Review: Audeze iSine10 & iSine20 – Revolutionary

In Depth

 

The iSines, and especially the iSine20, sound more like you’re listening to a speaker which is next to your ear than it is the typical IEM kind of sound. Because of the open design the iSine really sound open, spacious and have that out of your head presentation of sound which is what we all want. There’s no listening fatigue as the sound is natural, smooth and easy on the eardrum.

Tuning of both the iSines is more to the neutral side, but with a smooth delivery with a touch of warmth. Both have a pitch black background and were silent on all of my sources. The musicality factor for the iSines is high but you can also be sure you’ll get all the detail, especially so with the iSine20 as it is richer/has the best timbre. Both models sound clean and clear and have good separation. The 20 is very rich sounding, the 10 maybe is a little dryer in its presentation.

Bass for me has the right amount of body on both models, bass is not really enhanced body wise but it isn’t fully neutral either. It’s quality over quality for what bass is concerned and bass heads might be left wanting more. The quality of the iSine20’s bass simply is the best with the most detail, better layering and timbre. I wouldn’t say the bass is extremely tight and fast, it’s more the type of bass like my old LCD2.1 has with the vegan pads, but from a miniature design.

The mids are excellent on both units with good detail, separation and depth. You get rich mids with good layering and that results in a musical presentation. I would say the iSine10 here is “good” but the 20 again is superior. The mids part probably is my favorite part with both models but the iSine20’s mids are just so much richer, more spacious (also in depth/layering) and even more musical. The upper mids section can sometimes behave a little weird but that’s also because of the soft treble presentation we’ll get to in a minute. I don’t find the mids more forward sounding as some others have reported, they have a natural presentation where both male and female vocals are very well displayed. I have heard more natural and better vocals with both my ciems as well as my flagship headphones, but still this is very good, especially for the price these are going for.

The treble section is very easy to listen to on both models, it’s soft, smooth and very inoffensive. The detail is there but isn’t the most energetic or extended treble and it will leave some of you wanting more. I like my treble and while treble on these certainly doesn’t sound bad in any way, I could have appreciated a more energetic and dynamic presentation with maybe even an edgier, more lively tuning. I don’t expect a Kaiser Encore treble tuning, but the iSine’s treble tuning could have been a little more expressive for my personal taste.

Sources

From the Astell&Kern SP1000, the iSines get a lot of clarity and they sound clean, precise and detailed while retaining the musicality and smooth presentation. This has been my favorite source for the Audeze IEMs. With its little brother, the AK70, both the iSine get more bass and mid body and while it might not show al the detail and refinement of the SP1000, it does sound very musical and smooth. My personal preference goes to the more clean, precise and clear SP1000 as I find the iSine and AK70 combo a little thick and warm sounding for my taste, but that’s personal.

With Fiio’s newest X7II with the AM3A balanced module, you get a good mix of bass and mids body and detail, clarity and dynamics. This is my favorite AM module and it performs excellently with the iSine models as well. Bass body is bigger than compared to the SP1000 and it body wise is more like the AK70. With the X7II bass is snappier and more energetic however. The mids are rich, dynamic and precise but they aren’t at the level of the SP1000 either. The treble presentation is more lively and extended than with the AK70 and this is my 2nd favorite DAP with the iSines. The Fiio X5III doesn’t deliver the level of detail and precision the SP1000 or X7II do and you get a softer and warmer sound. Bass and mid body is more on par with these other DAPs, except for that of the AK70 whose body is much bigger, especially in the bass sector.

The entry level, but sublime sounding, Cayin N3 is clean and clear sounding in general but it with the iSine isn’t my favorite DAP. Bass and lower mids are a too big and bold compared to the the mids and treble and while I love this DAP with a whole lot of IEMs, it just doesn’t work for me with the iSine IEMs. With the new Hidisz AP200 (one of the slowest, unresponsive DAPs ever on the actual beta fw), the iSines actually sound good. Bass isn’t too big and upper mids and treble is clear and dynamic. The downside is the level of detail, depth and the spaciousness of the higher end DAPs is missing. If you’ve never heard the iSine with a better source, you’ll probably like this combination: it’s pretty nice but it can be a lot better.

From my Samsung S6 Android phone running Tidal, the bass isn’t the tightest but the overall presentation is clear, energetic and musical. The amount of bass is a little bigger compared to the better DAPs but it’s still very much acceptable. The mids are musical and smooth and the treble is soft and acceptable. I could perfectly live with my phone as a source in case of my DAP battery dying on me, but the I-sines do sound better from a dedicated source. From my wife’s iPhone with the Cipher cable (see above), the iSine20 sounds clear, detailed and very dynamic with great left/right balance. Bass is a tad bigger with full mids and I find the voices to be a little more forward sounding. Treble isn’t the most extended but the presentation is musical and smooth with a touch of warmth.

Click HERE to go to the last page of the review where we discuss amplification and where you can find our end words

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Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.

13 Comments

  • Reply August 22, 2017

    Marius

    Thank you Lieven for another carefully crated review. I was intrigued until I noticed their open-ended design. Personally, I choose IEM when I’m on the road/in a plane and appreciate (require!) isolation (Shure SE846). The iSine in particular seems very iPhone friendly with lightning and built-in DAC but dedicated DACs seem to clearly deliver better results. The only benefit of open ended IEM I see is probably that they can be taken on longer trips for stationary use (in quiet rooms). At home, why would I choose the iSine over the LCD series? Did I miss something?

    • Reply August 22, 2017

      Lieven

      Hi Marius, you make a very valid point. Open IEMs, and especially these, are very hard to use outdoors. And like yourself I normally use full sized headphones at home. I’ve especially enjoyed the iSine series at night in bed though (I like to listen to music before going to sleep and full sized headphones in bed aren’t that handy).

      Not everyone however has full sized headphones or desktop gear and for those people the iSines are a perfect solution to get full sized sound from a small package 🙂

      • Reply August 23, 2017

        Oliver

        This is not just a very valid point. To me this renders this product nearly useless. When I saw the first announcement of the iSine, I immediately thought that this is an answer to a question nobody asked. Outside I don’t want to annoy and I don’t want to be annoyed by my neighbour with music I or them did not want to hear. To me this has something to do with respect. So using this headphone in public would be disrespectful in most situations.

        And inside? Test it against a Stax 700 with the smallest amp and we will see.

        • Reply August 25, 2017

          Alfy

          The question has been nagging me all the while I was reading this – very good – article, and I can see I’m not the only one.
          One case scenario I could see would be for listening to music in a hotel room on business trips, but that would be 1/ a fairly big expense for a most likely limited use (depending on who you are of course), and 2/ I usually have no problems packing proper headphones when needed.
          So then what? People who spend a lot of time in cars and don’t want to get completely shut out but can’t put up with their car’s stereo? People who can’t stand big headphones? These IEMs do seem to target a very limited market.

          • Reply August 26, 2017

            Shreyas

            The same target market as earbuds, I suppose? But mostly for home use or while on travel/ trips, where a full size headphone becomes cumbersome. For me personally, I would use it mostly at home due to the humid climate here in my region (Kerala, India), and also during trips/ holidays.

            Good sound in a small convenient package, for use at home!

            Cheers

          • Reply September 4, 2017

            Sandeep Suresh

            I found these particularly useful in office, where portability is an important factor without compromising the sound feel from over ear headphones. Another very good aspect is that these are semi open, which gives a natural presentation for long term listening.

  • Reply August 22, 2017

    cl

    i auditioned both models as well as the unique melody me.1 and found UM’s take on the planar iem to be superior on all fronts, from ergonomics to how it is voiced, which, while not the most detailed or extended, it sounded “big” (as in how the sound “loads” your ear) closer to the lcd2.2 than the isine, without the need for the cipher cable to sound its best.

  • Reply August 23, 2017

    Brandon

    I am really on the fence with the iSine20 because I keep wondering about the LCD-i4, I have been planning on an IEM and have been asking myself, if I am to pay 2500USD for an IEM, there are quite a few top of the line IEM that are 2700-3600 out there and how does it compare and is substantial? So for right now I will just keep waiting I guess.

  • Reply August 23, 2017

    Shreyas Muralidharan

    Well written review Lieven. I’ve been a headfonia follower for a few years now, and always look forward to reading you guys’ thoughts before purchasing any new gear.

    Now I have a query regarding the iSine20:
    I’ll be using the Mojo as source, run via coaxial out of a FiiO X3 1st Gen.
    Do you feel there is a significant difference when running the Mojo out of the A&Ultima DAP like you described? Or will I be getting more or less the same quality out of my rig? Just curious to know your thoughts on this.

    Thanks!

    • Reply September 4, 2017

      Sandeep Suresh

      Hi Shreyas,
      Just my two cents, although Lieven would be a better person to validate. As long as you feed coaxial to mojo, and the source sends coaxial output, the DAP should not make a difference (as its a digital signal through coaxial). However I did notice better instrument separation when i changed my fiio coaxial cable (L21) to moon audio black dragon coaxial, From x7 to mojo and to beyerdynamic T1 2nd gen.

  • Reply September 4, 2017

    Sandeep Suresh

    Hi, Great detailed review Lieven. After lot of options, this is the best set up I found for isine20. Actually cable replacement made a significant difference. Setup: Fiio X7 – AM2A – silver dragon cable(moon audio) – isine20. This setup was very natural

  • Reply May 24, 2018

    DoctorDave

    For me these are perfect for the beach and fishing with my bald head not getting a wide white band from my full size headphones, and hiking. The sound leakage is enough for me to be aware of animals and other people and cars, but not enough to be distracted from my music. The music from 10 feet away cannot be heard at all, and at a beach I presume 4 feet away or less and I listen fairly loudly. They are a match for the highest end headphones Ive heard. No deep bass like my closed Sony MDR-Z1R’s, but they are different animals for different purposes. But even my closed Sonys leak enough that laying in bed at night next to my wife in a quiet room disturbs her, so thats not even a solution for that problem. Anyhow, I used it with my Denon portable DAC amp DA-10 and an ipod and it sounded absolutely stellar. Then I used it with the cipher cable and my iphone X and was very disappointed….until I donwloaded their HQ EQ app. I dont know why it made such a monumental difference, but a nice v curve for rock music did the trick and was nearly as equivalent as using it with my Denon portable amp. They were less uncomfortable then I thought once I settled into them they did truly start to disappear. I was saving up to buy some FOcal Clear’s but realized I had no REAL NEED for them, I needed something I could use in the sun with my bald head, and something open for situations so I am not standing in front of a bear and its cubs in the woods again (obviously that ended without any drama but rather not be surprised like that again). So hearing a little of the outside world to me is good. I also walk along roads and like to hear what’s going on, it’s safer. I have never liked ear buds or IEMs, but with this sound, and this increased comfort, I can start to enjoy this section of headphones. At this point they are new so I have no comment on durability.

  • Reply June 27, 2019

    John

    I’m hoping to use them on daily bike commutes where I need better situational awareness for passing cars. Sound quality will suffer outside, but I hope they still sound good enough and then can also be enjoyed indoors either at the office or home. I can’t afford so much gear and prefer to listen to my speakers at home, but these could be a nice score for evenings when the family is asleep.
    Also, I scored the iSine10 for $170 on Crutchfield outlet.

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