Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nordost Baldur tested

I tried the Nordost Baldur 0.6m XLR interconnects on Monday night, connecting my Oppo BDP-95 and the Lavry AD10 digitizer that feeds my digital processors with 24/96.  I played the Turn of a Friendly Card DVD-Audio by Alan Parson's project.  I had listened to that disc a few months back, and it was still sitting in my player.  I immediately liked the sound.  It seemed less harsh than I remembered, but with greater spaciousness and resolution of detail.

I switched back the the 1 foot Belden 1800F pair made for me by Blue Jeans cable.  I immediately noticed that it sounded louder.  That was unexpected.  But it also sounded noisier, and I felt less able to resolve small details.

Other than the change in loudness, this was pretty much what I expected based on the use of solid core wire in the Baldur, and silver plating, and structured FEP insulation.  I think the wire stranding in the Belden is its worst feature...solid core wire is better for purist audio.  The Belden does use foamed polyethylene insulation, which is probably nearly as good as the spiral wound FEP.  (The Nordost wire is spiral wrapped with FEP threads so that 80% of the wire surface area is surrounded by air, a very clever design feature, probably better than foamed insulator for getting the closest approximation to air dielectric.)

I doubt I would be able to hear this difference in a blind test, and fear it could all be confirmation bias or something like that.  Probably the most solid conclusion I can make at this time is that the Nordost wire is NOT very obviously worse than the Belden.  Except that I do worry that the skinny Nordost wire may not be as robust over time.  But I bought brand new from an authorized dealer, so the factory warranty should apply.  I suspect Nordost would replace the cables if they ever went bad (Monster does, for example), but I actually don't find a warranty description on their website.

I'm leaning toward keeping the Baldur now, even though I ordered it by mistake.  The specs and design look excellent to me, though a friend thinks the wire gauge should have been 30gauge instead of 26g to nullify any possible skin effect (at 30g, it's all skin in frequencies significant to audio).  The Belden is 24 awg.  I can't understand his argument why 24 gauge is OK in uncoated wire, but you need 30 gauge in silver coated wire.  And it also doesn't seem by my reasoning that skin effect makes much difference in interconnects anyway, though other things being equal I'd go to 30gauge.

The more expensive Nordost interconnects differ mainly in having multiple conductors.  I don't think that's necessary in an interconnect, where inductance is not a big deal.  Also, contrary to what would be my friend's advice, the Valhalla $4000 interconnects use multiple 24g solid wires, which would be a step backwards by his reasoning, having more skin effect.  Actually skin effect probably isn't a huge deal in interconnects anyway, but silver coating as the Baldur has probably helps eliminate any small nonlinearities from copper oxides on the surface.  So I think of Baldur as a Goldilocks cable design, everything just as it has to be, good enough, without overdoing it.  If I could have everything I want, I'd have 30g solid silver plated wire and real foamed teflon insulation and braid+foil shielding, but that might make for a much less robust cable, and I haven't actually seen one like anywhere.  The closest I've seen is a Thermax wire with "fluorinated polyethylene" insulation (FEP?) and 30g silver plated solid copper wires, but lacking braided shield.

Update June 2017.  It appears that original Nordost Baldur can exaggerate very high frequency energy.  Playing at fairly low level, my Krell FPB 300 (with new Audio GD Master 7 Singularity driving the Baldur XLR 0.6m to the Krell) shut down in two subsequent attempts to play Taquita Militar on the Crystal Cables label (which has very intense HF energy) at very reasonable -15dB level.  Error message is insufficient AC power: apparently the Krell is kicking up to the maximum 400W (factory update) bias level and my system 20A circuit isn't up to the task, but that shouldn't happen at -15dB. Replacing with a standard Beldon 1800F (AES 110 ohm) eliminated the problem up to 12dB higher in level, about the highest I dared test.  Now I can guess why the original Baldur was discontinued by Nordost.  A bit too hot.  I'm thinking that merely reducing inductance to nil isn't necessarily the thing to do.  Inductance and capacitance and resistance have to stay in balance in each section of interconnect.  This suggests to me that the standard tried-and-true forumations, such as 75 ohms and 50 ohms and 110 ohms are pretty much the way to go.  They maintain pulse coherence up to UHF and beyond.  Try to optimize just one parameter and you may get a dangerous Ghz oscillator or something that may wreak havok on some systems.

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