Nordost: Promise Fulfilled
I began my Sunday in the Nordost room on the Tower mezzanine. Familiar with the sound of the Nordost Valhalla interconnects, speaker cables, and power cables in my reference system, as well as the benefits of the Nordost Thor power distribution center that I have for review in another publication (and will not be returning), I was wondering how they would sound powering completely different components.
At first I was concerned by the brightness of the Eva Cassidy CD that a show attendee was in the midst of auditioning. He was clearly used to it; he enthused that he had never heard it sound so good. But once I put on music that I knew well, I heard several characteristic Valhalla/Thor attributes: absolute silence and clarity, seemingly infinite top-end extension free from harshness and grain, and an openness that reminds me of the transparency heard from a prime orchestra seat in Davies Symphony during performances of the San Francisco Symphony. Allied to a mellow and warm midrange core, the system immediately won me over.
On Goodbye, an ECM New Series CD that features Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin, and Paul Motian, I found the timbre of cymbals and bass right on. Nor did the system romanticize the sound of Stenson's piano, which was clearly not a Bösendorfer. I cannot begin to tell you how many systems I heard at the show that would have benefited from such clarity and neutrality.
I also heard no irritating brightness or extra sibilance. Brazilian vocal sensation Rosa Passos and bassist Ron Carter sounded beautifully warm, relaxed, and present on their Chesky collaboration. I would have gladly hung out for quite awhile had it not been for my Show blogging responsibilities.
A word about the components: Speakers were the Eben X3s ($17,000/pair), which did a much better job of handling bass in an untreated room than the Eben behemoths that accompanied Nordost to HE2006 last May. (Nordost’s Lars Kristensen, pictured above, tells me that the bass on those speakers was reworked immediately after the show.) While the dCS P8i SACD/CD player ($14,000) was in the same price range as speakers and cabling, the electronics were the modestly priced Arcam FMJ C31 preamp ($2000) and Arcam FMJ P1 monoblocks ($3600/pair).
"Don’t underestimate Arcam because of its price," said Lars. Nor shall I after such a positive listening experience.