Pros: Beautiful, a bit more airy and detailed than stock cable, smoothed some sharper treble on Kaiser Encore, perfect size pins, precise tight bass with good impact, bigger stage than stock
Cons: chunky, a bit heavy on the ear, paint wears off easily, 2-pin connector shell is glued
List Price: $219.90
I received the Effect Audio Ares II+ through a giveaway on HeadFi. I was not required or asked to write a review. I wanted to.
I’ve been aware of Effect Audio for a while. I saw their cable designs around on HeadFi. Like any good custom cable they are always shiny, with shimmering metallic beauty and interwoven links of wire braided like strands of maiden’s hair. I’m not sure you could release Rapunzel with these locks, but throw her a Kaiser Encore and an Opus #3 loaded with music and she just might forget her captivity for a bit.
Useability: Form & Function
Cable reviews are mostly about useability, convenience, and aesthetics, to my mind. In my experience, sonic differences between cables are there, but subtle at volume matched levels. I haven’t tried any multi-metal variants yet, but in comparisons later between pure metal (so far as I know) cables I haven’t heard big sonic changes. So in my mind whether a cable is worth buying comes down to the following things:
- Do you want a balanced connection?
- Do you find your stock cable boring looking?
- Are you looking for that last 1% in audio quality that you can squeeze out?
- Do you have money to burn (for higher priced “luxury” cables)?
- Are you incompetent with a soldering iron?
- Are you clumsy with your hands?
- Can you be bothered to make your own?
- Is there any value in making your own?
Maybe the last four questions should really be first, because pure silver and pure copper wire are the best signal transmitters available, and high quality OCC litz wires are not difficult to come by (in my UK market at least). It’s been known since 1885 that gold makes silver far less conductive. This is not to say that the effect cannot be pleasing of making complex alloys, but I think it is more likely that plating or filling with gold is done in very small amounts (less than 1%) that may not have a substantial effect on the sound. In fact, a chemical analysis of a famous Silver/Gold cable found that the cable’s gold amount was far less than claimed, and was closer to being pure silver of a 2N variety. I’ve listened to that cable, it sounds absolutely excellent and I was able to tell the difference with my HD600 between that cable and others in the range without knowing which cables were which (the manufacturer didn’t label the samples). It was the only cable in that range that had gold, so I’ll not make a claim that gold doesn’t effect sound, I just don’t have the evidence to confirm this yet. I think that most of the use of gold in cables is about looks and luxury, and for the most part so are cables.
That was a bit of an aside, but it comes down to this: if you have the time and capability to make cables, you can do it for similar or lower prices than custom-made cables by companies. I personally wouldn’t do this, and I can tell you why. Consumer rates for wire are expensive. If I want to make a 1.2 meter quad braid wire of a quality similar to Effect Audio’s Ares II+ this is what I have to buy from my suppliers in the UK and the USA:
|1. 5 meters of Cardas 21.5 AWG OCC Litz wire (cost converted from GBP)1||
|2. WBT 4% Silver Solder (cost converted from GBP)1||
|3. Eidolic 2-pin connectors (model E278PG) (plus VAT)2||
|4. Eidolic splitter (ESX4) (plus VAT)2||
|5. Eidolic 2.5mm TRRS jack (plus VAT)2||
|1HiFiCollective.co.uk; 2Norne Audio|
All of this is assuming that you already have a soldering iron, and sufficient expertise to braid the wire and then solder the ends. This also doesn’t include your labour costs or the difference in quality or sexiness between what you will produce and the professional fit and finish that Effect Audio produces. Since I don’t have soldering expertise, braiding expertise, or a lot of time, buying a cable makes a whole helluva lot more sense. Effect Audio’s costs are surely less than what mine would be, but that is the nature of economies of scale and having the ability to buy wholesale. I don’t begrudge Effect Audio being a successful business, in fact, I’m cheering for them. I consider the price of the Ares II+ very reasonable. Even if I were to get hit with VAT, which may or may not happen, I think the $219.90 price of the Ares II+ is reasonable. The components aren’t cheap, and the labour and overhead costs are totally reasonable.
Here’s the real reason a lot of people buy cables, and it is also one of the reasons that people hear differences between them. A better looking cable sounds better. The same margarine in a square tub doesn’t taste the same as margarine in a round tub. Our visual interpretation colours our total interpretation, this is one reason why people call for blind tests. This is why placebo pills look exactly the same, down to the lettering, as the real thing. This is why when a drug trial tests injections vs pills, people receive sham injections and placebo pills in addition to the real treatment. What you see affects your results in things as serious as how a medicine works to things as trivial as how a cable sounds.
The Effect Audio Ares II+ is beautiful. The strands in the wires have a gentle vertical alignment. Many Litz wires have more of a horizontal bundling with a kind of striped appearance. The wires in this are definitely different from those found elsewhere. The visual effect is to make the cable look as if it is corrugated, I have no idea what the sonic effect is. On the Ares II+ the entire length of the wires outside of the y-split can be followed, it isn’t lost in the tight coils of your standard Litz wire seen elsewhere.
Beyond this, I note that when I’m wearing the cable in the sun and look down, I see a bit of purple sheen. I’m not sure what causes this effect, but it is a pleasing effect.
I think that a large part of why people buy aftermarket cables is luxury, and luxury is defined by an item’s appearance and the materials used in it’s construction. Whilst the Effect Audio Ares II+ doesn’t have gold plating or any other elements of that sort, it does exude a luxurious appearance. Those looking for luxury on a budget can be quite happy with the Ares II+.
This cable is chunky. When I compare this cable’s total diameter to that of the Double Helix Cables Symbiote SP Elite 8-braid cable (comparison will be in the forthcoming review of that cable), the Ares II+ is thicker before the y-split and has a larger contact area on top of the ear. Both cables are of similar comfort. For me, the comfort isn’t as high as a stock cable. The cables are heavy and the tops of my ears are sensitive. After a few hours listening in a day I have to take a break from the cable as my ears get a bit irritated on top. This is made worse when I have shaggy hair, which I do right now. The cable weight everywhere except the top of the ear is not burdensome, but I’m somewhat eager to compare to a thinner four braid cable.
The build quality of the construction is solid, but there are a couple material elements that could use improvement (when I got it). The cable is tightly braided with good consistency. Construction is solid and even. The braid does retain some shape from looping for storage. I attempted a quick tug to straighten it out, but it remained wavy—this may be a problem with all such heavy cables. The connectors are solid and attractive. I love the cable slider. It is perfectly sized and its transparency makes it look really unobtrusive. The rubberised material means that it stays in place, which is exactly what you want on a slider above the y-split. The 2.5mm is a good size with a solid base. Not everyone has a Rhodium 2.5mm, and I definitely appreciate it. I also got a right angle adaptor from Effect Audio. It is compact and works very well at preventing jack strain on 3.5mm. I prefer this type of adaptor to straight adaptors. Effect Audio is one of only a couple places I’ve seen that makes these right-angled adaptors.
I have two primary complaints that cause me to significantly lower the build quality grade:
- The 2-pin connector covers at the ear are glued, and require some force to remove from the IEM due to snug fit (not a bad thing, these aren’t too big). This led to the left connector cover coming off on my cable. I have to fight with it every time I remove or insert the connector. By being slower and more careful since that happened I’ve avoided it happening on the right, but this isn’t something I should have to do. I think a larger threaded or twist-lock cover is a better design and would prevent what happened with mine while being just as easy to work with.
- With a threaded design, a bit of locktite on the thread would mean you never have to worry about what happened on mine happening elsewhere. Not printing on this connector would also probably be better if using a threaded cover, as a screw type would lead to inconsistent logo location. I’ve seen other manufacturers use heat-shrink here, which would allow precise location of logos and left/right indicators while also functioning as a strain relief. If using a twist lock design (much like bayonet fix light bulbs common in the UK), then printing could still be on the connector as location of logos and emblems could easily be fixed. I would suggest tougher printing or a using a clear coat after logo printing.
- The printing on the metal components is not wear resistant. If these weren’t banging around with the sharp metal Noble Encore, this might not be much of a problem, but the Encore has scraped off the lettering on the y-split completely and at the earpieces significantly. These aren’t nearly as pretty to photograph as when I got them.
I’ve had conversations with Eric at Effect Audio about the printing, and he has told me that they are now using laser-engraving and have switched producers and upgraded materials on jack plugs—I didn’t ask about the 2-pin connector housings. I’m curious to see if this improves wear characteristics. At this point, the negative elements above force me to significantly lower the build quality grade. Without the pin housing and printing issues, build quality would be a 4.5 for me.
I’ll be basing the sound off of the comparisons I make here. I compared this cable on the Noble Kaiser Encore, with alternative cables being the Effect Audio Excalibur, and the stock cable. All cables were volume matched at ~78dB using white noise and an SPL meter. The source was the Aune M1s (firmware 1.5, aggressive), the IEM was the Noble Kaiser Encore. The table below gives full matching information.
|Effect Audio Excalibur||Balanced||Low||62||78.1|
|Effect Audio Aries II+||Balanced||Low||62||78.3|
|Effect Audio Aries II+ (Effect Audio 3.5mm adaptor)||SE||Low||72||78.1|
For useability, the Excalibur is markedly better. This is likely due to the Excalibur having 24 AWG wire instead of the 22 AWG wire on the Ares II+. The thinner wire was more comfortable whilst maintaining a high level of sound quality. The tops of my ears are sensitive, and I get some irritation after having the Ares II+ on my ears for several hours, but I never experienced this with the Excalibur.
On looks, both the Ares II+ and the Excalibur are stunning, but the Excalibur takes it to a whole new level. The micro-coiling of the Litz wire in the delicate sheathing, and the easy twirling of the cable has a visual and tactile evocativeness akin to a diamond dust encrusted silver chain. It positively shimmers, I feel like a hip-hop superstar rocking bling 20 times my paygrade. The cable is a piece of art. It isn’t just a headphone cable, it is jewelry, and a statement piece at that. The warm copper and chunkier presentation of the Ares II+ are not nearly as arresting to the senses—visual or tactile.
For sound, differences are very subtle. I listened in a volume matched comparison, but without having duplicate IEMs for switching, the time between switches, due to unattaching and re-attaching cables, makes it so I can’t guarantee the veracity of my hearing. What I hear is just as likely to be bias due to the more refined looks of the Excalibur as real difference—we hear with all our senses, and our eyes can bias us. With that huuuuuuge caveat, this is what I think I hear: the Excalibur is a bit more open, while also having slightly more immediate mids. Both have open sounds, but the Excalibur may be slightly more so. On Where is My Mind the female backing vocal soars a bit higher. The Excalibur sounds a tiny bit more precise, while the Ares II+ is a bit smoother. Both are excellent. It took me several back and forth switches and several tracks to really feel out the differences between the cables. Tracks I used: Pixies – Where is My Mind, Fleetwood Mac – Dreams, Eagles – Hotel California, Rebecca Pidgeon – Spanish Harlem.
Stock Noble Cable
The stock Noble cable has the standard 4-wire twisted pair set-up you see on many stock cables (Noble, Unique Melody, Ultimate Ears, RHA C series, Vibro Labs, to name some I’ve used). I’m not sure what material the cable is made out of, but it is probably decent quality. Because there are four wires, it would be easy to make this cable available in balanced varieties. Noble has not done this. Ultimate Ears does offer their stock cable with a 2.5mm balanced termination. Unique Melody should and Noble should do the same. They may even have their cables made by the same shop in China. I bet the order would be easy.
Comparatively, the Ares II+ looks more swish and has a lot more terminations available. When we go to sound, the Aries II+ has fuller body and smoother treble. The stock cable is more strident on the treble peaks in Kraftwerk’s Kometenmelodie 2. The soundstage also has more height, width, and instrument separation. I think more metal makes a difference here. This test was in single-ended out of the Aune M1s, switching to balanced had the same result.
Switching to the binaural Chesky Records recording of Macy Gray – I Tried, notes are noticeably tighter on the Ares II+. This is especially noticeable in the stand-up bass, which sounds a bit dull on the stock cable compared to the Ares II+. Those big bass notes are much more incisive on the Ares II+. The width, and depth of the soundstage is also substantially boosted. The sound has more subtlety with the Ares II+ allowing small imaging details to pop much more precisely.
After two tracks, it is clear that there are definite sonic advantages to an upgrade to the Ares II+. I don’t need to do any more testing, as the difference is that clear. Even used with a single-ended adaptor on the Aune M1s the advantage was clear in volume matched comparisons. Sound just flows more freely and openly with a bigger stage, better note definition, and less strident treble on treble intensive tracks.
|Length||4 ft (customisable)|
|Wire||22 AWG OCC Litz copper (Litz configuration not defined, purity of copper not specified), Proprietary Multi-Size Stranded design within single encapsulation, quad braid is standard (8 braid bespoke only)|
|Insulation material||Not specified, listed as same as Leonidas|
|Earphone connectors||2-pin CIEM, ATH, FitEar (Right Angle), FitEar (Straight), JH24, JH24 with Bass Control, MMCX, Sennheiser IE|
|Jacks||3.5mm TRRS (Straight, Gold), 3.5mm TRS (Right Angle, Gold), 2.5mm TRRS (Straight, Gold), 2.5mm TRRS (Straight, Rhodium), 3.5mm TRS (Straight, Rhodium), 4.4mm TRRRS (Straight, Gold), RSA/ALO Kobicon|
|Y-Split||Carbon Fibre Mini, Carbon Fibre Rugged (Big), Musicians (heatshrink)|
|Optional Accessories||2.5mm TRRS to 3.5mm TRS $50 (Right Angle), 2.5mm TRRS to 4.4mm TRRRS $70 (Straight)|
The Effect Audio Ares II+ is big and beautiful with a clearly improved sound over the Noble stock cable, which is generally well-regarded. If you have a look around you’ll find plenty of reviews where folks end up going back to Noble’s stock cable after looking at other aftermarket cables. I wouldn’t do that with the Effect Audio Ares II+. I would miss the bigger stage, better note definition, and more precise imaging. The value is excellent at $219.90, as demonstrated by the cost breakdown of what it would take me to make something similar. I’m never going back again.
Micah, Noble cable uses Silver-Plated Copper (SPC) wire as stock with all their c/iems. And also, UE offers 2.5mm TRRS balanced as one of the options: http://pro.ultimateears.com/products/custom-accessories/cases-cables/balanced-48-black-cable – I believe you can ever request it instead of standard SE cable when ordering their CIEM; I got both when I was reviewing UERR and it was a really good quality cable/connector.
Thanks, Alex! I’ve got the UERR balanced cable too. Given how good they were with customisation, I’d bet you could put in a special request for the balanced cable from Ultimate Ears when ordering.
I really do believe that Unique Melody, Ultimate Ears, and Noble are all getting their cables made by the same folks with the same wire but different plugs and connectors. Whilst SPC isn’t necessarily bad, the Ares II+ was a definite step up.
Something else to note, folks. Apparently I wasn’t the only one to complain about the paint coming off. Eric at Effect Audio has told me that this has been remedied in newer cables. I told him I’ll confirm when I test another cable. 😉
If anybody has tested and can confirm, feel free to comment here.