Audeze iSINE10 Earphones Review
In more ways than one, the iSINE is the start of something new.
What is the iSINE 10?The Audeze iSINE 10 is the world’s first planar magnetic earphone. Audeze as a company has a considerable depth of experience in this field but, up until now, the drivers have been of the size that requires a full scale over-ear headphone to accommodate the drivers. Audeze has managed to shrink the drivers down to a point where they work in an in-ear monitor which is no small task in itself.
If that was the only noteworthy point of the iSINE, they would still be a pair of earphones worth looking at but there is another facet of their spec that is worthy of note as well. The Audeze has been designed from the outset to offer Lightning connectivity as well as a conventional 3.5mm socket. This means that for owners of recent Apple products, it might be just the ticket – if of course it delivers on the promise.
Last but by no means least, the iSINE 10 pitches in at £350 – exactly the price point where we have just tested a trio of models. Where does this technical tour de force sit in comparison to the more traditional – but staggeringly good – Noble Trident? All this and more coming up.
SpecificationsThe iSINE is an extension of Audeze’s ongoing interest in the field of planar magnetic drivers. These stamp a voicecoil on a thin membrane instead of mounting it behind a separate driver assembly. This reduces the moving mass of the driver while allowing for a considerable radiating area. The challenges of turning this into something that works in an earphone are very considerable however. While the driver itself has a very low mass, the size of its radiating area and the housing required for it have ensured that it really isn’t the sort of thing you would associate with an in-ear design.
Audeze has shrunk the driver down to 30mm. This is tiny for a planar unit but still a bit of a whopper judged in the context of an in-ear where drivers rarely exceed 10mm in size. This means that the form of the iSINE is rather different to its rivals. The driver is housed in a flat section that sits outside the ear canal. The signal from the driver is then tuned to output via a port that mounts the rubber dome that sits in the ear canal.
What Audeze hasn’t done in this miniaturisation is change the principles by which they build these drivers. Each planar unit is fitted with the company’s ‘Fluxor’ magnets and makes use of their ‘Uniforce’ voicecoil technology. The two systems are complementary and ensure that the coil has plenty of power (while still affording reasonable sensitivity) and then has the wherewithal to make use of this power in the most effective way.
Sensitivity is going to be something that matters here because planar magnetic designs are not generally very amenable in this regard. If we take something like the Oppo PM-3 which although a full size design is similar in price to the iSINE 10, this is a very real world and user friendly device but not one that can match the general sensitivity of conventional rivals. Perhaps tellingly, Audeze doesn’t give a sensitivity measurement for the iSINE 10.
Of course, if you are an Apple user, this might be something you can ignore. The iSINE is one of the first earphones I have encountered to have the option of switching to a Lightning connection for direct attachment to an iDevice. This is done via a compact decoding and amplification system built into the cord of the Lightning cable. This will provide the required amplification and decoding on the signal from the Lightning output. This is managed via a bespoke app and this additionally allows you to alter the EQ of the earphones on the fly. If you have a product with a 3.5mm socket, this makes for an interesting point of comparison but if you have an iPhone 7 it is of course a little more fundamental than that. What is admirable of course is that Audeze hasn’t done this as an either/or thing – you can switch between the two cables entirely easy.
DesignThe iSINE models came to my attention at CES and it would be pointless to deny that they did so in part because of their appearance. Audeze has the design challenge of accommodating the 30mm driver in a chassis notionally designed to be in ear. The basic laws of physics dictate that it simply isn’t going to be possible to make them vanish. As such, the housings have become a key part of the visible flourish of the design and a company called DesignWorks USA has been involved in this.
The result is that the ‘panel’ shaped space that holds the main driver is a visual flourish rather than something that Audeze has tried to minimise. It – possibly deliberately – brings to mind a TIE Fighter but even if you aren’t a fully paid up fan of the Star Wars universe, I am pretty sure that it will win friends – particularly in the slightly more subtle finish of the 10 – the bronze detailing of the higher spec 20 model is perhaps a bit more sudden.
One of the reasons I am a fan is that the device as a whole is extremely comfortable. Having wound up with the distinctive form factor they have, Audeze has then put some considerable attention into making it flexible and comfortable for as many people as possible. Technically, the iSINE is not a structured wire device as the cable hangs down from the housing but to ensure a comfortable fit, Audeze has supplied a set of removal plastic clips which you use to hold the housing in place around the ear. It looks odd but it works like a charm and ensures that the iSINE will stay in place even when you are moving around enthusiastically. It isn’t quite as comfortable as the Noble Trident but it still should work well for a number of people.
A final welcome attribute is that the build quality and general finish of the iSINE 10 is extremely good. Earphones are not the simplest devices into which to instil a sense of solidity with but everything on the Audeze feels confidence inspiring and like it will last for a considerable length of time. It can’t match the quality of material used on the Aedle ODS-1 and there will be a small subset of people who – mainly down to piercings – might not completely get on with the fit, but this is a well-judged effort for the asking price. Mention must also be made of the excellent carry case which has plenty of room for the earphones, both cables an even an Audioquest Dragonfly but stays a manageable size.
The Audeze has been designed from the outset to offer Lightning connectivity as well as a conventional 3.5mm socket
How was the Audeze iSINE 10 tested?The Audeze has largely been tested with a Lenovo T560 ThinkPad running jRiver, Tidal and Spotify and outputting via Audioquest Dragonfly Red, Oppo HA-2SE and Chord Mojo. Lightning testing has been undertaken with an iPad Air using Spotify, Tidal and Netflix. Some additional testing has also been undertaken via a Pioneer XDP-100R and a Moto G mobile phone both with and without the aforementioned DACs. Material used has included lossless and high res FLAC and AIFF, DSD, Tidal and Spotify as well as some Netflix material.
Sound QualityThe Audeze samples were supplied brand spanking new which meant they were left running in for three days before any meaningful listening was undertaken. Having done so and performed the assembly with the clips to ensure that they fitted correctly, I got on with listening. I had listened to the iSINE 20 in the halls at CES but only briefly and this was in a fairly noisy environment. In the ensuing period, some questions had started to form. Planar drivers are light and lend the units that mount them a considerable degree of finesse but armatures also do this effortlessly. In short, I wondered if there was any point beyond brand identity for bringing these drivers to earphones. After a bit of time spent with them, the answer to this is ‘yes, there is.’
Why? Well, as noted, armature driver earphones can easily keep the iSINE 10 honest in terms of transient speed and general lack of colouration. Where the Audeze starts to carve a place for itself is that the size of that driver and the fact there is only one per side lends it an integration that multi driver armature designs can struggle to match. In short, it has the punch of a dynamic driver type coupled with the speed and openness of a good armature design.
Listening to the title track of Pink Floyd’s Obscured by Clouds lets the iSINE show what it is about. There is a space to the performance that allows the sparse drum and staccato guitar to breathe and their placement is organic and natural. Above all, the speed and sheer clarity that the Audeze delivers is subtly different to rivals at the price point. There are times when it brings to mind the Sennheiser IE800 – and that’s still the best all round earphone I’ve tested.
Before we get too carried away, there are some caveats to the way that the iSINE performs that need to be accommodated for it to shine. Firstly, while it is much more sensitive than I feared might be the case, it still needs a reasonable amount of power to drive it. Tests with the Moto G – which is in fairness not the last word in smartphone headphone amplifiers – saw it near the maximum output without ever seeming enormously loud. There is also the sense that if you play poorly mastered material via the iSINE, it will let you know in no uncertain terms. Used via the 3.5mm cable, it doesn’t automatically make a perfect case for itself.
Switch to the Lightning cable though and things snap into place somewhat. Audeze allows you to EQ the output to your choice so if you want the iSINE to sound a bit bright and aggressive or warmer than a sauna in a trenchcoat you can tweak them to do just that. Leave them in the flat setting though and the decoding that Audeze uses does a good job of getting the best out of their babies. This means that the iSINE is slightly warmer and more forgiving than it is via the Oppo HA-2SE but it loses none of that speed and sheer cohesion. This is not something Audeze has knocked up as a convenience feature but a key part of the iSINE 10’s functionality.
How does the iSINE 10 compare to the Noble Trident?The Audeze lands squarely in the turf of the Noble. They’re both American, both from specialist companies that major in headphones and earphones and both feature some bespoke technology in their design and construction. Only very recently, I said that the Noble was the king of the hill at this price point so can it hold its own against the singularly talented iSINE 10?
The answer is yes – sort of. As noted earlier, I think the Trident is the most comfortable in-ear design there is at the moment and annoying cable aside, it is extremely easy to live with and wear for long periods. As such it narrowly edges out the comfortable but slightly fiddly Audeze. Listening via a Chord Mojo – which allows for two pairs of headphones to be connected at once, the Noble has a sweetness that sometimes eludes the iSINE but can match the speed and clarity of the Audeze at the same time. It is and remains a fantastic earphone.
Of course, if you have an iPhone 7 then the Noble is old tech – a device that needs adapters and other sundries to work. All of a sudden, the Noble feels like the perfectly evolved remnant of the way we used to do things and the iSINE the first wave in something new. Put it like this, if you have an iPhone 7 (or even a 6 or a 5), the Audeze offers possibilities that the Noble, excellent though it is, can’t match.
If you are a Lightning device user, you need to know, the iSINE 10 is the high performance earphone these devices have been looking for
- Exceptional sound quality
- Good Lightning implementation
- Comfortable and well specified
- Can be a little ruthless
- Looks won't be to everyone's taste
- Not hugely sensitive
Audeze iSINE10 Earphones ReviewThe hallmark of really good technology is that it improves the state of play in whichever category it happens to be released in but at the same time, it doesn’t demand attention from us for the sake of it. Having spent some time with the iSINE 10, this is a fine example of this. The Audeze uses its unique drivers to great effect but they are never the main story. This is a great looking and very flexible earphone that just happens to make sound via means not used anywhere else.
If you’ve skipped through to the end, you need to know that these are seriously good earphones. While they might lose out by a wafer thin margin to the best that conventional technology has to offer, if you are a Lightning device user, you need to know that the iSINE 10 is the high performance earphone these devices have been looking for. Used this way, the iSINE offers sparkling performance and enormous flexibility and for this reason, it is a clear Best Buy.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £400.00
Ease of Use8
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