Recently, many of you may have seen systems that use cable lifters. But what purpose do they serve? Are they just aesthetically pleasing? They may highlight the cables, and make them look organized, but do they make a sonic difference?
Sure cables have the potential to create quite a “mess” when just thrown behind the rack, and organization is always a good thing… but there are more to cable lifters than meets the eye.
Organization: This is the easy one. By utilizing cable lifters you can create organized pathways for cables to follow. The big benefit here is that you can create these pathways so that the cables are sufficiently spaced apart to avoid noise contamination between them. Also, by creating these pathways, you can avoid coiling excess cabling, which actually hurts the performance of the cable by changing its electrical properties.
Dielectric charge: Another lesser known issue cables face is a buildup of a charge on the dielectric (the cable jacket). The outer jacket can actually store an electrical charge that it can pick up from laying on a floor, especially if they are set on carpet or rugs. Sometimes you can help control the impact of this charge depending on the material from which the cable jacket is made. For example, Nordost uses FEP as our chosen dielectric, which stores less of a charge than other materials (like PVC). The larger the charge on the dielectric, the more the electrical signal traveling beneath it is affected. By lifting the cables off the floor (i.e. stopping the contact between dielectric and an electrically charged surface) you minimize the possibility of building up that charge, lessening any negative effects on the electrical signal.
Resonance: Cable lifters actually improve the overall sound of the cable itself. This doesn’t work for some cable brands (especially brands that utilize stranded cable designs), but it does benefit the sound of Nordost cables! When you build a cable that is designed to resonate in a specific way, cable lifters can help facilitate that desired resonance. If you look at the Nordost Sort Lifts in particular, you can see that the design is intended to suspend the cable so that movement is possible, allowing the cable to naturally resonate. Whereas, when cable is simply laying on the floor, that contact “deadens” or “compresses” the signal.
When we were thinking of a nice way to start 2022, we thought…why not give the people what they “liked” most throughout the past year, all in one spot! This 2021 blog round-up includes our posts from this past year that received the most engagement, whether it be likes, shares, comments, retweets, Instagram reactions, or however you feel like measuring now-a-days. Here are our favorite blogs, back by popular demand!
Nordost’s QRT products are easy and effective to demonstrate in any system. But while their performance improvements are immediate, we recognize that people appreciate knowing what to listen for when they sit down to a product audition. In this blog, we list some of the sonic effects that you can expect to hear when introducing each of our QRT products into your sound system!
Did you know that not all ground is not created equally?!? Well, it turns out that there are two typs of grounds in your system: Natural and Artificial Ground. This blog explains what both types of grounds are, as well as how you can address them when making improvements to your sound system.
Bi-Wired Loudspeakers can be tricky to set up correctly. However, when done right, they could mean a wonderful audible enhancement for your system! This blog tells you what having bi-wired loudspeakers mean, describes three different ways they can be wired, and lets you know the advantages or disadvantages of each option.
Correctly mounting and aligning your cartridge is a multi-step process that involves several tools and some patience…but the results are well worth it! In this blog, we have simplified this process to six easy steps so that you can minimize tracking errors and achieve the most accurate sound from your turntable.
We all know that cable design makes a difference. But what aspects of cable design should you pay attention to when looking for a digital cable upgrade? This blog highlights the top four characteristics high performance digital cables must have, and explains how each of these characteristics affect the cable’s performance.
There are several simple tweaks and changes that you can make to improve the performance of your turntable. This blog shares five easy adjustments and modifications to upgrade your turntable in order to get the best sound from your analog system.
One reason people love vinyl-driven systems is the analog “process”. The intricacy of turntable set-up is the perfect precursor for its daily use. Opening an album, setting the record down and arranging the needle to gingerly settle at the exact right spot—it’s a lot of work, but it feels more rewarding than mindlessly pressing play on a streaming service. Although, if you are going to put in the work, you want it to sound good. Luckily, there are several simple tweaks and changes that you can make to improve the performance of your turntable. Here, we have put together five easy adjustments and modifications to upgrade your turntable, and make sure that you are getting the sound that your analog system is capable of!
1. Stay stable and get level
The surface that you place hifi components on always makes a difference in audio performance, but it is extra important when placing a turntable. Turntables need sturdy, level surfaces to minimize skipping and to make sure that you don’t do any damage to your needle or records. Many audiophiles purchase audio racks with anti-resonance properties, or they install audio accessories, like Sort System products, which help minimize system vibrations and are transformative to the sound. However, the simplest upgrade is simply making sure that whichever surface you have chosen to house your turntable is absolutely level and stable.
2. Replace your belt
There are several types of turntables on the market, including idler-wheel, belt-drive, and direct-drive. If you are using a belt-driven turntable, you know that the belt is responsible for the movement and seed, and (when they aren’t working well) can even affect the tone of the music. The fact is, rubber can age, degrade, and stretch over time. If you have had your belt-drive turntable for three to five years, refreshing your belt can mean a big upgrade, stabilizing the timing of your ‘table, and allowing your music to play at a steady pace.
3. Upgrade the tonearm cable
If your turntable has a removable tonearm cable, you can get a lot more performance with an easy, but powerful upgrade. The signals traveling between the turntable and the phono preamp are the most delicate in the analog audio system chain. By substituting the stock cable that came with your turntable for a purpose-built tonearm cable, you will unveil a whole new level of performance from your turntable that you didn’t even know existed. Low capacitance cables, with proper shielding for both channels, enable the turntable cartridge to deliver all the musical details contained on LPs to the phono preamp without loss. Some tonearm cables, like the ones produced by Nordost, even take grounding into consideration (which can make a huge difference to the signal quality). Nordost even provides tonearm cable options for a wide variety of system levels, from mid-fi to reference.
4. Improve the turntable mat
The mat that comes with your turntable should not be your final solution. In fact, it might even be the cause of the crackling, static noise that’s distracting you during your listening sessions. Turntable mats come in several different materials from cork, to sorbothane, to leather, and more, each material with their own merits. A good turntable mat should protect and stabilize your record, reduce friction, and even increase sound quality. However, before choosing your mat, make sure to check if your turntable manufacturer has any recommendations.
5. Add some weight
If your turntable came without a record weight, it might be something you should consider, in order to give your system a sonic boost. Adding a weight on top of your spinning record helps to couple the record to the platter itself, which helps to minimize vibrations, improve tracking, and prevent slipping. As a result, you can cut down on distortion and background noise and tighten the focus of the overall sound. Like with mats, before you settle on a weight, check with your turntable manufacturer for specific recommendations.
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 those questions here so that everyone can get the answers they are looking for!
Q: I have seen that Nordost advocates using jumpers instead of links that come with loudspeakers. Why is this? I would have thought the links are better.
A: The metal plates that speaker manufacturers supply with speakers are far from ideal connectors. The plates are not of ideal material nor are they even the proper shape. They are supplied to allow the speakers to work if the customer doesn’t bi-amp or bi-wire them. Jumpers, on the other hand, are small runs of proper signal carrying cables, just like the cables from your amplifier to your speakers. That consistency yields better results.
Q: Right now, I am currently running Red Dawn Speaker Cables and would like to slowly upgrade all of my cables to Nordost. Ideally, I would like to stick to the same series of power cords (i.e. Red Dawn) for the entire system. However, due to budget constraints, does it make sense to prioritize based on component…for example, Red Dawn for my pre-amp, and Blue Heaven Power Cords for the rest of the system?
A: We completely understand why it might be hard to stick with your “ideal” cable throughout the system, so prioritizing does make sense. One of the reasons why we design our cables the way we do is so that they can easily be upgraded and mixed throughout your system without any drawbacks. In terms of prioritization, we recommend that the BEST power cord in your system be placed from your wall to your distribution bar. Once you have that covered, then you are correct in saying that your pre-amp (or integrated) should be next in line. After that, you want your amplifier(s) covered. Following that, it’s a question of “what is used most”. For example, if you mostly listen to CDs, use your better power cord on your transport, however if you use your server more, then prioritize your DAC, etc.
Q: Is there any benefit in connecting a component through multiple QKORE Wires to a QKORE?
A: No, once a component is connected to a QKORE with one cable, connecting additional cables will not enhance it further. Just one cable does the trick!
Audio cables can be a controversial subject in the audio community, and people tend to end up in one of two camps: cable believers and cable deniers. So, instead of blindly joining one side or the other, get informed!
Sure, you can say that cables are an indispensable component in virtually every hifi system. But why? What do they do? What characteristics should you look for in cable design and how do they impact performance? What is the harm in mixing different brands of cabling? Why should you invest in aftermarket cables instead of opting for what is provided with components at purchase? When upgrading the cables in a system, where should you start?
In this download, you will find the answers to all these questions, and more, so that you can be confident about why audio cables really are so important.
Characteristics of audio cables and their effects
An introduction to the “sonic signature” of cable designs and the importance of complete cable looms
Aftermarket cables vs cables “included with purchase”
Maintenance. If you are a hands-on audiophile like many of us, you occasionally face the task of updating/repairing your system’s components and ancillary devices. I personally love vintage tube audio gear, which has its own set of maintenance chores: checking the tubes periodically with a tube tester, cleaning the tube pins, replacing power supply capacitors, or the notoriously problematic (after 50 years of use) bumblebee capacitors such units may contain.
For many lovers of vintage tube audio gear, the holy grail of preamplifiers is, perhaps, the Marantz 7 and/or the McIntosh C-22. These two items from the late 1950’s through late 1960’s have become quite scarce and, as a result, have risen dramatically in price on the popular auction sites. I was incredibly lucky back in 1993 to acquire a Marantz 7 via a trade of audio gear with a gentleman near the Blue Ridge Mountains. He had inherited this pristine piece of gear from his uncle many years prior. However, he became tired of periodic tube replacement and occasional trips to the repair shop for slight issues beyond his own capabilities. I was thrilled to acquire this piece of hifi history and, having already built a few kits (Heathkit, Dynakit), felt ready to take on a revered component for the long haul.
The immediate needs for this preamplifier immediately after my acquisition were new caps on the top mounted phenolic board. One “bumblebee” capacitor (named for their black body, surrounded by colored stripes) had a big crack running from one end to the other. While many aficionados consider it heresy to replace any of the active components in a vintage (and valuable) piece of collectible audio gear, I now had my excuse to update this preamplifier with some newer, better performing modern components. I replaced all of the capacitors on the top phenolic “turret” board with boutique-type TRT SETI Infinicaps, a couple Hovland MusiCaps, and fresh Nichicon Muse and Sprague Atom small electrolytics. I replaced the tubes, six 12AX7A’s, as well. With periodic tube replacement, this preamp has now served my “upstairs system” exceptionally well for nearly thirty years. However, as you may have guessed, now I’m going to relate my most recent maintenance on this revered piece of gear…
I have mentioned the top facing phenolic/turret board in the Marantz 7. It is not a circuit board, the components are hard wired to “turret-type” posts, not traces.
This board is also attached to a metal flange that contains the horizontally mounted 12AX7A tube sockets, which protrude from the back panel. To reduce the deleterious effects of vibration (creating undesirable microphonics), this board and metal flange “float” on three metal/rubber suspension screw-in “grommets”.
These are crucial to the design of the preamp, and mine had (as is common) deteriorated to the point of splitting in the middle of the rubber and separating. Instead of floating, the board was resting, undesirably, on the chassis.
Fortunately, an enterprising audiophile/businessman in Hong Kong had acquired a stock of NOS (new old stock) metal-rubber isolation/suspension mounts years ago and kept them in an oil bath, keeping them fresh. I was lucky enough to acquire a set about five years ago and had been waiting for the perfect moment to install them ever since!
This week, I got into the proper mood to finally undertake the task of installing them. The job was not nearly as difficult as I had feared. In fact, it took me longer to remove all the interconnects and tubes and disassemble the unit than it took to complete the task. Now completed, the turret board and tubes float on the suspension mounts as they are supposed to!
While I had the unit open, I took the time to also spray the insides of the balance and volume controls with Deoxit FaderF-5 to lubricate and clean the wipers in these controls, which should eliminate any scratchy issues with either pot. I also used the same solution to clean the contacts on the selector switch. Another nice tweak I like to do is clean all the tube pins with an emory board. This removes any oxidation or possible corrosion on the pins ensuring better contact. If you decide to replicate this tweak, however, make sure to do this gently—you don’t want to thin the pins, which could result in looser tube pin tension.
Lastly, I checked the tubes on my trustworthy Hickok 800A tube tester. Tube testers are essential if you want to eliminate that nagging, paranoid feeling when you suspect, but don’t definitively know if your tubes are nearing the end of their useful life. In my opinion, too many audiophiles replace tubes before they really need to. My GE 12AX7A’s in the Marantz 7 have served faithfully for over five years and they still tested strong! While quality tube testers have become pricey on the used market the past ten years or so, I am a firm believer that if you are going to utilize tube components in your system, you must own or have access to a quality tube tester.
When buying a tube tester, make sure it’s a mutual transconductance-type tube tester, not an emissions tester. Two of the more common and best performing mutual transconductance-type tube tester brands are Hickok and B&K. The Hickok 539C is the holy grail of Hickok tube testers but the 800A, 600A, 6000, 533A, 752 and others are all great testers. I also like the B&K 700 and 707 testers. If you don’t want to pay the high price found on the popular auction sites, go to a local AARL sanctioned Hamfest. Now that things are opening back up a bit…you might find a bargain! Realize, however, that testers should be calibrated and the (usually two) rectifier tubes inside them must be good or replaced.
As an aside, my Hickok was a Christmas gift from my father back around 1989. When my mother saw it, she was mortified, as she thought he had gifted me a piece of junk (my mother is the same person who was equally mortified back when I, as a teenager, installed a large FM antenna system with rotator on the roof of the family home while my parents were away for the weekend)! I, on the other hand, loved the Hickok! I later told my Dad that the Hickok was the best gift he ever bought me, and I still use this extremely useful tool on a regular basis.
So, how does the Marantz 7 sound in my system now that it has been refreshed? Wonderful! That’s why I have kept it so many years. Plus, it has a ton of flexibility with numerous inputs like two sets of phono jacks, four sets of auxiliaries (labeled aux, tv, fm multiplex, fm/am), a tape head, a tape monitor and a set of microphone inputs. This unit even has two sets of outputs so that I can connect two monoblocs and two subwoofers!
However, the story has not ended just yet. I have more work to do at some point in the future… My unit still has the original selenium rectifier that should be replaced with diodes and the original multi-section electrolytic cans for the power supply, which could prove to be a difficult job. I will also probably replace a few more resistors on the bottom side of the unit. There are lots of carbon composition resistors there that have the possibility of drifting in value and/or getting noisy after so many years. The tone controls (separate bass and treble for both channels) have a ton of difficult-to-access bumblebee capacitors on them too. They are a paper-in-oil composition which leads to failure from simply picking up moisture after many, many years. Polypropylene, Teflon or polystyrene capacitors make very good replacements for the failure prone bumblebees, but it would be a herculean task to replace them all! One other potential future chore? Replacing the old-style tin-plated RCA jacks on the back of the preamplifier with new and more robust gold-plated RCA jacks. There is so much on the to do list!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how well our Nordost Valhalla 2 interconnects grip the old-style RCA jacks on this preamplifier. The HOLO:PLUG RCA connectors do a wonderful job of securely gripping these shallow jacks, ensuring maximum signal transfer. Those interconnects also contribute greatly to the three-dimensional sound of my system. In my system, the Marantz 7 feeds a pair of refurbished McIntosh MC-60 tube amps, which I completely rebuilt nine summers ago. Since I am only using one set of the phono input jacks on the Marantz 7, I have a QKORE RCA wire attached to one jack of Phono 2, which then connects to a QKORE3 Grounding Unit. This reduces the noise floor of this preamplifier, resulting in even better sound quality. The preamplifier’s power cord is also plugged into a QB8 QBASE which itself is attached to a QKORE1. The system is dead silent and sounds sensational, if I do say so myself! Make sure you ask your local Nordost dealer for a demo of our superior grounding products. I would also highly recommend you ask them for an in-home evaluation of our interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords, since there is no better test than hearing these products in your own system! You’ll be glad you did!
Like I said, there is still much to be done to my Marantz 7, but that’s the type of commitment you take on when you choose vintage, “golden-age” audio components. Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know the results of my next steps. Is it a lot of work? Yes. But for the right person, the work is well-worth the reward!
When you’re looking for a digital interface, cable design is of the utmost importance, but what aspects of cable design matter, and how do they affect the performance of your digital cable? There are several electrical characteristics to consider, the top four being: characteristic impedance, capacitance, shielding and transmission speed.
When speaking about the impedance characteristic of a digital signal, it is important to note that, while you may want to focus on the cable alone, the transmission line of a digital signal starts where the RF signal is generated inside the digital source and ends where the signal is decoded inside the digital receiver. However, for the cable alone, the impedance characteristic is defined as the ratio of voltage to current at the input to an infinite transmission line. The stability of the impedance characteristic depends on several design aspects of the cable, including conductor size and geometry, insulation material and the thickness of that insulation, and connector quality and type (75 Ω for S/PDIF, 110 Ω for AES/EBU, 90 Ω for USB, and 100 Ω for UTP Ethernet cables).
In digital cables, high capacitance of a cable will slow down voltage transitions, causing an unevenness to the flat portions of a square wave. When this happens, the D/A receiver on the other end of the signal will have a harder time identifying the data transmission. Many aspects of cable design that help to minimize capacitance are the same aspects that affect the impedance: decreasing the conductor diameter, changing the conductor geometry, and using insulation with a low dielectric constant. The art of designing a high-quality digital cable is finding the balance between what needs to be done to keep capacitance low and avoiding negative impact on the characteristic impedance of the cable.
To keep capacitance low, Nordost implements their proprietary Mono-Filament technology in their digital cable design. By intricately and uniformly wrapping single or twisted pairs of FEP Mono-Filament around each conductor before encasing them in an extruded layer of high-quality FEP, each conductor is surrounded by its own air dielectric. In decreasing the interaction of the conductor to the insulation, the signal is no longer hampered like it is in more traditional digital cable designs.
Whereas in analog interconnects shielding is used only to keep foreign elements away from the signal, in digital transmission, shielding both keeps external radio frequencies and electromagnetic interference away as well as keeping RF signals inside of the cable itself. When designing a digital cable, one important thing to keep in mind is the compatibility of the specialized connectors with the shielding material, as that will determine how manufacturers implement the shielding into the design.
While fast transmission speeds are always sought after in cable design, for some digital cables it is absolutely essential. USB cables, for example, must perform a digital handshake (where the signal travels from source to destination and then back in 26 nanoseconds) to work. When using a conventional design, that handshake is only possible at short lengths. Nordost USB cables, on the other hand, employ Mono-Filament technology, enhancing signal speeds so much that we are able to build cables twice the length of a standard USB cable or longer, and still achieve a reliable handshake.
Do your loudspeakers have multiple sets of terminals on their rear panels? If they do, they have been configured with a bi-wire (or possibly tri-wire) crossover. This generally means that they were designed so that one pair of terminals are designated for the high frequencies and the other pair for the low frequencies. Great news—bi-wirable crossovers could mean wonderful audible enhancements for your system! But you have to make sure you’re using this design feature to your advantage, or risk tanking your system’s performance.
When using Bi-Wired Loudspeakers, there are three main
cabling options for your set-up: supported shotgun, bi-wire, and bi-wire
jumpers. This blog will take you through each option and let you know how they
can help (or hinder) your system’s performance level.
Typically, you would use a cable configured in a “shotgun” termination with standard loudspeakers which don’t require bi-wiring. You may ask, “With a bi-wired loudspeaker, how could you possibly support both the tweeters (which support the high frequencies), and the woofer (which supports the low frequencies) with a single run of loudspeaker cables? The answer: you can’t. That’s where the word “supported” comes in.
Many bi-wired loudspeakers are supplied with metal links, which connect the tweeters with the woofer (or vice-versa depending on which pair of terminals you have connected to your amps via your loudspeaker cable). To be clear, at Nordost we do NOT recommend this method. By using these standard, metal links, you are effectively throwing away all the good you’ve done (not to mention the investment you’ve made) with your carefully integrated high-quality audio cables in the last inch of cabling. Naturally, your second question would be, “If metal links are detrimental to the sound, why would a loudspeaker manufacturer provide them with their product?”. Unfortunately, that is a cost issue. In many cases those manufacturers don’t want their design to be prohibitive, so to allow you to use their loudspeakers as soon as they’re purchased, they may include these plates (much like is done with the cheap power cords that are often supplied with electrical components). However, when asked, loudspeaker manufacturers would rarely suggest those plates be used as a permanent solution.
A bi-wire cable is a single run of loudspeaker cable that is terminated with four connectors on the loudspeaker-end instead of two (as is done with shotgun speaker cables). This solution allows you to connect all terminals of a bi-wired loudspeaker without having to buy two pairs of loudspeaker cables, or using standard metal links. In theory, this seems like a good solution, and at Nordost we believe it is a better option than a “supported” shotgun configuration. However, when you bi-wire a loudspeaker cable, you are effectively splitting the cable in fourths in order to serve all terminals. As a result, each terminal is benefitting from less conductors, increasing resistance, and compromising the performance of the loudspeakers.
you could also use two pairs of
loudspeaker cables running from your amp to the tweeters and woofer of each
loudspeaker, respectively. While this may be the ideal solution, it can become
costly, which is where the third option comes in…
Bi-Wire Jumpers allow you to use one run of loudspeaker cables to connect your amplifier with your loudspeaker without hindering the performance-level of your system, like you do with standard metal links. At Nordost, our Bi-Wire Jumpers are made using the same technology as our loudspeaker cables, essentially offering an extension of the speaker cable itself. This ensures that an identical sonic signature can be used throughout your entire system, without interruption. Bi-Wire Jumpers are a great way to affordably and immediately integrate bi-wire loudspeakers into your system. This can be either a great long-term solution, or a means to tide you over while you save up for that second pair of quality loudspeaker cables.
An accurately aligned cartridge will keep the needle in the groove, minimize tracking errors, and achieve the most accurate sound from your turntable. Correctly mounting and aligning your cartridge, is a multi-step process that involves several tools, and some patience…but the results are well worth it! To give you a better idea of how to get started in this task we have simplified the process in 6 easy steps:
1. Insert the screws and nuts through the tonearm headshell in order to hold the cartridge in place. (Do NOT initially tighten the screws all the way down!)
2. Once loosely attached, use tweezers to connect the four tiny wires that come from the tonearm to the cartridge’s color-coded ends.
3. Before tightening the mounting screws to the arm’s headshell, the cartridge’s alignment must be set correctly. Use an alignment tool to align the cartridge. We recommend tools offered by Acoustic Solid, Acoustical Systems, Baerwald, Feikert, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, and VPI.
4. Use a “pivot spindle” measuring tool to set the distance between the tonearm pivot and the spindle. This distance should be specified by the manufacturer of your turntable.
4. Align the cartridge stylus using a mounting template.
5. Now that all adjustments have been made, tighten the mounting screws. (Make sure not to over tighten them!)
At Nordost, we try our best to give our customers the knowledge they need to optimize their audio systems and get them performing at their best. One way that we do that is by providing you all with a series of helpful guides ranging from loudspeaker and turntable set-up, to the importance of grounding and vibration control, all available for download on our website. The most recent of these valuable articles deals with digital cables.
Digital audio cables are arguably the most controversial component in hifi. As hifi audio cable manufacturers, when it comes to our digital cables, we are constantly asked two questions: “How do digital cables make a difference in a hifi system if all they do is send ones and zeros?” And, “How does the design of a digital cable help in the signal transfer?”. This informative download breaks down the answers to both of these questions, explains the technical challenges of digital audio data transmission, and lets you know what you should listen for when evaluating the merits of a digital audio cable so that you can upgrade with confidence.