As an audiophile and reviewer, I've often found that a single pair of headphones rarely achieves all the objectives I require. Sometimes for sitting at home listening, the headphone solution will be very different from the on-the-move requirement. I've been using an Astell and Kern music player with various headphones when out and about, and have also used the Chord Poly. But I recently came around to the convenience and quite astounding quality of the £400 Audeze Isine 10s, fed from my humble iPhone via the Cipher lightning cable (which contains miniaturised DAC, amplifier and DSP). Under this arrangement the iPhone is only used as a digital transport, and most of the muscle work is done in the headphone cable.
Cutting a rather unusual presentation, these hexagonally shaped in-ear planar magnetic headphones are much smaller than any other planar magnetic devices I've encountered. The actual diaphragms are only 30mm across, and the carefully designed Fazor plug conducts the sound from the diaphragm to the mouth of the horn, which sits outside your ear canal, in a supplied silicone tip. The tip isn't designed to go far inside the ear canal, and consequently the headphones are very comfortable for extended listening. Being open-back, there is some noise spillage to the environment. When I use the headphones on a bus, I find they provide just the right combination of limited isolation from the outside world, without upsetting fellow passengers. However, the noise from outside will overpower the headphones played at a reasonable volume on the underground, and I would not recommend them for this purpose. For walking about, I have all the clarity I need, yet without complete detachment from the outside world!
The elegant and highly compact box comes with a choice of ear clips: a pair that hook over the ear to keep the headphones in place, or the option of a smaller looking clip. I chose the former as they felt more secure. A choice of silicone tips is also provided. Interestingly, I have some bespoke silicone tips, based on a scan of my ear, and was surprised to find that they didn't work their usual magic trick of improving the sound. Clearly the headphones have been voiced with a light fit in mind.
A standard cable is supplied with a mini jack that delicately plugs into each headphone. The Cipher cable costs an extra £50, and handles the D-to-A conversion (among other things). In addition, when used with an iPhone, a downloadable App gives 10-band equalisation.
Listening to the Haydn Sinfonia Concertante (Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic on Warner) through my iPhone gives compelling results. A sweet and articulate string sound is delivered, spacious and coherent. There is a slight lack of ultimate control to the bass (an area where the more expensive Isine20 excels), and also a lack of tonal neutrality. Much of this can be DSP'd in the Cipher cable: it sounds better with some bass cut, and treble lift. It is for this reason that when used without the Cipher cable (i.e. with the supplied standard cable), this adjustment may be difficult to execute; if your source lacks the ability to equalize, the raw sound would be too far from neutral for my taste.