Review: Nordost Valhalla Interconnect

Category: Cables

I have spent the past two years testing interconnects. My intent was to first find the best matched cables for my system and secondly to write a review of my findings here at Audiogon. I began by testing ALL the cables listed on the Stereophile, FI and The Absolute Sounds recommended lists. I then tested cables that they talked about or recommended here at Audiogon. For the most part the cables I tested were the top products of the manufacture's line but I did try several less expensive cables too.
After this length of time and hearing well over fifty cables for extended times I determined a review of my findings was not possible. Cables tend to be much too systems dependent and quite subjective making it very difficult to give recommendations. I did however find the cable I feel is the top of the list for auditioning and the absolute state of the art. The Nordost Valhalla both in interconnects and speaker cable is in a very elite group of cables and in my opinion is the top cable of all.
I believe my goal for setting up my system has been to find the most natural and neutral components. I have tried to select components that leave as little color and as little signature on the sound. This is clearly not the goal off all audiophiles, so I believe that stating that as my goal when auditioning cables is important.
I did find several extremely well designed cables. My personal favorites were Purist Audio Dominus, FIM Gold, XLO Limited Edition, NBS Statement, Trinity, Tara Labs The One, Nordost Valhalla and the "budget" cable that held its own with all these, Acoustic Zen Reference Matrix. Some of those that I believe to be not of the caliber of the cables above included Cardas Golden Reference and Neutral Reference, Kimber KCAG, MIT, Synergistic Research Designer's Reference, Transparent Audio Reference, Wireworld Gold Eclipse III, Audioquest Anaconda and Nirvana S-X. For many different reasons this group of cables was not of the quality I expected for the cost. Some were too colored, some were harsh and hazy and some were simply dead.
All the cables on my preferred list have extremely black backgrounds, have excellent definition and full sound stages. Of the preferred list the Dominus and FIM tend to be the most colored, most like tube equipment. The XLO was the most open and "brightest," a bit too etched and electronic for me. The Tara labs also fell on the brighter side of neutral but not as much as XLO. Trinity tended to be very neutral but a bit lifeless and not as detailed as the Valhalla. The NBS and Valhalla are almost identical in their lack of signature or color. The Valhalla tends to be a bit more defined, with smoother extension in the high end and better PRAT, they are simply a bit more exciting. I continue to read comments that the Valhalla is on the brighter side of neutral, but for me that does not pan out. The highs have excellent detail and the best decay I have heard. The midrange is deep, colorful and extremely rich, but with no artificial thickness. The bass is tight, deep and very aggressive. I believe these cables are as natural as made and the problems people associate to these cables are indeed problems elsewhere in the system. Remember that cables are simply sending the electronic signal your equipment creates. In the case of the Valhalla they will not mask or otherwise hide issues your equipment is creating. For that reason this cable is not for the average system and maybe the Acoustic Zen would be a better choice.
I used the NBS Statement speaker cables and interconnects for my reference for two years before switching my speakers and half my interconnects to Valhalla. I feel I can see ever so slightly better the detail and subtle signals than with the NBS. For me the Valhalla is simply pure, open and not visible. The surprise cables, Acoustic Zen has all the traits of the NBS and Valhalla but with an overall feeling of less. Less excitement, less pace, less slam, less extension. Although they were less, they have such a good presentation that I would recommend them as a starting point for any audiophile, it may be the last cable most people buy, and at a tenth the cost.

Associated gear
Sony SCD-1 SACD player
Placette active pre-amp
(two) Plinius SA-102 amps - bi-amp vert.
Dunlavy IVa speakers
Nordost Valhalla Speaker cable
Hydra power conditioner

Similar products
NBS Statement
Nice review. How do you like the Placette? How about a review on that component?
Nice review, Jadem6. You made it clear that cables are indeed system dependent, but in your system, you called it as you heard it.Thanks for the input.
Hi Jadem6,
a word from Italy; for speaker's cables, please try Van Den Hul SCS 2; Thanks for the nice review.
Very thorough JD, as of old! Incidentally my limited impressions with Valhalla are similar to your description above. Cheers
Excellent review. My experience with Nordost from the Blue Heaven, Red Dawn, Spm and now Valhalla has been excellent. However, If one is going to do anything high end beyond two channel(realizing that many believe anything beyond 2 channel is not high end) the cost can not justify the cable. I have recently encountered Sonoran Plateau from Star Sound and for the price or any price was greatly impressed. If you ever get a chance to demo. Let me know your impressions. I love them, but that doesn't mean the next guy won't like them at all.
I have not tried the Van Den Hul for some time. I did try thier interconnects about 6 years ago with good impressions.
I have not heard of Sonoran Plateau, I'll try to get a listen to both some time.
Thanks for the ideas.
Jadem6 . This is a great review and required more hard work and patience than most people imagine.

From the cables I've auditioned, I agree with many of your assessments on tonal color, resolution as well as "blackness, " or freedom of noise.

As you have already stated, system tonal balance, character of the listening environment as well as the speakers all effect what we pick for interconnect and speaker wire. Much is simply balancing the scales one way or the other to come up with the sound for our situation.

Listeners with fast transparent speakers like ( my ) Soundlab Ultimate, find the Purist to be a perfect balance. As you said, it is less bright than the Nordost and more revealing than the Cardas. I believe you have called this correctly on every count. Audiogoners that listen to some of your test pieces may be able to extrapolate what would work for them.

Your personal favorites were a good call and include many of the top cables available. I supposed I might swap the XLO or FIM for the Cardas for my own list, but were still in the same general category of great products.

It has been a long time since I auditioned Nordost, and a good friend of mine just chose the Valhalla for his Soundlab M1's. Between you and him, I plan on giving these another try.
Jadem6, nice review. i went thru a similar comparing period a year or so back and came to similar conclusions as you.

i have 6 sets of Valhalla interconnects in my system and completely agree with your comments. the Valhalla is a truely neutral cable that will reveal whatever is happening in the rest of your system. it is vivid, fast, and extended at both ends. if your system has natural weight and body, if your system has a pure mid-range and bass extention and will hear it unrestricted.

those negative comments i sometimes hear about the Valhalla tell me about the commenter's system. the Valhalla is not for everyone.....but if your system has the natural neutrality to be fully exposed it is the best (non-Opus) choice i have heard.

i do prefer my Transparent Opus speaker cable to the Valhalla speaker cable by a good margin (but it is ridiculously expensive). recently i did compare the Valhalla interconnects to the Opus interconnects and the Opus was quite a bit was probably a mistake to find that bit of information out as the list price for 6 sets of Opus interconnect would be over $ any case i am happy with the Valhalla and have no plans to upgrade to the Opus.
Jadem6, I hereby nominate you as top reviewer of the year for Audiogon. I hope the members will second that motion. I have a gut feeling that you have a good set of ears. Thanks for the valuable information you have provided in all your reviews. Not being able to evaluate much in the high end where I live, my trust in your ears has helped me to at least look in the right direction for certain components I need in my own system.Again, thanks for your time and effort in providing this information.
Slamming review, dude! One of the best I have ever read. The only disagreement is with the Synergistic Designer Reference. I have found the x-series with active shielding to be quite competent. However, its a lot of hassle to deal with powering up an interconnect that can cause potential dammage to a system.

How would you rate the SPM and the Quattro-Fil versus the Vahalla? Thanks.
Anybody compare the Silversmith cables to the valhallas? From reviews it seems that the silvers should be competitive and the palladiums might be better? Thanks
Dear Jadem6: My gooodness, this review was back in 2002! Great review, this year I bought the Valhalla speaker cables and 2 sets of XLR interconnects. Sounded to most neutral to my ears. You have to get them burned in by the Vidar to get them performing to their absolute potential, after that there's no going back. So after 6 years on the market, these cables are still among the best around. Trying out their power cords soon.