Audeze is known for Bass, plain and simple. When we all think back on full size Hifi and the higher end headphone models out yonder, Audeze is the name we associate with exceptional bass performance and that sentiment is now no different when it comes to portable market. Audeze has crafted the only headphone of an on ear variety that I’ve found to outperform the Audio Technica ESW11LTD, which was a headphone that came out neigh 7 or 8 years ago and that has never been dethroned from its title as the portable bass king. It wasn’t until I received the Sine in the mail from Ms. Heather (who rocks by the way, thank you for the adorable card and letter!) that I’d ever felt comfortable in tucking my 11LTD in for bed time and whispering good night to it…permanently…as I gently smother it with its blanket and watch the life drain from its drivers forever.
True, the 11LTD is very clean for a portable, but the Sine is noticeably superior in overall fidelity. Planar bass is simply superior to dynamic driver bass, at least that is my subjective opinion on the subject. Density factor and substance are off the chart great on this Sine, making the ESW11LTD sound oddly thin, lacking and splashy. There is quite a leap up between the two in clarity, yet I paid more for my used 11LTD than the cost of a new Sine at $449 today.
The Alpha Dog from Dan at MrSpeakers, the HE500 from Hifiman and even their bassy HE400 original kind of falter when standing up to the humble Sine during my testing and comparison phase. Yes, the Sine sounds pretty much equally as clean as the famed HE500 and audibly superior to the HE400 and even the Alpha Dog’s low end in some ways. I detect more purity in the Sine than those other two and the HE500 is the only Planar headphone I have that is pretty much on the same road in raw quality. However, ye’ old’ HE500 is simply not as fun sounding, not as vivid, musical or nearly as tasty as the Sine.
When it comes down to it, Audeze tuned the Sine with some musicality in mind it seems, as the headphone doesn’t feel overly pure, nor bloated in the slightest down in its nether regions. It is right in that golden area of “a little of this, a little of that” which equates to a very musical tone. There is certainly some elevation occurring, so purists might not want this model in their arsenal for critical listening. However, if you want something supremely plentiful in quality and quantity for an on ear, as well as something a little colored and intended for musical enjoyability, then this is literally the only headphone you will find at the alter on top of Mount. Musicality.
Impact is a non-issue, so don’t worry about any harshness a ‘la the EL-series models before the Sine. You’ll never wince or blink unless you go a little crazy with EQ’ing. By the way, Audeze intended you to EQ this headphone, so feel free to go crazy if you prefer a +5dB boost over the already plentiful low end the Sine offers…I know I’m enjoying the hell out of it. It seems the driver isn’t at all snobbish when it comes to bass-end alterations over its stock form on a flat EQ: she purrs like a kitten when you want her to and can growl nicely when you bump things even more with your Apple device, or really whatever else you planned to use for EQing. I normally despise Apple products, so I had to reach out to peers to test with the Lightning cable. The Sine handles Apple’s bare bones iPhone EQ nicely…but it isn’t until you download Audeze’s specialized application that things really start to fly. Oh by the way, their Lightning cable has a God-damn 24bit DAC and amplifier inside of it…
For giggles, I compared the Edition 5 from Ultrasone ($2000) with the Sine…and it was curtains for the Edition 5. The Sine obliterated the Eddy5 in every way on the low end.
Well into what most would consider forward, but not quite LCD3 or 11LTD forward. There is a noticeable relaxed positioning occurring here compared to my ESW11LTD and even the LCD3 also from Audeze, but not much. I consider both of those headphones extremely forward, so I think it is safe to say the Sine is one step back behind them, but still standing in the world of forwardness enough to consider it sufficiently intimate. Mirroring the low end, the entire vocal/mid experience is lightyears beyond the best portables I’ve ever heard, at least when it comes to raw solidity and density factor. Yes, this headphone is immaculately lush sounding, thick and weighted feeling in the mid-experience!
Purists who like the HD800 feel are going to hate this, but those who know and like the solidity factor that most Planar drivers tend to bring to the table are going to go bat**** crazy for the Sine. Why? Well, because there are no portable Planar headphones really…the Sine is the first of its kind and wow did it deliver on the substance factor. Emaciation is the name of the game when A/B comparisons are made between the Sine and really anything else portable before it, this headphone makes the Edition M and the entire ESW series from Audio Technica sound watery, flimsy and simply hollowed out. Sadly, the ESW series made most other portables feel the same way as well, so we are talking supreme density and the yummiest solidity factor in a portable headphone inside this Sine. Truly, I’ve never been happier…oh my, oh my, Audeze got this right and then some. Planar density on the go?! Yes, please!!!
If you like intimate placement and gooey, velvet-like vocals, you can’t do better. But, if there is one flaw in the Sine’s midrange, it is that it doesn’t feel as well defined as something like my 11LTD. Sure, you can get that immensely satisfying heft and solidity factor, but when comparing the Sine to the 11LTD, the latter of the two feels more realistic sounding and like all vocals and instruments have more of a defined shape and more depth, whereas the Sine feels flatter and less prone to allow your ears to define the edge work for each instrument or vocalist. Is this a problem? Nope, not even remotely. I’d rather take the denser, higher quality painting with vivid colors (Sine) than the one that has finer, definable lines and a more blurred canvas behind it (11LTD). Realism is not this headphone’s strong point, but it is still stupidly yummy and satisfying enough to justify the price tag. I’ve never gotten the feeling of a lacking midrange, despite the Sine lagging behind a bit in its ability to define edges of various instruments and vocalists by comparison to my ESW11LTD.
I am not sure I can consider this a flaw, but the Sine starts out with a shy upper end. It is absolutely reserved and underwhelming in quantity, but it clearly was intended to be that way from the get go. There isn’t even a hint of sibilance or harshness, this headphone was specifically made to be as easy on the ear as possible all while continuing to follow the formula of spectacular density/solidity factor. What treble that is there on a flat EQ is still ungodly superior to the Edition M and 11LTD by a massive degree. In terms of substance (HE-6/HE500 owners know what this means for treble, that beautiful sparkle with serious heft and weight to it) the latter two portables mentioned here just can’t hope to compete. Both of them sound like megaphones and extremely thin by comparison to the Sine, but know again that the Sine is much more reserved up top than they are.
That doesn’t really matter, because with proper EQ you can achieve more quantity and still not get nearly as harsh as either. I’ve gone nuts and tossed on a +7dB on the treble via Rockbox on my iBasso DX90 and still didn’t get to the point of no return or harshness that comes with the flat EQ’ed 11LTD or Edition M. The same +7dB up top with the 11LTD or the Ed.M created a ball of haze and brimstone up top that makes me want to kill myself.
The Sine is stubborn as hell with treble EQ and is not nearly as responsive as it’s bass is, but the treble will stay clean and clear even on stupidly high amounts of EQ up top. So, feel free to boost it +3dB-6dB and enjoy the newfound sparkle without it shelling out an overly bright or harsh appeal. I do not consider the stock and flat EQ’ed Sine a balanced headphone, I am just baffled by others who are saying this about the headphone. Clearly, there is a boosted lower end and midrange lushness that both overshadow the treble just a bit. Undoubtedly, the upper end of the Sine is well into the world of shy, while the rest of the sound below it is abundant.
Clarity is still excellent and yes, I think the EL8 closed back version is bested by the Sine in terms of clarity across the board, top to bottom. But, the most significant difference in quality is certainly up top when comparing the two: Mr. Sine is audibly superior in cleanliness, density factor and is far less prone to ever being harsh or ugly…it just never happens. I’ve been listening to 128kbps audiobooks from Audible (God almighty, get your crap together already Audible! It is 2016, give up the 320/Flac versions already if you are making me pay $20 for these books. Jeez!) and none of them sound horrendous. Older tracks sound fine and it really takes a severely, poorly rendered track to sound undesirable…but the Sine still doesn’t harshly portray the treble nearly as bad as the Edition M or 11LTD tend to.
This headphone loves Crossfeed, so feed it some. The result is an even more smoothed out and bassy experience, but without the typical shape change in the imaging experience. Some headphones totally alter their dimensions (height, depth and width of the staging experience) when Crossfeed is active, but the Sine doesn’t change enough to merit further comment. The summation of the experience is enhanced beyond the already tasty stock sound of the headphone; it also nicely improves in center imaging prowess over the stock sound without Crossfeed. A gentle amount of Crossfeed is wise and it is something I refuse to not use with the Sine, so I highly recommend you download the free Bauersterophonic DSP for Foobar2000 and enjoy the Meier preset to the fullest. You might also want to toss in the realbassexciter DSP and tack on a +2-3dB on the bass end, then use a +3dB treble boost as well…you won’t be sorry. These EQ settings combined with some Crossfeed make the Sine sing to a level I’d thought impossible for an on ear headphone.
True, the 11LTD sounds more aired out in depth of field, but the Sine feels roughly comparable to it in height and width. For those unaware, the 11LTD is the most spacious sounding portable headphone ever made, so to have a Planar driver…scratch that…the first good portable Planar driver actually compete with a vast sounding Dynamic portable driver is something to behold. Yep, the Sine also sounds very good in spaciousness for an on ear, but I wouldn’t call it great.
To consider it great, it would need to compare to the 11LTD’s excellent depth of field factor, but the Sine lags behind a little in that department. You’ll not be let down by the sound stage of this headphone though, so don’t worry. The Sine is half a step behind the 11LTD in overall imaging prowess…and considering it is a Planar driver, that is really saying something. Despite the slightly lacking depth of field factor and midrange edge refinement, the Sine easily takes the 2nd best staging size overall in portable headphone that I’ve ever heard.
What blows my mind here is that the headphone requires no amplification at all. Get yourself a good USB DAC with low power output and noise and enjoy, you’ll never need more than what decent powered portable players like the iBasso DX90 or the new Luxury and Precision L3 have to offer. In fact, when I plug the Sine into my full size amplifiers, the Heron 5 from Airist Audio for example, I am met with a sound that I actually feel to be over-driven…and rightly so. Even the lowest output setting on the Heron 5 is beastly overkill what for the Sine was designed to be used with, which really was just a cell phone or decent portable music device. My iBasso DX90 with Rockbox is greatly preferred over usage with my L3 from Luxury and Precision, as well as all of my full size amps. However, I recently got to hear the Sine at a meet with Cavalli’s Liquid Carbon, which is an amplifier that has a good low output functionality for iems and efficient headphones. Sufficed to say, the pairing was just silly in terms of how great it was, truly silly.
Stick with a meaty source and avoid the purist amps and DAC’s out there if you want to preserve the typical Planar vibe for substance. If not, you can lose some of that substance quite easily with amplifiers and DAC’s that are of a more clinical tonality. For example, my L3 from Luxury and Precision is much thinner sounding and purer than my DX90, it is also noticeably cleaner sounding overall. Yet, I vastly prefer the Sine with the DX90’s sound and find their combo to be much more musical and yummy than the thinner sound the Sine can take on with certain other “clinical” tone sources.
The only element preventing me from issuing the first ever 10/10 score was the fact that the stage depth of the headphone was a bit underwhelming, as well as Audeze’s choice of scuff prone leather used on the ear cups. Outside of that, I’ve nothing negative to say and really can’t stop gushing over how vivid and satisfying this headphone is. I’ve waited my entire Hifi life for a headphone that sounds like this, that didn’t require and amp and that had a Planar substance factor that dwarfed all Dynamic portables prior. This is, without question, the world’s best on ear headphone. The two previous Lords of Portability (11LTD and Edition M) were both rendered undesirable by comparison to this new kid on the block, much to my shock and dismay. As someone who cares more for musicality than accuracy, I am in heaven.
My one gripe is that I could do without the moderate clamp pressure, but it isn’t severe for me. Some others are reporting excessive clamp, but I don’t have much of a problem with it. Audeze hit one out of the park and has satisfied me on nearly every level: emotionally and physically. Their new Sine is the new top dog for on ear headphone needs, looks good, sounds good and performs admirably for pretty much all genres out there. Holy cow, Audeze…you guys smashed the two previous best on-ears by leaps and bounds and priced your model far cheaper than they did.