Questions and Answers (August 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 live in a small apartment, so managing my audio cables is always an issue. I have read that Nordost warns against coiling speaker cables and power cords, as well as avoiding contact both from other cables and walls. That can be difficult when you’re working with my space constraints! Can you offer any advice for me to keep my cabling tidy while avoiding interference and sound degradation?

A: If your speaker cables are longer than what you need, we suggest running them in a serpentine pattern so that they rest on their edge (minimizing surface contact). Placing them like this will ensure that you don’t coil them, and that they resonate freely.  If you use our Sort Lifts, this will improve their resonating properties, and decrease their contact with the floor even more. Power cables are a bit trickier, but you should still avoid coiling them.  Also, make sure that if they are near the speaker cables they cross the speaker cable at a 90 degree angle, so that they don’t run parallel to each other.

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 Q: How much time is required to break in a power cord?

A: Power cords have the fastest burn in time of any cable, thanks to the amount of current flowing through them. Typically, they are good to go within 48-72 hours of continual use. When breaking in any other Nordost cable, we recommend 168 hours for our Leif and Norse 2 ranges, and 336 hours for our Reference cables. Although, it’s best to go to your local authorized Nordost dealer and ask about the ability to burn them in on our VIDAR machine (however, this service is not available for power cords).
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Q: What is the difference between the QV2 and QK1?

A: These two product address different frequencies.  The QK1 adds harmonics at high frequencies, and is a mechanical device. The QV2 adds harmonics at midrange and upper bass frequencies, and is an electronic device. For more information about these products please visit the QRT section of our website.

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Q: I am looking to buy a power cord, but I don’t know what length to get: 1 or 2 meters. Do cables at different lengths sound different?

A: The jump from a 1 meter to a 2 meter cable is the most noticeable jump when comparing any length.  While a 1 meter power cord won’t sound bad by any stretch of the imagination, the 2 meter cable will sound smoother, since the resonance is being spread out over a longer length.

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Questions and Answers (QKORE)

Our product specialists receive questions on a daily basis about Nordost products, their application, and hifi in general.  With the introduction of our new QKORE Ground Units last month, we received an influx of great questions from customers.  We thought that we would take a minute to answer some of our QKORE related question here so that everyone can get the answers they are looking for!


Q: Hello, I have recently purchased one of your new QKORE Units (1 outlet to QB). I was wondering whether there is any suggestion about placement on/around the stereo rack. More specifically, does it have to be in the middle of the rack, like QX4, or can it be placed outside the rack on the floor? Since I also own a QX4, can the QKORE and the QX Unit be placed side by side?

A: QKORE units can be placed pretty much anywhere within your system; they don’t have the same placement needs as the QX Units. However, they do benefit from being on a proper shelf in your audio rack, or on Sort Kones, instead of sitting directly on the floor. To address your second question: Yes, your QKORE Unit can be placed side by side with QX4 or QX2 Units.

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Q: I am trying to determine which QKORE would work best for my system. Would I be able to connect my QBASE Unit to my QKORE Unit if I purchase the QKORE3?

A: Our QKORE6 Unit is designed with two Low Voltage Attractor Plates, so that it can address both primary (AC) and secondary (DC) ground. The QKORE3 Unit is only intended to address one aspect of ground at a time. Therefore, if you connect your QBASE Unit to your QKORE3 simultaneously with your electronics, you will not achieve the desired effects. The benefits to your system will be much greater if you use both a QKORE1 and QKORE3, or if you purchase the QKORE6.

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Q: I have an external ground rod, can I still benefit from the QKORE?

A: While the QKORE1 is especially ideal for someone looking to ground their QBASE but who does not have the opportunity to install an external ground rod, you can absolutely gain additional benefits from using QKORE Units. It’s similar to the improvements that you will see when going from a designated ground for your system to an external ground rod. Adding a QKORE to this setup will be another step-up in performance. When adding the QKORE3 or QKORE6 to your system, you will see benefits that are not addressed by an external ground, since these products also improve the secondary ground, where the audio circuit is.

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Q: I read that the QKORE either comes with one or two QKORE Wires in the packaging. Why would you not provide us with all of the cables we need to set up the QKORE in our system?

A: The QKORE1 includes a 2 meter QKORE Wire with Banana to Banana terminations, the QKORE3 includes a 2 meter QKORE Wire with Banana to RCA terminations, and the QKORE6 includes one of each. However, it would be impossible to foresee which lengths and terminations would be necessary in each individual’s system. There are 18 different termination combinations available, not to mention variations in cable length.

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6 Steps to Successfully Audition HiFi Cables in Your Home Sound System

If you have had the opportunity to visit hifi audio shows in the past, hopefully you are familiar with Nordost demonstrations. For over 25 years, Nordost has been exhibiting at shows around the world and performing cable comparisons for the public. We maintain that consumers should audition the components that they are interested in before they make a purchase, and cables are no exception. While hearing cable demonstrations at a hifi show, or in a dealer’s showroom, can be a fun and informative experience, sometimes it is not enough to determine what is right for your home system. By arranging at-home auditions, you are able to hear what benefits, or drawbacks, specific cables bring to your sound system, using your own components, in your own listening room.  However, if you are going to compare cables, there are a few guidelines to follow in order to ensure that you perform a successful audition.

 

1) Identify your area of interest

Although your ultimate goal may be to do a system-wide cabling upgrade, in order to do a fair comparison, you should identify one area to focus on at a time. For example, perhaps the first thing that you want to look at is the interconnect between your CD player and preamplifier. This will help you isolate and identify the resulting audible differences, as you perform your comparisons.

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2) Request Demo Cables

Make sure that when inquiring about taking cables home from your local audio dealer for comparison, they give you cables that have already been used in a system for a considerable amount of time. Before a cable sounds its best, it must be broken in, due to gases that can be trapped in the insulation, and the high electrical charge that is inherent in new cables. These negative characteristics change after the first 100 hours of play time or “burn-in”. Another thing to note when picking up your demo cables from a dealer is to pay attention to cable length. When making comparisons between one brand, make sure that the cables are the same length, as that can greatly affect the sonic properties of the cables. When you are cross-comparing cables from different companies, the design philosophy of a cable will impact which length sounds “best”. Nordost, for example, uses a low-capacitance design that sounds better with longer lengths of cables (up to about a 5 meter length).

 

3) Re-familiarize yourself with your system

Now that you have identified the cables you will focus on, and you have collected burned-in demo cables of uniform length from your dealer, it is time to change… nothing. Although it might be tempting to get started right away, take some time to first reacquaint yourself to your system as is. Put on some music and listen to your system with a critical ear: point out the characteristics that are unique to your system, identifying aspects you like, aspects that you find lacking etc.

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4) Musical selection and listening

The genre of music you select for auditioning cables is entirely up to you. However, it is important to choose tracks that you are familiar with. One of the most enjoyable aspects of comparing and upgrading cables, is discovering nuances you have never heard before in a piece of music that you have listened to countless times! Once you have decided on a number of tracks that you are familiar with (you should choose a few different pieces, especially if you are going to be doing a number of comparisons, so that listening fatigue doesn’t set in), make sure to play each cut of music for only 45 seconds to 1 minute before making a change. If you listen to a song in its entirety, you may forget the details in the beginning of the track. We find that 45 seconds is just enough time to get into a piece, without waiting so long as to take away from the comparison.

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5) Switching Cables 

Once you listen to your 45 second piece of music, it is important to switch out your cables as quickly as possible, in order to minimize the time between the comparisons. When conducting your switch, make sure that all other variables remain the same. If we stick with the assumption that you are changing the interconnect between your CD player and preamplifier, put your preamplifier on mute (or change the input to effectively mute the preamp) but do NOT change the volume or power down your system. If you are comparing power cords, you will have to power down, but make sure that your volume remains the same throughout all of your comparisons.

If your system includes tube amplifiers, they take some time to become linear, so unfortunately you will have to wait for them to warm up in order to perform a fair comparison.

 

6) Switch Back

Once you have repeated this process until you have completed all of your A/B comparisons, switch back to your original cabling to remind yourself how much of an impact one cable can make within your entire system.

 

Although you have now finished your comparison process, that doesn’t mean your audition is over. It takes time for cables to settle into your system. We encourage our customers to reinstall the cable that you are most happy with from doing the initial comparison, and live with it in your system for a few days to really understand what this addition will bring to the overall performance of your system.

“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!

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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Speaker Placement: Image is Everything

“Image Is Everything!”

How to squeeze every drop of performance from your speakers….

By Anthony Chiarella


In nearly two decades as an Audio Reviewer, I wrote hundreds of articles and, as I look back, most of these were written about speakers. Whether listening to them, evaluating them, or moving them around my room, loudspeakers have consumed more of my attention than any other part of my audio systems…and with good reason! The performance of no other component in your system is more sensitive to proper placement than your speakers; in other words, speaker setup places the sound of your system largely under your control. Here’s how….

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Roughing-In for Bass

The art and science of speaker placement involves a series of adjustments, beginning with “Roughing-in” speaker positions by finding the location where bass response is smoothest. (Note: assuming your speakers have spiked feet, Nordost’s Sort Füt units, or some other type of interface with the floor, you can retract these to make it easier to move the speakers. Near the end of the process, we’ll level the speakers and will adjust the feet at that point.) Start with both of your speakers about three feet away from side and rear walls, pointing straight ahead. Play some music with deep bass content (pipe organ, double bass or prominent electric bass) and move the speakers out of the corners until a natural bass balance is achieved. Don’t even think about mid- and high-frequencies right now: we’re dialing-in bass response. Listening to tracks with heavy bass content, disconnect first one speaker and then the other, moving each closer to, and farther from, rear and side walls until balanced bass is achieved. Now, connect both speakers and let ‘er rip! Is bass powerful and natural but without boom or overhang? When you’ve balanced the bass, it’s time to move “Onward and upward….”

Room Treatment

When it comes to Midrange and Treble, the room—specifically the reflective/absorbent characteristics of various surfaces such as walls, floors, windows and furnishings—is going to influence the sound at the listening position. If you find your mids and highs are bright and forward, try moving the speakers a little farther from room boundaries (but not so much that you compromise bass performance) and consider adding some absorptive treatments—wall hangings, carpets, plush furniture—at strategic points in your room in order to minimize reflections. At this point, you can also start toeing-in the speakers slightly.

Equilateral Triangle Approach

Years ago, British manufacturers including Spendor, Harbeth, Rogers and ProAc used a system whereby the two speakers and the listener formed the three corners of an equilateral triangle (all three sides being identical in length), with the speakers toed-in until only the front baffle of each speaker was visible from the listening position and both sides of the cabinet hidden from sight. This is a great way to control room reflections and focus central images for a solitary, centrally-seated listener; on the other hand, though you’ll wind up with razor-sharp focus, the soundstage probably won’t venture outside the speakers. What’s worse, the best seat in the house is the ONLY seat in the house, since this sort of positioning accommodates only one listener and is, to put it bluntly, anti-social.

Nearfield Listening

A similar approach—known as “Nearfield Listening”—involves moving both speakers and listener into the center of the room, father away from the four walls, with the listener sitting close to the speakers. Nearfield listening, which had its genesis in recording studios where engineers placed their “Nearfield Monitor” speakers atop the mastering console, goes even farther to remove room variables from the sonic equation. While this theory has many supporters, I always feel like the speakers are too close…almost like I’m wearing headphones. And of course, only one listener will enjoy properly balanced sound.

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Voweling

“Voweling” is a more recent tuning process. Developed by Wilson Audio, voweling involves moving the speakers a fraction of an inch at a time—forward and backward, closer together and farther apart—until you’ve achieved the best tonal balance and imaging. When I first heard about voweling, I dismissed it; after all, how could moving the speakers half an inch at a time have a dramatic impact upon sound? And then I tried it….

In a word, it works! Moving the speakers such a small amount influences the mids and highs without impacting the bass. Once the speakers have been “Roughed-in” for bass response, as per above, put on a recording of a solo vocalist and slightly toe-in the speakers until the voice is sharply focused. Using a tape measure, make sure the speakers are the same distance from the back wall. Maintaining the same toe-in angle, move each speaker about ½” closer to the other and re-audition. Experiment, moving the speakers very slightly closer together, farther apart, forward and backward, until you’ve achieved the most natural, pleasing tonal balance.

Fine Tuning

Once you’ve dialed-in your ideal tonal balance, it’s time to fine-tune spatial characteristics. The goal is to balance image focus, on the one hand, with soundstage size on the other. This is accomplished by gentle toe-in. Since you’ve gone to great lengths to pick the exact location for your speakers, you should proceed in a way that doesn’t negate your hard work. I recommend pivoting each speaker using the outer rear foot as the fixed vertical axis of rotation; in this way, the positioning (which you worked so hard to achieve) stays constant. (Consider putting small pieces of tape on the floor to mark the speaker positions.) Work in half-degree increments, focusing the image in much the same way as you would a pair of binoculars. If you’ve accomplished all previous steps properly, you should only need a small amount of toe-in to focus images while achieving a wall-to-wall soundstage.

Spikes and Feet

As a final step, you need to adjust the floor spikes or other speaker feet. There are two goals here: first, you want to make sure the speaker is completely stable and doesn’t “rock” back and forth; secondly, you need to make sure the speaker is perfectly level. Drop a spirit level atop each speaker cabinet until the perfect level is obtained and all four spikes or feet are in solid contact with the floor. If you find the sound to be bright or forward, you can tilt each speaker back slightly by raising the front spikes. (Again: a little is better than a lot!)  Or, if you have Nordost’s Sort Füt, this last step will go much smoother. The Sort Füt is adjustable so that you can level your speakers with ease, and their premium package comes with a laser level to help both with leveling and toe-in. If you have the funds, I strongly suggest a set of Sort Füt. This solution not only protects your speakers from external vibrations, but also drains the cabinet of internal vibrations generated from the speakers themselves, elevating the sound of EVERY speaker to a much higher level of performance!


 

For more even ideas about speaker setup, see our Speaker Placement Guide  

 

Video Vibes – How HDMI cables matter for Audio AND Video

Video Vibes: Image quality worthy of an audiophile

By Anthony Chiarella

We audiophiles are a strange bunch. When it comes to sound, we obsess over every detail of our HiFi systems, moving speakers half an inch at a time, adjusting toe-in by fractions of a degree, using micrometers, jewelers’ scales and USB Microscopes to precisely calibrate our turntables and spirit levels in order to optimize our equipment racks. We spend a fortune on items that, to the uninitiated, seem to be minutiae, because experience has taught us that EVERYTHING influences sound quality. And yet, when it comes to video, we suddenly become misers. Lazy misers, at that!

Think about it: How many hardcore audiophiles apply the same rigor to video performance as they do to audio? Audiophiles either don’t care about video performance or they don’t think they can do anything to improve it…and nothing could be further from the truth! Anyone who owns a projector knows the importance of proper video calibration. Years ago, Joe Kane and ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) developed effective calibration standards for all video display devices — CRTs, DLPs, Projectors, Plasmas, etc.— and any dealer that sells quality home theater products insists on careful calibration and optimization of the video systems they install.

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The point of all this, of course, is that image quality DOES matter, and that careful tuning can provide significant enhancements in video performance. When it comes to “Bang for the buck,” the most profound improvements come from upgrading your High Definition Cables.

If you’re reading this blog, you already know the impact that changing interconnects or speaker cables can have on the sound of your system. An audio cable has to deal with two basic parameters: frequency and amplitude. The audio bandwidth spans 20,000 cycles, which means that an interconnect must carry two (stereo) channels of 20 kHz bandwidth. By comparison, the bandwidth of a Hi-Def video signal is 6GHz. That’s 6,000,000,000 Hz, or about Three Thousand Times the bandwidth of an audio signal! And that’s not the whole story: whereas an audio cable carries two channels of data, an HDMI cable carries three High Speed Digital Signaling Channels, eleven Channels of full-range Audio (plus LFE), as well as a TDMS Clock Channel, and a Data Display Channel (DDC), not to mention FIVE grounds! Of course, all of these various signals must travel the length of the cable in perfect synchronization and arrive at precisely the same instant in time. Obviously, the job description of an HDMI cable is far more complicated—and far more demanding—than that of an audio cable. So, why haven’t video connoisseurs been investing in better cables the way audiophiles have been doing for the past 40 years?

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The problem is that, until recently, most HDMI cables have been indistinguishable from each other. Made in enormous Asian factories, generic HDMI cables are designed and manufactured to the lowest common denominator, with cost, not quality, as the overriding concern. All of which explains why Nordost HDMI cables are the ONLY choice for quality and performance. The same philosophies that Nordost applies to their audio cables—conductor design, material quality, mechanical and electrical isolation, dielectric optimization, ultra-wide bandwidth, and precision manufacturing—make Nordost HDMI cables the world’s finest. Need proof? DPL Labs, an independent testing facility that has developed standards for HDMI cables, has certified that all Nordost HDMI cables achieve the highest possible level of performance.

Available in three grades—Blue Heaven, Heimdall 2 and Valhalla 2—Nordost HDMI and 4K UHD cables are precision-manufactured in the USA from the finest materials available. All feature Micro-Monofilament dielectrics, silver-plated Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) conductors and DPL High Speed Certification. Most importantly, however, these three Nordost AV cables share one unique feature: each offers a cost-effective means of elevating your Audio/Video system to new and higher levels of performance. Try one and you’ll see…and hear!


LEARN MORE:

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Pushing the 4K/UHD Digital Envelope

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Danger Lurks at the Bottom of the HDMI Abyss


 

Vinyl Is Back! Everything You Need To Know About LP Records

Still Spinning, Still Grinning… Vinyl Is Back!  

Everything You Need To Know About LP Records

by Anthony Chiarella

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I’d forgotten just how great LPs can sound. This point was driven home a couple of years ago when I added a new turntable to my reference system. At the time, I had a $65,000 digital front end, and I thought the sound it produced was about as good as High End could get…until I started spinning records. My analog rig—turntable, arm, cartridge and phono preamp—cost less than half as much, but outperformed my digital stack in almost every respect. Instrumental timbres were richer, with finer harmonic detail, imaging was more three dimensional, and the spaces between the images more palpable, with an airiness and cohesion that was just, well, more lifelike than even the best digital systems. I found this especially true with older, analog masters, but surprisingly, many modern digital transfers actually sounded better on vinyl! (In fairness, I should point out that there are many digital masters which outperform their analog counterparts.) Of course, sound quality alone doesn’t explain the renaissance of the LP record. The tactile pleasures of holding an album cover—an experience that was diminished with the “compact” disc and eliminated completely with streaming—provide a powerful sensory experience. The ability to see and savor album artwork, not to mention lyrics and other “extras” included with many LPs, is sorely missed with CDs and modern digital formats.

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The “chore” of removing an LP from its jacket, placing it on the platter, clamping it, cleaning it and carefully lowering the needle into the groove was supposedly one of the reasons why CDs became more popular than LPs; however, for many LP lovers, the ritual of preparing the record for playback actually enhances the experience. And then, there is the hardware. Does any other component in the stereo system equal the beauty or visual artistry of the turntable? Since the time of Edison, record players have been sources of pride and collectability, as well as the focal point of most HiFi systems. (There are several turntables in the Museum of Modern Art’s Permanent Design Collection.) Once you’ve decided to “take the plunge” and join the Analog Renaissance, there are a few vinyl-specific things you have to know. Whether you’re looking to spend a few hundred dollars or a hundred thousand, here’s everything you need to get started… Today’s top ‘tables are true works of art, designed for aesthetic appeal as well as performance. Brinkmann, Kronos, TechDas and many others offer superbly crafted analogue systems, engineered to last for several lifetimes. At lower price points, Rega, Project, EAT and VPI offer entry-level ‘tables whose sound quality approaches state-of-the-art, though without the visual beauty or obsessive craftsmanship, which defines cost-no-object products. Ortofon and Sumiko dominate the market for reasonably-priced phono cartridges, while Kiseki, Koetsu and Lyra continue to develop exquisite cartridges for music lovers who demand “the best” regardless of cost.

Being a high-performance software format, there are two more variables you’ll need to address if you want to extract the highest possible performance from your analog rig. First of all, pay attention to where you mount your turntable and the structure upon which you place it. Record players are vulnerable to “acoustic feedback” (which sounds like a loud, uncontrollable hum) if placed too close to speakers, especially those with prodigious bass; additionally, a turntable placed upon a wobbly floor or rickety stand will be prone to “groove skipping.” Of course, a rigid, high-mass—and expensive!—equipment rack is ideal, but budget and décor often render such purchases impractical. Here are a couple of hints… First, make sure you place the stand upon which your turntable rests near a load-bearing wall (usually one of the exterior walls of the house), as these are the most solid points in the room and the least prone to footfalls and other mechanical interference. A wall-mount shelf—available online for under $150—offers great isolation at a very affordable price. Next, if you’re using a piece of furniture, make sure it’s top surface is level and that it doesn’t wobble. (Small pieces of plastic can be used to “shim” the legs of your furniture to keep it stable and level.) Finally, in order to minimize acoustic feedback, try to position your equipment rack as far from your speakers as possible. We’re almost done!

You’ll also need a few accessories to make your ‘table sing and maintain those precious slabs of vinyl in pristine condition. If your turntable has a detachable phono cable, you may want to consider and upgrade. The signals that are sent through a phono cable are the most delicate in your hifi system, and you would be surprised at the nuances that a high quality cable can bring to sound fidelity. Companies such as Nordost offer a wide range of tonearm cables that run the gamut cost-wise. Another thing to consider is record cleaning machines. Record cleaning machines haven’t changed since vinyl’s “golden age” of the 1960s through ‘80s, when most libraries owned “wet-system” machines that would wash and vacuum their vast collections. The best of these are made by Okki Nokki and VPI, range in price from approximately $500-$1,000, and are recommended for music lovers with large record collections. (Even for small collections, the improvement in sound quality is amazing!) Need to spend less? Spin-Clean makes a dry-system vacuum machine which starts under $80, while AudioQuest and MoFi offer manual brushes starting at under $15! Assuming you’re setting up your own analog rig, a protractor and stylus gauge are essential…and cheap!  Add some stylus cleaning fluid and a package of record sleeves (to replace the old sleeves of used records) and you’re ready to discover the pleasures of LP Playback. Enjoy!

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Questions and Answers (May 2016)

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!


mechanically tuned lengths

Q.  I see in reading your FAQ and other info “mechanically tuned” keeps getting mentioned but I never really saw where it is defined or explained.  Can you please explain?  Do you have a more detailed write up to explain?  Also explain why being mechanically tuned somehow negates making a shorter cable from a longer one?

A:  The phrase “mechanically tuned” means a few different things. In some cases when we talk about it in our literature, we are referring to our connectors. Some of the connectors we use are mechanically tuned to match the mass of the conductors we make. However, typically “mechanically tuned” refers to the actual length of the cables we make.  We mechanically tune the lengths of the Norse 2, Reference, and Supreme Reference cables we build.  When building a low capacitance cable, where conductors don’t touch each other, you can actually change the characteristics of the resonant peak by altering the conductor’s length…think guitar string. So if we build a 2m speaker cable we find a length (based on the mass and material used) that sounds better and cut it to that length.  All products that are mechanically tuned are technically a bit longer than we say. We use tuned lengths in most products up to 4m.  After 4m, the electrical properties override the mechanical ones so it isn’t necessary.  So if you have a 5m cable, it is exactly 5m. If you want that 5m cable cut down to make two 2.5m cables from it, it is impossible to do that and maintain Nordost’s mechanically tuned lengths, because the shorter cables that you want to make should be longer than the 2.5m lengths being asked for.


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Q:  Will my QB8 benefit from TC Sort Kones under it? Or are the Sort Kones only for electronics (amp, pre amp etc)

A:  The QB8 will absolutely benefit from having Sort Kones underneath it, because it drains the QBASE of the vibrations being generated from the electrical currents running through it. Even using the AC version will result in an audible improvement.


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Q: Is it better to use a QK1 or QV2 in an open wall socket?

A: Either the QK1 or QV2 can be used in an open wall socket.  However, I would advise you to consider the following: if you are using a power conditioner in your system, it is not ideal to plug a QK1 or QV2 into the wall socket.  They are more effective when plugged into the power conditioner itself or another socket further down the line.

QV2s make a more audible change because the frequencies that they impact are easier to hear. Also I feel like it is worth mentioning that QV2s work better in increments of two, whereas QK1s work in any quantity.  One QV2 works just fine, but the incremental improvement more than doubles when using two.

Spring Cleaning For Your Stereo System

By Anthony Chiarella

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“In the Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of…Audio Gear!?!”

May Alfred, Lord Tennyson will forgive my blatant bastardization of his poetic masterpiece, but its true: as Winter turns to Spring, flowers begin to bloom, animals awaken from hibernation and guys start prepping their toys for the warm months. All across America, lawnmowers are gassed and lubed, boats are lowered into lakes and rivers, hot rods are tuned and detailed until they shine like mirrors; in other words, it’s time for Spring Cleaning and your Stereo System is the best place to start! Tweaking your system means being a “Do it yourselfer” and, like car guys, you should derive pleasure from maintaining, improving and hot-rodding your gear. There’s a special satisfaction that comes from Sweat Equity and this is particularly true in the case of system optimization.

Although many connoisseurs assume a Stereo System requires little or nothing in the way of maintenance, nothing could be further from the truth. Mechanical vibrations and electrical impulses loosen nuts and bolts, while dust, dirt and pollutants contaminate every connection in your system. Records, cartridges, laser pickups, etc are equally vulnerable. Since these changes occur gradually, you might not notice the degradation in performance on a day-to-day basis but trust us: once you’re given your system a serious “Spring Cleaning,” you’ll hear everything you’ve been missing. And remember: THIS IS FUN!!! Enjoy spending some “Quality Time” with your system….

Let’s start with the things that are most vulnerable to the ravages of time. First up, believe it or not, is your AC Wall Outlet. I’m still amazed at how many six-figure High End systems receive their power from an ancient AC socket that can barely grip the power plug! This is the single cheapest and most significant improvement you can accomplish. Since most of you aren’t electricians and we don’t want you to get injured, PLEASE MAKE SURE TO LOCATE THE PROPER CIRCUIT BREAKER AND TURN OFF THE POWER TO YOUR SYSTEM BEFORE YOU PROCEED!!! Once that’s done, and you’re sure there’s no power flowing to the socket, remove the wall plate, remove the AC Socket and replace it with a Hospital Grade AC Socket. (I suggest buying an inexpensive Polarity Tester to ensure you have your positive, negative and Earth connected properly.) Reinstall the wall plate and prepare to be amazed! (I just purchased a dozen Hubbell 15-amp Hospital Grade Outlets for $5.37 apiece online: absolutely THE BEST improvement, dollar-for-dollar, I’ve ever wrought in my system!)

Now that we’ve improved our power, it’s “Time to Tighten.” Your speakers, if they’re on spikes, are probably wobbly. Drop a Spirit Level (please check my “Audiophile Tool Kit” blog from last month) atop each speaker, level it, and then tighten the spikes so that the speaker is rigidly coupled to the floor, making sure that all four spikes are in contact with the floor and the speaker (or stand, for monitors) doesn’t rock to and fro. The improvements in bass punch and image specificity can be startling! As a corollary, you can check to see if the bolts that hold each driver to its baffle are properly tightened. BE CAREFUL! You’re just ensuring that there are no loose bolts. Over-tightening can be catastrophic!

While we’re at it, it can’t hurt to clean and dust everything. If you’ve got some chutzpah, disconnect all of your components, remove from your rack and clean each with a soft, damp cloth. Clean the shelves upon which your components sit, as well. Will it make a difference in sound? Maybe not, but since when was dust and dirt A Good Thing? Since your rack is now empty, consider repositioning it. Do you have sufficient access to cables? Have you considered moving your rack to a more convenient location and changing cable lengths? Have you considered adding some sort of “Footers” beneath each component? Now’s the time!

Let’s make sure your system is “On The Level.” Even if you leveled everything when you first installed your system, that might no longer be the case. Start by leveling your system rack, making sure it doesn’t wobble or rock on the floor. Next, place your turntable and/or CD Player on its support and make sure they’re level, as well. Turntables require special attention. Check that cartridge screws and clips are tight, break out your stylus force gauge and check that tracing force hasn’t drifted, use a strobe to confirm speed accuracy. (This is especially important with Belt Drive ‘tables, as belts will stretch with use.) Load up your rack and verify level: an unladen rack won’t necessarily remain level once a couple of hundred pounds of equipment have been added! If there are nuts to lock your rack’s spikes in place, gently tighten to save your work.

It’s time to check your connections. Over the course of a year, your speaker binding posts will have loosened and your contacts will have become contaminated. This is a good time to bring your cables back to a Nordost Dealer for a three day Vidar burn-in. Buy a can of Cramolin and carefully clean every cable plug and chassis socket to remove built-up contaminants. (Do NOT apply any cleaner or treatment to AC connections: the results can be disastrous!) Before you reconnect all your cables, give everything a good wipe-down with Nordost ECO 3X to eliminate both dust and static charge. Ensure that all cables are properly “Dressed” and that power and signal cables are separated to the extent possible. Verify all connections and power-up….

Chances are, you’re going to experience a host of changes, some of which might not seem positive. You’ll probably hear more prominent bass and perhaps a bit more “immediate” (read: “Forward”) sound. This is normal! It’s time to reposition your speakers. Try everything: closer together and no toe-in, farther apart with more toe-in, closer and farther from the back and side walls, asymmetrical placement, etc. Use your favorite music and perhaps a couple of setup discs (Nordost makes a great one!) to restore the balance to your system. Once you’ve found the “Magic Spot” for your speakers, re-level, ensure that the speakers/stands are free of play and wobble and tighten.

Finally, here’s the most important part of the process. Pour yourself a drink, spin (or stream) your favorite album, sit back and enjoy your handiwork. Happy Spring!

 

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