A Signature of a Budget Perfection!
PROS: finetunes the sound of IEMs depending on cable selection, relatively lightweight and flexible (even for 8wire Eros S), ConX modular connector, all new cable hardware design, excellent workmanship and durable build, price (yes!).
CONS: the 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.
I find it refreshing when a cable company, known for their high-end products, makes the announcement about new budget series of cables. Flagship kilobuck cables have their own audience who doesn’t need to be convinced about the price tag. These audiophiles just pick and choose cables based on pair up synergy with their flagship multi-kilobuck IEMs. On the other hand, when I talk to my readers who are on a tighter budget, I hear stories about cheap Aliexpress cables that look pretty and… that’s about it, because they use cheap wire material that gets oxidized, connectors that break, and plugs you have to turn around inside the headphone jack before they make a proper left/right side contact. Sometimes, you can get lucky, but in general, you get what you pay for.
This is not the first time Zou SuYang (SY), founder of Effect Audio (EA), stepped up to the plate with an affordable series of cables. Back in 2019, EA celebrated their 10-year anniversary with introduction of Vogue series of entry level cables which gained a lot of attention. This year, they decided to take it to another level with new Signature Series which I honestly have a hard time calling “entry” level. I’m used to dealing with higher end EA models that cost a lot more, thus I was shockingly surprised to see the quality of the packaging, the all-new updated design, updated hardware, wires, etc. It is still entry level based on their pricing ($179 Ares S copper, $199 Cadmus SPC, $299 Eros S silver/copper), but the performance and the build quality are clearly above entry level.
Another big surprise was how EA introduced these cables, by sending them out on loan to a few dozen audiophiles on Head-fi without telling them about the material or the pricing. Quite a few of them were surprised when details were revealed. I spent some time with these prototypes as well, and now had a chance to test the final production version of these cables for almost month. Here is what I found.
Unboxing and Accessories.
For a while, since 2009 when Effect Audio was founded, EA packaging used to be more generic, practical, and similar from cable to cable. From the start, every cable had a unique name matching its personality, but not exactly the packaging. Things started to change about 5-6 years ago with a more premium presentation of their flagship cables, and lately this also trickled down to their cheaper cables. This new Signature Series release took it to a whole new level. The packaging boxes between these three models are similar in design, featuring a quality cardboard frame with a cable presentation under the cover like it’s a premium jewelry. Plus, they included a useful owner manual and a detailed brochure about this new product line.
Also, included were a few cool accessories I will talk about later, but first, let’s take a closer look at the details of cover images. Each cable model has a unique name that was reflected in a cute cover art drawing. Ares S, the Greek God of war in copper color (reflecting copper wires). Cadmus, the Greek slayer of monsters plated in silver to cover the copper underneath (reflecting silver-plated copper wires). Eros S, the Greek God of love and sex, with a funky twist of silver and copper (reflecting silver/copper hybrid wires). I found it to be very clever where each of the cover images and its coloring scheme depicts the wire of corresponding model.
Each cable comes with a new custom storage case and a cable organizer leather strap. Don’t expect some fancy leather case on a budget, but the design of this cloth pouch case is unique. About 98mm in diameter and 29mm in thickness, it uses durable 1680 oxford cloth with microfiber lining inside, and its semi-open design allows for the cable and IEMs to slide in from the side. Leather strap with snap fasters is also a nice way to keep the cable wrapped around, and one of the fasteners has EA logo stamped on it. But there is more to that, and it actually took me a few seconds to realize after observing male/female snap fasteners on the front and the back of the compact storage case. You can attach the cable organizer strap to the case as a handle to close it or to attach to your bag or belt. Again, very clever and quite practical!
Usually, to keep the price of entry level cables low, manufacturers have to cut some corners, like a simplified packaging or thinner wires. As I already mentioned, packaging of Signature Series looks premium. And to my surprise, wires were thicker than expected. Unlike 26awg Vogue series, Signature Series uses 24awg thickness wires for Ares S and Cadmus, and only went down to 26awg for Eros S because it uses 8 wires.
In more details, Ares S uses premium UP-OCC Copper Litz 24awg wires (4) with proprietary dual geometric design, Cadmus uses premium UP-OCC Silver Plated Copper Litz 24awg wires (4) with septuplet multi-sized core bundle design, and Eros S uses premium UP-OCC Pure Silver Litz and Pure Copper Litz hybrid 26awg wires (8) with septuplet multi-sized core bundle design. Each cable also features EA Ultra Flexi Insulation, shear clear in Ares S and Cadmus so you can see details of wires material, and matt pearl silver in Eros S to give wires some mystery. ConX interchangeable Connector with 2pin connector included stock, and each cable I received had Rhodium plated brass straight type headphone plug.
That is right, EA decided to include their ConX connectors with interchangeable tips. By default, the cable will come only with 2pin connector, and you can buy optional set with mmcx, a2dc (Audio-Technica), p-Ear (Pentaconn), and IPX connector tips. Basically, you can use the same cable with either 2pin, mmcx, or other IEM connectors. ConX is usually an add-on option with EA cables, something you have to pay extra for, while here it was included with an entry level model. Also, ConX anodized aluminum housing was designed to match the hardware finish of plug and y-splitter.
And speaking of hardware finish, Signature Series uses all new customized design with y-splitter featuring polished and brushed aluminum with forged carbon fibre in selenite grey finish, connector plug housing with the same polished and brushed aluminum in selenite grey finish, and, even a brushed aluminum slider in selenite grey finish, including a matched selenite grey finish of ConX shells. The new customized design of the hardware was also a big surprise because when EA sent out prototype cables for testing, they had old standard hardware used in their original Ares and Eros cables.