Nor­dost

Val­halla 2 Ca­bles The State of the Art

NOVO - - REVIEW - by Phil Gold

Val­halla is the ca­ble that turned the ca­ble in­dus­try up­side down in the year 2001. Un­con­ven­tional in ap­pear­ance as in per­for­mance, Val­halla set a new stan­dard for many, and be­came my ref­er­ence ca­ble back in 2004. The key tech­nol­ogy be­hind Val­halla is Mi­cro Mono-Fil­a­ment. By wind­ing a sin­gle FEP fil­a­ment in a pre­cise spi­ral around each con­duc­tor, be­fore ex­trud­ing an outer FEP “sleeve” over the top, Nor­dost cre­ated a struc­ture com­bin­ing the best avail­able di­elec­tric ma­te­rial while spac­ing the in­su­la­tion away from the core. This min­i­mized con­tact and di­elec­tric ab­sorp­tion as well as cre­ated a vir­tual air en­vi­ron­ment.

DE­SIGN & FEA­TURES

To­day we are test­ing the Val­halla 2 which de­buted in 2013, a cul­mi­na­tion of 12 years of devel­op­ment. While there are many sim­i­lar­i­ties to Val­halla, every as­pect of their con­struc­tion was re­ex­am­ined. Ma­jor in­no­va­tions in­clude Dual Mono-Fil­a­ment tech­nol­ogy, HOLO:PLUG con­nec­tors, and re­vi­sions to the num­ber and di­am­e­ter of the con­duc­tors. By spi­ral­ing a care­fully con­trolled thread of FEP clock­wise around the con­duc­tor, and an­other wound coun­ter­clock­wise (Dual Mono-Fil­a­ment), the in­su­lat­ing ma­te­rial

can be held at a fixed dis­tance from the sur­face of the con­duc­tor and the air trapped be­tween the con­duc­tor and the in­su­la­tor acts as an ex­cel­lent dia­lec­tic ma­te­rial. FEP it­self is an ex­pen­sive syn­thetic, the very best avail­able for this pur­pose, and is of even higher pu­rity than the ver­sion used in the orig­i­nal Val­halla. The tech­nol­ogy used for this highly ac­cu­rate ex­tru­sion process is ex­clu­sive to Nor­dost, very time con­sum­ing and costly to im­ple­ment.

Ter­mi­na­tions have come in for rad­i­cal changes. Not sat­is­fied with any com­mer­cially avail­able com­po­nents, Nor­dost de­signed their own con­nec­tors, which they call HOLO:PLUG Con­nec­tors. They found that much of the in­for­ma­tion loss in ca­bles hap­pens where the ca­ble in­ter­faces with the con­duc­tor. With HOLO:PLUG In­ter­con­nects and Speaker Ca­bles, each con­duc­tor is as­signed a point on an in­ter­nal ring which con­tin­ues to the tip of the con­nec­tor. This en­sures that each con­duc­tor is trans­mit­ting to the con­nec­tor with the low­est sig­nal loss pos­si­ble. HOLO:PLUG Power cords uti­lize a car­bon fiber back-shell con­nec­tor, solid core bronze al­loy pins with 85 mi­crons of gold, a low mass dual ring de­sign, vi­bra­tion con­trol and a 360 de­gree con­tact mat­ing sur­face to min­i­mize eddy cur­rents.

The con­duc­tor ma­te­rial is made from an ex­tremely pure solid cop­per core (99.999999%) plated with 85 mi­crons of pure sil­ver. The in­ter­con­nect now uses ten 24 AWG con­duc­tors, the power cord uses seven 16AWG con­duc­tors and the speaker ca­ble uses twenty eight 22 AWG con­duc­tors in four groups.

Ca­ble lengths are care­fully me­chan­i­cally tuned to min­i­mize res­o­nances which can have a harm­ful ef­fect on the sound. Nor­dost now rec­om­mends spade ter­mi­na­tion for speaker ca­bles and bi­wire speaker ca­bles are no longer avail­able. In­stead Nor­dost of­fers Val­halla 2 Bi-wire Jumpers which I used in my test­ing.

PER­FOR­MANCE

My ref­er­ence sys­tem fea­tures the lat­est ver­sion of the EMM Labs XDS1 SACD/ CD Player feed­ing an EMM Labs Pre 2 Pream­pli­fier. The power amp is a ModWright KWA150 SE driv­ing the new YG Carmel 2 speak­ers. It’s a breathtakingly re­veal­ing sys­tem, with van­ish­ingly low dis­tor­tion, and one that should eas­ily show any dif­fer­ences be­tween ca­bles. In the left cor­ner, we have the Nor­dost sys­tem of yes­ter­day, fea­tur­ing a Nor­dost Thor Power Dis­tri­bu­tion Sys­tem and Val­halla ca­bles end to end. In the right cor­ner, I asked Nor­dost for a QRT Power Dis­tri­bu­tion Sys­tem and a full loom of Val­halla 2 ca­bles. Let the games be­gin.

The older Val­halla setup is very re­veal­ing, has mas­sive ar­tic­u­la­tion and pin­point lo­ca­tional ac­cu­racy. It’s also a lit­tle hard driv­ing and de­cid­edly lean. I like the sound very much, but I don’t find it fully sat­is­fy­ing. It is per­haps a lit­tle clin­i­cal. The new setup is im­me­di­ately more re­lax­ing to lis­ten to. In­stru­men­tal color is richer, the bass is more ful­some and the tre­ble glo­ri­ously open. It sounds more like the real thing. I’ve made a con­scious ef­fort to com­pare the sounds I heard from the third row of the won­der­ful Ko­erner Hall in Toronto with ex­cel­lent record­ings by the same artists. We’re talk­ing the Buena Vista So­cial Club, then Joan Baez, and fi­nally the clas­si­cal pi­anist An­dreas Schiff. Al­though au­dio mem­ory is far from per­fect, what works for me is the feel­ing of con­nec­tion to the mu­sic that you get in the con­cert hall, and how very close to that feel­ing the new Val­halla 2 based setup brought me. The older setup was just as ex­cit­ing but not equally mu­si­cal or re­al­is­tic. To me it was like mov­ing from Red­book CD to SACD. Things are not so black and white any more, they are more col­or­ful and much eas­ier to lis­ten to. The other big im­prove­ment was in the very low­est bass, which while still com­pletely pitch ac­cu­rate as only a sealed box speaker can pro­vide, was also firmer, stronger and clearer.

Now not every record­ing ben­e­fits to the same ex­tent from this trans­for­ma­tion. I no­tice the im­prove­ments most in large scale sym­phonic mu­sic and when­ever there’s a pi­ano play­ing, and less on vo­cals and small scale clas­si­cal mu­sic. With any­thing widerange and well pro­duced it’s al­most night and day.

Pi­ano is the acid test for sys­tem test­ing. There’s a pow­er­ful new record­ing of Bach’s English Suites played by Piotr An­der­szewski which il­lus­trates th­ese dif­fer­ences to the full. Where the sound was some­what harsh, thin and even ag­gres­sive, now the pi­ano tone is fuller and cleaner, with an in­creased range of dy­namic shad­ing. It sounds more like a pi­ano and less like a record­ing of a pi­ano. Some slight ring­ing has van­ished. This is con­tra­pun­tal mu­sic which means there are mul­ti­ple voices play­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously. It is so much eas­ier now to make out the var­i­ous strands that my brain doesn’t have to work so hard to fol­low them, mak­ing for greater re­lax­ation and en­joy­ment.

If Bach is not your lis­ten­ing plea­sure, this same mu­si­cal flow al­lows you to lis­ten to all sorts of mu­sic with less strain and in­creased ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the artistry in­volved. I found the same im­mer­sion on the Bea­tles Love al­bum. Even on the open­ing track “Be­cause”, which com­prises just a cappella vo­cals from the orig­i­nal record­ing and as­sorted bird­song / in­sects hum­ming, the im­age width and depth were both height­ened and the voices more life­like than ever. Mov­ing to “Get Back”, the drum thwacks are now stronger, there’s more drive and mo­men­tum and you can hear deeper into the com­plex drum rhythms. Paul’s bass is cleaner and more present in the mix.

But “Chanchullo” from Cuba’s Ruben Gon­za­les (star of the Buena Vista So­cial Club) showed smaller dif­fer­ences. No in­crease in de­tail, but some ex­tra nu­ances

per­haps. The brass did come through with a richer tone, es­pe­cially in the lower reg­is­ters, but you are not get­ting all your money’s worth here. “Di­a­monds and Rust”, Joan Baez’s great song, also showed only mod­est im­prove­ment. Mozart’s “Diver­ti­mento for String Trio” lies be­tween th­ese two ex­tremes. The imag­ing is im­proved and there is so much de­tail in the string tone of each in­stru­ment that you can fol­low each one, where be­fore the in­stru­ments were of­ten blended. You get the im­pres­sion there is all the time in the world now. It’s not that the mu­sic has slowed down, but you can hear into the mu­sic more deeply. And let’s not for­get that the sound was su­perb to be­gin with. Now it’s just more pal­pa­ble.

I’ve been liv­ing with the Val­halla 2 ca­bles for about six months, and I find my­self lis­ten­ing to a lot more mu­sic than I used to. It’s not that I love ca­bles. I love mu­sic. Th­ese ca­bles bring out the mu­sic more than any others in my ex­pe­ri­ence. They do this by of­fer­ing the flat­test and most ex­tended fre­quency re­sponse, the high­est level of de­tail, the great­est ac­cu­racy of in­stru­men­tal and vo­cal tone and full re­spon­sive­ness to tran­sients and sus­tained har­mon­ics. All th­ese are tech­ni­cal con­sid­er­a­tions which can be mea­sured in the lab­o­ra­tory. But to the lis­tener, it comes through as trans­parency to the source, which is the mea­sure of every el­e­ment in the chain. There is no ed­i­to­ri­al­iz­ing, no false em­pha­sis in the lower bass, no blend­ing of in­di­vid­ual voices, no loss of tex­ture on a stringed in­stru­ment, noth­ing that harms the flow of mu­sic or re­duces its level of de­tail or dy­namic range. Well, noth­ing I could hear in my im­per­fect lis­ten­ing room.

Nor­dost ca­bles are easy to use – gen­er­ally slim­mer and more flex­i­ble than most com­peti­tors. The speaker ca­bles have a unique flat de­sign with each con­duc­tor held par­al­lel to its neigh­bour in four groups of seven, while the in­ter­con­nects and power ca­bles are rel­a­tively slim and cir­cu­lar in cross sec­tion. They are fin­ished to astonishing stan­dards.

Nor­dost rec­om­mends its own QRT Power Dis­tri­bu­tion sys­tem, so I used that for test­ing. The first stage is the QBase QB8 Mk II ($1920 Cdn) which pro­vides 8 power out­lets. The sec­ond stage is the QX4 Power Pu­ri­fier ($3,240 Cdn), which is in­stalled in line be­tween the QB8 and the power amp. Th­ese prod­ucts seem to do their job very well. There is no hum at all in the sys­tem and the speak­ers are eerily si­lent even at high vol­ume lev­els be­tween the tracks of my CDs.

Val­halla 2 power cords start at $6,000, in­ter­con­nects at $8,000 and speaker ca­bles at $11,520 (Cdn). So we are cer­tainly in a very spe­cial realm. In terms of sound quality, th­ese are the finest I’ve heard at any price and make a huge dif­fer­ence to the en­joy­ment I get from lis­ten­ing to mu­sic in my ref­er­ence sys­tem.

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