A few months ago, we told you about the imminent arrival of Sine, the new compact on-ear headphones from Audeze. They use planar magnetic drivers, not the dynamic drivers found in most headphones. Dynamic drivers are the familiar cone-shaped variety you’ve seen a million times—look inside the stereo speakers in your living room and you’ll see them. Within each earcup of a planar magnetic headphone, however, is a thin, flat (hence “planar”) membrane with conductive material that is moved to and fro by an array of magnets. The size of the diaphragm and the larger number of magnets makes the driver more responsive, which means it reproduces the finer details in your music more accurately. Well-recorded acoustic stuff in particular is brighter and more lifelike.
Sine headphones are shipping this month. At $449, they seem quite expensive for portables, but that’s an accessible price for planars. Audiophiles, who tend to have more dollars than sense, go nuts for planars, and they’re usually priced accordingly. Models from Audeze, Oppo, HiFiMan, and others often top $1,000. So, yeah, the Sines are on the low end, especially considering Audeze is among the giants in high-end headphones. Planars also tend to be YUGE, and the fact the Sine headset folds flat and slips easily into a briefcase or slim backpack makes it even more attractive.
Audeze’s on-ears come with a standard analog headphone cable, but you can get that and a Lightning cable for another 50 bucks. If you’re an iPhone owner, spend the extra dough. Not only will you get the advantage of hearing your digital music before it is converted to an analog signal (a process that alters it in tiny ways), but you’ll be future-proofing your headphones. Should Apple ditch the standard headphone jack and move to Lightning-only audio (as rumors suggest, and rumors are always correct), you’re covered. And if that never happens (because rumors are never correct), you still get a noticeable audio upgrade.
Truly excellent sound. All the hallmarks of the planar magnetic driver: Skull-rattling, distortion-free lows, nicely balanced mids, and crisp, like-you’re-there highs. Jazz, classic rock, and anything with acoustic instruments sounds particularly excellent. You don’t need a headphone amp—the Sine is rated at a phone-friendly 20 ohms, but they can handle 6W of input, so plug them into your tube Mjolnir 2. Earcups fold flat, making the headphones easier to transport. Remarkably small and lightweight for a set of planar magnetics. Handsome too! Lots of premium leather, with a tasteful and stealth all-black construction. (DesignWorksUSA handled the industrial design here, so brava.) If you carry lossless files on an iPhone, you’ll want the Lightning cable for $50 extra.
While inexpensive for a pair of planars, there are many other headphones that sound as good or better for the same $450 base price—you should consider buying these for the unique technology inside more than anything. If the planar vibe doesn’t appeal to you, they’re not for you. The on-ear design isn’t as comfortable as an over-ear headphone; I found myself having to take them off about once per hour to rest my aching lobes. Shorter sessions are better. The design requires one cable for each earcup, so there’s twice as much wiring to get in the way. They don’t have a very wide soundstage, so while music sounds more clear and lively, it isn’t as expansive.
7/10 A great buy for headphone freaks, a pricey specialty item for everyone else.