Good times, first times!
PROS: natural tonality with high level of micro-detail retrieval, noticeable improvement in the perception of soundstage width and 3D imaging, black background, new PWA updated hardware, build quality.
CONS: price, some microphonics.
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.
Looks like Peter Wong, the creative force behind PWAudio (Peter Wong Audio), has been very busy lately, collaborating with a lot of manufacturers who feature PWA cables in their new IEM releases. Among those, Oriolus Traillii and Empire Ears Odin which come bundled with their existing 1960-series cables, and Oriolus Mellianus JP, Empire Ears EVO, Unique Melody Mest MKII, Fable Sound, FuSang, and the latest Mest Indigo that include new custom PWA cables. And if that wasn’t enough, he also released a few new cable models, such as Monile series which I have reviewed last year, and his uber-flagship Orpheus which I had a pleasure to audition recently.
With a few exceptions, the main focus of PWA cables has been always on pure copper and different configurations of wires, including coax config which he perfected. But apparently, he tried a different cable structure in Orpheus while using harder to get copper wires that drove the price up to an eyewatering level. At this point, I don’t want to get into Orpheus price discussion which would follow the same train of thought I had in the intro of my Centurion review. Instead, in this review I would like to focus on a brand new PWA First Times (FT) cable which I just spent a few weeks testing. Referred to as PWAudio new flagship, let’s find out what it brings to the table, how it pairs up with different flagship IEMs, and how it stacks up against 1960, Orpheus, and other premium multi-kilobuck cables.
Unboxing and Accessories.
This is going to be a short section since I received my review pair of FT in a Ziplock bag. But I have been told this cable should come in a standard cardboard PWA packaging box, nothing fancy, just a basic unboxing experience unlike their more premium (and more expensive) Orpheus cable.
When ordering PWA cables you do have a choice of cable termination, but depending on the type of DAPs/sources you use, there is always an option to get adapters. Majority of DAPs, including the latest A&K releases, now feature 4.4mm BAL. But if you still have SP2k or SPK or SR25 or other 2.5mm DAPs, in my opinion I would futureproof and stick with 4.4mm cable termination and get one of the adapters, including the one for A&K with 2.5mm/3.5mm to 4.4mm conversion. PWA makes quite a few of those with high-quality shielding and soldering, or you can get matching cable pigtails.
When I first received FT, even before I asked about the cable design and wires, my first question to Peter was: why call it First Times? It’s not exactly the catchiest name, but apparently there is a story behind it. Every industry around the world got affected in the last year and a half due to a limited supply of materials. Orpheus cable was among those as well due to its unique copper wires. So, Peter went on a journey to test and to study new copper wire material, and after 9 months gave a “birth” to a new cable. According to him, after experimenting with dozens of wires and configurations, for the first time he came across exactly what he was looking for. He wanted to capture the feeling of that first time excitement and called the cable by its name.
Now, about the actual cable. While using different type of copper wires, FT and Orpheus share the same cable structure with 7 strands of enameled wire combined in one group, and then 7 groups combined into one cable with a total gauge of 26.5 AWG for each conductor. Each group has an independent jacket as insulation. This particular structure design increases the total wire surface for a better current flow according to skin effect of the wire.
The cable features 4 separate conductors, loosely braided between the headphone plug and y-split, and then twisted in pairs going up to IEM connectors. The cable is flexible thanks to a soft pvc material and Morandi dark blue nylon tightly braided jacket. The color of the jacket adds a nice custom touch, but typical of many other PWA cables with nylon sleeving, expect some microphonics as you move around. Also, just like with Orpheus, a special Shielding version of FT is available, but it will result in a thicker and heavier cable due to additional layers of insulation.
An example of 1960 4w vs Orpheus Shielding Edition
Furthermore, it features their new hardware with ergonomically shaped metal plug with PWAudio logo and gold screws, a matching design/shape metal y-split with PWAudio logo on one side and S/N on the other, including gold screws, a retractable matching metal chin-slider, and a matching metal 2pin connector housing with PWAudio logo facing outside. And you will also find a pre-shaped heat-shrink earhook. The cable is relatively lightweight and comfortable for IEM use. The thickness of the cable is identical to Orpheus standard version, and a little bit thicker in comparison to 1960 4w version.