Virtue Audio Nirvana Speaker Cables
List Price $119 for 2 meter pair, $159 3 meter pair as tested
Virtue Audio Nirvana Shielded Quad Conductor Interconnects
List price $64 1 meter pair
Virtue Audio Speed Freak 5% Silver Digital Interconnect
List Price: $39 1 meter
By: Bill Schuchard
Virtue Audio had some amazing sound for the money at this past Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, winning our “Best Budget Room” of the show. We have also reviewed almost all of their class-leading value priced amps; all of them winning our stingily handed out Maximum Mojo Award. A review their cables was definitely in order. The Nirvana cables are based on simple science. Seth Krinksy, of Virtue Audio, calls them “solid no BS cables”. Their design goals were to create low resistance speaker cables that balance the inductance and capacitance along with very high quality terminations. The act of balancing inductance and capacitance is meant to achieve a neutral sounding cable. One final goal is that they had to look good.
It should be no surprise to our educated readers that a good termination is just as important than the cable itself, maybe even more-so. Virtue knows that too. Virtue uses a single cable guru named Jason to handle all custom cable orders and personally terminate each cable. He will even contact you after a order is made to double check on lengths, etc. Yes, each order is custom made so any length desired is possible. It doesn't explicitly mention that on their website but they can make any length.
The speaker cables are terminated using heavy gauge yet slightly pliable copper spades. These make a great connection and are perfect for allowing a speaker terminal to really bite down tight for a great and long lasting connection. I had to use a tiny amount of force to pop them over my terminal lugs.
The individual stranded speaker wires that make up the cable are not woven but are arranged in a helix format similar to a single layer of a Cardas speaker cable. Our included image should convey that well. The helical format is supposed to allow for longer runs, if necessary. 8 runs of 16 gauge wire are used per speaker (4+, 4-) resulting in an impressive net 8 gauge cable. The dialectric is polyethylene containing an anti-static polyester braid. The dialectric really does affect the sound and the presence of thought to use something with anti-static properties should bode well for the cable.
These days cables that look like extra long toilet paper tubes and/or Electrolux vacuum hoses are all the rage. Nearly every room at this year's RMAF was using that hulking style of cable. The theory, explained to me by a representative from Kimber Cable, is that by expanding the diameter of the cables, the individual woven wires will criss-cross at a perfect 90 degrees allowing for better shielding and minimal interaction. It also happens to create much longer runs of wire so more individual wires are necessary to achieve a low overall impedance curve.
Does it work? There were many fantastic sounding rooms using cables like these hulking and unattractive audio hoses. Is there a better way to shield a cable or possibly a better way to achieve the same performance? Virtue Audio thinks so.
Virtue's Nirvana speaker cable also utilizes and shielding and via a simple braided shield around the conductors. For reference, the shield also acts as one of the conductors in the negative conductive path. The end result is a much smaller shielded cable than the large braided hoses so prevalent in high end these days. The outside layer is simple decorative clear PVC exposing the braided shield visually. The result is a very attractive heavy gauge shielded speaker cable doubling as audio jewelry. My wife says these are the best looking cables she's ever seen. They scored some points there. Even though they are large, they disappear, yet when they do catch an eye, they are attractive.
Nirvana Speed Freak Digital Interconnect
The Virtue Audio Speed Freak digital interconnect uses a conductor made from silver plated oxygen free copper resulting in a 5% silver content cable. This cable utilizes the same shield and dialectric paradigm used in their aforementioned speaker cables. This is a true 75 ohm cable which digital gear is expecting.
I wasn't able to measure the impedance at the high frequencies the digital range operates at so we'll have to take their word for it. Not having the expected impedance may adversely affect the performance of digital gear as it could affect the assumptions makers of digital gear made when tweaking their methods of capturing the rising and falling of the digital signal. What does this mean? In the end we need to determine if the cable sounds good or not. That's the point of all this, right?
Nirvana Star Quad Interconnect
The Virtue Nirvana RCA interconnects follow a similar paradigm with an attractive no-nonsense star quad conductor shielded cable. The conductors are high quality copper and the RCA connector's center conductor is T-copper, a custom design for Virtue Audio. These seemingly simple connectors slid on easy and stayed tight.
A word about break-in. These interconnects just kept getting better and better. Even after several weeks, their transparency kept improving. It was nearly two months of use before their true character settled in.
They look benign and seem to just get out of the way visually. That's how I actually like my cables to sound... or NOT sound. I believe a cable should transport the sound without adding any of it's own sonic signature or harming the signal in any way. No cable is perfect. In the end, all cables affect the sound in one way or another and careful matching can sometimes make or break a system.
So how do they sound?
If it doesn't sound good, there is simply no point in making it look good. If you're looking at the Virtue Audio cables, chances are you're more interested in enjoying great sounding music than bragging about your expensive popular gear.
I broke in the Nirvana speaker cables using my main system while using my wife's system to break in the interconnects. I try not to listen to a cable until it's broken in but out of the box these babies could sing! They had the coherency and lack of aggressiveness of my Cardas Crosslink 1S speaker cables while maintaining the more authoritative and detailed nature of my Kimber 4TC speaker cables.
Better yet? It's as if somebody had opened the hose spigot all the way. Music flowed with much more verve with an attack on musical notes never before heard in my system. After about 40 hours of playing music through them, I sat down to really listen wondering if what I heard before was just a fluke.
I was completely enamored with the sound. They gained a sense of transparency during their breakin period that was unhead of for their price. I started writing emails and text messaging many of my friends. “You've got to get down here and hear these!”. My friend Joel Tripper came by for a weekend afternoon of listening and brought a set of Transparent Audio speaker cables that listed for about $800 nearly seven years go. The Virtue Audio Nirvana speaker cable wiped the floor with them.
One of the CDs we poured through was something we both know and really enjoy; Jakob Dylan's “Seeing Things”. This is a great reference CD by the way. The music is great, and it's a well recorded, clean, well balanced, dynamic recording. We used this because we both really enjoy it.
The Nirvana speaker cable had a much better center image focus, better separation of the background singers, and a huge soundstage in comparison with the far more expensive Transparent Audio speaker cables. The bass characteristics and sense of dynamics were pretty much on par with each other. Joel purchased his own set of Virtue Nirvana speaker cables the very next day. I keep getting text messages from him telling me how much he likes them.
For those not bored to death and actually still reading, Joel's system consists of a class A tube integrated, Thiel CS1.6 speakers, and a Meridian source. This is pretty different from my system using my reference Hephaestus class D monoblocks and several different sets of speakers, all having more interesting impedance curves than the Thiel.
I swapped a set of Virtue Audio Nirvana interconnects between my Jaton RC2000 preamp and the wonderful, powerful Hephas (Hephaestus Audio class D monoblocks) and another between my Pacific Valve modified DAC AM and the preamp. My trusty sets of Nordost Blue Heaven and Audioquest Diamondback interconnects lay on the table as I realize a more subtle but noticeable improvement.
The Virtue Audio Nirvana interconnects brought a more full-bodied sound while removing any last vestiges of sibilance or stridency. One might take this as indicating that the Nirvana is a warm cable. It's more neutral than warm.
The Nordost Blue Heaven is the most revealing cable I've heard, yet the bass signature is a little lean and tight with highs can seem ever so slightly strident at time. I really love them as they mix well with my slightly warm DAC. Likewise, the Audioquest Diamondbacks were a little lean with highs that one would call less coherent than either the Nirvana or the Nordost. Basically replacing two slightly lean cables with neutral Nirvana cables brought out some midrange bloom with rounder more pleasing notes. At $120 and $200, these interconnects are priced far above the $64 Nirvana. A good deal? You betcha!
Backing up, the Nirvana is slightly softer and warmer than the Nordost but still airy. One might think some detail is missing yet one still hears everything they should. The Nordost has an edge for image focus, but at multiples of the Nirvana price, it should.
I spent a fair amount of time reviewing these and brought out some $30 Bluejeans interconnects as an old set of $100 Monster M1000 interconnects to compare. Wow. Both the Bluejeans 1505f as well as the LC1 had a similar, but less controlled bass balance and sounded grainy in comparison with the Nirvana. The Monster? Dark and murky. There was just no comparison. The Monster M1000 is something one might use to try and mask etchy or bright problems with one's electronics but that was it.
Over time, it came down to using Virtue Nirvana's between my neutral preamp and amps, and whether to use the Nordost Blue Heaven's or the Nirvanas between my preamp and DAC. From a technical standpoint, the Nordost is slightly more transparent, lean, and focused. There's a bit more air and a taller soundstage. This is in combination with the Nirvana interconnect between the amp and preamp. My friend Joel and I both preferred the Nordost cable but my wife begged to differ.
Over time the unthinkable happened. My wife was right. Not only does my system now use entirely Nirvana cables, but my friend Joel just purchased a set for himself after hearing them.
I brought my wife into the equation and we listened to Jamie Cullum's Catching Tales among other things and compared the cables. She swings her arms up around where they fall and slap her thighs, her head tilts, and she says “These just sound more like music”. Any trace of sibilance that I thought was in the recording was gone, but none of the high frequency detail seemed missing.
She was right. If one sits, analyzes, and dissects the music then the Nordost is a clear winner. In the end, the cable that one can put into their system and sort of “set it and forget it” is the Virtue Nirvana. Over time, not only does my system now use entirely Nirvana cables, but my friend Joel just purchased a set to replace his Nordost Blue Heaven for reasons of tonal balance. Bill, if she’s like Linda and most women, they don’t actually “analyze” the sound at all like we do, they just “feel” it. And yes, they are usually right, depending on how they are “feeling”.
But Wait There's More!!!
Seth at Virtue Audio also had Jason build me up and send a digital coaxial interconnect. I had two other sets of cables to compare to. A Bluejeans 1694A digital coax whose price has actually gone down to a mere $16 and a rather expensive MIT digital interconnect.
The Virtue Speed Freak digital coax was quite simply more believable as music than the Bluejeans. The decay of the piano was far more real, highs were less edgy, and the sense of space and instrument separation was obviously better, and imaging was much better. The bass was more taught as well as seemingly extended using the Speed Freak. Even at twice the price by today's standards, the Speed Freak is the obvious choice over Bluejeans.
In comparison the MIT digital interconnect, which has a built in transformer that automatically adjusts the impedance to 75 ohms yet is far more expensive bested both of these. The highs, sense of space, and image focus and size were obviously the best through the more expensive MIT cable without affecting the tonal balance whatsoever.
Automatically adjusts the impedance you say?!? If you were to measure a cable, and then just move it around, it's impedance curve would likely change a bit with each movement. MIT apparently tries to counteract this. Whether it's why it sounded better is unclear, but I'm sticking with the Virtue digital interconnect for now but plan on getting myself one of these in the future. Note that I measured the cables and the impedance curve inside the audible frequency range did not change when bending the cable but I cannot speak for the frequencies at which the digital range operates at.
The Full Gamut
The full gamut you say? An entire system wired with only Virtue Audio cables. The plan was to be scientific about this; try the speaker wires, get a good taste for them, then the interconnects, and finally the digital interconnect. Each phase took some time to really get the flavor and determine the real value of said cable. Now we're running the full gamut!
I'm listening to Reference Recordings HRx version of Percy Grainger's "Lincolnshire Posy” on performed by the Dallas Wind Symphony as I write. It's really quite something. Why is this important? I've had this recording for about a year now and it's never quite grabbed me. It's supposed to be a reference recording but it wasn't all that believable or exciting. I'm not quite sure what cable is behind this but man is it good now. This was our 2009 "Classical Recording of the Year". It is that good. But Bill brings up an important point; There have been many times when I didn't "get" a recording. An example is Paul Simon's 1986 "Graceland". Everybody gushed over this album, but it left me cold and indifferent. It wasn't until I got the Teres 265 turntable and played in on there. Suddenly the LP took on a whole new perspective. It just glowed and was fun, engaging and moving. It's now one of my all-time faves. It can be an upgrade in cables, turntable, DAC, speakers or even your room that makes all the difference in the world. The right piece of the puzzle in your system can turn listening to hi-fi into listening to the MUSIC ~ publisher
There's so very much going on, but only a very good system is going to reveal that. The sense of space and venue is great, the textures of the instruments are captured as if you're sitting in the audience. The most amazing transformation is not so much the air, or believable sense of space, or the amazing reproduction of the instruments' decay, but the attack on the instruments fleshing out the true emotion of the music, including the powerful drums at time. I get it now. For the first time this is fantastic and involving. I love these cables.
A few people came by to hear a set of speakers at my house during this review process. The cables used were entirely by Virtue except for power cords. We had the president of the Boston Audio Society, a respected employee of Sausalito Audio Works, and the head engineer from Smith and Larson Audio. Each of them played a few tracks of their own music without saying a word. In the end, almost in tandem, their opinions were that this was the best rendering of the human voice they had heard from a conventional loudspeaker ever. Pretty strong words.
Each started with tracks of the female voice. It captured a female opera singer's vibrato perfectly, as well as the booming chestiness of a male opera singer that one of them had seen live. They also used recordings of strings and orchestras they had actually recorded themselves. In all cases, it was very believable and faithful to the original. All of this through those humbly priced cables from Virtue Audio!
One thing that edged me closer to the Virtue over the Nordost was how balanced they sounded with rock like Led Zeppelin. I'm listening to “Over the Hills and Far Away” as I write. This is just so much fun. My wife just walked in to find me grooving to the music while typing on the laptop. She just stopped, looked at me odd for a minute. I thought she would walk away but instead she sat to listen. She said “ooh, I like the separation of the guitars” and left after the song ended. She never sits down to listen.
Led Zeppelin would sometimes play tricks and place microphones both close to the drums as well as far away to get a cool spacious effect. I'm not positive if they did that in Houses of the Holy but it sure has that cool airy effect going on.
The Nordost seemed technically better with "Houses", but somehow the Nirvana interconnect was softer yet more involving with a “set it and forget it” attitude. You put them in and forget about the gear but not the music. At the other end of the spectrum are some rather expensive Monster M1000i interconnects which sounded a bit dark and dull in comparison. The Virtue stands squarely between the others as a relatively neutral cable capable of rendering soft detail.
The Virtue Audio Nirvana speaker cable should be on everybody's audition list, regardless of budget. They sound that good and are my new reference speaker cable to beat. They're a great deal for those on a budget but might just surprise those would can afford far more. I'll be recommending these to friends and family for the foreseeable future. This is Maximum Mojo in spades. They're also pretty to look at or at least easy to ignore.
The Virtue Audio interconnects are also a great deal, besting the Audioquest Diamondbacks and trouncing the Bluejeans cables I have in house. Whether one might choose the Nordost Blue Heaven is still up for debate depending on system synergy. They operate at a similar level with the Virtue costing less than half as much. Will the Nirvana interconnects beat a set of $500 MIT cables? No, they won't but at $64 for a meter set, one could wire an entire system for far less than one set of MIT cables. Food for thought. I'm now using the Virtue Audio Nirvana interconnects as my reference as justifying a $500 cable to my wife is a fool's errand.
How about that old Speed Freak digital coax? These are a no-brainer over the Bluejeans cable I was using before. They won't match the far more expensive MIT digital interconnect but it comes down to price. Some may shell out some serious change for the MIT for that slight uptick. I know I will at some point The difference was very subtle unless I upclocked the transport from 44.1 to 88.2Khz. At $39, this cable is simply amazing.
Since my reference system is going to stay completely wired with Virtue Audio Nirvana speaker cables, Nirvana interconnects, and a Speed Freak digital interconnect, and I'm thrilled about that, I'm bestowing upon Virtue Audio Cables the Maximum Mojo Award.
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