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Effect Audio Leonidas II

Rating:
5/5,
  • Leonidas II

    "Leonidas" II is the primed successor of the reputed and accredited "Leonidas". Drawing upon Effect Audio's R&D expertise and with groundbreaking contemporary materials, including an industry-first Palladium application onto cables, we broke through the industry's plateau and actualized the perfect iteration of Leonidas in the "Leonidas II", bringing about a truly unique melodious experience.
    • 26 AWG
    • Selected UP-OCC
    • Golden Ratio Palladium Plated Silver & Litz Silver Hybrid
    • Septuplet Core Bundle Litz
    • Individually Enameled Strands
    • Superior PSquared / P-EA Plugs
    • EA Ultra-Flex Jacket
    • All New Modular Y-Split Design
    • Premium Selects Burnished Case
    LeoII_EA.jpg

Recent Reviews

  1. ezekiel77
    Effect Audio Leonidas II – Majesty in its Veins
    Written by ezekiel77
    Published Mar 31, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Exceptional build quality
    - Class-leading ergonomics
    - Design and attention to detail
    - A sound signature for the ages
    - Resolution and dynamics masterclass
    - Ultra-black background
    - Expansive soundstage with pinpoint imaging
    - Delivers spectrum-wide improvements
    Cons - Price
    - Not the most accurate timbre
    All hail the king of Sparta (again), a refresh of the flagship-grade upgrade cable from Effect Audio featuring palladium-plated silver.

    In the world of audiophile cables, companies that make them fall into two schools of thought. The old-school “better conductivity means better sound” camp where the purest silver reigns supreme, like Double Helix Cables and Norne Audio; and the new-skool thinking that metals or alloys can affect sound, for example, PlusSound Audio and our subject today, Effect Audio.

    Effect Audio is a company constantly turning convention on its side, tinkering with rare metals, geometry, braiding, and insulation to achieve their desired sound. Founded in 2009 by Suyang, they shot to fame with the original Leonidas, a hybrid cable of pure silver and gold-plated silver. Until today it has many fans, and now they’re hungry for a sequel of Terminator 2 (not Speed 2) proportions.

    Enter the mighty Leonidas II. Named after the guy who kicked the other guy down a chasm while shouting “This is Sparta”, Leonidas II represents the pinnacle of Effect Audio’s extensive R&D and knowledge of metallurgy. It’s a 4-wire hybrid cable with strands of palladium-plated silver and litz silver. It’s kind of a big, badass deal, as Effect Audio is the first to introduce palladium into in-ear monitor (IEM) cables.

    Any film buff worth his salt would have heard about the movie that has Wolverine, Batman, Black Widow, and as a bonus, Alfred. The Prestige from 2006 is about dueling magicians at a time when few other forms of entertainment exist, so Christian Bale and Hugh Jackman continually one-up each other to Pet Sounds and Sgt Pepper proportions, to decide whose magic was the dopest and er, illest.



    [​IMG]
    Endgame is near, so says the light of redemption.



    The famous monologue in it delivered by Michael Caine was about what makes a great magic trick, in three parts.

    The first part, “The Pledge”, is when you are shown something ordinary. Then, “The Turn” is when something extraordinary occurs, perhaps even shocking. The final and hardest part, “The Prestige”, is when everything is set right again, sending people home happy.

    Ah, yes, cable magic is what I’m implying. So in this instance, the Pledge would be an ordinary silver cable, the Turn is the introduction of palladium plating, and as for the Prestige? What happy ending can you conjure out of the metal that was slowly killing Tony Stark in Iron Man 2? Well, you’ll have to stick around to find out.

    Leonidas II is part of Effect Audio’s higher-end Heritage Series and retails for an auspicious USD888. It is available through the official website, with a host of customization options for connectors, Y-splits, and jack. Mine is the 4.4mm balanced jack made in a special collaboration with Pentaconn. I would like to thank Eric sincerely for the review unit, your trust and patience is much appreciated.



    Equipment Used:
    • Sony NW-WM1A “K” Modded, FW 2.0
    • 64 Audio Tia Fourte
    Albums Listened:
    • Amber Rubarth – Sessions from the 17th Ward
    • Ed Sheeran – Divide
    • Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
    • Macy Gray – Stripped
    • Michael Jackson – The Essential


    Packaging and Accessories

    Can I still talk about films? Ok, last one. If you’ve ever seen Pulp Fiction, the Tarantino masterpiece that shot him to infamy, the characters risk their lives for a certain briefcase. We never actually know what’s in it, but when it’s opened, it glows a magnificent gold and everyone who looks at it is rendered speechless, awestruck by the object’s stunning allure.

    The Leonidas II has that effect (pun fully intended) as far as packaging goes, an object of abject beauty you can’t help but stop to admire, like Marilyn walking under a breezy vent. Like buying jewelry, you have to first remove an unassuming cardboard sleeve that hides the goodies from unwanted attention. From there, o luxury and grandeur, bathed in a svelte velvet box.

    The velvet is akin to the inner lining of expensive jewelry cases, so the analogy hasn’t stopped yet. Opening that up, you get an exquisite leather round case made just for Leonidas II, in hues of amber and brown. And finally, inside the leather case, a glittering silver necklace, uh I mean the cable. It’s indulgent packaging at its best, drawing your utmost attention to the final product.



    [​IMG]
    Also included, stickers that do not improve sound quality!



    Design and Build Quality

    While the product page is a hodgepodge of technical jargon and trademarked names that you’re afraid to ask about, what matters most is the cable in front of you. It looks resplendent and is splendidly built, a cable of glorious splendor you’d splend, I mean spend serious money on.

    As mentioned, Leonidas II is made up of four wires in 26AWG gauge, with each wire containing seven cores of a mix of litz silver and palladium-plated silver. Each strand is individually enameled for better insulation, so the wires function to their fullest capacity. The wires undergo a process called UP-OCC (Ultra Pure Ohno [oh yes!] Continuous Cast) for maximum purity so you know you’re getting only the good stuff, with the scum tossed out.

    Coming back down to earth, it does look like a conventional silver cable. Strands of shimmery silver are seen in the flawlessly-braided wires with a nice sheen that demands a bit of attention. The devil is in the details though. Chrome connectors with Effect’s logo and L/R markings; the hand-stitched leather Y-split matching the case; and my favorite bit, the carbon fiber barrel of the Pentaconn plug; all serve to elevate the Leonidas II to “head-turner” status.

    As for build quality, I wager this cable is built to last. It survived an accidental hard yank or two and went back to the shape it was before, like brushing dust off your shoulders. But the same warnings apply, keep away from scissors and hungry pets. This Leonidas won’t fight wars for you. He’s more a princess you have to protect.



    [​IMG]
    The leather case is really sunshine and happiness through and through.



    Ergonomics and Comfort

    Remember the first time you held one in your hands, and it felt kinda stiff. That’s what she said. When I started the cable game I had a preconceived notion that upgrade cables make concessions here and there for the ultimate sound. So my first silver upgrade cable was a little stiffy with horrible ergonomics.

    Fast forward to today, you can throw that convention out the window (and hope it doesn’t strike something). Thanks to (I guess) the thin 26AWG gauge, and Effect’s patented Ultra-Flex Jacket (more guesswork), Leonidas II is hands down the most ergonomic and comfortable cable I’ve had the pleasure of handling.

    It’s soft, limber and silky smooth. Also, coils and twists any way you want to with no memory effect that I can perceive. They’re superbly malleable yet built tough. As for comfort, even with PVC sheaths, they are as good to handle as cables lined with fabric, such as HanSound Audio’s Redcore and Q Cables’ French Silk. The others simply fall by the wayside. For this jaded cable enthusiast, call me impressed.



    [​IMG]
    How does that song go? Silver threads among the palladium doesn’t seem right.



    Sound Quality

    The basis of a cable’s sound lies in comparisons. The audio chain is affected mostly by the transducer and audio player, with maybe 10% of the sound tweaked by the cable. Plastics One forms the baseline of all my sound impressions, and what I report are based on deviations from them. It’s given with most custom IEMs, so you might have used them before. When we talk about stock cables, this is it. Plastics One is the yardstick by which all upgrade cables are compared to.

    Critical listening was done after 150 hours of burning in. Not specifically recommended by anyone, but I believe in equipment breaking-in as much as my ears accommodating to the given sound after a given time. I like the idea of breaking down that palladium newcomer too, show him who’s boss. The IEM of choice is 64 Audio’s flagship Tia Fourte, because I like to pair money with money.



    [​IMG]
    This portable system costs as much as a car, but you can’t put a car in your pocket can you?



    Overall Sound Signature

    Imagine (or rather, remember what you read about) the sound profile of a silver cable. More details, thinner notes, brightness, and a side of harshness if you’re not careful. Never fear. Leonidas II’s sound has one hand dipped in tuning assuredness and the other dipped in a uh, cool and soothing moisturizer. While the expected improvements do surface, like the increase in apparent detail and texture, Leonidas II is more than a one-trick horse.

    The first thing I noticed was the immediacy and general tightening of the signature. Notes are not thinned out, rather delivered with more textural feel, along with a keen sense of rhythm and pacing. So notes appear for no longer than they should and disappear into a tarry-black background. Top-tier resolution and excellent end-to-end extension are a given, better yet you get dynamics and finesse worthy of a virtuoso performance.

    Leonidas II cracks the proverbial whip, disciplining the entire spectrum without sacrificing the fun. The overall signature is quite balanced, with a slight emphasis on the upper mids and lower treble, rooted with a nice subbass presence. Rounding things up is the grand scale presentation. Leonidas II definitely has delusions of grandeur. Soundstage dimensions are larger in all directions with generous amounts of air and spaciousness lifting the signature skywards.

    You could say that the Leonidas II sound is like salt and pepper, improving the taste and texture of a bland meat, bringing subtle refinements across the spectrum like a good all-rounder could. Tasty eh?



    Bass

    Meat! The subbass wields authority and fills your tummy with a more audible thump and subsequent rumble (meaning you’re hungry again). It’s not afraid to plumb the deepest depths just for your pleasure. Yup. Like a well-measured bite, note size is neither too thick nor thin. It won’t knock you into submission, but is tastefully filling and fulfilling, and as a gentleman should, leaves you wanting more.

    The classy gentleman also knows when to pull his punches. Moving up, the midbass and upper bass are tightened and display admirable control. Notes are well-rounded, organic and meaty (there’s that word again) from attack to decay, but disappear into the background right before things get too bloomy and bloody. Transients are faster and because of that cleanness, bass layering is much improved.

    The generous bass punch, limber notes, abundant detail imparts the bass with a sense of liveliness and oneness with the music, setting hearts racing and feet stomping. Put anything in from pop to metal and they will be handled with finesse to impress. Leonidas II effortlessly draws the line between naturalness and detail, delivering a pleasing, thrilling bass. Meat! I mean neat!



    [​IMG]
    The stitching on the Y-split kinda adds a personal touch, like Wilson in Cast Away.



    Mids

    When critiquing food, what matters most? Taste. But you can’t do without texture, otherwise, I can serve you a burger that’s just gone through a few rounds in the blender. Great taste makes for a vivid memory, but texture completes the picture. There’s also temperature, plating, instagrammability, not making you sick etc, but that’s another story.

    So what I’m getting at, Leonidas II’s mids are a tasty textural treat. From the lower mids up, to quote a random reviewer, a veil is removed. Notes are better felt and palpated, and speedy as ever, even more as we approach the upper mids. Most headlining vocals and instruments reside in the mids, and now they possess more power and bite. In turn, the music is rendered lifelike and involving. Now kiss.

    Tonal deficiencies left by the transducer won’t be corrected, if the timbre is off it stays that way. Leonidas II sways the other direction, unearthing details and dynamics. From booming to faint, a scream to a sigh, they are captured quicker than a heartbeat. The texture-filled mids are like upgrading to a 4K television, more resolved and defined as ever. Is that the silver at work? Definitely! The palladium? Maybe! It’s a happy marriage from where I’m listening.



    Treble

    When you have comically large guns with unlimited ammunition, you’d want to let rip, obliterating the scenery with a hail of bullets. Any martial arts master would tell you, however, true power lies in restraint, in showing your might before even landing the first blow. Armed with hyper-detailed mids, what’s stopping Leonidas II from going where all silver cables have gone and doing one step better?

    Except, of course, the surreal resolution boost stops at one point. Paraphrasing Yoda, details lead to brightness, brightness leads to sibilance, and sibilance… leads to suffering (shocked expression). The lower treble is accented, yes, continuing the dirty work of the upper mids, revealing better texture and definition as we go. So as expected initially, notes have a sparklier and livelier tone, lending a slight detail bump.

    At the middle treble, Leonidas II comes to a halt and says, “attack no more”, puts the sword in its sheath, and shows off its delicate, refined side. Here, notes are airy, feather-light, and effortless in their presentation. The extension is as high as it gets, but each note’s genteel attack is followed by an elegant bloom and decay that is as smooth as it is swift as it is spacious. Harshness and grain are non-issues with this masterfully-tuned treble. Like Anchorman, it stays classy.



    [​IMG]
    A good cable is like chicken soup for the ears. Wait.



    Soundstage and Imaging

    The sound signature can gallivant all they want, all thanks to what I consider the strongest point of the Leonidas II, the soundstage and spatial presentation. It is with this expansive platform that allows the bass to bloom without bleed, the mids to flow without congestion, and the treble to roam free as light as air. Stage dimensions are larger in height, width and depth, making for a spacious, awe-inspiring listen.

    If you’ve ever watched a theatrical production before, the Leonidas II acts as super-efficient stagehands, or gremlins, or underpants gnomes. Dressed all in black, they sweep the stage clean and change scenery and props at a lightning pace. With the speckless stage, every note from every instrument and voice can be heard from beginning to tail-end, with wafts of air in between, before disappearing into the dark once more.

    Almost goes without saying, the separation and imaging are at an elite level. Everything has its own space and you can handily focus or mind-zoom into each element of the music. When I’m up to it I’ll attempt to count the number of vocal parts in Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. The answer: many many.

    The highest resolution and fastest transients are only possible with the cleanest of backgrounds to fall back on. Any rise in the background noise would result in a loss of detail, or a fogged-up mirror so to speak. Leonidas II wipes clean the mirror, presents a stage of epic magnitude and a background as dark as a moonless night. Magnificent and magnanimous.



    Comparisons

    The Leonidas II is by far the highest priced in my roster of cables. I am taught at a young age that when no alternatives are available, you throw money at a problem until it disappears. So that’s what I’m doing here, assembling my feeble (albeit still expensive) stable hoping they stand a chance against the might of the exalted newcomer.

    Allow me to preface by saying that Leonidas II absolutely mops the floor clean with its competitors here when it comes to physical and ergonomic aspects. None can match the softness, suppleness, hand-feel, memory effect and poseability of it, and only Redcore comes close in the looks and handling department. So with only pride to play for, we dive into the sound properties of each.



    Effect Audio Lionheart

    From Cain and Abel to Kane and the Undertaker, brother vs brother battles are always interesting. Combining strands of gold-plated copper and silver-plated copper, the older Lionheart is every bit as unique as the Leonidas II, and is a copper cable Effect Audio like to call their best.

    Like a mature older brother Lionheart is less eager to show off. It takes on a more organic, intimate tone with less flourish. Notes are weightier and rounder, with a slower attack and decay, in contrast to the airy and well-textured Leonidas II. The staging is more compact and imaging is well, fuzzier too. What it lacks in technicalities and soundstage properties, is made up for with a smooth, Nutella-addictive musicality.



    [​IMG]
    Like a cushy cushion, the Lionheart is comfort personified.



    Zooming in, the bass is looser and less disciplined than Leonidas II, and the treble sounds blunted in comparison. However, Lionheart hits where it hurts most. Instrument timbre is impeccably accurate and true to life, a thing Leonidas II struggles to replicate. Vocals are more forward and emotional too, perhaps making Lionheart more of a crowd-pleaser than the technical-minded Leonidas II.

    All in all, they could be considered complementary in signature. Smooth/musical versus detailed/spacious. Although paling in comparison to Leonidas II’s technical prowess, Lionheart deserves worthy mention for standing its ground with its own distinct signature. Lionheart is designed with pure listening enjoyment at er, heart.



    Han Sound Audio Redcore

    Let’s try throwing SGD649 (~USD480) worth of cable at the Leonidas II to see if they get along. The Redcore, like the girl in the red dress in the Matrix, stands out among all cables because of its scarlet fabric sheath, a literal red dress, really. What’s inside matters too, and the wires are made of OCC silver and OCC copper strands. A radiant beauty inside and out.

    The Redcore is a girl on the fast lane, sporting a dead neutral sound, with leaner notes and swifter attack/decay than the Leonidas II. The emphasis, like Leonidas II, is on texture and definition, but the timbre is quite tinny. So while speed is Redcore’s greatest asset, tonality takes a hit.

    [​IMG]
    Redcore’s pristine signature is the stuff of fairytales.



    Bass is flat and lacks some impact, while mids are dry and reedy, although both display excellent detail levels and layering ability. They are very technical, perhaps too much so. These properties are however, very welcome in the treble realm, with top-notch detail, air and resolution just shy of harshness, a sonic equal to the mighty Leonidas II.

    Stage size is smaller-scaled than Leonidas II in all directions, but owing to the lean and fast notes, imaging and separation remain on top. After this comparison I valued the Leonidas II more. It has a more balanced, engaging and dynamic signature while retaining first-rate detail retrieval. The scarlet witch puts up a brave fight but succumbs in the end!



    Norne Audio Silvergarde S2

    The Silvergarde is the audio purist’s wet dream. Forged from the purest silver in a thick, python-like gauge, conductivity is near maximum with no details spared. It’s my favourite sounding cable despite being an ergonomic nightmare. In comes the Leonidas II hoping to steal the throne and my heart away.

    The Silvergarde unleashes hell with the meatiest, boldest and most forward presentation I’ve heard among cables. Like wielding a battle-ready claymore, notes hit with brute force, authority and precision. Timbre leans toward the organic side of things, sounding more natural than Leonidas II, but only just.



    [​IMG]
    Thickkk. Tentacles, sausage links and pythons come to mind.



    Bass response is almost woofer-like, with heaps of subbass rumble and midbass swagger. Notes are round and pack a mighty wallop, but decays with moderate speed and not as clean as the Leonidas II. Mids are forward-placed and dense, reaching the dynamism of the Leonidas II. However, detail levels are not as high, with a hazier definition to each note.

    Treble is even and smooth, sounding less exciting and articulate as Leonidas II, with a controlled sparkle. While the overall tone is easy to like, the Silvergarde loses out in the soundstage arena. The stage size is tinier, and imaging is diffuse and less focused, owing to a woolier background. So like the guy who threw Black Panther into the waterfall, we have a new king!



    Final Words

    The ideal, dream-scenario upgrade cable improves upon the original in construction, ergonomics and durability, and gives sound improvements unquestionably perceptible by everyone. That of course, like mermaids, do not exist. Sound changes aren’t readily accepted by most, so we cable subjectivists are lampooned for believing in aural illusions. They’re dugongs, dammit!

    Alas, we have the Leonidas II. Priced to the high heavens and open to ridicule and reprimand for daring to make a difference. But dear reader, I propose to you, to listen with open ears, and an open heart, for there is much to be loved about the cable.



    [​IMG]
    This deadly whip is the King of Sparta’s weapon of choice.



    Going back to Michael Caine, so what makes Leonidas II magic? For the Pledge, we have an intricately-constructed silver cable, with all the bells and whistles expected for its elite price range. For the Turn, we introduce palladium plating, which reduces cable conductivity and ruins the purity of the silver. Shock and horror!

    But the Prestige, and what makes this cable most memorable, lies in the unique sound. Leonidas II dives into the heart of the music, providing a fertile ground for the signature to thrive. At once resolute and smooth, nimble and impactful, expansive and focused, dynamic and serene, creamy and crispy. Take the best adjectives and multiply them by two, for the sum is indeed greater than its parts.

    When the creative minds of Effect Audio crack their heads together, the result is often a cracking little product. Their willingness to innovate and experiment has led to Sgt Peppers (again) when others are still stuck in Love Me Do. With palladium, they have created a sound unlike any I’ve heard in a cable. Leonidas II is the shiniest jewel in the already glittering crown of Effect Audio, and the only way to go is up.
    1. happy0713
      Excellent review, thanks.
      happy0713, Mar 31, 2019
      bden59 likes this.
  2. Deezel177
    Effect Audio Leonidas II - A Legend's Reprise
    Written by Deezel177
    Published Feb 15, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Excellent technical performance, delivered with refinement and effortlessness
    - High resolution, transparency and finesse
    - Richly nuanced micro-dynamic energy
    - Speedy, elegant transients
    - Best-in-class build quality
    - Gorgeous accessories
    Cons - Price
    DISCLAIMER: Effect Audio provided me with a discounted price on the Leonidas II in return for my honest opinion. I am not personally affiliated with the company in any way, nor do I receive any monetary rewards for a positive evaluation. I’d like to thank Effect Audio for their kindness and support. The review is as follows.

    Effect Audio truly know no rest. The Singaporean ateliers have gone from strength to strength, especially throughout the past year. But, if one were to trace their exponential rise back to its origin, they’d find one common denominator: The Leonidas. First released in 2016, it was the cable that put the company on the map and it’s been the stepping stone to their overwhelming success ever since – which is why its discontinuation came as a shock to many across the globe. But as the saying goes, in every end lies a new beginning. A true successor in every way, a vast leap in speed, resolution and realism, brought to life by the bleeding edge of material sciences – Ladies and gentlemen… welcome the Leonidas II.

    LeoII-1 (3).jpg

    Effect Audio Leonidas II

    • Wire composition: 26 AWG UPOCC Palladium-plated silver + Litz silver hybrid
    • Default configuration: 4-wire
    • Key feature(s) (if any): Palladium plating, UltraFlexi insulation
    • Price: $888
    • Website: www.effectaudio.com
    Build and Accessories

    The Leonidas II arrives in Effect Audio’s classic premium packaging: A towering, black monolith wrapped in a decorative sleeve. But to mark the momentous occasion, Effect Audio have dressed the Leonidas II’s with a genuine leather skin; engraved tastefully with the product name on top. Inside the box’s circular recession, lies the cable in its lavish leather case – an impeccably-crafted, puck-like unit classier than anything you’d find with flagship in-ears even. Both elements are constructed entirely out of premium calf leather; exuding luxury in ways only Effect Audio know how. This is the wow factor I felt was missing with the far pricier Janus D; a clear indication of its distinguished status. Although it’s worth remembering the cable still requires 888 of your hard-earned US dollars, it – so far – at least has a package to match.

    LeoII-24 (3).jpg

    Handling the Leonidas II for the first time was an immensely pleasing experience. After becoming accustomed to the Bespoke Ares II and Janus D, the II was a welcome change in weight; just as supple, silky and smooth, but vanishingly comfortable as well. However, only time will tell whether or not that softness remains after some degree of use. The pre-shaped heat shrink located near the in-ear connectors have upped in transparency, to the point where I initially thought Effect Audio chose to forgo them. Braiding is uniform, but a touch looser than Han Sound Audio’s, for example. Visually, the Leonidas II’s conductors are certainly more subtle than those of its predecessor. Now constructed out of silver and palladium-plated silver, the Leonidas II adopts a classier, more understated aesthetic than its gold-bling’ed counterpart.

    LeoII-15 (1).jpg

    But worry not, because the Leonidas II compensates elsewhere; namely, its leather Y-split. Marvellously matching the box sleeve and carrying case, the Leonidas II’s Y-split is eye-catching-ly exotic. The matte, almost sunburst-like finish of the leather contrasts beautifully against the engraved chrome metallic accents. The black ties keeping the leather wound around the barrel does run the risk of looking a tad messy, but they’re kept to the rear where they’re practically invisible in use. And, the best part of this design is it’s entirely modular! The leather aspect can be removed and replaced without dismantling the cable outright. Additionally, this leaves the door open for more… interesting options in the future.

    LeoII-16 (4).jpg

    Lastly, the Leonidas II features the updated hardware we previously covered on the Janus D. The connectors, Y-split and plug all carry a seamless chrome aesthetic; sleekly mirror-finished. Effect Audio’s logos are engraved directly onto the components for a cleaner look with zero risk of fading. The 2-pin barrels stay rock-solid when cable-rolling. And finally, carbon fibre accents the hefty 4.4mm plug, developed in collaboration with Pentaconn – completing the Leonidas II’s well-conceptualised, uniform and utterly spectacular look. This is a cable I can guarantee you’ve never, ever seen before.

    LeoII-5 (2).jpg

    Sound Impressions

    The Leonidas II – to me – embodies refinement. There’s effortlessness in everything it reproduces, whether it be its vast, holographic stage or wealths of nuance against a pitch-black background. Like the similarly-plated Janus Dynamic, the Leonidas II’s technical prowess is subtly hidden behind a smooth, easy-to-listen-to timbre; a wholly addictive hybrid of smooth and clear. But, a definite distinction exists in tone. Unlike the former’s less coloured response, the Leonidas is neutral-leaning with an emphasis on cleanliness, clarity and speed. But again, relative to its competition, the Leonidas successor is unique in how it delivers that detail – with a light, graceful touch; smooth and rich, yet wholly transparent.

    LeoII-3 (1).jpg

    The Leonidas II is an impressive spatial performer. The stage it possesses is expansive, but more noteworthy is layering, precision and holography. Soundscapes that previously sounded flat and wall-like take on more depth as air permeates between the layers, creating obvious contrasts between the individual elements throughout the stage. Above them all though, the clear star of the Leonidas II’s presentation is its black background. By virtue of its palladium plating, the Leonidas II has taken on astounding refinement and speed. Details appear out of thin-air and vanish without a trace – a huge leap over the original Leonidas’s hazier atmosphere. This contributes heavily into the cable’s transparency, while an organic tonal balance maintains its realism. All this amounts to the II’s immense resolution, delivered with finesse.

    Bass performance is an absolute strength in both variants of the Leonidas. Building on its predecessor’s dynamic sub- bass, the II adds a more organically-toned mid-bass – permitted by its broader headroom. Punches are tight, clear and textured, bolstered by commanding authority, effortless control and open air. Because the bass region sits flat relative to the mids and treble, the stage remains spotlessly clean; zero hints of bleed or bloom. Returning to the sub-bass, the cable comes imbued with excellent physicality – immensely guttural and visceral. It’s a woofer-like effect with palpable vibrations, but it’s presented with three-dimensionality and depth which prevents it from crowding the stage. The II is quality-over-quantity down low. Timbre, physicality and detail all excel, but with the restraint and control to match.

    LeoII-9 (2).jpg

    The midrange is where the II most clearly outperforms its predecessor. The original’s clear, transparent response is wholly maintained, but with it now comes superior speed, imaging precision and linearity. Unlike other clarity-driven cables, the Leonidas II possesses a hefty lower-midrange. So, notes here sound thick and harmonically-rich. But, swift decay and ample headroom maintain a pitch-black background, as well as high definition. This results in an organic, refined timbre paired with unprecedented resolution. This also aids imaging and layering. Subtle contrasts in texture and dynamic energy are more apparent along the soundscape, so instead of being congealed in one monotonous mass, those little nuances all feel separately alive – almost like tiny fireflies flickering one after another in a black 3D space.

    Like the original, the Leonidas II is lightly lifted along the treble. Notes spanning 7-10kHz sound a touch brighter, so it’s not as tonally transparent as – say – the Janus Dynamic. But again, effortlessness belies the II’s presentation. So despite the lift, there’s neither a hard edge nor a strident ‘s‘ ever in sight – unwaveringly rich, organic and composed throughout. It’s a smooth, articulate and – most crucially – refined treble, so the rise serves merely a shift in hue. Extension is strong, and so is speed. While it isn’t capable of delivering the expansiveness and dynamics of 8-wire cables, it does come close by virtue of its rock-solid stage, generously-nuanced soundscape and graceful articulation – a gentle delivery of detail that delays fatigue indefinitely. The Leonidas II’s treble is an achievement; clear as glass, smooth as a feather’s edge.

    Suggested Pairings

    The Leonidas II is a clear and refined cable with strong technical qualities. Its neutral tone makes it a wonderful pair especially for warmer IEMs, but its transparency, definition and clarity make it ideal for the following categories below:

    LeoII-17 (2).jpg

    Heightened clarity, finesse and transparency: The Leonidas II has outstanding spatial properties, particularly in stage expansion, dynamic contrast and organisation. Each element within the soundscape seemingly operates independently against a black background. So, IEMs like the Custom Art FIBAE 2 or the Jomo Audio Déux which have a more unified, wall-of-sound-esque signature will benefit from the Leonidas II’s transparency, separation and textural resolution.

    Refined cleanliness and sparkle: The Leonidas II possesses a clean and articulate treble, delivered with a soft, organic timbre. This is ideal if you have warmer IEMs you’d wish to have cleaned up, but still wholly maintain that harmonic richness. Popular options include Warbler Audio’s Prelude, Empire Ears’ Phantom and Vision Ears’ VE6XC.

    Excellent bass physicality (with compatible IEMs): Quality over quantity is the Leonidas II’s mantra when it comes to the bass, especially in physicality and extension. IEMs with sufficient sub-bass reach will adopt a more solid, guttural profile and benefit from wetness in the mid-bass. But, the depth with which the low-end is positioned ensures linearity with the rest of the range; always a team player. This is ideal for IEMs like the Empire Ears Phantom and the Vision Ears VE6XC.

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    Despite the Leonidas II’s impressive technical prowess, it does possess several characteristics that won’t match well with certain IEMs. The Leonidas II may not be for you if the qualities below are what you wish to bring out of your in-ears:

    A warm, organic timbre: The Leonidas II is relatively neutral, but it does have a bright touch along the upper-registers. So, if you have IEMs that are bright inherently, the Leonidas II won’t tone that down. For in-ears like the Kumitate Labs Sirius, you’d be better off with less coloured cables like the Janus D, or warmer ones like the Han Sound Audio Aegis.

    A crisp, strongly outlined midrange: Despite the Leonidas II’s refinement and clarity, its midrange is lush and organic in timbre – bolstered by a fuller lower-midrange. As a result, notes are rather thick and gossamer. So, if your goal is utmost definition where notes are strongly outlined – and may sometimes border on thin – the Leonidas II will not fulfil that.

    Extra slam in the mid-bass: Again, quality over quantity prevails in the bass. The Leonidas II emphasises solidity, physicality and depth down low, so the mid-bass is linearly placed relative to the midrange and treble. If extra slam is what you’re looking for, then cables like the Han Sound Audio Aegis or the Effect Audio Thor Silver II would be more ideal.

    Select Comparisons

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

    Verdict

    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.

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      akared and Wyville like this.
  3. Wyville
    Effect Audio Leonidas II - Ode to Joy
    Written by Wyville
    Published Feb 12, 2019
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Improves transparency, maintains very natural sounding mid-range, expands the stage, improves imaging, very ergonomic, premium leather round case
    Cons - An expensive upgrade that depends on synergy
    Effect Audio Leonidas II

    Disclaimer
    I would like to thank Eric Chong of Effect Audio for providing me with the Leonidas II cable in exchange for my honest opinion. No incentive was given for a favourable review.

    Leonidas II
    • 26 AWG
    • Golden ratio palladium plated silver & litz silver hybrid
    • Septuplet core bundle litz
    • Individually enamelled strands
    • PSquared plug
    • EA Ultra-Flex jacket
    • Modular Y-split design
    • Price: US$ 888.00

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

    Preamble
    For anyone familiar with my reviews, it will come as no surprise that I like tinkering around with cables. It is a game of synergy that I like to play. I think Alex (@Twister6) says it well in his preambles that cables act like a filter within a setup and that it depends on synergy between the source, the cable and the IEMs, whether or not it produces a subtle or more pronounced effect, and whether or not the end result is an improvement (taking into account personal preferences). This is also why I personally feel that it is important to settle on IEMs first, before looking at aftermarket cables. In my case I settled for the Empire Ears Phantom as my daily drivers and because I have been very content (not a word often used in this hobby) with them, it has been great fun to explore how I can fine-tune them to fit my preferences even better.

    By now I have used five different cables by Effect Audio that have all been great pairings in their own right and that does sometimes give me the feeling that I am repeating myself too much. So I wanted to give this review a little Twist (oh, that pun is going to come back to haunt Alex a few times yet!) and try to give a sense of how the different cables synergise with the Phantom, why I like each of them, and why ultimately I think Leonidas II might hit a sweet spot for my preferences. For this I set myself the task of using one of Beethoven's symphonies as an example and it is a particular favourite of mine: his 7th symphony. "Wait! What?! But, but, the title of the review??" I hear you say. Let me explain... I really loved the title and it fits my sentiments of Leonidas II perfectly, but I like the 7th better (ie. the 9th is too darn long). Plus, the 7th is more interesting to write about, as it is much more fun to describe a symphony that some of his critics speculated Beethoven probably wrote while he was drunk off his head. If he was, then it was probably at his best friend's stag do because it has an irresistible rhythm to it that compels you to move. It is in my opinion as much an Ode to Joy as the 9th's stunningly gorgeous choral movement. So there you have it, I think that is a perfectly solid excuse to chicken out of using the 9th.

    Joking aside, the 7th was first performed in Vienna at a charity concert for soldiers wounded during the Battle of Hanau, where Beethoven indicated it was an expression of his patriotism. Which might explain why the second of the four movements, a much slower and darker movement, is often interpreted as a funeral march. The other movements though are incredibly exciting and Richard Wagner even described the symphony as the "Apotheosis of dance herself". The particular rendition of the 7th that I used was performed by the world-class period orchestra of John Eliot Gardiner.

    Unboxing
    Leonidas II arrived at my doorstep together with a couple of very nice booklets showing Effect Audio's line of cables and a pair of 'Leonidas II' stickers. The box itself is similar to those used for Lionheart and Effect Audio's bespoke cables, except that it has a brown cover and opening it up reveals a gorgeous (and very practical) leather round case. Opening up the round case reveals one of the most beautiful cables I have seen so far and I have to hand it to the team at Effect Audio, they seem to have a knack for creating cables that look like expensive jewellery.

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    Build quality and fit
    The cable itself is the usual quality I have seen with other Effect Audio cables and while I commented on the covers of the 2-pin connectors coming loose in previous reviews, this time they have been rock solid. That is also something I have seen Effect Audio do very well in the past, they take careful note of customer feedback and I know they work hard to resolve any issues that might have inadvertently arisen.

    The most notable feature is undoubtedly the leather y-split that I think adds a unique touch of flair to the cable and really underlines that it is a premium product. The termination in this case is the 2.5mm balanced PSquared plug, but it can be made in a wide range of different terminations and connectors as well.

    The cable is very supple and a joy to use, especially after I have gotten used to the big 8 wire cables. I hardly notice it is there.

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    Source
    All listening was done with my AK70 and some with the FiiO K3 DAC/Amp, both from the 2.5mm balanced out.

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    Sound
    The following is a rather lengthy section where I move through the different cable pairing with my Phantom. It is of course also possible to skip most of this and read only my impressions with the stock Ares II and those with Leonidas II.

    -Ares II (stock)-
    With the release of their two new X and EP series, Empire Ears collaborated with Effect Audio to ensure all the new models would come with the excellent Ares II as their stock cable, including of course the Phantom.

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    The Phantom have a warm and relatively intimate sound with an incredibly natural tonality. It is not the most airy sound, but the separation is excellent and that tonality is why I am so happy with my Phantom.

    The first movement of Beethoven's 7th starts with an easy flowing, but exciting introduction that builds up with ascending scales, one after another in a rhythmic fashion that gives that feeling of movement as in dancing. In between these ascending scales are moments of rest where a flute comes through, the tonality of which is sweet, full and accurate. With the build up in the ascending scales it does become noticeable that there is not a lot of air around instruments, but the separation through the accurate tonality of the instruments avoids it feeling too congested. It is intimate, but beautiful, with sweet violins that have a little bit of bite, horns and trumpets that rise above clearly, and a naturally resonant and impactful tympani. It is especially with solos that the Phantom show off their real strength, more so than at the peak of the ascends.

    The slower second movement is in this case more the Phantom's forte, where the black background allows for the delicately flowing strings to come through very well, with the gorgeous sounding tympani at the back providing the slow funereal pace, while clarinets and horns come through with clear definition and a powerful presence. It is a lovely dark atmosphere set by the realistic sounding instruments that make it flow beautifully.

    The third movement then suddenly ups the pace with strings and woodwinds dancing around like hyperactive fairies, the distinct tonality coming through very well to shift your focus from left to right, back and forth, dancing around in the soundscape. This is offset by the occasional build up with brass instruments that I think sound excellent and provide a feeling scale and a sense of drama, contrasting wonderfully with the more delicate jumping fairies. It is not that delicate though, as the Phantom are full sounding and warm, but the effect is nonetheless there.

    Then the fourth and final movement, by some described as sounding like yaks jumping around. I don't hear that, to me it feels like a whirlwind, spiralling. Here the lack of air might be slowing the perception of speed down a little, but because the Phantom have excellent coherency it still flows beautifully and drags you along in the stream of energy that this movement presents. Again, the tonality is such an important factor here, as it separates the woodwinds and brass instruments very clearly to add depth and layering to the image. The image is like a whirlwind of music where occasionally a flute or trumpet rises above the chaos only to accentuate the tumultuous flow of which it is part. Towards the end it becomes the most musical cacophony of sound that brings the symphony to a climactic end in a way that is similar to collapsing when the music stops after an intense night dancing. It is a glorious crescendo that makes the symphony so satisfying right up to the very last note.

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    -Ares II 8-wire-
    Doubling up the wires with the Ares II 8-wire immediately gives a noticeable expansion of the stage and everything becomes a lot more airy. This helps to accentuate the tonality of the instruments with slightly added texture to the bass, a more open mid-range and slightly smoother treble. Overall the tonality stays very similar, but as I indicated in my review, Ares II 8W makes everything feel grand. This also means that the ascending scales of the first movement have a lot more air to breath and although the tonality is roughly the same, instruments sound more clearly defined against an even blacker background.

    As a result of that blacker background, the second movement feels darker, as the stage expands revealing more of the darkness against which are set the strings that flow a little more smoothly, perhaps lacking a little of the bite they had with the 4-wire Ares II. In the background the bass strings are revealed a little more clearly and carry more weight and impact to add to the atmosphere.

    In the third movement the extra impact of the tympani adds to the excitement and sense of pace that is suddenly injected into the symphony. The expanded stage and added air also increase the sense of instruments jumping around in the soundscape, with the clearer textures of the different instruments providing an even more dynamic feeling. The sense of drama is also increased, as brass instruments are more clearly defined and carry more authority as a consequence.

    In the fourth movement the increased air does benefit whirlwind a little, but due to the way Ares II 8W places instruments within the expanded stage, the image is not quite ideal for this movement. The weight of the low end still holds down the perception of speed, which I felt was not helped by the slightly smoother treble. It feels like looking at that tumultuous flow of music from a larger distance, reducing some of the sense of immediacy, although the climactic end is still there.

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    -Lionheart-
    This is where synergy with the source started to come into play. While Lionheart is one my favourite cables and its synergy with IEMs such as the Vision Ears VE5 is outstanding, the pairing Phantom + Lionheart + AK70 (balanced) did not synergise quite the way I liked it. I believe that the somewhat laid-back treble of the AK70's balanced out caused everything to become just a little too smooth for my liking, loosing some of the bite in strings and power behind brass instruments. Switching to the SE out helped, but these days I also have the FiiO K3 at my disposal for a neutral source and here the synergy works better.

    Lionheart offers a more balanced and refined sound compared to Ares II 4W/8W. The bass is a bit tighter and the treble feels more extended, transparency is improved and all this helps to give a sense of space in a stage that is not even that much bigger than with the Ares II 4-wire. Notes are not as full as with Ares II, but the naturalness of the tonality is maintained very well. Lionheart also adds a sense of liquidity to the sound that makes the ascending scales in the first movement flow beautifully. Now the Phantom get more of a sense of delicacy to them.

    The second movement does not feel quite so dark, in part because the K3 is not entirely clean from its balanced out, but the transparency makes up for that, allowing subtle details to come through much more clearly. The texture of the bass strings comes through better and adds to the solemnness and sorrow. While not quite as dark, there is a more of a tangible feel of emotion to the second movement, something I always consider to be presented through the tonality of the instruments. The more texture and subtle details come through, the more powerful that is, and Lionheart does it very well. I also find that there is more of an ebb and flow in the feeling of darkness, further emphasising the flow of emotions.

    The third movement has more of a feeling of lightness and the fairies, through all their hyperactivity, seem to have lost some weight. There is more delicacy to the tones, while the tonality of the instruments is not harmed. Woodwinds still sound exceptionally good and brass instruments have the authority to add that touch of drama very well.

    That lightness also works very well to add to the sense of speed in the fourth movement. More emphasis is now on the violins, providing the pace to make the whirlwind flow more fast and furious. The liquidity of Lionheart helps here as well and it flows as smooth as silk while the transparency means lots of texture and details come through. The very last part shows that the bass with Lionheart can still darken the image to create that musical cacophony and wrap up the symphony in an engaging burst of energy.

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    -Eros II 8-wire-
    Back to my AK70 for this pairing, as I felt that the synergy in this case was excellent. What Eros II does is close to taking the best bits of the Ares II 8W and Lionheart and combine them.

    The stage is about the size of what the Ares II 8W gives the Phantom, but the image feels much more natural. It is airy and has the more delicate feel of Lionheart while maintaining a healthy amount of bite and texture in strings and the authority of brass instruments, even when listening from the balanced out of my AK70. The way the image is presented also feels more immediate, despite the size of the stage. For the first movement this means that the variations created with the ascending scales and the moments of rest become more pronounced and engaging. The solos do show that the instruments do not quite have the fullness they had when using Ares II, but they still sound very accurate and clearly defined.

    The second movement is much like with Lionheart, less inherently dark, but the darkness ebbs and flows a lot more. The stability of the image and how instruments end up being placed feels incredibly realistic. Due to the slower pace, I felt this movement revealed a slight improvement in tonality of some instruments such as the clarinet, which sounded exceptional. The texture of strings is also really good and adds to the emotion of delicate string sections in this movement, which in turn makes the transition to the tympani more pronounced, again emphasising the flow of emotions.

    The third movement becomes very fast paced and exciting, but does lack some of the liquidity that Lionheart gives the Phantom. Emphasis is definitely on the strings here and it creates a great sense of speed and the fairies jump around large distances due to the increase size of the stage, but it all also seems to have lost some of its magic. Lionheart just added that little something extra that is so hard to pin down.

    In the fourth movement that is once again noticeable. The image of the whirlwind is fast and furious, but does not flow with the same sense of liquidity as it did with Lionheart. It is still incredibly good and I feel the violins come through even better. There is a bite that Eros II 8W brings that is excellent and the overall result is special in its own right. Indeed, the final part of the fourth movement feels more energetic and that just adds to the sense of a climactic burst of energy before it all stops.

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    -Leonidas II-
    Moving on to Leonidas II was very surprising, as it seemed like Leonidas II took all the strengths of the previous cables, combined them and then added some more. The synergy is just superb. I initially had some reservations as the treble seemed to dance around my treble sensitivity a little bit, but that faded away over time and I really started to love everything about this pairing.

    The stage is wide, deep and airy, and against the blackest background of these pairings comes the most clear sounding clarinet accompanied by bright and beautiful horns, full sounding flutes and strings that come in with incredible texture and bite. This starts the first ascend, which immediately draws me into the first movement like none of the other cables. Leonidas II makes the Phantom incredibly transparent with great clarity, tonality and that special kind of liquidity that Lionheart also had. It is just gorgeous. The tympani is tight, textured, but looses hardly any of that naturalness, making it more capable of adding pace that is contrasted by gorgeous sounding woodwinds to add delicacy and bright and authoritative brass to add excitement. The first movement setting the intention clearly, it is a joyous dance full of energy.

    The increased transparency, clarity and blacker background combined with the full and natural mid-range tonality, makes the second movement even more solemn. The way the Phantom are now capable of reproducing instruments adds so much to the emotion. Even after I had been doing other things and was completely distracted, I got instantly drawn into the beauty of this presentation. It is delicate and it flows like silk in a warm breeze. This is standing still and taking time to reflect on the sacrifice given.

    The third movement suddenly comes in and it is like a wakeup call. More than with any of the other cables does it feel like the instruments are fairies darting around the soundscape. The image itself feels very stable and it brings across the positioning of the instruments very precisely. The brass instruments have more authority than ever before and this adds an even greater sense of drama, as it contrasts more clearly with the delicate woodwinds and light strings.

    The fourth movement then really drives home the absolutely gorgeous synergy here, as the whirlwind is presented in the most dramatic, immediate and incredibly fast flowing way so far. The contrast between the different instruments has not been greater, the texture and details coming through have not been clearer and it is all presented with that unique liquidity that is so hard to pin down what is causing it. It is fast and furious, and flows at an incredible pace. Jumping yaks? Someone must have given them roller blades because this spirals like a whirlpool. The amount of energy that comes across as the movement works its way towards the crescendo is so tangible and engaging.

    This is what makes the pairing of Leonidas II with my Phantom such a delight for me. It sits on the edge between technical and musical, which is right where I prefer it to be. I recently also spent some time with Effect Audio's flagship Horus and there I felt the pairing with my Phantom crossed just a bit too far into the technical, which had its own charm, but was simply not in line with my personal preferences.

    "Hey! What about vocals?" I hear you ask. Well, all right because you insist, I will have a look at the 9th (this time conducted by Herbert von Karajan). The first three movements are without the chorus and as such it is much the same as with the 7th, but the final movement, the choral part, is especially spine tingling. With Ares II the vocals presented by the Phantom are really very good, with Ares II 8W they come forward, become very intimate and are quite lush, Eros II 8W moves them slightly back and gives them some clarity and strength, but Leonidas II... Oh boy, these might well be the best vocals I have heard with any IEMs and cable pairings. It is further back than with Eros II 8W, but so incredibly clear and powerful, just perfect for Ode to Joy. Both solos and choral sections come through with great intent and there is both excellent separation as well as excellent coherency. It feels natural, but has an impressive crystal clarity to it and I can't help but be fully drawn into it. Absolutely gorgeous!

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    Every type of music I have listened to seems to sound incredibly good. From jazz to indie rock and metal to EDM, this pairing does everything exceptionally well for my preferences. In general I feel that Leonidas II tightens the bass a bit and adds some sub-bass extension, maintains a full and natural sounding mid-range, and adds sparkle to the treble without introducing any harshness. This seems to be a general characteristic with other IEMs I have used as well, such as the Jomo Trinity I reviewed recently, where I said: "Leonidas II improves transparency to astonishing levels, adds control to the bass while maintaining the warmth to build up the sound that the Trinity do so well. Guitars sound smooth while gaining even more texture, vocals sound superb and the treble is just as sweet. There is something truly special about this pairing."

    However, that synergy is important is clear from pairing Leonidas II with the Dita Fealty. It was a bit tricky because they use a slightly different connector, but it was still possible because of the standard 2-pin size. I was very curious to try it and found that while overall the changes were in line with what I expected, the treble ended up sounding a bit brittle. Not sharp or offensive, just slightly off. In this case I felt the pairing was not really an improvement over the stock cable, making it is a good example to show that my findings with the Phantom are not always going to be the same for other IEMs. A demo, especially with cables, is always advisable.

    Conclusions
    Leonidas II is without doubt a very special cable that as a 4-wire can outperform bespoke 8-wire cables. It tightens and extends the bass, maintains a full and natural sounding mid-range, and adds sparkle to the treble without adding harshness. It also increases both transparency and clarity. With the right pairing, such as with the Empire Ears Phantom, Leonidas II can achieve a very special synergy that is incredibly alluring and that, in my opinion, makes it worth its premium price. Definitely one that should be on the radar of any cable connoisseur.

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