I’m ready to crown this the best IFA of this decade. In a show already highlighted by Lenovo’s Yoga Book, Acer’s ultraslim notebook, and LG’s enchanting tunnel of OLED, there’s somehow still room to fit in an astounding pair of headphones as well.
Audeze, the boutique audiophile brand responsible for some of the best planar magnetic headphones in the world, has done what many might have thought impossible and shrunken its technology to fit into an in-ear design. The result is the imposing, alien-looking thing you see before you: the $399 Audeze iSine 10. It’s basically a 30mm planar magnetic headphone with a funnel to channel its sound into your ear.
As much as I’ve enjoyed Audeze’s high-end over-the-ear offerings over the years, I was skeptical about the wisdom of the in-ear iSine — but then I was quickly dissuaded by listening to the new headphones. The iSine 10 sound phenomenal, even inside the noisy IFA hall dedicated to audio equipment. Their soundstage is broad, their imaging’s precise, and their range extension, from deep sub-bass to high end treble, is outstanding. Overcoming the din around me, these headphones got loud using only the power of my Galaxy Note 7.
Don't be daunted by the size and tech, the iSines can be powered by a phone easily
Audeze sells the iSine with two cables in the box: one terminating on a regular 3.5mm jack and the other plugging into Apple’s Lightning port and also incorporating Audeze’s Cipher digital-to-analog converter and amplifier. Both the Cipher-amped iSine 10 and the pair plugging into my Note sounded terrific. I can already say, with a high degree of confidence, that Audeze has justified its oversized, outlandish design with extremely high sound quality. The $399 price point is a highly competitive spot for entry-level audiophile gear, and Audeze has asserted its credentials very nicely. But the company’s ambitions are grander than that still — Audeze tells me it’s a little worried that it underpriced the iSines, fearing that audiophiles wouldn’t take them seriously as a competitor to the very best in-ear headphones in the world.
Beside the iPhone-friendly version, Audeze will offer alternative options of the iSine 10 with specific cables for connecting to an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive. Both of those will cost the same as the iOS variant, so it’s really a matter of what you favor most. There will also be an iSine 20, with a longer voice coil and a touch of extra resolution, which Audeze is pricing at $599.
The sound is typical Audeze: clean, balanced, dynamic, and exciting
The iSine aren’t without any compromises, of course. For one thing, they offer precious little noise isolation. The 3D-printed prototype I tested today had glorious sound, but offered mediocre fit. Not uncomfortable, just awkward to wear. Audeze offers Comply foam tips along with the usual silicone options, but the company admits that even in the best case scenario, you’ll hear plenty of exterior noise. On the other hand, these headphones don’t leak out much of your music at all.
In my 10-minute listen of the Sine, I was able to run through my usual set of test tracks on Tidal, checking out the realism of vocals, acoustic instruments, and some good old bass-pumping EDM. The bass was brutal when it needed to be, and the voices came through sounding natural and real. IFA is obviously a suboptimal testing environment, but the quality of the iSine feels just as obvious from even a brief listen.
The iSine 10 and iSine 20 will be available from the end of October, with their final design opting for a matte black finish rather than the present glossy look. On the evidence of my first time with them, these are going to be another win for Audeze, looking and sounding like a truly unique pair of headphones.