The very first planetary magnetic earphones in the world! Audeze has created a little wonder: the iSine 10 and the even nobler brother Audeze iSine 20. The latter gave us Audeze for a test.
Conventional dynamic headphones, as well as most of the standard speakers, rely on immersed coil speakers or spheres as sound transducers. As we all know, this can sound sought. The path is thus placed high. But if a company is courageous enough to challenge the old, you should look. Or in this case: listen.
What are Planar magnetic systems?
Planar magnetic systems (ribbons and magnetostatics) and electro stats try to make something different in principle: They try to remove the coil from the coil. All are equipped with a thin film as a membrane. This makes them sound transducers that can react quickly to impulses. This feature is particularly required in the upper frequencies and makes these sound transducers into acoustic magnifiers – with all their advantages and disadvantages.
In addition, these systems, the – not yet invented! – Ideal point sound source. The keyword here is group time: frequencies need different lengths to get to your ear. The point sound source emits all frequencies exactly at the same time and optimally maps what the microphones have recorded.
The problem with these technologies is that they are – as opposed to the immersion coil – poorly miniaturize. Electrostatic headphones have been around for decades. The headphones from Stax from Japan sound legendary good but are also incredibly ugly.
Hifiman (China) is one of the younger players on the market. Since 2010, the company has been convincing many demanding listeners with their magnetostatic headphones. Be sure to listen to it when you have the opportunity! However, from Hifiman there are only headphones as magnetostatics. The earphones from Hifiman are certainly solid but equipped with «conventional» technology.
With Oppo, there is another manufacturer, who has been using planar magnetic headphones for several years. The Chinese were long known for DVD and Blu-ray players. They joined the smartphone market in 2008, followed by the headphones in 2014. They enjoy a very good reputation.
Audeze (USA) is also not long in the business. Founded in 2009, the first model, the LCD-1 (Over-ear) was introduced in 2011. There followed the LCD-2, the LCD-3 (which I could test). The LCD-4 for lumpy 4198 francs is the current top model. With the Sine, Audeze dared to a compact over-ear.
Now Audeze has managed to make an earphone with a flat magnet technology. The manufacturer is the only one to respect this. But let’s look at what you get.
Design and Build: Audeze iSine 20
Let’s look into the pack. First, I fold the cardboard box and gently remove the plastic cover. Above is a plastic holder, which holds the precious stones safely – really very securely. The earphones are neat. They weigh 10 grams of the piece. This is somewhat heavier than a bipartisan (8.8 g). The maximum extent is about the size of a two-limb. On the ear, they open into a funnel. There are soft plugs that hold the funnel in the ear.
The lower part of the pack contains a sturdy bag. In the delivery state, various attachments for smaller or larger auditory canals are included in the bag, in which the earphones disappear later. Three pairs are available: small, medium and large. I’ve tried everything. The originally mounted medium size fit for me the best.
Also in the case, I find two pairs of plastic holders. They are clipped to the earphones and are guided behind the ear like the straps of a pair of glasses. They help to prevent the listeners from falling off their ears. What is a real danger due to the weight? One of the hanger pairs is made of transparent plastic, one of black. Also here are two brackets, which do not pass over the ear, but fit into the auricle. They are softer and slightly flexible. I do not feel comfortable with them, and I am re-assembling the bigger stirrups.
Finally, I find in the case still two cables. One is a conventional stereo cable. The cable ends on one side are connected to the headphones, at the other end, there is a 3.5 mm jack. On the headphone side, the plug connections are proprietary. The cable is secure, but not bombproof. If I find a good thing: if the cable hooks, then a jerky movement will unplug the cable instead of tearing the iSine out of the auditory canal.
The cipher cable: Audeze iSine 20
The second enclosed cable is something special. On the one hand, it is inserted exactly the same. The other side opens into a lightning connector. The cable can be directly connected to iPhones or iPads. This is not the special feature of the “cipher” cable. The highlight is that the centerpiece in the cable has its own DSP and DAC, of course, 24-bit capable. Thanks to the Lightning connection, the cipher cable fetches the raw audio signals from the iGerät and processes them further.
The DAC succeeds quite well in the cipher cable. The sound impression is a bit better. Because the two cables can not be adjusted exactly the same loud, I find the comparison difficult. Speaking about volume: The cipher cable I consider to be dangerous because it amplifies extremely loud. On my iPhone, I have to screw on one or two bellows. Very quiet listening is not possible with the cipher cable. With moderate volume adjustment, the pain threshold is reached with me. I think the maximum possible loudness is irresponsible. Here, hearing impairments are imminent. Please fix it, Audeze! (A firmware update gives some improvement, but the things still play loudly on the ears.)
The centerpiece with the electronics is quite heavy and is therefore fixed with a clip for example at the shirt collar. Even then, it slips around due to its weight. Here I would have liked a variant, which can be placed closer to the Hosensack. The cipher cable also sucks the battery. The effect is not dramatic, but you can see that the battery drains a little faster.
Worth mentioning is the (for iOS) available free app of Audeze. This makes it possible to create two different presets that can be used to attenuate or emphasize specific frequency ranges. I’ve played around with it, to take back the somewhat taut basses for something. The app does not change the music by software; It sends the settings to the cipher cable, which solves the task with its hardware equalizer.
A variant with USB-C for androids is rumored in a process. Android users are taking advantage of the variant, which has only the standard cable in the box and is fifty francs cheaper.
Sounds: Audeze iSine 20
Let’s go to the most important part of the review. How do the iSine 20 sound? On the top, they are very finely dissolving. The iSine does not miss a detail of the music. I expected that because of the technology. However, the iSine are less “airy” than I am used by the Stax or my stand-alone speakers with ribbon technology. There, for example, triangles are almost poisonous. Here are the iSine nicely said good-natured, not so nicely said here would be something more in it.
In the midst, the earphones do not give any shadows. Very pleasant, round. Just great! Particularly pronounced are the basses. Here, the iSines shine and degrade all my known earphones. They have a good deal of pressure without bumbling around and losing clarity. I had the basses almost too much and I took them back with the hardware equalizer (see above).
I find the true qualities of a loudspeaker or a headphone you always hear when you play it quietly. Because loud it always sounds cool. This is why every salesperson must force the potentiometer up to the limit as soon as he demonstrates a loudspeaker. Quietly it is something else: Are still all nuances worked out? Does the bass still have power? Is the sound balanced? Also here: Very good grades for the iSine 20.
Presence and stage are outstanding. Once you have them in your ears, you forget them quickly and just enjoy the music.
The insulation on the outside is bad compared to conventional earphones. Your office colleagues or passengers in the public transport listen quietly. This behavior is untypical for an earphone but owed to open design. The iSine also makes relatively noises from outside. Sport is certainly not the paradigm of these earphone giants – but they are not meant for that. The classic location for this earphone is clearly the quiet environment at home.
Conclusion: Audeze iSine 20
These earphones are really great parts. They are the very first cream. Not only do you put all the earphones in the shade that I could sample, they also compete with high-quality on-ears and over-ears.
Its special features make the iSine 20 a very special earphone. Their price makes it clear that the target audience is audio freaks who are willing to spend a lot of money on spending a lot of power. And ignore the need for habitual optics when the inner values are right. The problem: This target group usually prefers over-ears, as these can afford more by design.
The iSine 20 is a niche product within the niche «audiophile devices». But what kind of thing! In terms of earphones comes for me Audeze and then nothing for a long time. On the other hand, if I were a gymnast, I would choose two different devices: a high-class over-ear for home and a solid earphone for the sport.
Pros: Audeze iSine 20
- Outstanding sound
- High quality
- Adequate equipment
- Cipher cable
Cons: Audeze iSine 20
- Great for earphones
- For earphones unwieldy
- Bad insulation