Ready for a Battle!
PROS: beautiful looking cable with custom Titanium hardware, ConX interchangeable connectors, quality workmanship, enhances the sound with natural micro-details, improves the perception of soundstage width and 3D imaging, premium custom accessories.
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.
I’m aware that some people don’t believe in cables and have very strong opinion about it. It’s not my intent to start an argument here. 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 earphones. 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 under the test.
Every time a multi-kilobuck cable or IEMs are announced, people get upset, blaming consumers who buy these products and encourage manufacturers to drive prices up. But in a reality, you always have a choice and someone like Effect Audio offers products in a price range from $100 to $4k. And I’m sure they manufacture and sell cheaper cables in a much higher volume compared to their upper end stuff. Actually, EA just mentioned that 1st limited batch of Centurion pre-orders was completely sold out, meaning the initial stock is gone to direct customers and official retailers.
Also, I often say that when it comes to high-end cables, it is not only about the cost associated with selection of exotic precious metals, but also understanding of diminishing returns when paying higher price for a refinement rather than drastic changes. Some people are OK with cost-no-object, and they will pay premium even for 5% improvement because they look at it as an investment and because they can afford it. And the price envelope is being pushed because there is a demand, and manufacturers respond with a supply to meet it, while still offering more affordable and fine-looking cables for the rest of the market.
We don’t get upset that Infiniti cost more than Nissan or Lexus cost more than Toyota. Either one will get you from point A to point B, and you can pay $20k or $60k depending on what you can afford. It would be more upsetting if the company only offered high end stuff, pushing it as “a must have” or claiming that buying $4k cable will turn your $100 IEM into $4.1k flagship. Anybody who visited CanJams and been at EA table knows their founder Zou Su Yang (SY) always encourages to bring your best IEMs and DAPs with your favorite music, to try and to compare entire product line, and to decide for yourself if you hear the difference.
Similar to my Traillii review, I had to address the elephant in the room in the Intro of this review. Hopefully, with that out of the way, now we can focus on the latest Effect Audio Centurion cost-no-object flagship which took more than 2 years of R&D work utilizing the new combination of gold and silver materials.
Unboxing and Accessories.
At the time of writing this review, the packaging of Centurion was finalized but not available yet. Hopefully, I will be able to update my write up with unboxing pictures in a near future because from what I understand EA put a lot of effort into new packaging and accessories, really stepping up and taking it to the next level in comparison to their previous flagship releases. When I talked to SY about it, he mentioned that idea behind Centurion was to bring a complete product experience from the moment you start with the unboxing. Definitely looking forward to that!
And while the packaging itself is still a surprise mystery, I got a taste of what to come when I received their custom carrying case and display rack. Jointly created by EA and J. Myers Company, whose clients included VERTU, Bentley, Bang & Olufsen, etc., these two pieces of accessories definitely add a luxurious touch to the product.
While not exactly pocket friendly at 110mm in diameter and 50mm in thickness along with 356g in weight, the carrying case is one heck of an eye candy. It has an aluminum alloy enclosure with a sandblasted finish and darker greyish titanium color, textured leather pads covering the top and the bottom with EA logo on one side and Centurion logo on the other, the matching textured leather lining on inside, and the retro rosewood sliding door panel with a golden pin around the side. The design is very unique, never seen anything like that, and I love the sound of the “click” as you slide the door to close it when pin is engaged.
The display stand is something you would expect to see at CanJam shows on the table to showcase the products. Made out of 10mm thick glass, the back panel of the display measures 215mm x 130mm, and the whole rack has a hefty weight of 1085g. A water cutting was applied to shape the back and the front glass panels, and also to make Centurion symbol and “reel to reel” cutout on the back panel. The design has a rosewood spool in the middle with EA logo, the same diameter as the case. You just insert the cable plug in a side cutout and turn the golden knob on the front to wind the cable around. The top of the display has 2 matching golden knobs where you hook the left/right earpieces around for display, while the cable drops down and goes around the spool as you wind it.
I had both, the case and the display, on my desk for a week since I received it. And found it to be quite distractive because every time I lay my eyes on either one, I start playing with these “toys”. I absolutely love the carrying case, but I do have a bit of a mix feeling when it comes to the display stand. The look and the functionality are top notch, absolutely a brilliant idea to showcase the cable with your favorite IEMs. But I would have preferred instead of a spool to have an enclosure with a sliding door like the carrying case. Winding and unwinding the cable is cool, but it takes time and I prefer a quicker access to remove the cable.
The Centurion cable features 8 separate wires, each one 26 AWG gauge in thickness and using Gold-Plated Silver-Gold Alloy material. The wires are still ultra purity OCC (UP-OCC) with EA’s own UltraFlexi transparent 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 eliminates grain boundaries in different metals. As a result, it draws a single crystal structure with least possible oxides and other impurities.
Underneath of that UltraFlexi insulation, each wire has a 7 Core-bundling with a multi-sized stranding and individual enameling. Then, each strand will compose of Silver-Gold Alloy, Gold-Plated on outside. According to EA, their R&D experimented for 2 years to come up with this specific geometry and combination of materials. You can read about many premium cables featuring Silver, Gold, and Palladium, in different combinations and platting. And I have seen cables with Silver-Gold Alloy before, but I believe the addition of Gold-Platting on top of it is brand new.
The main portion of the cable between the plug and y-split has a rounded 8-wire braid, not too tight, giving the cable is flexibility and comfort while wearing it. No microphonics was detected. Above y-split, you have left and right side 4-wire braids going into a pre-shaped flexible heatshrink earhook. While it is 8-wire cable, the use of 26 AWG wires keeps the overall cable diameter very manageable, on par with some 4-wire 24 AWG cables. The plug in my review unit was 4.4mm Pentaconn, but when ordering you have option for 2.5mm or 3.5mm as well, and the housing of the plug has a titanium finish and sculptured multi-facet design.
The y-split has a matching titanium exterior and also doubles as a chin-slider. The funny thing, when I first got this cable, I thought I broke it when the exterior shell came off. The idea behind this double-layer suspension design was to have the exterior outer shell like a warrior helmet with Centurion symbol cutout and a stamped EA logo, made out of titanium alloy that slides out and goes up to function as a chin-slider. The fixed splitter barrel underneath is made of black aluminum alloy, with 4 wires hidden in the middle and 4 visible in the recessed surface grooves. A very unique design as well.
The plugs going to IEMs are EA’s recent new addition to their product line, ConX connectors, a modular connector system with exchangeable tips for various IEMs, including 2pin (standard 0.78mm pins), mmcx (universal), a2dc (Audio-Technica connectors), and p-ear (Pentaconn ears connector). EA will introduce more in the future, like recently announced IPX connectors. The threaded mechanism that holds each connector in place is very precise and when tightened with included lock key, connectors are aligned which is important for 2pin and pre-shaped earhook. The housing of ConX in Centurion also matches Titanium finish and the shape of the plug and y-split.
While it is easier to get an adapter for headphone plug, the IEM connector by itself limits the cable use. ConX gives you convenience to use Centurion with most of the IEMs without a need for another cable.