CanJam Singapore 2018 – A Study in Portable Audio

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Effect Audio

Out of the numerous cable manufacturers present at the event, two of the most popular were undoubtedly Effect Audio and PWAudio. The former brought their usual platter of diverse conductors, from the widely-acclaimed entry-level Ares II, to the revered top-of-the-line Horus. But at CanJam Singapore 2018, all eyes were on Effect Audio’s latest releases, the Janus Basso and the Janus Dynamic. The Janus “twins” – so-to-speak – are variations on the same 8-wire hybrid cable; constructed out of palladium-plated copper and a specially-developed Effect Audio alloy mix. The differences between the two lie within the geometry of the conductor, diverging their signatures into two wholly different products.

Effect Audio Janus Basso: The Basso performs as its moniker suggests – endowing IEMs it’s attached to with thump, energy and immediacy, as well as a light touch of warmth. Mid-bass impact gains physicality, but low-end extension bolsters its layering – deftly avoiding any sense of congestion. Complemented by a rise in the upper-midrange, the Basso undercuts its extra body with a quicker transient response. While the Dynamic has the edge in organicity and timbral accuracy, the Basso takes the lead in immediacy and speed. Though, that’s not to say the Basso is a bright-leaning cable either. A linear lower-treble does its best to maintain warmth, and vocals – somehow – remain as rich and wet as they do on the Dynamic; probably by virtue of the palladium plating. The Basso is also airier, but the Dynamic fares better spatially due to its superior linearity. Imaging is more precise on the latter, because the former is more forward-sounding and energetic overall. Listeners looking for an extra dose of speed and punch – with minimal effect towards timbre – should definitely give the Basso a listen.

Effect Audio Janus Dynamic: The Dynamic is the warmer, smoother and richer of the two. While the Basso takes advantage of an accentuated mid-bass and a lifted upper-midrange to create a more energetic presentation, the Dynamic thrives on its timbre plus a light touch of vocal clarity. As a result, this iteration of the Janus yields a more musical presentation, but its linearity serves dividends for technical performance as well. Because of an increase in headroom, the Dynamic renders details with greater stability and precision. Where the Basso emphasises energy, the Dynamic prioritises finesse; releasing notes with a pleasing – yet precise – touch. Again, its play on balance – whether between the lower-and-upper-midrange to enrich vocals and instruments, or between the mid-bass and upper-treble to attain a warm tone – renders it a beautiful cable to pair with IEMs that highlight timbre. Monitors like the Empire Ears Phantom excel because of organicity, and the Dynamic only serves to improve technical performance – i.e. precision, imaging, soundstage expansion – whilst enforcing its natural tone. It’s my personal favourite between the two, but I can absolutely see why there’s a keen interest in both.

PWAudio

PWAudio – in a sort of roundabout way – takes us back to Music Sanctuary’s humble six-booth-and-eight-table-wide abode, where Peter Wong himself unveiled an entirely new line-up of cables to complement his already-impressive repertoire. Along with the default 4-wire Saladin, Loki and Xerxes were 8-wire variants denoted by a “+” at the end of their respective names. I only auditioned the Saladin+, but I assume the differences between it and the Saladin can be loosely applied to the two other cables as well. Finally, I also got to audition Peter’s new co-flagship cable – the 1950s. Although the ergonomics and aesthetics of the insulation were yet to be finalised, the sonics were definitely production standard. Only available in its 4-wire (8-core) variant and priced just a hair above the 4-wire 1960s, the 1950s is a luxury item through and through.

PWAudio Saladin: The Saladin is what looks like a copper-silver hybrid within cable’s individual cores. Sonically though, it assumes the spiritual successor to Peter Wong’s highly-acclaimed No. 5 cable. Like the No. 5, the Saladin excels at organicity because of its natural timbre. The Saladin’s richness stems from its elevated low-end. Although its impact is more natural than it is basshead-inclined, the Saladin’s bass is warm, bloomy and buttery in texture. A calmed treble response allows this richness to fill the stage, infusing midrange notes with proper body as well as an exquisite tone. The Saladin presents vocals and instruments alike with great intimacy and forwardness.

Due to an accentuated lower-midrange, the Saladin is chestier than it is articulative or sparkly. But, energy in the lower-treble aids clarity, imbuing the Saladin with proper technical performance beyond just sheer musicality. Top-end extension is where the Saladin falters a tad. Although its upper-treble roll-off is crucial in determining its tone, I can’t help but hear a lack of finesse in separation and organisation. The Saladin’s presentation isn’t the neatest, but it wins big in naturalness, engagement and tone. It’s an incredibly admirable effort as far as entry-level cables are concerned, and its signature alone will find tons of admiration across the globe.

PWAudio Saladin+: Where the Saladin wavers, the Saladin+ absolutely shines. The 8-wire variant of the cable retains its inherent signature: Warm, rich and tonally accurate with a mid-bass bias. But, where the Saladin+ truly improves is – crucially – treble extension. Generously infusing the stage with headroom, the Saladin+ performs excellently in stage stability, openness and left-right separation whilst maintaining a gorgeous, warm timbre. Mid-bass jabs are now paired with airy and spacious undertones – serving up a baby version of the clear and layered low-end response present in the flagship 1950s. Midrange notes no longer feel too full, as the stage around them expands decently in all directions. Fortunately, vocals and instruments alike still maintain the same sense of density and richness. The treble – again – gains in extension to produce more articulate, refined and transparent notes. Linearity is maintained as to not mess with timbre – concluding the Saladin+ as an admirable performer in both timbre and technicality.

PWAudio Loki: Externally, the Loki looks like a pure silver cable. But, the documentation I was shown suggests some amount of copper in there as well. Some form of miscommunication might have occurred, but nevertheless, the Loki is a definite sonic departure from Peter Wong’s single-crystal silver cable. While the latter was particularly renowned for its mellowness and warmth, the Loki’s sonic palate resembles the more stereotypical silver sound: Bright, fast and clear. But, that doesn’t mean it’s not a signature done well. The Loki is a stellar choice for listeners looking for vocal clarity.

A lift in the presence region and the upper-treble boosts clarity, articulation, openness and air. The Loki is the brightest in tone out of all four PWAudio cables, but a skilfully controlled lower-treble prevents any form of sibilance whatsoever. The Loki’s low-end is controlled – especially in the mid-bass and sub-bass. A decent amount of warmth present in the upper-bass is crucial in making sure the signature never comes across as sterile or clinical. Low-end extension is decent, but the Loki certainly relies on heavier-and-denser-sounding transducers to truly shine. Nevertheless, it’s another brilliant effort from Peter Wong that finally gives PWAudio a winning entry in the speedy, clarity-focused space.

PWAudio Xerxes: The Xerxes is a triple-metal hybrid consisting of silver, copper and gold in varying quantities. But, sonically, it’s a bit of a chimera in performance as well. Although it has its own set flavour, the Xerxes is a cable that juggles multiple elements in the hopes of executing them all with minimal compromise. The first of which is vocal density and clarity. By attenuating the warmth of the bass and accentuating lower-midrange body, the Xerxes boosts vocal presence whilst instilling a brighter tone. But, richness and body – its second aspect – are maintained through excellent top-end control. Linear and well-extended, the Xerxes adds just enough sparkle for clarity’s sake, but remains smooth at all times. Finally, stage transparency benefits from the leaner presentation. At the end of the day, the Xerxes is a cable you won’t necessarily enjoy if you’re looking for a full and thump-y low-end. But, if you’re looking for a balance between butteriness, finesse and headroom, then the Xerxes will serve you well.

PWAudio 1950s: The 1950s was – without a doubt – Peter Wong’s showstopper. Designed in an effort to star with the 1960s as the brand’s co-flagship, it represents PWAudio’s alternative approach towards transparency. While the previous singular flagship was defined by a well-extended-and-accentuated top-end, growly, well-textured lows and a spacious, voluminous stage, the 1950s offers a natural signature more colourless – or neutral – in tone. Let’s start with what I consider to be the 1950s’ strongest element: Bass response. The 1950s presents its low-end with an unprecedented balance between resolution, air and tone. Low-end slams are physical, visceral and organically warm, but excellent treble extension surrounds each punch with an open layer of air. As a result, every time the bass hits, powerful impact comes equipped with strong definition and smooth clarity; a dynamic-yet-mature presentation in every respect.

Like the 1960s, the 1950s has a lower-midrange-focused instrumental response. Vocals gain bodily texture as a result, along with richness stemming from the upper-bass. Though, the 1950s’ lower-midrange emphasis isn’t as strong as the one found on the 1960s, resulting in instruments that sound complete and well-resolved without the risk of sounding nasal-y on specific tracks. A light rise in the lower-treble aids articulation and clarity, but again, this aberration isn’t as apparent as the one on the 1960s. As I said previously, a neutral-natural response with minimal colour is the goal here. The treble region is as technically impressive as it is engagingly smooth. Fantastic extension and admirable linearity reprise the 1960s’ surround stage. The former PWAudio flagship sounds airier because of an upper-treble lift, while the 1950s maintains a blacker background and a more engaging soundscape. Headroom is as plentiful as always to allow for smooth and easy listening, whilst simultaneously allowing the low-end to perform as beautifully as it does.

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About Author

Church boy by day and audio-obsessee by night, Daniel S Lesmana’s life revolves around the rhythms and melodies we lovingly call: Music. When he’s not behind a console mixing monitor feeds for 15-piece bands, engineering recording sessions in a studio environment, or making noise behind a drum set, he’s most likely sitting in front of his laptop typing away about audio gear with fervor and glee. The Indonesia-native has made a name for himself in Singapore, where he’s known to most store employees as “the guy who tries everything, and buys nothing.” Now, with three years of experience under his belt, specializing in custom IEMs and full-sized headphones, he’s determined to try everything for the sake of his audience.

5 Comments

  1. MartinJoura on

    Hi All im rookie here. Good article! Thx! Thx!

  2. Surya Pratama Wijaya on

    Hi deezel, thanks for replying.

    How would the n8t and sound writer compare to the A18 tzar. I was looking top midrange and treble performance, clean speration and layering and also slightly boosted but accurate bass. I listen to pop, edm and acoustic covers both male and female vocals mostly. An i am looking for a custom.

    Recommendations deeply appreciated.

    Btw how is the ergonomics and pliability of the wires of saladin and 1950s say compared to the latest from effect audio and plussound.

    Best Regards,
    Surya

    • Deezel on

      Hi Surya,

      The entire Soundwriter write-up is a comparison against the U18t; unfortunately I can’t get any more specific without an extended listen between the two. The N8t is a much warmer, richer and bodied IEM than the U18t. The U18t is cleaner and clearer, while the N8t has a bold, voluminous bass, a butter-y midrange and a more controlled treble. It looks like what you’re looking for is an emphasis on technical performance, with moderate body from the bass, so for your preferences, I’d recommend the Soundwriter.

      All of PWAudio’s are as pliant and ergonomic as Effect Audio and PlusSound’s offerings. The only aspect in which they differ is in the feel or touch of the insulation; EA and PS’s insulations are softer to the touch. But, in usability alone, they’re pretty equal. The 1950s’ insulation was still pre-production, so I can’t comment.

  3. Surya on

    Hi deezel,
    Thanks for you excellent coverage of canjam SG. Could you rate your top three fav iems and top three fav cables. Just to sum up your overall expwriences during Can jam.

    Thanks

    Best Regards,
    Surya

    • Deezel on

      Hi Surya,

      Thanks so much for your kind words! My top three IEMs there in terms of overall performance and personal preference were the N8t, the Soundwriter and the Vision Ears Erlkonig. But, the three most surprisingly impressive (especially in terms of value-for-money) were the AAW A3H, the Jomo Type X and a tie between the FIBAE ME and Model X.

      Cable-wise, my top three were the Saladin+, the Janus D and the 1950s. I love the Saladin+ for its warm, bodied and natural tone, mated with great imaging and stage stability. The Janus D isn’t as warm as the Saladin+ in tone, but it does have a natural timbre balanced skilfully with strong technical performance and finesse in its note release. The 1950s is absolutely a cost-no-object item, but its open stage, colourless tone and bass performance have made it an almost must-have for me. I’ve honestly never heard the Phantom sound as good.

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