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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Audeze's iSine 10 ear phone looks wired but sounds good

Audeze's iSine 10 is one of the largest and strangest-looking in-ear headphones you'll encounter, but it's also one of the best sounding in-ears out there right now. 

The headphone looks like Star Wars jewelry that didn't make the cut: TIE Fighter earrings, perhaps. That's because the unusual shape is housing Audeze's 30mm planar-magnetic drivers, which sound very coherent and spacious, with low distortion, and until now have only been found in models that have full-size earcups. (Audeze makes several audiophile-grade over-ear planar-magnetic headphones, as well as the smaller on-ear Sine that I like a lot.) 

If "planar magnetic drivers" sounds Greek to you, you're in good company. Ultimately, what matters is that it's a totally different technology than what you find in nearly all other mainstream headphones. If you want the technical details, check out Inner

The iSine 10 costs $400 or £400 (the US price translates to about AU$525). It has an open-back design, so it not only lets some sound in but leaks it out, too. In other words, this probably isn't the best
headphone to use in an open office environment or walking the streets of a big city.

 It comes with two cables:

 A standard one fitted with a 3.5mm plug and an Apple-certified Cipher Lightning cable that takes digital audio directly from your iOS device and uses the cable's built-in digital-to-analog converter (DAC) and headphone amplifier. (Put another way: no dongle needed for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus owners.) That cable also has an integrated microphone for taking calls while the standard 3.5mm cable does not. Call quality was good with the Cipher cable, but it's best to make calls in quieter environments. 

Using that Cipher cable, the headphone plays significantly louder and sounds better overall. It does draw a little bit of power from your iOS device and will cause your phone's battery to drain slightly faster than it normally would while playing music, but the quality of the sound makes up for the slight loss in battery life.

 With my iPhone I usually listen with the volume in the 60-80 percent range, but with the Cipher cable things got loud at a 40 percent volume setting. (Audeze is apparently working on a Cipher USB-C cable for Android users, but so far the cable is only available as a Lightning option). 

The Cipher cable's inline remote has an integrated DAC and microphone but is a bit bulky. The only problem with the Cipher cable is that the in-line remote/DAC is heavy and not great to walk around with (I did use the included clip with it, but I had a little trouble keeping the clip clipped onto the cord because the cord is so thick). In the not-too-distant future, we hope to see a second-generation Cipher cable with a smaller in-line remote, but this is the cable you get for the time being. 

While the iSine 10 looks a bit funky, I did manage to get a pretty tight seal using the largest of the buds included with the headphone, and I got the headphones to sit securely in place using one of the detachable ear hooks that's also included (not everybody will like using the ear hooks, but the headphones' overall heft will require most people to use them).

 Overall, the headphones fit me pretty comfortably, though they may not fit everyone as well they did me (I heard from a friend that the hooks were too small for his ears and uncomfortable to wear). The two included cables.

There's an Audeze DSP (digital signal processor) app that features a 10-band equalizer that changes EQ in real time, but you don't have to use the app to get great sound. The first thing that struck me was how clear and accurate-sounding the headphone is. The iSine 10 also goes deep, delivering remarkably articulate bass, with natural midrange and finely detailed treble. 

As I said, this an open-back headphone, and that open quality contributes to how spacious and airy it sounds. In a nutshell, the iSine 10 is one of those headphones that makes you want to listen to your whole music collection again and allows you to hear distinct instruments, even in more complicated tracks (if you're coming from a decent but not great headphone you'll hear things in your music that you didn't notice before). 

A nice carrying case is included.
Audeze sells a step-up iSine 20 for $200 or £150 more ($600 or £550) that has a longer voice coil and other improvements that allow for even more transparent, detailed sound. I haven't tried it, Audiophiliac column, did and liked it a little better than the iSine 10. He thought both headphones sounded great but felt the iSine 20 outdoes the 10.

 (Of course, you'll have to have the right source material to take advantage of the the iSine 20's increased clarity.) In the end, this headphone's design isn't for everybody, it's fairly pricey and doesn't have as much appeal to Android users. But it does deliver exceptionally good sound and is certainly unique as far as in-ear headphone designs go. It's well worth considering.

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