Nordost. Seems that these days Nordost is everywhere. Norse 2 series? Check. Valhalla 2 series? Check. Odin 2? Check. Headphone cables? Check. HDMI cables? Check. You get my point. All made in America, all made with engineering in mind, all made with guaranteed pride of ownership. Mind you, all of these upgrades to series 2 as well as all the other additions happened over the course of the past 3 years. Wowza. Talk about pace, rhythm, and timing. Smitten as I am with these upgrades, I pondered the idea of trying out Nordost's latest foray – the headphone cable.
In theory—well, reality perhaps—headphones ought to be the best conduit to any change downstream. The reasoning goes something like so: unlike your typical speaker system in a room and all of the resulting variances, headphone drivers are so close to your eardrum and auditory bones that changes should translate to near instantaneous, clearly audible cues. It is perhaps the reason that given appropriate quality headphones, test subjects have for example an easier time identifying lossy files from lossless files. Simple enough then: you are just that much closer to the truth. Marketing alert for all those headphoneistas: how's that sound for a slogan?
That Nordost has the chops and wherewithal to pull off this feat and come out swinging on top shouldn't be a surprise to anyone. The aforementioned accolades and trophies give them a certain jump-start straight from the gate. As they say, the reviews are in. The ship has sailed. The proof is in the pudding. Yummy. Approaching the ever so dashingly confident Joe Reynolds is simple enough—there's not that many people in this industry with his long term vision for success and resolve to execute. So it certainly was when I asked for this Heimdall 2 headphone cable. Termination? Audeze LCD. Naturally. The single best headphones—nay, cans—I have ever heard and still do. That's saying a bit as in reality, I'm more of a full range dynamic speaker sort of a guy. Headphones are cool and all, but to hear and feel music it has to be full range speaks.
There are of course times when that equation doesn't add up. Late at night for example; working in my home office. Laying on the lazy sofa and just lounging. Yep, those moments are all prime candidates for some headphonening. Quite frankly, even as many premium cans have come and gone, the Audeze's are the only ones who remained as permanent house guests. So great is their sound, so rich their musicality, so fine their presentation. ‘Nuff said. Now those cables. $799. Yup. Cash is king. Value add, or bust? From a business evaluation perspective, headphone cables – heck, the entire headphone accessories business – is something of an enigma. Quite the cottage industry has rallied around your favorite cans, be it headphone amps, stands, tweaks or even cables.
To think of this happening ten years ago—no way. Credit Beats for creating mainstream marketable upscale premium consumer priced headphones and fashionable head-accessories. Mind you, all that in zero to five years. This wasn't done on 92 Octane. More like jet fuel. Could it be that Heimdall 2 would take my trusted Audeze's to the stratosphere? First and foremost, Nordost's quality becomes instantly recognizable. The quality of the construction, the lightness of the cable—you certainly don't want Valhalla like packaging dangling off your headphones. That would be uncomfortable. As is, Audeze's aren't the lightest of lightweights. They do pack a punch. Chilling is in, jogging is definitely out. Replacing Audeze's quality cable with Heimdall 2 is as simple as can be.
Nordost's markom and PR team (headed up by the ever so lovely Meredith Gabor) says that Heimdall 2 headphone cable consists of 32 AWG 7/.032mm2 conductors which have been individually insulated and twisted using Litz construction. Litz construction is said to increase the pliability—very important for headphone cables!—as well as eliminates triboelectric noise within the cable and also improves upon damping. Aramid fibers are then added as a strength member of the cable ensuring mechanical integrity and optimizing resonances. Finally, it of course follows that the design house's tradition of using Micro Mono-Filament technology with extruded FEP insulation around the conductors as well as mechanically tuned lengths which reduce internal microphony and high-frequency impedance resonance is also a big part of Heimdall.
Each cable comes in 2m length and is terminated via a 4 pin balanced XLR male connector to which adapter cables are supplied (which incidentally follow the main cable's design to a T) in either 3.5mm stereo mini or ¼ inch stereo phono. The choice is yours. Moreover, swapping cables for the appropriate source is easily done, say if for example you want to switch using your iPhone as your source to a dedicated headphone amp or such. I specifically chose the 3.5mm stereo mini plug as I generally use my LCD-X plugged straight into my iPhone or iPad. The headphone police will no doubt call me derelict of duty for not using a dedicated headphone amp—even a portable one—alas, so be it. I have found the sound coming straight off my i-Devices to be pleasant enough as to not warrant the extra box.
As mentioned, LCD-X sounds rather fine straight out of the box: a massive soundstage is coupled with a hefty and weighty bottom end, which smoothly veers through the midrange and follows with a creamy smooth, realistic top end. No omissions, nada. This is about as good as it gets. Until you replace the stock cable. Let's face it, cable design has come a very long way from the days of running to your favorite RadioShack (thank Sprint for keeping them in business!) and loading ‘er up with wire. Visitors to chez K easily hear the dramatic improvements each of my reference cables can afford—not merely content with perhaps, cable upgrades have become a defacto must in my chez.
Clearly, Nordost has a lot to prove. Can they bring their whiz-bang technology to the headphone market? Better yet, can they succeed in it? What happens next is quite astounding to say the least. Let's start at the bottom. Air's track"Love" off their album Love 2 carries a tunefully deep and authoritative bass line. While the stock cable certainly plays its part in carrying the message, upgrading to Heimdall 2 is nearly a revelation in heightened awareness of said bass line. It's not merely better resolved—attack, sustain, decay—it simply carries far more weight and heft making the entire presentation that much more impactful. Beacon's"Bring You Back" off their debut album The Ways We Separate, is another stupid good groove track. Here too a synth bass line carries the song complete with depth crushing subterranean effects which when heard via my music room setup never ceases to elicit the oh so famous grin effect. Imagine my surprise then when I heard this tune via the Audeze-Heimdall 2 combo in charge. The gut-punching bass was replaced with a more nuanced and finely pealed layer of the same.
Cueing up"Day In Day Out" off Billie Holiday's incredible Songs For Distingue Lovers album was another eye and ear opener. The track starts with a piano paned hard left, with bass and drums semi-center. Billie Holiday sits center front; the first thing you notice is just how massive a soundstage is wrapped around you—you truly get the feeling of being there as opposed to a mere spectator, table 12 by the stairs. The kickdrum carries amazing weight; the piano's flow is fast, speedy and yet fully integrated. Billie's voice carries her instantly recognizable semi-raspiness tunefully, nay, magically through the song. Easily one of the best demo songs for headphones, it would take a herculean effort to replicate this level of intimacy and performance via two channel Hi-Fi.
Nordost's hallmark characteristics of speed, agility, resolution, and slam feel part of the performance. Much like with their big cables for big systems, the"a-ha" effect is clearly audible even to newbies when I had offered this combo up for a listen. Tacit comes to mind. In fact, even during one demo I switched between the YG Hailey / EINSTEIN / Valhalla 2 combo and the Audeze / Heimdall 2 setup, Nordost's family heritage became most easily identifiable. Like I said, accolades carry you so much—the proof is always in the sustainability of the pudding. Seemingly Nordost succeeds on that front and then with spades.
Boz Scagg's"Thanks To You" off his 2001 epic Dig, is another one of those reference songs that easily gives the nod to Heimdall 2. A superior production complete with expertly layered instrumentation falls squarely to the benefit of the Audeze-Heimdall combo. Here again, the bass line carries much of the song, it his however the crystal clear highs and far better resolved midrange which really make the upgraded cable stand out from the stock supplied cable. On Dieter Meier's "Busy Going Nowhere" off Out Of The Chaos (a 2014 release; Dieter is of course Yello's other half to Boris Blank), the instrumentation is far more enveloping and quite bigger sounding too; the weight of Dieter's voice lends itself better to the overall character and imaging is also far superior to the stock leash.
Leave it up to Ennio Morricone to score an epic film like Cinema Paradiso. If you haven't seen it do so now. While you're at it, go buy the film score too. A beautifully composed feel good orchestral arrangement tracks the film's cinematic story to great effect. Similar to his style for The Mission, Morricone is a master of orchestral film scoring, able to move from scene to scene with just the right amount of playfulness and wit."Visit To The Cinema" opens with a beautiful piano—the weight of which is masterfully resolved via Heimdall 2. Overall, it feels as though Heimdall has the added speed, weight and resolution to simply convey more of the recorded music.
Thus, Heimdall 2 proves a winner—not merely content with a low-ball entry to the headphone market, Nordost carries its mission strategically with pinpoint precession and the usual hallmarks of their company ethos. As the headphone market seems unstoppable in growth it stands to reason that Nordost will in time bring more of its upper end line to the market. Clever indeed. Given the dramatic improvements Heimdall 2 has made to the sound of my Audeze LCD-X, I can easily see the attraction the headphone market as a whole is to a captivating i-Audience. Certainly, you would have to spend mega-buck to get this level of tranquility and performance from a mere two-channel setup: the twenty, thirty year olds simply are not aware of the connecting line between the two. A pair of Audeze LCD-X and Heimdall 2 may be just that connecting line to audio nirvana. As Ted Turner famously used to say,"Only more is more". As such, proprietary technology has never been cheap; alas, it seems that in this case the barrier to entry has been drastically reduced. Well done! A+++
Nordost Heimdall 2 - 2M extension cable
$599.99 and is available in 3.5mm to 4 pin XLR, 1/4in (6.3mm) to 4 pin XLR and 4 pin XLR male to 4 pin XLR female.