The Athena is a beast of a cable which is an ironic statement given the name of the cable is supposed to endow a form of graceful beauty. I guess yes, you could define the resulting presentation as beautiful but what will strike you first is the additional low-end body and power the Athena delivers.
This is particularly so when paired to hybrid or dynamic driver infused monitors such as the 64 Audio tia Trio which comes across as, well, dynamic sounding with plenty of rumble and yet still airy and articulate.
I have been used to a certain hi-fidelity holographic prowess from the palladium infused Tri-Silver from PLUSSOUND and the more organic equivalent, the Leonidas II Octa. Two 8-wire cables that are some of the best sounding ‘money no object’ cables in the market today.
The Athena goes in a slightly different direction to these two cables and more in line with the Cleopatra from Effect Audio. I would love to hear how their Octa version of the Cleopatra measures up to the Athena because many of the hallmarks of the 4-wire cable are there in the Athena.
The key difference between the Athena and the Cleopatra, however, is that airier more extended top-end which pulls it closer to the 8-wire flagships of PLUSSOUND and Effect Audio. You could almost define the Athena as a bridge between the weightier and smooth tone of the Cleopatra and the high-end articulate sound of the Tri-Silver and Leonidas II Octa.
The harmonic balance on the Athena is a little drier than the Leonidas II and the Cleopatra but not quite as neutral as the Tri-Silver which I always felt has the cleanest highs of the big 8-wire cables I have tested thus far. The Athena timbre also has a bit more bass/treble contrast for me than any of those cables.
You get plenty of body and warmth on the low-end, noticeably so which delivers some excellent power to lower-pitching instruments. It doesn’t really fall into the dreaded bloat and bloom category either. For me, the Athena retains an impressive ability to tease out to the full potential any monitor’s bass texture and detail and still retain impressive openness and layering.
On the flip side, the treble on the Athena has a bit more bite to it than the Leonidas II Octa and closer to the Tri-Silver in presentation and timbre. Percussion timbre is relatively neutral with a bit more odd-harmonic presence which is fairly easy to pick up on if you are using something like the Noble Khan which tends to be fairly ruthless with upper mids and treble partial overtones.
On the Khan, the Athena sounds finely balanced to my ears. What I mean by that is that it is injecting enough brightness into the Khan presentation to allow instruments to sound clean, clear and very precise but without going as far as to sound too hard-edged.
That is something that the Tri Silver has a slight tendency to do with the Khan. Is the Kahn/Athena pairing as liquid and smooth as the Cleopatra or Leo II Octa pairing? No. More detailed and accurate sounding timbre than the Cleopatra? Yes.
I find the imaging to be somewhat different from both the Tri-Silver and Leonidas II Octa. There is a little bit more vocal focus and less of that expansive large and complex soundstage both of those cables are more focused on. Vocals have a bit more pop on the Athena as well as that more forward low-end presence and sparkling treble.
An example that I was playing over and over that gave me a good sense of instrumental and vocal positioning with the Athena and some of the competing cables were former Gossip lead singer Beth Ditto’s In And Out Love. This is a sort of Dusty Springfield 60’s inspired recording but relatively sparse in the mix to create a fairly authentic retro tone.
With the tia Trio and Hifiman’s R2R2000 (Black PCM1704k edition), the Athena sounded very clean and clear with a particular emphasis on that kick drum weight and a vivid vocal presence.
Switching to the Leonidas II Octa, instruments sounded a little more separated, the staging wider, but also a little richer and warmer. Beth’s vocals dropped back a little in comparison to the Athena performance and there are times, as a vocal lover, I found the Athena vocal focus just that bit more exciting if the less forgiving of the two.
The Tri-Silver moved things around a little in terms of imaging also. Kick drums had less weight and presence and my listening tended to be drawn up to into the midrange and treble. Treble is really where the Tri-Silver excels and it does sound the airiest and most open of the three with this track using the Trio/R2R2000 combo.
The Athena loves a good performing dynamic driver monitor, be it pure or hybrid. That weighty low-end gels superbly with the 64 Audio tia trio excellent dynamic driver low-end for example, much more so than even the mighty Leonidas II Octa.
The hefty low-end kick and vocal focus also pair really nicely with Empire Ear’s Phantom which I feel has a slightly flat upper midrange. The Athena won’t hugely change that balance but it does blow the stock Ares II out of the water for vocal clarity and low-end definition.
The tia Trio was by far my favorite pairing with the Athena but I have to give props to how responsive the Elysium from Vision Ears was. The Elysium uses a large single BA for the low-end and the Athena teased out some excellent low-end weight and responsiveness using the R2R2000 as a source.
As I mentioned before, I would love to see how the Athena scores against the Cleopatra Octa because that is where the Cleo 4-wire really excels at – great bass. Except, the 8-wire Athena goes a bit further than the 4-wire with exceptional dynamic range sounding vivid and more open.
All wire comparisons were done with a Lotoo PAW Gold Touch using the balanced output and a 64 Audio tia Trio universal for consistency purposes.
Effect Audio Leonidas II Octa
The Leonidas II Octa is the flagship 8-wire of the Heritage Series from Effect Audio. It pretty much is our top monitor cable recommendation for the best performance that money can buy. Like the Athena, the Leonidas II Octa uses a palladium and silver mix, however, the geometry is somewhat different between the two.
Both are 26AWG cables that much they have in common, however, the Octa uses an Ultra-Pure Onho Continuous Cast (UP-OCC) compared to Athena’s Superior Pure OCC (SP-OCC). Now Satin Audio is claiming that SP-OCC curated wiring at between 6N and 7N is the highest grade of wire on the market right now which may or may not place its raw material quality a shade higher than Octa’s UP-OCC.
The Athena uses a Type 4 Litz configuration for the wiring with a Kevlar core and individual wire strand insulation. The Octa also uses Litz though the complexity seems higher with individually enameled strands of wire in a woven 7-core bundled Litz type configuration.
These cables do have some major handling differences. The braiding technique is different for a start with the Octa from EA tighter and cleaner looking. The Athena jacket is softer, the braiding slightly looser and you can feel that in the hand.
I prefer the look of the Leonidas II Octa braiding but I have to admit the Athena finish feels softer in the hand and around the ear so it is slightly comfier. Without memory wire, that comfort of the Athena is also advantageous.
The Octa has the lighter barrels of the two cables with a smaller jack and marginally smaller chrome barrel connectors. The Patina style leather finish on the splitter barrel of the Octa is also a beautiful contrast to the shimmer of the silver heavier barrels of the Athena.
Using the tia Trio/LGPT pairing it was pretty to pick out the difference these two cables produced. For a start, the Athena teases out a fuller more physical sounding low-end from the tia Trio. It is a tuning more akin to the Cleopatra sound. The Octa is a little more bass shy in comparison but still carries a bit of warmth and body up into the mids.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Athena/tia Trio pairing has a bit more treble presence than the Octa which is a touch smoother and more liquid sounding by comparison. You will hear maybe more percussion presence but also a slightly harder edge to the tia Trio timbre using the Athena. The Octa trades that with a slightly softer tone.
This, in turn, delivers a slightly different midrange timbre on the Trio with the 2 cables. The Octa focus is on width, complexity, and a very holographic soundstage but also a very organic and slightly rich-sounding midrange timbre from the Trio. Vocals are very sweet sounding with next to no sibilance.
The Athena teases out more depth and height but produces a slightly drier timbre in the mids, a little more bite in the percussion and a slightly harder edge to the Trio vocals.
Plussound Tri-Silver 8-wire
The Tri-Silver also uses a 26AWG 8-wire palladium and silver mix but like the Leonidas II Octa, it looks quite different and has a different build compared to the Athena. The Tri-silver uses a Type 6 Litz build which is essentially bundles of Type 4 wire built around a fiber core.
The silver mix is fairly complex with pure silver, more resistive gold-plated silver and palladium-plated silver. The Athena uses two types, a hybrid SP-OCC palladium-plated silver mixed with SP-OCC pure silver. The additional X-Factor of the Tri-Silver is the gold-plated silver stranding.
The Tri-Silver build is close to the EA braiding which is tight, with smaller overthrows but it is also a slightly harder finish compared with the Athena SA Insulation II jacket. I would say the Athena is the softer and more pliant/comfortable but like the Octa Leonidas II, the Tri-Silver is visually more striking.
PLUSSOUND also makes some of the best connectors on the market with their screw-locked barrels and a wide selection of very light splitters. In this case, the splitter is a wide but very light redwood and is the only of the 8-wire builds that uses a chin cinch. That takes a little weight away compared to Satin Audio’s silvery aluminum and carbon fiber printed barrels on the Athena.
Neither cable uses memory wire which is a plus but there is some magic sauce in the Tri-Silver build because it is super quiet and handles like a boss. Out of the three cables, its the most disciplined though out of the three is might feel the thickest behind the ear.
As with the Octa from EA, the one key difference I heard between the Tri-Silver and the Athena was in the low-end response of the tia Trio and LPGT pairing.
The Tri-Silver tends to sound the more neutral of the two for bass impact and weight. The Athena hits harder, sounds the more physical of the two and gives off more warmth on the Trio by comparison.
That is probably the easiest observation I can make because beyond that the differences are much more nuanced between these two cables. Both have more treble presence than the Octa however the greater low-end weight tends to give the Athena a bit more contrast and thus a slightly more musical flavor on the Trio.
The Tri-Silver is a bit more hi-fidelity in timbre with more mids separation but also a more neutral timbre from top to bottom compared to the Athena. The lack of physicality on the low-end, comparatively speaking, allows the Trio mids to breathe just a little bit more and vocals to have a bit more space to show off.
Effect Audio Cleopatra
Now our version of the Cleopatra is the 4-wire so we will have to adjust a little for that but I thought this would be a very interesting comparison because of its use of silver and a price point that is just $100 lower than the 8-wire Athena.
The Cleopatra is a 26AWG Litz build with a 7-core geometry with multi-sized stranding and a UP-OCC pure silver wire. The Athena is double the wire count and uses a more expensive SP-OCC palladium-plated silver mixed with SP-OCC pure silver multi-sized stranding in a Type 4 Litz configuration.
The Cleopatra comes wrapped in Effect Audio’s UltraFlexi transparent jacket and combined with the silver wire it has a nice shimmery effect akin to Satin Audio’s Medusa finish. This is a tighter but firmer jacket than the very soft SA Insulation II on the Athena.
The 4-wire, of course, is a lot lighter than the 8-wire of the Athena and also a bit smaller. Noise performance of the Cleopatra 4-wire is better but then I expected that given its smaller exposed surface. I like the synergy of the matching silver carbon fiber prints on the Athena barrels more than the mixed black carbon fiber and plain chrome of the Cleopatra. However, the Cleopatra barrels are a touch lighter.
Like the Athena, the Cleopatra has a stronger bass performance with good body and sub-bass impact from the tia Trio/LPGT combo.
Both tend to deliver a stronger low-end presence than either the Tri-Silver or the Cleopatra. Further up, however, the Athena starts to show better separation and a more holographic soundstage. The Cleopatra is perhaps a bit smoother, richer in timbre with the Trio with more vocal focus but more so due to also having a relaxed treble.
The Athena takes the Trio treble and pumps up the presence a bit more sounding the more articulate of the two cables. Vocals are not quite as front or centered but they do have more space to breathe and generally, the Trio sounded airier and more open with the Athena.
Because the Athena is an 8-wire silver you do also get a touch more dynamic range and clarity compared to the Cleopatra 4-wire silver which can be really felt in the Trio dynamic driver tightness and low-end layering. The Cleopatra is not a compressed or highly resistive wire so volume adjustments are rarely needed between these two.
The quality of the Athena build, combined with this type of riveting sound signature is a serious market disruptor to the current thinking about what a palladium silver hybrid cable should cost or simply what kind of performance you can expect from any cable at this price point.
I find it hard to believe that the Athena 8-wire is priced at $799 given how well it competes with cables almost double its price. I honestly cannot think of a more vivid or fun sounding cable pairing at this price point out there right now.
And yet the sound is unique enough not to put off would-be Tri-Silver and Leonidas II buyers but it is distracting in a good way. It doesn’t quite aim for that incredibly holographic soundstage in the same way as those two. Nor does it deliver a richer organic tone such as the Leo II or a hi-fidelity treble presence like the Tri-Silver. That is a good thing because it has its got its own vibe or personality.
Instead, this is a Cleopatra competitor but slightly cleaner and definitely on the airier side. The bass response is a killer, just immaculate with dynamic driver hybrids. The staging is deep, tall and especially excellent with vocals. I could listen to this one all day and not feel in the slightest way jaded to my usual tracks.
A recommended buy for hi-rolling cable enthusiasts? Absolutely.
Superior Pure OCC (SP-OCC)
SP-OCC Palladium plated Silver mix SP-OCC Pure Silver
Satin Special Structures
Multi-size Strand Type 4 Litz
Hybrid central bundle – Kevlar Damping combined with Pure Silver strand