Nordost partners with VTL, VPI, dCS, and Stenheim for JVS’s Best of Show

I’d encountered the pairing of room sponsor Nordost with VTL electronics and Stenheim loudspeakers in this very same room last year. But this time, with one more year to learn how to tame an extremely large, semi-intractable listening space, set-up wizard Stirling Trayle scored a bullseye. Both my husband David and I were floored by the sound in this room.

The system included one premiere: the Nordost QBase Mark III, aka QB8 Mk III ($2300). This eight-outlet passive distribution block uses star-ground topology to address, in Nordost’s words, “the noise-inducing, conflicting flows of signal and ground paths.” Given that I use the 20-amp Mark II for most of my digital front end, I’m excited to discover the differences wrought by a newly designed dual-pcb configuration, increased separation of ground connections, minimized interference/crosstalk, enhanced trace sizes, and a revised resistance “sink” intended to add protection and better damp eddy current. While it was impossible to tell what all these changes made to the sound of this system, it should be fairly easy to discern any differences in my own reference system.

How to describe the system’s impact? First, my attention was drawn to the natural and real sound of bass. On the 32/352.8 MQA track of Patricia Barber’s “This Town” from Clique, I heard the largest, most timbrally correct, believable, and luscious presentation of a double bass I may have ever heard from a sound system. On top of that, the smallest change in Barber’s voice, including the emotional shift at the end, as well as every instrumental overtone and nuance was audible. Listening to this track was as satisfying as the finest meal I’ve ever eaten. And I had no need to shout over people at the next table in order to commune in silence with everyone around me.

Next, VTL’s Bea Lam (left in photo, with Meredith Gabor of Nordost, center, and Michael Marko of Nordost, right) turned to LP, and Cécile McLorin Salvant’s “Le mal de vivre.” I sat at this artist’s feet (literally) when she performed at New York’s Blue Note last fall, but she sounded equally close to me here. The warmth of her voice was marvelous and the control absolute. I didn’t even bother to take notes when Nat King Cole began to sing “The Very Thought of You.” Instead, I put down my pen, closed my notebook and eyes, and blissed out.

This was an anything but inexpensive system. Start with the Stenheim Reference Ultime Two loudspeakers ($155,000/pair). Then add VTL’s TP-6.5 Series II Signature phono stage ($15,000), TL-7.5 Series III Reference Line Preamplifier($35,000), two MB-450 Series III Signature monoblocks ($30,000/pair) on the Stenheim’s midrange and tweeter, and two MB-185 Series III Signature monoblocks ($27,000/pair) on the bass, and you’re on to the dCS Rossini Apex DAC ($32,800) and Rossini Master Clock ($10,850). Next, from VPI came the Avenger Direct turntable ($36,000) with Lyra Etna cartridge ($8995).

As this photo shows, then there was more Nordost cabling and accoutrements than I dared add up. That includes a wheelbarrow-full of Odin 2 cabling plus Valhalla 2 Ethernet cables, an Odin 2 tonearm cable ($16,700), a QNet network switch with QNet stand, QSource linear power supply with premium and DC cables, QPOINT resonance synchronizers, QKore ground units and premium wires, Sort supports, and more.

Yes, the system cost a lot. A very big lot. But it sounded like heaven.

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