It was inevitable. In my review of Nordost's very fine Valkyrja cables, I wrote, "How closely Valkyrja and Valhalla perform to each other will be for another writer to report on." I was one of the first reviewers to write about Valkyrja, but at that point I had not heard Valhalla in my system. After my review I received a fair amount of e-mail asking how Nordost's top two cable lines compared to each other. I sent off a request to Nordost, and following CES I had enough Valhalla to do the comparison. I may be the last reviewer to write about Valhalla -- the cable was introduced in 2001 and has received lots of press between then and now.
Valhalla is Nordost's priciest interconnect and speaker cable. Both it and Valkyrja use the company's proprietary Micro Monofilament technology, which involves winding Teflon monofilament around each of the conductors, after which bundled conductors are encapsulated in FEP Teflon. Valkyrja interconnects and speaker cables both use 28 22-gauge eight-nines copper conductors over which 60 microns of high-purity silver are extruded. In contrast, Valhalla interconnects use eight "optimized-diameter" eight-nines copper conductors that have 78 microns of extruded silver over them, while the speaker cables use 40 such conductors arranged in four groups of ten.
Valhalla interconnects are thicker and less flexible than Valkyrja, and Valhalla speaker cables are 5/8" wider than Valkyrja but the same thickness -- or should I say thinness given that both are ribbons. However, perhaps the greatest difference between Valhalla and Valkyrja is in price: $3300 versus $2000 per meter pair of interconnects, and $7350 versus $4600 per eight-foot pair of speaker cables.
Quite very slightly
It's obvious that both of these cable lines are expensive, so it's especially important to know exactly what you get if and when you decide to spring for Valhalla over Valkyrja. In this regard, Mike Silverton over at our sister site Ultra Audio compared the two and found that the Valkyrja speaker cable "was in no way the Valhallas inferior," while the Valhalla interconnect was "by the slightest degree smoother than its cousin." I can't fully agree or disagree with Mike -- I'm an audiophile, after all. As you would expect from these two cable lines, the sound is very, very close, but for those assembling the sort of no-compromises system in which these cables are likely to be used, the differences I detected would undoubtedly be meaningful.
The "sound" of Valhalla is a conundrum. More than any interconnects and speaker cables I've used, Valhalla achieves the theoretical goal of being a neutral conduit between components. Valhalla's perceived speed and transparency are simply the best I've heard, and its retrieval of detail is also greater than that of any other cable I've used. Valkyrja is very close or identical in these regards, but in turn it doesn't quite have Valhalla's realistic sense of body, although it is notable in this regard and a step above Nordost's previous top cables, Quattro-Fil and SPM Reference. I don't mean something akin to tubey fullness here, but rather weight and density, both of which sound wholly consonant with each recording, neither additive nor subtractive. Valhalla casts a positively huge, airy soundstage that will test your equipment's ability to do the same, and these cables' reproduction of layers of instrumentation is, again, second to none in my experience. Nordost cables are often knocked as sounding intrinsically lean, but that criticism is valid with Valhalla only when it is compared to the rare cable that crosses the neutrality line into the realm of plumposity.
But here's the thing. I used the Valhalla cables with Lamm and Atma-Sphere electronics, two different Esoteric universal players, a Zanden Model 5000 DAC, and Wilson Audio WATT/Puppy 7 speakers -- all pricey and the sort of equipment whose intrinsic sound I want to hear in all its glory, not mask or recalibrate with my choice of wire. I can thus imagine some systems in which Valhalla would impart a little too much truth, and others in which the slightly different balance of Valkyrja would be more suited (say, one built around an EL34-based tube amp). You get the idea -- you can fine-tune even with cables like Nordost Valkyrja and Valhalla that seemingly defy it.
Although Valkyrja's performance does not quite equal that of Valhalla, it is the only cable I've heard that comes close (and in its case, exceedingly close). There are very fine alternatives from the likes of DH Labs, Analysis Plus and Acoustic Zen, but these don't offer the level of transparency, speed, and detail of Valkyrja or Valhalla.
So I'm left making the most obvious of recommendations: Valhalla if you can afford it, Valkyrja if you can't. Either way, you'll want to be completely happy with your electronics and speakers, which is likely given the megabucks Valkyrja and Valhalla will set you back.
The sense that Valhalla imparts no obvious sonic signature is startling, but less so after you've been conditioned by Valkyrja. I'm convinced that while not every audiophile will love what Nordost Valhalla does in his or her system, it's very hard not to respect such obvious fidelity, especially from interconnects and speaker cables. A long-overdue Reviewers' Choice.
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