Review: Audeze iSine10 & iSine20 – Revolutionary

Amplification

 

Audeze has always said the iSine earphones would sound even better when used with a dedicated amplifier, so let’s try a couple.

One of my favorite portable amps is the Cypher Labs Picollo but with the iSine20 I most of the time find the iSine a little dark sounding and I’m missing a little bit of the energy and dynamics. The Bakoon HPA-01M has an excellent reputation with planar magnetic headphones so this combination was expected to work wonderfully together. The iSine, especially on the voltage output, sounds precise, lively, energetic and dynamic. Bass is excellent, tight and punchy. The mids are rich and layered and treble is lively and playful. It does get loud very quickly however and with the channel  imbalance the Bakoon suffers from, you best have a source that allows adapting the output volume.

One of my favorite setups when listening to the Audeze Isine20 is the AK SP1000 connected to the Chord Mojo via optical. The get a more neutral, yet very detailed, precise and rich sound that remains musical and very engaging. Bass is tight, not overly present, mids are rich and layered and treble is very energetic and dynamic. A superb combination. When replacing the Mojo with the Hugo 2, you get even better precision, detail and dynamics than with the Mojo. I especially like the sound without any filter activated and without any cross-feed applied. With the Hugo 2, the iSine does everything more effortless than with the Mojo, but I at the same time kind of like that slightly more aggressive presentation of the Mojo with the Audeze inears.

With the Auris HA2-SE, an amp I don’t usually hook up IEMs to, you get a very musical and dynamic sound from the iSine20. This might be the best sounding iSine20 I have heard but it’s kind of hard dragging the 15kg amp around with you on the go, and at home I very rarely listen to IEMs. I unfortunately haven’t been able to reproduce the sound signature of the Auris & iSine20 combo with any of my portable amplifiers. But if you do ever get the chance to listen to it, it’ll will be hard to stop listening.

Conclusion

Audeze has created a revolutionary new range of IEMs with their iSine-series. While the look and feel of the iSines might not be for everyone (I love it), it’s hard not to notice the really great sound quality of these inears. While the iSine10 is a good entry level IEM, the iSine20 really is the one that performs best. The excellent sounding iSine20 isn’t only best of both but it also sounds better than a lot of the universal IEMs in the same price range.

If you’re tempted in getting one of these, I would suggest saving up for the gorgeous iSine20 as it (look and) sound-wise is impressive. It’s so good in fact that I’m giving it a spot in our recommended universal IEM list, and that means a lot. Well done Sankar and the Audeze team.

If you have even more cash to burn you can save up for the even better LCD-i4, which is the IEM version of the famous LCD-4. That one however will set you back like 5 times as much USD, but the jump in SQ really is impressive.

Some say the iSines are only to be used with OS devices and the Cipher cable, but I personally don’t agree to that as my review makes clear (see sources & amplification). The iSine simply can be enjoyed with a lot of sources.

 

 

 

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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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