Kingship, it is!
PROS: improves transparency and resolution, adds more treble sparkle, expands the soundstage, excellent workmanship, flexible and lightweight, Psquare connector.
CONS: price, sound improvement varies depending on pair up.
The product was provided to me free of charge for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
Aftermarket premium replacement cables have been a controversial topic of discussions in many audio communities. There are some who don’t hear a sound improvement and others who consider the improvement to be too subtle to justify the cost. Some are firm believers (myself including) and do hear the change in sound, while others talk themselves into believing to validate their purchase. I also ran into a group of people who consider cables as another accessory to personalize the appearance, just like if they would with CIEM customization, or those who switch from single ended to balanced and take the opportunity to upgrade to fancier wires. And then you have a group who never tried a replacement cable and formed their opinion based on reading someone else’s rant.
From my personal experience, I do hear the change in a sound, but I’m not able to capture it accurately in measurements. The most obvious change even disbelievers can agree on is based on principals of physics where higher purity material will yield a smaller resistivity, better conductivity, fewer losses, and corresponding boost in signal level. Various metals have different properties. There is no magic behind it and you’ll get an instant benefit of a slightly boosted output, improving the efficiency of your headphones, something that could be measured. Also, doubling the number of conductors will lower the overall resistance of the cable. But when I hear a change in a bass texture and articulation, or more airiness in treble, or overall improvement in retrieval of details which feels like a layer of veil is lifted off – this is not easy to capture in measurements. Considering we all have a different perception of sound, without supporting measurements some people jump into conclusion and form a “snake oil” opinion, especially when price is taken into consideration.
The intent of this review is not to change anybody’s mind, but rather to share with you what I hear and how I hear it. Perhaps, I can’t fully explain why there is a change in sound, but I do hear it and would like to describe it. What makes sense to me is that I look at the wire as a material with physical properties of resistivity, conductivity, level of purity, etc, which acts as a filter between your source and headphones. Variations of these physical properties will affect the conductivity of electric signal and will result in a sound change, from a subtle to a more noticeable level. Also, I want to bring up the design of these cables, to make people aware why they cost so much, and that you are not dealing with a “coat hanger” wire but rather high-grade materials, advanced production techniques, and hours of labor which all add up to a premium cost. Finally, the sound improvement of one specific cable is not universal because it will depend on the synergy between your source and your headphones.
* I use this preamble with all my cable reviews.
Custom cable market has changed in the last year. Don’t know if it’s for better or worse, but now we are flooded with budget cables, many with either SPC wires or 8-conductor hybrid designs (copper & spc). From one side, it drives the interest in replacement cables so people can compare for themselves what they are missing with stock OFC wires. But from the other side, there is still a big misunderstanding about the difference between cable builds and the quality of wire material.
Just because two cables are labeled as “silver” or “copper”, it doesn’t mean they are the same, especially due to a difference in purity of the material. In plated wires, you don’t know the thickness of plating, or the percentage of material mix in alloy conductors. Also keep in mind, cheap cables will have low quality budget connectors and plugs. Of course, none of this matters if your hearing is not sensitive enough to pick up the difference in sound, or if you are trying to pair up high end flagship cables with low resolution budget IEMs. But when you are dealing with high res audio sources and headphones, cable could be your last resort to squeeze every ounce of performance out of your flagship C/IEM while fine-tuning the sound to perfection.
I did mention earlier that cable market has changed, but one thing remains – Effect Audio is still at the forefront of this market. Ever since the company was founded by Zou Suyang in 2009, when he was still an engineering student, researching and developing different wire prototypes, they’ve been growing and expanding, coming up with new wire geometries, improving cable material, and working on new collaborations with premium IEM manufacturers. Today, you can find EA cables at CanJam and other international audio gear shows where you can test for yourself if they make a difference in sound with your favorite pairs of C/IEMs.
This is not my first review of their cables, and I have covered before their Thor II+ pure silver (breaking the stereotype to proof that pure silver can also improve the bass), Ares II pure copper (a budget cable which improves not just the bass but also transparency and resolution), and recently Lionheart (scales up not only the low-end performance, but also improves upper-mids and treble with more sparkle and airiness). I still scratching my head about their Psquare (Palladium-Platinum) connector and the opportunity I had to compare the same Lionheart cable against a pair with Rhodium connector where I can clearly hear the improvement in soundstage expansion.
EA new flagship release is Horus, named after the God of Sky and Kingship. As I was told by Eric Chong, the face of EA Marketing and PR, a lot of work went into this cable release, experimenting with different material configurations to perfect the design and the sound. I spent the last few weeks testing it with different IEMs and comparing it to other flagship cables, and now would like to share with you what I found.
Unboxing & Accessories.
Usually, EA cables arrive inside of a small sturdy cardboard white box with a company logo on the top and a foam cutout inside to keep the cable secure during the shipment. That’s how I received all the previous EA cables, which is better than some other flagships shipped in a ziploc bag. With Horus, EA decided to step it up, by more than a few notches, to demonstrate this is a true flagship product.
The box is twice as big, with all-black sleeve and imprinted “Horus” and company logo, Hall of Fame label on the side (the reference to a new flagship series), and lots of details on the back about the design, users guide, warranty, etc. With a sleeve off, and after lifting the velour cover, you will find a smaller jewelry-style case which really stands out.
Even so the case is part of the accessories, I still find it an important part of unboxing experience. We are not talkinsg about a standard off-the-shelf Pelican case or some clamp-shell or other zippered case. This is a unique premium calf leather case with an applied hand patina which has a 2-toned pattern that according to EA will continue to age, subtly changing the color. To keep up with “Horus” Egyptian theme, the sides of the case have cool inscriptions etched right into the leather.
Inside, the case is lined with alcantara suede-like leather material to protect the cable and the IEMs from scratches and shock. Of course, the focus here is not to protect the cable from scratches, but to protect IEMs since the case is large enough to accommodate both. To keep IEMs separated so they don’t toss around during transport, EA included a removable T-shaped divider, also wrapped in the same matching calf leather. You can freely slide this divider inside the case to adjust the room for any size C/IEM shells.
One optional accessory I received was 4.4mm Pentaconn adapter which I recommend if you have the latest Sony DAPs or iBasso DX200 w/AMP4. So far, I have tested a few single piece adapters, and some have an issue with intermittent sound dropouts as you turn the adapter or the headphone plug. Here, it was solid, tight fitting, and always worked 100%. Another advantage, this adapter is shorter than many other straight ones, and it mates almost seamless with 2.5mm Oyaide Psquare plug (Horus termination plug in my review sample) which is flat at the base, without a typical step-collar.
While their previous release, Lionheart, was designed as a premium affordable cable, with Horus no expense was spared.
The conductors have high strand count where strands are multi-sized. The wires have 26awg gauge, making it more pliable and lighter to use with IEMs on the go. I like Thor II+, but that “+” denotes an extra thickness (22awg), making it heavier and not as portable. Thus, I was pleased to see EA utilizing 26awg flexible wires in Horus design. The cable is partitioned into 4 conductors, using semi-loose round braiding from y-splitter down to the balanced headphone plug, and 2 twisted conductors on each L/R sides going up.
The material of wires is ultra purity OCC Gold Plated Silver (GPS) with EA’s own ultraflexi insulation. For those not familiar with OCC, it’s a process developed and patented by Professor Ohno of the Chiba Institute of Technology in Japan, thus a name Ohno Continuous Cast (OCC), which is a special casting process that eliminated grain boundaries in copper and silver. As a result, it draws a single crystal structure with least possible oxides and other impurities. And on top of that, these silver wires are plated with gold.
To go along with gold plating, EA decided to make their own custom Rose Gold 3D Y-splitter, very small and delicate, adding no additional weight to the cable, and having 3D EA logo on the top. Also, they made their own custom Rose Gold cable cinch, very delicate as well, with a tight sliding action. 2pin connectors are their universal 0.78mm pin connectors with an aluminum housing and EA logo which points outwards, and you also have L/R label printed on the inside of the connector housing. There is no memory wire, just a pre-shaped heat-shrink flexible earhooks which becoming a standard on many cables.
Last, but not least, is the connector plug where Effect Audio collaborated again with Oyaide to feature their Psquare connector which uses rare Platinum-Palladium material. When I was reviewing Lionheart, I had an opportunity to compare the same identical cable with Rhodium and Psquare connectors, and in a blind test always picked Psquare due to a wider soundstage, a noticeable difference to my ears. I don’t have the same opportunity to confirm Psquare plug with Horus, but I’m sure EA picked this connector to use with Horus for the same reason as with Lionheart. Except this time, I was fortunate enough to receive a review unit with 2.5mm TRRS Psquare connector (Lionheart had 3.5mm TRS), so I can test it balanced.
But Psquare wasn’t the only thing special about this connector. Just like in many power and data cables, EA implemented a Ferrite guard shielding inside the connector. Probably in collaboration with Oyaide, they came up with a cylindrical ferrite bead that fits inside the connector housing to shield the analog signal from any external interference. For those who don’t know, a ferrite bead is a passive electric component that suppresses high frequency noise. I was not able to test with and without the bead because it’s not possible to remove it, but if you think about it – many modern DAPs have wifi, Bluetooth, use all metal chassis for shielding, etc. When you plug in your headphones, this ferrite guard shielding should be able to block some of this interference to clean up the noise floor of the signal.