“Portable” and “Planar magnetic” are two attributes in a headphone that a few years ago, would never have been mentioned in the same sentence. A planar magnetic headphone, to oversimplify things, is an alternate type of headphone technology, different from the dynamic drivers in most headphone. The main benefits of planars are low distortion, bigger drivers (surface area) which helps with bass, and typically, decent imaging. Hifiman and Audeze planar magnetic headphones were known to be relatively hard-to-drive headphones and thus, many people assumed planars as a rule were hard to drive. In 2013, OPPO entered the market with the easy-to-drive PM1 and PM2 and further separated itself from the stigma by releasing the closed portable PM3. Now, both Audeze and Hifiman both have planar magnetic headphones that aren’t difficult loads (the ridiculously priced HE1000 and Edition X for Hifiman and the portable EL-8 series for Audeze). The radically different headphones shows the divergent paths between the two companies: one aims to be the high end headphone company and the other is trying to break into the consumer market. But Audeze wasn’t satisfied with the EL-8 being their only consumer product, with its rather hefty $699 price tag. They released the Sine, a much cheaper ($449) planar magnetic headphone, albeit in a form factor few actually asked for: on ear.
The Sine’s packaging makes it clear that it is aimed at the premium, Apple-buying market with its glossy packaging. Inside is a 1.5M cable and a carrying pouch. A hard case would have been a nice addition, but there are many aftermarket cases that can hold the Sine.
The Sine’s build is undoubtedly upscale. There’s not a visable piece of plastic anywhere on the Sine except for the Fazors (Audeze’s proprietary name for its waveguides) on the driver. The headband is anodized aluminum wrapped in leather. The cups are also covered in a thin layer of leather which to some may look “premium” but it seems to be asking for scuffs. Its pads seem to be a pleather material, which is rather unfortunate because it sort of detracts from the premium feel of the headphone, but there may be sonic reasons for this cut. It does, however, get uncomfortable after about three hours of listening. Though, I’d imagine there aren’t many people who would use the Sine for much longer. It’s fine on a bus ride or a short plane ride, but for longer sessions, I’m more inclined to reach for a full-sized headphone. But I hesitate using the Sine in loud environments because it does a poor job at isolation, so I felt the need to turn up my music louder than I wanted to in the subway or the middle of the city.
Overall, I would describe the Sine to be midrange-heavy, but the lower treble takes a huge hit and manages to make the headphone sound boring.
The Sine’s bass isn’t particularly spectacular, nor is it remotely bad. It’s just, “there.” Planars are known for its well extended, quick bass. The Sine exhibits these traits to an extent, but there is a definite drop off before it reaches sub bass. This isn’t particularly surprising because other, more expensive planars that do sub bass do it well for one main reason: size. The Sine’s driver is a fraction of the size of its bigger LCD brothers that are known for its bass so I can forgive the Sine for being a little sub-bass-deficient. What bass is there though, leaves me a little wanting. It’s slightly elevated and quick, but at times it sounds smeared and hazy. It vaguely reminds me of the bass qualities of many T50RP mods, another planar headphone with a small driver. It’s easily cleaner than the P7 and MH40, so compared to dynamic driver portables around its price range, it is among the top.
I expected the Sine to have a warm, inviting midrange like the LCD2 and LCD3 I’ve previously owned. It kind of disappointed me. It’s a forward midrange, with lower mids warmed up by the boosted upper bass, but it almost sounds dry. Think AKG K7XX or DT880, but more forward. It lacks the sense of realism the Audeze name many associate it with. But compared to the portable landscape, it’s nicer than almost every other portable other than PM3 and has more detail than even the PM3.
This is where the Sine falls flat. I had actually heard the Sines two separate occasions before buying the pair I reviewed here. Both times I noticed a glaring FR aberration: the lower treble is gone. The low treble is responsible for presence, which can be described as the “energy” of the music. It’s dipped. I wouldn’t even call it a dip—it’s a valley. I measured the second pair of Sines I heard and the pair I used for this review. They both start to drop off after 3kHz and bottom out at -10dB at 8kHz. What does this mean? They sound so, so boring for music that I expected energy. I wouldn’t go quite as far as to call them dead, but for driven music, this wouldn’t be my first choice. It’s a shame, because when put against the competition, the Sine is a damn good headphone, other than the dip. But wait, there’s more. After the valley comes this sudden spike in the mid-treble, probably also around 10dB. The shift can be jarring with just the right song.
It’s hard to make a closed headphone sound good. It’s even harder to make a closed planar magnetic headphone sound good. It’s harder still to make a closed portable planar magnetic headphone sound good. The Sine, compared to what it’s meant to be pitted against, sounds good. It does have the infuriating low treble dip to the mid-treble spike, but its overall quality is decent. It’s head and shoulders better than my MH40 and the Sennheiser Momentum and it trades punches with the OPPO PM3, with the deciding factors mainly being whether one can deal with the artificial tone and increased bass of the PM3 versus the sleepy-sounding Sine. Its initial release price of $449 is far too much money, but since it seems to occasionally be going on sale around the $350 mark, it’s beginning to be more of a contender. For anyone in the market for a portable, I suggest trying to demo it because Audeze’s retail presence is growing. It’s been getting easier to find stores to demo these, especially compared to the OPPO PM3.
But I can’t recommend it for home use. It doesn’t compete with other $300 full-sized headphones like many of the commercial T50RP mods or even the “mid-fi trio” (Sennheiser HD600/HD650, Beyerdynamic DT880, and AKG K701) and its form factor makes them difficult to use for long stretches.
What Audeze has done with the Sine is interesting, but I can’t help but feel like this is somewhat of a beta test. This is the closest thing Audeze has created to a “headphone for the masses” and while it’s not half bad, I never felt the same sort of emotion as when I first put on an LCD-2. If they can nail that, they have a serious contender.