In the midband, the differences between TARA and Nordost were less marked. They are both remarkably rich, full, and clear on voices, pianos, fiddles, cellos, brasses, and winds. The TARA Labs delivers slightly more detail and more tightly defined images; the Nordost is slightly airier and bloomier and a bit more expansive in its soundstaging. On this last point, on the “Katy Dear” cut from Ian and Sylvia’s Four Strong Winds [Cisco], the Nordost images Sylvia’s autoharp a bit farther to Sylvia’s left (listener’s right) than the TARA Labs does, as if she were cradling the instrument in her left arm rather than holding it closer to her body. However, on the same duo’s a cappella “Texas Rangers” from Northern Journey [Cisco], the TARA Labs recovers the echo of Ian and Sylvia’s voices from way back at the rear of the stage—the echo is essential to the song, adding an appropriately lorn, high-lonesome quality to the dirge-like lyrics—far better than the Nordost. Better, in fact, than anything else I’ve yet heard. When it comes to the retrieval of very-low-level, deep-in-themix/ back-of-the-stage information (including ambient information), nothing I’ve heard can beat out the TARA Labs Zero and Omega.
It is only fair to note that the TARA products add a slight attractive darkness and liquidity to the silences between notes and instruments that the Nordosts do not, though it’s hard to decide whether these slightly darker interstices aren’t a side effect of the TARA Labs’ richer, fuller, better-defined reproduction of the bass octaves. With the Nordost, silences between notes and instruments tend to sound less darkly tinted but not as liquid, with just a hint of “cottony” grain. In the upper midrange, the TARA is, paradoxically, just a touch brighter than the Nordost (you hear this, occasionally, on violins), though the difference here is small and reverses in the treble.
In the topmost octaves the Nordost is substantially brighter than the TARA Labs, but also a bit airier and more open. The TARA sounds consistently tighter in focus (though it never miniaturizes instruments) and more dynamic, but both reproduce things like cymbals or top-octave piano with plausible realism. The call between the two here probably depends on speakers and amplification, for each is superb.
Though the analogy is old and tired (not unlike yours truly), the differences between TARA Labs and Nordost are really very similar to the differences between modern-day solid-state and tube amplifiers. While this may lead you to think that I prefer Nordost—tube maven that I am— in this application I do not. In my current reference system (MBL 101 Es driven by MBL electronics) I prefer the TARA Labs products. It’s not just that they fully expose the slight overall brightness, vagueness, and insubstantiality of Nordost Valhalla (particularly in the bottom octaves); it’s that they sound, for the most part, slightly more like the real thing.
Having said this, I should note that there is another interconnect that I am also high on—the Synergistics Research X2 Absolute Reference, which I will report on in due course—that has magical properties of its own when it comes to creating a plausibly realistic sense of midrange presence, though, as with the TARA Labs and the Nordost, its magic depends on the speakers and electronics with which it is used. I should also note, however, that the Synergistics does not have all of The Zero’s X-ray ability to clarify very-low-level tone colors, dynamic nuances, and performance details way back in the mix, nor its remarkable level of ambience retrieval, nor its electrifying transient speed and definition, nor its front-to-back transparency, nor its bottom-octave color, clarity, and authority. In these regards, the top-of-the-line TARA Labs is unrivaled— thus far in my experience.
In spite of the remarkable level of engineering that TARA Labs’ flagship cables represent, I’m fully aware that recommending any wires that put you out 40 to 50 grand is borderline insane. (Well, not even borderline.) However, if you have dough to burn, a screw or two loose, a truly high-resolution stereo system, and a taste for the best of the best, then TARA Labs’ The Zero and Omega should be at the top of your list of “must-hear” interconnect and cable. Indeed, if the less-expensive TARA Labs products give you a fair sample of the sound of its flagships, I’d have to think they’d be well worth auditioning, too.
 Matthew Bond, “The Zero White Paper,” p. 1. Available as a download at taralabs.com.
 “The plug itself comprises a clamping mechanism to fix itself to the air-tube and an internal chamber, which is sealed with O-rings. Through a specially designed valve in the plug, a vacuum is drawn within the chambers of the air-tube so that the conductors themselves are within a vacuum.” Bond, “The Zero White Paper,” p. 3.