Cables, eh? Can’t live without ‘em, can’t show ‘em off to friends at dinner parties…
Whatever your take on cables, from unreconstructed nihilist, (“once you’ve reached a basic electrical standard, all cables sound the same, ergo manufacturers of expensive highend brands are charlatans and their customers fools”) to unapologetic advocate, (“cables are as fundamental to the quality of a system as the active components and badly-chosen cables will ruin the potential of good components as surely as well-chosen cables enhance them”) you’re still going to need something to connect the boxes together and feed them with power. We’ve long since moved beyond “All properly-designed amplifiers must sound the same.” Those who trust their ears also recognise that different cables sound not only different, but that those differences can be qualitatively, if perhaps not yet quantitatively, assessed. From that follows a need for a system-building strategy similar to the one for the boxes. Accepting the need to give some thought and funds to cabling, where to start?
decent system, connected it up with eminently respectable [Chord Chorus] interconnects and [Chord Epic Twin] loudspeaker cable, and the supplied mains leads. More complete and planned than what feeds most of the systems out there, but just the sort of thing you could pretty much walk into any decent high street dealer and take home. I then changed various parts of the cable loom, upgrading to Nordost Tyr, Brahma and Thor, in order to assess their contributions to the whole, but in this case starting with the speaker cable and working backwards to the mains. The system sat on a Quadraspire acrylic reference table throughout.
That Nordost have evolved a distinctive house sound is indisputable. Fast, crisp and loaded with so much treble energy they can make other cables sound distinctly rolled-off, they are not for everybody. There is also a distinct hierarchy, from middling-dear to “Buy that and I’ll divorce you” with consistent progression and improvement as you move up the price range. This consistency is one reason why I’m happy to take Nordost’s claims at face value. They are clearly onto something (as opposed to being simply on something)
The introduction of the Tyr range is a slightly mixed blessing. Intended to build on the strengths of the, rather fine, Valkyrja I’ve been using for, gosh, over three years now, it aims to elevate performance at the Valkyrja’s price point, while simultaneously dropping one rung down Nordost’s hierarchical ladder to third position. Pretend that doesn’t matter to you, if you like. What considerably eases the pain is that that’s only because the previously peerless Valhalla has been usurped by Odin. Valhalla remains unchanged in the product range, its performance undiminished but now overshadowed by Odin, reviewed with some approval by RG in issue 51. The technology employed across the range has been discussed before, and the basic differences between the materials and topologies in the current line-up covered amply by RG in his review of the midtable Frey in issue 42 so I’ll recap only briefly. Tyr differs from Valkyrja in using different numbers of heavier, 22AWG, monofilament cable and employing the twisted-pair dual-filament spacer technology from Valhalla, to further reduce contact between conductor and outer sheathing, dielectric duties therefore being mostly covered by the air gap. Completing the line-up is a set of Brahma mains leads (RG, issue 38), occupying the same sub- Valhalla position as Tyr (for some reason Nordost nomenclature treats the mains leads differently, except for Valhalla). These replace my existing “entry-level” Shiva mains leads, and are now to be fed from a Thor distribution block, (RG again, in Issue 35) rather than my old 6-way Russ Andrews Silencer block. So I now have not only a coherent cradle-to-grave Nordost loom, but also one comprising elements from the same hierarchical level in the system.
Listening to the standard, non-Nordost system, it was striking how many of the hi-fi attributes I took for granted were absent. In ‘Amado Mio’ from Pink Martini’s Sympathique album (WRASS 143), voice was front and centre, but everything else was an afterthought. Percussion was vague, bass plodding, and the piano was mostly lost in the melée. This from a track normally so full of ebullience it can hardly fail to lift your spirits. The next track, ‘No Hay Problema’ was, frankly, blurred. This album, in case you don’t know it, is a gem, but this system was rendering it as if it were the accompaniment to a cheesy 1970s caper movie, rather than the exuberant celebration I know it to be. Similarly, Jools Holland’s ‘Birdcage Walk’, from the A-Z Geographer’s Guide to the Piano (ALTGOCD 1) lost all its sense of fun, the timing was off, bass vague, no dimensionality, sense of space or instrumental placement. Definitely time for a change, then.