High End Audio is a crazy world, especially when you enter summit fi. I was only recently visiting MBL (report on way) in Berlin and just about everything they use is big bucks and too right as well! But it is rather daunting to outsiders. Now un-surprisingly I am all for bigger and better and achieving the very best something can be, even if it costs that much more. Nordost were one of the companies I remember always intimidating me when I was new to this industry, wow I thought, cables so expensive, I could only dream. I mean a 3m pair of their Odin speaker cable is borderline £25k, whoaaaa. When I first noticed them they were solely dealing in speaker systems but by the time Inearspace was up and running they started dabbling in headphone cables like a lot of the speaker industry before them, it is a booming market and everyone wants a piece of the pie and while they are similar in some ways, the industries are very different and truth be told, only a couple of these speaker companies headphone attempts have been alright and some have been absolutely tragic. Their first headphone cable comes in the Norse High Performance line and is a Heimdall 2 cable, although I have been told some lower priced models are to come below this £600 one.
You have to give it to the packaging quality if nothing else!
Adapting to the Market
Naturally the cable is available in an option for pretty much whichever headphone you may own, they cover most options and I have the cable terminated for both my Sennheiser HD580 (yes the cable is worth a lot more that the headphone) and HD800. I do not see an option for the new Audeze EL-8s just yet and they have also put the Abyss as the same option as the Audeze connector, which is both misleading and incorrect. I personally find that the most cost effective way of getting a cable for multiple headphone is getting Double Helix Cables (DHC) Ultrashort adapters as they allow you to use one cable with as many headphones you want with little extra cost and these can of course be utilised with a Nordost cable.
With the HD800 connectors
Talking about adapters and I think Nordost could have done a lot better here. You see they opted to have their cable terminated with a 4 pin XLR for balanced needs and then include adapters in case your amp requires another jack. I am all for adapter systems as they can save money and also allow for future upgrades in amps etc. BUT why choose a 4 Pin XLR? It is big and heavy and always thumps around when I use one of the adapters. Even sillier is that one of the adapters is 3.5mm TRS jack and just imagine that, a giant XLR connector just a few inches away from your phone or DAP in your pocket, madness. Also the two adapters included are both TRS jacks, 3.5mm and 6.3mm to be precise. That being said most people have adapters for these (3.5 to 6.3mm and vice versa) as it is and I don’t think both are needed, I have not used the 3.5mm once but you would still be paying for it. This cable will never be suitable for portable needs and in the real world the only equipment that will justify using a £600 cable that requires the use of a 3.5mm output will be portable gear.
Separately you can purchase a 2.5mm TRRS adapter or 2×3 pin XLR adapters but I would much rather one of these included over the two TRS’s. Oh Well. I think Moon Audio mini XLR adapter system works better as does Double Helix’s Ultra Shorts, this is just too bulky. On top of that, if you are paying £600 and know you only will be using one jack, be it a 6.3mm jack or two 3 pin XLRs, you should be able to just have it terminated like that, with no adapter in site, all the smaller headphone cables manufactures manage that, why can’t Nordost? As someone who uses my headphone with Questyle CMA800R mono blocks, I need two 3 pin XLRS, so instantly this cable will be even more expensive as I will HAVE to buy the adapter, surely I would be better off with out an adapter in terms of sonics and usability.
When it comes to the guts of this product, the most important thing, Nordost have a few boasts to make. The material of choice is silver plated copper, oxygen free copper to be precise but sadly it is not OCC as that is more conductive from an un-biased standpoint. The purity of the cable is said to be 99.99999%, so 7N, however I have been informed that cable that is proven to be this pure is not actually available to buy and only exists in lab settings. It could well be 7N but so could anything, Nordost certainly can’t prove it though.
The cable is arranged into 7 strand litz bundles and comes out as 4 conductors of 32AWG. So each 32AWG conductor is made of 7 solid core 40AWG cable. To me this is worrying as that is a very small amount of cable, staggering in fact. It is actually less than a few stock cables I know of, and that is not a good start. There is of course more to a cable than quantity but I think it makes sense that a bigger gauge of cable will be more conductive, try and argue against me, but even in the rest of Nordost’s line they use much bigger gauges. My DHC Silver Comp4 I am also using is pretty much the same price being $999 (technically a little less in the UK) but uses OCC silver cables at 22AWG. You are getting not only a more conductive material but a LOT more of it and while I don’t want to bias towards one company, these numbers keep appearing in my head and I have to tell you how it is.
Yes, that is how small the 4 conductors are
Moving on from that there seems to be some other interesting points to the design such as what apparently seems to be the use of teflon separators. Litz bundles have a polyurethane enamel which is very electropositive and teflon is on the other end of the electromagnetic spectrum being the most negative basically meaning the two materials will charge each other up, not what you want going on inside a headphone cable.
It just seems cheaply made, I won’t delve into it but the costs of cable and the materials of this cable should not get near the asking price! Yes fair enough, they have to design it but even that seems to be rushed. I am a bit flabbergasted, I mean I have CIEMs that have bigger wire gauges in their housing….
Wearing a Red Jacket
The cable is 2m long and will be a bit longer if using an adapter. The small amounts of cables are bundled in a thick red rubber jacket that is translucent enough to peak inside. Nordost branded heat shrink keeps everything looking smart but the logos have faded in the year of using the cable. On top of that the heat shrink is no longer tucked under the jack and floats up and down the length of the cable.
All connection points are Neutrik, which again in my eyes is a solid but cheaper termination. I don’t have a problem with them but it doesn’t feel near as premium as the Abbatron XLRs I have on my Double Helix Cables (who have all manners of different XLRs you can choose from such as carbon fibre ones) Complement 4. The plastic jacket is quite sturdy and is not perfectly circular so can only flex in one direction. That being said the cable is very light and easy to wear, causing no problems ever. However the jacket does feel tacky and almost tries to make the cable look of a fair size even though there is a tiny amount of cable in side. In fact they could have made the cable much smaller and flexible had they wanted.
All in all I have used this cable for a year now on two headphones and have not encountered any problems in use so I have no real complaints about the build, the bold red design may not be for you but that is the Heimdall colour.
I have some good news at long last, the cable actually sounds good. £600 good? No way jose but I would not say it was a bad sounding cable and that just shows while I have complained about the construction of the cables, some of the things Nordost talk about in such as the proprietary mono-filament technology that is also used in some of their other cables obviously do come into play to give this some positives. The cable seems to boast great control through the bass and lower mids and then just starts to relax a little after that through to the treble. While the upper mids and highs do feel to be behind the in the spectrum, it is not because the lower end has any boosting whatsoever. I say this because the bass actually sounds quite quick with not a huge emphasis on decay and the low mids are just smooth and rounded, nothing forward at all. If I have to describe beyond that I would say it just feels a bit dampened and compacted; female vocals don’t breath completely and treble is a bit to quick on the decay. Obviously some people will be looking for some treble reduction on headphones like the HD800 and this will do that, I personally have never strived for that but each to their own. All this being said the quick decay is somewhat a trait of this cable, it is very quick throughout and that does lead it to be a clear, clean and separated cable. Now as you would normally conclude an extra quick component may be a little on the wispier side but that is not the case here and it still holds its body well. The being said clarity is not something to sing and dance about due to the nature of the upper mids. Because of that it can be an easy going cable but I would not go to say that it is super forgiving cable, mainly due to the speed factor.
Now we go to talk about if this is better than your stock cable but honestly, why should I even have to justify that, this is almost as expensive as some flagship headphones so if it is comparable to a stock cable, something is wrong and thankfully, it is clearly better. Personally I think the comparison we should be thinking about is possibly one of the only other similar priced cables, the DHC Silver Comp4 I have mentioned a few times already now, especially after I pretty much crowned the Comp4s predecessor (Comp3) the king of headphone cables. Before we get to sonic differences the Comp4 is louder, not by a lot but it is noticeable that there is less resistance in the cable.
Now on to actual sonic differences and the Comp4 seems more energetic throughout the frequency response with more powerful bass, forward midrange and shimmering treble and overall seems much more balanced, with no dips or peaks. I don’t know what it is but it sounds relieving to listen to the DHC, everything is just so much more open and it is like a veil has been removed from the music, the Nordost just is not as transparent… I think we should just leave things there before it gets messy.
Just look at the size difference between the cables and you have to question the price
I finally want to talk about the perceived soundstage and it is pretty good, not quite as wide as the DHC but generally competent all around and as I have said before, separation is great and that is audible in the soundstage ability of this cable. Now while I did start this section saying it sounds good, you just expect so much more at the price and while the equally expensive Complement cables provide an experience that really changes your headphone for the better, the Nordost does not do a lot to show its class above say my Effect Audio Thor Silver at a quarter of the price, in fact after deep comparisons I only preferred the Nordost with my HD800s as it was just slightly better textured and bodied.
Everything about this cable makes me feel like this is Nordost’s attempt to use their name to shaft headphone users and to make a lot of money while they do it. Thats not because I think the product is the worst thing ever, but mainly because how cheap the cable is to make compared to the asking price. It almost seems like they gave it a bigger price to make people tell themselves it must be THE best cable. On top of that the price is absurd for what you get, it just makes sense to go to Double Helix, Effect Audio, PlusSound or one of these like minded companies and get something completely to your spec, no adapters in sight unless needed and the perfect length for you. Thankfully the performance was not hugely as bad as one could imagine analysing what is happening in the cable but still, it is only going to be competing with entry models of other companies, at around a 1/4 of the price and adding all this up, I can not think of a SINGLE reason why someone would buy this cable.