Nordost Valhalla 2 Reference cables Page 2

One Nibble at a Time: Valhalla 2 Reference analog interconnect
I listened extensively to both unbalanced (RCA) and balanced (XLR) Valhalla 2 Reference analog interconnects, but decided to focus most of my listening on a pair of 1m-long interconnects with unbalanced terminations. In part, I did so to establish consistency, to make all of the cable-swapping I'd be doing as easy as possible. A second reason for the choice was my hope that it would make my observations relevant and easily understood to the greatest number of readers: 1m RCA interconnects are the most commonly used in AudioLand.

Characteristics and Impact: What I found over the course of my listening will be great news for people who'd like to add to their systems just a single run of Valhalla 2 Reference interconnect ($7599.99/1m pair; add $1100/additional 0.5m). Of all the Valhalla 2s, it was the 1m interconnect with RCAs that had the greatest effect on the sound of my system.

It was no surprise that the Valhalla 2s improved the system's transparency and resolution of detail. Those attributes have long been strong points of Nordost cables, as have the speed and precision with which they reproduce dynamic and tonal transients. Having the Valhalla 2 References in the system made it possible for me to "see," for the first time, into the soundstage and identify more than just the fronts of the various aural images—or, more correctly, to see into the assemblage and to perceive each individual piece.

What was surprising was that the Valhalla 2s weren't doing this by accentuating spatial and temporal edges, as the originals did. The V2s more clearly identified elements within the recording by providing more information on what exists between the boundaries separating one track, one microphone feed, from the other. For example, in "The Midnight Special," from Creedence Clearwater Revival's Willy and the Poor Boys (LP, Fantasy/Analogue Productions APP 8397-45), the Valhalla 2 interconnects made it embarrassingly easy to distinguish between vocals: John Fogerty's voice in the verses was crystal clear, but had a tangible, almost liquid-like presence; in contrast, the harmonized voices in the choruses weren't nearly as clear or distinct, instead consisting of a slightly foggy texture that created a more diffuse picture of the voices and surrounding space.

The additional precision and detail I heard with the Valhalla 2 Reference didn't come as results of unnaturally sharp interfaces and transients, or at the expense of the tonal richness and harmonic complexity of the voices and instruments—just the opposite. Voices and instruments were all richer and warmer when the Valhalla 2 interconnects were in the system, and the sonic interactions that developed behind the notes' initial transients were more clearly defined.

Bottom line: Of all the Valhalla 2 Reference cables and all the different runs, it was the 1m interconnect with unbalanced RCA termination that had the biggest impact on my system's sound. Inserting only this interconnect didn't improve the sound as much as when my system was wired entirely with Valhalla 2s, but it did take it further than the single cable's simplicity and cost would suggest.

Valhalla 2 Reference speaker cable
Although Nordost's speaker cables continue to be flat arrays of parallel conductors, for the most part the other aspects of their construction are similar to those of Nordost's other cables. In the case of the Valhalla 2 Reference speaker cable ($14,849.99/3m pair; $1500/additional 0.5m), these include a solid-core conductor of 99.999999% (8N) pure oxygen-free copper (OFC) plated in silver, the Dual Mono-Filament system, and the co-extruded Teflon sleeve. The number and size of the conductors have also changed: the Valhalla 2 Reference speaker cable has four sections, each comprising seven 22AWG conductors. The four groups in some of Nordost's other models can be used in a biwire configuration, but that's not the case with the Valhalla 2.

Characteristics and Impact: Most people instinctively assume that the choice of speaker cables will have a greater effect on a system's sound than that of any other cables, and in some ways that's been my experience. But what I've also found is that speaker cables usually have the largest effect, by far, on more obvious aspects of a system's sound, such as the overall tonal balance.

What I heard with the Valhalla 2 Reference speaker cables was completely consistent with that expectation: using the Valhalla 2s gave my system a tonal balance that was slightly on the warm side of absolute neutrality. But however slight that added warmth may have been, examples of its musical consequences make up a significant proportion of my listening notes. I love and listen to a lot of Ray Brown's recordings, and the Valhalla 2 References' extra bit of warmth gave his double bass a slight glow, or a bit more of the woody body sound he's so good at bringing out on his own. It was absolutely gorgeous, but after a lot of hand-wringing and soul-searching, I couldn't avoid concluding that it was just a bit too gorgeous.

In terms of their impact on a system's sound, the Valhalla 2 Reference speaker cables were second only to the Valhalla 2 Reference interconnects. But really, the ways these two cables affected my system's sound were too different for me to rank their relative performances. I've done so here because my approach doesn't permit ties, and I ranked them in the order I have, mostly because the subtle, less obvious aspects of a component's performance are more important to me than its tonal balance.

Valhalla 2 Reference Tonearm (phono) cable
Next in line with respect to its impact on my system's performance was the Valhalla 2 Reference Tonearm phono cable ($4799.99/1.25m, $600/additional 0.5m). The Valhalla 2 is a purpose-built model, though it does incorporate elements of the technologies used elsewhere in the line: the Dual Mono-Filament system, the materials and structure used in the conductors, and individual conductors woven around a hollow central core. Other design elements are unique to the Valhalla 2 Tonearm cable. One obvious example is the use of only four conductors, rather than 8 or 10 or 28. Another is the addition of a ground wire.

Characteristics and Impact: My experience with phono cables has been that they have a huge effect on a system's sound, if in subtler ways that take longer to understand but that far more profoundly affect my connection to the music. Oscar Peterson's piano on his Reunion Blues (LP, MPS MB-20908) offers good examples of both large and small changes. One of the largest changes was how installing the Valhalla 2 brought all of the distance and size information into focus, tied it all together, and locked it into place on the stage. Prior to hearing the Valhalla 2 Tonearm cable, I'd largely written off Reunion Blues as poorly recorded—which wasn't the case at all.

A less obvious aspect of the change with the V2 in place was how each piano note evolved from an initial impact and simple string sound into the complex choral nature created as the piano's soundboard and body begin contributing to the sound. After going back and forth with the original Valhalla and several others, it became clear that the V2 bettered the best aspects of each. It was more transparent than the original Valhalla, and even more detail was revealed. At the same time, all of that detail was woven into a coherent whole. The notes, even the components of each note, flowed more naturally. The net effect of these subtle changes was to dramatically change the feel of the piano, in ways that made the instrument seem more alive.

Nordost Valhalla 2 Reference power cord
The cable package Nordost sent included two 2m-long Valhalla 2 Reference power cords ($5999.99/2m, $1000/additional 1m). Most of my listening was to LPs, where the V2 cords fed my pair of Sutherland Engineering Phono Block monoblock phono preamps. With CDs, I used the Valhalla 2 Reference cords to power my Simaudio Moon Evolution 750D player and 850P preamp. Although I power my reference system through an Audience AdeptResponse aR12-TS power conditioner, I did all of my listening and made comparisons with the Nordost AC cords plugged straight into the wall.

Characteristics and Impact: The Valhalla 2 Reference power cords were a surprise—their contribution to sound of the all-V2 system was far greater than I'd expected. Using anything other than the Valhalla 2s to feed the Sutherland preamps caused differences that weren't subtle shadings; I'm certain those were there, but they were swamped by obvious, even gross audible differences. In an instant, my earlier thoughts about differences between power cords being minimal were rendered obsolete.

Without the Valhalla 2 cords feeding my Sutherlands, the perfection I spoke of earlier began to come apart. The effect produced one of those puzzling "Did I hook something up wrong?" moments. Pachelbel's Canon in D was once again the disjointed mish-mash it had been before I first installed the Valhalla 2 loom. Violins again sounded aggressive and edgy, even in their lower ranges. The individual elements of the recording, so distinct and clear with the Valhalla 2s in the system, now bled together into something wide and deep, but incoherent and inconsistent. Any sense of musical tempo or flow vanished; at best, when a simple passage would emerge, the adjective I found inescapable was strident.

Dexter Gordon's tenor sax in his A Swingin' Affair (LP, Blue Note/Classic ST-84133) had a rich, reedy bite with the Valhalla 2 References, blooming naturally into a tenor's characteristic mix of harmonics. With one of my other AC cords, the blare was brassy rather than a reedy buzz, and the note behind the transient never evolved into anything beyond a threadbare outline of Gordon and his sax. The same was true of Sonny Clark's piano and Billy Higgins's drums, which were rich, complete instruments with the Valhalla 2s in front of the Sutherlands.

I can't say how adding one, two, three, or more Valhalla 2 cords might have affected my system, were the balance of it not wired with Valhalla 2s. Nor can I say how my standard setup, in which my electronics' power cords are plugged into the excellent Audience aR12-TS power conditioner, would fit into the picture. What I can say is that if you're replacing your system's cables with Valhalla 2 References, don't neglect the power cords.

Wrapping Up
After spending vast amounts of time listening to the Valhalla 2 References, and even vaster amounts of time trying to analyze their characteristics, I ended up where I'd begun. The Valhalla 2 Reference cables are the best I've ever heard, and made my system sound the best it ever has.

Were I to regard all of the cables in my system as a single component, upgrading it to Valhalla 2 Reference would cost me about $85,000. That upgrade absolutely, positively, and very significantly improved my system's performance. That said, I believe that other upgrades—replacing my speakers with ones further up Wilson's line perhaps—represent greater value. On the other hand, in a system made up of components costing in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, switching to Valhalla 2 could easily represent the highest value among potential upgrades.

It's a horse of a different color for the enthusiast to whom an individual run is a single component. Make no mistake about it, prices like $5000 for a phono cable or $8000 for an interconnect are well into the nosebleed seats. Yet a 1m interconnect will tell you a lot about the vision that resulted in the Valhalla 2 Reference line, and will buy a disproportionately large piece of that sound quality: good value, in my book.

Nordost Corporation
93 Bartzak Drive
Holliston, MA 01746
(508) 893-0100

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 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

Justin Bieber records
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 and 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, 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.

Scorpio69er's picture

re: "What I heard with the Valhalla 2 Reference speaker cables was completely consistent with that expectation..." -- You expected them to sound "better", so they did. I defy you to differentiate them in blind testing from lamp zip cord to a statistically significant degree.

re: "$14,849.99/3m pair" -- This is so bloody ludicrous I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Besides, whatever supposed magic these wires possess is negated by the fact that the point of contact with the speaker is a spade lug, connected via the speaker connector to the (most certainly simple off the shelf) piece of plain copper wire within the speaker itself. Weakest link, ya know.

You may find this show quite enlightening in terms of how we perceive things based upon the limits of our brain:

The Science of Magic

(Set your VPN to a Canadian IP address)

ChrisS's picture

Works the same whether you are choosing to buy the cheap Black Forest ham from WalMart or the more expensive stuff from the Italian deli, or perhaps agonizing over an Acura RDX vs a Lexus RX... If you like it and can afford it, then go ahead.

Scorpio69er's picture

re: "If you like it and can afford it..." -- If someone wants to drop $15K(!) on a few feet of magic wire, I could not care less. But that is hardly the point.

ChrisS's picture

...I know Julie Eng and knew her late father, magician extraordinaire, Tony Eng.

ChrisS's picture

Millions of dollars are spent on items from the Dollar Stores. Do you think anyone believes that these items, which almost all end up as toxic waste in the landfill, oceans, and air, are actually worth a dollar?

What do you care about?

Scorpio69er's picture

A: Living in reality.

If you want to spend $15K on the same bag of pretzels that can be purchased at the Dollar Store for $1, that's your business. If you want to convince yourself that by spending $15K you are less likely to throw out the very fancy bag your pretzels come in, ergo you are some sort of environmentalist, be my guest. I'd rather recycle and donate to The Sierra Club.

Now, I'm sure, unlike the plain bag, there is a wonderful story printed on it, telling you how elves in a secret forest laboratory have been working on this pretzel formulation for centuries. I'm sure that somewhere on the bag is a statement congratulating you on your high intelligence and discriminating taste. There may even be statements quoted from self-professed pretzel experts, extolling the virtues of these magical pretzels. You trust these experts, because they have superior taste buds -- er, at least they think they do. Besides, you reason, at $15K/bag these must be the food of the Gods. Who would dare to charge such a sum if this were not true? Why, they'd have to be monumental charlatans!

But don't try to convince anyone else that your pretzels are actually superior, because in a blind taste test, no one can tell the difference. Sorry.

P.S. I again direct you to the link I previously posted, "The Science of Magic". It requires a Canadian ip address, so set your VPN accordingly.

Have a nice day. ☺

ChrisS's picture

Everyone comes with their very own set of perceptions and expectations, like nobody else's.

But it's really simple.

You believe the hype, or you don't.

You can afford the item, or you can't.

You like the item, or you don't.

You buy the item, or not.

ChrisS's picture