Audeze sent me their iSine 10, knowing that I had independently reviewed the 20 in the past. Although I know that it has been emphasized to death, I really can't overstate that this innovation is the most magnitudinal that I've seen in the past 5 years in headphones, generally speaking. I mean, to take the technology and (arguably) the sound of a pair of full-size, orthodynamic headphones and cram them into a pair of portable, in-ear monitors is absurd, in the least. So let's get at it, then.
Fit and Form
The design of these headphones is certainly polarizing. I'm one who isn't too reprehensive about appearances, so wearing these out hasn't been an issue for me, just as it wasn't with the iSine 20s. Although I have since parted with those headphones, I feel that the black colorway of these headphones makes them just a little bit more discreet than their more expensive counterparts, although they still are quite the statement.
Beyond their appearance, they are very solidly built. No machining errors to speak of, no inconsistencies of any kind, and very light, for all that is inside them. Weighing in at a mere 11 grams per in-ear, I'm genuinely amazed that Audeze has managed to fit an orthodynamic driver in here. The cable connections insert and click resoundingly, with no worry of them popping out without warrant. The cable is flat from there to the Y-splitter, and flat from there to the connector, which is a TRS 1/8" auxiliary connector. This is all very standard, but well executed, with good stress relief all-around, and no issues that I'd see as long term threats to use.
Included are a gamut of accessories. This includes 3 sets of ribber eartips, 3 sets of non-ribbed eartips, all silicon. It also includes 3 sets of EarHooks, one slick black plastic, one slick clear plastic, and one matte black plastic. I found that the included EarLocks (which fit inside the concha as opposed to over the ear) worked better for me for fit and for comfort. Two sizes of those are included, both soft-touch silicon. There is also a shirt clip and a cleaning tool, both of which are pretty standard. Finally, there is the Cipher cable, which I was unable to use, as I'll discuss later.
I found that my ears found their best comfort scenario with the large set of EarLocks and the smallest set of ribber eartips. This combination had the right conjunction of grip and comfort for me to be able to have them in for about 3 hours without noticeable discomfort.
Microphonic are minimal, really only being noticeable when music isn't playing. The cable, aside from its construction, seems of good quality, and I really would not foresee any issues with it long term. My iSine 20 cable, which was, in every way, the same, survived 6 months of tumbling through my backpack with no qualms.
These headphones feature a variation of the well-known Audeze "house sound". The bass is bone flat, down to 20 Hz, the lower-mids are slightly emphasized, with a dip in the upper-mids, and what I perceive as a trough between about 3 kHz and 8 kHz, which I think contributes to the slightly veiled character of vocals. The treble peaks a bit later, keeping these headphones from sounding deadly veiled, thankfully.
Soundstage is, of course, tremendous. Great radial extension, with a great sense for height. Imaging and separation are similarly outstanding, with great control of position and movement in pretty much every case. These really are unique in their market-share, partially for this reality, as I'll reiterate later.
Interesting, isolation is very minimal, with external sounds coming through with very little muffling. I say interestingly, because leakage really is not that bad. Sure, at listening levels in a quiet room, the essence of the music can be heard about 2 feet from the head, but beyond that, there isn't much. In an office environment, they seem to leak about as much as a pair of earbuds (be they Monk+s or EarPods or what-have-you). I feel that this honestly makes them a fair candidate for use in transit, given that you won't be on a crowded bus. They certainly wouldn't be out of place in a college library or on an airplane.
Songs used: Aqua Man by Beenzino, Born to Shine by Big Grams feat. Run the Jewels, and Mask Off by Future
Bass, as mentioned above really is bone flat down to 20 Hz. This does not, however, mean that it is emphasized. Sub-bass extension is great, with a real sense for rumble and shake, even in this form factor. Mid-bass remains flat, meaning that bass will not hit as hard as some dynamic- and BA-based headphones. This isn't to say it is anemic or lean, just that these may not satisfy the cravings of most bassheads. For those who like, say, the 1More Quad Driver, but prefer a little bit less bass, these may be a valid candidate. In its quantity, there is very good texture and transient control, with basically no sloppiness or soupiness of which to speak. I;d confidently say that these can convey anything thrown at them, including the fastest, most complex passages of more intense electronic music, with great fidelity and faith to source.
Key descriptors: flat, textured, and fast
Songs used: Scarlet Town by Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau, The Way It Was by Coast Modern, and Untitled (How Does It Feel) by D'Angelo
This was the first issue I ran into in my audition of these headphones. Instruments come across with great fidelity. Wonderful impact, resolution, and detail retrieval. However, the trough from roughly 3 kHz to 8 kHz means that vocals, both male and female, can come across as veiled. This isn't to say that it's all terrible, as most vocals still come across as relatively natural, just that they do sit a little bit backwards in the mix, and that the portrayal of harmonics is a little bit off. However, I will reiterate that instruments, particularly guitars, are conveyed very, very well, as the detail retrieval allows for a truly enjoyable recreation of almost every acoustic recording I found to throw at them (particularly recommended is Jake Shimabukuro's Gently Weeps). Additionally, and similarly as a result of their detailed presentation, pianos are very well communicated, as the action, striking, and damping are all recreated well. Otherwise, and more generally, the mids are very detailed, air neither towards lush nor towards lean, and have good impact.
Key descriptors: veiled, detailed, and impactful
Songs used: Ageispolis by Aphex Twin, Shofukan by Snarky Puppy, and Life by Stanton Moore feat. Cyril Neville, Nicholas Payton, & Skerik
Treble falls back to target, for me, in comparison to the veiled character of the mids. It offers good sparkle and definition in pretty much all genres of music. Very precise, while simultaneously airy, it presents cymbals particularly well. For those who read more than this review, you'll see that I reference this frequently when I get to treble, and I'll admit that that's because I'm a percussionist, but it also offers a good window into a headphone's performance. A cymbals sound is very tough to recreate, with the "tang" followed by a decay being very distinctive and recognizable. These tackle the task well, staying faithful to the sound without bastardizing it in the slightest. Aside from that, it extends very well without much noticeable effort or peakiness, adding a good sense of air and some of the upper overtones that the upper-midrange mutes.
Key descriptors: airy, precise, and detailed
Minutia and Miscellaneous
My regret in this review is that I am still unable to test the performance of the headphones with the included Cipher Lighting cable. The only Apple product that I own is a recent generation MacBook, and for whatever unknown reason (hopefully a long-term full-line conversion), Apple decided to go with USB-C ports.
So, I am unable to comment on their performance with the DSP that is included in that cable, and on the reliability and performance of the standalone iOS application that Audeze has produced. As I understand it, the reason for not including a USB-C standard cable is that control standards for Android are nigh-nonexistent, making standardization near impossible from Audeze's end, regrettably, but understandably.
For its flaws, Audeze really has done something tremendous here. While oBravo can technically claim to have the first planar magnetic in-ear, it was a much different approach than this is. These are not hybrids, and these are not tiny drivers. These are full-on, 30 mm, planar magnetic drivers in a truly portable, in-ear form-factor. Yes, the mids are slightly veiled, with vocals coming across slightly veiled as a result, but that's the only real flaw that I found in these headphones, and they come with a lot that other market offerings do not. The soundstage can't be beat for the form-factor, nor can the imaging and separation. The bass is absolutely flat, all the way down, and that can't be bested either. The treble has great precision and adds a great sparkle. For instrumental and acoustic music, I'm not sure they can be beat at the price point. Additionally and tangentially, as headphones for gaming or for VR, there certainly isn't a better option in the form-factor. Locational positioning and the realism of the soundscape are truly unbeatable, for that use-case. For music, generally speaking, I see this as a first step for Audeze in this form-factor, and I'm more than excited to see what the next step is, although I admit that I do feel that these are not truly a final solution, as I can't overlook the veiled mids in the context of general music listening.
These headphones were provided to me for review by Audeze. I am not being paid by anyone to write this review, to endorse the product reviewed, or for the content that I put in the review.
These headphones were powered by an Astell&Kern AK Junior, a Google Pixel, a Neurochrome HP-1, an iFi Pro iCan, and by whatever soundcard is in the motherboard of my computer.
I have had these headphones for about two weeks, and I have put about 20 hours of analytical listening through them during that period.