Audeze iSine 20 Planar Magnetic In-Ear Earphone

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When first I saw the Audeze iSine models I wondered to myself, "What the heck are these for?" and, "Who will want these?" I'd never heard of an open acoustic in-ear before...heck, I'd not even thought of the possibility. Why in the world was Audeze even going down this road? I spent some time on the phone with Sankar Thiagasamudram, founder and CEO of Audeze, to gain some understanding.

To put it bluntly, they did it because they could. With significant experience designing, tensioning, and manufacturing planar magnetic drivers, they came to the conclusion that a small diaphragmed, in-ear monitor was possible. Having felt that the state-of-the-art in IEMs was not as good as it could be, and there may be opportunity, they decided to go ahead and develop the product to corporately explore that market segment.

Sankar tells me sales are very good—significantly exceeding expectations. When asked who the customers were, he replied that "Technophiles" was probably the best answer. When I was trying to grow HeadRoom we did identify this market segment as the sweetest step after audiophiles and pro audio.

Technophiles are folks who understand and embrace new technologies—you know, the friend you call when you're not sure if the latest and greatest gadget is really all that. The difficulty with this group is that they're not all concentrated in one advertising space—some are computer geeks, some are engineers, some are just smart, tech-savvy urbanites. We never did manage to work our way into it at HeadRoom, but Audeze's significant market presence in the audiophile, pro-audio, and DJ scene, along with their presence in Apple stores and Amazon has given them a leg up; technophiles are flocking to the product and Audeze seems about to crest the horizon of the broader consumer market from that angle.

Still, I'm not satisfied. My head keeps looking for places where smart headphones might show up. The Audeze development team has a bunch of smart cookies in it; they might just be up to something with the iSine. They do offer a gaming/virtual reality version in the iSine VR that I experienced at CES. It seems to me the iSine series has enough physical real estate to house the sensors and mics to do the job; batteries and circuitboards may get rough. I asked Sankar point blank if he saw the iSines turning into smart headphones. His answer, as always, was well informed and practical.

For the smart headphones, at the moment, to deliver very compelling features, it requires a lot of finagling with different chipsets. If we make a smart headphone, we want the user experience to be really rich, useful and best in class like our audio performance. Integrated chipsets are starting to appear and making the jump to smart headphones is in line with our strategy. Basically, we'll see new headphone features appear as the integrated headphone chip-sets develop. The chip companies that are in this market and have huge influence are Cirrus Logic, Qualcomm (CSR), and Connexant; the other important company is Sensory. Over 90% of our iSine sales are with lightning. So, you can see the beginnings of it with our lightning connected headphones.

Convergence is a bitch, and smart headphones need a lot of technology to converge in a big way before they'll be really worthy. Okay, let's have a look at the iSine 20 as it sits today.

Audeze iSine 20 w/Lightning Cable ($599)
The main body of the iSine is a canted hexagonal enclosure a little over an inch in diameter and about a half inch thick. Within this enclosure is the single-sided planar magnetic driver, which uses Audeze's Fluxor magnets and Uniforce circuit traces to evenly distribute motive force across the diaphragm. (More information on how these work can be found in my LCD-4 review.)

The outer housing is a nicely finished bronze colored plastic with a spider web-like pattern and a gold metal mesh beneath to protect the driver. The inward half of the housing has a what Audeze calls an eartube in their manual upon which the tips are mounted. This eartube is crucial to the iSine design and within lies some cool wizardry—I'll go into more detail shortly. Around the base of the eartube is a ring onto which you can attach the EarHooks or EarLocks, which mount and secure the iSine to your ears. Two sizes of both are included.


iSine 20 with EarHook (left) and EarLock (right) attached.

I found the EarHook much preferable to the EarLock. It took a little while to figure out just where to rotate the EarHook for best fit, but once in place I found the iSine surprisingly comfortable. Each earpiece weighs 10 grams and with the EarHooks I found the weight negligible. I have to say I'm generally not a big fan of generic fit IEMs; my left ear canal has a pretty severe bend in it and getting a good fit can be quite troublesome. The iSine tips don't go very deep in the ear and despite the rather large eartube seem to fit quite comfortably, and the EarHooks do a dandy job of keeping the tips in place. Three sizes of both smooth and ridged tips come with the iSine; I ended up preferring the mid-sized, ridged tips.

The iSine 20 is available with a standard cable with 3.5mm TRS plug, or with the Cipher Lightning cable and standard cable. Cables are attached to the earpieces with a proprietary two-pin indexed plug. L and R markings are on the inside of the plug and should face the head when worn. Forcing the plug with improper orientation may damage the headphone; please take care to insert it correctly. Also included with purchase is: a shirt clip for the cable; a cleaning tool to remove debris from the eartube nozzle; the manual on a USB thumb drive; and a rather nice synthetic fabric carry case.


I rarely mention packaging, but in this case I need to make an exception. After opening the magnetically snapped cardboard cover, you can see the product behind a clear plastic box. I took me a while to notice the indented slot on the center right side of the rear black plastic base. After popping the clear plastic open the first time with a finger nail and a bit of effort, it opened relatively easily thereafter. Within the case is a plastic mount for the headphones, this piece can be pried out of the dense surrounding foam cut-out and used as a storage mount in the fabric case for travel. Pretty nifty.

I thoroughly enjoyed interacting physically with this product from start to finish. Being such a novel earphone, I was surprised at how mature it felt. Its unexpected comfort; unusual ear fitting parts; and terrific accessorization had me taken aback. This is spectacular industrial design.

Now, on to the very important eartube and DSP in the Cipher cable.

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