(Pocket-lint) - Audeze caught our imagination last year with Sine, the superb planar magnetic on-ear headphones. When the iSine in-ear model was announced, we got rather excited at the prospect of the first ever planar magnetic in-ears. Would they sound as good as the over-ears, but in a smaller package?
The question, as with any expensive earphones, is whether or not the sound is good enough to justify the price. With a design like the Lightning-equipped iSine10, plus the built-in sound processing unit, we surely hoped they would. Here's what we found.
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Audeze iSine review: Design
- Ear hooks and in-ear rings/fins
- Detachable two-pin cable
- Inline mic/Lightning cable
- 31mm x 35mm; 20g
There's no getting around it: the Audeze iSine10's design is unusual. If you're a Star Wars fan then the earbuds basically look like two halves of a TIE Fighter.
And they're big. Really big for in-ears.
The size is entirely down to the planar magnetic transducers used to drive the audio through your ear canals. In this case, they're 30mm, some five times larger than the usual cone-shaped drivers in most in-ears.
The planar magnetic technology is housed inside a hexagonal case with a web-shaped pattern on the outside. Although it looks metallic, it's built from a light, durable plastic. Without the cable attached, the earphones weight less than 20g.
Despite the lightness, the size means that the earbuds won't sit unsupported in your ears easily. As you'd expect, without some kind of anchoring, the iSine10 slipped down and hung at an uncomfortable angle. Thankfully, Audeze already considered this and ships the earphones with two pairs of over-ear hooks (one transparent, the other black) as well as two different sizes of in-ear rings. Which one works best depends entirely on your ears. In our experience, the over-ear hooks were far easier to use. The in-ear rings didn't work at all, but that's likely down to the shape of our ears.
Once fitted, the iSines were as comfortable to wear as any other earphones we've tested. They're easy to wear, even for longer stints. One reason for this is that they're designed to be semi-open, which means they sound better if the ear tips aren't super snug inside your ear canal. While that means you don't get any real noise-cancelling, you do get an in-ear fit that doesn't feel like it's trying to squeeze all the air out of your head.
Like Audeze's on-ear headphones, the iSine earbuds are detachable from the cable, using a standard two-pin connection. While you can detach the cable to swap between the Lightning "Cipher" cable and the regular 3.5mm one, Audeze doesn't recommend changing them often, as the pins aren't built to last thousands of swap-outs.
The iSine ships with two cables: the iPhone version has an inline remote that's exactly the same in design as the one you'll find in the on-ear Sine's box (it's worth noting, you pay a £50 premium to get them with this cable). There are three buttons: two round ones for changing the volume and a longer pill-shaped one for playing and pausing, or accepting calls.
Audeze iSine10 review: Sound
- 24-bit audio
- Amp, DSP and DAC built-in
- 10-band equaliser iOS app
Having tested the on-ear Audeze Sine, we were curious to see how similar the sound quality was in the iSine10. Like the on-ear model, the audio quality will vary depending on the source of the music. In other words, it's better if you have an iPhone due to the Lightning cable. This has the major benefit of some clever audio processing components.
Like the Sine, the inline remote acts as housing for an inline amplifier, DAC (digital-analogue converter) and DSP (digital signal processor). It delivers 24-bit audio and works together with a dedicated iPhone or iPad app to real-time adjust the equaliser (EQ). The 10-band EQ lets you manually adjust the levels of each frequency, and then saves them as presets on the earphones, so if you plug them into another iOS product, it remembers your preferences.
As you'd expect from an in-ear headphone, the iSine10 isn't as bassy as its on-ear sibling. But that's not a bad thing. The overall balance and clarity of audio is great. By default, the high-end frequencies were a little too high, but that's the joy of the in-app equaliser. Having toned down the higher frequencies and pumped up the low-end the balance was much more to our tastes.
What this means is that across the spectrum of frequencies, each piece of the music you're listening to retains its detail and clarity. Whether it is those aforementioned bass notes, the high-end strikes of the ride cymbal bell or the lead vocals.
While the low-end could do with a little more prominence, there's no denying the earphones' capability at producing quality, responsive bass tones. It's well balanced.
This quality audio reproduction is down to the company's innovative way of driving the sound through those in-ear cones. Like the Sine, they use planar magnetic drivers, except the company cleverly managed to miniaturise them for the iSine10.
If you like the idea of even better audio, Audeze also makes the iSine20, which the company claims has better control and responsiveness, giving better clarity to mid-range and bass. Although, the 20s are considerably more expensive.
There's no doubt that the iSine10's design will turn heads, but you won't care once you have them docked in your ears and plugged in to your favourite music. They're surprisingly comfortable to wear and sound fantastic, especially if you have an iPhone and a library of lossless audio.
Simply put: there's nothing quite like the iSine10 anywhere else for the consumer market. Hence their considerable price point.
The alternatives to consider...
Bose QuietControl 30
For in-ears, the QC30's offer impressive active noise cancelling. They connect by Bluetooth and have an app that lets you manually control how much ambient noise you want to let in, or block out.
Read the full review: Bose QuietControl 30 review: In-ear noise-cancelling doesn't get any better than this
If you need good audio, but your budget isn't anywhere near high enough for the Bose or Audeze earphones, the Rockjaw Resonate is an impressive pair of affordable in-ear monitors. You can manually change the tone by swapping out tuning filters, and the earbuds and cabling is very well made.
Read the full review: Rockjaw Resonate review: Rock solid audio with a price that resonates