Like a Sports Car for Your Head: The Audeze SINE and Cipher Lightning Cable

Audeze SINE ($449, $499 w/Lightning cable)
On-Ear sealed headphones are in a bit of a "bastard child" headphone category. They exist mainly for the convenience of small size for portable use, and no self-respecting headphone enthusiast thinks this is a category that promises great sound. Well...the Audeze SINE might just change all that. This is a really cool headphone.

My first thought upon opening the box was, "Man, this is a sexy little headphone! It's like a sports car for your head." This should come as no surprise since the industrial design was done by Designworks, a BMW Group company. Vrooom!

Audeze SINE build quality is top notch. The headband and ear capsule coverings are leather. Adjustment arms, gimbals, and capsule housings are all black anodized aluminum. Earpads apear to be protein leather—a perfectly legitimate alternative to real leather, it seems to me. (Head-Fi thread here.) The only plastic to be seen from the outside is the adjustment slider fittings at the end of the headband, and the cable.


Speaking of cables, I found the SINE cable and optional Cipher Lightning cable very nice indeed. The cable itself is flat and covered in a nice pliant synthetic material. The angled 3.5mm mono plugs slide into recessed pockets and are virtually impossible to pull out accidentally. The design ensures the jacks inside the headphones are protected from undue strain. The angled connector also ensures the cables exit the headphones in a proper direction over the shoulders.

The 3.5mm TRS plug at the player end is a slender straight connector that should easily fit in through any protective case on your phone or player. Though I'd prefer a 45 degree angled connector, the one provided is flexible in the last 1/3rd of it's length providing some strain relief.

The optionally available Cipher cable ($499 w/headphones) will permit connections to Apple iOS devices with a Lightning connector. The cable's electronics module includes DSP, DAC, amplifier, and Siri compatible microphone, and is powered from the Apple device. The Cipher cable internally up-samples all incoming digital signals to 24-bit word size. iOS devices are inherently limited to 24/48 resolutions.


Screenshot of the Audeze Cipher Cable app with my basic settings for the SINE.

The DSP in the Lightning cable is used to provide some ability to EQ the SINE headphones. It has a built in +3dB bass boost to conform more closely to the Harman target response, but it also has a companion app that provides you with a basic 10-band graphic equalizer. Once you've EQed the SINEs, the curve is stored inside the Cipher cable, which will remember the EQ even if attached to a different phone. The app also allows you to do firmware updates to the Cipher cable. More info about the Cipher cable is available on Audeze's Cipher Guide.


Audeze SINE in the $39 EL8 hard-side case.

Also included with purchase is a 3.5mm to 1/4" adapter and a simple fabric carry case. The only thing I have any complaint with in terms of the build quality of this product is the carry bag. I really think a headphone at this price would warrant an included had-side case. Fortunately, the $39 EL8 case can accomodate the SINE as well, so a relatively inexpensive solution is near at hand.

I find the ergonomics of the SINE quite good for an on-ear headphone. Sealed, on-ear headphones are rarely comfortable; having your ears squished against you head just can't be comfortable in the long run. Initially, the SINE caliper pressure on my ears was a bit too much. The good news is that if you grab the headband at either end—not the ear cups or extender arms—you can stretch out the internal spring steel part fairly readily. Do it carefully in a few steps as it's harder to squish it tighter than stretch it out.

Once nicely snug on my head, I found the fit of the SINE very stable; absolutely no problems with it wiggling about while walking or working in the garage. My acid test for a headphone with a secure fit is to rise up from a pillow. Most headphones will become dislodged or move around; the SINE for me was stable and I didn't have to touch them for repositioning at all. This is an excellent characteristic for a portable headphone.

Isolation is about average for a headphone of this type. They really won't do the trick for New Yorkers on the subway or for air travel—noise cancelers or IEMs are the way to go there. But for every day walking around the city cans they're just about right. I think a little bleed-though of outside information is a good thing so you have a better chance of hearing traffic.

All-in-all, and apart from the lack of an included hard-side case, I felt the SINE is one of the best constructed, stylish, and ergonomically suitable on-ear headphones I've experienced. This headphone category is littered with "little brother" headphones—V-Moda XS to M-100; Sennheiser Urbanite and Momentum on-ears to their respective full-sized cans; Beats Solo2 to Studio—and I always get the feeling that sealed, on-ear headphones is a junior varsity category touting their small size and low cost, but never really breaking into the quality of performance that the senior full-sized headphones have. The SINE changes all that: this is a headphone built to play in the big leagues that just happens to be small. I really dig these cans physically.

Now, let's have a listen to how they sound.

Audeze LLC.
1559 Sunland Lane
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 581-8010

barun432's picture

Nice writeup Tyll. The video was great as always especially with the slips in the beginning. Had a few questions.

1. How efficient are these (Analog Cable), do they work well from a phone or do they need amplification?
2. Is there any noticeable improvement with amplification?
3. How is the comfort level after a an hour of use and does long use result in sweat on the ear pads?


P.S- Wish you had done a review of the Aedle VK-1, as they are still the best dynamic on-ear portables around (I have owned all the TOTL dynamic on-ear portable headphones)

Tyll Hertsens's picture
They work fine from a phone; solid volume. Yes, they improve with a better amp. Comfort is better than average for an on-ear.

Didn't like the VK1 sound; fairly uneven.

tony's picture

Video quality is very good, I froze the action a number of times, each time the frame was not blurred, hmm, 60P?

I wonder if that Cable is available as a stand-alone purchase? will it work with my more efficient headphones?

Question No.2; where is this headphone made?

I was following your phrasing and pace: superb. Complete thought after complete thought with the precision of a machine. I'll listen again, a bit later, to see if I can sense you mentally pausing but so far you seem flowing and beautifully articulate. Five Stars

Audeze's breakthru is that Cable which looks like something any headphone owner could and would purchase. Betcha it'd work on my iMac too.

Tony in Michigan

ps. does Audeze answer their Phone?, I see them offering a phone number

Josuah's picture

Both the standard and Lightning (Cipher) SINE cables are available as a separate purchase. You can either ask Audeze or your local dealer (we have them here). But I'd recommend purchasing the Lightning version for $50 more and then getting the standard cable separately.

tony's picture

Thank you for helping. Are you a Dealer?

My curiosity is for the Cipher device, I'm hunting for more of the important details. I've already concluded that my Sennheiser Headphone devices require very modest power.

I think I'm seeing this Cipher as being an attenuator and not an amplification device.

So, as a Cable, DAC, and EQ, it becomes a universally useful Audio component, I'm hoping.

I suppose I'll check into the "Street" talk on Head-Fi and perhaps ask a few questions.

I hoped Tyll and Audeze would've focused more descriptional journalism about it's versitilities or perhaps I should've asked in a note.

Thanks for writing,

Tony in Michigan

Josuah's picture

Hi, Tony. Yes, I'm a dealer; I run Neko Audio.

I'm not sure I follow your comment about the Cipher being an attenuator versus an amplification device. There is a small amplifier chip inside the cable. You can see it in the internals photo of the Cipher cable manual.

But you can only use the Cipher cable with the matching headphone. So the EL-8 Cipher goes with the EL-8, and the SINE Cipher goes with the SINE. You can't use a Cipher cable with a different headphone, not even with the other Audeze headphones.

Hope this helps.

tony's picture

Hello again,

I just had a look for that Sine & Cipher manual and found it!, I'd found it earlier and though it in-accurate. It states the Sine needing only 1mW for 100db. ( which is fine ) and the Sine can achieve 120db of sound pressure levels ( fine again ).

It also says the Sine needs 500mW to 1 Watt for power. Now this don't make any sense at all. Doesn't doubling the 1mW of power yeald 3db increase in Signal Pressure Level ( SPL )?, that's the old rule of thumb. To hit 120db should require about 64mW, what on earth is the 500mW for? ( or 1W for that matter ).

Anyway, this Sine headphone needs only slight audio signal, and probably less than any DAC's output level, making me think the device needs an attenuator not an Amplifier.

I wonder if Audeze will come forward to "clarify" this matter.

I suppose I might say the Mr.Silberman at Audioquest initially recommended the original Dragonfly to be made as a Cable ( just as you have done ).

All in all, we might be able to say that Audeze has raised the level of Mediocrity to impressive new heights ( audiophile levels, given Tyll's reporting ).

From an Engineering point of view, I can't figure how the Cable knows what transducer its powering. So, what is it that makes it unique to a certain Model? ( other than a Marketing plan )

Anyway, I like the Cipher cable concept. I can imagine more of these cables arriving soon. Cable is a popular and wonderfully profitable Audio Category for Manufacturers. Betcha lots of folks are watching all this.

Thanks for writing,

Tony in Michigan

Josuah's picture

I believe the 100dB/1mW sensitivity is correct. The 500mW - 1W rating that Audeze specifies is based on what they think your amplifier should be able to provide in order to provide good sound quality. You will not be listening to headphones at >100dB all the time anyway. Most people do not have desktop or portable headphone amplifiers capable of outputting 1W even at peak.

I think you are missing a big part of the SINE and EL-8 headphones, and the Cipher cable. The SINE and EL-8 headphones have proprietary connectors on the earcups. You cannot use a regular headphone audio cable you buy from somewhere else. The Cipher cable only connects to the Lightning jack on an iPhone or iPad. It cannot connect to a DAC or any other headphone gear. And it can only connect to the SINE or EL-8 it was made for.

tony's picture

Good sound quality probably would require only 50 milliwatts according to Audeze and Tyll's evaluation. The spec. concerning One watt is just marketing silliness for Audiophiles owning powerful amps ( like me ). That 500 to 1,000 milliwatts is probably there to bow to Schiit and other outfits making overly powerful, full featured Amps.

However, I own Mac ( Apple ) gear that use the Lightning system and I can terminate any cable system to adapt to any device. Not that I would modify that Cipher but I would make a little adapter cable for those little connectors on the cable. I don't see any issues.

Furthermore, I can now see a clear path for Manufacturers to begin offering "Accessory" devices similar to the Cipher.

Bob Katz is already using his Audeze headphones directly from his iPhone device, using a EQ App. he got from somewhere.

Audeze is offering a Software/Cable solution for iPhone Audiophiles, at a rather modest price. which is exciting stuff, we've come a very long way in only a few decades!

However, as a one time Audio Gear Importer, Retailer ( Esoteric Audio ) and Manufacturer of Audio Accessories ( all that during the 1980s Vinyl era's demise ), I see the profit and exclusivity of Audio Systems evaporating. Superb sound quality is now accessible to anyone with a Smart Phone for an amazingly low cost. Thank you Audeze!

Add a pair of Active Loudspeakers and we have Room filling satisfaction for the Vast Consumer Population.

Oh, we'll still have the $500,000 systems for the 1% group and we'll still have my old pal Dan D'Augastino making his "Statement" pieces, but you won't have me competing to sell to any of those old timers waiting it out in "God's Waiting room", I quit that 30 years ago.

Thanks for writing and supporting your Manufacturer.

Tony in Michigan

GREQ's picture

Looks like they took some cues from Skullcandy Navigator.
I'm kidding, but the similarity is undeniable. ^_^

potterpastor's picture

This is a very exciting time for headphone technology, not only with the cipher cable, but with planars going portable. This new release is a Sine that things are changing for the better!

I know I am mixing headphone categories (over ear open vs on ear closed), but how do these headphones sound compare to the HE400S, which I absolutely adore?

zobel's picture

The Sennheiser HD 380 pro has a similar one, works great!

tony's picture

I just saw an unboxing video ( done in 1080 ). Frame freezing revealed the Packaging side printing, in small letters, saying Made in Cosa Mesa, Ca.
The bits and pieces of the packaging do not look Asian.
Even comes with a "Signed" & Serial numbered Card, nicely done.
Hmm, Audeze looks like a very nice "Premium" offering.

Well done, it's calling out to my "impulsive" buying habit!

The Sine site does not identify the Cipher Cable's performance limits but I'm noticing Tyll being quite taken with it's performance and it seems able to satisfy the power needs of a .4 milliwatt headphone efficiency, twice the .18 milliwatt requirements of my Sennheiser HD series stuff and easily enough for IEMs.

Is this a Sign of things to come for the Headphone user?; an iPhone + Cipher cable = satisfaction?

Only a few years ago a hobbyist needed three boxes rubber banded together, total cost ranging well over $2,000.

If this is where we all are in April of 2016, where will April 2017 find us?

Equalizing is going Mainstream among us Headphone folks, about time, far as I'm concerned!

I think Till discovered a Break-thru.

Tony in Michigan

Inks's picture

Not only does the Sine have a good basis to work with based on its measurements, with no major peaks, good bandwidth and low distortion. The Cipher cable is a sign of what's to come and what I have been waiting for. A similar DSP system is being done by Jaybird. Now it's time for manufacturers to make universal lighting cables with amp/Dac/DSP system for headphones with regular 3.5mm jacks, MMCX, 2pin, etc

Aufdemaury deus ex machina's picture

Imagine if Sennhieser made an HD 800 but with ring radiator planar magnetic drivers? lol that would be awesome, or make an Estat Hd800, or make an Hd800 with the type of transducers found on Vienna acoustic speakers (spider cone)

AllanMarcus's picture

I know the T51p is considerably less, but it's sounds pretty darned good.

Akmax57's picture

EQ from the app was used to correct some treble issues. Before using the EQ, the Sines were compared to the Oppo PM-3, which was noted to have a treble issue in the opposite direction. So, if you use EQ to 'correct' treble issues for the Sine, why not do so for the PM-3's and other headphones being reviewed. Bob Katz noted the PM-3's really shine with a bit of EQ.

I get the headphones should be reviewed on the basis of
their own non-EQ'd qualities, but the potential is shown for what the Sines anD PM-3 can be done with EQ, perhaps this should be added to future reviews to show other phones potentials.

Just a thought.'s picture

I was wondering if you tested these with a portable headphone amp, What would you recommend? I travel a lot and there seems to be a lot out there,

Manuel Monroy's picture

Tyll, as Audeze Sine compared with B & W P7, to listen to music with a smartphone?

vitek's picture

Hi Tyll, many thanks for the review .... and actually for many other reviews as well ,)

Could you refer how good is the quality of Cipher DAC/Amp compared to other portable DAC/Amp devices? I was thinking of Oppo HA-2SE originally.

many thanks! :)


star's picture

Blue Ella Planar Magnetic Headphones With Built-in Amplfier
would that be more a complete headphone ,not sharing the disadvantages of the sine ??

star's picture

is that review on the sine DX ?

simon.restrepo's picture

Hi there fellow innerfidelity enthusiasts,

I was a very happy NAD VISO HP50 owner. Sadly, I managed to lose my HP50 and I am looking for a replacement. I thought that I would use the opportunity to upgrade a bit, if possible. I've been hesitating between the Audeze Zine and the Oppo PM-3. I mainly use my headphone at work, so I need to keep noise leaking at a minimum. Any suggestion or comments would be greatly appreciated. My budget is max 500 USD. Thanks a lot for any replies!