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An evening comparing Nordost Interconnects and Speaker Cable

Discussion in 'Cables & Switches' started by Pat Marcus, Jun 2, 2006.

  1. Pat Marcus

    Pat Marcus Member

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    Given the level of ire currently circulating about the cables, I am somewhat hesitant about posting this. However, for those interested, here goes :

    Last night I was kindly invited by my local Dealer to attend a session with the nice rep from Activ - http://www.activdistribution.com/index.asp

    The purpose of the evening was two-fold, to hear the new range of amplfiers from Leema Acoustics and, to evaluate Nordost's "norse" range comprising the Baldur, Heimdal, Frey and Tyr interconnects and Speaker cable. It is the second part of the audition on which i will focus, here.

    The evening was of particular value to me because I am currently trialling Nordost Baldur speaker cable at home, which at £700 for a 2 metre pair is about 10 times the price of the QED cable I am currently using. Something of a speaker cable sceptic but in absolutely no doubt as to the difference that analogue interconnects make, I wanted to see whether my thoughts were reflected by others using a completely different system.


    The kit used comprised a Cyrus CDXT transport and matching Dac X, driving Leema's forthcoming £3500 integrated amp and as an alternative, a price matched pre-power combo from Naim. Speakers used were B&W 803Ds. The listening room was rectangular, purpose built and using a dedicated mains supply.

    Let me first of all state that the listening test was not blind or based on the use of carefully calibrated laboratory equipment. The panel of 4 (3 from different shops within the "chain", plus me) plus the activ rep knew at each stage which combination of speaker cable and interconnect was being evaluated and the price per metre of each item.
    We just used our ears and for many forum users that will be all info they require. (You can stop reading now and switch to a more interesting thread).

    BTW, the Leema amp IMHO, demonstrated considerable aplomb with decent clarity at all frequencies, soundstaging, "air" and all the other so-called subjective Hifi niceties, lacking only a little "oomph" compared to the Naim and, a little transparency compared to more exalted company. As such it was perfectly capable of resolving the differences between different cables.....should any such differences exist.

    Music used covered all genres from Jazz through to female vocal, plus rock and dance.

    Three pieces of music were listened to with each combination and after each change, we swapped back to the previous, for double checking.

    Each member of the panel gave their opinion after each "swap".

    With the interconnects, complete unanimity was achieved, following Nordosts pricing points. Baldur (£299 p/m) was beaten by Heimdal (£370 p/m) which in turn was beaten by Frey (£549 p/m). We did not have a Tyr interconnect to try but we did have an Atlas Elextra All Cu at about the same price as the Frey. With completely different construction, the Elektra sounded so different to the Frey, it was a revelation in contrast. Massive midband, amazing vocal texture, great soundstaging but less absolute top end and less deep bass - exactly as I had found at home ( look in my sig to see which I ended up buying)

    With the speaker cable the story wasnt so clear-cut. The Heimdal cable (£954for a 2metre pair) was certainly better than the Baldur and the Frey (£1509.95 for a 2metre pair), better than the Heimdal. When I say "better" I am referring to a holistic improvement in clarity, leading edges and decay on notes, soundstaging and space around instruments and voices.
    The Tyr (£3124.99 per 2 metre pair) seemed much quieter than the Frey, so much so that we had to re-check all the inputs, outputs and amplifier gain. Increasing the volume by one notch brought the sound back into focus, with a markedly increased level of clarity on certain tracks but a lack of "oomph" (technical term) on others. I felt that it traded clarity for some musicality, the sound seeming to be subjectively "harder" but the sound was undeniably "cleaner" and "faster". The others were a bit more convinced than me (maybe I was scared of the astronomical price) and the dealer has decided to stock all the speaker cables and interconnects, up to Tyr (with valhalla available to order).

    Part II happens tomorrow with no activ rep and speaker cables from Black Rhodium and Townshend as comparisons. If possible, it'll be done blind, with each compared to my own cheap QED stuff.

    Who knows, I might just end up relinquishing my mantle of speaker-cable-scepticism.
    • Thanks Thanks x 1
  2. bazh76

    bazh76 Member

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    Nice write up Pat, were the interconnects phono or balanced XLR? I'm currently investigating which interconnects to try out which is a frightening thought given some of the prices :rolleyes:
  3. Pat Marcus

    Pat Marcus Member

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    Thanks very much. The interconnects were all single ended phono, rather than XLR. In my own system I use a mix of both but all three front channels are XLR. Ive done the whole interconnect investigation a few times, now, prior to buying my current selection so feel free to email or PM me, if you want feedback on a particular set. Chances are, Ive probably listened to them.
  4. deaf cat

    deaf cat Member

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    Good stuff Pat :thumbsup:
    Look forward to hearing the low down on the next couple of speaker cables:smashin:
  5. Pat Marcus

    Pat Marcus Member

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    Part 2 as promised, people.

    Armed with a pile of sandwiches, crisps and bottles of water, the brave two ventured back into the dem room..........

    Dave Clifford, Music Matters' ever helpful audio connoisseur & blind-tester supremo, had set up a system comprising Meridian G98AH(DVDA/CD) - £3625, G61 (processor) - £2995 and G57 (power amp) - £1995 into the same B&W 803D speakers (£5500). Alternative analogue front-end was provided by a Funk Firm turntable/arm/Ortofon 540 (£450 + arm ? + £140) into a Cyrus phono-X phonostage (£700).
    We also used a selection of audiophile-grade black plastic bin-bags to hide the connections to the amp and speakers in order to ensure that this test WAS blind. Please note that we still did not use any special scientific equipment for measuring differences. (Blind-testing fans are invited to form an orderly line and read to the end of this "post." Science-only sceptics are still advised for their own peace-of-mind to stick with "Oscilloscope weekly").

    Our first discovery was that the nice man from Activ, worried that any cable losses might be taken from his salary, had actually inadvertently stolen the shop's own Heimdal speaker cables and, though he denies it, Frey interconnect. Next, we realised that one of the other shops within the chain had purloined the Townshend DCT speaker cable, set aside for this test. This wasnt looking promising.
    ......And that meant that the shootout would be between my own humble QED Silver Profile 12 biwire (£15 p/m plus termination), the aforementioned Nordost Baldur (£699 two metre pair terminated), Black Rhodium DCT Polar Samurai (£490 three metre pair terminated) and late entrant to the game, Chord Company Odyssey 4 (£176 two metre pair terminated). So, a wide variety of different cables at different price points........ but would they sound any different ???

    Between each change, I was required to leave the room. No indication was given at the start whether any cable would be played more than once or, the order of play. Some of the cables were fitted with spades and some with banana plugs. A fixed amount of time between changes ensured that I could not "work out" which cable was being swapped.

    For this test we used vocal music and dance music but chiefly the former, including, "Ice" from the excellently recorded "Fumbling towards Ecstasy" by Sarah Mclachlan.

    So, to the results.....

    First of all let me make one point. I have been using QED Silver Profile 12 for around 4 years. If it is possible to become acclimatised to an "overall system sound" in which a speaker cable plays a part, I AM that man. With each change of hardware, including the most recent investment in 803D speakers, I have stuck with Silver Profile 12.

    Alright, alright. Get to the point.......

    And here's what I heard.

    1. All the cables sounded subtly different with one exception.
    2. Differences were less apparent with some music than others
    3. My assessment and experiences "blind" were different to my experiences "sighted"

    In the final pecking order I chose my own cable just ahead of the others. Why ? Is it because I know it ? Is it because when I first bought my system the advice I received was impeccable ? Have I somehow landed on my feet, with a "miracle of cable design" ? I'm not sure. What I do know is that it wasn't the best cable on test in all respects. Others, particularly gave more detail and highlit its weaknesses in this area quite starkly but it DID produce a very organic, easy-going, clear top-to-bottom sound that I like, making music accessible.

    The one cable that sounded "really different" was the Chord Odyssey 4. It has a gloriously rich and "substantial" midband and a thunderous but very detailed bass. On the other hand, it lacks air and sparkle at the top end. It was the cable that I came back to several times "just to make sure."

    The Nordost was without doubt the most detailed and had the cleanest top-end but it wasnt sufficiently better than the QED to , nor did it have the musical "consistency" that I enjoyed with the QED, to put it in the lead. I must admit to being a little disappointed that it hadnt won, hands down.

    Last of all, came the Black Rhodium. By no means significantly less good but in the final analysis, it seemed to me to give just a little less insight and conveyed a little less emotion.

    So, what happens now ? It's not over, I'm afraid.

    1. Another "blind test" - this time with my own cable vs the Chord vs the Nordost Heimdal, when it comes back into stock. If the Heimdal cable really is that much better, I have no objection to buying it but its got to win "hands down" on a blind test

    2. In the meantime, I try the Chord Odyssey 4 at home to discover whether I can live with that lack of top-end and save myself a bundle of cash.

    Pretty simple eh ? Apart from the fact that Chord have just launched the more upmarket "Epic" speaker cable and have indicated that they will soon be bringing a speaker cable version of the range-topping "Indigo" to market.

    AAAARGH!!!!
  6. Knightshade

    Knightshade Member

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    Hi Pat,
    Just for a laugh try adding Analysis Plus Solo Crystal Oval 8 into the mix. I'd be interested to know if you could tell the difference blind. I can't tell speaker cable apart (with any consistency) blind.....
  7. deaf cat

    deaf cat Member

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    Interesting stuff,

    You may have put your finger on what I could not pinpoint with the chord IC's and speaker cables, I found my brain just wondered off and thought of other things, where as other cables drew me in and caught my attention, and I could not work out what was causing that to happen:confused:

    In saying that I prefer the chord sig digi coax to anything thing else I have heard...

    What about the old Atlas speaker cables any testing in that area?

    Hows it going with the chord?
  8. Nick_UK

    Nick_UK New Member

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    I bet if they'd played exactly the same system 5 times in a row, some people would have heard "subtle" differences too.
  9. Pat Marcus

    Pat Marcus Member

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    I spent a couple of hours last night listening to the Nordost versus the Chord. The did sound different but each time I switched from one to the other I felt I preferred the "newer" one. This reinforces my lack of faith in "sighted" tests and I will, as predicted, have to impose on someone to help me undertake a second blind test.
    Although Im a huge fan of the interconnects, Im not blown away by the Atlas Ichor speaker cable in my own system. Its still worth investigating and, with its "drain" is indeed an innovative approach.
    As a side issue i later replaced the spikes with Nordost Pulsar Points (isolation) and just as it had with the subwoofer, the sound improved markedly.
  10. mudan

    mudan Member

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    Pat, interestingly enough we're using the same interconnect and speaker cable. I have only in the last week upgraded from vdh D102MkIII to Atlas Elektra for my CD player. The interconnect is still running in but I am quite amazed at how good it is. Interestingly, when I was at my local hifi shop (Music Matters), John (Atlas cable designer) was there too when I was returning the cheaper Navigator cable, listening to me criticizing it against rivals as lacking midrange openness! I'm sure he'll be happy now that I bought his current flagship IC. He is shortly releasing a much more expensive IC (~£750/m) called 'Mavros' I think...which is currently at Music Matters, though well out of my price range and clearly too high-end for my system. In fact the Elektra is quite pricey for my system but it does an excellent job and will remain with me for future upgrades.
    I also have the QED Profile Silver 12 with Airloc plugs and have been happy with it for a number of years. I have considered replacing it at some point but have not tested any other cables yet. Reading your review of it here was interesting.
  11. Pat Marcus

    Pat Marcus Member

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    Just to update the story, I ended up getting Chord Epic Super Twin to wire my B&Ws and I have an Atlas Mavros on loan. Ive yet had the chance to do more than one A-B comparison but early indicators are that it does everything the Elektra does but with more openness and more detail.
    Its running between my turntable and phono stage so I need to try it in another couple of places. Problem is, that at its price (£1000 per metre) it has to compete with the Nordost Tyr which Ive since heard and is simply staggering.

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