Audeze iSine 20 Planar Magnetic In-Ear Earphone Page 3


Sound Quality with Standard Cable
I take Doc C.'s statement, "(still better than in most IEMs)," with a couple of grains of salt, but he's got a point. There are lot's of IEMs out there with blown up bass and/or uneven treble. Move up to the $600 level and things get better, but I still find many IEMs having too much fun with a "V"-shaped response. In that regard, the iSine 20 may indeed be a better listen by having a somewhat more neutral response...but it's not without flaw.

To my ears the most noticeable deviation from neutral is a fairly large chunk of the low treble significantly reduced leading to a veiled sounding response. This is exacerbated by a somewhat emphasized upper midrange that gives a moderately shouty character to female vocals.

Imaging and dynamics are just okay; to my ears the discontinuity in the low treble seems to markedly disturb these characteristics. Imaging seems to come in two layers with the bass and mids somewhat close in and the mid/high treble more distant. Dynamics tend to loose some impact and snap due to the slightly soft bass response and veiled lower treble.

Bass measures ruler flat, which to my ears leads to a mild lack of weight to the low notes, but bass is clean and tight without discontinuities transitioning to the mids. The treble quality, while reduced 2-8kHz, is very clean and articulate, and the return to level at 8kHz and above does somewhat restore balance. While tonal neutrality is number one in my book, I have to say that the low distortion and clarity of the iSine 20 does mitigate it's tonal errors somewhat.

All-in-all, the iSine 20 on the standard cable is okay, but for me, sonically not worth the price of entry. On the other hand, if you find yourself desiring the unusual utility of an open acoustic IEM, there is not other choice and the iSine is at least as good or better than many IEMs at this price.

Sound Quality with Cipher Lightning Cable
Once hooked up to an iPad or iPhone with the Cipher Lightning cable with built in DSP and correcting filters tonality gets remarkably better. Now the bass is full with proper weight; response is clean and tight delivering powerful punch and nuanced texture on demand. Bass rise starts at 100Hz and rise 5dB into the sub bass. This is similar to the Bose QC30 response and I'm beginning to believe it's a better profile than the Harman curve that starts to rise at 150Hz quickly and levels off at 4dB above for the lower half of the bass.

Transition to the mids is seamless and midrange response is on target until 500Hz where it starts to rise towards the peak at 3kHz. To my ear the rise in this area is a bit too fast resulting in a slightly forward upper midrange and presence region. I used the Audeze EQ app to lower response in this area.


I tend to like this area slightly more relaxed than most, I expect. You may want to try 1dB less attenuation than I, but I clearly preferred some attenuation in this area. Once above 4kHz I felt the iSine 20 profile was pretty spot on.

Imaging and dynamics also strongly benefitted from the tonal change. Imaging is surprisingly large for an IEM, and instruments and vocals are nicely specific and separated. With the weightier bass response and more neutral tonality, the dynamic snap and thump sounded more coherent and natural.

Like with open vs. sealed headphones, I somehow felt the iSine 20 was more coherent and spacious than traditional IEMs. I'm not sure if it's inherent to the iSine sound or it exists because you remain somewhat aware of your normal acoustic surroundings, but it was pretty apparent to me that iSines delivered a significantly better sense of space than my previous IEM experiences.

Audeze has done a really terrific job of developing this product; the iSine 20 delivered a far more mature user experience than could reasonably be expected of a first-of-its-kind product. Though heavy for an IEM, the 10oz. earpieces were surprisingly comfortable and stable when positioned with the EarHooks over my ears. Build quality, accessorization, and packaging are simply outstanding.

I felt the sound quality with the standard, passive cable was just okay. A reduced response 2-8kHz produced a somewhat veiled sound, and bass response was a tad lightweight. Switching to the Cipher Lightning cable with built-in DSP and iSine correction delivered a remarkable improvement in tonality, image spaciousness, and dynamic punch. They did sound just a tad forward to me, so I further tweaked the sound to my liking using the Audeze app to dial back just a little response 500Hz to 4kHz.

I'm definitely happy to recommend the iSine 20 with Cipher cable for iOS device owners who want a general purpose earphone that allow you to retain some situational awareness in quiet home or office environs. I really enjoyed being able to move from music to phone calls to movies in bed with ease over the course of an evening. I'll cautiously recommend it with the standard cable for non-iOS users (you can't use the Lightning cable with a Mac) who would like the open acoustic performance around the home/office. Future plug-in support for popular player software appears to be forthcoming shortly.

And yes, they'll make the Wall of Fame. Being in a class of one its either boom or bust, and for iOS fans, I think Audeze struck gold with this one. Enjoy!

Click here to view on YouTube.

Audeze home page and iSine 20 product page.
Head-Fi reviews and thread. discussion thread.

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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.