Audeze's Lightning-connected iSine 10 planar magnetic headphones are the best in-ear set w...

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in General Discussion edited March 31
Almost everything about Audeze's iSine 10 headphones is audacious: the technology, the ambition, the appearance, and the sound itself. On paper they shouldn't work, but in practice they are some of the best sounding compact in-ear headphones money can buy.




The Audeze iSine 10 are the company's "entry level" model, if we can use such a term for a $399 pair of in-ear headphones. They carry such a high price because Audeze has somehow managed to cram planar magnetic technology into a form factor that can be worn on -- but mostly in -- your ears.

The headphone space has not been known for innovation over the years -- arguably the biggest advancement in years has been Apple's proprietary W1 chip, which is a game changer for wireless. But for audiophiles, wired audio is here to stay, and this is where iSine is throwing its hat into the ring to claim the innovation crown.

From a technical standpoint, they've succeeded.

Traditional headphones (and speakers) pump out vibrations from a central point. It's efficient and cheap, which is why it's the most common technology in sound.




But planar magnetic technology, in simple terms, moves an entire thin diaphragm back and forth between magnets, creating a more uniform sound. In the past, the use of magnets has required planar magnetic headphones to have a rather large, over-the-ear design, as we tested in our review of the Audeze Sine headphones last year.

But with the iSine series, Audeze has changed the game, and made planar magnetic headphones you could comfortably fit in your pocket or purse.

The company's patented "Fluxor Magnets" and 30-millimeter planar magnetic diaphragms are joined by the Lightning cable and integrated digital signal processor for a compact package that will blow you away.

Design and fit

Despite their bulk, the iSine headphones are extremely light, almost deceivingly so. That's good, because you don't want a heavy pair of headphones that weigh in your ear.

The compact form factor weighs just 20 grams without the cable. While they are a unique style and fit, we never found ourselves uncomfortable wearing and using the iSine 10, whether out and about or at home.




And true to their design, they are pocketable and portable. You'd be hard pressed to find a pair of headphones that sound this good and can easily fit alongside your wallet and keys in your jeans pocket.

Oddly enough, the worst part of the iSine portability is the length of the Cipher Lightning cable. At around 5 feet, some will appreciate the length, but we'd prefer a cable slightly shorter for pocketability and slack reduction.

The Lightning cable is also flat, which makes untangling them a bit easier when pulling the iSines out of your pocket. It is noticeably thicker and bulkier than the 3.5-millimeter cable.




In the box, Audeze offers just about every accessory you could want. In addition to the 3.5-millimeter cable, there are also in-ear and around-the-ear removable clips in black and clear plastic styles. The in-ear rubber tips also come in three swappable sizes, and there's a small carrying bag spacious enough to carry both the Lightning and 3.5-millimeter cables, if you want.

They also include a cleaning brush and a removable cable clip. There is also an instruction manual on a USB thumb drive. Finally, Audeze includes a credit-card-sized certificate of authenticity with serial number and inspector name, spotlighting the premium nature of the product.

In our tests, it was possible to wear the iSines and have them stay in your ear without the optional clip. However, we found ourselves more comfortable with the clip and the added security and stability it provides. Thankfully, with a number of options in the box, you can find a fit that's right for you.




If you want to ditch the Lightning cable and use a traditional 3.5-millimeter headphone jack with non-Apple accessories, the cables are easily swapped out through connection points on the headphones themselves, with a proprietary connector.

The bulkiest part of the headphone actually rests outside of the ear. Despite concerns about the size, you won't really notice it once you're wearing them. Those around you, however, may notice.

Headphone aesthetics are a tough sell, as headphones are often chosen for fashion just as much as sound quality (if not moreso). How you'll feel while wearing a pair of iSines is personal, though we weren't embarrassed to test them out on the subway or an airplane.

They spiderweb-like design is decidedly space-age, almost making us feel like Lobot from Star Wars, with prominent, strange technology on our head.

Sound and Apple integration

Whether pulsing hip-hop, a rich orchestral score, or blaring thrash metal, the iSine 10 handled whatever we could throw at it and left us impressed.

Notably, the iSines manage to excel with deep bass without overpowering any of the other layers of sound. Guitars, vocals, drums all have their own distinct space, even as the bass continues to shine through.

Simply put, you'll be hard pressed to find a better all-around sounding pair of headphones in this pocketable size. For audiophiles who want the best quality sound in the smallest possible form factor, your headphones have arrived.




Perhaps the most interesting piece of all of this is that, if you want to get the most accurate and intended sound out of the iSine 10, you need to use the company's proprietary "Cipher" cable with Lightning adapter. With the integrated digital audio converter and digital signal processor, Audeze's iSine 10 are actually designed to be used with Apple products.

This means audio can sound a little different when you switch over to the analog 3.5-millimeter headphone jack with the iSine 10. That's not to say it's bad, but we did notice fuller bass and a better sense of space when using the Cipher cable.

Another advantage of the Cipher: It is LOUD. In fact, if you turn these up all the way, you are liable to damage your ears.




We consider ourselves usually loud music listeners, but the Cipher cable forced us to reduce the volume considerably, or risk early onset tinnitus. On regular headphones, we're usually in the 80 to 90 percent range, while with the iSine 10 and Cipher cable, between 45 and 50 was more than enough.

If you want to take it a step further, Audeze even lets users customize the sound in real-time with a dedicated iOS application. Two presets can be created, and are then actually installed on the Cipher cable itself, allowing your audio preferences to travel with you no matter what device you listen on.

Enthusiasts who like to tinker to their liking will particularly appreciate this inclusion, which is exactly the market Audeze is going after. The app shows EQ in real time, making customization simple and easy.

That said, we found that the default, out-of-the-box EQ sounded outstanding, and felt no need to save our own mix.

Conclusion

Simply put, there's nothing else on the market like the Audeze iSine series. These headphones are truly one-of-a-kind, in basically every way.

If money is no object, Audeze offers a higher-end $599 iSine 20 model that features a longer "Uniforce" voice coil. It covers the planar magnetic diaphragm to a greater extent, which Audeze says enables better control and responsiveness, resulting in better bass, clarity, and improved imaging.




There's also the iSine VR In-Ear headphone, designed for virtual reality headsets. It's actually the same headphone as the iSine 10 with different cables optimized for wearable VR devices. We did test the Audeze iSine 10 with PlayStation VR via the 3.5-millimeter audio cable and found the pairing to be excellent.

At $399, they aren't for the thrifty. You can get the iSine 10 slightly cheaper, for $349, if you opt out of the company's proprietary "Cipher" cable and stick with a standard audio cable.

We think Apple aficionados, however, should pony up the extra $50, as the Cipher cable includes an integrated Lightning connector and enhanced 24-bit audio.




As for comfort and aesthetics, those are personal. The iSines are striking at first, to be sure. But we found their unique design to be charming, in their own way. These headphones are head-turners.

In the end, the design is something of a necessity, as space is needed to fit planar magnetic technology somewhere. And let's be honest, if you're the type of maniac who demands the absolute best quality possible no matter the form factor, aesthetics are going to be the least of your concerns.

Score: 4 out of 5

Where to buy

Both Adorama and B&H Photo have the Lightning-enabled Audeze iSine 10 headphones in stock for $399.00 with free expedited shipping and no sales tax outside NY and NJ. For additional headphone options, please visit our Headphones Price Guide.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 44
    irelandireland Posts: 16,546member
    The hideous design, bulky size and price tag would stop me considering buying these, so there's no way they deserve a 4/5 in my opinion.
    edited March 4 zroger73peterhartfreediverxMikeymikeSpamSandwichmdriftmeyer
  • Reply 2 of 44
    I don't care what they can or can't do, but the design is the most hideous one I have ever seen. Superabominable look of headphones srsly 
    peterhartSpamSandwich
  • Reply 3 of 44
    evilutionevilution Posts: 1,127member
    The design is off-putting. 
    peterhartwlymSpamSandwich
  • Reply 4 of 44
    robin huberrobin huber Posts: 2,926member
    "Audeze has somehow managed to cram planar magnetic technology into a form factor that can be worn on —but mostly in —your ears."

    Seriously, "mostly in"? From the pics the in-ear part is dwarfed by the Darth Vader Tie Fighter wings on the outside. Perhaps you meant the total mass (weight included). Or the technology guts that may be 51% in the ear and 49% out. 

    That having been said, if you step back and see these as a hybrid between on-ear phones and in-ear ones, they don't look that strange. Think on-ear without the over-the-head band. 
    edited March 4 peterhartbaconstangSpamSandwichdamn_its_hot
  • Reply 5 of 44
    noivadnoivad Posts: 186member
    Judging by the review, If looks are you primary concern, just buy a cheap pair of good looking headphones: if audio quality is second, you don’t really care about audio.

    I wonder why it didn’t get 5/5. From the review, it seems they sound and can fit great. But for $400, I expect perfection in a pair of headphones. People dinging it for looks might want to consider that they are planar which equals larger drivers.
    edited March 4 StrangeDaysnapoleon_phoneapartrusswbaconstanglolliverjony0pscooter63
  • Reply 6 of 44
    quadra 610quadra 610 Posts: 6,689member
    This is about sheer audio quality. Looks will come second. 
    StrangeDaysnapoleon_phoneapartrusswbaconstanglostkiwilolliverjony0damn_its_hot
  • Reply 7 of 44
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 1,705member
    This is about sheer audio quality. Looks will come second. 
    Not any more. Look at all the complaints about a monitor that is so hideous it looks like 99% of the monitors in use today. 

    AI is the last refuge of the dainty and the precious. 

    napoleon_phoneapart
  • Reply 8 of 44
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 592member
    Neil, Just wondering if this uses the Ultra Accessory connector we read from Mike Wuerthele  a couple weeks ago and if so how does it work.    A picture of the connector would be nice too.
  • Reply 9 of 44
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 1,405member
    ireland said:
    The hideous design, bulky size and price tag would stop me considering buying these, so there's no way they deserve a 4/5 in my opinion.
    Are you in the market for high-quality audio? Have you listened to them? If not yes to both then I'm struggling with your review of the review. 
    napoleon_phoneapartzoetmbbaconstangai46MplsPlolliverjony0watto_cobrapscooter63
  • Reply 10 of 44
    It would be nice to be able to try them somewhere. I currently have the UE4 Pro in ear headphones from Ultimate Ears. These are fitted to the individual ear channel by an audiologist. The cost of these is $400 + the audiology exam. Performance is excellent. These make you look you are an interviewer for CNN or a performing rock musician, since they all use these.
  • Reply 11 of 44
    This is about sheer audio quality. Looks will come second. 
    Then I have the perfect most awesome sounding headphones in the world for you. Although they look like 2 miniature toilets, but this seems to be no problem for you 
  • Reply 12 of 44
    This picture sums up why wireless has taken over and most people are rapidly moving away from this tangled mess.  Seems like these are a big step backwards in terms of even heavier, less flexible cables.  Ugh!

    http://photos5.appleinsider.com/gallery/19432-22182-IMG_1147-l.jpg


    edited March 4 lostkiwi
  • Reply 13 of 44
    statman1950statman1950 Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    The review does mention the degree of sound leakage while working out at the gym.  Typical or unusual on this dimension?
    retrogusto
  • Reply 14 of 44
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,051member
    This is about sheer audio quality. Looks will come second. 
    Then I have the perfect most awesome sounding headphones in the world for you. Although they look like 2 miniature toilets, but this seems to be no problem for you 
    He didn't say looks don't count for anything, he said they come in second.    And as an ex-recording engineer, I agree.   But different strokes for different folks...if you want a fashion statement, buy a fashion statement.  If you want great audio, buy great audio.  I want great audio because that's the primary purpose of such a device.  Now I'll admit I don't want to look like I'm directing a plane to a gate, so there are limits, but if these indeed do have great sound and I was willing to spend that kind of money, I'd buy them.   I'm currently using Grados which are more traditional in looks and I like quite a bit and were substantially less expensive.  
    baconstangStrangeDayslolliverpscooter63
  • Reply 15 of 44
    zoetmbzoetmb Posts: 2,051member
    Notsofast said:
    This picture sums up why wireless has taken over and most people are rapidly moving away from this tangled mess.  Seems like these are a big step backwards in terms of even heavier, less flexible cables.  Ugh!

    http://photos5.appleinsider.com/gallery/19432-22182-IMG_1147-l.jpg


    No, the picture sums up all the accessories that come with the device.  You only use one cable at a time.   And the review specifically said that the flat cable is less likely to tangle.   And I'm not sure I want wireless next to my head.   As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out as to whether wireless and smartphones are a health hazard or not.   There are claims on both sides of that argument.   
    baconstangpscooter63
  • Reply 16 of 44
    Maybe they intentionally designed them to look like plastic junk with a big ugly logo in the middle so that would-be muggers wouldn't realize they are $400.
    StrangeDaysSpamSandwichalexmac
  • Reply 17 of 44
    retrogustoretrogusto Posts: 519member
    The review does mention the degree of sound leakage while working out at the gym.  Typical or unusual on this dimension?
    Yes, sound isolation is one of my primary reasons for using an in-ear headset. Sometimes I use them on the subway even if I'm not listening to music, just to block out the noise. It seems like the design of this one may not be as good for that as some, because the driver appears to be open on the back. 
  • Reply 18 of 44
    macguimacgui Posts: 268member
    noivad said:
    Judging by the review, If looks are you primary concern, just buy a cheap pair of good looking headphones: if audio quality is second, you don’t really care about audio.
    Well, Apple fans tend to favor style over substance anyway. When I read the review last night I knew there would be crybabies whining about the looks. Maybe it'll take a little heat off the AirPods' aesthetics.


    noivad said:
    I wonder why it didn’t get 5/5. From the review, it seems they sound and can fit great. But for $400, I expect perfection in a pair of headphones. People dinging it for looks might want to consider that they are planar which equals larger drivers.
    Perfection relative, subjective, and impossible. Nothing is perfect. Perfection is merely an illusion based on your ability to compromise for your particular preferences. The notion that $400 dictates perfection and a perfect score is no more than personal opinion and not based in real world fact.

    I don't find these headphones attractive but it certainly wouldn't bother me to wear them, as long as the sound pleased me.


    This is about sheer audio quality. Looks will come second. 
    I agree completely. There were no doubt some compromises made for these phones. Planar devices have larger transducer surfaces than conventional speakers and headphones. Laws of physics being what they are, that won't change anytime soon.

    Using plastic is probably a cost effective measure. An aluminum frame might have been lighter, and magnesium or titanium version would certainly be lighter. But that would raise the cost. 

    The web design of it is subject to debate, as any design is. Could it be improved? Maybe. But it would still be open backed as is necessary for planar 'cans or speakers.

    I'm surprised AI found bass to be very good. It's usually a weak point in planars, but the in-ear aspect is probably responsible for the good performance.


    Notsofast said:
    This picture sums up why wireless has taken over and most people are rapidly moving away from this tangled mess.  Seems like these are a big step backwards in terms of even heavier, less flexible cables.  Ugh!
    Most people have been moving away from wired cans because they care about convenience and not performance, not that there's anything wrong with that. Their perfection is based on much bigger compromises than those who deeply care about audio quality.

    99% of wireless headphones these days are BT, a poor technology for quality and reliability, but very acceptable for most people. BT prices have become very low in many cases. Make them thump and pound and don't worry about mids getting muddy or lacking presence, or highs being brittle or grainy. Convenience. 

    There are some better sounding BT ear/headphones to be sure. But they still won't have the bandwidth of even a CD. Given the overwhelming acceptance of mp3s, generally 256K, BT is good enough, and high-end BT virtually nonexistent.

    There are some RF headphones that can handle 20-20K bandwidth, and there were a couple of WiFi headphone brands. But it's about price and convenience, not quality.

    I applaud the audacity to make these planars, and hope it spurs competition, eventually. I already have some high-end in-ear 'buds for critical listening, so I won't be getting anything in that price range anytime soon. I would like to listen to them, though.

    Almost everything about Audeze's iSine 10 headphones is audacious: the technology, the ambition, the appearance, and the sound itself. On paper they shouldn't work, but in practice they are some of the best sounding compact in-ear headphones money can buy.. How you'll feel while wearing a pair of iSines is personal, though we weren't embarrassed to test them out on the subway or an airplane...


    Simply put, you'll be hard pressed to find a better all-around sounding pair of headphones in this pocketable size. For audiophiles who want the best quality sound in the smallest possible form factor, your headphones have arrived...


    Simply put, there's nothing else on the market like the Audeze iSine series. These headphones are truly one-of-a-kind, in basically every way.
    baconstang
  • Reply 19 of 44
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 1,405member
    This is about sheer audio quality. Looks will come second. 
    Then I have the perfect most awesome sounding headphones in the world for you. Although they look like 2 miniature toilets, but this seems to be no problem for you 
    Give us a link. 
  • Reply 20 of 44
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 1,405member

    zoetmb said:
    Notsofast said:
    This picture sums up why wireless has taken over and most people are rapidly moving away from this tangled mess.  Seems like these are a big step backwards in terms of even heavier, less flexible cables.  Ugh!

    http://photos5.appleinsider.com/gallery/19432-22182-IMG_1147-l.jpg


    No, the picture sums up all the accessories that come with the device.  You only use one cable at a time.   And the review specifically said that the flat cable is less likely to tangle.   And I'm not sure I want wireless next to my head.   As far as I'm concerned, the jury is still out as to whether wireless and smartphones are a health hazard or not.   There are claims on both sides of that argument.   
    What data suggests BT wireless is a human health hazard?
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