Product Review - Nordost Quattro Fil Audio Interconnect Cable - January, 1999
J.E. Johnson, Jr.
Nordost Quattro Fil Audio Interconnects
Four Conductor Groups with Seven Monofilaments (OFC Copper with Silver Cover) in each Group
Capacitance: 12.8 pF/ft
Inductance: 0.08 uH/ft
Impedance: 75 Ohms
Dielectric Constant: 1.38
Gold Plated Beryllium Copper Terminations
MSRP: $1,600/Meter Pair
Nordost Corporation, 420 Franklin Street, Framingham, Massachusetts 01702; Phone 508-879-1242; Fax 508-879-8197; E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org; Web http://www.nordost.com.
Although Nordost's first cable design was flat, their most recent products have taken on a more conventional round shape. However, the shape of the final cable is the only conventional apsect. Everything inside is quite unique. I thought that Nordost Red Dawn might be the ultimate cable a few years ago, then came SPM Reference last year. Now, Quattro Fil.
All of the Nordost line is extruded as they are assembled. That is, each component of the cable comes through an extrusion die, including the copper, silver, and all the Teflon (the silver shield is woven onto the cable). In 1998, the cost of Quattro Fil was $1,400 per meter pair. Although this is considerable, Nordost priced it assuming that the cost of manufacturing would come down as they gained experience making it. However, there are so many parts to this cable, the odds of getting a certain length without any flaws kept the reject rate high. So, in 1999, the price had to be raised to $1,600.
The cross sectional diagram on the right shows how complex Quattro Fil actually is. Starting at the center are four groups of seven OFC copper filaments with 50 mils of silver on the surface of each filament (small blue circles). A thin wrapping of Teflon surrounds each group of seven filaments (red circle) in a spiral helix (red diagonal stripe in lower part of figure). A Teflon tube surrounds each group (innermost green circles). Teflon spacers (solid orange circles) keep the four groups separate. A silver mesh (dark blue circle) shield surrounds all four groups, and a Teflon jacket (outermost green circle) completes the assembly. Keep in mind this occurs all at once, coming out of a die. The Teflon has to be melted at several hundred degrees F, and it solidifies as it passes through the die. The copper and silver are literally squeezed through the die in solid form, and this produces a copper/silver interface that is much different than if the silver were electroplated onto the copper. The finished product is heavy and quite stiff, with massive RCA or balanced XLR plugs. No watered down soup this. It's a Viking's meal.
From a survey we took some time ago, it appears that most of our readers feel that high performance cables make a difference in the sound. Sometimes I wish I could not hear any difference with such cables, but I can, and Quattro Fil made the biggest difference I have yet heard. At first, I thought, well maybe I just want to hear all this detail because the cable is so highly engineered. Then, my wife came into the room and remarked, "Wow, listen to all that detail." Well, I thought, maybe she just wants to hear the improved detail too because she knows how expensive this stuff is. Then, my mother in law arrived for the Christmas holidays, and when we put on some CDs while decorating the tree, she said (unsolicited), "I have that CD at home, and I never knew that drum was in there." Now, she had no idea that I had put in this cable, and had no concept of what the cable might do anyway. To top it all off, she is 80 years old, and in spite of hearing loss that occurs in all of us with aging, she could still tell how great the sound was. This is encouraging, because as I grow older, I can begin to afford nice things like these cables.
So, after watching two other people notice right away that something really marvelous was happening, I settled down to the fact that $3,200 worth of wire and plastic had made a huge difference. I began some serious listening. Reference components included our Audio Alchemy Transport and DAC, Audio Electronics AE-1 Triode Tube Preamplifier, White Audio Labs B-80 Monoblocks, Nordost SPM Reference Speaker Cable, Monitor Audio Studio 20 SE Floorstanding Speakers, and Sunfire Subwoofer (to handle 20 Hz - 40 Hz). I placed the Quattro Fil between the DAC and the preamplifier, and between the preamplifier and power amplifiers.
The nice thing about using Christmas music for tests is that there are lots of snare drums, triangles, bells, and chimes. The sticks striking the drum heads and mallets striking the bells are the kind of detail that come out with Quattro Fil. Although the entire music must benefit from this, it is more difficult to tell what is going on (the improvement) in the middle of a trumpet note than at the beginning of a sound where the attack is so prominent. These details are what gives the listener a you are there kind of experience. CD after CD produced the same effect . . . with much more detail than I had ever heard before, and I have had these CDs for years, playing them every Christmas. Of course, I listened to all types of music when preparing my review of these cables, but it was really delightful to sit by the fire and enjoy choirs, brass, and string renditions of familiar seasonal music with a new experience.
It is difficult to say what aspect of the Nordost design is responsible for the increased detail, but I suspect that the low dielectric constant has a great deal to do with it. The dielectric constant is a measure of how much like a capacitor the conductor and insulation act. If the insulator has a high constant, say 3 or 4, the cable will have more capacitance than if the dielectric constant is 2 or less. With increased capacitance, more and more electrons in the signal are first stored in the dielectric and then released. The released electrons which were part of the signal that immediately preceded them, cause a smearing of the sound. It is a very subtle thing, until you hear the kind of detail that can be experienced from a system that has low capacitance in the cable. Air has a defined dielectric constant of 1, and everything else is compared to it. A constant of 1.38 is almost unheard of in the audio cable industry. Nordost's use of Teflon and air to insulate the conductors is how such a low constant is achieved with Quattro Fil.
In summary, I am not surprised that superb engineering in cable design makes an audible difference in the sound. Component manufacturers spend considerable sums making sure that the conductors inside the CD player, amplifier, or whatever, are laid out very, very carefully, and that they are of the utmost quality. The cables connecting these components together are just as important as the conductors inside, for quality signal propagation. Nordost Quattro Fil may very well be the best audio cables on the planet. They are already backordered for this product, even though the present review is the first formal one published. Looks like they had better add a few employees, because Quattro Fil is a winner.
John E. Johnson, Jr.
© Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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