PROS: improves soundstage perception, brings more impact and control to the bass, gives more body to the lower mids without reducing resolution and transparency of upper mids, excellent workmanship, very comfortable fit even for 8 wire cable.
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. It’s not my intention to start the argument here, and instead I would like to share what I hear during my testing. Perhaps, I can’t fully explain why there is a change in sound, but I do hear it and don’t believe it’s 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 put 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. Also, the sound change introduced by a specific cable is not universal because it will depend on the design and the synergy between the source and earphones/headphones.
Effect Audio just celebrated their 10-year anniversary since the company was founded by Zou Su Yang (SY) in 2009. Over the last decade they had many successful releases spearheaded by SY and Eric Chong, EA Marketing manager. As I mentioned in my previous reviews, including the original Leo II write up, a big part of their success is due to a very straight forward approach when attending many CanJams and other international audio shows where EA let people decide for themselves if they do or don’t hear a difference in sound using their own IEMs, their own portable sources, and playing their own favorite music.
Last year I reviewed their original Leonidas II (Leo II) cable and was quite impressed by its synergy with many different flagship IEMs and the ability to finetune the sound to its natural perfection. Leonidas II Octa (8 wire version of Leo II) combines two Leo II cables braided together. As a matter of fact, EA offers it as a separate cable purchase or an upgrade where you send in your original Leo II to double its conductor count.
Obviously, there is some overlap with my original Leo II review, and there is no reason for me to copy’n’paste everything. So please, refer to my original write up here. The focus of this new Leo II/8 review is on the sound analysis, pair up with selected IEMs, and comparison to a few other cables.
When ordering the new Leo II/8, the unboxing experience should be similar to the original Leo II which I have described already in my previous review. And, the included premium Patina leather case is large enough for the new cable to fit without any problem into the same burnished leather case.
One important thing I would like to mention again, when ordering Leo II/8 or any other EA cables, besides deciding the IEM connector, you always have to think carefully about the plug termination. While many DAP manufacturers distancing themselves from 2.5mm BAL connector, moving toward 4.4mm Pentaconn, A&K and a few others still holding on to 2.5mm. 2.5mm to 4.4mm short adaptors are more common, and you can also find plenty of 2.5mm to 3.5mm off-the-shelf adaptors. But if you are investing into a high end premium cable, a custom pigtail adaptor is a better solution since you are not extending the connector going into the socket of your DAP.
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 between contacts and has a 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 some of my other short adaptors – this one has the highest level of transparency without coloring the sound.
As I already mentioned in my original Leo II review, when it comes to premium cables, Effect Audio doesn’t just mix’n’match off-the-shelf parts. 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 and the most transparent sound result. At the end, you do get a truly customized cable.
The wires of Leo II/8 are identical to Leo II, just instead of 4 conductors you now have 8 with 26awg gauge thickness wires, each with a 7-core hybrid Litz design that has a Palladium Plated Silver and Litz Silver, both processed using UP-OCC (ultra-purity Ohno Continuous Cast) technology.
Also, the wires are still going to meet Golden Ratio which refers to the ratio of One component to the Other, following a specific formula as described in this Wiki link. Each Leo II/8 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 upgraded Leo II/8 was terminated with the same PSquared (Palladium and Platinum plating) 2.5mm plug, 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 hear the difference. Other available options are PSquared 3.5mm connector and P-EA 4.4mm connector.
8 conductors of the cable have a nice hand braiding going into the EA-Custom Y-Split design, which uses Patina leather. Around the split you have chrome end caps with an etched EA logo on one side. This design supposed to be modular, to be customized with other materials in the future. 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 still microphonic free.
Due to increased thickness of the cable, the chin-slider in 8-wire design is no longer there, and after the split it continues with 4-wire braid, going up to a 2pin chrome connector, and a pre-shaped transparent heat-shrink earhook. Under the earhook part, the wires transform from braided to twisted for a more comfortable wear over the ear. 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.
Despite doubling the number of conductors to 8, it’s still a very ergonomic design, not too heavy, with braiding being not very tight, thus giving the cable more suppleness and flexibility, making it comfortable to wear, with zero microphonic. And their transparent Ultra-Flex insulation jacket keeps cable pliable and in a clear view. Relative to a thicker cable like Janus, Leo II/8 is still very comfortable to wear with IEMs on the go.