Nordost Valhalla 2 Reference cables

It would be an understatement to say that in 2001, when Nordost introduced their original Valhalla cables, they were a revelation for me. Their focus and resolution of detail were like nothing I'd ever heard, and revealed in recorded performances a startling energy and realism. Throw in their seemingly absolute transparency, and similarly unique levels of spatial and temporal precision, and the Valhallas established a new standard of sound quality in audio cables. Although their tonal balance was cool, as I reported in my first review of them in the November 2001 issue, they were the only game in town in terms of reproducing the feel of a live performance. I immediately adopted them as a reference cable, and they remain a reference for me today.

Over time, other cable manufacturers upped their games and made the leap into the Valhalla cables' universe. None has matched the Valhallas' incredible transparency, focus, and detail, but they've equaled or surpassed them in other ways, such as reproducing music's seamless flow, or creating more solid aural images or more coherent portrayals of individuals playing in a single, continuous space. The coolness of the Valhallas' tonal balance became more obvious to me, and I became more aware that what had seemed like precision was actually a slight overemphasis of the edges of images. I began thinking of the best audio cables as each having a place on a continuum: at one end were the Valhallas, with their resolution and precision; at the other end were cables with superb coherence, tonal richness, and flow.

Improving on Perfection?
As good as they can be, even the very best audio cables fall short of absolute transparency in one way or another. Each comes tantalizingly close, but needs just a tweak here and there to step out from the pack. My wish list for the Valhallas comprised three items: a slightly warmer tonal balance; a little less edge/a little more body; and more coherence across space and time. Great minds think alike, or maybe I just got lucky, but Nordost has evidently seen it the same way. As they acknowledged when they introduced the Valhalla 2 Reference models, the development program for the new line was aimed squarely at addressing these issues. Suffice it to say that the Valhalla 2 References jumped to the top of my Must Hear list.

Design and Technology
The pursuit of these characteristics—tonal warmth, a better balance between an image or note's body and edges, a more natural feel to the coherence of individual elements within the surrounding space, coupled with seamless, natural musical flow—has been a major driver for all of Nordost's design evolutions. Following their first-generation cables, across their Flatline, Blue Heaven, Red Dawn, and SPM lines, these characteristics improved over time (and as you moved up through the lines).

What I think of as the second generation of Nordost cables included the Quatro-fil interconnects and the first Valhalla line of interconnects and speaker cables. Nordost's ongoing R&D had begun to show that mechanical resonances had a much greater effect on cables' performance than had previously been thought. These results led Nordost to abandon their flat layouts of parallel conductors in favor of a round cross-section cable within which individual conductors were wound around a hollow core. The latter provided many more opportunities to vary design elements to better control mechanical resonances.

This second generation also used Nordost's Mono-Filament system, in which a small-diameter Teflon FEP filament was wound around the conductor prior to their co-extrusion into a Teflon FEP tube: the filament maintained a constant gap between conductor and tube. In addition to physically damping and tuning the conductor, the contact between the conductor and its surrounding material was reduced to only 20% of the former's surface area. Thus the Mono-Filament system more closely approximated an air-dielectric design, increasing the cable's speed of signal transmission.

The third generation of Nordost cables, which began with the cost-no-object Odin series and includes the Valhalla 2 References, incorporated two major design changes. One was Nordost's Dual Mono-Filament system, in which not one but two Teflon FEP filaments separate the Teflon tube from the conductor. Dual Mono-Filament further reduces the conductors' contact with the dielectric tube, to just 15% of its surface area.

The second change was Nordost's switch from using OEM connectors that best fit their designs—eg, the WBT RCA plugs on the original Valhalla interconnects—to designing and manufacturing their own connectors in-house. Their R&D program had highlighted the importance of minimizing the formation of eddy currents in cables, and that the place to start was the connectors. The results were Nordost's Holo:Plug RCA, XLR, and spade connectors, all used in the Valhalla 2 References.

The materials used in Nordost's cables have also evolved, though far less than the structural changes. The silver plating on the conductors has thickened, from 60 to 85µm. Teflon has been used throughout for the filaments and the tubes that surround the individual conductors, the only change being the switch, in the Valhalla 2 References and other recent designs, to a high-purity Class 1.1 extruded FEP.

Use and Listening: First Things First
The first step in my review process was to hear how the Valhalla 2 References' sound quality compared with that of the original Valhallas, and to assess if, or how well, Nordost had met their design goals. This turned out to be very easy to do. First, there was no comparison between the two generations. The Valhalla 2s' performance was different enough from and so dramatically better than the original Valhallas' that, if not for the name printed on the cables, I would never have thought they were the same product line from the same company.

It was also obvious that, in terms of meeting their goals, Nordost had hit a home run. My first impressions of the Valhalla 2 References, which remained unchanged throughout my listening, were of how smoothly the music flowed from note to note; of a very natural warmth and tonal richness of the sounds of instruments; and of how solid, dimensional, and tangible images and soundstages seemed. That's where my analysis would begin.

Listening Approach: prix fixe or à la carte?
Listeners typically view cables in one of two ways. The first is to think of all of the cables in an audio system as a single component; in the other view, each individual cable is considered a separate component. (Holders of this second view will want to know the audible effects—manifesting, one presumes, from the cable designer's vision—that will be imparted to their systems by, say, a single run of Valhalla 2 Reference interconnect.) Nordost sent me only two Valhalla 2 Reference power cords; otherwise, I had everything I needed to wire my entire reference system with Valhalla 2s. This made it possible for me to examine them from both perspectives.

One Big Bite
What I heard from the all–Valhalla 2 Reference system is easy to describe. It is also impossible to describe. The simple part is that, with the Valhalla 2s, my system sounded better than I can recall it ever sounding. Recordings of all types of music seemed raised to a higher level. Musicians were both more precise and more expressive, and the soundscapes created by orchestras were dazzling in their intricacy and color. Combos were tighter, guitar and sax solos were cleaner, drums had more realistic impact—the list goes on. With the Valhalla 2s, I had a more direct connection to the music, and my listening room was a much more compelling place to spend an evening.

Better, but . . . better in what ways? I have no simple or satisfying answer. It's hyperbole to say that the Valhalla 2 References were perfect, or that they had no sound of their own, but that's how they seemed to me. No amount of switching cables in and out allowed me to home in on a sonic thumbprint I could attribute to the Nordosts. All that my efforts accomplished was to identify the things that other cables were contributing to the system's sound.

COMPANY INFO
Nordost Corporation
93 Bartzak Drive
Holliston, MA 01746
(508) 893-0100
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Allen Fant's picture

Nice review- BD.
I like the fact that (2) cd players were used in your assessment.
And I concur that a power cord (PC) or good pair of interconnects (IC) can really take your experience to another level.

jporter's picture

I consider a product a good value if it is offers high quality and excellent performance at a reasonable price...I understand that you found these cables to be outstanding performers in your system, but you can't use the term "Value" with these idiotic prices. Thanks.

JoeinNC's picture

"Idiotic," indeed.

Although, I don't know if it applies to the price of the cable, or to the customer who pays it.

(...puts flame suit on.)

Long-time listener's picture

I've always found that cables make a great difference in my system--especially interconnects, whether they are Nordost or any other brand. But I remember when the first pair of US$14,000 interconnects came out (Tara Labs, was it?). VERY shortly after that--surprise--another company discovered that their top-of-the-line interconnects urgently needed to be priced at US$14,000 (Nordost, I believe it was). That made me very angry, and while I'd dearly love to have a pair of these Valhalla interconnects, I can't believe that their $8,000 price bears any more relation to production costs or reasonable profits than their $14,000 pair did (there was no new technology, just the same silver-plated copper as before). I can maybe see paying $1-2000 for exotic, silver-gold conductors or something. And I too remember how amazing the original Valhallas sounded. But I agree that $85,000 for an entire set is not reasonable, nor does it represent good value. Get real, Nordost. I'd like to buy your cables, but I'm just not going to. Period.

ChrisS's picture

Complaining about something because you can't afford it, makes you sound, well, kind of poor...

If it's a matter of belief that something so expensive can't possibly have any value, then you might as well join the "lamp cord" crowd who think that a $60 interconnect is ridiculous.

JoeinNC's picture

"Complaining about something because you can't afford it, makes you sound, well, kind of poor..."

Okay. By that logic, try this: I have a Toyota Corolla I'll sell you for $1,534,620.00. If you complain about the price, you're poor. And of course we all know poor people suck...

hb72's picture

that is not a viable business.

I assume Nordost has customers & makes profit.

pls let me/us know if you could also sell yr Corolla for the mentioned price.

JoeinNC's picture

Uh, you miss the point.

You said that complaining about the price of something you can't afford makes you sound "poor," implying that being poor made your opinion inferior, and then making the leap that if you complain about paying five figures for a few feet of wire, it automatically puts you in the lamp cord crowd. I'm just saying your logic is... flawed.

Oh, and I'll give you a shout when I sell the Corolla. You let me know when you buy one of those $15K cable sets.

hb72's picture

i didn't say nor write that.

JoeinNC's picture

... and I'm quoting directly: "Complaining about something because you can't afford it, makes you sound, well, kind of poor..."

hb72's picture

you cite 'ChrisS', I am hb72.

ChrisS's picture

You'll just get laughed at.

ChrisS's picture

...two figures is too much.

JoeinNC's picture

...my point exactly. :)

ChrisS's picture

Nordost has been in business since 1991.

People buy their products.

JoeinNC's picture

... but they also sell cables much less expensive than $15K. Halo products don't sustain the company.

ChrisS's picture

...of any cable costing $10k or more?

Would be interesting to ask Nordost for their sales figures.

JoeinNC's picture

It would be interesting, indeed.

My opinion alone hasn't affected their sales, no. Your point?

ChrisS's picture

...expensive cables.

JoeinNC's picture

cigarettes
Justin Bieber records
Pabst
Big Macs

Sales numbers do not always equate with quality or value.

ChrisS's picture

...these people, too?

There's been vastly more of the above items sold than Nordost will ever sell of their high-end cables.

Perhaps your degree of concern for the pricing of these products is entirely disproportionate to the whole scheme of "idiotic" retailing.

Jack Linguini's picture

"Complaining about something because you can't afford it, makes you sound, well, kind of poor..."

That's a disgusting comment.

ChrisS's picture

A provocative remark, yes.

So other than expressing an opinion or making a judgement call, why would anyone complain about the price of any item?

Why would anyone want to discuss with you price, measurement, or function of something you're never going to buy?

Jack Linguini's picture

I must admit that is a good comeback. Also most certainly a logical fallacy. Not sure which one though.

I can't answer why anyone would want to discuss anything with me.

I do however research and read about many things which I will likely never buy.

Because I am interested and I want to better understand.

Apologies for the cable trolling. This argument will never be resolved.

My motivation for commenting though I suppose is that I want to believe.
I don't believe that the cable makers are thieves or fraud it's just hard to comprehend.

I am a stereophile subscriber and a regular reader of TAS.
But I am very much a mid-fi vintage type of audiophile.

I read the review of these cables in the magazine and it got my dander up because it was one of far too many
reviews of this type. I realize that there are lots of reviews for speakers and components that do not have measurements. I like them as they give me a way to understand the characteristics of a product.

Maybe I'm just frustrated that so much engineering talent and money is spent on something so basic.

Even though I am highly unlikely to buy a new Mac C1100 or PS Audio BHK preamplifier, YG acoustics speakers, ARC I VSi75 definitely want to know more about them.

And I understand the value equation of these products even if they are out of my current price range.

I think elitist attitudes and unverifiable performance claims do a great disservice to the audio industry.

ChrisS's picture

...find one of these ultra-priced cables in the used bin 5 years from now?

In the meantime, there's tons of well-made, good sounding, affordable gear out there at all price ranges.

We should be more concerned about all the cheap, toxic crap in excessive packaging that end up in landfills and polluting the oceans.

ChrisS's picture

...of these Nordost cables, anyways?

A. Hourst's picture

I wonder why the studios don't use these cables. I mean, if they're a good value...

ChrisS's picture

Once you've made up your mind about the value of a particular product or service, unless your financial situation changes quite drastically, there's usually no going back.

Stocks are another matter.

Jack Linguini's picture

These are the cables that I see the pros use the most. Just quality cable.

Jack Linguini's picture

I have to confess that Nordost cables have offended my sensibilities since I first encountered them.
Stupid wood blocks and very fussy construction. Clearly audiophile jewelry more than anything else.

I do have some Morrow and some audioquest interconnects and they are nice. They sound....
They don't sound like anything. They are just well made and have good continuity.

I appreciate that the magazine industry is beholden to their advertisers.
And I can also appreciate the incredible margins the manufacturers and dealers get from cables.

Nonetheless I am very interested in value. I can't determine what the actual value of cables are as
they are not measured quantitatively.

If these $14,000 + cables are as great as stated in the article:
"The Valhalla 2 Reference cables are the best I've ever heard, and made my system sound the best it ever has."
Let's see the measurements that back this up.

ChrisS's picture

Some people feel the same way about Fords.

John Atkinson's picture
Jack Linguini wrote:
I appreciate that the magazine industry is beholden to their advertisers.

With all due respect, you're talking nonsense.

Jack Linguini wrote:
If these $14,000 + cables are as great as stated in the article: "The Valhalla 2 Reference cables are the best I've ever heard, and made my system sound the best it ever has." Let's see the measurements that back this up.

What measurements would you suggest?

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jack Linguini's picture

What is nonsense about my statement ?
That's the basics of mass media. You have advertisers and readers/subscribers/viewers.
Your magazine does not exist in a vacuum. And you could not continue to publish without advertisers.

I'd like to see measured frequency response.

John Atkinson's picture
Jack Linguini wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:

Jack Linguini wrote:

"I appreciate that the magazine industry is beholden to their advertisers."

With all due respect, you're talking nonsense.

What is nonsense about my statement? That's the basics of mass media. You have advertisers and readers/subscribers/viewers.

Except that writers and editors are not "beholden" to those advertisers. Print magazines have a long and proud tradition of keeping their editorial departments isolated from the advertising department. It's called the "Chinese Wall"; see www.stereophile.com/content/great-wall-china-0 and www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/366/index.html. Please do not project your own cynicism on to us.

Jack Linguini wrote:
you could not continue to publish without advertisers.

We could not continue to publish without readers, because without readers we would have no advertisers. I learned this from one of my mentors, John Crabbe, editor of Hi-Fi News magazine from 1965 to 1982. See my essay at www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/communities/index.html, where I wrote:

It was John Crabbe who defined for me the relationship between a magazine's editorial integrity and the advertisers who financially support it (readers, sadly, are never a significant source of income, given the high costs of distribution): "If you tell the truth about components you review, there will always be a small percentage of companies at any one time who are not advertising in your pages. But if you publish the truth, you will have a good magazine. And if you have a good magazine, you will have readers. And as long as you have readers, disgruntled advertisers will eventually return. But if you don't tell the truth, you won't have a good magazine. And if you don't have a good magazine, you won't have readers, at least not for long. And if you don't have readers, you won't have advertisers."

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jack Linguini's picture

So ChrisS are you running Nordost cables ?
Are they worth it in your system ?

ChrisS's picture

I have one Nordost interconnect on my McIntosh MR74 tuner. Works extremely well.

Jack Linguini's picture

Very nice. I have an MC240 I acquired last year. Still getting accustomed to it.
I haven't had the power supply caps serviced, which might make it a bit down on the bass.

Still looking for the perfect speakers.

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