A brief look at the Virtue Audio 'Nirvana'
by Sean Fowler on November 10 '10
Disclaimer: The following article should be interpreted as a blog styled post. It is not a formal review. I’m just using Sonicflare as a platform to voice my opinion on a product that I recently happened across. So with that out of the way, let’s get straight to it!
This isn’t the first time that I’ve been inspired to create a blog style post here at Sonicflare. My brief scribbling on the Pangea AC-9 power cord took those honors earlier this year. The funny thing is that the only two blog posts I’ve created thus far focus on products that I’ve never been too keen on writing about in the first place – cables. You see, I have two problems with cable reviews. The first problem is that they are flippin’ boring to write about! The second and most important problem is that the performance of a cable can vary wildly from system to system. This inconsistency makes it difficult for a reviewer to properly assess the product, let alone craft a hardy recommendation that any reader can reliably go by.
Yet here I am, preparing to riff a few paragraphs over a set of cables once again. Why? The answer is because at the very end of the day, I’m a sucker for great value. Subsequently, I will not hesitate to ‘spread da word’ whenever I happen across a product that I feel offers truly great performance for a very reasonable buck. So now I bring to you the latest from my audio travels, the Virtue Audio ‘Nirvana’ interconnect.
Enter The Nirvana’s
Some of you internet savvy hi-fi hipsters may already be familiar with Virtue Audio. For those of you who aren’t, Virtue Audio is a new California based company that has already created a few waves with their small but potent line of affordable integrated amplifiers. While Virtue Audio has become best known for their integrated amplifiers and ‘Piano’ CD-player, few people seem to know that the company also offers a number of affordable cable solutions.
The cables that I will cover today are a set of interconnects called the ‘Nirvana’s, which start at around $64 for a 1M set. Now I’m not going to shower you all with tech info on the Nirvana’s because I honestly know squat about the science and manufacturing behind them. All I know is that they are assembled by Virtue Audio’s own Jason Terpstra, are well made, are available in custom lengths, and seem to be a great value. For those of you that thirst for juicy tech info, you can either consult Virtue Audio’s website or fire off an e-mail to Jason. I will supply links to both parties at the conclusion of this article.
I’m going to skip all of the verbose BS and get straight to the point; I like these cables. This surprises me a bit, as I ordinarily don’t care for cables that occupy this particular price range. No, it’s not because my fragile ears and ego are incapable of tolerating anything that costs less than a 17” Macbook Pro. It’s because most of the sub $100 cables that I’ve encountered so far tend to be chalk full of tonal colorations. While there is no doubt that certain colorations may suit some systems well, I tend to prefer cables that are more harmonically balanced in their delivery. Why? Because it’s easier to work with a cable that features excellent all-around performance than it is to work with a cable that exhibits distinct virtues and vice. This is exactly why I’ve taken to the Nirvana’s the way that I have.
Now to be fair, every piece of hi-fi retains some kind of distinct aural signature. If I had to pin the Nirvana’s down to a particular tonal palette, I would sort them under the ‘warm’ designation. The good news is that most people find warmth, particularly when applied across the midrange and upper mid-bass, to be pleasing. The better news is that this coloration is fairly light and does not seriously compromise the rest of the Nirvana’s presentation.
Think of it this way… with the Nirvana’s, you can expect to get top end that is well extended and finely detailed, imaging that is wide and precise, bass that is prominent and quick, along with midrange that is open, detailed, and sprinkled with just a bit of aural spice. The best part of it all (in my opinion of course) is how no real specific part of the Nirvana’s presentation stands out. Whoever designed these cables did a fine job of achieving that difficult thing called ‘balance’. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard any other set of cables do the same thing at this price, all the while pulling off many of the things that audiophiles covet so much.
With that said, you won’t find me trumpeting the cliché verbatim on how these cables easily best others that cost many times the price. Though I’m sure there is no shortage of systems that would allow a set of Nirvana’s to out gun pricier options, let’s not kid ourselves here. They are budget cables, and you shouldn’t expect them to perform on par with or beyond designs that cost hundreds of dollars.
To be clear, I’m not saying that they can’t outperform pricier cables. I’m just saying that you shouldn’t expect them to. To hammer that point home, I’ll use the following example:
Would I sell my MIT CVT 2’s in favor of the Virtue Audio Nirvana’s? Absolutely not. On the gear that I’ve tried, which ranges from tube, to solid state, to hybrid, the MIT CVT-2’s outperform the Nirvana’s in every way. Now bear in mind that the MIT’s cost $500 for a 1M set. That means you could buy nearly 8 pairs of Nirvana’s for the price of 1 set of MIT CVT 2’s. Of course the MIT’s should perform better. If they didn’t, then shame on MIT!
On the flip side however, I’d easily take the Nirvana’s over competitive (read: similar priced) offerings from the likes of Signal Cable, Zu Cable, Morrow Audio, PS Audio, Choseal, Xindak, Audioquest, Kimber Kable, and a handful of other goods that I’ve owned throughout the years. This isn’t because I feel like the aforementioned brands more affordable products suck. Actually, most of them are quite decent in their own way. I simply prefer the balance of the Nirvana’s, how they make music, and how less system dependant they are when compared to similar priced offerings. Then again, I admit that I’m a sucker for performance and consistency.
The Wrap Up
Since this blog post is centered around my own subjective opinion, I’ll come right out and say that the Virtue Audio Nirvana’s are the best sub $100 interconnects that I’ve ever encountered thus far. Now some of you with a sharp eye will notice that I didn’t mention anything negative in this ‘review’. It’s not because I’m feeling unusually generous. It’s because I honestly can’t find much wrong with the Nirvana's. The only caveat thats worth mentioning is that the treble can sound a bit hard straight 'out of the box', something that gradually disappears with use. Otherwise, they’re flexible, they’re well built, they sound great, they have no problems integrating into a wide variety of audio systems, and they are affordable. What more could one want?
So in an effort to avoid concluding this assessment with the cliché ‘highly recommended’ accolade, how about I say this… if you are in the market for an affordable set of interconnects, and if the above description tickles your curiosity strings, give Virtue Audio a call and take the Nirvana’s for a test drive. You’ll have 30 days to decide whether I'm full of BS or not.