Effect Audio Ares II 8-wire

Rating:
5/5,
  1. Wyville
    Effect Audio Ares II 8-wire - Grand Symphony
    Written by Wyville
    Published Jun 10, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Scales IEMs very well, versatility in pairing, tonality, value, braiding and ergonomics (for an 8-wire cable)
    Cons - Ergonomics compared to 4-wire cables
    Effect Audio Ares II 8-wire

    Disclaimer
    I would like to thank Eric Chong from Effect Audio for providing me with the Ares II 8-wire in exchange for my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favourable review.

    Ares II 8-wire
    • Gauge: 26 AWG
    • Geometry : Proprietary Multi-Size Stranded design within a single encapsulation
    • Materials: UPOCC Litz Copper
    • Carbon Fibre termination and Y-split
    • Connector type: 2-pin/CIEM
    • Termination type: 2.5mm TRRS (balanced)
    • Price: US$300

    Links:
    https://www.effectaudio.com
    https://www.facebook.com/effectaudiosg/

    Preamble
    By now I am no stranger to reviewing cables by Effect Audio. The Singapore-based trailblazer in aftermarket cable innovation consistently attracts my attention because their house sound fits my preferences and because Eric Chong, Effect Audio's Marketing Manager, has such infectious enthusiasm and passion for his work. In my experience Effect Audio really focuses on the community and often goes well beyond selling cables. They even open their doors and organise workshops for the local Singapore community, where people can learn how to build cables for themselves. Indeed, together with companies such as Vision Ears, Empire Ears and Jomo, Effect Audio has been pushing to improve customer experience well beyond the norm and getting it closer to the experience of attending a Canjam event. I quite like that and always enjoy hearing about new ideas and projects even though I will likely never be able to visit Singapore to attend myself.

    During one of my conversations with Eric he asked if I was interested in doing another review ("Of course I am!") and if maybe it would be nice to try out one of their bespoke 8-wire cables ("Of course! Of course!"). Certainly, there was one cable in particular I was interested in, the Ares II 8-wire. It is one of those cables I have been curious about ever since I first heard Ares II in its standard 4-wire configuration. I still rate Ares II as one of the very best cables regardless of price, it is my go-to cable on my Custom Art Ei.3 and came stock on my gorgeous Empire Ears Phantom. (Finally! TOTL IEMs that come stock with a cable befitting them, instead of the cheap plastic ergonomic nightmare that we see so often.) I have however always been curious about the Effect (pardon the obvious pun) of doubling the wire count. Would that double the fun? Or would the difference be imperceptible? Well, since I know Ares II pretty darn well by now, I would say... No time like the present to find out!

    AresII_8W.png

    Build quality and ergonomics
    I will happily admit that I have long been drooling over pictures of Effect Audio's 8-wire cables and could not wait to get my hands on this one. Did it live up to my own personal hype? Oh yes, the Ares II 8-wire is simply a gorgeous cable with a wonderful braiding that is very even and makes the cable surprisingly supple. Sure it is a lot of copper wire to wear over your ears, but I did some of my listening for this review while preparing dinner and felt no discomfort while moving around the kitchen (my cooking is a very intense business, ie. the kitchen becomes a warzone). I won't wear it on the go, not in the least because it would attract way too much attention on the London Tube, but I certainly think it is possible for the less self-conscious audiophiles among us.

    The build quality is what I am used to from Effect Audio, simply excellent and durable. Because I use these cables intensively and do a lot of cable rolling, there is however one weak spot I have uncovered with Effect Audio's cables in general and that is the cover of the 2-pin connectors. While the connectors themselves are rock solid, the glue used to keep the covers in place seems to vary in quality and (for instance) the right cover on the Ares II that came with my Phantom was completely loose. In this case there was a tiny bit of play after I had changed the cable from one set of IEMs to another several times, despite being careful every time I did. Perhaps something Effect Audio can look at while they are renewing the components on their cables. (I have seen the new y-split and termination, and those look very nice.)

    Overall though it is a great cable and I am pleasantly surprised by the ergonomics, which are pretty darn good for such a thick and heavy cable, and the Ares II 8-wire is a joy to use.

    Source
    All listening was done with my AK70 from balanced out using the Custom Art Ei.3, Rhapsodio Saturn and Empire Ears Phantom.

    AresII_8W_C&H.png

    Presentation
    "Grand" That one term sums up my first impression of listening to the Ares II 8-wire and it has not changed since. "Grand" as in Grand Canyon, the Ares II 8-wire adds tons of space, air, and clarity. Okay, maybe there is a slight Freudian aspect to that analogy, considering I am quite the outdoors type of person who finds himself confined in London. But doubling up the wires does work like a decongestant, allowing air to flow freely and instruments to envelop themselves in it. The result is that it made even my normally quite intimate sounding Ei.3 sound almost like headphones, the Saturn gained quite a lot of mid-range clarity and a nice amount of sparkle in the treble, and the Phantom... Oh boy did it work well with those!

    For my review of the Phantom I wrote a section about Beethoven's 5th symphony because it was such a good illustration of the qualities of those IEMs, and I will quote it here for convenience:

    Let me take you on this revolutionary journey... The 5th consists of four movements. In the first movement Beethoven sets out his revolutionary ideals with bold statements expressed through the universally recognised four opening notes. Gardiner injects pace here, conducting at 108 bpm, and the Phantom present the notes resonant and impactful, just as you expect from a passionate statement: The bold sounding tympani, the dramatic brass instruments and sharp and precisely played notes. In the second movement Beethoven expresses his faith in our (human) ability to achieve those ideals. Everything slows down and starts to flow delicately, with instruments transitioning seamlessly from one to another and the Phantom clearly defining each instrument based on tone while maintaining the coherency and fluidity in the notes. In the third movement the revolutionary journey starts in earnest and brass instruments come up bold, uplifting and with intent. Occasionally the bass strings will give the impression of dispersion, only to fall back in line with equal intent. And then everything slows down again with delicate tones, beautifully presented against the pitch-black background of the Phantom. Only a few instruments come through, ever more silent until the drum roll starts and strings begin to increase the sense of anticipation until... La liberté! Freedom! In a burst of exuberance the tympani and brass instruments come back, accompanied by strings, woodwinds and goose bumps every time I listen to it with the Phantom. It is glorious, incredibly layered and flows like a key cinematic scene from an India Jones movie. Because of the accurate tonality, the coherency and outstanding layering, the sense of drama is the very best I have heard so far.

    Changing from their stock 4-wire Ares II to the 8-wire only added to this presentation, scaling up the image to give a real sense of the venue where the performance was recorded. To my ears it was the first time that the acoustics sounded like a real concert hall. Most importantly, the 8-wire maintained the outstanding tonality of the Phantom and the way tones fluctuated in the piece, like ebbing and flowing from one instrument to another in the most fluid manner. The grand scale of the image and how the instruments fill it was exactly what I had been trying to find for classical symphonies and the 8-wire pushed my Phantom pretty much spot on where I wanted them to be.

    Phantom_8W.png

    With my Ei.3 I was really impressed by how alive and energetic the sound became with the 8-wire. I was especially impressed with one album and how it ended up sounding, which was the Rolling Stones' 'Blue and Lonesome'. For my preferences the Phantom sound a little too clean for that album, but when I paired my Ei.3 with the 8-wire it was amazing and extremely engaging, making me wish I also had the Rhapsodio Zombie around to pair with the 8-wire. The Ei.3 get quite a nice "smoke-filled blues bar"-type atmosphere that was further emphasised by the 8-wire, but the Zombie already excelled at that with the Ares II 4-wire. I certainly feel the 8-wire brings that something extra, something energetic and alive, making the music feel more real. Case in point was the Rhapsodio Saturn. Where I did not care much for the Saturn's pairing with the 4-wire, the 8-wire was just so large, deliciously lush and delightfully sparkly that I kept it paired just a little longer than necessary, which I think is a good indication of how the 8-wire brings that extra bit of engagement.

    Bass
    It feels to me like the 8-wire scales everything and the bass seems to do two contrasting things: The bass sounds more resonant and thicker, but at the same time the position is ever so slightly further back, giving more room for the mids. This might sound like a contradiction, but when I listen to Caro Emerald's Acoustic Sessions album, I am really impressed by the double bass when I listen with the Phantom. This was the case with the 4-wire, but with the 8-wire it sounds more resonant, almost like I am listening to a dynamic driver. On the forums I had some discussions about the bass of Phantom and that a dynamic driver might be able to get more texture out of it, but the 8-wire already seems to improve the Phantom in precisely this area. Unlike what I expected, it does not hurt the Phantom's character because the cable scales everything like this and the double bass actually feels positioned a little further back.

    With the Saturn I had a great time pairing them with the 8-wire. These are dynamic drivers and have a bass-heavy signature that with the 8-wire resulted in an incredibly lush and surprisingly detailed bass. Not as hard hitting as with the stock cable, but still very much able to dig down deep into the sub-bass for a delicious rumble, something I really enjoyed when listening to Carbon Based Lifeforms and Astronaut Ape, my weapons of choice when I feel the need to give myself a brain massage. The 4-wire just made the Saturn fluffy, but the 8-wire added depth and weight to make it lush and incredibly enjoyable for anyone who likes their bass.

    Mids
    With the 8-wire mids become more emphasized and nowhere is this more clearly heard than while listening to intimate vocals with my Phantom. Intimately recorded vocals sound eerily realistic and I was astonished by it when I first heard Madeleine Peyroux whisper in my ear, and felt slightly uncomfortable when Bono did the same. The 8-wire pushed the vocal excellence of the Phantom to new heights and it was a real treat when I was listening to Dido & Aeneas, where at one point a drunken sailor starts to sing. It is completely different from the rest of the opera and usually sounded a little "off" to my ears, but now it sounds spot on and I can feel the emotions in the voice of the performer. It is really impressive.

    The amount of air and clarity was also especially noticeable with the Saturn, which have a warm V-shape and as such have both laid-back and somewhat veiled mids with their stock cable. The 8-wire adds a significant amount of mid-range clarity and opens up the mids a lot more, making the Saturn more detailed and the bass less dominant within the overall presentation.

    Most importantly, the tonality of mid-range instruments is very well maintained with the Phantom and the added air around those instruments works, as I indicated earlier, especially well for classical symphonies. For more intimate acoustic music such as jazz I tend to lean towards the 4-wire because instruments feel closer together and there is a little more coherency with the vocals, but at the same time I keep coming back to the grandness of the 8-wire and the realism in the vocals so that the choice between them usually becomes a matter of what mood I am in rather than anything else.

    Treble
    Of course there is a bit of a boost to the treble to create all that air, but it is very much in line with the 4-wire: sparkly but smooth. It is clean and when paired with the Saturn the 8-wire helped give them some welcome sparkle and detail. I did not notice much difference in terms of the position of cymbals with my Phantom, the 8-wire maintained the characteristic attenuated and very well extended treble, providing nicely sparkling cymbals that might for some people lack a little in excitement (although yours truly greatly appreciates this due to his slight treble sensitivity).

    I think the main gains in the treble are in the areas of air, clarity and transparency, rather than adding a significant amount of treble presence or sparkle and that is just how I like it.

    Comparisons
    -Ares II 4-wire-
    The big question is of course: How does the 8-wire Ares II compare to the standard 4-wire version? Since the Phantom use the 4-wire as a stock cable and I have used the same for my Ei.3, most of my review has already been a comparison between the two, so it does not make much sense repeating myself, but TL;DR... The 8-wire provides a much bigger stage with tons of air and a more prominent mid-range. The 4-wire is more intimate and gives a warmer overall feeling as a result. It feels like the 8-wire provides a sound more akin to headphones. Both share a very similar tonality.

    -Lionheart-
    Another really interesting question to ask is whether it makes more sense to double up on the wires and go for the 8-wire, or step up in the materials and go for a cable like Lionheart. The answer to that is always a matter of synergy. I adored Lionheart paired with the VE5, but not so much with my Phantom. This was because I felt Lionheart was a little too laid back in the treble compared to the Ares II 8-wire. However, Lionheart maintains a slightly more intimate stage while still adding clarity and air, and adds a quality to how the music flows that the 8-wire can't quite compete with that feels even more liquid. I would say that the Ares II 8-wire is a more energetic cable while Lionheart is more refined.

    Of course it is also a question of ergonomics, as any 26 AWG 8-wire cable is going to be quite big and bulky, not matter how well the braiding is done, so Lionheart packs a lot of performance in a much smaller package.

    AresII_8W(2).png

    Conclusions
    The Ares II 8-wire is an impressive cable that, like its 4-wire sibling, I feel performs well above its price point. I was surprised by how big the sound was that the cable could produce with my IEMs, almost like headphones. Yet it maintains a lot of the wonderful characteristics of the standard 4-wire. Also surprising was the level of comfort for such a bulky cable, which proved to be incredibly supple and no problem at all to walk around with. An easy recommendation for anyone who likes the standard Ares II and is looking to push that performance to the next level without going too far up in price.
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