In all the hubbub over Apple eliminating the headphone jack from the iPhone 7, one fact seems to get overlooked often: You can use the Lightning port for audio, so you can, in fact, use wired headphones. With that in mind, the Audeze iSine20 earphones feature innovations beyond the Lightning cable—they utilize planar magnetic drivers to deliver an exceptionally accurate audio experience. You have to be on board with two things, however: the whopping $599 price tag, and earpieces that look like Star Trek props. The audio itself, however, is truly fantastic.
It should be noted: For $50 less, you can buy the standard cable version of the iSine20. While we did not review that version, audio performance should be comparable, as the drivers are identical but the audio comes from a 3.5mm headphone jack versus a Lightning port.
As we mentioned, the iSine20 has a sort of sci-fi look that won’t necessarily appeal to everyone. The earpieces are large and somewhat hexagonal, but also flat and almost discus-like, and they cover a significant portion of your ear. Planar magnetic drivers are responsible for the large size of the earpieces. According to Audeze, they’re also responsible for improved dynamics and a wider frequency range.
Hooks that grip the ear for stability are included. The earphones aren’t heavy like they appear to be, but using the hooks and/or the included shirt clip is advised—they’ll likely fall out without the added support. The larger ear hooks are made of what feels like slightly flexible plastic, and the feeling you get is not uncomfortable, but a bit awkward, like you have a paper clip on your ear.
Audeze ships the earphones with two flat, linguini-esque detachable cables—one with an inline remote control, and one without. The remote is of the three-button variety, with two dedicated volume buttons (that work in conjunction with your mobile device’s master volume) and a central multifunction button that handles playback, call management, and track navigation. Both cables terminate in a Lightning connector.
The array of included accessories is impressive. There are three pairs of eartips, along with two pairs of earhooks and two pairs of earlocks, which are slightly smaller but provide similar stability. Audeze also includes a shirt clip and an earwax cleaning tool, as well as a thumb drive containing the manual, and a handsome carrying pouch for all of the included items.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the earphones deliver thunderous, impressive bass response. They don’t seem to dial anything up too dramatically—what you hear is the true power of the sub-bass synth drum hits on the track, but nothing that is wildly exaggerated beyond its already prominent placement in the mix. The lows are full and rich, but not overly boosted.
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Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track that lacks intense, deep bass, gives us a better idea of the sound signature. The drums on this track can often sound overly thunderous on earphones that push the bass too far forward in the mix. Through the iSine20, the drums sound strong, with a natural roundness and depth, but they are not overly boosted. Callahan’s rich, baritone vocals get a welcome low-mid presence that is balanced out by an ideal amount of presence in the high-mids. The guitar strumming and percussive hits also benefit from a strong presence in the high-mids and highs, but throughout the frequency range, nothing feels too boosted or sculpted. This is a balanced sound signature that may have a little extra low frequency response to it, but the sculpting is subtle.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop gets an ideal amount of high-mid presence, rendering its attack with the right amount of sharpness for it to slice through the layered mix. The sub-bass synth hits on this track have serious depth to them, but don’t threaten to overtake the mix. It’s a wonderful delivery—we get a true sense of the the deep bass response on this track, but the vocals are always front and center, and it never feels like the various elements of the mix are doing battle with each other—everything has its own space.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound magnificent through the iSine20. The lower register instrumentation is delivered with a natural depth and you get a solid sense of the space the track was recorded in, while the higher register brass, strings, and vocals have an excellent brightness and treble edge without seeming too sculpted or boosted. It’s a balanced, vibrant sound signature.
The Audeze iSine20 deliver a wonderful audio experience—the dynamics are more lively than you typically hear from in-canal earphones, and the overall sound signature is rich, bright, and balanced. Personally, we are not fans of the look, nor the ear hooks. But based on audio performance alone, it’s hard to find much fault here. For this price, though, you can also opt for a custom molded in-ear option, like the Ultimate Ears UE 5 Pro Custom In-Ear Monitors. For less money (and most of the in-ear models we review cost less), we’re also fans of the Bowers & Wilkins C5 Series 2, the Westone W10, and the RHA T20. But those who can accept the quirks of the iSine20 are in for an exciting audio experience that surprisingly justifies the price of admission.