The planar magnetic headphone manufacturer Audeze has tackled nearly every front of the dynamic-driver alternative technology. The top-tier LCD line competes for the audiophile stay-at-home-and-listen dollar, while newer entries like the Apple friendly EL-8 (now with distribution in tier 1 Apple stores) pushes forward into the mainstream consciousness with its consumer-friendly proportions and both open-back and closed back options. The EL-8 now comes in an Apple-ready version called the Titanuim edition ($799) which includes a swappable Lighting cable complete with an in-line DAC and headphone amplifier. The only Audeze headphone outside of the EL-8 to have lighting cable compatibility is the company’s first on-ear effort called the Sine ($499).
The Sine represents an even deeper dive for the planar magnetic drivers, coupling even more mobility with the lowest pricepoint currently offered for any headphone in the entire product line. The earcups point to portability with a full 180 degree rotation intended for completely flat posturing when lounging on a table or stowed away in a bag. The removable cable employs a hook-shaped jack that allows for easy removal, but won’t come undone with direct pull. My review unit shipped with both cables, but you can also purchase the Sine with just a regular old 2.5mm connection for $50 less. At 4 ft. long the wires are a bit shorter than one might expect for a traditional at-home arrangement, but for out and about with a phone the length works very well and fits almost any pocket-to-head distance. Specs on the Lightning cable top out 24 bit Apple limitations but also includes Siri compatibility and DSP control via a downloadable app.
The Apple-store Audeze app is compatible only with the Ciper cable and allows for 10-band custom EQ with two preset options. It is pretty straightforward and stores the EQ within the firmware of the headphone, so disconnecting the cable won’t drop your perfect EQ creation into the digital abyss of nothingness. I tested the sound quality with and without the app downloaded to my iPhone 6 plus and couldn’t detect any differences or anomalies. A quick follow up with Audeze’s CEO Sankar Thiagasamudram attributed this to the fact that the software only communicates with the headphone, it does not act as a EQ at the source level in any way. Listening to several tracks with and without the Lightning cable with Tidal as a source easily revealed the benefits of the dedicated external DAC and amp section. First, there is a very trackable volume difference as the Lighting cable was able to reach higher overall volumes, not that it is needed however. Most tracks land near the 2/3 or 3/4 mark on the ‘ol Apple volume bar.
A tangible smoothness and greater sonic depth crept out from the notes of Death Cab’s Breaking Out the Friction from the Studio X Sessions. Even though the entire track is a bit drenched in ambient room sounds and vocal reverb the overall texture felt more tended to and resulted in a more lively response by comparison with fuller mids and weightier lows. Worth the extra scratch in this scenario? Several signs point to the affirmative. While purists may argue the involvement of EQ here, it does offer up an opportunity to really fine-tune the Sine’s delivery to taste. For comparisons sake, a reference rig was used to pull more impressions during successive critical listening sessions.
The portable Audeze very much has that new car smells fresh out of the box. The build of the Sine isn’t too flashy, the outward facing earcups are a simple unadorned slightly-textured black finish. The housing and the yoke all feel very sturdy, a reflection of need perhaps, the drivers housings are a bit heavier than average for an on-ear design. The additional weight is still easy to wear (230g total), and is much lighter than any of the LCD line products. A single identifying badge adorns the back right side of the metal yoke, its simple but still looks the part. The headband feels like real leather and gives off a far more upscale air than the neon rubbery cushions that populate many of the mainstream on-ear cans. The triangle shape of the pad is unique and could be considered polarizing for some. Comfort for the on-ear category as a whole is somewhat a matter of personal opinion. Given the wide girth of variables like ear size, sensitivity, aversion to heat etc., individuals may prefer headphones with wider openings. For a supraaural can, the Sine feels about as comfortable most other samples that have entered the lab. To this reviewer’s ears occasionally the direct pressure of this smaller design can lead to fatigue with marathon listening sessions, but any normal stint was perfectly accommodating for as long as was necessary.
A reference rig of Auralic’s VEGA Digital Processor and the Questyle CMA 800r current mode headphone amplifier was utilized for comparisons. While this isn’t a review of those products, it is noteworthy that the overall presentation is more of that illustrious out-of-the-head sensation (among other positive attributes) than plugging direct into the iPhone 6 plus, so the Sine does scale well with a more impressive back end. I weight resolution and detail very high when evaluating audiophile headphones. In this category, the Sine’s retrieval capabilities are one of the highest I have heard for an on-the-ear design. Vocals were surprisingly detailed, shocking akin to the much more expensive LCD line, but with a slight add to the mid to high treble than the sometimes laid-back LCD-3. The sonic appeal here is undeniable. Compared to the Oppo PM-3 planar ($399)m tracks like Dirty Work from Newport Blue Coast Sampler 1 really showcased the finesse of the midrange from the Sine in terms of both dimensionality and transparency. The PM-3 hits fun check marks with flying colors, but the Sine pushes its value proposition further for the extra hundred bones. The low end hits with much of the same closed-back, direct-to-ear sound that seems unavoidable with this type of headphone, but the slam and fun of it all seems to have an appeal all its own. Open-back cans may feel more speaker-like on many counts, but the bass-direct sound of the closed fellows can be more like “feeling it” in certain ways.
The Sine doesn’t come off grossly misleading in any frequency category. The response feels balanced, perhaps moreso than many of Audeze’s earlier creations may allude to. There is balanced treble in a form that exceeds expectations and with that comes a fair amount of extension and air, especially for an on-ear, closed back headphone. While open-back operations will almost always win in terms of natural-sounding playback, the Sine does very well for the situation it finds itself in. Many headphones found themselves hidden behind a window that needed to be cleaned by comparison. The Beyerdynamic T5p AK edition ($1,350) felt a little bit wider and further out with its circumaural, closed-back elements on some tracks, but the intimate recreation of vocals on 99 from the DSD Blue Coast Sampler helped confirm a sense of right and right there through the Sine. The bass is punchy and direct, no major anomalies to speak of. It doesn’t come off as bass-forward, compared to the headphones like the PM-3 and Sennheiser HD650 things were pretty much business as usual, if not just a bit more nuanced. Bass head ready? Hook up the lighting cable cable and EQ to your hearts delight.
The Audeze Sine sounds clear. It sounds detailed. It is so many things that audiophile headphones aspire to be, but don’t always achieve. Its also rests on the ear, which can affect long term comfort but is hardly something that can be avoided within the design restrictions. At $499, it’s also pretty expensive for a supraaural, but the cheapest Audeze ever made. The win for consumers is that a heck of a lot of Audeze came down to play in the sandbox, with perhaps a little refinement gleaned from a few good years under the belt making stellar-sounding headphones. If you are currently looking for a detail-oriented on-ear headphone, I can’t think of one that even comes close to the performance of the Sine.