Effect Audio Leonidas (now discontinued)
The Leonidas and its successor share several similarities in timbre, but ultimately differ in technical performance and delivery. Despite the original’s massive success, I’ve always been repelled by several technical hiccups along the cable’s frequency range. Most prevalent of all is its upper-mid haze. Sounds along the 2-5kHz range leave bright wisps of air as they decay, which introduces several issues into the soundscape. The black background is marred, instruments sound ill-defined and they’re nasal and hollow in tone as well. A lack of refinement and speed killed the first Leonidas for me.
Thankfully, this is where its successor shines brightest. The Leonidas II’s stage is constantly clean, effortlessly stable and pitch-black as well. Despite maintaining the same neutral-leaning timbre, instruments decay with immensely superior speed and cleanliness. The soundscape simply doesn’t sound as messy anymore, which serves dividends in imaging, resolution and transparency. Additionally, the Leonidas II’s images are more well-founded as well. A wetter, further-extended bass and a filled-in lower-midrange give instruments more solidity, physicality and realism; nasally no longer.
Articulation is much further improved as well. The original Leonidas had an unappealing treble to me – too articulate in the lower-treble and messy further up the range. The II mends this by adding graceful refinement in transient delivery. Akin to the similarly palladium-plated Janus D, the Leonidas II has a bias towards smoothening transients rather than sharpening them. But, this is done through heightened headroom, so all detail and nuance is preserved pristinely. This increased stability also gives the bass more room to play. It comes imbued with a wetter, more natural response whilst maintaining equal authority – solidifying the Leonidas II as the clear victor in both musicality and technical merit.
Effect Audio Janus Dynamic ($1399)
In staging and transparency, the Janus D’s advantages as an 8-wire design are immediately apparent. The background is even blacker than that of the Leonidas II, but it’s because of how refined, well-defined and well-separated the Janus’ notes are. Each element remains in their own pocket of the stage, so the blackness of the background behind them becomes significantly more apparent. Instruments stay where they are, but the Janus D’s stage expands further behind them. So, more headroom is available to resolve their individual decays whilst filling the stage with less harmonics.
Both the Janus D and Leonidas II are relatively linear in the midrange, but the latter has a noticeably brighter lower-treble. This is why the Janus D slightly edges it out in composure and resolution, even though the Leonidas II has strong refinement in its own right. The Janus D’s low-end is more compact and meaty, while the Leonidas II’s is a touch wetter. Nevertheless, the latter is the clear victor in sub-bass performance by virtue of its physical, woofer-like resonance. Finally, the Leonidas II has an emphasis around 7-10kHz, while the Janus D remains subdued. This results in the former having a clear-yet-sufficiently-natural tone, while the latter has a more linear and organic timbre; just lightly warm.
Han Sound Audio Aegis (S$499)
The Aegis is a significantly warmer cable than the Leonidas II, because of their respective emphases. The former has a lifted mid-bass with a longer decay, while the latter adopts a slightly brighter hue up top. The Leonidas II has less mid-bass, which results in a cleaner stage, while the Aegis imbues instruments with more weight and body. But, the Leonidas II’s fuller lower-midrange gives it the thicker note, with a more harmonic response. So, which of the two you’d like more will come down to whether you prefer a warm-yet-defined soundscape, or a clearer, more nuanced and full-bodied one.
Nevertheless, the Leonidas II takes the cake in imaging and transparency. It possesses superior headroom and brighter articulation. So, despite background blackness being similar between the two, the Leonidas II has greater contrast and air, as well as vastly superior stage dimensions; width, depth and height. Detail delivery is more apples and oranges. The Leonidas II has greater refinement and nuance, while the Aegis has more weight and presence; a matter of preference.
But, what the Leonidas II simply runs away with is bass quality. It has the clear edge in extension and texturing, leaving the Aegis sounding one-dimensional by comparison. The latter has meaty slam in spades, but pales in terms of sub-bass performance. The Leo II doesn’t necessarily have more sub-bass, but its lowest registers do have an unprecedentedly guttural, resonant quality. It replicates a vibrating sensation that’s woofer-like, but excellent depth prevents it from being too prominent on the stage. It’s a cleaner low-end with less warmth, but it’s a technical powerhouse nonetheless.
Effect Audio’s Leonidas II is refinement perfected. Bolstered by outstanding precision, holography and speed, the II excels as an industry legend’s successor with flying colours and continues to prove why palladium-plating is one of the landscape’s absolute hottest prospects. The technology capably lifts stage expansion, detail retrieval and layering to new heights whilst maintaining composure and finesse throughout. For all the Leonidas II achieves technically, most striking is the effortlessness and ease with which it does so. Upgraded both sonically and visually, this second iteration perfects what the Leonidas set out to be in 2016: Pristinely clear, intricately arrayed and organically rich all at the same time.