Audeze iSine 20 Planar Magnetic In-Ear Earphone

When first I saw the Audeze iSine models I wondered to myself, "What the heck are these for?" and, "Who will want these?" I'd never heard of an open acoustic in-ear before...heck, I'd not even thought of the possibility. Why in the world was Audeze even going down this road? I spent some time on the phone with Sankar Thiagasamudram, founder and CEO of Audeze, to gain some understanding.

To put it bluntly, they did it because they could. With significant experience designing, tensioning, and manufacturing planar magnetic drivers, they came to the conclusion that a small diaphragmed, in-ear monitor was possible. Having felt that the state-of-the-art in IEMs was not as good as it could be, and there may be opportunity, they decided to go ahead and develop the product to corporately explore that market segment.

Sankar tells me sales are very good—significantly exceeding expectations. When asked who the customers were, he replied that "Technophiles" was probably the best answer. When I was trying to grow HeadRoom we did identify this market segment as the sweetest step after audiophiles and pro audio.

Technophiles are folks who understand and embrace new technologies—you know, the friend you call when you're not sure if the latest and greatest gadget is really all that. The difficulty with this group is that they're not all concentrated in one advertising space—some are computer geeks, some are engineers, some are just smart, tech-savvy urbanites. We never did manage to work our way into it at HeadRoom, but Audeze's significant market presence in the audiophile, pro-audio, and DJ scene, along with their presence in Apple stores and Amazon has given them a leg up; technophiles are flocking to the product and Audeze seems about to crest the horizon of the broader consumer market from that angle.

Still, I'm not satisfied. My head keeps looking for places where smart headphones might show up. The Audeze development team has a bunch of smart cookies in it; they might just be up to something with the iSine. They do offer a gaming/virtual reality version in the iSine VR that I experienced at CES. It seems to me the iSine series has enough physical real estate to house the sensors and mics to do the job; batteries and circuitboards may get rough. I asked Sankar point blank if he saw the iSines turning into smart headphones. His answer, as always, was well informed and practical.

For the smart headphones, at the moment, to deliver very compelling features, it requires a lot of finagling with different chipsets. If we make a smart headphone, we want the user experience to be really rich, useful and best in class like our audio performance. Integrated chipsets are starting to appear and making the jump to smart headphones is in line with our strategy. Basically, we'll see new headphone features appear as the integrated headphone chip-sets develop. The chip companies that are in this market and have huge influence are Cirrus Logic, Qualcomm (CSR), and Connexant; the other important company is Sensory. Over 90% of our iSine sales are with lightning. So, you can see the beginnings of it with our lightning connected headphones.

Convergence is a bitch, and smart headphones need a lot of technology to converge in a big way before they'll be really worthy. Okay, let's have a look at the iSine 20 as it sits today.

Audeze iSine 20 w/Lightning Cable ($599)
The main body of the iSine is a canted hexagonal enclosure a little over an inch in diameter and about a half inch thick. Within this enclosure is the single-sided planar magnetic driver, which uses Audeze's Fluxor magnets and Uniforce circuit traces to evenly distribute motive force across the diaphragm. (More information on how these work can be found in my LCD-4 review.)

The outer housing is a nicely finished bronze colored plastic with a spider web-like pattern and a gold metal mesh beneath to protect the driver. The inward half of the housing has a what Audeze calls an eartube in their manual upon which the tips are mounted. This eartube is crucial to the iSine design and within lies some cool wizardry—I'll go into more detail shortly. Around the base of the eartube is a ring onto which you can attach the EarHooks or EarLocks, which mount and secure the iSine to your ears. Two sizes of both are included.


iSine 20 with EarHook (left) and EarLock (right) attached.

I found the EarHook much preferable to the EarLock. It took a little while to figure out just where to rotate the EarHook for best fit, but once in place I found the iSine surprisingly comfortable. Each earpiece weighs 10 grams and with the EarHooks I found the weight negligible. I have to say I'm generally not a big fan of generic fit IEMs; my left ear canal has a pretty severe bend in it and getting a good fit can be quite troublesome. The iSine tips don't go very deep in the ear and despite the rather large eartube seem to fit quite comfortably, and the EarHooks do a dandy job of keeping the tips in place. Three sizes of both smooth and ridged tips come with the iSine; I ended up preferring the mid-sized, ridged tips.

The iSine 20 is available with a standard cable with 3.5mm TRS plug, or with the Cipher Lightning cable and standard cable. Cables are attached to the earpieces with a proprietary two-pin indexed plug. L and R markings are on the inside of the plug and should face the head when worn. Forcing the plug with improper orientation may damage the headphone; please take care to insert it correctly. Also included with purchase is: a shirt clip for the cable; a cleaning tool to remove debris from the eartube nozzle; the manual on a USB thumb drive; and a rather nice synthetic fabric carry case.


I rarely mention packaging, but in this case I need to make an exception. After opening the magnetically snapped cardboard cover, you can see the product behind a clear plastic box. I took me a while to notice the indented slot on the center right side of the rear black plastic base. After popping the clear plastic open the first time with a finger nail and a bit of effort, it opened relatively easily thereafter. Within the case is a plastic mount for the headphones, this piece can be pried out of the dense surrounding foam cut-out and used as a storage mount in the fabric case for travel. Pretty nifty.

I thoroughly enjoyed interacting physically with this product from start to finish. Being such a novel earphone, I was surprised at how mature it felt. Its unexpected comfort; unusual ear fitting parts; and terrific accessorization had me taken aback. This is spectacular industrial design.

Now, on to the very important eartube and DSP in the Cipher cable.

3412 S. Susan St,
Santa Ana, California 92704

Cheepnis's picture

I'd like to know if the iSine 20 sounds better using the Std cable when running from and iphone to a DAC/Amp like the Mojo. I rarely use the iphone alone with iems, and prefer to use a lightning cable and adapter directly into the Mojo. This would mean I'd lose the advantage of the DSP in the iSine cable, but have a better quality sound using the Mojo's DAC and Amp.

It would be interesting to me if a comparison of iphone using the iSine Cipher Lightning cable vs. using a std lightning cable into a DAC/Amp. Thoughts?

dustdevil's picture

You find the answer to your question if you read the last 2 pages ;)

barun432's picture

Comparison of the cipher cable via an iOS device with a DAP or a DAC/AMP would've been helpful in order to understand the sonic capabilities of iSine20

Also in this open in ear category one of the best contenders is Ocharaku line of premium in ears (E.G. Flat 4 Line, Kaede, Nami, Kuro, Sakura, Akazakura). It would be very interesting to see them (Ocharaku) go head to head with the iSine line, as they are also good for home/office use.

jaredjcrandall84's picture

I have the mojo and decided to buy an ipod and lightning cable, i'll let you know how the two sounds against each other.

jaredjcrandall84's picture

At first I didn't like the sound from the cipher but after a bit I am loving it. The mojo has more resolution but I do realize after some time that the cipher is more EQ balanced resulting in the sound being more what I have heard from my expensive IEMs e.g. Layla, and a12.

GMP100's picture

I always wanted to look like a Tie Figther when listening to music ;)

steaxauce's picture

Hey Tyll, in your view, how do these fit into the heierarchy of other headphones and in-ear monitors? These are pretty unique, so I realize it's a bit apples-to-oranges, but it could still be useful to hear how you'd rank them against other gear. Are they the best in-ear monitors you've ever heard? What price point full-sized headphones would you take them over?

potterpastor's picture

Did you get a chance to compare the sound of these with the isine 10?

stalepie's picture

Why can't the DSP effects be applied in other software outside of the Cipher Lightning cable, such as on PC or Android? Is it just a trick to make it sound best with iPhones since it's sold in Apple stores?

brause's picture

Well, why not forking out more money for the earphones than for the fitting iPhone? Wonder how much the dac/amp combination in the iPhone costs? And if you elect to change to an Android device or any other device, you still get mediocre sound with the conventional cable.

Lots of money for a huge lack of flexibility.

Am I glad to have gotten the Focal Sphear on sale.

jaredjcrandall84's picture

A good argument, but I find that the isine 20, cipher cable, and a Dap (iphone) is more enjoyable than when I had a phone connected to a chord mojo, or other dac, plus 1300-2000 IEMs. I find that I use the iphone for a media device that isn't exclusive to the isine. Ultimately, an iphone se 128 gig (dap) for $380, plus isine 20 & cipher ~$60 - total less than $1000, is more enjoyable than my 2k Iems plus a dac. Trade-offs exist of course but overall I enjoy my current work setup than I did in the past.

potterpastor's picture

Don't know about the isine 20, but I have the 10 and even with the cipher cable, I don't like it because it lacks that bass impact I like with my M2 over ear and even the SE 215

crenca's picture

I am a bit conflicted over this review. On the one hand, Tyll made it more or less clear that this is an Apple ecosystem specific product. On the other hand, he reviewed it like any other product. This was intentional of course, but it does seem to give the impression that this product is useful outside of an Apple ecosystem. Sure, you can tweak it with DSP (something I do with all my HP & 2 channel gear) but this product is different in that it is clearly designed for the Apple universe...

jaredjcrandall84's picture

I have Isine 20 and mojo and do enjoy it greatly even though Tyll has claimed that the cipher cable really enhances the sound. I have only been into audio for about three years but get persuaded that I am missing out when I read these types of reviews. I'd save some money if I picked up what sounded best and then put on blinders, but that is only part of the experience albeit probably the best part? My ignorance is probably a little bit of bliss, but knowledge takes me on a bit of an experience journey.

hapnermw's picture

I enjoy InnerFidelity and appreciate all the work that Tyll puts into it. I’m presenting what I’ve personally experienced as another datapoint in the iSine20 discussion.
I’ve been listening to an iSine20+Mojo with a Mac Laptop and iPhone for the last year and have been very satisfied with the inner fidelity of this combo.
Recently, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to buy a Cipher Cable to see if its improved EQ was the critical element in sound quality this review has stated.
In my evaluation of the Mojo vs the Cipher Cable, I hear a significant difference between them.
I use the term ‘emotion’ a bit in what follows. I expect this translates to the ability of an earphone/headphone to fully reproduce the quality of the signal its fed which includes its ability to reproduce its detail/dynamics/microsonics/etc.
To make this difference as specific as I can I’ll focus on one cut of an album that illustrates it.
This is St. James Infirmary on Allen Toussaint’s CD, The Bright Mississippi. I selected this CD because it is an example the current state-of-the-redbook-art. I selected this cut because it has emotional weight and power and expert musicianship. I’ve imported this CD as an Apple lossless file to iTunes and loaded it on my iPhone.
I’ve listened to this file’s bits served by my iPhone to two DAC/Amps - my Audeze Cipher Cable and my Mojo (via USB/USB camera adapter/Audeze regular cable) - connected to my iSine20s.
I’ve also listened to this file on my Focal Utopias through a Mac iTunes/BitPerfect/USB/Yggy/Rag/Balanced Q Cable (i.e. I’ve heard the full emotional impact its bits can deliver).
If you listen to this cut via the Cipher Cable it sounds pretty good. Likely better than what most people expect an iPhone to sound. When you listen to this cut via the Mojo the emotional content of this music opens up in a way that is missing through the Cipher Cable.
Clearly there is something beyond the simple ‘EQ’ dimension that produces this - the quality of DACs and Amps do make a difference. It’s clear that this difference transcends whatever impact the difference in headphone EQ is between these two cases.
I don’t dispute that there is some difference in EQ; however, to my ear it pales in comparison with the quality of inner fidelity produced by the Mojo/iSine20.
The iSine/Mojo captures something quite comparable to my home Utopia system. They are not equal but they both present the music with the detail/dynamics/microsonics that are capable of delivering the music’s emotional experience.
The Cipher Cable simply does not meet this bar. This is not that surprising given its level of DAC/Amp sophistication/cost vs the Mojo.
The fact the quality of the signal produced by the Mojo overrides (IMHO) the iSine EQ issues Tyll documented implies that InnerFidelity is a bit over-rotated on head EQ curves as the arbiter of headphone listenability/quality. It has damned the iSine 20 to Cipher Cable ‘hell’ without a proper understanding of the impact on music quality a high quality DAC/Amp can make.

Augustus's picture

The HifiMan RE400 have about the same THD (90db) and other characteristics like the iSine, but offers better sealing and frequency response (vs the iSine without the cipher cable) and cost about 1/8 of the iSine 20...

If Audeze will release (or you, Tyll, wink wink) EQ plots to get the iSine to the Harman target without the cipher cable, that would be great.
(tried in the past to tweak the headphones based on 2 FR measurements on the site, but it didn't work)

Audeze_R's picture

We have published Cipher EQ and many use it with android or PC/Mac platforms. Tyll also links to it in his review:

Augustus's picture

It was nice of you to post it

Augustus's picture

I think now that Audeze has released 'Reveal' (DSP plugin), it has changed the picture dramatically. Now I can apply the DSP pluging when I convert the music for my portable player\smartphone so I don't need the cipher cable. It was a very good decision by Audeze.

frankmccullar's picture

I own and use Aeons from MrSpeaker and love them. Recently I bought some Airpods from
Apple and they sound pretty good; good enough that I think they deserve a formal review, in spite of their lowly origins. They are certainly pleasant and easy to use and they sound much better than I expected. Give us you expertise on this consumer product please.

Max_Minimum's picture

Do the first and second versions of the Cipher cable use identical equalization curves? I have just bought and received the iSine 20 and it appears I have the v2 cable while Tyll had the v1. I'm wondering if his take on tonality and eq settings apply to the v2 cable. Usually, my preference in tonality very closely matches his. But this time I find I scale back the top end a little while Tyll attenuates the high mids/low treble.

Matt Rowen's picture

The looks of them are weird, but I must say they sound amazing. Most of the I use them in my office. Initially, I thought they will attract many eyes because of their weird looks but they seem pretty much fine as of now. One thing that I don't like about them is their bulkiness and I really have to think twice before putting them on my apple earpods. I will add them to my good gaming earbuds guide very soon.