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Nordost Valhalla 2 Ethernet cable

Nordost Valhalla 2 Ethernet cable

It’s not only audiophiles that obsess about fidelity. Network engineers have been working on the issue of reproducing data for decades, to ensure that a stream of digital bits will be an exact clone as it moves from place to place.

Modern life is built around computers and networks that tirelessly make perfect copies of digital information, where it’s essential that the bit structure is not altered in any way – the result of less-than-perfect transfers would be a text document with missing or misspelled words, while the international world of finance would quickly collapse if numbers were to be changed or decimal points misplaced by a flaky network. In older analogue times, music lovers might have been content with ‘the closest approach’ to the original article; in the digital world, nothing short of perfect fidelity is allowed for most digital operations.

Which makes the idea that one ethernet cable can be a better, more accurate, conduit of bits than another somewhat hard to swallow. The network stack that underpins the use of an ethernet cable in a digital music system is the same as that used for any other computer, namely a physical channel for signalling binary levels; the ethernet link layer which assembles data and metadata into frames; a network layer of discrete packets; and a transport layer above that, almost invariably the TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol). Error correction is employed at various stages, notably forward error correction in Layer 2, and a robust check-and-resend system in Layer 4’s transport control protocol.

Nevertheless this hasn’t hindered a growing interest in audio-grade ethernet cables which promise to improve sonic performance. The latest Valhalla 2 cable is Nordost’s brand-new and bestest ethernet cable yet, upstaging two such cables already in the range – Blue Heaven and Heimdall 2 – and despite the sequel numbering is the first ever Valhalla ethernet cable.

To review an ‘audio’ ethernet cable is to defy many engineers’ common sense. As it was 20 years ago when power cables like El Dorado were introduced to improve sound quality – notwithstanding the fact that, whatever goes into a spruced-up power cable spanning the final two metres from wall socket to hi-fi, there has been literally miles of far-from-oxygen-free copper making the link into and then through the house first. And yet it only takes a minute’s demonstration to show that mains cables can make an ungodly difference to the sound of a system.

And so it was with the Valhalla 2 ethernet cable, fast indicating in my initial trials as sounding not just different but clearly better than a commodity Cat 5 twisted-pair cable. Before getting into specifics, the effect I was hearing in the first auditions was a more precise sound – tidier, cleaner, with the music sounding simply more integrated and ‘together’. Time to take a pause and consider how this cable may be different from a commercial network cable, even if we can’t necessarily answer all the questions of how it can make that much difference.

As a follower of Nordost technology since the 1990s, my first instinct on discovering this new product was to examine the specifications, to see where its construction deviates from normal network cable construction practice. This proved puzzling at first, as on paper it had effectively the same spec as Heimdall 2, for instance – including 23 AWG solid-core conductors; foil shielding around each of the four twisted-pair groups; two overall braid screens; and professional-grade screened metal plugs.

Moreover, bar the plugs, these specifications are effectively the same as one would find on many Category 6A or higher network wires. They are known as SFTP cables, from the use of a screened and foiled twisted pair topology. Curiously though, entirely missing from Nordost’s ethernet technology story are the usual pillars of high-end Nordost cables: eight ‘9s’ silver-plated OFC conductors, PTFE/FEP materials, and micro monofilamant (MMF) dielectric technology.

Enquiries to Nordost subsequently revealed that the advertised spec was mostly correct. The Valhalla 2 ethernet cable does not use MMF, I was told, because it would make the cable too bulky to fit the chosen 8P8C (‘RJ45’) plug. Without MMF, which exposes the conductor to more air than does traditional plastic insulation, there is no need for silver plating, which is now stated as present in Nordost cables to reduce oxidation. And FEP is not used here, because a foamed insulator known simply as High-Density Polymer was chosen instead as its mechanical qualities are better suited in this application.

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Tags: ETHERNET CABLE NORDOST VALHALLA 2

By Andrew 'Harry' Harrison

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