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 And, like the LCD-4, while terrifically responsive the mid-treble is a bit withdrawn while the top octave is moderately too hot.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.

Audeze_SINE_Photo_LightningCable

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.

Summary
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.

Video
Click to view on YouTube

Resources
Audeze home page and SINE product page.
SINE discussion threads at Head-Fi.org and SBAF.

COMPANY INFO
Audeze LLC.
1559 Sunland Lane
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
support@audeze.com
(714) 581-8010
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
barun432's picture

Nice writeup Tyll. The video was great as always especially with the slips in the beginning. Had a few questions.

1. How efficient are these (Analog Cable), do they work well from a phone or do they need amplification?
2. Is there any noticeable improvement with amplification?
3. How is the comfort level after a an hour of use and does long use result in sweat on the ear pads?

Thanks

P.S- Wish you had done a review of the Aedle VK-1, as they are still the best dynamic on-ear portables around (I have owned all the TOTL dynamic on-ear portable headphones)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
They work fine from a phone; solid volume. Yes, they improve with a better amp. Comfort is better than average for an on-ear.

Didn't like the VK1 sound; fairly uneven.

tony's picture

Video quality is very good, I froze the action a number of times, each time the frame was not blurred, hmm, 60P?

I wonder if that Cable is available as a stand-alone purchase? will it work with my more efficient headphones?

Question No.2; where is this headphone made?

I was following your phrasing and pace: superb. Complete thought after complete thought with the precision of a machine. I'll listen again, a bit later, to see if I can sense you mentally pausing but so far you seem flowing and beautifully articulate. Five Stars

Audeze's breakthru is that Cable which looks like something any headphone owner could and would purchase. Betcha it'd work on my iMac too.

Tony in Michigan

ps. does Audeze answer their Phone?, I see them offering a phone number

Josuah's picture

Both the standard and Lightning (Cipher) SINE cables are available as a separate purchase. You can either ask Audeze or your local dealer (we have them here). But I'd recommend purchasing the Lightning version for $50 more and then getting the standard cable separately.

tony's picture

Thank you for helping. Are you a Dealer?

My curiosity is for the Cipher device, I'm hunting for more of the important details. I've already concluded that my Sennheiser Headphone devices require very modest power.

I think I'm seeing this Cipher as being an attenuator and not an amplification device.

So, as a Cable, DAC, and EQ, it becomes a universally useful Audio component, I'm hoping.

I suppose I'll check into the "Street" talk on Head-Fi and perhaps ask a few questions.

I hoped Tyll and Audeze would've focused more descriptional journalism about it's versitilities or perhaps I should've asked in a note.

Thanks for writing,

Tony in Michigan

Josuah's picture

Hi, Tony. Yes, I'm a dealer; I run Neko Audio.

I'm not sure I follow your comment about the Cipher being an attenuator versus an amplification device. There is a small amplifier chip inside the cable. You can see it in the internals photo of the Cipher cable manual.

But you can only use the Cipher cable with the matching headphone. So the EL-8 Cipher goes with the EL-8, and the SINE Cipher goes with the SINE. You can't use a Cipher cable with a different headphone, not even with the other Audeze headphones.

Hope this helps.

tony's picture

Hello again,

I just had a look for that Sine & Cipher manual and found it!, I'd found it earlier and though it in-accurate. It states the Sine needing only 1mW for 100db. ( which is fine ) and the Sine can achieve 120db of sound pressure levels ( fine again ).

It also says the Sine needs 500mW to 1 Watt for power. Now this don't make any sense at all. Doesn't doubling the 1mW of power yeald 3db increase in Signal Pressure Level ( SPL )?, that's the old rule of thumb. To hit 120db should require about 64mW, what on earth is the 500mW for? ( or 1W for that matter ).

Anyway, this Sine headphone needs only slight audio signal, and probably less than any DAC's output level, making me think the device needs an attenuator not an Amplifier.

I wonder if Audeze will come forward to "clarify" this matter.

I suppose I might say the Mr.Silberman at Audioquest initially recommended the original Dragonfly to be made as a Cable ( just as you have done ).

All in all, we might be able to say that Audeze has raised the level of Mediocrity to impressive new heights ( audiophile levels, given Tyll's reporting ).

From an Engineering point of view, I can't figure how the Cable knows what transducer its powering. So, what is it that makes it unique to a certain Model? ( other than a Marketing plan )

Anyway, I like the Cipher cable concept. I can imagine more of these cables arriving soon. Cable is a popular and wonderfully profitable Audio Category for Manufacturers. Betcha lots of folks are watching all this.

Thanks for writing,

Tony in Michigan

Josuah's picture

I believe the 100dB/1mW sensitivity is correct. The 500mW - 1W rating that Audeze specifies is based on what they think your amplifier should be able to provide in order to provide good sound quality. You will not be listening to headphones at >100dB all the time anyway. Most people do not have desktop or portable headphone amplifiers capable of outputting 1W even at peak.

I think you are missing a big part of the SINE and EL-8 headphones, and the Cipher cable. The SINE and EL-8 headphones have proprietary connectors on the earcups. You cannot use a regular headphone audio cable you buy from somewhere else. The Cipher cable only connects to the Lightning jack on an iPhone or iPad. It cannot connect to a DAC or any other headphone gear. And it can only connect to the SINE or EL-8 it was made for.

tony's picture

Good sound quality probably would require only 50 milliwatts according to Audeze and Tyll's evaluation. The spec. concerning One watt is just marketing silliness for Audiophiles owning powerful amps ( like me ). That 500 to 1,000 milliwatts is probably there to bow to Schiit and other outfits making overly powerful, full featured Amps.

However, I own Mac ( Apple ) gear that use the Lightning system and I can terminate any cable system to adapt to any device. Not that I would modify that Cipher but I would make a little adapter cable for those little connectors on the cable. I don't see any issues.

Furthermore, I can now see a clear path for Manufacturers to begin offering "Accessory" devices similar to the Cipher.

Bob Katz is already using his Audeze headphones directly from his iPhone device, using a EQ App. he got from somewhere.

Audeze is offering a Software/Cable solution for iPhone Audiophiles, at a rather modest price. which is exciting stuff, we've come a very long way in only a few decades!

However, as a one time Audio Gear Importer, Retailer ( Esoteric Audio ) and Manufacturer of Audio Accessories ( all that during the 1980s Vinyl era's demise ), I see the profit and exclusivity of Audio Systems evaporating. Superb sound quality is now accessible to anyone with a Smart Phone for an amazingly low cost. Thank you Audeze!

Add a pair of Active Loudspeakers and we have Room filling satisfaction for the Vast Consumer Population.

Oh, we'll still have the $500,000 systems for the 1% group and we'll still have my old pal Dan D'Augastino making his "Statement" pieces, but you won't have me competing to sell to any of those old timers waiting it out in "God's Waiting room", I quit that 30 years ago.

Thanks for writing and supporting your Manufacturer.

Tony in Michigan

GREQ's picture

Looks like they took some cues from Skullcandy Navigator.
I'm kidding, but the similarity is undeniable. ^_^

potterpastor's picture

This is a very exciting time for headphone technology, not only with the cipher cable, but with planars going portable. This new release is a Sine that things are changing for the better!

I know I am mixing headphone categories (over ear open vs on ear closed), but how do these headphones sound compare to the HE400S, which I absolutely adore?

zobel's picture

The Sennheiser HD 380 pro has a similar one, works great!

tony's picture

I just saw an unboxing video ( done in 1080 ). Frame freezing revealed the Packaging side printing, in small letters, saying Made in Cosa Mesa, Ca.
The bits and pieces of the packaging do not look Asian.
Even comes with a "Signed" & Serial numbered Card, nicely done.
Hmm, Audeze looks like a very nice "Premium" offering.

Well done, it's calling out to my "impulsive" buying habit!

The Sine site does not identify the Cipher Cable's performance limits but I'm noticing Tyll being quite taken with it's performance and it seems able to satisfy the power needs of a .4 milliwatt headphone efficiency, twice the .18 milliwatt requirements of my Sennheiser HD series stuff and easily enough for IEMs.

Is this a Sign of things to come for the Headphone user?; an iPhone + Cipher cable = satisfaction?

Only a few years ago a hobbyist needed three boxes rubber banded together, total cost ranging well over $2,000.

If this is where we all are in April of 2016, where will April 2017 find us?

Equalizing is going Mainstream among us Headphone folks, about time, far as I'm concerned!

I think Till discovered a Break-thru.

Tony in Michigan

Inks's picture

Not only does the Sine have a good basis to work with based on its measurements, with no major peaks, good bandwidth and low distortion. The Cipher cable is a sign of what's to come and what I have been waiting for. A similar DSP system is being done by Jaybird. Now it's time for manufacturers to make universal lighting cables with amp/Dac/DSP system for headphones with regular 3.5mm jacks, MMCX, 2pin, etc

Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Imagine if Sennhieser made an HD 800 but with ring radiator planar magnetic drivers? lol that would be awesome, or make an Estat Hd800, or make an Hd800 with the type of transducers found on Vienna acoustic speakers (spider cone)

AllanMarcus's picture

I know the T51p is considerably less, but it's sounds pretty darned good.

Akmax57's picture

EQ from the app was used to correct some treble issues. Before using the EQ, the Sines were compared to the Oppo PM-3, which was noted to have a treble issue in the opposite direction. So, if you use EQ to 'correct' treble issues for the Sine, why not do so for the PM-3's and other headphones being reviewed. Bob Katz noted the PM-3's really shine with a bit of EQ.

I get the headphones should be reviewed on the basis of
their own non-EQ'd qualities, but the potential is shown for what the Sines anD PM-3 can be done with EQ, perhaps this should be added to future reviews to show other phones potentials.

Just a thought.

Mason Carter's picture

Though I haven’t used this Audeze SINE earphone, but I am confident that this will give the real meaning of listening songs. Some companies are there which build this type of earphones which immerses with their studio like feeling. And it’s good to know that this is made by a BMW group company Designworks. BMW is indeed the most comfortable and high performance sports car. And their earphone must be this quality—high performance. But we need to keep these stuffs extremely carefully whether it may be the car or the earphone. Otherwise the intricate design of the stuffs will deceive you someday for sure! For more information about BMW repair go to Best BMW collision repair in Highland Park

jdickers1@outlook.com's picture

I was wondering if you tested these with a portable headphone amp, What would you recommend? I travel a lot and there seems to be a lot out there,

Manuel Monroy's picture

Tyll, as Audeze Sine compared with B & W P7, to listen to music with a smartphone?

vitek's picture

Hi Tyll, many thanks for the review .... and actually for many other reviews as well ,)

Could you refer how good is the quality of Cipher DAC/Amp compared to other portable DAC/Amp devices? I was thinking of Oppo HA-2SE originally.

many thanks! :)

Best,
Vit

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