Audeze Sine
 
Audeze SineGreased Lightning
 
Audeze Sine headphones  
Price: $699 passive, $799 with Cipher Lightning cable
 
Out of a garage and into a high-tech Californian production facility moved Audeze, as its planar magnetic headphone designs found success with reviewers and listeners around the world over the last few years. 
 
Planar magnetics are entirely different from the usual cone speaker design, instead using a large flat surface — here a planar panel 80 × 70mm (see cutaway image) —  excited into motion by the electromagnetic force created by conductors woven across its surface. The diaphragm is extremely light, so response can be lightning (small ‘L’) fast, and this type of driver is credited with delivery of detail potentially beyond cone-based headphones (or speakers). The caveat question marks are generally around tonal balance, and bass delivery in particular — even giant planar magnetic speaker designs are often supported by conventional cones in order to shift the sheer quantity of air required to deliver satisfying bass frequencies.
 
But clearly this equation is altered by firing the sound straight into your ears. Even though the planar panels in the Sines are relatively small ones, off the bat there was absolutely no deficiency of bass from the Audeze Sine — the planar speed and delivery of detail may be the first thing you notice, but close behind will be the bass impact, its enjoyable weight and impressive speed. Indeed you might not notice any of this, because the music comes through with a delight that demands your attention. It’s a rare review product that brings such spine-tingling delight even to our most jaded of test tracks. So where some headphones soften the recent McCartney track ‘My Valentine’, and where many headphones make shrill Dion’s ‘I Heard It’, the Audeze Sines did neither, instead filling the musical forms each to their advantage, an excellent result. Sweeps sounded amazingly linear in response, tilted towards the mids and highs but nevertheless reaching low, confirmed by the audible delivery of an organ 30Hz D3 (Alan Parsons ‘Soundcheck 2’ disc), while the same note underpinning Neil Young’s ‘Walk with Me’ was delivered with deliciously complex depth.
 
Meanwhile those planar magnetic detailed highs will have classical fans swooning, especially since orchestral soundstaging was also rendered with a pictorial accuracy. The massed strings of Mozart’s G minor Symphony #25 raced out of the gates with power and passion, assisted by the plentiful gain available via the Lightning cable — there’s none of the level maxing out of Bluetooth headphones here.
 
Some may be accustomed to the sense of enveloping ‘room-feel’ warmth that can be delivered to music by a good cone diaphragm, but we can’t imagine anyone accusing the Sines of sounding clinical. They’re too full and deep for that, and they bring high detail and spectacular dynamics for a headphone this price.  
 
Audeze Sine
Audeze Cipher
So — to that Lightning cable. The Audeze Sines sell here in Australia for $699 with their standard minijack cable, and for $799 with the Lightning cable, which Audeze calls the ‘Cipher’. 
 
That’s $100 just for the extra cable? But of course it’s not just a cable. Does $100 for a DAC and headphone amplifier sound better? Just a bit. The picture here shows how much is going on inside that cable. It also has another clever trick — open up the app that goes with this product (left) and you can set two tweaked EQ profiles which will be remembered not within your smart device but actually within the cable electronics, so they’ll be available whatever device you use the cable with. 

But yes, the $100 price does makes clear how Apple’s Lightning move shifts an additional cost on to the customer. Whatever level of headphone you’re used to buying, you should expect a Lightning equivalent to cost $50 to $100 more — the better the headphone, the higher the increase, but also the greater the advantage, which only kicks in if the new DAC beats the one Apple has removed. And as our tests on the iPhone 6s show (p86), that wasn’t half bad; indeed it could be Android users who benefit most from digital output to an external DAC. Motorola has gone there already on its Moto Z and Z Force, with USB-C in the Lightning role — one socket to charge or play. With the rise of USB-C, expect these kinds of Android cables to proliferate. There’s even the possibility that USB-C might oust Lightning at Apple, which is already adopting USB-C on Macbooks.
 
Meanwhile expect all sorts of Lightning and USB-C solutions — miniDACs, slip-on cases like Arcam’s MusicBoost for the iPhone 6s. One thing Apple has certainly achieved is to open a whole new sideline of accessories.
 
Audeze is not the first company to deliver Lightning headphones — we’ve had a pair of Philips’ Fidelio M2 in their M2L Lightning-equipped version for 18 months. These were not, we believe, ever brought to Oz (though they may be now!); we acquired them following a chance conversation with Philips Europe at an IFA event. 
 
The Sines are not Audeze’s first Lightning headphones either — indeed this same ‘Cipher’ Lightning cable was created first for the EL-8 model, a much larger over-ear design. Exceedingly sensibly the Sines were designed to be compatible with the same cable. All the electronics are in the cable lozenge — DAC, amplification and audio circuits, also a microphone for calls, so an analogue to digital converter is in there too! 
All this is powered by your iPhone/iPad/iPod, and the effect on battery life will be directly proportional to the power used: large headphones, inefficient headphones, high-res decoding, these will all use extra power. And you can’t (without an adaptor) charge your device at the same time. We haven’t investigated this effect for the Sines here, simply because we haven’t established any benchmarks for this new connection.
 
As for the quality of this particular Lightning solution, we loved it. The source of its sonic prowess is difficult to isolate, but it operates at 24-bit depth on the files obtained digitally from your device’s Lightning socket, and its sparkling highs and sharpened edges undoubtedly transformed the sound from our iPod touch compared with the analogue minijack cable to the same headphones.Remember that this Lightning cable is specific to these headphones — well, these and the even higher-end EL-8 planar magnetic headphones for which  Audeze developed this system-on-a-cable. We must hope that Apple soon grants the ability to load high-res files via iTunes; meanwhile you can load high-res files via third-party apps (see our phones feature, p85). Meanwhile if this is a sign of what’s possible from the new breed of Lightning and/or USB-C headphone adaptor, well, we find ourselves welcoming the revolution. 
 
Audeze Sine
 
Of course, the Sines themselves are passive headphones — a normal minijack cable also comes with them. Since we were listening on an iPod touch, we could reasonably easily slip between the two, delayed only by the unusual (but effective) horizontal pluggery of Audeze’s cables at thhe headphone end. The comparison was a ‘gosh’ moment. Via the cable the sound was flatter, lacking many of those majestic high frequencies. The edges of the acoustic guitar plucks on the opening of ‘My Valentine’ seemed completely lost; the ambient space around Neville Marriners’ Academy of St Martin in the Fields much reduced. The longer we listened, the more we settled into what is still an enjoyable listen — but not the unlimited magic of the sound via the Lightning cable. 
 
The Sines did feel a little heavy as the listening sessions progressed, but the earcushions are comfortable, the construction solid and luxurious in its leather trim. It’s interesting they call them ‘on-ears’; they went over ours (to about the same extent as Sennheiser’s PXC 550s elsewhere in this issue). Audeze claims the Sines to be the first planar-magnetic on-ear headphones, which will be true for those with very big ears. 
 
So a great success here, and a sign that it may be worth paying the Lightning surcharge to exit your device digitally and enjoy the benefits of a cable-mounted DAC to deliver better sound to your headphones.    
 
 
Audeze Sine  
Price: $699 passive, $799 with Cipher Lightning cable
Headphone type: on/over-ear, closed
Driver: 80 x 70mm ‘Uniforce’ planar magnetic
Quoted frequency response: 10Hz -50kHz (no envelope stated)
Impedance (passive cable): 20 ohms
Weight: 230g
Warranty: Three years