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 time—Humphries-Jones cringed as Gregory mentioned the time line—system-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."

buddha's picture

I hope this finally revolutionizes the after-market computer power-cord market.


I'm think a Pentium 3 could be upgraded to an i3 core processor's performance for a mere 8 grand!

For maybe 15 thousand bucks, I could elevate my old Gateway into i7 level performance.

Jim Tavegia's picture

I'm sure of the science, but I doubt that it will be affordable by us Mid Fi owners, but I do see that this is high end audio afterall.

John Atkinson's picture

The percentage refers to the reduction in the peak amplitude of the difference signal that results from the cable or support or AC conditioner, etc. If I remember correctly, the difference between the original WAV file and the output of the untreated CD player was around 1% of the peak signal amplitude. Adding the audiophile voodoo reduced this on a consistent basis by 36%, ie to 0.74%.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

I appreciate your comment, Jim. Nordost says their goal is to make the software affordable, so that it can serve a large number of audiophiles. That includes mid-fi owners. I have no idea what the price will be - it's a year away - but I trust that a company that repeatedly uses the word "affordable" understands what the word means to audiophiles who do not own mansions, yachts, and desert islands.

Don Pardo's picture

Yeah yeah yeah you jokers eat this up like clock work. I'm betting the resulting PDF paper shows nothing worthwhile except more BS

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Ah, Don, I was waiting for comments like yours. You weren't there, you didn't meet the people or look them in the eye, you didn't see the graphs or ask questions of the man responsible for the advanced mathematics, and you've certainly never met me. Yet you are certain that I am a joker, none of us has any integrity, and the whole presentation is BS.

HalSF's picture

I’m going to stand way over here, just out of range, and watch as heads explore and the pitchforks and torches draw nigh. This single post features an amazingly concentrated instance of top audiophile-maddening tropes. Enter, stage right, Nordost, fattened on the proceeds of products like the £17,500 per 3-meter pair Odin speaker wire. Cue, in the twilight of the Red Book CD player, a lament that audible time-domain distortion has been further messing up the already compromised 44.1 kHz pathway. Bring on poor cringing Humphrey-Jones, and watch his come-to-Jesus conversion 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. To the lab! It’s got to be the interconnects! Finish—though criticial listening is the only thing that really matters—with scary 7.9 Richter scale red ink jitters, the scrawls of a digital devil that Nordost is going to exorcise, purely as a public service. And pay no attention to the howling mob outside.

John Atkinson's picture

"Yeah yeah yeah you jokers eat this up like clock work. I'm betting the resulting PDF paper shows nothing worthwhile except more BS"So much hostility, so little critical thought, Mr. Pardo. What is being done here is to compare input and output of the system. (Not as simple as it sounds as the error occurs in both amplitude and time domains.) In a perfect system, the residue should be zero; in real life, it isn't. And what is fasicating is that with a CD player, the value and the spectrum of that residue changes in a repeatable manner when, for example, an AC conditioner is inserted in the system or the interconnects are changed. If the residue did _not_ change, then yes, you would be right. But apparently it does change and always in the same manner for the same system change. So why is that BS, Mr. Pardo?

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Fabulous prose, HalSF. But an example of Catch 22 in extremis. When I engage in critical listening and hear differences between power cables, I'm told I'm deluded or seduced by glamor. When I report on attempts to accurately measure the differences that I hear, I'm told that critical listening is all that matters. There is howling going on, but I'm afraid the source has been misjudged.

HalSF's picture

If I overdid the baroque kidding (it was late, I was giddy), I beg your pardon. And I’m grateful for your energetic reporting. I’m (seriously) looking forward to followups and seeing how this develops. Fairly or unfairly, I’m definitely skeptical about the potential conflicts of interest when research initiatives seem to be underwritten by and tied to product-category marketing, but when John Atkinson adds his credibility to the discussion I’m going to keep listening. Still, you gotta admit that the intersection of aesthetic judgement, technical measurement, and controlled scientific experimentation in audio is a very, very fraught locus, historically rife with tripwires and contentiousness. I can’t help but find some humor in all of that.

David_L's picture

Hahahahahahahahahahaaaaahahahahahahahaha *draws breath* Haaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah......oh my some funny stuff. Of course Stereophile WON'T be doing any testing of it's own on any Nordost products now will it? Oh excuse me I meant MEASUREMENTS ......have a nice day ya'll

Doug Peterson's picture

I find this an interesting development and will be watching it carefully. In particular whether there is a audible correlation with the numbers. For instance though 0.74% doesn't sound like much, as a comparison if it was a change in harmonic distortion it would be significant. On the other hand the time and amplitude change could mean different things: a static time delay for instance would not be meaningful if it was the same in both channels, time smear or jitter on the otherhand could be a big deal. Stereophile has been on the forefront comparing listening to measurement--as in employing the waterfall plots of loudspeakers--so this has the potential of becomming a new review tool once sorted out.

Paul Peterson's picture

Something seems amiss. The error reduction being cumulative (10% +15% = 25%) does not make sense, or perhaps I'm thinking backwards? Consider a signal that has X amount of error. Remedy 50% and you have X/2 error passed on. Run this through something else that remedies another 50% and you have X/4 of the original error. As stated the claim is that we will have 50% + 50% for 100% reduction. RMS may make more sense. Also I recall the 2009 notice and as I recall there was supposed to be a publication just after the show. Personally I never saw that ever see the light of day. Mind I went to Nordost's site a few times over the next few months but never saw anything. I'f I'm speaking out of school, sorry. If correct I think Stereophile should followup on the story.

Not sure it will be unbiased's picture

It would not surprise me if the cable manufacturers put in chips in the cables that identify them to the software. The software then gives then better numbers. You might have to license these chips from them for a "reasonable" price.The software "IS" done buy a cable manufacturer.It will be nice to see if all the expensive cables out now do any better than cheaper ones.