Nordost and Vertex Measurements
At RMAF 2009, Nordost shook up quite a few audiophiles by announcing preliminary results of research that can measure and validate the positive effects after market cabling, supports, and power products. One year later, Nordost announced that the research, jointly conducted by Nordost's competitor, Vertex AQ of the UK in collaboration with military electronic-engineering consultant and sonar expert Gareth Humphries-Jones of North Wales, has taken a major step forward.
Last year, Roy Gregory of Nordost and Steve Elford of Vertex AQ (pictured, with Elford on the right) projected a series of difference graphs that demonstrated the effects of audiophile power cables, supports, and Nordost's Quantum device on sound. Simply changing from a stock power cord to a well-made audiophile cord resulted in a 36% reduction in the time-domain difference between the original WAV file and the same file burned on to a CD and played back by a typical high-quality player. Vertex AQ's support platform further reduced the error by 15%.
This year, Gregory and Elford began by reviewing their original data. With Humphries-Jones present, smiling on the sidelines, they revisited the first time they invited him to take a listen to their products in action, and watched his reaction as a non-audiophile when he could hear before and after differences that power cords and supports can make to the output of a CD player.
Gregory and Elford had always known from listening that the more dynamic and complicated the music, the greater the error between the original data on a CD and the player's output. Now, for the first time, they have measured evidence to support their observation. If you ever wondered why so many manufacturers dem their equipment with recordings of a female vocalist with minimal back-up, it's because the errors are less audible than with something like a huge classical orchestra performing complexly scored music with great dynamic and expressive shifts.
In the last year, much additional work has validated and extended the process. What began as research focused on cables and supports now embraces the entire electronics chain in a CD-based system. Each electronic unit has its own error signature. If you change amps or CD players, you will discover a different error spectrum in the new unit(s).
Humphries-Jones has now clarified how to synchronize the before and after files to repeatably show the reduction in errors and improvements in data retrieval. After repeated testing, Nordost and Vertex AQ have affirmed that their measurements are sound, consistent and repeatable. No matter what piece of equipment in what system configuration is being tested, the same cabling or supports or noise reduction devices always gives the same. The same change to the same system always produces the same change in the difference signal, with the results expressed in terms of degree of tracing error (or the ability of a system or component to accurately follow a signal's dynamic demands).
Nordost and Vertex have also confirmed that improvements in data retrieval are cumulative. I don't recall the exact percentages as I type, but using hypothetical numbers, if the use of Vertex AQ's support platform reduces timing errors in a CD player by 10%, and the addition of Nordost's Sort Kones reduces timing errors by 17%, then using both together will reduce the difference signal by 27%. The research has also validated that the use of good quality cabling reduces errors even further, and by a much higher percentage than cable naysayers will want to hear.
Soon after RMAF, Nordost and Vertex will make available for download a PDF presentation that summarizes their research. I'll be looking for it the same time you are.
Research takes time and money. Nordost's goal is to make available, within a year's timeHumphries-Jones cringed as Gregory mentioned the time linesystem-tuning software that you can plug into your system. The software will allow you to push a button and see the results of changes to cables, supports, etc., as well as the timing error of equipment.
The software, which they plan to release in downloadable form at reasonable cost, will not be limited to use with Nordost or Vertex AQ; it will be universally applicable. You'll be able to tell, for example, where to put your Stillpoints under equipment to achieve the best results. Beyond a consumer version, there will be other versions for use by manufactures. In post-demonstration conversation, Gregory told me that neither Nordost nor Vertex AQ has yet used this research to design their products, but they will. They will also share the technology with other companies. "We are very happy to work with people who do good work," he said.
Gregory emphasizes that software is only a means, not an end in and of itself. Software use should never replace critical listening. He feels that the problem with software such as MLSSA, which speaker designers increasingly rely upon to detect crossover points, is that some trust the software more than themselves. The result is that speakers from different companies begin to sound more and more alike, which is not necessarily a good thing.
"Software is only a tool," he said in conclusion. "Its results always depend on the intelligence and discernment of the person using it. The value in our software will lie in its ability to provide repeatable results when it comes to system tuning and set up. It will also enable long-term monitoring of system status/health."