Supple, ergonomic and well-constructed, Insulation doesn’t harden, Natural sound
Doesn’t pair well with certain warmer earphones, May lack sparkle for some
The No.5 best suits buyers searching for a supple cable with a more natural, linear signature and great control.
Though there are a handful of renowned cable manufactures in the West, it’s almost impossible to count the new brands popping up on an almost monthly basis in Asia. Among them, PWAudio are rapidly gaining traction on account of the meticulous development and extensive testing that goes into every product. They’ve rapidly grown to become one of the most internationally respected in the industry, and their reasonably priced No.5 contributed heavily to their popularisation. Commemorating PWAudio’s 5th anniversary, the No.5 is a homage to PWAudio’s 4-digit flagship cables at a more modest $229 SGD (or around $170 USD). Utilising a 4-wire OCC Litz copper construction, the No.5 is in line with the very popular Effect Audio ARES II and the Plussound EXO Copper, both in terms of price and specification. The No.5 is available for purchase here.
About PWAudio –
Peter Wong started out as a hobbyist, building cables with wires purchased from other famous cable brands like Whiplash Audio and ALO Audio. In 2010, to address the growing demand in Hong Kong, he started his company, PWaudio.
Peter Wong is a specialist in copper cables, as you can see evidently in the number of copper wire based models in his line up, especially the well-known 1960s 2-wire and 1960s 4-wire, which are copper cables, and yet they offer sonic performance that easily competes with high end cables made of exotic materials such as silver-gold alloy or gold plated silver.
Staying true to his hobbyist nature, PWaudio spends a lot of funds and time in looking for and testing new solders to pair with his existing cables, as well as working with wire manufacturers to produce new wires with unique constructions, which we will see later in 2018, at Canjam Singapore 2018. PWaudio also has strong ties with partners in Japan, working with Oriolus Japan and HYLA.
I would like to thank Calvin from Music Sanctuary for his quick communication and for providing me with the No.5 at a discounted price for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the cable at a reduced price, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
The NO.5 comes in a basic hard box emblazoned with the PWAudo logo. Inside is the cable itself in addition to a nice canvas pouch. The pouch is a nice addition and has a pleasing rustic design.
When searching for a cable, ergonomics and build are just as important to many as sound quality. A good cable can transform the fit of an awkward in-ear and vice versa. Moreover, as custom cables are an investment, they should be built to last. In these regards, Effect Audio’s cables have become my personal benchmarks. Their insulation is incredibly soft and their craftsmanship is among the best. It’s also hard to match their visually arresting yet mature aesthetic.
This is what makes the No.5 so special; as a cable that meets and exceeds class-leaders in several regards. Not only is the No.5 among the softest cables I’ve ever handled, it has zero memory and an ultra-supple feel that aids ergonomics. Its 4-wire braid is perfectly even throughout and the cable is of well-judged size, just slightly thicker than non-plus Effect Audio cables. As such, I don’t find it cumbersome at all during daily use, nor is it particularly microphonic.
The No.5 is also pleasing to the eye with a signature gold-plated PWAudio 3.5mm plug, lightweight y-split and matching metal earpiece connectors, 0.78mm 2-pin in my configuration. The cable is continuous through its y-split and well-relieved at all terminations, using both heatshrink and internal reinforcement. A charming wooden chin-slider compliments the rich lustre or its dark OCC Litz copper wiring. I’m also a fan of its pre-formed ear guides, my preferred option to memory wire. In short, the No.5 nails the fundamentals of cable design and ergonomics.
Of course, as much as I value ergonomics we, as audio-enthusiasts, are ultimately seeking improvements to sound. What makes PWAudio quite unique in this regard, is their exclusive use of copper, and the No.5 is no different. Every other aspect of the conducting chain has also been carefully considered, from terminations to geometry, even solder; all working towards a coherent signature. Through this, the No.5 has become renowned for its timbre. And though I wouldn’t characterise it as the most precise sounding cable, it’s subtle warmth serves up very natural instruments and vocals with improved control and great linearity.
The No.5 does not function to emphasize bass, but to increase its control. Sub-bass has improved extension and tightness that synergizes well with both dynamic and armature-based earphones. That said, slight sub-bass attenuation shifts focus more towards a slightly emphasized mid-bass. However, as the cable exercises greater mid-bass control, bass notes are more neutrally sized, producing a clean presentation. In accordance, its tone is more transparent, especially when compared to stock OFC cables. As its upper-bass is relatively neutral in quantity, the cable has a linear transition into the lower-midrange. The No.5, therefore, presents as natural and refined.
Through greater bass/midrange linearity, lower-mids are balanced, perhaps with a hair of emphasis, offering a mostly accurate midrange on the natural side of neutral. The No.5’s centre midrange is very slightly lifted, providing realistic vocal body and size. Moreover, the No.5 depicts a nicely transparent image, a by-product of its increased cleanliness and control in addition to its more accurate tone. To my ears, this is the source of its realistic timbre over an explicit increase in warmth, body or smoothing of its higher-frequencies; and the cable maintains a harmonious balance as a result.
The No.5 is not a dark cable, pairing well with darker earphones. Rather, its high-frequencies are smoothed due to their more even metering. Of note, both lower and middle treble are more linear, conveying greater body and detail. Its well-integrated middle-treble aids air and shimmer, providing more accurate decay to treble instruments such as cymbals; ideal for earphones with a lower-treble peak. Though its background isn’t the darkest as a result, the No.5 maintains its cleanliness and refinement due to its increased linearity. It doesn’t wow with its extension or sparkle, but its balance serves to improve its retrieval of micro-detail.
The No.5 offers a modest increase in stage dimensions as result of its greater extension and air. I noticed greater width in particular, though depth is also slightly improved despite having a slightly more forward vocal presentation. Imaging is precise due to the cable’s balance, and separation is also enhanced by a fair degree on account of the No.5’s clean, controlled and neutrally sized notes. Layers are defined and well-detailed due to the cable’s natural midrange body and heightened transparency.
Plussound EXO Copper ($150): As Plussound have since updated their insulation, I will wait until I receive one of their new cables to comment on ergonomics. At the very least, both cables demonstrate a high-level of workmanship and their designs will come down to personal preference.
The EXO Copper is more explicitly warm, through a combination of larger bass notes and a darker high-end. The Plussound’s greatest asset is its very dark background, though it lacks the air and extension of the No.5 as a result. The No.5 is more realistic in timbre and more balanced overall, I would also consider it to have a technical advantage if simply due to greater linearity. That said, it lacks the composed presentation of the Exo Copper and the same level of bass extension and impact.
Effect Audio ARES II ($150): The ARES II is similarly well-built and is a little slimmer. Effect Audio’s proprietary terminations feel and look great. The No.5 is actually slightly softer, some users have experienced hardening of Effect Audio’s cables, something that the No.5 isn’t affected by.
The ARES II and No.5 are fairly similar with the ARES II being slightly cooler, clearer and brighter. As such, I consider the No.5 to be sligthly more balanced with most earphones, though it also doesn’t sound quite as consistently transparent or pristine as the ARES II. The ARES II has a little more extension up top and a larger stage. It is more liquid through its midrange, a trait carried by most EA cables. That said, this does come at the cost of some coherence with the No.5 offering more accurate positioning and layering.
TFZ King Pro: More even between sub and mid-bass, more controlled and textured. Slightly more natural mids, similar vocal presence. Greater balance between lower and middle-treble, more crisp and detailed. Greater air and shimmer, slightly larger stage with greater separation.
64Audio U3: Greater bass extension, touch more mid-bass but more defined. Greater midrange body, more natural, slight increase in vocal presence. More linear high-end, more detailed with slightly more air, small increase in extension and resolution. Larger stage in width and depth, similar separation.
Noble Django: Greater sub-bass extension. Mid-bass lift, but a lot more bass definition. Too much lower-midrange, sounds tubby. Greater vocal presence and extension. Enhanced detail retrieval but reduced air, cleaner background. Larger stage, reduced separation due to thicker bass and midrange.
Hyla CE-5: Great synergy. More linear between sub and mid-bass. Greater bass control, noticeably cleaner and more defined. More balanced midrange, more present, natural vocals while maintaining transparency. Greater detail and air but background isn’t quite as clean. Larger stage with better imaging.
Noble Katana: Excellent synergy. More extended sub-bass, minimal change in bass quantity, slightly more defined. Slight lower-midrange bump, more natural vocal body. More linear top-end, noticeably more detailed with greater micro-detail retrieval but a touch less upper-treble sparkle. Similar soundstage dimensions, more precise imaging and greater separation due to greater linearity.
PWAudio’s No.5 is easy to love. Beyond its natural sound, the No.5’s pricing makes it attainable to many and its ergonomics are nothing short of excellent. As it is slightly warm, it doesn’t compliment already warmer earphones, but it is fairly balanced as far as cables go. As such, sound changes aren’t as stark as more sculpted models, but the No.5 is mature and refined in its presentation; appreciably enriching the listening experience across the board. No doubt, some will find greater joy in the clarity and extension of the ARES II, or perhaps the very composed EXO Copper. But PWAudio carve out a very comfortable position in a market saturated by industry giants.
The PWAudio No.5 can be purchased from Music Sanctuary for $229 SGD. I am not affiliated with Music Sanctuary or PWAudio and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.