Like a Sports Car for Your Head: The Audeze SINE and Cipher Lightning Cable Page 2

Audeze_SINE_Photo_InCase SINEs stored in included fabric pouch. I don't like how the hard metal edges of the headphone can bash together. You might want to consider the EL8 case as an alternative.

Sound Quality - Stock Cable
I always find it a treat to hear a headphone like I've never heard before. The Audeze SINE certainly fits that description. In my experience, on-ear headphone usually don't deliver a very good sense of coherence across the audio spectrum. Sometimes the bass is distorted and disconnected from the mid-range; sometimes the treble goes missing or sounds papery; sometimes the mid-range is too colored. Basically, I don't think I've ever used "refined" as a descriptor for on-ear headphones. Well, the SINE changes that.

Clear, articulate, coherent, integrated...yes, I think refined is an apt descriptor. I definitely get the impression that I'm listening to an expensive headphone with the SINE, as opposed to other on-ears that give the impression of one-too-many compromises on the way toward a convenient size. Of coarse, they are expensive headphones, so they should sound good; fortunately, because this is not often the case, they do deliver.

That's not to say they're perfect, however. Bass is tight, clean, and punchy, but a tad low in level subjectively. Midrange measures dead flat and is liquid smooth, but tends to sound a little laid back and distant. And, like the LCD-4, while terrifically responsive the mid-treble is a bit withdrawn while the top octave is moderately too hot. However, dynamic punch is stellar, and imaging very good for an on-ear. That sounds like quite a bit of kvetching, but all but the too hot top octave are small deviations and accommodated quickly as one listens.

Like the Audeze LCD-4 I recently reviewed, I found the mid-treble too recessed and the upper treble too pronounced with the SINE, though a little less so than its flagship sibling. This is a problem I never could quite accomodate to, but it bothered me quite a bit less than the LCD-4 for a couple of reasons.

For starters, the LCD-4 is 8 times more expensive and needs to be held to a much higher standard. But more importantly, the SINE is intended for use as a portable headphone listened to commonly in louder environments than an open-acoustic, flagship headphone.

I found when listening to the SINE in louder environments (power tools in the garage, in my case) this treble tonal profile had an unusual advantage. When dialing the volume up to compensate for outside noise, the treble would not get harsh or piercing because of the withdrawn 4-8kHz response. This relaxed mid-treble presentation does take a bit off speech intelligibility though. Fortunately, the emphasized top octave does help regain some speech intelligibility—it's a bit off and breathy sounding, but it doesn't get harsh at higher volumes.

This is a pretty good characteristic for a portable headphone that is just as likely to be used for talk radio, YouTubes, and movies as it is music listening. In all these cases, speech intelligibility without fatigue at elevated listening levels is important, and the SINE delivers in this use paradigm.

Compared to Other Headphones
I did direct comparisons between the SINE and the Sennheiser Amperior; V-Moda XS; and Beats Solo 2 on-ear sealed headphones. I won't do one-to-one comparisons here because there just wasn't much to compare—the SINE was easily superior to the other headphone in terms of distortion-free clarity and refinement. The sense of the music being a coherent whole was in another league entirely.

Even though it's in a different category as a full-sized sealed headphone, it's likely the best headphone to compare to the SINE is the $50 less expensive Oppo PM-3, which also makes for a fine portable headphone. The tonal balance of the PM-3 is closer to neutral bass through low-treble, but has the opposite problem from the SINE of being too low in level in the top octave making it sound a little dull. Imaging sounded a bit more stable and spacious on the SINE; dynamic punch was similar. Isolation in the PM-3 is significantly better.

This one's too close to call; people will have varying preferences and uses in mind. I'd call the PM-3 vs. SINE comparison a draw in general, though I'd slightly prefer the SINE, I think. Prospective owners will have to make their own call here—both are good headphones in their own way.

The SINE has slightly lower voltage efficiency than most headphones in its class, but will reach very solid listening levels off a smartphone or other portable player. I does get better as upstream gear improves.


Sound Quality - Cipher Cable
The Audeze Cipher cable for the SINE, along with the EL8 Apple cable, is the first fully implemented headphone connection to the Lightning port on an Apple iOS device. If you're thinking about the SINE with this cable connected to your iPhon/iPad you're in luck, my recommendation for these cans only gets stronger.

Comparing the 3.5mm connection vs. the Cipher cable on my iPad, I found the Cipher cable smoother and more refined. There is also a permanent bass boost EQ done through DSP to match the Harman target response, which I find more pleasing. Most important, however, is that through the companion app one is able to apply some EQ to the headphones that is stored in the cable's non-volatile memory. This EQ setting will remain active even if you switch to other iOS devices.

The EQ feature allowed me to roll-off the hot top octave a bit, and to bring forward the 500-1000Hz upper-midrange region for a more present vocal response. (See EQ settings on previous page.) Having dialed in the response to my satisfaction, I no longer had any distracting tonal anomalies and using the SINE headphones was a real pleasure.

The app also provides the ability to update Cipher cable firmware; a number of additional features are envisioned for future updates. The cable controls were intuitive and responsive on all occasions. The only down side to this cable is that you can't charge your iOS device while listening. I found the Cipher cable slicker than deer guts on a door knob.

The Audeze SINE is a tight, good looking, little sports car for your head. This on-ear, sealed, planar magnetic headphone is a solid-performing portable headphone made particularly cool when used with the DSP/DAC/Amp Cipher cable on Apple iOS devices.

Sound quality is refined and coherent, doing a great job of making the whole of the music nicely integrated. A bit less uneven treble, a bit of bass boost and a smidge of upper-midrange presence would improve tonal balance; but these niggles are largely corrected/correctable with the Cipher cable and EQ app.

This is clearly the nicest on-ear, sealed, portable headphone I've had the pleasure of experiencing. It will most certainly go up on the "Wall of Fame" at the highest position in this category. Pretty damned sweet.

Click to view on YouTube

Audeze home page and SINE product page.
SINE discussion threads at and SBAF.

Audeze LLC.
1559 Sunland Lane
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 581-8010