Audeze is one of the few companies in personal audio that are truly blazing their own trail. To my knowledge, the new iSine 10 are the very first planar magnetic IEMs ever to come to market. The design is one that massively unique to Audeze, and from end-to-end across the listener’s experience.
The product line starts with the 10 for $399 ($349 w/o Cipher lighting cable), but also includes the step up iSine 20 for $599 ($549 w/o Cipher lighting cable). The external facing shape of the IEM is larger than your typical in-ear. In order to make room for the larger diaphragm, Audeze had to completely redesign the outer shell which now includes a more open back orientation like the company’s flagship full-size headphones. During playback the ambient bleed is minimal, but still just barely audible in a quiet room. It is much less than your typical around ear audiophile headphone and should be suitable for work or public consumption. The benefit to this open design is quite substantial for the other end of things. IEMs are often plagued with an “in-the-head” sensation that couldn’t be further from normal listening situations or even loudspeaker playback. The iSine 10 reached out further than any other IEM we had on hand. Listening to Rock and Jazz, the instruments felt like they originated from a wider distance away, with a natural focus and decay that wasn’t merely sound waves bouncing around in an ear canal.
The larger shape of the iSine 10s sits outside the ear in a Star Wars Tie-Fighter grill. The weight isn’t that substantial compared to other IEMs with the standard analog cable and the headphone is able to be supported in a seated situation with merely the friction from the tip to keep in in place. For a more mobile situation, Audeze included two sizes and two different types of support systems for the piece. One design includes two pairs of removable hooks that clip on easily to the inner stem. These hooks in execution work very well and were comfortable to wear, in the case you needed to run around or walk excessively. Even with the hooks, a cable clip is recommended (and included) to reduce microphonics and protect your ears from undue stress in the case the cable catches on something. The second design is a pair of ear locks that fit into your ear, proving additional support against movement. Overall comfort of the iSine 10 is very similar to a standard IEM, as the physical connection from the tip is the same. In fact some larger flagships we had on hand actually stuck out further from the head than the iSine, bigger driver numbers and new internal bracings tend to beef things out a bit in either direction. So even with the larger vertical layout of the iSine, sitting at home listening is pretty much business as usual for the casual listener.
The $399 package does include Audeze’s Cipher lighting cable. Listening to Lorde’s Liability single through the lighting connector with Tidal as a source, the music did feel a little more processed through the digital port compared to the regular analog out from an iPhone 6S, but in a good way. As we covered on our Sine review, the cable partners with an app that Audeze developed that allows for EQ adjustments. These adjustments stay with the headphone cable, regardless if you plug the headset into another device, so your fine tunings can travel with you as you go. The Cipher cable does a good job in its given role. The noise floor from the internal DAC and amp is very low and the volume is of course very sufficient for the iSines (solid volume levels start at only 2-3 bars). It is noteworthy that the iSine 10s do require a little more power than your typical IEM through a standard 3.5mm jack, although the impedance is still rated at 16 ohms. Due to the hypersensitivity of “typical IEMs” most any portable source will still have plenty of juice to power this headphone, and suffered no issues pairing with everything we had on hand.
The sound signature of the iSine 10 falls in line with some of the overall observations that are often associated with Audeze’s house sound, which is both refreshing but unique from many other headphones on the market. It is non-fatiguing and one that focuses on timbre and substance rather than acoustic trickery. Listening to RadioHead’s Paranoid Android though the iSine 10’s its clear that some of the more treble-oriented percussion and upper region sonics operate slightly different than some of the hyped up treble or in-your-face action that can be found on occasion with similar products. To this reviewers ears, this incremental adjustment helps break way for a more solid mid experience with more to offer in terms of richness, and theremore a more natural response. It’s a smooth ride from vocals to cymbals, with little left behind to be desired. The start-stop nature of Muse’s Madness was equally met with a control and dynamic separation between both instruments and the quick silence between notes as they travel out along the song’s pulsing timeline. Both the mids and treble are smooth to the touch and blend well together in the summed harmony they create.
Frequency response curve conversations can go on for days, but its important to note again that there is inimitable value to the spaciousness the open-back, large driver construction allows for in the case of the iSine series. While not overstating the effect, it does allow for a wider, more natural placement of sound outside the head. This is particularly interesting in the bass region. The balance of low end reverberating around inside the ear canal has always been a challenge for IEMs. Simply put, it sounds very different from how we perceive bass in the real world, and even with loudspeaker delivery. This had led to a formative boost in the area for in-ears, even with audiophile oriented products. Some of this unnatural effect appears to be mitigated with Audeze’s approach here. As a result, the bass is even moreso outside the head, and in that place, resides with a very pleasurable compromise against the backdrop of its competitors. Specifically, the perceived low end thump is well recreated, and leads more organically into the mid bass. Lesser representations will often overcook the mid-bass, but with the 10s we find a very pleasant choice in this region. A low end grip and gentle progression that is reminiscent of Jerry Harvey’s early accomplishments in IEMs with his original JH 13 and 16 models. In any case, the stock bass from the iSines a great starting foundation for any frequency construction with the accompanying app, which allows listeners to salt the bass to their perfect preference.
Detail levels from the 10s are easily on par with what can be had within its price range, however some higher priced flagships on hand were able massage a little more macro detail out by comparison. Without the iSine 20 on hand for a formal comparison, its tough to say weather its $600 price will eclipse the growing legions of $1k, $2k and even $3k IEMs entering the market. From my time with the step up piece at events I would say it has superior talents in this region, but that is a dangerous game to play within the confines of a review. The pricepoint here at $350 (for the 10) is a somewhat big pool for options, and with the extra $50 for the cable, you are looking at very interesting proposition both in terms of versatility and convenience.
The out-of-head experience from Audeze’s iSine 10’s makes it a standout IEM. The smooth yet textured mids and treble further compliment the superior bass presentation that drives its uniqueness home even further. It is different from most other IEMs, both in looks and sound. While the open back nature of iSine 10 carries along much of the same benefits and pitfalls of the feature in its full size brethren, the added portability and lighting cable bring a little bit more to the game on a smaller scale. Its worth an audition to anyone with a even a fleeting interest in a new IEM for the home or road.
More info: https://www.audeze.com/
On Adorama: https://www.adorama.com/auisine10.html