Positive Feedback Logo

Nordost Blue Heaven Tonearm Cable

05-01-2020 | By Michael Corsentino | Issue 109

File this one under "Cables Matter." Fair warning, if you're someone who believes cable design, composition, and build quality have no impact on sonic presentation, you may want to skip this and move on to one of my other non-cable related reviews.

Now that the lamp cord contingent has left the room, let's talk about Nordost's new purpose built Blue Heaven Tone Arm Cable, and why it's superior compared to a standard shielded RCA interconnect of similar quality and construction.

Handmade in the USA, Nordost has offered a line of tonearm cables as part of their overall range of cables for many years. Their approach has always been to take special care designing and building these cables, as unlike general purpose interconnects, tonearm cables are tasked with carrying what are without question the most delicate signals in an analog system path using LPs as source material.

Over the years Nordost found that despite the care and attention put into their tonearm cable designs, addressing myriad hum and grounding issues proved challenging. This is understandable given the sheer number of turntables and phono stages on the market at any given time. Solving the lions share of grounding issues is a tall order, but Nordost was determined to find a way.

For this reason Nordost decided to go back to the drawing board, and redesign their tonearm cables from the ground up (no pun intended!) They started with a redesign of the Valhalla Tonearm Cable that sits close to the top of their range, trickling down that research and development into the rest of their next generation tonearm cables. The new lineup is comprised of, in descending order, the Valhalla 2 from the line of the same name, the Tyr 2, Frey 2, and Heimdall 2 from their Norse 2 line, and lastly the Blue Heaven from their Leif line, the cable covered in this review.

Nordost's Blue Heaven Tonearm Cable, like the rest of their new tonearm cable lineup, is purpose built specifically to carry the delicate low output signal generated by phono cartridges. Wouldn't any old shielded interconnect do the trick? Nordost explains that the internal geometry of their new tonearm cables is vastly different than the rest of their general purpose interconnects. While it would be easy to assume that a signal is a signal, and any interconnect that can carry a signal would be fine, Nordost's maintains that is not the ideal arrangement. You can do better.

They reiterate that the delicate signal generated by your phono cartridge is a very different animal than the higher gain signal generated by, for example, a DAC. It stands to reason that an interconnect designed specifically for this unique signal would provide better sonic results. As you'll read below, removing the Nordost Purple Flare interconnect in conjunction with a VPI Cliffwood turntable, Audio-Technica AT-OC9XML MC cartridge, and Modwright PH 9.0 phono stage, and installing the Blue Heaven Tonearm cable, I can confirm Nordost's assertion. As always, "the proof is in the pudding," and I'll address the differences and improvements heard, below.

First let's look under the hood. Nordost's entire lineup of new tonearm cables now uses a twisted pair design with 4 silver plated solid core conductors. Individually shielded left and right channels are twisted together along with an additionally shielded bond wire running in parallel between them to assure maximum channel separation. Cable conductors are also individually wrapped and shielded to eliminate any crosstalk between channels. Nordost's general purpose interconnects, as good as they are, do not include these amenities. Why? They are unnecessary for higher gain components, but in Nordost's opinion essential for tonearm signals.

Nordost's unique new grounding solution is not only noteworthy and highly effective, but in this reviewer's opinion quite possibly worth the price of admission by itself. In addition to a bonded ground wire, the Blue Heaven (as with the rest of the new phono cables) now come with additional left and right-side ground wire whips. These optional ground wires can be used as needed to quickly and easily troubleshoot and solve virtually any grounding issues you're likely to encounter with turntables and phono stages. Anyone who has experienced "phono hum" knows how mysterious, frustrating, and time consuming it can be to rid. When I installed the Blue Heaven, there it was… the dreaded hum. I got that sinking, sick to my stomach, oh-shit-here-we-go-again feeling. You know what I'm talking about, we've all been there!

Solving hum can require endless configurations eliminating variables to find the problem. This can involve a combination of flipping ground switches (if you have them!), removing ground leads from one or both terminals, using a ground lift plug, switching outlets, changing power strips, and so on. With the Blue Heaven installed (and humming) I landed one of the optional ground wire whips, and the hum was instantly gone! Just like that! Nordost, you had me at grounding!

As every audiophile knows, the quality, clarity, detail, and resolution of the music reproduction by any system is due in large part to its noise floor. I think it is safe to say we are all striving for a dead quiet, inky-black background. Everything Nordost has done in designing this new line of tonearm cables has been done with reducing noise in mind. From the individual shielding of channels to the separate bond wire down to the twisted pair design, all of this has been done to eliminate inter-channel crosstalk, reduce noise, and let the signal and ultimately music emerge from a considerably quieter background. Nordost points out the delicate signal coming from your cartridge to your phono stage is particularly susceptible to picking up unwanted noise along the way. These new tonearm cables were designed for this very reason: it's where they shine, accomplishing their mission of reduced noise and the unimpeded delivery of the signal coming from your phono cartridge.

Blue Heaven is Nordost's entry level tonearm cable, and what was recommended as a good price point and synergistic match with the VPI Cliffwood and Modwright PH 9. Because of the Blue Heaven's similarity with Nordost's other phono cables, it is easy to upgrade to any of their cables as you move up the line. Despite being an entry level cable, the Blue Heaven employs the same design principles as Nordost's reference family only in a more stripped-down lower cost version. In addition to its twisted pair design, four silver plated solid core conductors, and optional included ground whips, Blue Heaven uses MoonGlo Nutric connectors and Nordost's Micro Mono-filament technology (FEP), essentially a Teflon filament, wrapped around each solid core conductor and extruded above it creating a virtual air dielectric. This means that 80% of what is contacting the dielectric is air rather than another material, the remaining 20% being FEP. This maintains the integrity of the signal by reducing the loss of information to noise or other artifacts.

What about the sound? That is where the rubber meets the road, after all! What differences did the Blue Heaven Tonearm Cable make in my system, and what did I hear after installing it? What did it bring to the party that wasn't there before? There was clearly less noise and a much quieter, more delicate and revealing signal being delivered from the cartridge. It was akin to using a lower gain setting on my phono stage. In this case less is more, a lot more. With the Blue Heaven installed music had substantially more clarity, more detail, more refinement, more dynamic contrast, and more musicality. And, as mentioned above, hum gone in a flash! Look I get it: it is easy to be skeptical and even easier to dismiss something you haven't heard for yourself. I am here to tell you, in my experience the Blue Heaven made an appreciably positive difference, no if's, and's or but's about it. I have no hesitation recommending it as a worthwhile upgrade. Once you've heard the difference, I doubt you'll go back to your previous cable: I know I'm not!

Nordost advises 1.25 meters as the desired sweet spot for their tonearm cables. Blue Heaven includes a limited lifetime warranty with proof of purchase. Termination options include RCA, XLR, Straight Din, and 90º Din with 4 different orientations available. As you move up the tonearm cable line features like dual Monofilament, heavier gauge wire, etc. are introduced. After being duly impressed with what the Blue Heaven was able to do on a modest system I'm looking forward to bringing in one of Nordost's reference level tonearm cables for review with my VPI Avenger.

Nordost cables are offered exclusively via their dealer network, see the "Where To Buy" link on their website for specifics. Nordost encourages dealers to have cables available for in home demos making it easy to try before you buy.

Blue Heaven Tonearm Cable

Retail: $599