The Nordost Valkyrja is something of a spin-off from their top of the line Valhalla model. Teflon Micro Monofilament construction was featured first with Vahalla, but new production methods have simplified manufacturing which translates into lower costs for the Valkyrja. Valkyrja isn’t cheap (around $2000 for a 1-meter pair) but given its DNA seems almost affordable compared to the Valhalla at around $3300.
This cable was brought along by friend JC who happens to bring along stuff more often, just for the fun of it and I am not complaining:-) In spite of the Valkyrja’s good press, JC is himself not completely charmed by the Nordost. Naturally I had to have a listen for myself.
My experience with Nordost is limited: I’d oly used the Red Dawn interlinks and speaker cables before. These I found be very lean in balance: thin in the bass and lacking colour and substance through the mids. They did have open and airy, as well as smooth, fluid treble. At that time though I figured if I had to go for a lean sounding cable then I’d rather go with the Kimber types for their more ballsy sound.
Leaping from almost entry level Red Dawn to almost top of the line Valkyrja is no small step. But as always I encountered the Nordost with an open mind, perhaps secretly fearing a certain leanness still.
Mark Levinson 390S
Ever since I have the Jeff Rowland Aeris DAC, my trusty Levinson 390S CD player has been demoted to functioning as a transport only, not as integrated CD player. Whenever I switch back to it I still like its sound but it is just less resolving, less airy, less agile than through the Aeris. Because the Levinson has an intrinsically smooth sound and because its analog outputs only function as extras these days, I tend to have it connected with Transparent Ultra XLs, in an effort to emphasize its strong sides (colourful, smooth and relaxed) and not pay attention to its lesser sides (less acoustically convincing and relative lack of resolution). With the right (wrong) CD’s this combination can still sound more pleasant than when using the Levinson purely as transport into the Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C connected Aeris DAC.
Substituting the Transparent Ultra XL’s for the Nordost Valkyrja, I was half expecting the sound to thin out. But it didn’t! The rumours are apparently true: more expensive Nordost cables don’t sound thin per se. Moreover: bass is really excellent, having the right balance between fulness and upbeat nimbleness. Still present like I remember with the Red Dawn is the airy and open, entirely grain-free treble. In this aspect it is more or less the equal of the Transparent Ultra XL, perhaps even a touch more fluid. The midrange is where the two cables differ most. Where the Transparent prefers fulness, body, colour and a wide, deep soundstage, the Nordost tilts to clean, open, well-focused and precise sound with quite a narrow soundstage that doesn’t extend into the depth plane much. However, this overall balance makes me think of the Aeris connected with a Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C a little. While less romantic, the 390S now sounds more upbeat and more exciting than it did before. “Not bad” I said to myself. Not bad at all.
Jeff Rowland Aeris
But switching to the Aeris (still with Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C) quickly reestablished the ranking as I was used to. While the 390S did indeed sound more close the the Aeris than it did using Transparent Ultras, the Aeris clearly is the better DAC. And the poor Valkyrja cannot turn that around. Nor should it be expected to of course. Connecting the Valkyrja to the Aeris in place of the Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C made for an arbitrary situation. While certainly not bad, it wasn’t a perfect match either. The Cardas really compliments the Aeris, adding to its sense of acoustical realism and excellent pace. The Valkyrja, while absolutely well-resolved and still not lean sounding at all, however detracts from the Rowland’s inherent organic and luxurious feel. Even if the Valkyrja isn’t lean per se, it does lend less fulness and colour (-ation?) to the sound as my other cables do. Also present once more is the narrow soundstage: not extending much horizontally or laterally. In place of big dimensions there’s excellent focus, but that doesn’t really float my boat because the Apogees already have splendid focus.
Because the Valkyrja uses standard Neutrik XLR connectors without covering them up with shrink-tubing, I couldn’t resist having a peek inside. What I found there was a little sobering, as the connections did not seem to have been made with a lot of attention to detail. That’s probably not crucial for good sound but at its price level I certainly expected cleaner soldering connections.
A bit of a mixed bag I’m afraid. While I cannot state that cables should sound fuller or more coloured than the Valkyrja, for me this cable doesn’t really stir the soul. It is just not my kind of cable. Surely there are lots of folks who are more focused on, well, focus and unexaggerated soundstaging. But even if you could argue that cables shouldn’t have character, for my setup (using Magnepans and Apogees) I need and prefer more characterful cables, like those from Cardas and Transparent, and since recently also those from Elijah Audio.