Nordost Flatline SPM Reference Speaker Cable

      Date posted: December 31, 1969

Nordost SPM Reference
Sugg. Retail: 6m pair: $7290.00
Canadian Distributor: Sonic Integrity Canada
690 Progress Ave. Scarborough, Ontario
(416) 482 1558 FAX: (416) 482 3973

(Reprinted from the Winter 1998
Audio Ideas Guide)

      Back when I was a kid, and long before I was foolish enough to spend my money on things like audio equipment and records, I blew my not-so-hard earned allowance on more practical things, like candy. One of my favorites was a wide, but very flat and thin, corrugated strip of licorice which came in an array of day-glo colours. While aimed at much older kids with much more substantial allowances, Nordost Flatline SPM speaker cable is essentially licorice for audiophiles. It’s long, thin, corrugated and it comes in clad in a jaunty pink Teflon coating. It’s also very sweet, as my ears can attest (although the Teflon tastes a little plasticky, I must say). And just like candy I don’t really need it, but boy do I want it. Unfortunately, to satisfy my craving for this sugar rush I’d have to do a little more than pry a couple of quarters out of mum and dad with a little persistent whining. Interested in being the first kid on the block with SPM? Crack open that piggy bank and forget about that BMX bike cause you’ll need just over ten thousand quarters to set yourself up with a 1m, bi-wire set of this tasty confection. That’s a lot of lawns to mow and walks to shovel so get crackin’!

      Housed in that tasty looking Teflon housing are 32 conductors in four groups of eight, each conductor made from, according to Nordost’s product literature “an optimized diameter of solid 99.999999% Oxygen Free Copper with a special extruded, high purity silver surface. Each conductor is encapsulated with 5mm of Teflon using our Class 1 slow extrusion process.” At each end of the cable I was sent were “low mass, gold plated, beryllium copper Nordost 4mm Z Banana Plugs,” which, as I brilliantly surmised, due to their “low mass” design seemed a little lightweight compared to others I’ve seen. If I’m paying this kind of shekel for cable I want some serious jewelry at either end! I assume, however, that since these are advertised as special “low mass” plugs that there is some electrical/sonic benefit to this so I’m willing to let this one go. For those of you who enjoy regular bouts of frustration and the occasional shorted amp channel spade lugs are also available (sorry spade-heads but I hate those things). Number crunchers will be interested to note that the SPM’s capacitance is rated at 6.0pF/ft, its inductance at 0.07uH/ft and its impedance at 90 ohms.

      One area where SPM reference differs from candy, and most audiophile type cables for that matter, is in its practicality. Specifically its licorice-like qualities not only make for sweet sound but make SPM, just like all of Nordost’s cable, easy to live with. Whereas many high-end cables snake like python sized hoses across unsuspecting carpets, the ultra low profile of the Nordost cables allows them to be placed under carpets and along baseboards in a most invisible way (if you were really keen I suppose you could paint them to match your walls but for some reason I don’t see too many folks applying interior semi-gloss to $2000 speaker cables). The only minor inconvenience is that being solid core cables they’re quite stiff, and thus not prone to radical bending. Unless you wanted to make a flush 90 degree turn around a corner, however, I don’t see this being a big issue. While the scandalous price of the SPM pretty much kills the prospect of it winning any more practicality points beyond the above, Nordost does make cable costing as little as $1.50/ft with the same basic design (that’s flat and thin, not six nines solid core, silver coated copper, mind you).

      When it comes to sonic qualities the SPM Reference is definitely candy for the ears. To make a short story even shorter, it’s easily the best cable I’ve ever heard. Specifically, it comes closer than anything I’ve used before to sounding like no cable at all. Forget about comments like “tighter bass,” or “more air,” or “greater inner detail”. When I swapped the SPM for the Wireworld Orbit I had been using (substantially cheaper yes, but no slouch in its own right) there was a substantial, global improvement in transparency and musicality, as opposed to a few improvements which may have been traded off against a few shortcomings. Remember your first exposure to a really good pair of speakers? Putting this cable in my system had the same kind of effect: “Ahhhhhh, so this is what this record sounds like!” Like so many experiences in audio it’s one of those things you can’t really appreciate until you try it for yourself. You’ll be perfectly happy with what you’ve got, occasionally convincing yourself that no one else’s system could possibly sound as good as yours, and then you’ll hear a friend’s system, or borrow a piece of gear and marvel at what you’d been missing. Ever put on a friend’s pair of glasses after years of insisting that you can see just fine and being bowled over at how sharp and well defined the world really looks? You can do that for your ears with cable of this caliber. Problem is, if you try it, you won’t want to give it back; a pain I know all too well (yes, reviewing audio equipment does have a down side). Of course, then there’s the price, a reality check which makes giving it back a little easier to stomach for all but the very well-heeled.

      When dealing with any product this expensive I think it behooves a reviewer to address the issue of whether this kind of cost can be justified. On this topic I will reiterate what I said about the Inouye Synergistic Power Line Conditioner: If it can be justified at all, cable this pricey can be legitimated in a system where the owner has exhausted virtually every other conceivable upgrade avenue. If you’ve got the speakers you want, the amp you want, the sources you want, the room you want, the car you want, the house you want, if your kids’ education is paid for and the cottage doesn’t need a new roof and you’ve eaten all your vegetables then maybe it’s okay to treat yourself to some very decadent audio sweets for desert. If you can’t think of anything else to upgrade, then either you’re not very imaginative or you’re enjoying a divine audio system which may just reach that final sonic plateau with the help of cable this transparent. (This statement, of course, works under the profoundly na�ve assumption that there exists an audiophile who can’t think of anything they’d like to upgrade). If you can’t afford it, or can barely justify it, then for god’s sake don’t try it! Crack cocaine? A mild narcotic compared to this stuff in the hands of a fanatical audiophile. Consider yourself warned.

Aaron Marshall

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