The Sign of Leo.
PROS: improves soundstage perception, brings more focus and control to the bass, gives more body to the mids without reducing resolution and transparency, excellent workmanship, very comfortable fit.
CONS: price, sound improvement varies depending on pair up.
The product was provided by Effect Audio for the review purpose in exchange for my honest opinion.
I’m aware that some people don’t believe in cables and have very strong opinions about it. The intent of this review is not to change anybody’s mind with my preaching, but rather to share with you what I hear during the testing. Perhaps, I can’t fully explain why there is a change in sound, but I do hear it and it’s not a placebo effect. What makes sense to me, a metal wire is a material with physical properties of resistivity, conductivity, purity, and unique geometry, all of which together act as a filter between your source and headphones. Variations of these physical properties can affect the conductivity of analog signal, resulting in a sound change, from a subtle to a more noticeable level. This sound change introduced by a cable is not universal with every IEM because it will depend on the synergy with and the design of the source and earphones/headphones.
As I already mentioned in my previous Effect Audio reviews, the company was founded by Zou Su Yang (SY) in 2009 and had many successful releases spearheaded by SY and Eric Chong, EA Marketing manager. I believe a big part of their success is due to a very straight forward approach of being present at many CanJams and different international shows where EA let people decide for themselves if they do or don’t hear the difference in sound with their own IEMs and using their own portable sources.
While I have reviewed many EA cables in the past, the original Leonidas wasn’t one of them, though I did hear it being praised by many audiophiles. From what I understand, Leonidas was their first release in Heritage Series where they wanted to do something different, thinking outside of the box. That set a high bar for the follow up Premium and Heritage Series releases, and also challenged them to step it up with Leonidas II (Leo II) design. As a result, you will find the implementation of Palladium wire plating, previously found in a more expensive Janus and now available in a more affordable Leo II.
I won’t be able to compare Leo II to the original Leo, but I will offer plenty of other comparison and pair up examples in my review. The purpose of the cable is to improve the ergonomics and to enhance the sound. So, let’s find out if Leo II can make your IEMs shine!
Unboxing and Accessories.
Looks like Leo II got the same premium packaging treatment as my recently reviewed Ares II 8 wire Bespoke which arrived in a more luxurious box with an exterior sleeve and jewelry style velvet box underneath. I know some people don’t care about unboxing experience of IEMs or DAPs, but manufacturers do put extra effort in the design of the packaging, so it’s only fair to acknowledge it, especially when packaging is nice enough to keep on a display.
Of course, this is not going to top Horus flagship unboxing experience, but I was still pleased to see a premium leather case included stock with a cable. While some manufacturers include a metal “puck” cases to add some value to the accessories, EA went one step further with a round leather case, their new Premium Patina Select case. According to EA, the case is handcrafted from supple oil-pull leather and vegetable tan calf. It’s a very nice roomy case with a tight fitting lid and plenty of space for a cable, IEMs, cable adapter, and maybe even some spare eartips. They even included a small round dehumidifier container with moisture absorbing pellets which can be “recharged” by microwaving it.
EA flagship Horus also includes a fancy Patina rectangular storage case, so it was nice to see premium case with Leo II which is almost half the price of Horus. Another significance of this Premium Patina Select case is the same Patina leather material used in Leo II Y-split which I’m going to talk about more in the Design section of the review.
When ordering the cable, you have an option for additional adaptors, depending on the termination of your cable. For example, I usually get cables with 2.5mm BAL termination, and use it with DAPs either directly or with 3.5mm SE or 4.4mm BAL adaptors. As part of optional accessories, you can order either short off-the-shelf adaptors or a custom pigtail adaptors with a matching cable.
Recently, Effect Audio collaborated directly with Pentaconn, resulting in an exclusive P-EA 4.4mm plug which has been incorporated into a new premium Ultrashort Pentaconn 2.5mm to 4.4mm adaptor. This particular design keeps the shortest distance path, and features gold plated plug and chrome and brass plated housing with a carbon fiber insert. Plus, it features Effect Audio logo, custom etched into the metal of the connector. Both sides of the adaptor have a tight secure fit, and when compared to a number of my other short adaptors – this one is definitely at the top with the highest level of transparency without coloring the sound.
Before I get into the details of Leo II design, there is one important thing to consider. When it comes to their premium cables, Effect Audio doesn’t just mix’n’match off the shelf parts. Like in a science lab, they experiment with different materials, different plating percentages, different wire geometry, different hybrid configurations and ratios, etc. They also work with connector manufacturers to customize the components while experimenting which one brings the best sound result. At the end, you do get a truly customized cable.
The original Leo was based on Gold/Silver hybrid wire design. To take it to the next level, EA decided to experiment with Palladium plating which they introduced before in Janus cable with plated copper wires. The result is Leo II with 4 conductors of 26awg gauge thickness, each with a 7-core hybrid litz wire design that has a Palladium Plated Silver and Litz Silver, both processed using UP-OCC (ultra-purity Ohno Continuous Cast) technology.
When reading EA’s wire description, I noticed a reference to “Golden Ratio” which I had no idea about, and decided to look it up in Wiki to find out what does it mean. Apparently it refers to the ratio of One component to the Other which is equal to the ratio of their Sum to one of the components (truly a mouthful). Each Leo II wire is a hybrid combo of two materials (Palladium plated Silver and just Silver) where the ratio of these materials was selected based on the Golden Ratio rule. Perhaps it doesn’t mean much to some people, but to me it means that nothing is random in the design of EA cables, everything is customized and calculated.
The cable I received was terminated with their PSquared (Palladium and Platinum plating) 2.5mm plug that was designed in partnership with Oyaide Electric. PSquared is not just a fancy name. When I was reviewing Lionheart, I received two identical cables with Rhodium plated and PSquared connectors, and in a blind test was able to appreciate the difference. Other available options are PSquared 3.5mm connector and P-EA 4.4mm connector.
4 conductors of the cable have a nice hand braiding going into the EA-Custom Y-Split design, which also uses Patina leather. In addition to chrome end caps where the splitter side has an etched EA logo, this design supposed to be modular where in a future it could be customized with other materials. The Y-split feels lightweight, and according to EA was designed to minimize and to eliminate microphonic and mechanical noises. I can confirm, this cable is microphonic free.
Chin-slider is a small semi-transparent rubbery piece which kind of disappears when looking from a distance. After the split, wires are inner-twisted, going up to a 2pin chrome connector, and have a pre-shaped transparent heat-shrink earhook. Connectors have EA logo laser etched on outside and L/R marking etched on the inside, to serve as a proper guidance when connecting IEMs so you don’t flip the cable.
Overall, it’s a very ergonomic design, lightweight, flexible, very comfortable to wear, with zero microphonic. And their transparent Ultra-Flex insulation jacket keeps cable pliable and the actual wires on display. When it comes to an overall thickness, the cable is nearly the same as Horus, perfect for a comfortable use with IEMs.