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Audeze SINE On-Ear Planar Magnetic Headphones Review

Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: Audeze

Introduction, Specifications, and Design

More than an ordinary pair of headphones, the SINE headphones from Audeze feature planar magnetic drivers, and the option of direct connection to an Apple Lightning port for pure digital sound from the SINE's inline 24-bit DAC and headphone amp. So how does the "world’s first on-ear planar magnetic headphone" sound? We first had a chance to hear the SINE headphones at CES, and Audeze was kind enough to loan us a pair to test them out.

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"SINE headphones, with our planar magnetic technology, are the next step up in sound quality for many listeners. Instead of using ordinary dynamic drivers, our planar technology gives you a sound that’s punchy, dynamic, and detailed. In fact, it sounds like a much larger headphone! It’s lightweight, and folds flat for easy travelling. Once again, we’ve called upon our strategic partner Designworks, a BMW group subsidiary for the industrial design, and we manufacture SINE headphones in the USA at our Southern California factory."

Planar headphones certainly seem be be gaining traction in recent years. It was a pair from Audeze that I was first was able to demo a couple of years ago (the LCD-3 if I recall correctly), and I remember thinking about how precise they sounded. Granted, I was listening via a high-end headphone amp and lossless digital source at a hi-fi audio shop, so I had no frame of reference for what my own, lower-end equipment at home could do. And while the SINE headphones are certainly very advanced and convenient as an all-in-one solution to high-end audio for iOS device owners, there’s more to the story.

One the distinct advantages provided by the SINE headphones is the consistency of the experience they can provide across compatible devices. If you hear the SINE in a store (or on the floor of a tradeshow, as I did) you’re going to hear the same sound at home or on the go, provided you are using an Apple i-device. The Lightning connector provides the digital source for your audio, and the SINE’s built-in DAC and headphone amp create the analog signal that travels to the planar magnetic drivers in the headphones. In fact, if your own source material is of higher quality you can get even better sound than you might hear in a demo - and that’s the catch with headphones like this: source material matters.

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One of the problems with high-end components in general is their ability to reveal the limitations of other equipment in the chain. Looking past the need for quality amplification for a moment, think about the differences you’ll immediately hear from different music sources. Listen to a highly-compressed audio stream, and it can sound rather flat and lifeless. Listen to uncompressed music from your iTunes library, and you will appreciate the more detailed sound. But move up to 24-bit studio master recordings (with their greater dynamic range and significantly higher level of detail), and you’ll be transported into the world of high-res audio with the speakers, DAC, and headphone amp you need to truly appreciate the difference.

Continue reading our review of the Audeze SINE Planar Magnetic headphones!

First we'll look at features and Specifications from Audeze:


Features

  • Planar magnetic drivers for better dynamics and frequency response
  • Premium leather for style and durability
  • Sleek contemporary design by DesignWorksUSA a BMW group company
  • Light weight and folds flat for ultimate portability

Audeze Technology

  • Fazor elements
  • Fluxor magnetic arrays
  • Uniforce diaphragms

Package Includes

  • 2.5m stereo cable
  • 3.5mm to 1/4in stereo adapter

Cipher Cable

  • A complete 24-bit high-resolution
  • integrated AMP/DSP/DAC with Lightning
  • connector. The built-in microphone can be
  • used for phone calls and it’s SIRI compatible.

Specifications

  • Style: On-ear, closed-back
  • Transducer type: Planar magnetic
  • Magnetic arrays: Single-sided Fluxor
  • Magnet type: Neodymium
  • Diaphragm type: Uniforce
  • Transducer size: 80 x 70mm
  • Max power handling: 6W
  • Sound pressure level: >120dB
  • Frequency response: 10Hz – 50kHz
  • THD: <1% full spectrum @ 100dB
  • Impedance: 20 ohms
  • Optimal power requirement: 500mW – 1W
  • Weight: 230g

Design and Comfort

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The SINE headphones are a compact, on-ear design with detachable cables. The earpads are soft, and earcups rotate to provide a better fit and aid in storage.

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How comfortable these will be for you starts with ear size, as these pads are sized somewhere between typical on-ear headphones, and smaller over-ear designs. (To provide an example of the size of these pads I'll direct you to our review of the Edifier HD840's; a small over-ear design. The SINE is about the same size at the top of the cup, but tapers down toward the bottom in an ear-like shape.)

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The leather-wrapped headband is soft, and the length adjustment is smooth and strong, holding the desired position well.

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The SINE headphones are available in two versions, with the option of adding Audeze's "Cipher" Lightning cable for $50 more ($499 MSRP vs. $449 for the passive version). 

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Both cables are included if you do choose the model with the Lightning connection, and are easy to switch out.

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The design of these headphones is very impressive, and they have a luxurious feel thanks to the use of leather. These certainly look and feel every bit the premium headphones their price tag suggests. 

Comfort

How did they fit? My observations here come with the disclaimer that user experience will be different for anyone with a different head and ear size than myself. The SINE headphones felt very secure on my head; the fit was firm, and the earpads were soft, which kept them from feeling too tight. Clamping force was rather firm - again, for me - and of course a person with a smaller head would probably find the force to be a little lighter than I did. Overall I would describe my experience as "firm, but not tight".

I would recommend trying a pair of the SINE's on to see how they feel to you. I will also add that I am certainly not the best judge of comfort coming from my regular cans, a pair of Audio Technica ATH-AD700X's, which have huge velvet over-ear pads and the lightest clamping force I've ever experienced.

Next I'll cover my listening impressions with both cables.


August 22, 2016 | 12:42 PM - Posted by Jann5s

Always a welcome read, your audio related reviews, thank you.

On a side note, whats the aperture on that lens you use, i'm guessing its faster than 2.8, right?

August 22, 2016 | 01:25 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

Thank you! The lens is the AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 40mm f/2.8G (min f/ 22 max f/ 2.8). I get really sharp photos with it in the light box, and nice DoF.

August 22, 2016 | 01:24 PM - Posted by tolerance (not verified)

$499? A new notebook costs that much, which houses even the most technologically complicated hardware produced by a human - a CPU; and CPU alone costs less than this planar magnetic gimmick. This price is at least unwarranted... You won't even persuade me that those have an "overwhelming demand" as is noted in the citation... This is just an another one as if "advanced" product that is attempted to be sold at a "cosmic" price with the conviction that it is worth the price.

August 22, 2016 | 01:28 PM - Posted by Sebastian Peak

The disclaimer was quoted due to the fact the product was unavailable for order at the time of writing.

P.S. Tell Magnepan that planar is a gimmick - they've been making their speakers here in the U.S. since 1969. :)

August 22, 2016 | 02:12 PM - Posted by tolerance (not verified)

I believe that in a blind test you would not have told apart the sound produced by planar magnetic drivers and classic cone ones. My point was that though the planar magnetic drivers differ in construction, such difference is not that dramatic that to justify the price gap between the planar- and the cone-based headphones. I would understand the asked price to be around twice the Audio Technica you possess, but, saint lords, not the drug-influenced $499...

August 22, 2016 | 03:39 PM - Posted by taisserrootseasyaccount (not verified)

Try it. Planar headphones sound quite different to dynamic. Whether you prefer it or not. They are still quite different in sound

August 23, 2016 | 12:12 PM - Posted by Penteract (not verified)

Comparing the price of a budget notebook to a pair of high-quality headphones is ridiculous.

Your objection to the price is, well, unrealistic in a world where even dynamics can cost 5 figures ($10,000 U.S. or more). If you are happy spending $100 or less, great, there are decent headphones in that price range these days, but unlike the digital electronics in audio equipment, where spending a grand or more on a DAC and amp is legitimately questionable (at least as far as the playback quality of digital recordings, and not considering additional features or the "fine furniture" appeal), there is legitimate justification for more expensive headphones. I'm not going to say $10K is reasonable for the performance you get, but many headphones under $1K DO justify their price - if, of course, the sound of the music you listen to and games you play is that important to you. If it isn't that's fine, but don't sneer at other people that want - and can hear - a better overall listening experience.

As far as the planar technology being a gimmick - you seriously need to get educated. Planar magnetics are almost universally accepted as being superior to dynamic drivers. (I'm not saying every planar is superior to every dynamic, but a planar driver is essentially superior, and the dynamic headphones that produce a superior sound, at least to some listeners, to the lower cost planars, are more expensive than $500.)

Since you find the price of these exorbitant at $500, there is no point in mentioning electrostatic headphones. Oh wait, I just did. :D

August 23, 2016 | 02:10 PM - Posted by tolerance (not verified)

Hi, I based my comparison on the production complexity of a CPU and a planar magnetic driver, and the logic why I don’t find it ridiculous is the following: since it is easier to produce the latter, how can a pair of drivers cost on a par with something that has billions of USD put into R&D every year? Production of a driver is not such an advanced endeavour as the production of a chip is.
I think "gimmick" was not the proper word to choose. Planar drivers are claimed to produce lower distortion in the output sound, so on that point they are superior to dynamic ones.
As a finishing remark, thanks for pointing out the electrostatic headphones, since I was not aware of their existence. Claims have it they figuratively don’t create any distortion in sound at all – a new level of purity beyond the planar drivers. Will a human ear ever notice that? – Though a mind definitely will.

August 24, 2016 | 03:45 AM - Posted by Daniel Perez (not verified)

It's an economy of scale. There are lots more CPUs sold than planar magnetic drivers, and therefore, there is a large infrastructure in place to produce them. Also, you are comparing a component to a finished product. For $500, you get the whole headphone, not just the driver, which is about the cheapest you'll see for a planar can.

Furthermore, a planar magnetic driver is exceedingly delicate... the metallic path on its surface is thinner than a human hair. There is a cost associated with handling such things, particularly in a scale in which not everything can be automated, such as it is with microchip production.

If we priced things by the complexity of their production, a track on iTunes would not be 1/3 the cost of a box of toothpicks.

August 26, 2016 | 09:28 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Did they do double blind test?

August 22, 2016 | 01:51 PM - Posted by Chaython Meredith (not verified)

Way too overpriced, I'd rather the sony mdz7 if going over 500$ for headphones

August 22, 2016 | 03:48 PM - Posted by taisserrootseasyaccount (not verified)

Never understood why they needed a 24bit DAC anyway. No one will ever listen to something when it's amplified that loud for the noise quanta to be detectable.
Obviously in music production multiple files means the noise will add up.
But yh the quality of production matters. If there's clipping or just some background noise it sucks.
I mean these are modern planar drivers they were always going to have strong bass.
Compared to the opportunity pm3 I believe some people find these a bit too forward compared to the oppo's laid back nature. Some people prefer to have the music presented a bit more relaxed and darker when travelling

August 22, 2016 | 03:49 PM - Posted by taisserrootseasyaccount (not verified)

Oppo*

August 22, 2016 | 03:51 PM - Posted by taisserrootseasyaccount (not verified)

Would recommend an OPPO ha-2 instead of a dap so you can pair that with your phone. It uses the same dac (I believe so), with pretty good circuitry and a slightly warm amp

August 23, 2016 | 07:15 AM - Posted by Bakath

I have the Oppo ha-2, sadly I have a windows phone with a USB C connector so I can't fully use the DAC or use to charge my phone when it gets low. That said it does a nice job with giving my cans the power to preform while chillin on my deck.

Works great with these
beyerdynamic T-90
Sennheiser HD 650

Not perfect but just enough to enjoy
Sennheiser HD 800

August 23, 2016 | 07:10 AM - Posted by Bakath

Enjoying the headphone reviews as they are one of my passions. If you get a chance how about the Sennheiser HD 800s vs the HD 800, do I really want to upgrade? :)

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