My dad’s advice regarding tools was simple–buy the best tool you can afford and you’ll hopefully never have to buy it again. I’ve managed to slowly but surely outfit my workshop with some great and reliable hand tools and power tools, waiting for sales and putting others on my birthday wishlist. It’s been good advice that’s paid off in quality tools that have endured, but I haven’t always followed it when it comes to other types of products.
Take headphones. I’m not an audiophile… never have been. I can hear the difference between vinyl and digital, yes, but unless I’m listening to low-bit mp3 files, I’ve been quite happy with my 256-Kbps digital tunes. For this reason, I’ve never actually splurged on a set of quality headphones. I don’t buy the cheap-o $15 ones… but I’ve also never purchased anything over $100-125 (if memory serves). That doesn’t mean that I haven’t wondered exactly what a $500+ pair of headphones sounds like.
I probably would have continued wondering about $500+ headphones, but then Audeze offered up a 60-day review period of their new SINE On-Ear Planar Magnetic Headphones. And now… I’m finding myself counting down the dwindling number of days until I have to return this amazing pair of cans.
First, let me talk about the actual physical product. The SINE headphones are solid… rugged-feeling. But not heavy. Unlike a few other pairs of headphones that I’ve had to toss out or perform repairs due to fragile or too-thin wires, the wires of the SINE are flat and covered in a thick but flexible protective rubber-coating. The left and right wires that split to the two ear pieces are removable; each wire has an angled Sony connector (see image below) that plugs into the left and right ear pieces and makes a nice solid click when pressed in. I know from experience with years of headphones that this alone is a great solution to the common (and often headphone-killing) problem of a broken or frayed wire that causes loss of sound in one ear piece. The two ear pieces are mounted at two points and swivel on what feels like a powder-coated aluminum frame. The ear pieces are wrapped in soft leather and adjust smoothly in and out of the leather-wrapped headpiece. (The unit I tested has a Sony plug for connecting to devices, but the SINE also comes with a version using the Apple Lightning cable.) The headphones fit well; not too tight… not too loose.
But let’s get to the real test–sound. As I said, I’m no expert on audio technology. I just know what I like and don’t like. That’s why I was so surprised when I did some tests on my various devices watching movies, listening to music, and playing some games. Honestly, I was fully expecting NOT to be able to tell much of a difference. But you know what? Without a doubt, this $500 pair of headphones blows my $100 pair of headphones out of the water. I am now convinced.
The biggest place I noticed it was with movies’ music and dialogue. Just amazing. I chose the social scene in the Avengers Tower (right before Ultron makes his appearance) and watched it with the SINE and two other pairs of headphones I own. Without any change in volume, the SINE headphones was the clear winner–background music was more clear and dialogue was less “mushy” in areas. I had the same experience with my digital music. I chose the High Octane Cult album and gave up with my cheap-o headphones halfway through Fire Woman. The difference in sound quality was that noticeable. As for video games (a few rounds of Team Fortress 2 and a couple skirmishes in XCOM 2), there was a slight improvement in sound quality with the SINE, but video games seemed to be the only area where I struggled to hear big differences.
I’ve been enjoying using the SINE headphones for weeks now, and it’s almost time to return them. Once the SINE headphones are returned, the real question is this–would I be willing to spend $500 on a pair for myself? As a parent, I stress out when I have to pay any large amount of money on myself versus my children or something for my family. Yes, the headphones are unbelievable, and yes, I would absolutely love a pair, but it’s a lot of money for a work-from-home dad. I now know, however, that there is a quality difference between $100 and $500 headphones. If my line of work involved any kind of audio editing, I could easily see this being an investment and worth every penny. And while I love watching movies on my tablet and listening to music on my phone, for now I’m going to have to return to my $100 cans and just live in the knowledge that there is an upgrade path should I ever choose to take it.
Your situation may be different, so just know that the SINE headphones have a sound that are worth every penny of its $500 price tag if you’re in the market. There REALLY is a difference you can hear. I’m now a believer. (And the company even offers a 30-day return policy, so take them for a test drive yourself if you like.)
Note: I’d like to thank Audeze for letting me try the SINE headphones out. I hope the postman can make out the return address that will be stained with tears.