What's In A Loom? Trying the 'All-Nordost' Approach
It's easy to be skeptical regarding claims from a cable maker about the importance of cables to achieve better sound in your HiFi system. On the one hand, their solutions seem to center around the product they offer. On the other, because of their specialized knowledge, it seems like the best advice about cabling should come from a cable maker.
Recently, I got a chance to test Nordost's claim that using the same type of cable design throughout an entire audio system can reap a maximum benefit. It was easy for me to dismiss this idea as a way for one brand to sell more cables, but given the technology-forward nature of Nordost's messaging, I did want to explore the advice.
Not all cables are optimized for perfect time arrival of all sound frequencies; this is the foundation of Nordost's claim that uniform cabling can improve your system. Imperfect timing leads to areas of emphasis and coloration in the signal that either deal with or mask distortion issues in connected equipment. The implication is that if the equipment is of a suitable high-fidelity level, the whole system will benefit from "faster" cabling that doesn't feature any of these filtering effects.
I really like this way of thinking, actually, because there are many ways to amplify audio in this hobby, and remembering that "there is no free lunch in audio," I acknowledge that there are tradeoffs inherent in any approach. Class D devices can exhibit FM distortion, and Class A/B can cause crossover distortion. Both types can have some intermodulation (IM) distortion, and no device is free of some harmonic distortion to some degree.
I think most audiophiles choose cables based on the sound they achieve in that specific position in their systems, but the 'why' of that certainly must have a scientific basis – obtuse as it may be to the average listener who is not equipped with an EE degree. The idea of assembling a genuine high-fidelity playback system would indeed require cabling which presents the frequencies with the least amount of influence from the cable. To Nordost's credit, their cables' exceptionally high velocity of propagation (VP) figures deliver this ideal. It makes sense to equip a legitimately high-resolution system with this type of connected cabling throughout.
I was eager to test this and see if my systems stack up. I have two HiFi systems at my house, both excellent to my knowledge, and each quite different. My wife might consider me something of an "audio hoarder," but as an aside, I'm glad she doesn't venture down to my basement lab often because she might have a real case for intervention given the evidence down there.
I reached out to Nordost to lend me a "full loom" of Heimdall 2 power cables for my test, and they were happy to oblige. While this is a side benefit of being a dealer for the American brand, Nordost really encourages this type of demo. Nordost dealers like The Music Room can request loaner cables for in-home demos for their responsible customers. They know full well that hearing is believing, and I find that eagerness to prove their worth a refreshing characteristic of a brand that continues to impress me with every interaction.
I chose the Heimdall 2 because it's a real "sweet spot" in their lineup, where you get basic implementations of the best of their technology just to the point of being highly influential in practically every system and budget. Heimdall 2 uses their Micro MonoFilament technology to significant effect but keeps the amount of expensive metal within reason and eschews the high-tech connectors of the upper levels in its lineup, among a few other things. I chose to limit the test to just power cables to narrow the focus and make the results more clear to my ears.
My desktop system consists of a 30-watt class A amplifier and a $12K+ front end, including a tube preamp and a Roon endpoint DAC. It's pretty ridiculous, and I'm a big fan of the mixture of tubes and solid-state like that in an audio system. At my feet, a REL subwoofer (T/9x) rounds out the electronics in this highly revealing setup. A complete loom is four power cables. After re-familiarizing myself with the system's sound, I inserted one Heimdall 2 power cable in the most critical position from the outlet to the power strip.
For the sake of this comparison, I'd compare everything to the same stock power cables everyone receives when they buy an audio product. In general, stock cables do little to exaggerate anything. Theirs is a relatively diffuse sound, but it is generally non-offensive. I do have quite a few other brands and styles to choose from, but I think stock cables offer a good framing that will help show the Nordosts' strengths.
The first cable change of the outlet to the strip produced a considerable result. Immediately, the upper regions of the sound spectrum came out from hiding. Metallic recorded sounds actually sounded like metal, and a sense of air and depth accompanied many sounds I'd previously heard as one-dimensional with the stock option.
Immediately attractive, I listened closely through quite a few tracks. This was becoming an incredibly detailed system, serving up tons of brain food for this audiophile junkie. But, as it is my desktop system and one I sit very close to and listen to while writing, I began to wonder if this much information was what I'd ultimately want for the application.
In went the other three cables. I am here to tell you that Nordost doesn't just know how to design a cable. They know what they're hearing and what they're talking about when they recommend more than just the one.
Body, bloom, meat, flesh — you name the adjective… it all came out from nowhere. This is precisely what I was after, and for some reason, it appeared when the complete loom was installed and was slightly absent with the single cable.
I repeated the procedure to double-check and give myself a bit of reassurance. Nothing at all changed. The full complement of power cables delivered everything I love about this system but gave it even more body and detail than I'd enjoyed in the past. Even right up on the speakers, I heard pinpoint imaging throughout the soundstage, and perhaps the most precise "center image" I'd ever enjoyed from this spot.
I repeated this test in my bigger system, and the effects were similar but slightly less intense. And that makes perfect sense to me. The room influences the sound quite a bit more in that system, as I'm sitting 11 feet from the speakers compared to 2 feet with my desktop system. It also features a fully-tubed amplifier containing 17 tubes in total, and it’s fully balanced. Feeding it is a low-noise solid-state preamplifier that uses high-voltage discrete op-amps with high open-loop bandwidth, requiring less global feedback than most similar designs. All are fed by a PS Audio P10 power regenerator. I absolutely love the synergy between the SPL Elector preamp and the Audio Research amplifier in my second SS/Tube hybrid system.
One thing that added to the experience in this room, where a total of five cables was required to complete the loom, was the influence on the two subwoofers I've got installed at the moment. I love bass, and in this situation, I enjoyed even more of the cables' ability to convey the bottom end with serious authority. In the opening to a classical track, I could immediately hear the massiveness of the performance hall with the sound of its large ventilation systems practically rumbling through my room like I was there.
Even though one of my subwoofers has a captive power cable (a hefty DIY build of mine, powered by a 1200-watt ICEpower module), it still benefited from the new power cables as its signal was derived from the DAC and the preamp. The source is, after all, also the source of bass for a system.
This is a lesson worth noting to audiophiles who think that moving to a bigger or more powerful subwoofer is the way to get better bass in the room. While it is a move with definite potential to get what you're after, I'd recommend trying better power cables on the source components first in an attempt to wring everything out of what's already in the system. I've found that my DAC creates more substantial bass when fed with a lower-gauge (or “high current”) power cable, but that has been my experience, and as they say in HiFi, 'your mileage may vary.'
I did one last thing in the bigger system before wrapping up the cables and sending them back to Nordost. In addition to the supplied Heimdall 2 cables, I also happened to have a couple of Tyr 2 (a higher tier model in the same cable series from Nordost) power cables on loan from The Music Room. I swapped one into the amplifier and one into the DAC and left the rest of the Heimdall 2s in place for fun. This would tell me a little more about Nordost's instance that it's not just the same cable, but a similar design of cable that lends uniformity to a complete loom.
I must absolutely agree with this point because the overall sonic balance was relatively unaffected, but the bass and midbass really took a few steps upward. My speakers, Dunlavy SC-III near-vintage beauties, came to life more forcefully and convincingly than ever before, and the subs began to rattle my dining room chandelier on the same tracks, at the same volume level I had been using prior. You know there's something to the power cable swap when one cable makes something in the house rattle where the others did not.
You sold me, Nordost. Exciting stuff for this curious audiophile. I've long been a 'power cable guy' but had not had a chance to try a whole loom of Nordost to this point. Encouraged by the vivid sound of both of my systems and nary a 'speediness' or 'zing' some describe with their experiences with the brand, I think the cables gave both of my systems a passing grade for resolution and fidelity. Aw, shucks.