Tokpakorlo

100+ Head-Fier
The Magic is in the Shielding
Pros: Amazing resolution, dynamics, and energy
Huge soundstage
Pitch black background and fast transients
Cons: Price
Treble energy may be too much for some brighter IEMs
Heavy and thick
Greetings dear Head-fiers, I present to you my review of the fabled PW Audio First Times Shielding. I was very interested to hear this beast, as I have the Orpheus, and previously owned the original First Times as well. I was mostly looking for something that could keep the Orpheus’s analog goodness, with a little more high end air and sparkle, and less mid focus - something in between the Orphy and the brighter flavored Centurion. I previously reviewed the Centurion, and while I did really enjoy its micro detailed energetic presentation, ultimately I was still won over by the timbre, flavor, organic warmth and magic that is the Orpheus. While the Cent did have amazing levels of control, punch and clarity, I wanted something a bit closer to the Orphy, something more copper based. While I had the FT, and I did like it, and it did have more high end and less mid focus, I felt that it paled in comparison to the presentation and technical abilities of the Orpheus. Having heard rumors of how much the shielding version improved and changed the FT, I decided it was worth it to hear for myself. Spoiler alert, there is definitely something magic happening with the PW shielding… but more on the sound later.


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The First Times Shielding, hereafter referred to as the FTS, is a pure copper flagship from PW Audio. It is supposedly using a similar wire structure and shielding process as used in the Orpheus, though it is NOT the same wire. For more information on the exact makeup and wire used you should visit the PW website for more info, which is here. Brief disclaimer, I paid for the FTS myself, though I did receive a discount for a review. I was not required in any way for a favorable review, just to present my impressions and feelings. On the subject of cables, some might find them to be snake oil, myth or smoke and mirrors, and those opinions are valid. For this review I won’t focus on that aspect, or on the fact that the cost for this particular cable is incredibly, ridiculously high. This is an ultra high end cable, and for those that believe in the upgrade cables offer, and who have ultra high end IEMs, and are looking for a way to squeeze every last drop of sonics out of their gear, this review might be for you. For those that don’t believe in the upgrade a cable gives, or if they feel a ton of cash for such a cable is’t worth it, this might not be the review for you, I won’t discuss it further as everyone is entitled to their opinion. This review will also focus on the similarities and differences with the Orpheus, Centurion and the original First Times, as that was why I bought the FTS in the first place. All testing done with the LP6 Ti AE and the Aroma Jewel, after 85hrs of burn-in as recommended by PWAudio. I wish to thank @MusicTeck for graciously offering me a discount on the cable for a review, I am honored.

Normally I don’t mention the unboxing experience; I get the gear, take it out of the box, and put said box in the closet. This was bit different, as the FTS has quite a lovely box, a blue leather presentation case unlike anything that I have ever personally opened. It is quite big, and I don’t know how many people will use it to display their cable, but it bears mentioning that it is quite impressive nonetheless. Inside the case, which as you open the case it unfolds like a flower, displays the traditional PWA black metal box adorned with the PW logo and FTS name laser inscribed on its surface. Impressive. It is a very beautiful way to present a product, thought I don’t personally care much about this, and would rather the price be lower instead. Enough said about the box.

So, with that out of the way, let’s get into it.


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As expressed earlier, the FTS carries the similar wire structure as the Orpheus, and the same shielding. For anyone that hasn’t held a PW shielding cable in their hands, they are quite a piece of art in their own way. Instead of the traditional fancy sparkly wires you see on most cables, the PW stuff opts for the batman look, with muted colors, sleeved cables that hide their inside parts, and in this case the thick shielding with black nylon webbing. These shielding cables are heavy, dominant on your ears, and somewhat microphonic. This is par for the course with PW, they are all this way. But the sonics offered highly outweigh the difficulties in handling and ergonomics, at least to this guy’s preferences. I have no idea what is inside that shielding, but the difference it makes is quite stunning - pitch black background, sharp transients, notes that come at you out of complete empty space, it’s pretty wow. So yeah, they’re big and heavy, what to do. I also really like the look and feel of the PW cables, as I come from studio and guitar cables, they offer a sense of stability and sturdiness that the ultra thin and lightweight cables just can’t compete with. I really like the PW hardware too. For one it’s all black, yes, but they have a very utilitarian feel to them. Especially the 2 pin connectors, which are smaller than other brands, resulting in less bulk on the ears and a cleaner profile. I’m sure I’m in the monitory here, as most will wish for a lightweight and pretty thing, but I am drawn to the dark horse, where sound overwhelming takes precedence over form. While the Orpheus is midnight blue and black, the FTS has more a muted blue/grey sleeve, exactly the same as the original FT, with the inclusion of the shielding up the Y split. Visually they are quite similar, almost difficult to tell the difference from a few feet away, while of course the Centurion is the polar opposite; total bling and shiny titanium. One thing to note, while the Centurion is sleek, light and very flexible, I personally prefer the look of the PW cables even with the extra weight and girth.


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As for the sound, which in my mind is the most important thing - Wow, this is one magic cable indeed! I did really like the FT, but I wasn’t blown away, not did I feel that it really compared to the Orphy. It was decidedly smooth, laid back, and while it had a nice sense of space and a big stage, the technicalities were just not on the same level, nor was the sense or energy and timbre. I can attest that after just a few minutes with the FTS it is a huge step up from the FT. Like a really big difference. Not only is the tuning different, the technical abilities and capabilities of the FTS are far and away above the FT. I don’t know what that shielding does, but it really adds something magic, on the same plane as the illustrious Orpheus. For those that are just skimming I will say it straight out, the FTS competes directly with the Orpheus and Centurion in terms of abilities, micro details and control. The same pitch black background. The same sense of dynamics. Notice that I didn’t say it was better, or even the same, but in terms of pure resolution and details I feel they are in the same class for sure. This is quite different to the original FT which I felt was easily outclassed here, so kudos to that magic shielding upgrade!


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Upon first listen, I noticed right off the bat the air and space in the high end. For those that have not heard the Orphy, there can sometimes be a feeling that the high end is stunted, or too rolled off, compromising some of that air and openness. Not so with the FTS. The high end is wide open, with incredible levels of air and presence. The background is stunningly black, and transients are clean, crips and musical. Bass is tight, punchy and well controlled, similarly to the Cent and Orphy. While the FTS is a slightly brighter more open offering, never is it overly critical, analytical or sterile. It holds that copper warmth and weight, though the weight is not on the level of Orpheus, which depending on your tastes could be a good or bad thing. The stage is enormous, giving a full 3D presentation, with sound coming from all around you, especially above and behind. This is a very, very high resolution cable -perhaps even to a fault -but more on that later. In terms of tuning I would say the FTS lies in the middle of the Cent and Orphy, though leaning closer to the Cent’s clearer, more treble focused presentation, over the Orphy’s mid bass and mid featuring. Compared to the FT there is a lot more energy, all over. Especially the increase in treble energy and bass control are the two most outstanding points over the FT. It also has more sparkle, more details, more resolution, more bass control, more of everything.

To start the bass is phenomenal. Tight, punchy and with amazing levels of control. While it has less quantity than the Orpheus, the quality is the same. You are greeted with a level of control and speed that is remarkable, and every bit as good as the Orphy or Cent. It might even be faster and more punchy than Orphy actually, similar to the Cent in this way. Compared to the FT the bass is a huge step up in control, timbre, feel and punch. The FTS reaches deep, with great timbre and depth. There is less of a mid bass focus compared to Orpheus, focusing more own sub bass instead, letting its more neutral linear qualities shine through, starting in the lows and reaching all the way into the heavens unaltered. For those that consider themselves bass heads, the quantity might leave you wanting a bit more, but it is in no way lacking in the low end. I did occasionally wish for slightly more thump and rumble, especially on tracks that don’t feature bass prominently, but as the quality was always top tier, I enjoyed the clearer more open presentation instead of getting all held up in the “lack of rumble”. Again, for 99% of tracks I found the quantity to be great, and the quality is top tier in every way. Once more, if you are comparing the FTS to FT, the bass is just a lot better in ever way here, from the punch and control, to the unfettered reach and timbre. Bass on Cent and FTS is very similar, in both quality and quantity. FTS has perhaps slightly faster bass than Orpheus, which has more warmth and body to it, but the Orpheus bass envelops you, while the FTS is more held tight.


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The midrange is lovely, incredibly detailed, and with startling resolution. While the tuning is linear, with the mids less forward and featured than the Orphy, they are great and clear. Again very similar to the Cent in this way, though decidedly more copper sounding, less intense and more warm and euphoric, at least as compared to Cent. This is where the FTS and FT are more closely comparable, tuning wise they are very similar here, but the FTS has a large increase in resolution, micro details and transient speed and attack. Vocals and instruments alike benefit greatly from the FTS’s resolution - honestly I think it may outperform the Orphy in pure resolution, but perhaps that is because they are less colored and linear. While the Orphy stretches out the stage on the mids, giving them incredible space, they are still very smooth and organic where the FTS takes a step again in the direction of Cent and makes them more energetic. There is a sense that you hear absolutely everything, with the small sacrifice of the utterly musical midrange of the Orphy, which can be overly midrange heavy for some, and more relaxed and analog, and perhaps more musical too. The FTS is linear mids at their best. While they do compare to the Cent’s bristling resolution, I find myself preferring the FTS midrange over the Cent by a decent margin. It bridges the gap between the two other cables, proving in a sense the best of both worlds if you had a problem with either. I’m not saying this is the perfect midrange, I would still give that to the Orpheus, but for a linear presentation of midrange I would say this is as good at it gets. Overall in the mids the FTS is more energetic, biting and crisp here, while the Orph goes for more of that analog vibe. In terms of weight, I still find that the Orph gives more body, thwack and grunt to drums and guitars, while the FTS and Cent are both leaner here, giving possibly more space but missing some of the glorious body. Vs the FTS, the Cent is similar, but more bright, possibly slightly more revealing, and less warm. The FT is similar but less resolution and details, less bite, less energy, though the tuning is roughly the same.


The high end is where the FTS really shines. There is amazing amounts of air and sparkle, with shimmering wispy details floating up into space. Comparing to the FT, there is a good amount more treble energy, while the sparkle is also increased. When I first started to listen I found the top end to be engaging, highly detailed and very impressive. But during longer listening sessions I did find the FTS to be slightly fatiguing in the high end. Depending on the pairing this could result in some IEMs being slight hotter on the top. For those that prefer a more energetic sound, this could win over some Orphy owners, as it is more engaging and open, giving the sound more bite and sparkle too. I found the sound stage in the top end to be magnificent, sound swirling all around, seemingly without end. I would attest that the high end might be closer to the house sound of Eletech cables, giving that sense of sprinkled gold flakes to the high end. While the FT did have great sparkle and high end, this just takes it up a few levels, especially in the energy department. To compare, the FTS and FT are similar here, where again the FTS has more sparkle, more bite, a good deal more energy and resolution. The Cent and FTS are pretty similar here too, while the FTS has the copper sound, Cent has that hybrid somewhat brighter sound. FTS and Orphy are quite different here, as the Orpheus is more subdued and analog in this region, rolled off even, especially compared to FTS and Cent. Where they differ the most is the energy infused to the high end. While the FT has great top end, it is decidedly more relaxed, whereas the FTS is very energetic here, possibly to a fault for some. There is an uptick around 8k or so that gives a lot of bite. If you’re using a bright IEM and don’t like too much treble energy this might not be the best pairing for you. Same goes for the Centurion, they both bring a good amount of treble energy and can cause some high end discomfort to those that might be prone to treble fatigue or sensitivity.


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While the Orphy and FT are more “copper” sounding, more relaxed and analog, the FTS has bit of that Centurion upper energy, while retaining its copper tonality. This is not really a cable for relaxed and groovy listening in my opinion, this is all about resolution and energy. With the Jewel I absolutely loved it for the first hour or so, and then it became a tad fatiguing to me, though I am the first to say that I am quite sensitive to treble energy. It really comes down to how you prefer your high end presentation - I think for the vast majority of people the amount of treble energy will be divine. It is very engaging, while staying musical and never overly critical or analytical. Hi hats and cymbals splash and crash with great energy and air, guitar solos cascade into space, the little tick and tacks, lip smacks and sizzle, all in abundance.


So, how do I feel about the cable? I am deeply impressed with its abilities, the ultra black background, and the level of control and depth the whole sonic spectrum carries. The stage is huge and expansive in all directions. There is phenomenal amount of detail, micro details and resolution. It is far more linear than the Orpheus, closer to the Centurion while keeping the copper based vibe. It vastly outperforms the original FT by a mile, whatever the shielding does, it infuses some of that “magic” that everyone mentions when they talk about the Orpheus. Similar but different flavors for sure. Sounds like the perfect match to what I was searching for right? Yes and no. While it ticks all the boxes of what I wanted, I still found myself gravitating towards the Orphy and its luscious mids, fatter bass and less aggressive high end. Yes with the Orpheus I still yearn for a bit more air and sparkle, but as the sum of all its parts the Orph still wins for me overall. There is a sense of brazen musicality, soulful tone and resolution that wins me over every time. That’s what makes the Orpheus so special, that combo of lush, lovely and resolution combined, which I have yet to find elsewhere. The FTS and the Cent both have resolution in spades, but they lack a bit of that magic musicality which balances it all out. While the FTS has a huge stage, the Orpheus wins there as well, spreading wider and deeper, especially in the mids. But the FTS stage does reach higher and that could be more important to some. To love the FTS completely, I would perhaps prefer a slightly bigger bass presence, and less energetic treble. That high end is impressive, satisfying and powerful yes, and for many this will be a dream come true. But for me it was the deal breaker, ended up being fatiguing, and for all that the FTS is, it will move on to another home where that high end can be better appreciated. It is an amazing cable, so close to what I wanted, but in the end the Orphy wins me back again - it’s hard to complete with it.


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By the way, For those that love and or own the original FT, the FTS is a huge upgrade in all aspects. But just be careful, as with the upgrade in abilities, the tuning also changed. Perhaps for the better, but I leave that up to you to decide.

To recap:

-For those that prefer their mids thicker and more forward, a rocking fat bass, and a warm analog tonality with breathtaking technical abilities, the Orpheus is your best choice.

-For those that prefer a copper sound that is less rolled off in the high end, more linear, and highly energetic, especially in the high end, the FTS is your best choice.

-For those that prefer a linear brighter sound, also with breathtaking abilities and great amounts of energy all over, the Centurion is your best choice.


I wish to thank you all for reading, I hope that it was helpful and in some way informative. I also wish to thank Andrew @MusicTeck for the opportunity to review this amazing cable. All my best to you all, and keep on rocking!

If you want to buy this amazing cable, I recommend getting yours here:

https://shop.musicteck.com/collecti...audio-first-times-with-shielding-new-flagship

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Tokpakorlo
Tokpakorlo
To be honest, even with the Orpheus I found the Traillii treble to be a bit too much for me. I have that sensitivity, so take my fatiguing with a grain of salt please :)
yaps66
yaps66
Great review. I too have the FTS paired with my Traillii and it is my favourite iem at the moment.
F208Frank
F208Frank
Another head fi fellow who is never taken for granted for being in the community, we are lucky to have you, in my eyes you are the IEM Shaman of some sorts, haha.
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