There are two tales to the story of the Leonidas II. The first is the general tone or timbre. This is a ‘neutral to natural’ sounding presentation and does not overly color the signature of your IEM of choice to any particular end of the frequency spectrum.
The overall impression the Leonidas II is of a very balanced tone. It is not as bombastic or as “full-on” during my initial listening compared to say the Thor II. The Thor II for me has a lot of dynamic prowess on the low-end especially. The Leonidas II dials down that more aggressive tone in favor of a purer or smoother, almost organic sound. It also sounds airier, more extended and just a shade more articulate sounding overall.
However, it is the second tale that is the most powerful persuader if you are pondering on whether the Leonidas II is right for you. This aspect is all about the soundstage and the way the Leonidas 2 works the that excellent level of resolution into it. The Leonidas 2 masterfully creates such a complex and holographic soundstage that it makes you re-think how your monitor should really sound.
Any monitor really with imaging and staging prowess will do to get an immediate sense of how good the Leonidas is with imaging. Got an EE Phantom, or perhaps a 64 Audio A18, or a Layla even? Just connect the Leonidas 2 up and listen carefully on how it deals with instrumental separation and placement of spatial cues both explosive and nuanced.
We are talking about a precision tool here without any discomforting dryness in the presentation. Remember tale 1, the organic tone? Now combine that with a very quick and very precise reproduction of micro-detail from just about every angle you can think of.
It is not that this detail was never there or any other cable obliterates it with a smudgy sound. Rather it is more refined, more precise, much sweeter to the ear and definitely easier to pick out with the Leonidas 2 and any competent monitor.
I was originally concerned that the informal feedback of a fairly neutral or natural sounding cable might be difficult to pick out from the crowd. No so with the Leonidas 2. This cable makes excellent 25/26AWG cables such as the Thor II and the Astral Acoustics Libra, sound well, almost slightly veiled. Now that is something I never heard myself ponder on when thinking about the Thor II.
A good example is Yazoo’s old classic New Wave synthy laden “Situation” (1982). Using the EE Phantom, (with the HiBy R3 and Sony’s Wm1Z), this track has a little synth interplay on the intro and versus bridges that pans left and right in very quick fashion. This is a layered effect that should flow very quickly but it should sound precise at the same time because there is more than one synth in the mix.
The Thor II has a very different focus to the Leo 2. This is a presentation that will draw your ear a little more to the bass fundamentals and powerful vocal performance of Alison Moyet on the same track. It has a more explosive presentation on the macro-level but in comparison to the Leonidas 2 is might sounds a little more diffuse on the micro-level.
The Leonidas II will instead open up the floor and pull you right into the middle where you suddenly start to notice a few more layers of lower-pitched synth micro-detail that didn’t really catch my attention with the Thor II. It genuinely makes this almost 30-year-old record sound fresh and revitalized as if it was mixed just in the last few years, very impressive stuff.
The tonal quality is more about preferences to me but I do think it has less of relevance to the pairing unless you are a huge basshead. That balanced natural sound with a smooth edge and a neutral level of bass with excellent layering throughout will pair pretty much with any monitor. Certainly, it will not mess around with your IEM’s core tuning quite like a thick rich copper cable such as the OC Studio Orpheus MK5.
The Leonidas II ‘s real strength lies more in the technical domain. This is about opening up the staging and imaging ability of a monitor but also pairing with an in-ear that can maximize that capability.
64 Audio A18
One of the nicest pairings on the technical side was the 64 Audio A18. The A18 is wonderful for imaging and the level of detail it can offer and the Leonidas II laps it up probably better than any monitor than I have right now. Granted it is not the meatiest of sounds and the Leonidas II will not substantially change that other than add a little wetness on the timbre and a slightly smoother top end. Well for some that might make a bigger difference, again that’s preference for you.
What is more dramatic, at least over the A18’s stock cable, is the way it just picks out the detail and delivers it so effortlessly. From a gentle tambourine shake in the background on the right channel to a thumping piano on the far left everything is vividly clear and well-defined. A very immersive experience.
Empire Ears Phantom
For the Empire Ears Phantom, I still think the Janus Dynamic is THE pairing thus far but you have to pay a lot more for that beast of a cable. The Leonidas does something a little different that I find very interesting with the Phantom.
It takes a little weight off the low-end compared to the Janus and Thor II and places a little more emphasis on instrumental clarity and high-end articulation. While doing all this the Leonidas II still retains that very smooth Phantom sound which I think is an ultra-important factor for any Phantom owner.
I find cables such as the Astral Acoustics Libra to go in the same direction also, possibly opening up the soundstage even more than the Leonidas. However, the same level of micro-detail on the periphery just doesn’t shine through quite as well which is where the Leonidas II positively shines.
The Thor II is a 26AWG multi-size multi-stranded UPOCC Silver Litz geometry and wire build. The EA Ultra Flex jacket on the Thor II feels a little stiffer to the one being used on the Leonidas II and braid patterning is a touch looser though not by much.
The Thor II also uses the more traditional and slightly more weighted carbon fiber barrels and the regular rhodium jacks. You can order multiple variations of the jacks as you can with the Leonidas such as 2.5mm and 4.4mm.
The Leonidas II uses the new patina style leather bound barrels which are lighter as well as the PSquared jacks. Overall the Leonidas 2 is a little more pliant, lighter and more attractive on the eye.
The Thor II for me is a very dynamic musical sound that adds an extra dimension to the presentation of any monitor in terms of dynamic range, vocal presence, and low-end snappiness. It sounds more explosive than the balanced and more natural sound of the Leonidas II. You could argue that the Thor II targets the presentation at a macro level. If you want an exciting vivid sound then the Thor II is excellent at doing that.
The Leonidas is more hi-fidelity in its approach than the Thor II. It requires you to just sit back a little and be more ‘studied’ in your listening. This is all about the micro-detail and the clarity of the nuanced imaging that you may not necessarily pick-up on the Thor II. The superior treble clarity on the Leonidas also yields a bit more air, slightly more perceptible space and height.
Metaphorically speaking, if the Thor II has you looking down (bass) and forward (vocals) the Leonidas has you looking up and all around.
The Libra is a 25AWG 4-core type 2 silver-gold alloy Litz wire which is a marginally bigger gauge than the Leonidas II. The gold is utilized in the same way as palladium for slight attenuation to create a smoother sounding silver infused signature.
Like the Leonidas II, the Libra also uses a translucent PVC jacket so it is very pliable and soft to the touch. However, the braiding on the Libra is much looser so it is not quite as manageable as the Leonidas II’s tight build quality.
The Libra uses Eidolic Premier connectors, y-split barrels, and plugs. These are not as attractive looking as the Patin style leather bound barrels of the Leonidas but they are just as light and finished to a high quality. I actually have a preference for the Eidolic connector barrels over the chrome-finished EA versions. They just feel a little more durable.
The Libra has a similar tone and timbre to the Leonidas II with a natural-sounding presentation, a little light on the low-end with just a slightly brighter sounding lower treble response. Where they deviate though is on staging and imaging.
The staging on the Libra is actually a little bigger for me than the Leonidas, especially in terms of width. It will sound the grander of the two cables on initial listening. However, the Libra does a little less with that big soundstage compared to the Leonidas II.
The general presentation of the Libra is more relaxed sounding in terms of imaging and how well-defined instrument notes and positioning are compared to the Leonidas 2. Vocals are also a touch further back on the Libra. I would not go as far as to say the Libras soundstage is inherently diffuse or vague, just not as pinpoint and clear sounding as the Leonidas II.
The Leonidas II makes me want to buy the Leonidas I just to hear how Effect Audio made their name from the original entry. This is a true hi-fidelity sounding cable that absolutely brings out the best in terms of holographic staging and clarity in imaging with just about any monitor.
I lay special praise down to how the Leonidas II does this all without resorting to a tried and trusted bright sound signature to produce a “perception” of detail. The mix of wire here does it all whilst still remaining impeccably smooth and natural sounding.
It also looks pretty darn good. Even compared to the Thor II which they launched a while back the build aspect seems to be an ever-developing process at Effect Audio. The use of the patina style leather seems such an obvious move to cable making that I wonder why no one has ever done it before. If the presentation is designed to be organic looking to fit in with the sound of the cable then Effect Audio nailed it.
Leonidas II Specifications
- 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