Effect Audio Leonidas II ($888)
In the past, I often describe wire-doubling upgrades with the following analogy: “The band playing the music remains the same, but the venue around them grows in size.” The Leonidas II Octa is the first 8-wire cable I’ve heard where the band grows with the venue too. As more headroom becomes available, more energy rises to consume it. This is what splits the default and Octa variants. The former almost seems content to operate calmly within the space it’s been given, while the latter is roomier and more spacious, but also bolder, more raw and more powerful in sound. This oomph is more apparent along the lower-registers – where this dynamism comes from sheer force – than it is throughout the top-end.
Instruments simply sound more fleshed out with the Octa, for better or for worse. The lower-half of the frequency response becomes more visceral, while the top half gains notable refinement. While the default Leonidas II juggles imaging holography and timbral accuracy – with outstanding skill and finesse, might I add – the Octa is blessed with the resources required to go, “Why not both?” However, this is also where the Octa’s superiority over the original is put into question. Sometimes, people don’t want both. Depending on the person or pairing, the default’s calmer, more laid-back signature may prove more appealing. This is especially true with thicker-sounding in-ears, like the Empire Ears Phantom or the Custom Art FIBAE Black. So while the Octa has its merits, I’d say there’s an equally compelling argument for either.
Effect Audio Janus Dynamic ($1399)
Compared to either variant, the Janus Dynamic is a meatier, mellower-sounding cable. Although it’s barely warmer in tone, the Janus’ linearity along the treble gifts it a more composed, matter-of-fact signature. Instruments sound a bit more distant and don’t span as large – especially along the upper registers – so more of the black background comes through in the final image. So despite the Janus Dynamic’s warmer low-end, its soundscape will seem more spacious with more breathing room. And, instruments have a more defined point of origin as well. However, the Octa is capable of drawing out more clarity through articulation and air. To my ears, technical performance between the two is neck-and-neck. It simply boils down to the in-ears you wish to pair them with and the kind of presentation you prefer.
PWAudio 2-wire 1960s ($1100)
PWAudio’s 1960s is my go-to litmus test for $1000+ cables. The 2-wire variant (though its coaxial design akins it more to a 4-wire cable) is a stellar technical performer, and one of my sweet spots between price, sound and ergonomics – the other being the default Leonidas II. Compared to the Octa, the 1960s presents a more direct, vocal-forward sound. Its transients are hard-edged with strong projection, which highlights the textures and contours in and around instruments.
The Octa is more organic-sounding by comparison, with more headroom, imaging precision and harmonic presentation. I enjoy the 1960s’ vibrant timbre, but the Octa’s is the more life-like and natural-sounding one. An area where I have a personal preference for the 1960s is the sub-bass. As I did with the Leonidas II, I prefer PWAudio’s sub-bass bias. With certain pairings, its upper-midrange may sound more engaging as well. But, it may come across saturated with others.
Effect Audio’s Leonidas II Octa is a statement piece through-and-through. It challenges the presumptions that come with conductor-doubling upgrades and offers an entirely new sig for listeners to discover. The cable summons a remarkable degree of power and scale, along with the means to command it at the very same time. None of the original’s nuance, organicity or timbre were compromised in the process. And, Effect Audio have not ceased to outdo themselves in sheer craftsmanship and ergonomics. Where then does this cable falter? For how situational the cable’s sonic benefits are, I think the price can be called into question – certainly more so than the Leonidas II’s default variant. But, if you’re looking for the most pristine, natural form of power that a cable can possible offer, I don’t see anywhere else to go but Octa.