Nordost Valhalla interconnect & speaker cable Valhalla loudspeaker cable
The Valhalla speaker cable represents Nordost's first use of micro-monofilament conductors in a speaker cable. Although the Valhalla is similar in appearance to the SPM Reference—a flat, ribbon-type configuration 2.125" wide by 0.039" thick—the conductors themselves are very different. The SPM uses 32 silver-plated OFC copper conductors running in parallel and directly encased in the Teflon ribbon. The Valhalla, on the other hand, uses 40 silver-plated copper conductors, each polished and wrapped with a monofilament spacer prior to encapsulation in the Teflon ribbon. The capacitance and inductance specs of the Valhalla speaker cable are 11.8pF/ft and 0.096µH/ft, respectively, compared to the SPM's 7.9pF/ft and 0.12µH/ft.
I used an 8' run between my Classé CAM-350 monoblocks and my Magnepan MG3.6/R loudspeakers, in a biwire configuration. My cables were terminated with Nordost's nifty "Z type" gold-plated beryllium banana plugs at the speaker end, and gold-plated spade lugs at the amplifier end. I ran the Valhallas 'round the clock for about a week before doing any serious listening, and my main reference points were Synergistic Research Resolution and Designer's Reference, and Nordost's own Blue Heaven and SPM Reference.
Cabled: The Valhalla speaker cable was, not surprisingly, similar to the Valhalla interconnect in its overall presentation. It was clean, airy, and detailed, without ever being over-etched or harsh. The soundstage was wider and deeper, and noticeably more open than with the Synergistics—so much so, in fact, that it made me wonder if the Synergistics had changed over time, becoming slightly closed-in and rolled-off at the top end. I doubt that was the case, but the contrast between the Synergistics and Valhallas was dramatic.
In addition to the overall soundstage being deeper with the Valhallas, and the back corners being better illuminated, individual images were more dimensional as well—particularly at the rear of the stage. There was also a better sense of the air between instruments, particularly in the front-to-back dimension. The layering of sections in the Sibelius—woodwinds and brass, for example—was much more apparent and realistic with the Nordost than with the Synergistic.
The bowed double-bass passages in the Sibelius concerto were quite a bit clearer with the Nordost. Individual instruments became distinct, and transients—both dynamic and tonal—were much easier to follow with the Valhalla. Both frequency extremes were articulate and extended. Similarly, the Valhalla's top end was significantly more open and airy than with my other speaker cables. Brushed cymbals on small-scale jazz combos are one of my standard tests for top-end performance, and the Valhalla passed with flying colors. Its air, detail, and tonal balance were as good as any cable's I've ever heard, and noticeably better than most.
And I absolutely flipped over the Valhalla's portrayal of the midrange. One afternoon, I was reading a stack of magazines and trying to relegate Arthur Grumiaux's performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto 1, K.207 (with Colin Davis and the London Symphony, Philips 438 323-2) to the status of background music. But I couldn't get more than two or three sentences into an article before my attention would wander back to the music. The portrayal was incredibly compelling from top to bottom, but the midrange—violas, woodwinds, and massed violins through the bottom two-thirds of their range—seemed almost holographic. When I concentrated on the audiophile components of the sound, it was obvious that the images were tangible, and particularly rich with inner detail and tonal complexity. Although I've listened to this disc umpteen times, there were layers of low-level subtlety that seemed new. There was no way I could do anything but melt into the music.
How much better is the Valhalla? I'm loath to even draw comparisons between the Valhalla and the Blue Heaven or SPM, so great were the differences. While they shared a similar overall tonal balance—slightly to the light, cool, dry end of absolute neutrality—the overall feel of the Valhalla was completely different. Instead of a sense of lightning speed and slightly transparent, outlined images, the Valhallas sounded almost relaxed—but still clean and precise—and their images were dense, detailed, and dimensional.
A point-by-point comparison confirmed my initial suspicion: The Valhalla built on the SPM's strengths and went a long way toward ameliorating their shortcomings. They were every bit as fast and open as the SPM and just as extended at the frequency extremes. However, the Valhalla added a tonal density and body that the SPM was missing. The Valhalla also had a slightly warmer tonal balance, sounding a touch fuller in the upper-bass/lower-midrange region. Orchestras were more solidly anchored with the Valhalla, and vocalists sounded more solid, as if they were singing from their chests rather than just their mouths and throats. Cellos sounded articulate and detailed with the SPM. With the Valhalla, they were just as articulate, but now had a warm, woody resonance that was missing, or at least a bit leaner, with the SPM.
The Nordost Valhalla interconnects and speaker cables continue Nordost's steady progress in improving their cables. Both are significant steps beyond Nordost's previous flagship products, the already excellent Quatro-fil and SPM Reference wires. Yes, they're insanely expensive—cabling my relatively simple system would cost nearly $22,000—but they're superb, unquestionably some of the very best cables I've ever heard.
Are they worth the money? I don't know. Is a Ferrari or a Porsche worth the money? A Rolex or Breitling? How about a round at Pebble Beach...or season tickets to Carnegie Hall?
Closer to home, could I, would I spend my money for the Valhalla cables? Probably not; no matter how I juggle the numbers, $22,000 just isn't in my budget, regardless of how good these wires are. I obviously can't say whether or not they'll fit in your budget, but I can strongly urge you to give them a listen. These are sensational cables, and you'll love what they'll do for your system. The Valhallas get my very highest, most unconditional recommendation.