Nordost Heimdall interconnect & speaker cable
Thus hobbyists to whom any cable review is a red flag will simply have to deal with Stereophile's insistence on continuing to publish same. So too must they cope with the suggestion that a piece of wire more costly than 24-gauge lamp cord or Belden microphone cable might reasonably be considered affordable: The cables reviewed here really are budget versions of the most conspicuously expensive high-end interconnect and speaker cables that I'm aware of, the Nordost Valhallas.
The newest Nordost cable line is named Heimdall, after the sharp-eyed Aesir watchman of Norse Mythology. (Most products in the Nordost line have Viking names; apparently the European market likes that sort of thing, and Aussies fairly eat it with a spoon.) Nordost offers a Heimdall interconnect, Heimdall speaker cables, a Heimdall tonearm cable—even a Heimdall iKable, for use between a portable MP3 player and a variety of domestic and automotive sound systems. By now, I've experienced the first two.
To anyone familiar with the aforementioned Valhalla line, the Heimdalls' outward similarity is unmistakable—especially when comparing speaker cables: Both the Valhalla and the Heimdall speaker cables are flat, ribbon-style things with a distinctively diaphanous look. But the ideas that first manifested themselves in the Valhalla ribbon some six years ago run a good deal deeper than that.
In common with other specialty cable manufacturers, Nordost believes that unwanted interactions between conductors and dielectrics can be a source of distortion and information loss in a very high-quality, high-resolution audio system—and the Valhalla technology was their first all-out effort at taking that particular bull by the horns. Cynics have made much of the notion that electrons are stupid things, and don't know the difference between, say, woofer wires and tweeter wires as they carry energy from one atom to another—which is true.
But that sword cuts both ways: The electron that's too stupid to recognize the path that an amateur audio engineer has laid out for it is also too stupid to know which atom is a conductor and which isn't, at least initially: The poor thing bashes blindly into any adjacent substance, looking for valences—actually energy bands, as described by Pauli, et al—that are not already filled with energy. Thus do they continually test their limits, not unlike children; and thus does an electromagnetic transmission give up a certain amount of its energy in the presence of an inferior dielectric. (When you try to coax too much current through too little conductor, as with strings of dime-store lights at Christmas time, you feel that energy as heat.)
In a setting such as this, the superior dielectric would be nothing: a vacuum. (A perfect dielectric is perfectly efficient at fooling separate electromagnetic currents into thinking there's more physical space between them than there really is. I told you these things are stupid.) Barring the future efforts of some sharp-fanged designer to build an evacuation pump into his or her cable—a ridiculous idea, of course (footnote 1) but now that I've mentioned it I hereby demand a cut of all future profits (footnote 2)—the next best dielectric is good old-fashioned air. And that's what Nordost built into their Valhalla cable: By helically winding a sort of plastic thread over each individual wire, Nordost ensured that the majority of the conductor's surface was contacted only by air, not the polymer jacket surrounding it.
So it goes with the Heimdall line, the newest and the least expensive products to incorporate this technology, which Nordost calls Micro Mono-Filament. The Heimdall speaker cable starts as a 24-gauge, solid-core, oxygen-free copper conductor, over which a 60µm layer of pure silver is extruded. The silver surface is polished, and a thin monofilament made of a polymer called fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP) is wound around it. Finally, an outer jacket of FEP is extruded over that, touching only the FEP thread. Heimdall speaker cable comprises 24 of those mostly air-insulated conductors, precisely spaced and molded side-by-side in a ribbon that measures 1.35" wide and 0.03" thick. Termination choices include gold-plated spade connectors and gold-plated Z-Plugs (Nordost's proprietary low-mass bananas).
The Heimdall interconnect uses virtually the same conductors, except they're 26-gauge and there are four of them. That bundle is wrapped with a braided shield of the usual sort, then covered with another FEP jacket (outside diameter: 0.15"). The interconnects are marked for direction, and the shield is connected only at the source end. For unbalanced cables, the standard Heimdall connectors are gold-plated versions of the excellent WBT Nexgen RCA plugs; XLRs with gold-plated contacts are a $30 option, for use with balanced electronics.
The most interesting measurement of all: The Nordost Heimdall speaker cable sells for $1500 per 2m pair, vs $7040 for the same amount of Valhalla; the Heimdall interconnect is $600/1m pair, the Valhalla version going for $4000. Those are savings of 78% and 85%, respectively. Quite an improvement.
My main music system has occupied this particular room for more than three years, arranged with the preamp on a tallish console table off to one side—various source components are nearby—and a pair of mono amplifiers on the floor, each one close to its respective speaker. Thus my system requires a fairly long main interconnect: 4m will do if I don't mind cutting corners, but a 6m cable makes for a neater installation, with less chance of stumbling—and comparatively short speaker cables. I also require shorter interconnects to take the signals from my CD player and phono preamp.
Footnote 1: Tara Labs has already done this, with its Zero line.— John Atkinson
Footnote 2: There are one or two fevered old women on the Audio Asylum who will need to have it explained to them—slowly, and in very short words—that this is a joke.— Art Dudley