Questions and Answers: Grounding

Recently, the idea and means of artificial grounding has been a hot topic in the audio industry. Effective electrical grounding in a hifi audio system can mean the difference between enjoying your music and falling in love with it. System noise is a complicated and incessant problem, so why not answer some commonly asked questions about grounding? 


Q: What elements in the environment around my system have an effect on its performance. 

A: Interference that impacts the power domain is all around you, constantly bombarding your system. Your AC power lines are contaminated with electrical surges, pulses, and switch-mode hash from home appliances, plug-in chargers, light dimmers, and fluorescent and LED lights. Even the air is polluted by radio frequency interference (RFI) and electromagnetic interference (EMI), levels of which are increasing due to the prevalence of Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and cellular signals.


Q: What is signal ground and how can it negatively impact my system? 

A: A signal ground is an analog or digital ground that is attached to every signal being transmitted between devices in a system. Since these devices are usually powered separately, it is inevitable that there will be small differences between their potentials, causing small currents to circulate in order to compensate. These currents add to the background noise, obscuring low-level detail in music reproduction. 


Q: What does an “Artificial Ground” do?

A: An artificial ground sinks the impedance of a component lower than the house earth ground, so that high-frequency noise on the signal ground will drain away, leaving a clean reference behind. 


Q: What audible improvements can I expect to hear after addressing grounding issues in my system? 

A:  There are several improvements you can count on by addressing the grounding issues in your system. The image separation will be greatly improved, exposing nuances in dynamics and accent markings that would otherwise have been missed. You’ll also experience a tighter, deeper, and more authoritative bass. However, the most noticeable change will be a dramatic drop in your noise floor which will provide a quieter, ‘darker’ background, resulting in a wider, more lifelike soundstage. 


Q: What is Nordost’s solution to grounding problems? 

A: Nordost’s grounding solutions are QKORE Ground Units. QKORE units are parallel grounding devices which provide an artificial, “clean” earth for hifi audio systems using both an electrical and mechanical approach. The QKORE1, QKORE3, and QKORE6 products combine Nordost’s patented Mono-Filament technology with purpose-built, Low-Voltage Attractor Plates (LVAPs), constructed with a proprietary metal alloy and a passive electronic circuit, in order to draw stray high frequency noise and voltage-generated magnetic fields to a manufactured earth point, leaving a clean reference behind


For more information on grounding and to help you better understand why it is needed, what improvements can be heard in a properly grounded system, and what artificial grounding solutions can offer, download this article: The Importance of Electrical Grounding in Audio Systems

Video: Sort Kones – Introduction and Placement Guide

Have you heard about Nordost Sort Kones, but want to get a better idea about how they will improve your home audio system? Or do you own a set of Kones already, but are unsure about where to place them for the best results? 


Our new video, “Nordost Sort Kones – Introduction and Placement Guide” serves as a perfect introduction to these anti-vibration, resonance control devices. In viewing this video, you will learn what Sort Kones are, what they do, and how they will impact your system’s performance. This video also serves as a helpful set-up guide so that current (and soon to be) owners of Sort Kones know that they are using our product properly and can ensure that they are maximizing the performance of their sound systems.

Jitter: A HiFi Villain’s Origin Story

When speaking to a hifi enthusiast about digital audio, “jitter” is a four-letter word. If jitter was an audio villain, its evil powers would be inducing noise to unsuspecting recordings, obliterating the depth of field, and smearing the details out of pure, musical integrity… really dastardly stuff.  

Just where does this jitter come from? When is it introduced into the signal? Is jitter an unstoppable force that we are doomed to live with, or is there a hero that can protect our fair hifi systems from this audio villain?

First, we have to ask – what is jitter?  

Jitter is the deviation from true periodicity of a presumably periodic signal i.e., an error in clock timing. While the definition for all jitter remains the same, the origin of jitter is not, and this is what makes all the difference.  

Two types of jitter and where they are introduced: 

1)    Recording Jitter  

Recording jitter is when the timing errors themselves are embedded in a recording. This occurs if timing errors are captured in the original data samples. If the data sample that is stored includes jitter, then in becomes an intrinsic characteristic of the data itself. Unfortunately, if a data sample is produced with recording jitter it cannot be eliminated during playback, regardless of the quality of the equipment used.  

2)    Playback Jitter  

Playback jitter occurs as data streams from the digital transport to the D/A converter. As timing information converts to frequency information, the musical signal can experience a frequency modulation, known as phase noise. The audible consequences of this phase noise depends on whether the jitter is correlated to the audio signal or not.  

Jitter correlated to the audio signal  —

  • Peaks in the noise spectrum  
  • More likely audible effects  

Jitter uncorrelated to the audio signal —

  • Broad spectrum obstruction  
  • Shortens depth of field and reduces soundstage precision
  • Less intrusive audible effects  

Unfortunately, there is no caped component offering one simple solution to totally eliminate jitter. Although, there are plenty of techniques to mitigate it. Depending on the manufacturer producing the equipment, the solution could be re-clocking, introducing buffering, or incorporating high-quality oscillators… However, as with most things, the solution is typically more than the sum of its parts. When purchasing equipment, make sure that the manufacturer specifically addresses anti-jitter attenuation, not as a one-part solution, but as a holistic approach, including the design or sourcing of quality parts, how those parts interact with one another, and the intentional placement and mounting of said parts.   

Apart from the components within your system, another element to address is cabling. No digital cable will be able to completely vanquish jitter from whence it came. However, a poorly constructed digital cable can further exacerbate the problem, blurring the edges of the square wave signal or altering its shape to a significant degree. This makes a DAC’s receiver less capable of detecting the correct timing of transmissions (aka. jitter). An expertly designed digital cable, on the other hand, can make make some real improvements where jitter is concerned.

Nordost’s digital solutions, pay attention to several factors which reduce jitter throughout the signal transmission. By making well-considered choices in conductor type, conductor geometry, dielectric, shielding and terminations, Nordost cables can ensure that a correctly shaped and timed signal is received by the D/A converter. This results in an improvement to dynamics, tonality, and timing, removing irritants from the sound and allowing the music to play free another day…  

For more information like this, to better understand the technical challenges of digital audio data transmission, and to know what to listen for when auditioning digital audio cables, read our download, Digital Audio Cables: How Can They Make a Difference?, now!   

Questions and Answers: Power Cords

Since power cords are commonly known as the most important cables in an audio system, it’s no surprise that that we often get questions about them! We thought it would be helpful to put our “most asked” questions about power cords here so that you can find all of your answers in one place. Have any more power cord-related queries? Let us know! 


Q: How do power cords affect your sound system? 

A: Depending on how the specific power cords are constructed and what technologies they use, there can be several different sonic effects attributed to upgrades. However, in general, the biggest sonic differences tend to be registered as a change in dynamics (which sometimes disguises itself as a volume change), and in a distinction in imaging and soundstage. 


Q: Can power cords really make a difference after the miles that electricity travels in wires to get to my house?

A: While they are not audio-grade, the cables used to transfer electricity through the grid and to your home are actually a significant gauge. The “choke point” usually occurs in your home. Not only that, but it’s very important to try to minimize the effects of artifacts, EMI, and RFI that are introduced to electricity on its journey to your home and continue to be introduced from your home appliances.  


Q: Why should I upgrade the power cords supplied with components at purchase?

A: Manufacturers typically add in the power cords supplied with their components at the last minute. Oftentimes, this power cord is merely supplied as a means to an end, for as little cost as possible, so that the manufacturer can make the intended price-point of their product. As a result, little thought or effort goes into how it may affect the component. For proof of this, next time you are at a hifi show, pay attention to the cables being used in each manufacturer’s room. You will notice that when they want to make their product sound as good as possible, manufacturers opt out of using the power cords they themselves provide at point of purchase.


Q: In what order should you upgrade your power cords? 

A: The most important power cord in your system is the power cord feeding your distribution bar. This should be the first power cord you upgrade. Beyond that, while no two systems are the same (and there may be many variations), we suggest upgrading the rest of your system in the following order: pre-amp, power amp, DAC, phono stage, transports (based on usage).


Q:  I’d like to upgrade my cables. Ideally, I would like to stick to the same series of power cords throughout my entire system, but for budget reasons the upgrade will be a slow process. Can I wire my system with power cords from different ranges within the Nordost range? 

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. All Nordost cables have the same design philosophy, so while products improve due to added conductors, gauges, and technologies as they progress up the lines, they all have the same sonic signature. This allows you to choose your cables according to your own personal needs and budget, and upgrade piece by piece as needed and when able. 


Q: What is the minimum recommended length for power cords?  

A: The minimum recommended length is 2 meters. 


Q: Is it worth upgrading the power cord that feeds a streamer in your home entertainment system? 

A: When we aren’t enjoying our music, many of us are spending a lot of our time streaming television and movies. For those of you that use an Apple TV media streamer, or any other streaming device powered by a figure 8 power cord, there is an easy, inexpensive upgrade that is sure to take your streaming to the next level! Nordost’s entry level Purple Flare Figure 8 Power Cord is the perfect solution for your Apple TV. The Purple Flare Power Cord is a high-speed, low-loss power cord that will allow your streamer to produce a picture worthy of your home entertainment system. 

For more information on upgrading your streamer with the Purple Flare Power Cord, read this review.


Q: Is it worth upgrading the power cord that feeds your subwoofer?

A: If the amplifier in your subwoofer isn’t as good as the amplifiers in your primary loudspeakers, it’s imperative to optimize its situation, in order to allow your subwoofer to succeed. This can easily be done by upgrading the power cord feeding the subwoofer. A really good power cord is essential to ensure that the built-in amplifier performs at its absolute best. With quality AC feeding your subwoofer, you will finally be able to enjoy those powerful, low frequency notes in your music, and not be stuck experiencing them as just a rumble.

Questions and Answers: QNET

Since the launch of the QNET Network Switch, the response and interest has been overwhelmingly exciting. However, with interest, comes questions! We thought that we would take a minute to share some of the most frequently asked QNET questions here, so that everyone can get the answers they are looking for!


Q: The QNET is advertised as being a “layer-2 Ethernet switch”… what does the phrase “layer-2” refer to? 

A: “Layer-2” refers to the OSI model around which numerous interfaces/protocols are designed. Ethernet is just one of those protocols.

Even though there are hybrid devices out there, a switch is (theoretically) a layer-2 device, meaning that it establishes links between two directly connected nodes (i.e. operates on MAC addresses), which is the hardcoded physical address that every internet port (including wireless) has. A layer-2 device is capable of routing packets within a given local area network (LAN), but not outside of it.

Routers, on the other hand, are layer-3 devices and operate on IP addresses, through which devices on different networks (WANs or any combination of different LANs) can communicate amongst themselves.


Q: Why do the ports on the QNET offer different speeds? 

A: The QNET was conceived to be an “audio” network switch for both internet audio streaming and local network NAS audio streaming. For these purposes, 100 Mbps is more than enough speed.

At 100 Mbps it’s also possible to contain noise propagation to a minimum, compared to higher speeds, and that’s why the QNET offers 2 x 100 Mbps ports.

For devices requiring higher bandwidth, the QNET offers 3 ports at 1 Gbps.


Q: Do you need to buy the QSOURCE Linear Power Supply in order to use the QNET? 

A: No, the QNET is provided with its own switch-mode power supply so that you can use it without any additional purchases. However, just like with any DC-powered device, the performance of the QNET will be much improved by introducing a high-quality linear power supply, like Nordost’s QSOURCE


Q: Can I daisy-chain multiple network switches including the QNET?

A: While it is possible to daisy-chain multiple network switches, you shouldn’t. Daisy-chaining multiple network devices adds delay, noise, and traffic. Therefore, it should be avoided. For best performance, the QNET should always be physically connected to the main router in your network via an S/FTP Ethernet cable, preferably a Nordost Ethernet cable of your choice.

How to Position Your Sort Kones to Get the Best Sound From Your Components

By Michael Taylor

We all know that Sort Kones are fantastic tools to help get the most from your system.  Getting rid of vibrations that degrade the signal path is essential for clarity and proper imaging.  What some people don’t know is that you can maximize performance just by achieving the best placement possible.

Many people place Sort Kones under components uniformly, essentially using them as new feet.  However, since they are acting as mechanical diodes, their specific placement becomes important. You want them as close to the things that are causing the vibrations as possible.  How do you do that, you ask?

Easy, jump onto your computer and enter the brand and model number of the component you are looking to support into the search bar.  Click images after the results come up and you will inevitably find a picture of the component without its top on, showing the inner workings.  Look inside to see where the parts are located and search for the parts you think would vibrate the most (i.e. power transformers, filter capacitors, hard drives, motors, etc).  Then simply shift the Sort Kones to line up underneath those vibration prone parts.  Once your Sort Kones are in place and the unit is stable, you’re all set.

This one little tweak will allow you to get the most out of your Sort Kones and have your components sounding their best!

By the way, this little trick works for our QPOINTs also.  Just look for the board location and tweak your QPOINT placement based on what you find.

Why Lift Your Cables?

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. 

2021 Blog Round-Up

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!  


What to Expect From A QRT Demonstration

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! 


Grounding Your Hifi System: “Natural” vs “Artificial” Ground

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. 


How to Make The Most Out of You Bi-Wired Loudspeakers

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. 


Cartridge Mounting & Alignment in 6 Easy Steps

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.


How Does Cable Design Affect the Audio Performance of Digital Cables?

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. 


Five Easy Turntable Upgrades

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.


Five Easy Turntable Upgrades

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. 

For further information about these turntable upgrades and more, download the Complete Turntable Set-Up Guide

Questions and Answers (October 2021)

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!