The Entry Level Nordost White Lightning cables are intimately analyzed: White Lightning speaker cable and analog interconnect, Blue Heaven Power Cord and QB-4 distribution bar
Loudspeaker cables, as you may know, do literally speak to you! I just finished an enlightening conversation with a loudspeaker cable well call ‘Jack’, or to use his real name, The Nordost White Lightning Speaker Cable from their Lief family of speaker cables.
To quote ‘Jack’, in part: “You know Howard, don’t be deceived by Nordost’s decision to give me a paperweight, flatline body and shape; and a distinctly modest price point. Yea…its true. I’m in the entry level of Nordost’s range compared to the ‘Big Boys’ way up there at the top levels of their Audiophile line of loudspeaker cables. But believe me when I tell you… “There’s more to me than meets the eyes- and particularly your ears!” as he chuckled mildly and continued. “Bet you thought that conglomerate of “high end”audiophile cables you’ve been evaluating in the past year we’re going to kick my butt, huh?”
I replied, “I never said that Jack! Don’t be so fast to judge my admittedly quite sensitive, particularly concise, aural perception and discerning musical abilities”! Jack responded, “so tell me in fact, how did I truly perform for you- the professional? I replied: “OK JACK… I will indeed; just give me a few minutes, sit still and listen!
A BIT OF BACKGROUND
As this was my first acquaintance with the Nordost Line of products, Meridith Gabor of Nordost’s marketing department sent me their White Lightning Interconnects and speaker cables, which are the company’s true “entry level” cables (with exception of the copper cables–2 Flat, 4 Flat and Super Flatline speaker cables), as well as the Blue Heaven Power Cords, which are the first conventional Power Cords that the company offers. The package also included their QB-4 Q Base AC distribution strip. Nordost prefers auditioning their products as a working team; which I later found to be abundantly understandable.
As we know all too well, when you audition a multitude of cables and equipment with great music and apply your ‘critic’s hat to the mix, the sound of cables and interconnects can start to play tricks with your mind—particularly so with speaker cables. One consciously recognizes that many initial small changes we hear in audio cable reproduction can cause us to become a bit obsessive and confused; be it for better or worse for our particular system.
We may think we can consciously perceive improvements or detriments in sound reproduction as compared to the cables we have been using and are quite happy with. However, admittedly, some of these subtle differences, many of which may concern loudspeaker impedance changes (as well as taking into account initial tiny electrical spl level losses) not to mention particular amplifier matching, in no way negates the fact that all acutely prudent audiophile listeners will still be able to, however slow, pull out of his hat some precise, if understated audible differences in cables; especially when you hit a PARTICULAR level (or price point) in a manufacturers product line.
SO, WHAT’S THE DEAL HERE?
Nordost’s entry-level cable in its ‘Leif’family uses a few scientifically proven methods and technology derived from the development of their extremely expensive, top of the line Valhalla and Odin ranges as they apply the same basic principles to create these flat white cables. w Nordost claims they will evoke “dynamic, low-loss and realistic performance from even modest components and loudspeakers”.( I’d say we in the audio community are in deep need of something like that, no?)
Both interconnect and speaker cable feature silver-plated 99.9999% purity, oxygen-free copper solid-core conductors in an FEP (Fluorinated Ethylene Propylene) insulation. The Leif cable conductors are then treated with Nordost’s innovative precision FEP extrusion process, where each conductor is individually enclosed in FEP insulation. This should increase the dielectric properties of the cables in order to increase signal speeds and the accuracy of the signals transferred. The Leif cables are designed with a mechanically tuned construction that optimizes the dimensions and spacing of the conductors; this enhancing the dielectrics even further. (Have I heard some of this before?)
In the case of the White Lightning, I was not informed of the need for a “burn in” time, and in fact, I quickly perceived the sound emanating from these cables to be quite good right from the get-go! As time went on, however, some small but important improvements became more self-evident with the White Lightnings. I’ve decided to start this essay by directing my personal observations of the White Lightning Speaker cable while later on, giving a full assessment of its ‘matching’ analog interconnects, Blue Heaven power cords and QB-4-line distribution bar; all used together as a full Nordost package.
SOUND IMPRESSIONS ~ SPEAKER CABLE
The White Lightning loudspeaker cable is a “fast” light but fastidious sounding cable; meaning: musical transients are quick, with fine attack yet string instruments are exceptionally smooth, subtle, delicate and very self-effacing in their sound personalities. The bass response, on the other hand, is deep and richly powerful. As you go up higher in most Audiophile Cable manufacturers lines, they usually get much more detailed with a slightly slower and more accurate decay time while sometimes becoming a tad ‘sharper’ without being harsh. This being my first Nordost cable audition, I would not know if the above applies to Nordost, but as you will see further down with the comparison to Wireworld’s Eclipse 8’s (at four times the price!), this effect did come into play here and is still making me re-think and question as to what is truly “correct” in how I am hearing and evaluating not just the White Lightning but any audiophile cable I listen to.
Otherwise, the White Lightning cables do not make you “stand to attention” which is a sure sign that they have loads of quality we call, “neutrality”. This is a great starting point, particularly when taking into effect their excellent and comparatively modest price points. I have heard many other loudspeaker cables that I initially thought, “blew my mind” only to notice days later that they basically took you by surprise as” big talkers” with unflattering brightness and unmellow inner personalities. So impressed was I with the White Lightning cable that within the first week of continuous auditioning, I definitely thought that they were sounding quite like some cables I have recently tried retailing upwards of $2,000 a pair! In fact, the White Lightning was stealing the show from a handful of cables I had auditioned in the past 8 months or so! In reality, not one of them “took me by surprise” as the White Lightnings did
Quite unexpectedly, at the start, the White Lightning displayed a beautifully defined image “layering” of the orchestra when playing a ripped SACD hybrid file of Bernard Haitink conducting the LSO in a live recordingBeethoven’s Symphonies. The sound portrayed by the White Lightning was a bit different in the sense that the finely matted depth perspective portrayed by the ensemble was enhanced by this precise layered effect as the sound moved back in the depth plane in a very concise semi-circle from the orchestral strings and well behind while maintaining a discrete and threadbare image of the groups back slated bassoons clarinets and horns.
In fact, it took only a short time to notice that the stereo localization effects of these cables were quite startling, to say the least! (See further down… George Szell and the Beethoven 5th Concerto) This was accompanied by massed violins sounding quite smooth at their frequency extreme….as if the concert hall acoustic was giving them a ‘minute’, but accurate ‘roll off’. (Start attending more live performances people!)
While this may not be considered unusual in and by itself with the many other “audiophile” cables I’ve used, I was not prepared to experience this with the White Lightning cables. As listening continued, they did exhibit a tonal balance that while appearing to be arguably, a ‘touch’ richer in the mid/treble balance, ultimately changed after a break in period and now they decidedly displayed a sense of pure, even, and captivating instrumental tonality. They could now be described as The Nordost’s White Lightning ‘signature’ sound which I found to be wonderfully realistic when good program sources were used.
Upon further listening, I played the Beethoven HD FLAC files I streamed with Mitsuko Uchida and Simon Rattle it was obvious that the White Lightning brought Uchida’s Steinway string tone to an ultimate level of clarity– not overly subdued or to bright, but perfectly “clear” with a natural harmonic ‘ring’ with each hit of the piano keys. The White Lightning got it close to perfect- and it is here that some other cables barely missed the mark as compared to the Nordost!
WHITE LIGHTNING INTERCONNECT
Following in the trails of the White Lightning speaker cable, the analog interconnects is a fully-shielded design that employs four, 26 AWG silver-plated 99.9999% OFC solid core conductors, precision wound in a minimum cross-section configuration that eliminates unnecessary fillers or padding elements.
The Insulation is once again of a high-grade FEP while extending to the carefully selected low-mass connectors and differential grounding. The cables look and feel quite simple cosmetically but I was a bit fooled when noticing how nice and “tight” the RCA connectors fit into the back of the PS Audio Gain Cell Monoblock amplifiers. Like all Nordost cables, the White Lightning Analog Interconnect is thankfully manufactured here in the good old USA!
The White Lightning Interconnect cables proved its pedigree with exceptional ambience, depth of image and lateral soundstage width. It was subsequently noticed that their hallmark was an extremely smooth yet decisive concordance and musicality, particularly noticed on massed orchestral strings. They displayed a fine mid to lower bass range with cello and double bass that blended into the full audible response without ever making note of itself- which is as it should be. The interconnects wonderfully matched the speaker cables (as Nordost expressed to me above) with a splendid ‘homogeneous’ character that meshed superbly as a pair!
I was then intrigued enough to go deeper and again switch back and forth with varying combinations using (2) HD 24bit -remastered track cuts. The last movement of Beethovens 5th symphony with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra and the HD operatic Mozart and Shubert Aria foray with historic sopranoElly Ameling.
The differences outlined here were very small, but they are worth mentioning as The Nordost’s Lief White Lightning cable combos were put back and forth against much more expensive Wireworld’s Eclipse 8 combination using the PS Audio Gain Cell pre and power amps to the Quad 63 and Spendor BC1’s. The DAC was the Wyred4Sound 10th Anniversary. All the above were connected to the Inakustik 3500P power stationwith its new 2502 Furetech terminated power cord.
Eventually, I began interpolating the full Nordost combination: first using the White Lightning and Eclipse 8 interconnects; then the White Lightning and their own interconnects—this was followed with the Eclipse speaker cable and their own interconnects and then substituting them with the White Lightning interconnects.
In the end, I found that all the combinations worked exceptionally well; with the main differences being quite small and truly a matter of taste. The White Lightning’s gave an uncommon display of a first-class sonically harmonious balance, full soundstage width and image depth, exceptional truthfulness to the harmonics of the orchestral instruments and the female voice along with superb ambient ‘concert hall’ decay and musicality. It was a “spec” recessed in its overall balance, (good) and its ambient decay was barely a ‘touch’ over elongated but again, this is so small that it would appear to be quite arguable. A totally striking performance at their respective price points!
The Eclipse 8 had most, if not all of the similarities as above with just…” maybe” a bit of a sharper” (not brighter) tonal balance which could be perceived as clarity, (and a perception of a touch less of reverberation within the human voice–however, they also were a cinch more “up front” with voices (previously unnoticed) which gave the White Lightning an ‘easier’ more laid back impression. Which is more “accurate” will basically depend on your system balance and particularly the loudspeakers, electronics and the sonic faithfulness of your preferred listening room. Believe it or not, I cannot decide myself, and for me, this is a bit of a quandary that truly bothers me– particularly whilelooking at the price differential!
BLUE HEAVEN POWER CORD
When you have a proven formula, do not change it! Nordost adamantly agrees and with their Blue Heaven Power Cord (also part of the entry ‘Lief’ level of products) they’ve again employed FEP insulation and its high-speed, low-loss Micro Mono-Filament construction which, so far, have delivered all the goods!
The Blue Heaven Power Cord is a conventional, three-core AC cord, but this may be a bit misleading. The above, proven, proprietary construction that these cords possess brought forth an inherent and strong, barely perceptible level of background noise. It displayed a firm and consistently upgraded level of sound clarity and refinement. The cables are available in a full range of AC plug options. These power cords bring the full Nordost system to their utmost precision and I must stress that you will be hard pressed to find a better power cord at this price, case closed!
Q BASE MK II – 4 LINE DISTRIBUTION STRIP
The Q BASE is available in two versions, one with four outlets and the other with eight. Other than the number of outlets and the size of the box in which the outlets are mounted, the two are the same. The availability of four and eight outlet versions gives you a good choice based on your system needs and the location of your equipment. However, the QB8 is available in a 20 Amp version. There is also a QB6, which is the UK version, in order to accommodate the larger UK plugs. Otherwise, my sample came with (4) AC plug options.
Ideally, your line stage or amplifier should be connected to the Primary Earth Socket which is located at the center of the QBASE. Also, The Q base line conditioner comes with an external ground that Nordost says increases the unit’s effectiveness. This is not mandatory; but if you happen to have the possibility to run a ground wire to an external ground rod, you can lower the noise floor in the system a bit more. I did not.
I used the Q base mk II with the Blue Heaven power cords and connected up my digital sources as well as my pre/ power amplifiers. Initially, the sound was a bit “tacky” and I did experience a touch of roughness on string and percussive instruments. As time went on, this aberrance mostly dissolved although the Q base will bring the overall “sound balance” a touch more up front in the sound stage.
Otherwise, the noise floor was exceedingly quiet; so much so that on some recordings you could hear the breath of each soloist as if he was standing in on the stage before you. Quite an accomplishment I would say! In all honesty, the Nordost Power distributor needs some break in time and is very system dependent.
Let’s be perfectly blunt: there are currently a plethora of excellently designed and terrific sounding loudspeaker cables, interconnects and power accessories currently available for the most discriminating audiophile to choose from. They can range from a few hundred dollars and up to some exorbitantly priced models.
It is a testament to the logic and design of these entry level Nordost” ‘Lief’ cables, Blue Heaven power cords and their line distributor that if on audition, you really enjoy any of these magically musical and excellent products individually, (as did I), there is really nothing to compete with them at their respective prices.
Within the context of my complete and overtly detailed evaluation, I would conclude that this total set of Nordost’s products should ‘ideally’ be used together as one complete package; it can make a difference! The listening tests also showed that while each of these cables and the power strip is undeniably a top notch sounding, audiophile ‘entry level’ product on their own, it was the White Lightning speaker cables, power cords and analogue interconnects that truly captivated me.
The Q Base MKII-4 power distribution strip was equally good but as mentioned above, this conditioner had some curious effects. It provided a clean, well-focused and sharply defined sound quality that can be overtly system dependent. It was exceedingly quiet to such a degree that was truly surprising. However, it did display a bit of a forward, somewhat jarring tonality to the overall sound of specific musical instrumental harmonics with certain types of source material. Therefore, you must be very discerning as to which components you may choose to use it with.
On the other hand, when you take this Nordost package individually or as a whole, one cannot overstate the quality and painstakingly professional listening ears (and testing) that went into these cables and line distribution strip. Needless to say, the Nordost designers left no stone unturned when designing and evaluating the unadulterated musicality of these products. If you carefully listen to them while not being aware of their cost or ‘entry level’ designation, you would not believe the quality of the sound they produce. They are that good and so majestically musical that it can undeniably be qualified as one of, if not the greatest buy in audio cables today!
PRICES: MSRP Pair of White Lightning Analog Interconnects starts at 0.6 meters ~$188.999. 1 meter ~$ 204.99, and each additional 1/2 meter increment is $26.00. ~~White Lightning Speaker Cables ~2 meter pair- $ 395.00 spade/banana
MSRP – Blue Heaven Power Cord, 1 meter is $219.99. Each additional meter 1/2 meter increment is $55.00.
MSRP for QB4-Mk. II distribution strip is $949.99
Associated equipment used for this review: Analogue/ Rega Planar 6 Turntable/RB300 arm / Ortofon Cadenza Bronze cartridge •Digital —Audio Note (UK) CD 3.1 x/II player/DAC / Wyred4Sound 10th Anniversary DAC/ Peachtree Audio Nova 300 2019 (preamp/DAC)
Amplification •PS Audio Stellar Gain power amp/phono preamp• CIA Audio C100S Power Amp — Loudspeakers •Audio Note (UK) An-E/D loudspeakers / Quad ESL 63 USA/ Spendor BC1
Cables: Wireworld Eclipse 8 interconnects/speaker cables & Electra 7 power cords/ Inakustik LS-4004 Speaker Cables • Digital -Audio Art IC3 e – 75ohm COAX & power1 e” AC cord / Wireworld Gold Starlight 8 – 75 ohm coax • ACCESSORIES: Inakustik AC-3500P Power Station and upgraded 2502 power cord / Inakustik 2404 air power cord .
CONTACT: NORDOST 93 Bartzak Drive, Holliston, MA 01746 website: http://www.nordost.com/
Meredith Gabor – Marketing/Public Relations Manager • 1- (508) 893-0100
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