Build Quality, Comfort & Features
The barebones version of the Sine that I bought is slightly cheaper than the one that comes with a Lightning cable. Utilising a 3.5mm connector, this is ready to be plugged into pretty much anything. The cables are completely removable, which is a plus, and the look of them is a bit unique in that they are completely flat – like two rubber tapeworms that travel to the drivers.
The earcup shape is also a bit unusual to me. It looks really nice, but from a practical standpoint I’m left scratching my head. This is due to the fact that these might be some of the most uncomfortable headphones that I’ve owned to date. This isn’t because of high clamp, or because of weight (they’re light as expected) – but rather because the earpads themselves do not conform to the shape of human ears at all. I’d have to be a low-polygon elf from The Ocarina of Time to have these fit me right. I can’t have the headphones on for much longer than an hour at a time.
On top of that, the isolation is not all that good either – which is baffling to me if it’s meant for outdoor use. Then again, if better isolation meant more discomfort - then it is fine where it is. I just question its usage scenario.
Looks wise I have nothing but praise. It has soft leatherette, adding texture on the headband and cups themselves – giving a more premium look than the plastic that some competitors use.
The cable connectors are in a rather strange angle, kind of like a seahorse’s downward sloping head. They hold in place just fine though.
You don’t get a carrying case in the handsome packaging, but a bag instead.
Sound (Schiit Gungnir Multibit > Audio-GD NFB-28 Amp Section)
Anyways, the Sine is a headphone I can get behind, sound-wise. It surprises me just how much I prefer it over the more expensive Audeze EL-8 Open (2016). It’s an on-ear with a tuning that is not commonly found in this form factor. Yes, it costs more than other on-ear offerings by the likes of Sennheiser, B&O and so on – but it sounds quite different. It doesn’t try to hammer you over the head with elevated bass, which was honestly the biggest surprise for me on first listen. This is not to say that it sounds anaemic, but you have to admit that the “consumer” tuning of bassy on-ear headphones (increasingly relying on Bluetooth) in this price bracket has become a bit of a stereotype. Some of them, like the Sennheiser Urbanite, sound about as terrible as the Beats Solo 2 to me – but manage to sidestep the Beats hatred meme and look more premium because it’s put out by the makers of the HD600, HD650 and HD800.
The stepped back bass that the Sine has might be isolated to the standard 3.5mm jack version however, I have heard that the Lightning cable version does give it a bit of a bump. The bass of the Sine has a very full sound but it won’t drown out anything else in the mix. It’s also quite quick on its feet, not to the level of a Hifiman HE-500 but certainly more nimble than the EL-8. Groovier basslines never stumble and I would classify the speed as giving it a rather dynamic character in the bass. If it isn’t obvious at this point, you won’t be getting any slam from the bass of the Sine – it very much has Audeze’s smooth and (some would say) organic sound in this region. When listening to No Surprises by Radiohead, the bass notes in the intro retain nice body and let the rest of the delicate instrumentation ring out clearly.
The nitpick I have with the bass isn’t even really the amount or volume of it, but that in the lower registers it kind of stumbles (sounding choppy) and doesn’t form a strong signal until 35-40hz. The bass extension feels a bit cut to me but I think it might be because of the lack of cohesiveness when you really reach low. Even this criticism doesn’t quite bother me because I don’t listen to music that is really reliant something quite so deep. Outkast’s The Way You Move’s three main bass notes have the first two ring out very clearly, but the final (and lowest) one doesn’t sound distorted or anything but smooth – even if it’s a bit muted compared to the other two. One of the few tracks that I can hear some lack of control in the nether-bass region is on Massive Attack’s Angel. Instead of a tightly controlled experience, it sounds a little hashy and powdery - although the transients are decent and not sluggish.
The lower midrange is, thankfully, not muted – which is a pet peeve of mine. It’s not hugely emphasized either, which is another astonishing feature of this headphone in this price range – with the lower-mid and upper-bass emphasis being quite prevalent usually. It’s smooth and sounds quite linear in its ascent to me, making it so male vocals ring out clearly and effortlessly, and that guitars sound largely accurate. Listening to Soundgarden’s Black Hole Sun showed how the Sine was able to do justice to the famous chorus-effect laden guitar playing in the verses. It shimmered along as it should, and the distortion in the chorus sounded crunchy enough. The tonality is impressive.
The midrange itself is an extension of what I hear in the lower-mids, it just does not seem uneven. I’m grateful for it to not be recessed and I’m impressed by how (even though the soundstage is far from wide) it images fairly well with instrument tracks not drowning each other out. Vocal harmonies come out nicely, with all three vocal tracks in the chorus of Dreams by Fleetwood Mac being as audible as they should.
I’ve been using words such as “smooth” yet “dynamic” to describe the Sine – positive terms depending on who you ask. However, I would also say that the Sine is a bit “veiled” in presentation, with a pronounced drop in the presence region that is felt with some genres. What is unusual to me is that, right after the dips in the treble, there are two jumps that can give it a rather sharp sound at times. One is between 6k and 7k, and is followed by another dip before a sudden jump at 10k. These do serve to make it so the sound isn’t dull or dead by any means – but the transition in this region is a little wonky in my opinion.
Some recordings do bring out situation where the peaks can be grating to me, and funnily enough I find the Sine a smoother listen out of my Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone than my desktop DAC and amps. Someone claimed this might be because of output impedance on the phone, but I’m not sure enough to say.
So how does it come together? Quite well overall. I would say that this is a sound that is impressive out of the form factor, and handily trumps the Oppo PM-3 by sounding more lively and even in its presentation (treble peaks and deep sub-bass aside). It’s cohesive and just downright listenable. If it wasn’t for the comfort issues, this would be a stronger recommendation on my end to people.
As a planar magnetic headphone, I did notice that the Sine’s bass movement and accuracy benefitted from amplification. My phone did, however, drive it quite well – just had to deal with a slight bit less volume in the region. I did have to crank my phone to get to the level I would like though – 100% volume for genres like classic rock and 80% for louder metal/rock/electronica.
My ears are sore while writing this, and that’s frankly a problem. I have only been able to don these for a bit over an hour at a time before I have to remove them. While it’s a stylish headphone with a unique shape to it, I do not think the earpads are made for humans.
The sound does almost make up for it, but seeing how this doesn’t isolate particularly well or get especially loud out of a phone – I don’t see why you would want one for public use. As a product making sound, it’s great for its price point and portable nature. As a product overall, it occupies a strange place.