“Taking The High Ground” Chasing Ground Noise From Your Hi-Fi System

By Anthony Chiarella

For all the times we improve our HiFis by upgrading components, some of the most satisfying enhancements are absolutely free. And perhaps no other “Tweak” offers as much sonic benefit as chasing ground noise from your sound system.

Back in the days before streaming—or even CDs—most of us suffered some sort of ground noise from our analog rigs. Between the low output of moving coils, the high gain of phono preamps, noise leakage from turntable motors, etc., most pre-digital audiophiles needed to roll up their sleeves and chase hums and buzzes from their systems. Typically, this was (…and still is) accomplished by using ground wires to connect the tonearm and/or turntable to the preamp chassis.  However, there were also occasions where certain cartridges needed to be placed at a great distance from power transformers, not to mention that certain cartridges wouldn’t work with some turntable motors.

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The scenario above illustrates an extreme case of grounding issues, but, to some degree, EVERY system is prone to the effects of component grounding. This means, of course, that EVERY system can be improved by paying careful attention to grounding.

For starters, let’s understand the problem. A three-prong electrical cord carries the positive (+) and negative (-) legs of the AC voltage, while the third wire is “Earth” which typically connects the chassis to true ground, which, in theory, reaches through the foundations of your home and into the earth itself. Simple, huh? Problem is, the walls of a typical house contain a birds’ nest of wires—electrical and otherwise—and some of your outlets might not make a proper, solid connection to ground. To complicate matters, not all components are grounded in the same manner, while some are not grounded at all! Throwing together bad household wiring and components, with different grounding schemes, creates a “Perfect Storm”, which allows hum and noise to pollute your system.

Fortunately, there are simple and effective solutions to grounding issues. Let’s start at the AC outlet. In most systems I’ve seen, the single biggest problem is the quality of the AC outlet. Think about it: we spend a fortune on AC cords and power conditioners, and then plug them into a decades-old AC socket with corroded conductors (which probably have little “grip” or connection integrity), and we expect our systems to sound their best? For under $15, a 20-amp, Hospital Grade AC outlet will vastly improve power delivery. Why? Well, first of all, these receptacles are much more robust than the sockets which were installed when your house was built. Heavier metal conductors (which, given the fact that they’re brand new, are corrosion-free), thicker insulators, made of superior dielectric materials, and the fact that “Hospital Grade” sockets are designed to grip the blades of the AC plug more tightly, better prevent life-saving machinery from being accidentally disconnected from the outlet. Simply put, there is no more cost-effective means of improving your system than replacing your AC receptacle.

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Just as important, you’ll need to make sure your AC receptacle is installed correctly. The positive, negative and Earth wires must be connected to the proper terminals on the AC receptacle. This can be easily accomplished with an “AC Receptacle Tester” which is available at any hardware store. I bought mine on Amazon for under $7.

So, for under $25 (combined cost of AC Receptacle and Tester), you can dramatically improve the quality of the AC that reaches your system and ensure that your system is properly grounded. Congratulations! You’ve just established a foundation for greater system performance. You’ve also eliminated most of your system’s potential grounding issues! (CAUTION: working with AC power and your home’s electrical system is potentially hazardous. Please consult a licensed electrical contractor.)

Once you’ve optimized your AC, it is time to look at your power distribution. A common mistake is to use a cheap “outlet strip” intended to connect a computer, printer, etc. These devices have terrible contact integrity, tiny-gauge wiring and—worst of all—current-robbing, noise inducing surge suppression and protection circuitry.

Now, take a look at your components’ AC cords. Are they all three-prong, or are some of them two-prong varieties? We’re trying to determine if you’ll develop “ground loops” due to a combination of grounded and ungrounded components. Plug all your components into the outlet strip and power-up your system. With no source playing, and using a normal volume setting, put your ear close to each speaker. What do you hear? A gentle hissing sound is ideal, as it suggests that your system is properly grounded; on the other hand, any sort of hum indicates grounding issues.

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To address ground problems, you can introduce a product like Nordost’s QBASE into the system.  Instead of using any sort of filtering or conditioning circuitry, which could adversely affect power delivery, Nordost’s QB8 creates a “Star Ground” topology to optimize system grounding and minimize hum and noise, while its shape and construction are designed to control resonance and further improve sound.  The real key to a product like this, is it controls ground flow between components.  We can all tell how signal flows throughout our system (For example, we know the signal goes from our turntable, to our phono stage, to our pre-amplifier). What we don’t know is which direction our ground is going; although, we can pretty much tell it goes in the direction of the component with the lowest chassis impedance— meaning sometimes it can flow directly opposite of the signal creating noise and hum.  As an entry point into Nordost’s AC power system, the QBASE can offer dramatically quieter and more lifelike sound quality, because it forces ground to flow in the direction of the integrated amp or pre-amp.

Ground optimization is truly a triumph of brains over bucks. With careful attention to the quality and proper wiring of your AC Cords, you can achieve a dramatic improvement in the sonic production of any system!

Nordost at the Sound and Vision Bristol Show – Recap

It was great to take part in another Bristol Show, the UKs longest running audio show!  This year, in the Nordost room, show goers were able to sit through several demonstrations, including Sort Kone, QRT, USB and Power Cord comparisons. Thank you to all of our friends in the industry who decided to wire their systems with Nordost cables, and to our wonderful distributor, Atacama, for representing us so well! If you weren’t able to make the show, here are a few images of Nordost cables in action throughout the weekend.  


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ELAC had their system wired with Heimdall 2:IMG_0352IMG_0179 IMG_0212


Esoteric used Valhalla 2 cables to help their room stand out:IMG_0370IMG_0251IMG_0211


Musical Fidelity used a combination of Tyr 2 and Frey 2 cables:IMG_0334IMG_0305


Quad used a wide array of Nordost cables, from our Heimdall 2 Ethernet Cable to our classic Blue Heaven Power Cord:IMG_0196IMG_0192IMG_0153

Nordost Playlist – March 2017

Nordost is lucky to have a wonderful team of representatives and product trainers who travel around the world educating and demonstrating the effects of Nordost’s products. As part of these demonstrations, it is our job to find an interesting and diverse selection of music to showcase our cables, power devices, sort system and accessories. Whether at shows, visiting our dealers and distributors or even in our own listening room in our headquarters in Holliston, we are constantly getting asked what music we are playing (or if our audience is not so bold to ask, we can see their Shazams working overtime). So we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share our favorite songs of the moment. Some may be classics, some may be brand new, some may not even be to your taste, but one thing is for sure …it’s all great music.

Here are some of the songs that we will have on rotation this March.

playlist_March_17

  1. Hearts Don’t Break Around Here—Ed Sheeran— ÷ (Deluxe)
  2. Ne Me Quitte Pas—Wycleff Jean—J’ouvert (Deluxe Edition)
  3. Green Light—Lorde—Green Light
  4. Conceptual Romance—Jenn Hval—Blood Bitch
  5. The Pacifist—DJ Vadim, Yarah Bravo—USSR: The Art of Listening
  6. Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)—Ruby Amanfu—Standing Still
  7. Block Of Ice—Thee Oh Sees—The Master’s Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In
  8. Keep Your Name—Dirty Projectors—Dirty Projectors
  9. Slide—Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean and Migos—Slide
  10. Levo—Recondite—Iffy

Nelson Brill Reviews The Wood Brothers at The Somerville Theatre

Real music lovers can find the melody in everything. From the park to the concert hall, our friend Nelson Brill is always on the hunt for great sound.

In this blog, Brill heads to The Somerville Theatre to see The Wood Brothers perform their carousing vaudeville and fiery rock n’ roll” set. 


CONCERT GLIMPSE: THE WOOD BROTHERS- PRIMED FOR ADVENTURE

By Nelson Brill

FEBRUARY 12, 2017

The Somerville Theatre (located in the heart of Davis Square in Somerville, MA.) opened its doors on May 11, 1914 and the first acts that graced its stage that night were a vaudeville act; a “singing skit” and a “comedy playlet”. (www.somervilletheatre.com). One hundred years later, the Somerville Theatre is still going strong.

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On February 8 and 9th, The Wood Brothers (www.thewoodbros.com) came into town to deliver their own version of carousing vaudeville and fiery rock n’ roll on the Somerville Theatre’s historic stage to the delight of their rollicking, dancing audiences.

The Wood Brothers (“the Brothers”) love to harken back to the days of original vaudeville and folk acts. Midway through their performance on February 8th, the Brothers (Chris Wood on bass, vocals and harmonica; Oliver Wood on vocals and guitar and Jano Rix on keyboards, vocals and everything percussive) dimmed the Somerville Theatre house lights, turned off all stage microphones and gathered in a semi-circle around a single antique microphone (which they call their “Big Mic”). Basking in this autumnal glow, the Brothers performed the filigree title track from their 2013 recording, The Muse [Southern Ground Artists] and their classic, “Postcards From Hell,” (a tribute this evening to the late Levon Helm) in stately sweet harmonies.

The unkempt beauty of these stark ballads highlighted the down-home feel of this great band and their consummate musicianship. Each number combined far-ranging influences such as a brush with Calypso beats (in Chris Wood’s pumping bass solo) to Oliver Wood’s country vocal touches.

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Other sweetly grooving numbers at this concert included the opening “Two Places” and “Touch of Your Hand” (both taken from the Brother’s excellent 2015 recording, Paradise [Honey Jar Records]), with Oliver’s lithe and clear vocals shimmying alongside Chris’s pungent bass and Rix’s keyboard off-kilter splashes.

The Brothers’ common pulsing sway also highlighted their sardonic “American Heartache” with the rasp of Chris’ harmonica cutting deep into the trio’s soaring harmonies that combusted in thunderous drum and snarling electric guitar hits.

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Betwixt and between these grooving ballads and blues, The Brothers took off on a raucous ride through their arsenal of full tilt rock n’ roll sending their lyrics (both comic and cutting) soaring on ripped-up guitar chords and huge bass pelts. Leave it to The Brothers to come up with lyrics such as: “You put your lips in the wind and hope for some kisses back” or “He hails from the great state of confusion and he now pulls a push broom at the inconvenience store.” The latter lyric is taken from their soaring “Singing To Strangers” that crushed with gleeful guitar heat and was partnered with “Snake Eyes” (both numbers found in spirited versions on Paradise) that had Chris Wood dancing in playful revel: he pounded his exuberant bass strings into a frenzy and then, (holding onto the very tip of his huge acoustic bass) he shimmied across the stage to finally fall on his knees to the blasts of Rix’s gut-thumping drums.

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The frolic continued with blazing harp and bass propelling the boogie of “Honey Jar” as Oliver Wood sang in his wonderfully dry, expressive and thin-as-a-reed vocals. This careening number was partnered with the exuberant “One More Day,” a song that was first recorded on The Brothers 2006 recording, Ways Not To Lose [Blue Note]. (For audiophiles, I recommend Ways Not To Lose as The Brothers’ most natural sounding recording to date, because it records them in an intimate session with natural tones and textures to their beguiling instrumental and vocal interplay, with the spirited drummer Kenny Wollesen in the creative mix).

“One More Day” took on a furious pace and blistering heat at this concert as Oliver took up his electric slide guitar with fervent swipes of crushing and blurred high notes followed by Rix’s drum solo that was fit for a boisterous New Orleans “Second Line” parade. Appropriately, this heated jam ended with a spontaneous outburst of a warped version of “The Saints Go Marching In.”

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In the final moments of this raw funk fest, The Brothers came full circle to revisit the glory of The Band, (the Brothers’ upcoming release will be a performance recorded at Levon Helm’s Barn) and lifted the 100 year-old roof of the Somerville Theatre with a soaring version of The Band’s “Ophelia”. At the apex of this reveling version, Rix took a turn in Levon’s honorary seat by singing the chorus at his drum kit while his two partners caroused around him with effusive harmonies and their entwining brotherly love.

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If you would like to read more reviews like this one, visit Nelson’s blog at www.bostonconcertreviews.com.


F1 Audio — Nordost Event

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F1 Audio has organized a fantastic event featuring the new Dynaudio Contour speakers, Nordost cables, Octave tube electronics and Music from MoFi. 

If you’re in the Chicago area, be sure to stop by F1 Audio, this Thursday, February 23rd, starting at 4:30PM, for what is sure to be an amazing evening! 

Factory representatives will be on hand performing demonstrations and answering questions. Register for a chance to win music from MoFi records. Special pricing during the event. Refreshments will be served. 

Call or email to register:

Contact Jamie Pauls 847-772-3140

jamie@f1audio.com


F1 Audio February Event


Thursday, February 23rd 4:30 to 8:30

311 E. Dundee Rd. Palatine, IL 60074

Contact Jamie Pauls 847-772-3140

jamie@f1audio.com  www.f1audio.com

Nordost, Dynaudio, Octave & MoFi

Jacob Heilbrunn Reviews Odin 2 for The Absolute Sound

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We are very excited to share a remarkable review of our flagship product, Odin 2, published in The Absolute Sound. In his article, Jacob Heilbrunn was unmistakably wowed by the improvements our Supreme Reference cables brought to his system, including a lower noise floor, “startling amounts of inner detail and nuance”, and the ability to take “transient speed to a new level”. In fact, Jacob couldn’t help but complement Nordost on its job designing and manufacturing Odin 2 cables:

“Nordost deserves the highest possible commendation for building on its previous efforts to produce a statement product that is remarkable for its purity and resolution, transparency and clarity.”

You can now read Jacob’s Odin 2 review here:  Nordost Odin 2 Interconnect and Speaker Cable Supreme Reference Range — Mighty!

(Many more great Nordost reviews can be found on the Reviews Page of our website)


Nordost will be at the Montréal Audio Fest!

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Nordost is excited to attend the Salon Audio, Montréal Audio Fest, March 24-26. Please join us at l’Hôtel Bonaventure Montréal in Salon St-Michel, where Nordost sales representatives, Michael Taylor and Bruno de Lorimier, will be performing live demonstrations and product comparisons throughout the weekend. The Montréal Audio Fest is the perfect opportunity to hear the effect that quality cables can have on a hifi system, and to determine how the caliber of performance is improved as enhancements are made to cable design. Admission is free to the public, so we hope to see you there!

Questions and Answers (February 2017)

Our product specialists receive questions on a daily basis about Nordost products, their application, and hifi in general.  We thought that we would take a minute to share some of our most recent and frequently asked questions here so that everyone can get the answers they are looking for!


Q: I have never owned any type of audio power equipment. Where do you think I should start?

A: A lot of our advice would depend on your particular system. Generally however, step one would be investing in a high quality distribution block. Our QBASE units address the conflicting flows of signal and ground paths in a typical system, which create noise on the line. By using a unique method that we call “star-earth topology”, our QB8 and QB4 units (QB6 if you are from the UK) control ground flow by lifting the impedance level of every outlet except for one (the “primary earth” outlet) by .5 Ohms. This creates an uninterrupted, straight-line AC distribution path from the wall to each individual component. This has a significantly positive impact on your soundstage—it lowers the noise floor without any high frequency compression.

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Q: My dealer supplied me with a copy of the Nordost set up and tuning disc. Could you let me know how long and how often I should use the “burn in” track?

A: We’re glad that your dealer gave you the Nordost System Set-Up and Tuning Disc. It really does accelerate the burn in process!  Using the burn in track on repeat, your interconnects and speaker cables will require about 96 hours of continuous play to get to the point where we consider them “burned in” (power cords burn in much faster and don’t require this).  After that, if you use the disc once a year for several hours, the cables will continue to perform perfectly.  We recommend that you repeat this process yearly in order to ensure that your cables are subjected to frequencies that your music might not contain.

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Q: I am already using most of Nordost’s power products. I am now thinking about adding QK1 and/or QV2, but I don’t know which I should use in my one remaining free outlet. What problem(s) are the two different units designed to solve? 

A: I think it is important to clarify that these two units are not solving problems per se, but more importantly, they are adding harmonics in different frequency ranges. The QV2 adds harmonics to the midrange and upper bass frequencies, and the QK1 adds harmonics to high frequencies—so you use them to add clarity to those areas.

The QV2 provides more audible effects, since it’s easier to hear changes within the mid and lower frequency spectrums. However, both the QV2 and QK1 make nice improvements.

We also want to point out that these units are not limited to the space available on your distribution block. QV2 and QK1 units can also be plugged into wall sockets, as long as they are in the same circuit as your sound system. When you are purchasing these devices, it is important to note that QV2 units work best in pairs, since that has a tendency to double their impact — QK1s work great in any quantity.

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Nordost Playlist – February 2017

Nordost is lucky to have a wonderful team of representatives and product trainers who travel around the world educating and demonstrating the effects of Nordost’s products. As part of these demonstrations, it is our job to find an interesting and diverse selection of music to showcase our cables, power devices, sort system and accessories. Whether at shows, visiting our dealers and distributors or even in our own listening room in our headquarters in Holliston, we are constantly getting asked what music we are playing (or if our audience is not so bold to ask, we can see their Shazams working overtime). So we thought this would be a perfect opportunity to share our favorite songs of the moment. Some may be classics, some may be brand new, some may not even be to your taste, but one thing is for sure …it’s all great music.

Here are some of the songs that we will have on rotation this February.

playlist_February_17

  1. Nothing Can Change This Love—Sam Cooke—Mr. Soul
  2. Smells Like Teen Spirit—Freedom Fry—Smells Like Steen Spirit
  3. 17:35—Stoop Kids—Already Out Of Time
  4. Senza Un Perché—Nada—Tutto L’amore Che Mi Manca
  5. Hot Thoughts—Spoon—Hot Thoughts
  6. The Beginning (Work It Out)—Timothy Bloom—The Beginning (Work It Out)
  7. Wasting Time—Kids These Days—Traphouse Cuts
  8. In A Sentimental Mood—Duke Ellington, John Coltrane—Duck Ellington & John Coltrane
  9. We The People…—A Tribe Called Quest—We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
  10. Good Friend—Emily King—The Switch (Deluxe Edition)

 

Alan Sircom Reviews Sort Systems for Hi-Fi+

Review Banner- Sort_wide

Nordost is starting the year off right with another great review! In the January issue of Hi-Fi+, you will find a new piece covering Nordost’s complete Sort System. Alan Sircom is no stranger to Nordost. As he makes clear in his article, using Nordost products (whether they be cables, power products, or resonance control devices) will elevate the performance of your sound system, making all of your components seem more cohesive. With the introduction of the Sort Lift, Alan was able to address his system from all angles: electronics, loudspeakers, and cabling.

“Whether Sort Systems is the start, mid-way, or the end point in your Nordost journey, these components work, work in harmony with one another, and combine perfectly with Nordost’s more commonly thought of system components. Highly recommended.”

“The unSorted sound is like your system on a bad hair day. The soundstage seems to fold in on itself, the natural sense of harmonic overtones, and sense of musical structure to the sound has weakened. It’s just not all there!”

To read Alan’s review in it’s entirety, visit the review page on the Nordost website, or CLICK HERE.