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Muscular & filigreed – Audeze’s Sine Deluxe on-ear headphones

  • Absolutism. I could tell you that Audeze’s Sine on-ear headphone feels well made – robust even. That doesn’t help much – your definition of robust build quality, as applied to portable headphones, may differ from my own.

    Not until I tell you that the Sine’s metal framework and hard-shell earcups look and feel like they would withstand more street life knocks than, say, OPPO Digital’s over-ear PM-3 and (especially) Sony’s MDR-1000X, even when run hard-wired with a lossless audio feed. The Sine need every ounce of their own strength. Whilst the aforementioned rivals come with hard/er shell carry-cases, Audeze supply a thick fabric bag.

    Moving on.

    I could tell you that the Sine’s sideways clamp pressure is firm. Knowing that it’s quite a bit firmer than the PM-3 or the MDR-1000X adds proper context. That’s out of the box – one can ease the Sine’s headgrip with some careful outward pressure applied to the headband. Tread with caution – this isn’t a reversible process.

    I could also tell you that the Sine sound supremely transparent. Aside from the logical nonsense – transparent to what (?) – and the cerebral twinge of yet another audiophile cliche, without comparative data points I talk loud and say nothing. Specificity is called for.

    For over twenty years now, I’ve heard “Drove to a shop, never to return” in the House Of Love’s “In A Room” as “Drawn to a shop, never to return”. The Audeze were the first to corrected me on that. The OPPO did not. Neither did the Sony.

    Next to the Sine, the MDR-1000X sound veiled, more mellow. These Audeze’s wake the wearer up with a jolt. They grab you buy the lapels and refuse to let go – the arresting presentation isn’t easily ignored. Excitement factor is high, with even the flattest recordings. Fire up Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s “Love To Burn” (from live album Weld) and then pause it mid-song. Not an easy task.

    I wish I could say the same about OPPO’s PM-3, possibly the Sine’s closest rival from a technical standpoint. Both use planar magnetic drivers whose wafer thin membrane, according to the theory, vibrates more uniformly than a dynamic driver (as used in the wireless Sony). The PM-3 are more polite, their aural persuasion prettier. BUT – and it’s a big but – they don’t get to the core of Crazy Horse’s slow-burning destruction the way the Sine do.

    It’s as if Audeze have taken the PM-3’s filigreed sound as a starting point, sent it off to boot camp only for it to return with more beefcake on show.

    Take that fist and punch the air. That’s how the Sine make me feel when I go walkabout in Mitte or Prenzlauer Berg.

    As per the recently reviewed iSine 20, Audeze’s secret weapon is their digital audio-extracting Cipher Lightning cable for iOS devices (only), without which the Sine sound a more lacklustre when handling the nuanced flicker of peripheral micro-detail. Not even the ~US$1400 NW-ZX2 DAP from Sony can compete.

    But, there’s a wrinkle…

    The Sine’s Cipher cable features a small circuit board that helps flattens the ‘phone’s frequency response. This is in addition to its DSP engine. For yours truly, if I’m not using Cipher, I’m not hearing the music as the Audeze engineers intended – an audible thrill ride. Without it, the iPhone 6S Plus doesn’t sound as sure-footed.

    Listeners sidestepping the Cipher cable in favour of the 3.5mm-plugged analogue variant but not wanting to relinquish any aural muscularity, should ensure their partnering amplification is up to snuff. The Chord Mojo proves to be just the ticket: it leap-frogs Audeze’s iOS cable on detail and dynamics but, predictably, adds serious in-pocket bulk.

    As a wrap, I could tell you that the Audeze Sine sound great. But that only means something if you also know that, for music on the go, where albums from Grandaddy or British Sea Power butt up against external noise, I prefer stronger flavours. Here in central Berlin, Audeze’s tandoori beats out Sony’s korma.

    The aural (and visual) backdrop of the U-Bahn better lends itself to Bowie’s “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson” or Modeselektor’s “The Black Block” than it does Scott Walker’s Tilt or Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. The latter two album’s more intimate, quieter passages are more deftly handled by a home listening rig in which open-backed headphones can run free.

    Like the majority of closed-back headphones – a near necessity when at the office or on the train – the Sine can sometimes sound a little closed in. It’s the nature of this more beastly-sounding beast.

    And so it goes it with Audeze’s all-new Sine Deluxe (aka DX) – an open-backed version of the Sine, going into production as a limited-run response to customer demand. The originating DNA is the same. Almost.

    The Sine DX’s accompanying Cipher cable comes without the FR-correcting circuit board. The open-backed model promises a more purist approach. One for the die-hard audiophile where a headphone’s bi-directional leakage matters not: hook ‘em up to a desktop iPhone or iPad via the Cipher cable let ‘em roll. A super-tidy home office rig.

    My findings, derived from several months’ listening to a pre-production model, suggest that the Sine DX’s primary advantage over the original is with vocal presence and low-end reach.

    The new model contrasts the original as slightly reticent in the mids. Via DX, Guy Chadwick’s intonation of “Drove to a shop…” pops with even greater clarity.

    The open-backed Sine help Modeselektor’s wrecking-ball-bass swing lower and with greater devastation than the closed-back version. That said, IDM/EDM fans will find much to like in either version. Ditto industrial rock fans.

    Compared to their original version, the Sine DX open up the sunroof on headstaging to let more daylight and air in. Swapping out the digital audio extracting Cipher cable in favour of the analogue lasso (supplied) needed for Schiit Jotunheim hook-up treats the listener to even more forward thrust, more excitement but also more textural information and finesse in the top end. The Schiit box also pulls the curtain back on music’s connective tissue.

    Such performance deltas are mirrored by the closed-back original but if you’re only listening at home, the Sine DX remains the way to go whilst its Sine cable becomes less essential.

    The Audeze Sine sell for US$449; or US$499 with Cipher Lightning cable.

    The Sine Deluxe’s pricing remains TBC.

    Further information: Audeze

    Written by John

    John currently lives in Berlin where he creates videos and podcasts for Darko.Audio. He has previously contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram

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