Cardas vs Nordost USB. PART 2. (a tube based system)

My previous post on this comparison relied on the solid state system at JS Audio in Bethesda, MD.  That system included the Wilson AlexV speakers, Boulder preamp and amp and either the Chord DAVE or the dCS Rossini DAC. JS Audio was kind enough to loan me the Valhalla cable to try on my home system which is more modest and is TUBE based, specifically my system includes:

Rogue Audio RP7 preamp, Rogue Audio Apollo Dark mono amps, Chord DAVE Dac.  All power cords and cables are Nordost Valhalla 2 and the speakers are Sonus Faber Amati Traditions. 

Again, I emphasize that my comments are NOT intended to ignite a debate as to whether USB cables can actually sound different but rather merely state what MY ears hear on MY system in MY listening space.

On the first (solid state or Part 1) thread, someone commented as to the elevated price of the Valhalla cable. I can't disagree that the price is shall we say "breath taking" and I certainly do NOT intend to imply or infer that the price is justified nor am I suggesting that anyone should spend such large sums on any cable or piece of equipment.  I am merely "stating the facts" of what I experienced and defer any conclusions regarding value to you.  (I will say that with patience, I have been able to acquire my cables and equipment at substantially reduced cost as demo or used. )

I have tried to give specific examples.  Note I listen to classical and jazz and seldom to voices or pop and never rock or metal, so my comments are limited to the genres of which I am familiar.


On Laszio Marosi, Tuba Concerto, the tuba has extremely rapid “runs” both staccato and legato (or as us brass players say, “tongued” and “slurred”).  With the Cardas, some of the passages that are in reality staccato sound “slurred”, the articulation and speed is simply not quite adequate to reveal the amazing ability of the musician.  The recording sounds as if the orchestra was in a concert venue with reverberation.  With the Cardas this is present, but with the Valhalla there is an extra dimension of tonality, mellowness that seems even more “real”. This contributes to the timbre of the tuba making it full and mellow where scored as such and yet rough and crude when the score calls for literally a “Blatt!” sound.  The difference is subtle, but certainly necessary to create the realism and make the music engaging.

The Brazilian Guitar Quartet album of Bach is a well recorded example of classical guitar that relies on a lightness of the notes and clear articulation to develop the counterpoint. With the Valhalla, the sound seems to emulate a harpsichord and while individual musicians are discernible if the listener concentrates (here I do not mean merely position on the soundstage where they are clearly separated), the presentation is so coherent as to sound almost singular.  In contrast, the Cardas presents a “thicker, fuller” sound.  The lower pitch notes are strummed and the individual components are not as distinct with the Cardas.  The upper notes are not quite as “bright” or “sharp” as in the sound of the harpsichord with the Cardas, but very slightly mellowed. Indeed, with this particular recording (tract) some might even prefer the Cardas presentation as not as “clinical.”

Hovhaness Symphony 50 is titled “Mount St Helens” and in the third movement the volcano erupts with tympani, flexing sheet metal and a variety of “explosive” percussion, brass, et. al. Yet the movement begins softly with Hovhaness’ trademark “pixie dust” of high pitch delicate notes on a glockenspiel. Throughout the movement there is a rumble (literally) of the mountain which must be presented sufficiently cleanly, clearly as to not sound merely as noise but truly represent the power and fear of an erupting volcano. Overall, the third movement in particular evokes positively the beauty, majesty, awesomeness of such a destructive force. The orchestration demands clarity, articulation, a very clean, defined bass and a delicate treble, it is a fully orchestrated piece that mandates a good soundstage and placement of the instruments. The “tonal poem” at the end may seem dominated by the low bass rumble, but careful listening reveals a separate melody in the high treble.

This composition more definitively exposed the differences in the two cables.  Recall a summer storm where there is a clap of thunder followed by a long continuous rumble that seems to go across the sky.  That is the percussion in this piece.  The Cardas could not resolve the rumble sufficiently to give the impression of that summer storm vs merely a continuous low frequency noise, nor could it present the unique timbre and character of the tympani, cymbals and the flexing sheet metal.  A sense of crescendoing excitement was lost with the Cardas.

Frank Kimbrough Quartet’s jazz sounds truly live with the Valhalla.  The piano is near perfect in tonal character, the bass is not muddy, and the cymbals are just the right shade of metallic with just a touch of sparkle. Steve Wilson coaxes many sounds from his sax and the Valhalla delivers each tonal “personality”.   The Cardas has a shallower soundstage, the bass and percussion seem more blended. The bass is not quite as articulate and therefore while not ponderous is certainly less distinct. The sax and piano certainly dominate.  The piano’s tone is realistic although the individual notes may not be quite as defined.  Overall the sax is not quite as “bright” and the its various “voices” are not as distinct. The Cardas does not seem as “bright” as the Valhalla and some may actually prefer this sound.