Seems you can’t turn around these days without bumping into a cable company or tripping over a coil of their wire. There’s good reason cable manufacturers proliferate: the markup must be astronomical. Buy some wire, wrap it in a nice sheath, terminate with extreme prejudice, and off to market. What a gig!
A few cable companies don’t work that way. Wire isn’t always just wire, and in recent years there’s been some honest innovation in a field that, on the face of it, looks simple: no moving parts.
When I visit an audio show, I seldom miss a single room. The shows in Toronto and Montreal are small enough to cover in their entireties in a weekend, but for the most part I spend no time searching out new cable manufacturers. A show is a poor place to perform any sort of critical listening. It’s easy to get the measure of a room’s sound, but an individual component? A cable? When, at shows, manufacturers’ reps say to me, “Listen to these cables,” I try to be polite, but I know my expression is tinged with incredulity. Besides, for the last five years I’ve happily lived with Nordost Frey cables and interconnects, and don’t see much point in scabbing.
But change comes to all audio reviewers. In my review of Simaudio’s Moon Evolution 610LP phono preamplifier, I said that I try to limit my cable reviews to once every five years. Very shortly -- and suspiciously -- thereafter, I was contacted by Jon Baker, regional sales manager of Nordost. “The Frey cables in your system have been replaced by the new Frey 2 lineup. We need to get you some replacements.” Weird, huh? There quickly followed a three-way exchange among Baker, Jeff Fritz, and me, and next thing I knew, a box containing a full loom of not Frey 2s, but Tyr 2s arrived at my front door. (The Tyr 2 and Frey 2 models are both members of Nordost’s Norse 2 line.) In the box were: pairs of Norse 2 Tyr 2 speaker cables (starting at $4799.99 USD); pairs of Norse 2 Tyr 2 interconnects (starting at $2099.99); and Norse 2 Tyr 2 power cords (starting at $3199.99).
The first item I extricated from that box was a Norse 2 Tyr 2 speaker cable. It does the angelfish thing: thin and ethereal when viewed from one angle, fat when viewed from another. At 2.25” wide, the Tyr 2 arrays 26 conductors of silver-plated, 22AWG copper in Nordost’s proprietary Micro Mono-Filament construction. While the precision with which Nordost makes their speaker cables is evident to the naked eye, you really need to look at the Tyr 2 through a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe. (I don’t know how it’s possible to live a full, meaningful life without a loupe.) This will reveal just how precisely spaced each conductor is from the others, and that spirally wound around each is a length of thin, monofilament insulation made of fluorinated ethylene propylene (FEP) -- the same tough-as-nails material that the cable’s sheath is made of. This dramatically reduces the surface area of the insulation that touches the conductors; the dielectric thus comprises mostly air. For the most part, it’s this construction that sets Nordost cables so far apart from those made by companies that merely encase wire in nice sheaths.
Nordost didn’t begin as a hi-fi company. When the company was founded, in 1991, it produced electrical wiring for airplanes and medical imaging devices. It’s easy to imagine Nordost cables lining the fuselages of fighter jets -- that flat profile, right? I imagine there are many more airplanes and imaging devices out there than high-end stereo systems, which might explain how Nordost could justify what were probably the immense startup costs of tooling up for such an incredibly precise technology as their Micro Mono-Filament cable.
In the Tyr 2 interconnects and power cords, Nordost ups the ante by using their Dual Mono-Filament construction. This involves wrapping each conductor with a twisted pair of mono-filaments, which further reduces the surface area of dielectric that actually touches the conductor. The Tyr 2 interconnects are relatively thin (aren’t all high-end cables supposed to be thicker than your wrist?) and extremely manageable. There’s a slinky sensuousness to these interconnects, and despite the smooth, almost slippery feel of the FEP sheaths, they’re very, very tough. My fingernail couldn’t make even a temporary dent in one. I can’t imagine any home environment in which these FEP-armored wires will end up damaged. It wasn’t obvious to me how much more pleasant these cables are to work with until I swapped out the Freys for the Tyr 2s. I could pull on the old ones and they’d just slither right out. Nothing snagged, even as I pulled the cables out around the corners of two equipment racks.
System setup, part 1
A full cable loom introduces so many variables into an audio system that evaluating cables is tricky and lots of work. Fortunately, my system was in a rare state of stability when the Tyr 2s arrived, and I had enough time to slowly digest the changes they wrought.
For the entirety of the listening period, my usual vinyl setup of Pro-Ject RPM 10 turntable with Roksan Shiraz cartridge was in continuous use, as was my long-suffering Sonic Frontiers SFL-2 preamp. For the first month, my Audio Research VT100 power amp drove my reference Focus Audio FP60 BE speakers. I know this amp-and-speaker combination extremely well; it perfectly anchored my audio ship as I replaced its rigging.
Because Nordost believes in system symmetry and synergy, they recommend replacing all of a system’s cables, cords, and interconnects at once. That’s not the way I roll. My first order of business was to replace my Frey speaker cables with the Tyr 2s. Seeing the Freys side by side with the Tyr 2s helped me appreciate the reason for the latters’ higher prices. Each Frey has 22 conductors, while each Tyr 2 has 26, which makes it noticeably wider. The Tyr 2 is terminated with the same Z-plug bananas as are found on the Freys, and they’re a pleasure to use. Later in my listening, I swapped out my ARC VT100 for Antique Sound Labs’ AQ 1006 845 DT Mk.II tubed monoblocks, which put out as much light and heat as my ceiling pot lights -- I had to swap them out every time I wanted to watch a movie using my projector. But despite dozens of removals and insertions, the Z-plugs’ fit remained tight and precise. The Z is one simple design that needs no improvement, as far as I’m concerned.
Listening, part 1
After letting the Norse 2 Tyr 2 speaker cables settle into my system for a few days, my home theater playing whatever it wanted through my server, I sat down for a listen.
I didn’t expect to hear much difference in sound quality from the Tyrs, considering both speaker cables were made by the same manufacturer. I hoped for a bit more of everything: some more bass extension, or a cleaner treble; either would have been nice. The last thing I expected was a change in the music’s overall sound. I know: the Tyr 2 speaker cable is twice the price of the Frey -- you’d bloody well better get some improvement. But when I looked at them side by side, one in each hand, it didn’t seem as if there’d be much difference in how they made the music sound.
Wrong. My first listening session revealed significant gains, most notably in overall transparency and the separation of instruments. But I’m cautious when evaluating fresh changes, so I decided to postpone any conclusions until I’d listened some more. A few days later, I laid down my book and paid attention once more, this time playing an old favorite.
Over the past year I’ve been digging into the records that I started buying in the early 1980s, the era of my musical awakening -- and, coincidentally when my predilection for marijuana first took hold. I grew out of pot in university, but I still really enjoy the music of my late teens. Bill Bruford’s One of a Kind (LP, PolyGram PD-1-6205) is the rarest of solo albums: headlined by a drummer, but without a single drum solo. Oh sure, Bruford’s drum kit is quite forward in the mix, but he’s unbelievably restrained. Instead, he relies on rhythms that on first listen sound busy but not very noteworthy. Listen hard, though, and his true genius begins to emerge. The man is soloing the whole time. End of sermon.
One of a Kind confirmed my initial impressions of the Tyr 2 speaker cables. In the title track, the Tyr 2s clearly revealed a bit more snap in the leading edge of the snare, and more body in each of Bruford’s runs up and down the Rototoms.
“Body, you say, Mr. Thorpe? What exactly is body?”
I grew up listening to Bruford play drums, on his solo albums and in all the incarnations of King Crimson, and the sound of the man’s Rototoms is deeply ingrained in my psyche. The Rototom has a rich, dense sound jam-packed with overtones -- it’s the cello of the drum world. Any change in this instrument’s sound jumps out at me like no other. With the Tyr 2 speaker cables in the system, I could clearly hear more of those overtones, and with that I sensed a more three-dimensional instrument hanging in space.
The ’80s had some fantastic music, but the decade’s LP pressings sucked. I’m not holding my breath for a vinyl remastering of One of a Kind or of any of Bruford’s other albums, so I’ve got to take what I can get. With my nice, fruity Audio Research VT100 amp, a tube preamp, and an analog front end, my system is very kind to bad pressings, but I can’t abide any additional crispness. For a short listening period, no problem -- but I don’t want my system indefinitely compromised by any brightness that will interfere with my ability to listen loud and long.
So those overtones, that richness, that body, that leading edge I heard on the snare? These benefits were not accompanied by any new brightness or high-frequency exaggeration. If they had, I would not have been a happy camper. I heard additional juicy saturation from Alan Holdsworth’s guitar throughout this wonderful album. For this alone, I can easily see Nordost’s Norse 2 Tyr 2 as a worthy upgrade.
But I still had a box full of Nordost cables begging me to plug them in. So I installed the Norse 2 Tyr 2 interconnects and power cords. While rooting around down there, I also cleaned up a whole bunch of dust bunnies, removed each component, and polished the shelf and component top. I’d disassembled and cleaned the system only a couple of months before, but it’s astonishing how much dust can collect in just half an inch of space.
During all this, I noticed that Nordost uses their MoonGlo RCA plugs on the Tyr 2s, instead of the WBT NextGen plugs on the Freys. The new plugs aren’t quite as snazzy looking, nor do they lock as did the NextGens, but the fit is tight, secure, and wobble-free.
I let the system cook for a day or so. When I sat down and listened, I heard a system that sounded startlingly clean. It felt, for want of a better word, purified.
While my system had sounded just wonderful before, that sound now had a top-to-bottom coherence that pulled the music closer together while keeping each instrument and voice distinct. That may sound contradictory; bear with me a moment.
Acquiescing to my friend Hobie Post’s urgent demands, last April I accompanied him to see Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld in concert, here in Toronto. Neufeld is an accomplished avant-garde violinist, but give a listen to Colin Stetson -- he plays a bass saxophone, and employs circular breathing, a throat microphone for singing while he’s playing, and more mikes to pick up the sound of his horn’s keys as percussive effects. The guy can make one hell of a racket. In concert, the sound was fight-or-flight terrifying, and the low-frequency harmonics made me feel physically nauseated.
You’d better believe I bought the LPs he was selling at intermission. “I’ll take one of everything,” I said, “so long as you sign them.” Ever since, New History Warfare Vol.2: Judges (LP, Constellation CST075) has been in constant rotation here. It’s my go-to record when I want to impress someone with how good my system sounds while scaring the living daylights out of them. “The stars in his head (Dark Lights Remix)” is a wash of intense shrieking, distortion, and percussive clicks. While I reiterate that my system sounded just swell pre-Tyr 2, adding the interconnects and power cords brought to the party further refinement and definition that the speaker cables alone hadn’t revealed. There’s so much going on in “The stars in his head,” and with the rest of my system all Tyred out, I was much better able to differentiate Stetson’s inhalations and exhalations. I could now acutely hear and -- at the high volumes this record demands to be played -- feel the brass keys clacking down on the felt pads.
No, there wasn’t more bass or a more extended treble. It wasn’t more of anything. Rather, there was a clear feeling of presence to the music. Instead, the highs -- which on New History Warfare Vol.2 can be extremely abrasive -- gained clarity: a wiped-clean, see-through polish that was most endearing and useful.
Useful? Hold that question. “Lord I just can’t keep from crying sometimes” is a traditional spiritual, but in Stetson’s hands the extreme low-bass rumble underlying the song adds a feeling of dread, of sheer unadulterated terror to Shara Worden’s mournful singing. This is the type of spiritual sung in vampire church. The low, low notes of Stetson’s bass sax gained a clarity of pitch definition they didn’t have before the Tyr 2s. There was a newfound roundness to the sustained notes, an organic wholeness -- almost a feeling of a flower blossoming outward. I also got a better sense of the actual size of that enormous instrument. Rather than hearing only a long, low, sonorous note, I could now more easily sense the horn’s physical size, and feel more of the air resonating inside it. This was a change in soundstage scale of a magnitude I don’t recall having experienced before from a change of a passive component.
Worden’s voice also benefited from the Tyr 2s. In contrast to the Freys, the Tyr 2s revealed in the misery of her singing a silky warmth throughout the midrange that resonated perfectly with the song’s lyrics.
So yes -- that Tyr 2 polish and refinement are very useful to me. Listening to the finger snaps in “King of the Road,” from Giant Sand’s Cover Magazine (LP, ThrillJockey THRILL104), I was far better able to get their in-the-room immediacy than pre-Tyr. They were better integrated into the soundstage, and felt more closely associated with the skanky honky-tonk piano in this fun little track.
Setup, part 2
During my listening I received a pair of Reference 3A’s Nefes speakers (review forthcoming). These large, efficient speakers sounded vastly different from my Focus Audio FP60 BEs, and required a change in listening style. Rather than sitting back and letting the music wash over me, all warm and creamy, the Nefes demanded my attention with their in-my-face belligerence -- they were all about snap and dynamics.
In the Nefeses the Tyr 2 cables made another friend, but the relationship was tumultuous. I like to listen loud, and the Nefeses were happy to oblige. But they already had that dynamic thing covered, and there were times that this combo could get a little abrasive, especially when I throttled up the volume. Tash Goka, Canadian distributor of Antique Sound Labs and owner of Reference 3A, brought along with the Nefeses the aforementioned Antique AQ 1006 845 DT Mk.II monoblocks, as well as a Luminance KST-150 solid-state power amp, which he said works a treat with the Nefeses. This might work in other systems, but in mine, with the Tyr 2s, I found the upper midrange too prominent. A temporary swap to Analysis Plus Solo Crystal speaker cables and interconnects -- which I know to be neutral, get-along-with-everyone wires -- calmed things down a tiny bit, but not enough for me to want to continue using the Luminance. I put the Antiques in the system and for the most part left them there. Now, with the Tyr 2s playing nice, I could get down to business.
With the Nefeses in my system, I at first questioned whether the Tyr 2s would be my right choice of cable, hence my experiment with the Analysis Plus. But after changing back to the Tyr 2s, I realized that the problem was the Nefeses not meshing with the Luminance amp.
Listening, part 2
I’ve just listened to all four sides of a garage-sale boxed set of Bartók’s string quartets, performed by the Végh Quartet (three LPs, Telefunken SKH 25083-T/1-3). All six quartets are equally challenging, edgy, and angular -- they make sense to me in ways that slip under the radar of my conscious mind. While I never find myself humming along with the music, I find these works perversely satisfying. Quartet 2 features a cat fight between the cello and the violins that’s resolved only when all sides agree to sulk in an uneasy truce. I’ve listened to this recording for years now, but it took the insertion of the Reference 3A Nefeses and the Tyr 2s for me to really understand what’s going on.
The rosiny edges on this disc are recorded right in your face -- you’re seated just a few feet from the players. The immediacy and delicacy of the Tyr 2s helped me feel the tension build between the four parts, a tension that persisted through the side. There’s no humor in this piece; instead, it’s full of frustration bordering on rage. It’s a musical conflagration.
I got more bite via the Tyr 2, but not in a bitey way. It’s more like when you eat a ribeye and a top sirloin side by side. The sirloin is tasty as heck, but lean. Nothing wrong with that, I know. But when you chew down on a medium-rare ribeye, you immediately know, with your eyes closed, down to the very tips of your toes, that this is a superior steak. The Tyr 2 cables were that ribeye, whereas the Freys are a little leaner -- not in the sense of tonal balance, but in the amount of musical information they convey. Listening to the Bartók, I could feel that musical juice dribbling down my chin. The Freys hint at it. The Tyr 2s delivered it.
I’d rather be rich than stupid . . .
It would take a big set of stones for me to try to convince you that you should run right out and wire up your entire system with Nordost’s Norse 2 Tyr 2 interconnects, speaker cables, and power cords. The Tyr 2s are about twice the prices of the Freys, and the Freys are already expensive. Saying that this stuff is not cheap is perhaps the ultimate understatement.
But the Tyr 2s are really no more expensive than other top-flight cables, and in a world of $100,000 amplifiers and $250,000/pair speakers, merely expensive is the new cheap. There’s no question in my mind that the Norse 2 Tyr 2s sound superb. Inserting them in an already great-sounding system previously lashed up with their little brother Freys, I clearly heard consistent gains in all categories of sound. How often does that happen? How much is it worth? With Nordost’s Norse 2 Tyr 2s, I’m extremely confident you’ll get your money’s worth, which in the world of cables, is far from a given.
. . . Jason Thorpe
- Analog source -- Pro-Ject RPM 10 turntable, Roksan Shiraz cartridge
- Digital source -- Logitech Squeezebox Touch
- Phono stages -- AQVOX Phono 2 CI, Blue Circle Audio BC703, Moon by Simaudio Evolution 610LP
- Preamplifier -- Sonic Frontiers SFL-2
- Power amplifiers -- Antique Sound Labs AQ 1006 845 DT Mk.II, Audio Research VT100
- Speakers -- Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L, Focus Audio FP60 BE, Reference 3A Nefes
- Speaker cables -- Nordost Frey
- Interconnects -- Nordost Frey
- Power cords -- Nordost Vishnu, Shunyata Research Taipan
- Power conditioners -- Quantum QBase QB8, Shunyata Research Hydra Model-6
Nordost Norse 2 Tyr 2 Speaker Cables
Price: Starting at $4799.99 USD/pair.
Nordost Norse 2 Tyr 2 Interconnects
Price: Starting at $2099.99 USD/pair.
Nordost Norse 2 Tyr 2 Power Cords
Price: Starting at $3199.99 USD per cord.
93 Bartzak Drive
Holliston, MA 01746
Phone: (508) 893-0100
Fax: (508) 893-0115