Replacing the speaker cable with the Tyr brought about rather less in the way of improvements than I might have anticipated. Sure, it was better in most respects, but if I’d spent my hard-earned on this cable, I’d feel distinctly shortchanged round about now. Piano was tighter, and had lost a lot of the blurring distortion you commonly get, leading edges of notes were better, cleaner and faster, percussion was more tactile, with more ‘snap’, bass more rounded-out and tuneful and there was more of a sense of musicians working together, but hell, this was just not the cable I knew it could be. It didn’t even have that much of the Nordost signature treble. A couple more tracks to confirm these characteristics and it was obvious, more was required.
Working backwards again, I replaced the Chorus with a Tyr interconnect. This time, ‘Amado Mio’ was, if not an unqualified success, then certainly a much more rewarding experience. The opening harp glissando was significantly more tactile, consisting of clearly plucked notes rather than the blurred smear previously heard. Midrange had filled out, making a valiant attempt to bridge the gap ‘twixt bass and treble, and the piano took its rightful, crucial, place in the mix. The exuberance was definitely beginning to show through.
DG 439 431-2). The music is typical Reich: depending on your viewpoint, either mesmerisingly subtle and compelling or stupefyingly repetitive. Dense yet sparse, uneventful even, but on the right system it can draw you in with its hypnotic allure. Played on the system as described, it was boring. If you’d told me it was six pianists doubling up on three pianos, or even two or three (very busy) pianists, I’d have had no way to refute it. The payoff in this piece is in the way the music subtly changes every few bars. One piano changes a note, or an emphasis grows on a repeated figure while another recedes. The music shifts and changes, like wind-whipped sand on a beach. With the system as it stood, most of this was simply smoothed over and the result was a maddening, enervating mishmash, the playing of which would probably be banned under the Geneva Convention. Changing the mains leads from freebies to Brahmas brought about easily the biggest change of the day, so far. The six pianos snapped into focus, each nuance and shift becoming not only discernible, but musically relevant, whole layers of texture revealing themselves. The opening track, ‘At Home’, from Tord Gustavsen’s latest album Being There (ECM 2017) revealed a significant reduction in hash, a better sense of note, it was simply more tuneful. Rhythm, particularly the brushed percussion, was more tactile, vivid and three-dimensional with a longer, deeper decay to cymbals. Bass was more low-key, not recessed just less dominant, more in its place. Gustavsen’s music is thoughtful, he eschews drama in favour of a more considered, measured approach. A system lacking in subtle discrimination could leave you thinking this was cold, soulless and dull. On the right system, it calls to mind the bleak beauty of northern European flatlands in Winter, on a lesser system it’s rather closer to a damp February in Lancashire. More upbeat music, back to Pink Martini and ‘Tempo Perdido’ from Hey Eugene (WRASS 193), is altogether tighter and much more dynamic.
Nordost’s Thor completes the picture, and brings benefits in terms of a still, silent space in which the music can work. There are definite gains in the sense of stability, an element of structure and palpability borne out of a solid, inky black background. Clearly if this is a foundation, it is a most secure one. Six Pianos is revelatory; to the gains from the Brahmas we can add a more certain sense of six musical instruments, located in space, each with its own acoustic volume and subtle timbral differences. There is a trade-off: leading edges to the notes sound less acute with a consequent loss of attack, diminishing the sense of speed and dynamics; ‘Tempo Perdido’ again, and we’ve lost some of the snap and immediacy, it sounds quieter. This is a repeatable phenomenon, many gains, some losses but Thor allows higher levels, restoring dynamics without apparent effort. Some may feel the loss outweighs the gain but I have no doubt that for much material, particularly classical, large-scale stuff, the solidity and unshakeability of that acoustic space is necessary to allow the music to work. For tighter, faster, more intimate music, the sans-Thor attack and dynamics is undeniably attractive but, possibly not entirely truthful.
To complete the experiment, I reintroduced the cheaper interconnect and speaker cables in turn, and now the differences were much more pronounced and in keeping with what I know of the Nordost cables’ strengths. Chorus interconnect loses low level detail, cymbals are more damped, atmosphere and space more constrained, Tyr restores the full, lush beauty and rich instrumental timbre. Epic Twin speaker cable is softer focus, with less tuneful, more plodding bass. Which is emphatically not a criticism of the Chord cable, remember it is scarcely a tenth the price of the Nordost, it is a reminder that, without the mains stuff in place, the more expensive cables simply couldn’t deliver. In many ways this is good news. High-quality mains leads and conditioners are rather less expensive than top flight interconnects and speaker cables. We are back, in a curious sort of way, to the “Front-end first” philosophy, except that now, the front end is the mains socket at the wall, not the music source. The benefits wrought by the Thor and the Brahmas are well-documented in RG’s reviews, suffice to say in this system the Thor kept everything firmly anchored and the Brahmas eliminated a layer of grain which was part of the price for the cheaper Shivas’ clarity and directness. The Brahmas do much more than just eliminate the grain, however, everything from this point forward just feels better nourished. I know that’s a very anthropomorphic analogy, but I don’t care. There is another, curious effect of the pairing in that the music opens out, temporally. It’s obviously not slower, although it almost seems so, but there’s a clear sense that the musicians are not hurried, they have more time to create the notes. It’s not languid but it is relaxed, and they sound like better musicians in consequence. Don’t make the mistake of assuming this robs the music of impact. There’s a world of difference between stress and drama and even if the Thor does sound quieter, you can always turn up the volume and when you do, there is manifestly less strain.