What do you do about a speaker cable that was clearly spec'd for 1990's wretched excess, yet so dramatically rockets high-end audio into the 21st century? Anybody contemplating shelling out $10,000 for a four-meter pair of Nordost "Valhall" Reference speaker cables will be facing this marketing/product conundrum
Up until the day the Valhalla cables arrived, I had been very happily using Nordost SPM speaker cables, along with the company's Quattro Fil interconnects, and was convinced I was pretty much wringing out all the sonic truth possible via any available wires. My German-made MBL 101D speakers are amazing transducers capable of picking out a flea fart in a crashing crescendo, and if there was anything more to be gained from changing wires, especially to ones as costly as the Valhalla's, it surely was in the vastly diminishing returns noise level
At the end of about two weeks of Valhalla burn-in, I sat down Gordana, my-wife-with-even-more audio-critical-ears-than-me, in front of the system. Four hours later we reluctantly turned off the rig and looked at each other in dumbfounded amazement. How could it be that just a pair of speaker cables could make such an incredible difference? Bass? It was way tighter, with a hard fist to the belly, sofa-shaking punch. Treble? Another sweet octave seemed to appear out of thin air. Soundstage? People were forced to vacate neighboring apartments as a vastly expanded orchestra abruptly moved in. Midrange? Female singers got a sudden upgrade from torch to red-hot as their lovelorn lyrics singed our silk rugs.
Don't even ask about clarity and detail. Here is just one example: There is a recording we have played many a time of an outdoors live performance that suddenly sprouted birds singing in the trees. We had never heard their chirping before. It was this sudden upsurge in heretofore-obscured audio information that floored us more than anything. This was detail that was not etched in grating audible shards. The presentation was complete in total panoramic detail yet never overwhelmed. There was also this uncanny, relaxed quality about the musical flow, almost as if someone had dropped the tempo, yet obviously it hadn't been touched. It's almost as if once the subliminal audio grunge was stripped away by the Valhalla's, the listener's mind suddenly relaxed because it no longer had to subconsciously work to make sense of the experience. This highly relaxed, yet totally unhesitating, pulled into the music effect was one of the truly distinctive qualities of the Valhalla's.
Overall, the Valhalla's made for an unbelievably gripping listening experience. We heard newly suspended in midair overtones as a gently pedaled piano note melted away; a delicately bowed viola string slowly decayed in soul soaring air; a last faint breath exuded from the lungs about love lost gently misted down to the floor, and so much more was now to be heard on nearly every recording we owned. The result with the Valhalla's was this is really real, with equally real player emotions. Whoever thought cables could deliver such compelling emotional goods, a quality typically associated only with the best in high-end vinyl?
According to Nordost literature (www.nordost.com), the Valhalla loudspeaker cable consists of forty conductors divided into four groups of ten. Each conductor is made from optimized diameter solid 99.999999 Oxygen Free Copper that has 78 microns of extruded silver on the surface. The surface of each conductor is highly polished before a high precision micro monofilament wrap is applied. This micro monofilament is helically wound over the conductor, and a precision Teflon jacket is then extruded over the conductor. Proprietary methods are also used that reduce dielectric contact by a factor of more than 80%. But whatever Joe Reynolds, the president of Nordost, is doing to them in their manufacturing, the transient response of the Valhalla's is so blindingly fast they could suddenly propel the first generation starship Enterprise to warp 11. When the music says, engage! the Nordost Valhalla's instantly reply aye-aye, sir. And who needs a holodeck when you can enjoy almost holographic sound in your earthbound living room?
Prior to installing the Valhalla Reference cables, I had recently upgraded Bob Carver's Sunfire "Classic" tube preamp to its most recent remote control incarnation and was surprised to find that this terrific preamp now offered even more detail, air, and musical truth and beauty than its non-remote predecessor. With the Valhalla's installed, the Carver preamp was vaulted into an even higher realm of sonic capabilities. (If only the Valhalla's could also have made using the confusing Carver preamp remote control as clear as the music!) If there were any diminishing price/performance returns on audible display here, it would have to be why anyone would spend thousands more for a tube preamp. The Carver Classic is simply that good, and with the Valhalla's installed this preamp's sonic superiority over its vastly overpriced competition is critically clear.
The same could also be said about the two Sunfire Signature amplifiers used to power the MBL 101D speakers, which, at their rated 4 ohm impedance, were happily being fed 1200 watts per channel by Carver's amplifier wunderkind. The Sunfire Signature amps, rated at 600 watts into 8 ohms and 1200 at 4 ohms, suddenly found deeply new ways to blast the bass jams with the Valhalla's hooked up. And this amplifier's midrange, already musically great, became even greater with the Valhalla's making the wattage connection to the MBL 101D's -- Which also happens to be a good way to think about the Valhalla Reference speaker cable; namely, as a system quality amplifier.
In the context of system quality amplification, the $10,000 price tag for a 4-meter pair of Valhalla's suddenly seems reasonable. It is not uncommon for the very best source components to cost that much, and fabulous loudspeakers pretty much start at around that price mark. But what good is spending all that money if the wires that tie everything together muddle the final result? Which is better: Spending $10K on one new component for a hopeful audio upgrade, or spending that sum on something that will absolutely leverage the quality of an entire high-end system? If installing the Valhalla's can immediately catapult your existing rig into a new high-end audio league, then these wires can be viewed as hamster-in-a-spinning-wheel-upgrade-money saved. The mind boggles as to what an all-up system with both Valhalla speaker cables and Valhalla interconnects might accomplish in offering an arrow-through-the-heart-musical experience.
The Valhalla cables are more than just wires--They are in the same product league as astoundingly great speakers or source components that radically transform the capabilities of your system and how you perceive state of the art audio reproduction.
In sum, the Valhalla Reference speaker cables are astounding and astonishing. They are astounding in what they do for sound and musical reproduction. And they are astonishing in how they force you to rethink the whole high-end audio price/value equation.
21st Pub date: April 2002
Copyright 2002, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved
21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com