Nordost Valhalla interconnect & speaker cable
At the January 2001 CES, the Nordost demo featured their new Valhalla interconnect and loudspeaker cables. Sure enough, listening to the Valhallas made Nordost's previous top-of-the-line cables, the Quatro-fil interconnect and SPM Reference speaker cables, sound a bit grungy and confused in comparison. And because Nordost's cables have been regular components of my systems for the past several years, it was only natural for me to audition their latest.
Valhalla interconnect: $3300/m pair with RCAs
The Valhalla interconnect is similar to, and an evolutionary advancement of, the Quatro-fil. The Quatro-fil uses four bundles of seven conductors each, each bundle surrounded by a monofilament spacer and encapsulated in a Teflon tube. The Valhalla uses eight individual conductors, each wrapped with a monofilament spacer and encapsulated in an evacuated, airtight Teflon tube. The conductors themselves are 99.999999% OFC copper, plated with a 78µm-thick silver coating, and polished prior to wrapping and encapsulation.
The eight conductors are then bonded using a proprietary process, and the bundle is wrapped in a dual-layer silver-foil shield and encased in another, outer, extruded Teflon tube, this 0.25" in diameter. The final result yields capacitance and inductance numbers of 22pF/ft and 0.055µH/ft, respectively, compared with the Quatro-fil's specs of 12pF/ft and 0.08µH/ft.
All of my review interconnects were single-ended and terminated using Nordost's ground-before-hot Moonglo RCA plugs. I used a 3m run between my TNT/JMW/Micro-Benz analog rig and the VAC CPA1 Mk.III preamp, and a 6m run between the VAC and my Classé CAM-350 monoblock amps. A 1m length fed the VAC from either a Simaudio Moon Eclipse or Wadia 861 CD player. I also performed some listening evaluations running the Wadia directly into the Classés, via the 6m interconnect run. Prior to any serious listening, each cable spent about a week on the Duo-Tech Cable Burn-In device, and another week installed and settling into my system.
Wired: It was immediately obvious that the Valhalla interconnects were something special. They had a clean, open, airy sound, and moved the soundstage boundaries out, to farther than I had ever heard in my system. They opened up the spaces between orchestral sections as well, and even the spaces between individual instruments within the sections. One very clear example that I noted was in Heifetz's performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, with Walter Hendl conducting the Chicago Symphony (RCA LSC-2435). In the first movement are some double-bass passages that clearly define the adjacent side and back walls. With the Valhalla cables, the walls were much more tangible and farther out, and the space itself was better illuminated than with my reference Nirvana SX-Ltds.
The images themselves were wonderfully detailed with the Valhallas. Individual cellos, for example, were distinct in tone and texture, as well as in their positions within the section. I've criticized earlier Nordost cables for slightly overemphasizing image outlines, but there was no such exaggeration with the Valhallas. Image edges were distinct, but interacted naturally with the surrounding space—nor were the images outlines, but densely filled-in and three-dimensional.
The woodwinds in the Sibelius were also great examples: clearly bounded, but warm, woody, and solid. And one of my favorite passages—a subtle, plaintive French horn line deep within a complex, heavily orchestrated section—was absolutely wonderful with the Valhalla's detail and clarity. The line was clear and achingly beautiful, and the interaction between the horns set up a kind of pulsing or beating that I'd not heard before, and that made them seem a bit more real.
The Valhalla was also clear and open in its handling of dynamics. Notes seemed to stop and start a bit more precisely than with my reference Nirvana or Synergistic cables, and to do so throughout the frequency spectrum. On the bottom, it was clear that the leading edges of double-bass and timpani notes were a little more distinct with the Nordost. Up top, violins, even at the very top of their range, had clean, precise transients—but without ever getting the least bit steely or edgy. And similar to what I'd heard with the French horns, the violins' would occasionally interact to set up a subtle beating, creating a pulsing cushion of air that either wasn't there, or wasn't as tangible, with my other cables.
It was immediately apparent that the Valhalla also had a slight but distinct tonal signature. Regardless of what components I swapped in and out, the system always had a lighter, drier sound with the Nordost—the tonal balance was shifted slightly upward, and the overall presentation was a touch cooler than with most other wires. When I listened for the bottom end, the double basses and cellos sounded powerful and articulate. Yet somehow, the orchestra as a whole didn't have quite the weight and solid foundation that other cables provided.
Similarly, when I concentrated instead on the upper-bass/lower-midrange region, it did seem to be a touch recessed, or polite-sounding. Oboes, violas, trombones—all seemed a bit smaller and not quite as weighty, or as deeply resonant as these instruments can sound. The effect wasn't huge—more of a personality than a coloration—and I never found it onerous, regardless of associated equipment. But the slight lack of warmth and weight, combined with the air and treble extension, did give the Valhallas a distinct character.