Product Review - Nordost Silver Shadow Digital Cable - August, 1999

John E. Johnson, Jr.


Nordost Silver Shadow Digital Cable

Copper/Silver Conductors, Teflon Dielectric

Gold Plated Beryllium Copper Termination, 75 Ohms RCA, 110 Ohms XLR Balanced

MSRP: $499/Meter RCA, $599/Meter XLR

Nordost Corporation, 420 Franklin Street, Framingham, Massachusetts 01701; Phone 508-879-1242; Fax 508-879-8197; Web

Nordost has come a long way from the early days when their only product was Flatline Speaker Cable and everyone was asking, "Nordost . . . who is that?" Now, the dealers are calling Nordost and fighting over exclusive territory. They have become one of the most preeminent cable manufacturers in the world. From the start, Nordost technology has revolved around extrusion of the conductors and dielectric at the same time, using specially designed dies. The complexity of their new designs has outpaced the improvement in wastage (much of the cable has to be thrown away, as any imperfection of any part of the cable coming out of the die ruins the whole cable), with the result being that their top of the line models are really expensive. There is no way around it. Quality costs money.

Digital signals are everywhere now. In our computers, our TVs, our DVD players, CD players, and our receivers. Originally, we all had CD players rather than separate transports and DACs, so digital cables were not necessary. When it became necessary to send the digital signal from one component to another, some of us just used a regular audio interconnect. What the heck. It's just a shielded cable with RCA plugs on the end. Right? Well, yes, digital cables are shielded and they have RCA plugs. But, the impedance of a digital cable has to be very carefully controlled. Otherwise, you end up with a very harsh sound. With conventional analog audio interconnects, the impedance might be as low as 25 Ohms. This causes part of the high frequency digital signals to reflect backwards when they reach the plugs. These electrical reflections distort the digital bitstream.

Digital cables have an impedance of 75 Ohms for unbalanced (RCA) and 110 Ohms for balanced (XLR). This is very important. The plugs themselves have an effect on the impedance, as do the conductors. If the spacing of the conductors is not controlled, the end product will be something that has the 75 Ohm impedance, plus or minus some variance. With the Nordost Silver Shadow, the spacing between the single conductor and the shield is controlled along the entire length of the cable, producing an impedance of 75 Ohms exactly (110 Ohms for balanced XLR, where there are two conductors plus shield). So, what you are paying for with the Nordost is a cable where you know the impedance is properly calibrated. Not a cable that is rated at 75 Ohms, but is actually 65 because of variance in manufacturing.

You might think of your CD transport when you consider digital cables. But, they are also important for the digital connection between our DVD players and receivers when watching movies with Dolby Digital or DTS soundtracks. Some of the harshness that has been reported with these soundtracks may actually be due to using cables with the wrong impedance. So, that is where I started with the audition of the Nordost Silver Shadow. I connected the digital output of our Yamaha DVD-S700 DVD player and our Yamaha DSP-A1 receiver. I put on the newly released DVD "Shakespeare in Love" which has lots of great Baroque music, besides being a masterpiece of film making. Violins and trumpets are an excellent test for harshness. If something is not quite right, you have to fight to keep from putting your hands over your ears, even at low volume. Well, everything must have been just right, because the sound was superb. Clean, crisp, mellifluous. No harshness, no grittiness. No hands over the ears, regardless of the volume.

In our reference audio system, using McCormack transport and DAC, the Silver Shadow fit right in. Now, we have 250 watts/ch rms driving electrostatics on one side of the room, and 750 watts/ch rms driving ribbon speakers on the other. All the amplifiers are fully balanced, front to back. The system plays loud and clean. Any weakness will show up very plainly. The Silver Shadow was very comfortable among company like this, rolling up its sleeves and getting to work. Edge transients, like the attack on a steel string guitar, as well as soft details, like the rap against a triangle, were as clear as they can get. Another thing I like about this cable is the solid construction. I could manipulate it behind a maze of other wires without fear.

In summary, having a good digital cable can make a big difference, even in a modest system, because digital signals are easily messed up by improper impedances. Therefore, go ahead and splurge. It's a good investment, and is something that you can move from one system to another, without the need to upgrade. Whether it is DD, DTS, or just conventional CD, a digital cable will work for all of them, and the Nordost Silver Shadow is state of the art.

John E. Johnson, Jr.

Copyright 1999 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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