Introduction, Specifications, and Design
Apple Lightning-compatible planar magnetic headphones
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.
"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.
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.
First we'll look at features and Specifications from Audeze:
- 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
- Fazor elements
- Fluxor magnetic arrays
- Uniforce diaphragms
- 2.5m stereo cable
- 3.5mm to 1/4in stereo adapter
- 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.
- 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
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.
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.)
The leather-wrapped headband is soft, and the length adjustment is smooth and strong, holding the desired position well.
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).
Both cables are included if you do choose the model with the Lightning connection, and are easy to switch out.
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.
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.