not really an iDevice user so though I was shipped a CIPHER cable with the 10, I didn't really use it for any long periods of time. It's basically the same 24-bit DAC with DSP I reviewed with the SINE many moons ago except it replaces the bass boost with a custom EQ profile. If you do decide on adding the CIPHER, it's an extra $50 bucks. Well worth it if an iDevice is going to be your main source or constant travel companion with the iSINE.
Say what you will, but no band has really replaced Metallica as the greatest heavy metal act of all time. Yet even with that said, the last decade or so hasn't been kind to James, Lars, and Co. Their last record, Death Magnetic, was indeed a return to form but was mired by its horrible DR3 production job. And although St. Anger wasn't as bad as DM, it was still a terrible record in its own right. And then there were the Load years before that which were equally as disappointing. But their latest, Hardwired..to Self-Destruct, is a solid record through and through and contains some of their strongest material since the Black album.
Regardless of your current opinion about Metallica though, let me get this off my chest right now: The 20 is the best sounding IEM I have ever heard. Period. It shames the HF-5 and it even shames my Roxanne's in practically every way. The 20 has a wider soundstage, deeper bass, and has a much more refined sound than any of the IEMs in my stable. In fact, the 20 sounds very much like the venerable LCD-2's, with its lush, warm midrange and impactful bass. I also thought transients and micro-detail were on par with my Roxanne's even with its twelve (count'em) balanced armatures and crazy freqphase crossover scheme. James' vocals were particularly outstanding and had that nice Audeze patented warmth to them.
The 10 on the other hand didn't reach the same glorious sonic heights as the 20, but it is still no slouch either. The major difference between the two is that the 10 has a much more compressed soundstage (read: IEM like) and overall less bass. I thought they still bested the Etys by a wide margin though and it was a toss up when it came to the Roxanne's. The Roxanne's just have better detail retrieval overall but I thought the 10's had a slightly wider soundstage. Both sounded dark in the treble department but I'd probably give the nod to the Roxanne's in the end. In fact, the 10's sound very much like a closed back version of the EL-8 which I've always felt has a somewhat muddled sound compared to its bigger siblings in the LCD series. But still, they are a fraction of the cost of the Roxanne's and still manage to give them a run for their money. Take that to the bank.
2016's Kodama may go down as my favorite Alcest record to date. It not only made my year-end list but it was one of the records I listened to the most last year as well. And at DR9, it also happens to be one of Alcest's best sounding records too.
One of the biggest downsides to IEMs is that though they are generally excellent at detail retrieval but they compress everything into a wall of sound due to the small air chamber they work with. Not so with the 20, which due to its semi-closed design and waveguides allows the air to flow more naturally and in turn opens up the sound considerably. A shining testament to that fact is the first single off of the album entitled "Oiseaux de Proie" which starts off with an infectious bass line and takes off from there. The whole track sounds YUGE through the 20's as if I was listening to a pair of full size cans. In fact, the sound is so massive I have now convinced myself that the 20's are more akin to a pair of mini-headphones than a true IEM. They are that good.
And again, it was a toss up between the Roxanne's and the 10's. But given the 10's $349 asking price, it's hard to justify the Roxanne's existence at this point.
Downsides? A few. They don't isolate as well as your typical IEM - not a big deal for most but could get annoying if you listen to music in a very noisy environment. They also do leak due to their semi-open backed design. So if you have sensitive cubemates, it could definitely get contentious fairly quickly depending on how loud you blast them. They are also somewhat of a pain to put on though it does get better with a bit of practice. Finally, although I found the handsome soft pouch they come in perfectly reasonable as a means of transport, I do recognize the fact that some folks would prefer a hard case instead (I'm one of them). So I think it would behoove Audeze to think long and hard about providing one in the future, especially with the 20 - sitting on a pair of $500+ IEMs is no laughing matter (well, maybe a little).
With all that said, the iSINE 20 is a breakthrough product in every way and may in fact be Audeze's finest achievement to date. It is not only the best sounding IEM I have ever heard but redefines what an IEM can and should sound like. I have owned many expensive IEMs over my illustrious audiophile career including the JH16P, the Triple-Fi's, a few top of the line Shure's, you name it, and none of them hold a candle to the iSINE 20. If you've got $549 bucks to burn and want a superb sounding, mini-full sized headphone you can carry around with where ever you go, look no further, the 20 is your can...uh, I mean IEM.
The iSINE 10 on the other hand is definitely a step down but still a wonderful sounding IEM nevertheless. I surmise you would have to spend at least double their asking price to get better sound. In fact, the 10 may very well be the best bang for your buck in the business today and certainly should be on your short list.
The iSINE series earns our highest honor with ease. Do yourself a favor and seek these little black and brown beasties out. I guarantee you will walk away impressed. I sure did.
This review was originally featured on Metal-Fi.
Pros - Sound is incredible, that is all.
Cons - Build quality could be better, but I'm not sure if it's an issue.
So, this is my first review on Head-Fi.
My name is Jonny, I'm 23. Masters student studying Future Design, I work part time in my local phone store and I've been in love with audio since I was about 13. I used to design for Cyrus Audio, a large high end Hi-Fi manufacturer here in the UK.
DISCLAIMER: These are my opinions only, I am not affiliated with Audeze, I paid full retail for this product with my hard earned dosh! The aim of this write up is to share my opinion and perhaps inform others of how I feel about the product, if you choose to buy it then that is your own concious choice. ^_^
I ordered my iSine from the local RicherSounds on the 23rd of January. They arrived next day, I ordered the standard version but for some reason was given the lightning model, which includes a 3.5mm cable anyway, might inform the store but for now I'm just trying to enjoy them.
I'm testing them on a Huawei Mate 9 and a Sony ZX100 Walkman.
The earphones are presented in a lovely magnetic flip top box, the earphones are placed in foam inserts, cables, clips and all the other goodies are to be found in the extremely sturdy case which is also included. The entire package is kept in a solid clear plastic box. Inside the box was the earphones obviously, 3 sizes of rubber ear-tips, the case, and various earhooks. Lastly there is a signed card of authenticity, stating they have been tested and burned in by *insert name here #joeblogs*. A nice touch.
Overall the packaging is very impressive and things are off to a good start.
The build quality of the earphones are 'ok'. Now I maybe jumping the gun on this. For the price you pay, there may be a reason they chose this material. I don't believe Audeze would skimp on material choice to save money and I genuinely believe there may be more behind their choice of material. Nevertheless, the earphones are made of an extremely lightweight plastic, only time will tell how durable it is, but either way, for me it isn't an issue as I'm quite careful.
The supplied cables seem quite sturdy and there was no trouble inserting them into the earphones.
I'm going to jump right into the sound quality because this is always the biggest selling point for me when buying earphones.
I'll cut to the chase and sum these up before I go into detail. These earphones are absolutely EARGASMIC. I've listened to Audeze products at headphone shows before, and these are no slouch, they easily hold their own against the other products in their lineup and better still, their incredibly efficient drivers mean you won't need additional amping. they sound fantastic even off my phone running spotify.
For those looking at these online, you might already know they're open back earphones. I'm no expert but I think that's an industry first? Correct me if I'm wrong.
Either way the separation on these bad boys is surreal. I was just earlier listening to the Minecraft soundtrack( it's actually quite pleasing) and just about every hair on my head stood upright, I got a huge shiver down my spine and I'm sure my right eyelid twitched for a few seconds. The level of distance between each note, cannot be conveyed with words. In the track 'Door' theres a section where a very deep bass note hits, and honestly I cannot tell where it came from, but it landed right infront of me. There was no warning, nothing that could tell me to expect it, but it came and I was in awe. Every note I feel is perfectly presented with such a smooth texture, I honestly cannot fault them.
As most people my age will tell you, bass is the best bit. I personally feel this is where the iSine 20s shine the most. These are not for bassheads, they dont try to appeal to the 'Beats' kids.
As I mentioned before, the bass hits and you have no idea, you're just left stunned. I'm not sure about the terminology, but theres no 'residue' of the bass once it's been, it comes in, hits hard, slaps you around a bit then leaves when it's overstayed it's welcome. Just the way I like it. I apologise if this review seems a little unortho, I've never experienced anything like this before and I genuinely don't know how to describe how impressed I am with these. So I'm doing my best in my own strange way
Midrange: Again, I can't really fault them. Mid's are well presented, clean, vocals are lovely. Alison Krauss is a good place to start.
Treble: Treble is something I've always been cinicle on with earphones. I generally hate sparkly earphones, those which are so bright they hurt my ears and cause discomfort. I don't have that problem here, I find them to be a perfect balance and I've not yet winced when something was too high. I'm genuinely surprised at how these guys can handle high and low notes simultanously without any issue. These qualities are especially present in orchestral pieces. The Lord of the Rings soundtrack was my test piece for this section as I feel it has a good mix of everything. Honestly I'm not sure what else to say because I've tried to many expensive earphones and really these top them all. I'm surprised there aren't more reviews on here for this unit. Maybe Audeze need to look into getting some more review units out, seeing as they are so easy to buy now.
These earphones are without doubt the best I've tried to date, having worked in the Hi-Fi industry, I know good sound when I hear it and these are the real deal. The only other thing I heard which made me go 'wow' was the Cyrus system we had at work, which valued at about £30K roughly. The build quality should be questioned and there are some microphonics, but then again, these are open back and obviously arent to be used outside while walking around. Overall, if a friend asked me if he should buy these, I would say a resounding yes.
Pros - Class-leading sound stage, imaging, clarity. Light and comfortable.
Cons - Plastic housing, poor sound isolation. A radical design that may not be for everyone.
When a buddy of mine who is in the inner circle of Audeze asked me if I wanted to try the new iSINE 20, I was thrilled. Has Audeze, a company known for large and heavy full-size headphones , done the impossible and shrunken the planar magnetic sound into a small IEM package. As a former owner of the LCD-3 and current owner of the LCD-XC, I also want to know how the iSINE compares to its larger siblings. Lets move on!
In-ear, universal fit
Planar magnetic, semi-open
Maximum power handling
10Hz – 50kHz
<0.1% @ 100dB
20g without cable
Inner Nozzle Diameter 6.35mm
Looks, Comfort and Build Quality
There is nothing subtle about the design and appearance of the iSINE. If you had to imagine what an offspring would look like, if a bee hive and Star Wars Tie Fighter had a sexual indiscretion, the iSINE wouldn’t be too far off. The large hexagon frame of the iSINE immediately grabs your attention. Through its lateral fenestrations, the gold-tinged grills create a nice contrast with the darker housing. The iSINE is one of the largest IEMs I have seen. It doesn’t sit in your concha bowl like most IEMs. The only way to stabilize it is by wearing it with the over-the-ear ear guides (1 black and 1 clear both same size) or ear locks that sit in the concha bowl (2 sizes both black). That being said, the iSINE is still fairly comfortable because it’s only 20g, and the ear guides really helped keeping it firm and tight on my ears. I didn’t really like the ear locks.
The Tie Fighter is a father now or mother?
iSINE 20 vs Westone ES60
iSINE 20 vs IE80
The long, tentacle like sound tube measures ¼ inch in diameter. You get 3 sizes of tips to use. I have very small ear canals, and I cannot fully insert the smallest tip into my ear canal for optimal seal. At this point, I’m not aware of any 3[sup]rd[/sup] party tips that are large enough to be used with the iSINE. Only rubber/silicon based tips are included, so there are no foam options. This may be an issue for some users with narrow ear canals.
If you expect hand carve wood and all metal design, you will be disappointed by the iSINE. Its housing is constructed with almost entirely out of plastic. The cable insert actually started to crack a little when I accidentally inserted it in the wrong orientation. I wish Audeze could use metal for the external housing.
iSINE 20 has a very wide sound tube
iSINE 20 is very comfortable in the ear
iSINE 20 cable insert
iSINE 20 2-pin cable
You can pay $549 and get the iSINE with standard 1/8” cable or pay another $50 to get both the lightning cable and the standard cable. The iSINE accepts 2-pin. The standard cable I have is flat, flexible and tangle-free with minimal microphonics. When you insert the 2-pin, make sure you line up the right orientation with “L” and “R” on the outside.
Personally, I favor planar, full-sized headphones over dynamic headphones. I feel the technology is superior. The planar driver technology differs from dynamic headphones in which the charge is spread across the magnets. So instead of focusing the force on a small portion, it’s spread more evenly across the diaphragm. This design results in very low-distortion sound and faster response. This is how planars get those tight bass. Read more at http://www.trustedreviews.com/opinions/dynamic-vs-planar-magnetic-drivers#kGc5k3H4dB8quKaL.99
Similar comparisons can be made between balanced armature vs dynamic IEMs. In a balanced armature (BA) design, the drivers to not displace air in order to generate sound, so typical BA IEMs have better sound isolation. I definitely hear that difference between the IE80 vs ES60. Also multiple drivers allow more flexible sound tuning. This how you get that better treble performance, faster response and more detailed sound. However, it's much more costly to produce similar to planars.
Before you call me a fanboy. I do believe that a well-implemented set of dynamic headphones can sound better than any given set of planars. I really liked the Fostex TH900. I didn't keep it before personal preference in sound signature.
So you ask why not make planar IEMs and have the best of both worlds. Fast and accurate response without the cost of a 10 driver BA. That's because planars requires larger magnets in greater quantities than a dynamic driver headphone. This is why most planars are large and heavy. To squeeze such technology into a small form factor is extremely challenging task. Well, Audeze has done just that. But does it reality sound as good as theory?
Imaging, Sound Stage, and Instrument separation
To my ears, imaging, sound stage and instrument separation are otherworldly. In well recorded tracks, such as Amy Winehouse’s Love is a Losing Game, the iSINE effortlessly portrays the position of individual instruments. Compared to previous IEMs I have had, Sony XBA-Z5, Sennheiser IE80, and Westone ES60, the iSINE’s sound stage is astonishing. You feel like you are in a large concert hall. When I switch back and forth between the ES60 and the iSINE, the ES60 sounds very congested while it still has excellent clarity and imagin. There is a pleasant sense of freedom when you start to listen to iSINE for the first time. I don’t think this can be achieved by any dynamic, balanced armature, or hybrid IEMs. The planar and open design of the iSINE is light years ahead in this department, and this may be the primary reason many consumers chose to buy the iSINE.
Clarity and Transparency
This is another strength of the iSine. It sounds transparent and clear across the whole spectrum.
If you want to be judgmental, you can describe the upper range in the iSINE as recessed or subdued. If you want to be political correct, smooth may be a better adjective to use. When compared to my ES60 and Hifiman Edition X, the iSINE doesn’t carry the crispness, sparkle, definition and extension. This may be an issue for some buyers.
As with most Audeze products, it has amazing bass. The sub-bass quantity and the mid-bass punch are both excellent. Overall bass is balanced, tight, and controlled. It’s just thick enough to present the details without appear lean but does not overpower rest of the track.
The mids also stands out for me. There is a very rich tonal balance with no loss of detail. The sound is organic and lush. Both female and male vocals come alive with the iSINE.
The iSINE carries an overall warm sound signature. This follows the general trend of Audeze house sound. You definitely can’t call it “reference quality.” Personally, I feel one of the benefits of the warm sound signature is that it’s less fatiguing and more enjoyable over long listening sessions.
There is audible sound leak. You can hear it if you turn the volume all the way up or if you are in a quiet environment. You are not going to bother anyone at Starbucks or on a public transportation, but you probably will be turning the volume higher than you want due to poor isolation. I will not be taking the iSINE 20 out on a BART or Muni right. I will be reaching for the ES60 every time.
The iSINE is a revolutionary product. Audeze was able to package planar magnetic technology into a small and attractive package thus creating a new product category, planar magnetic IEM (PMIEM or maybe ortho IEM (OIEM)). The iSINE is light and comfortable. If you can accept the radical and dramatic design, you will appreciate the full-sized headphone like soundstage, imaging and clarity. The only complaint is that I wish Audeze used all metal housing. With all the appraise, iSINE also rests in an unusual territory. If you are getting an IEM for daily commute or listen in a crowded environment, the iSINE is not going to isolate sound like a traditional IEM or custom IEM. I would never pick the iSINE over the ES60 if I’m riding the Muni in San Francisco. If I’m at home, I would probably prefer reaching for the full-size Hifiman Edition X or LCD-XC when I’m sleeping next to my wife and kids. So when would I wear the iSINE if I owned one? You need to think about where the iSINE will position itself in your listening lifestyle. Nevertheless, I believe the iSINE is going to sell well. It has a great price point where it’s relatively affordable for most in today’s standards. It’s a monumental product as the first planar IEM.