Positive Feedback ISSUE 78
Valhalla 2 Cables
as reviewed by Danny Kaey
Being affable gets your foot in the door. Being affable and having the goods to back up your story, that's a prime recipe for success. Nordost's Joe Reynolds is the latter lad; he has both—debonair swagger and an operation that has defined much of what high-end audio's cable business has defacto become. Yes, cables do make a difference—a very profound one—and yes, Nordost is all about advancing the value approach to cable design. I would even argue that it was Nordost's continued, constant push and pull that established today's healthy cottage cable industry. Long before becoming a full-time writer for PF in 2001, I recall the fascination people had with Nordost. Show up at any audio salon, any trade show and Nordost was usually all the rage. More specifically, Nordost's reference cable, Valhalla, quickly shot to the top of the line—it wasn't merely that Valhalla was so good—it was—it was the fact that Joe Reynolds had built a formidable, recognizable and valued business model that allowed him to launch a line of cables so exquisite that anyone who wanted the best simply asked for it by name: "cables for your setup? Valhalla please" That's what Apple built with the iPhone / iPad business. Oakley sunglasses come to mind. Gillette razors? Your best hedge against all others is to create a product line so far ahead that people—even those who are merely taking a quick-dip into high-end waters—will call out your product by name even if it's just to get started.
Well, much time has since passed of course—years ago, I had used Nordost's Frey line of cables with great success; then, at Denver's Audiofest, three years ago, Nordost managed to one-up the entire competition by launching version 2 of their respective cable lines. Thus born was the Norse 2 series, consisting of Heimdall 2, Frey 2 and Tyr 2. Then, at the 2013 Munich show, Valhalla went one step further by creating the Reference Series and thus crowning the penultimate king of Nordost, Valhalla 2, or, as its known officially, V2. There's that Apple comparison again—iPhone 5s is superseded by the 6, so on and so forth. Not merely content with being the most recognizable leader in all things cables, Joe was seeking to further define the conversation piece around energy transfer. If cables have that profound an impact on a system's overall sound, then what about line conditioners, power strips, and other such devices that carry your system's mechanical and electrical energy? Sure enough, the task quickly became identified: while upgrading cables in your system is of utmost importance, so is ensuring that the energy being transmitted by these cables is as pure and clean as possible. Hence, Nordost also launched extremely well received power line conditioners and power strips.
If you are still in the camp of undecided voters regarding the effects wiring can have on your system then I challenge you to attend one of Nordost's now classic demos: each year, at each trade show, Nordost sets up a reasonable system—nothing extravagant, nothing outrageous. The only matter of outrage can be defined by what comes next: a Nordost representative will begin to play a list of tracks followed by a successive replacement of power cables, interconnects and finally speaker cables. While the cumulative effect of having an all Nordost cable system is always the most pronounced, the effect of merely replacing one single power cable to your amplifier—for example—is something to be experienced. Years in the running, these demos have become quite the stable mate of Nordost's claim to fame.
Now I have long been quite smitten with Nordost's line of cables and power line conditioners—my review of Tyr 2 and Nordost's QB8 (8-way power distribution block) as well as the dashing Qx4 / Qv2 combo (Power Purifiers and Line Harmonizer, respectively) can easily be summed up as "terrific upgrades and generational improvements"—though I pondered what was possible even further upstream—namely with Valhalla's then still rumored replacement. When in 2014, I was afforded the opportunity to review a pair of Wilson Audio Alexias and YG's Hailey 1.2, I quickly corresponded with Joe about penning a complimentary review of Nordost's latest Valhalla replacement, Valhalla 2. Given that Wilson Audio most always uses Transparent Audio cables in their demos, I was especially keen the effects a complete Nordost system would have on Alexias overall performance.
Alexias arrived; as did my requested set of Valhalla 2 wiring in the form of balanced and single ended interconnects, speaker cables and corresponding power cables. Valhalla2 is Nordost's culmination of decades long research into their respective, patented technologies that make up most of their cable line up. Naysayers and Monday morning quarterback-quacks be damned. Nordost knows the science; Nordost knows how to apply science to a very misunderstood field. Others play with fire, sticks and magic potions: Nordost is the antithesis—cable quality and energy transfer can be measured in scientific terms and proven conclusively to work as advertised.
Not being content with merely advancing the cable industry to the next level, Nordost also wanted to spend considerable effort in genuinely advancing the state of cable terminations as well. Typically, a quick grab in the global parts bin that is Neutrik, leads to very capable cable termination technologies. Seek the balanced XLR style? Neutrik has it. For that matter so do a dozen others. No problem in finding whatever it is you seek. Carbon fiber encased power plugs? Hey, if it makes sense—there's a way. Fact is, Nordost uses exactly such connectors for most of their other lines. Now for V2, Nordost wanted something entirely different, something entirely better. When crowning a new King (well, I suppose that goes to Odin, alas, that's more like the intergalactic king in this story line), good enough just isn't good enough anymore. Coinciding with this quest for mechanical stability and resonance control, Nordost embarked on a quest to define what is possible with cable termination technology. Thus, Nordost discovered a better, more effective way and so was born HOLO:PLUG®, an altogether bigger leap than previously available. Arriving both in balanced and single ended termination, HOLO:PLUG® promises to offer a superior connection and termination both at the same time. Improving upon the norm, HOLO:PLUG® connectors use an advanced triple plated termination ring for enhanced grounding and a full 360 degree contact termination.
Thusly Alexia (and Hailey 1.2) and my reference gear, various EINSTEIN components and the mighty darTZeel 8850 integrated, wired up with Valhalla2, I was eager to get the party started. Still having Tyr2's sound firmly planted in my memory banks, I knew—roughly—what to expect: dynamics, speed, resolution and an image devoid of grunge and superfluous noise. Expectations are both a blessing and curse: take them both with a healthy dose of understanding and real world experience. Now Nordost usually pitches that if you have to start somewhere, you should—might as well—start at the source, which would be your power cables. Fine. I'll say this: first, you'll be kicking yourself for limiting the benefits of V2 across your system, and second, you'll be calling your dealer to get the rest of what's necessary for your aural cortex stimulation. V2 is a whole new league. There. Done? I suppose you'd want a bit more meat on that bone.
When you stop for a moment to consider that Nordost's claim to fame has always—nearly always—been about perceived speed and dynamic resolution, V2 takes that notion to a whole new level by even further improving that speed whilst also adding even more of a difficult to describe life-force quality to the mix. Surely, one could be content with Nordost's Norse series of cables, and in doing so, you would have an incredibly cohesive, resolved, dynamic music system—case in point, I have recently built up a complimentary reference system fronted by the darTZeel integrated powering YG's Hailey 1.2 solely powered by a full set of Tyr 2. Alas, once you bite off Nordost's latest charm, it is in fact somewhat difficult to go back to square one. Let me qualify that more granularly: while in and of itself Tyr 2—reviewed in full in these fine pages here—is without question very much a fantastic achievement as evidenced by the sound I get via the darTZeel / Hailey 1.2 setup, merely adding one element of V2 further enhances those system's qualities. Quite simply, V2 isn't so much an improvement as it is a leap forward compared to Norse 2. The old adage, you don't know what you don't know until someone tells you otherwise appears quite true in this case. Take for example Chad Kassem's soon to be released Dream With Dean, crooner Dean Martin's hit record on 45rpm double vinyl, and listen to the spatial cues afforded by his trio. Set well behind the speakers, the trio and Dino appear truly lifelike, projecting a stunning presence that has fooled many a visitor to chez K. Cliché alert. DEFCON 5. Now I am not versed enough to know if in fact this dramatic sizing of the image is a result of V2 utilizing Dual Micro Mono-Filament as opposed to Valhalla's original Micro Mono-Filament configuration, alas, it is stunning no less. For reference, the only other Nordost cable to utilize this technology is Odin.
Just how much information does V2 pass through? That, I think is the realization of V2—at least here in my setup—it seems to be quite a staggering amount. Now, I am not certain if anyone ever measured what that looks like, or even if this is something that is in fact measurable in terms that make real-world sense, alas, it must be gobs and gobs of data. One would therefore conclude that more bandwidth equals more density, which in turn equals quite simply more real images being created. Time after time, no matter the source, V2 managed to spotlight a reality that turned addictive: from Trentemøller's devilish spatial cues and phase effects on his track Evil Dub (The Last Resort), to Duke Ellington's Indigos or Julie London's Julie Is Her Name Vol.2 [another one of Chad's simply stunning reissues]. With each of these super tracks, V2 not only articulated the most miniscule of details, it brought to life the entire performance. Now I have heard of cables that do usually one or the other, i.e. you get resolution or gestalt. Rarely do you hear cables that give you both at the same time. Fantastic you say. A matter of preference for some, yet a matter you ought to take into consideration no less. Percolating underneath it all is that thought of a system's synergy. I wrote about it in the context of my previous Nordost review [Tyr 2 et al]. It becomes evident—quite clearly—when you approach your system's overall sound via all those cables that give it that jet fuel injection to really sing. In years of dealing with cables, I have come to understand that mixing and matching usually limits the overall benefits one can obtain from a given brand of cables. Thusly, cables can turn a great component system into a better one, or, ultimately, flip the coin on its head. No bueno. Cables ought to let your system shine. V2—from where I sit—seems to have far greater bandwidth for musical information to flow. Last but certainly not least, when you pay top green backs for cables, you have certain esthetic and quantitative quality expectations. Suffice is to say that V2 looks the part and is built to highest standards. The speaker cables in particular, as evidenced by most every layman visiting chez K, draw the most attention. "What's this?" "I have never seen cables look like that!" "Hrmmmm… Fry's doesn't carry these, do they?" [Fry's is perhaps the most culturally fundamental big box geekdom hospice in America's West]. Check the box for glitz and glamor.
The End. Finalizing a review is perhaps the toughest part of it. Digital penmanship via keyboard takes you only so far. I'll say this: Nordost will no doubt continue to knock out yard line after yard line in years to come. Joe Reynolds and his team know that building a business model to sustain all those lives they feed takes a lot of ingenuity, perseverance and know-how. It seems that the half-decade long march toward a new Norse and Valhalla line has paid off in spades. Yes, V2 is expensive. It can cost a literal small fortune to wire your system with it. Virtually guaranteed performance with respect to boot gives you the confidence in knowing that it could be the right choice for you. The air up here at the top is pretty darn thin. Well done and very much a top recommendation for purchase. Danny Kaey
V2 speaker cable 2m: $11,849.99 ($1500per additional ½ meter pair)
V2 interconnect 1m: $7599.99 ($1100 per additional ½ meter pair)
V2 power cable 1m: $4999.99 ($1000 per additional ½ meter pair)