Most Important, Unloved Cable...


Ethernet. I used to say the power cord was the most unloved, but important cable. Now, I update that assessment to the Ethernet cable. Review work forthcoming. 

I can't wait to invite my newer friend who is an engineer who was involved with the construction of Fermilab, the National Accelerator Lab, to hear this! Previously he was an overt mocker; no longer. He decided to try comparing cables and had his mind changed. That's not uncommon, as many of you former skeptics know. :)

I had my biggest doubts about the Ethernet cable. But, I was wrong - SO wrong! I'm so happy I made the decision years ago that I would try things rather than simply flip a coin mentally and decide without experience. It has made all the difference in quality of systems and my enjoyment of them. Reminder; I settled the matter of efficacy of cables years before becoming a reviewer and with my own money, so my enthusiasm for them does not spring from reviewing. Reviewing has allowed me to more fully explore their potential.  

I find fascinating the cognitive dissonance that exists between the skeptical mind in regard to cables and the real world results which can be obtained with them. I'm still shaking my head at this result... profoundly unexpected results way beyond expectation. Anyone who would need an ABX for this should exit the hobby and take up gun shooting, because your hearing would be for crap.  
douglas_schroeder
BTW, I am well aware of the revolting cost structure of such cables. If they were not proportionately outrageously efficacious I would not recommend them, nor use them. 


Doug I read your Teo cables review, Thad to me is Passion, can't get better than that.
Thanks, Doug.

Those reading this thread may wish to also read a series of posts beginning around 2-16-2012 in the following thread:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/shielding-components-from-emi-rfi-help-please

Member Bryoncunningham, who IMO is an especially astute and perceptive listener, and is very thorough in his evaluations, described realizing a substantial sonic improvement by changing from a garden variety unshielded ethernet cable to an **inexpensive** shielded type. I described some technical effects which may have accounted for that.

Also, this thread will be of interest:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/are-my-cat5-and-router-my-weak-link

A comment Bryon made on 8-7-2012 in the latter thread:

I can confirm what Al has reported about my experiences when I replaced an unshielded Cat 5 cable with a shielded Cat 6 cable. The result was more resolution. A lot more.

The $7 shielded Cat 6 cable resulted in a bigger improvement in SQ than several $1,000 power cords and several $2,000 interconnects. Yes, I know that sounds crazy. I can’t explain it.

I’m not saying that other systems will benefit similarly. In fact, I doubt it. But it’s certainly an affordable experiment.
As I’ve said in a number of past threads, the existence of differences does not necessarily mean that more expensive = better results.

Regards,
-- Al

AL , I totally agree with you it does not mean more expensive better result... my background as an audiophile ,I read a lot of posting here, in the past I read magazine like stereophile , absolute sound. But like you said B Cunningham is a perceptive listener, I would assume he has good train ear? And he knows what He is doing...My biggest blessings I met two brothers who also have a good ears, they are as well perceptive listener , their systems are both musical, and very involving, their systems are  both less than 20k systems, Everything they teach me , I can hear it from their systems, AL ,read my thread Titled Good things happen when you don't expect it...I am very surprise how those cheap cables did it...Doug said on one of his post ,the most important component is the Audiophile...100% true, AL matching between cables and component as well..,,
It's not a simple matter of shielding. There is a big differential between different Ethernet cables which are shielded. As usual audiophiles rightly wish for sky is the limit results from inexpensive products. That simply does not get one to the best sound. It may get you part way there, but nowhere near the best result possible. 


@almarg After following those links I just ordered a few CAT7 cables to compare to the CAT5 I’ve been using between NAS, Ethernet hub, and microRendu. I suspect some of the variations observed between Ethernet cables are system dependent. Moreover, the entire chain of digital being has evolved since those threads.

@douglas_schroeder What EN cables have you tried that make THE difference?

dgarretson, well, I'm reviewing them so... sorry, I have to be coy about it. I will reveal all in article(s). 


Doug, thanks for the missionary work in this area.  It may the missing link in CPU audio. Puns intended, of course. Best, Dave 
I also find it interesting that when we talk about shielded, grounded, or ground quality or what not which may be associated with grounds, we finally get to the important unrealized meat of the matter.

Herb Reichert touched upon it in this month’s stereophile.

About how the ground, is actually the source. That the ground spike, at your given locale... is the electron source. Herb mentioned fixing bad sound comes from fixing the ground electron source via the spike at the given locale. That’s all he had to say.

The ground is not the sink. Nothing drains from anywhere, to it. It is the electron source point. We ended up with this misconception, as Ben Franklin got it wrong in his 50/50 shot at picking a direction in polarities. Like Einstein’s theories and E=MC^2, where he said ’I could have the sign wrong’, and there might be a minus in front of that equation. What I mean is, concerning the math it makes no difference, the values and results are the same, but the final result has the minus symbol in front of it --- or not. (also where the ’gravity is a push’ scenario arises. Then the errors in all our astronomical observations (which we covered up by pasting fudge factors on equations) go away.

This is why ground shielding works (it’s a blocker, it’s an electron source), and why ground quality and routing of grounds..........is crucial. Thus ground configuration and all complex association with the signal lines and active components... is also crucial. Those who know this in the world of audio don't want to share this basic information that most people miss. Part of the lore of making better gear.

Ken Hotte
Teo Audio
there are definitely some loose minus signs floating around...
Isn’t this thread a thinly disguised and deliberate attempt at trolling?

It starts off with an appeal to authority and then goes on to aggressively attack those who do not hear any differences; "cognitive dissonance" and "hearing for crap" and "should exit the hobby". Basically if you can't see the emperor's fantastic colourful clothes then you are stupid....

Did Doug forget his meds this morning or a little too much coffee?
Shadorne, you are correct; the last sentence was rude and should have not been typed. Apologies to the community. 

My comment regarding cognitive dissonance is sincere. I had serious doubts about the efficacy of the aftermarket Ethernet cables, and frankly, had I not so much experience with cables I likely would not have tried one. I have heard so many wild swings in performance from cables that I have learned through actual use not to discount potential of any wire to change a rig's sound. I hold that someone with good ears (no hearing impairment), good gear and a good room (not noisy) should be able to discern differences between cables typically. 

FYI, my engineer friend now has $2,500 in cables in his rig. He is ecstatic about the changes to the sound and he no longer laughs when I talk about things such as aftermarket Ethernet cables. He will be euphoric to find how economically he can upgrade the system for an outsized performance improvement. I do enjoy him wrestling with the cognitive dissonance, which is something I think most audiophiles who work with cables experience. I have to learn and relearn not to let doubts stop me from exploring, or else I bypass very good things in terms of the system and enjoyment of the hobby. :) 

As far as an appeal to authority, yes the authority is me. I have done both ABX testing and comparisons sighted, so unless someone has done both I think they are weak in challenging myself as an authority. :) 

I believe Ivor Tiefenbrun(Linn founder) said something along the lines of, " if you haven't heard it, you have no opinion".   That just makes sense, which(to some around here) seems irrelevant.
Yes the Tera Grand Cat 7 Ethernet cables at $11 for two 6 foot cables are said by some to sound better than Audioquest Vodka. The connector is also shielded! I am going to try some. Read some online Aphiles reviews saying this stuff bested the big dollar AQ Vodka. 

Go to Amazon. 
Thanks grannyring for the info on Tera Grand Cat7. I've found the Supra Cat8 to sound better than the Audioquest Vodka in my system.
I just received from Amazon a 50' Theo & Cleo CAT7 and a five pack of 3' PiperCables TM Pro Series CAT7.  The Pipers were advertised as tested on a Fluke meter, which at least implies better than no-name quality. These replaced generic CAT5 between a QNAP NAS, a Cisco EN switch, and a microRendu into a Esoteric K-01X.  Wow, a meaningful upgrade!  Larger stage, increased resolution, weightier LF foundation, super quiet background.  I can't recall a better $50 spend.  
Same results with the Tera cat 7 double shielded round cable. Goodness should have done this a long time ago. Wonder if the Supra cat 8 is better? 
Speaker wire, RCA interconnects, XLR, power cords, crossover wiring inside REALLY expensive speakers, etc. And now, wait for it, whole home ethernet wiring. What the hell? Replace everything!

What next? Re-run all home AC wiring with extra-homogeneous ceramic coated, diamond encrusted gold-core? No settle time required and quick burn-in guaranteed. And, of course, the POSITIVE increase in audio sound quality is always mind boggling. Shame on those who cannot hear the voodoo difference.

I occasionally thank God he made me wise enough recognize the scams despite the eloquence of those touting their wasted money.
Au contraire, the difference that I’m hearing between EN "looms" <$50 is remarkable and refreshingly cost-effective. I hope that Doug’s forthcoming review of extravagantly priced EN cables includes comparisons to some of the cost-effective shielded CAT7 and CAT8 mainstream brands mentioned favorably above and to optically isolated EN transport.
Agreed!  With no burn in my wife easily heard the difference. All cables matter, but I admit I missed the Ethernet  cable thinking conventional wisdom was surely right and this cable could not possibly  make a difference? Well, once again conventional wisdom is incomplete. Great little find.
So, how do you terminate the Tera cat7? Do you use the cable as is (strip the ends twist and screw into the terminals and run one cable right positive and on right negative)?

Or do you braid as in the DIY descriptions?  

It would help if those who use the cat cable describe how they make the connections and how many cables they use.
Sorry as I just ran a 25 foot length under my house directly from my main router right into my computer server. No need to terminate for me. Also purchased 3 foot patch cords already terminated for TVs and other home computers.

You would need a special tool available to cut, strip, and connect the wires to the proper jack. Best just buying what you need already terminated. 
Douglas, I have to agree that cable skeptics are merely suffering from confirmation bias (of their skepticism) but also want to emphasise that cables are completely context dependent, so the experiences of others, with different systems, are at best irrelevant and at worst misleading
http://www.tnt-audio.com/clinica/bitsofwire_e.html
Lots of experience does enable us to form hypotheses of what will work in what context and then making our own bits of wire takes our knowledge to the next level. Thanks for starting this thread.
I work in data centers on IP storage (VERY large NAS systems), we do use CAT 6 cable for 1g and fiber optics for 10g, but we never worry about the cable brand.  If you are using 1g and a CAT 5 cable (which is rated for 100mb) you should replace that with a minimum of a Cat 5e cable.

Now to suggest that better sound is possible by changing Cat 5e to 6 or 7 does not make any sense, are Better 1s & 0s transmitted?  If changing a network cable did somehow effect the sound you might want to check your DAC,thats really where the 1s & 0s become sound.
We know it doesn't make sense to many of us, but just because we cannot explain it (yet) does not make the experience of better sound impossible. We cannot explain many things around us that are true and happening. Life itself...
azbrd, as I and grannyring have said many times in the past and now once again, we are well aware of the theoretical inability of such cables to influence the sound, however, obviously theory is insufficient to explain the obvious differences. 

Are those differences obvious? Well... so far only one Ethernet cable in five has been obviously, wildly different. I can't blame people who have tried a few and found there to be no difference. If I had not come up with the "right" one I would have made the same conclusion. 

As far a s the DAC is concerned, sorry Azbrd, but the results are consistent regardless of which DAC is used. It's not a "DAC quality" question.  :) 
As an electrical engineer having extensive experience designing high speed digital, analog, A/D converter, and D/A converter circuits (not for audio), I don’t find the reported differences to be either surprising or mysterious. And I consider them to be well within the bounds of established science and engineering.

Most likely what is happening is that differences in the characteristics of the cables, such as bandwidth, shielding, and even how the pairs of conductors that carry the differential signals are twisted, are affecting the amplitude and spectral characteristics of electrical noise and/or RFI that finds its way via unintended pathways to unintended circuit points "downstream" of the ethernet interface in the receiving device. "Unintended circuit points" may include the D/A circuit itself, resulting in jitter, and/or analog circuit points further downstream in the component or system, where audible frequencies may be affected by noise that is at RF frequencies via effects such as intermodulation or AM demodulation.

"Unintended pathways" may include, among other possibilities, grounds within the receiving device, parasitic capacitances, coupling that may occur into AC power wiring, and the air.

What can be expected regarding such effects, however, is that they will be highly system dependent, and will not have a great deal of predictability.

Regards,
-- Al

Thanks Al. I should say I replaced an old unshielded Cat 5 cable going through several junction points and terminations with a straight run of the double shielded Cat 7.  No mystery I hear better sound quality on my streamed audio based on your post. 
First let me say that all of you are welcome to spend money on what ever makes you feel good, however, the science does not add up.  

What does an ethernet cable do? It caries TCP & UDP packets (which are 1s & 0s) from source to destination, these packets are built with headers & payload/data which is more 1s & 0s.  If packets dont make it to destination TCP handles retrys, if this did not work all of us would have problems with our connections to our network providers.

In a typical TCP/IP stack, error control is performed at multiple levels: Each Ethernet frame carries a CRC-32 checksum. Frames received with incorrect checksums are discarded by the receiver hardware. ... Packets with mismatching checksums are dropped within the network or at the receiver.

So if there are real network issues you get packet loss which in audio is a gap in sound because the DAC runs out of bits to process into sound.  Changing a ethernet cable COULD reduce packet loss, so could a better switch (or current firmware on the switch) but it will NOT change the 1s & 0s (which are what a DAC uses to create audio) to better 1s & 0s.  It also does not matter if the payload is audio or video so the same side effects occur, loss of packets ie 1s & 0s if a cable is bad or not the correct cable for the task.  How many of you stream Netflix or video via Apple TV, this is built on the same tech, for that matter everything on the internet is built on the same thing, TCP and 1s & 0s.  There is no such thing as a better 1 or 0 (a "better" cable) that enables a DAC to create a better sounding audio sound.  

I build & trouble shoot network and data storage issues for a living, if I use the proper cable rated for the bandwidth, ie 1g, 10g or 40g, I do the same for my home network where Stream digital 100% of the time, I build & test my own cables using CAT 5e because CAT 6 wires are so stiff and hard to work with and I only have a 1gb wired network.
The shielding alone will help in noise reduction. I think this is one area of improvement in my particular case. Best $15 I ever spent is all I know without a doubt! 
I received the Tera Grand double shielded cat7 cable on Saturday and it is really a nice sounding cable. I think I like it better than the Supra cat8 I was using before as the Tera Grand seems to be much more natural sounding while still having great detail. For $10-$15 depending on length from Amazon, it’s a great deal. Both the Supra and Tera Grand to me have been far better performing than the Audioquest Vodka I tried.

Thanks grannyring for the heads up!
azbrd: Thanks!!!  One of the most clearly written, intelligent posts I've seen on the subject of digital A/V information transmission.  You cannot make up science.  Those that are "hearing" a better quality sound (especially via ethernet/HDMI/USB) are unknowing victims of "expectation bias."  That is, if you spend money (especially a lot of money) on what you consider an "upgrade," you WILL hear better sound whether it actually exists or not.  

I recently bought a slightly used Oppo 105D disc player.  The seller threw in 5 Wireworld Oasis 1 meter RCA cables for 10 bucks.  The current version of the Oasis one meter cable sells for $110.00 each on eBay.  I usually use Monoprice RCA connects.  Used a couple of the Oasis cables to run from the Oppo's Sabre DAC outs to my Pre-Amp.  Sounded freakin' awesome...just like the Monoprice connects.  Had I spent spent $220.00 on those two Wireworld RCA cables I'm sure it would have sounded even better.  See what I mean??
Azbrd and Dynaquest4, note that the effects (or at least the potential effects) that I described in my previous post have absolutely nothing to do with proper or improper communication of 1s and 0s.

May I suggest a simple experiment that you may find to be informative: Tune a portable battery powered AM radio to an unused frequency, with the volume control set at a position that you would normally use. Bring it close to an unshielded ethernet cable on your LAN, while the cable is conducting traffic. You may be surprised at what you hear. Then please re-read my previous post.

If you have seen many of my posts in other threads at this forum, you will realize that I am with you in believing that benefits allegedly provided by **some** controversial tweaks or other products are likely the result of either expectation bias, experimental methodology that is not adequately thorough, or failure to recognize and control extraneous variables. Not in this case, however.

Regards,
-- Al

Al, my experience shows very obviously otherwise; the Ethernet cables do not change their character based on the rest of the system. I have changed speakers and amps, and they still confer the same benefit, or in some cases lack of benefit, and with the same characteristics, as they did in the previous system.

What these others are reporting about is not BS. If you get the right cable the difference is profound. Not just, ok, but profound.

Now, in the end I will have perhaps 7 or 8 Ethernet cables to use. Some already are grouped as lower performing. One is stunningly exceptional, and I think I know the reason why. I anticipate there will be a couple others notable in terms of outstanding performance.





Just curious, if a cable is unloved does it develop problems later in life?
Possible, as it is a form of mistreatment and mistreating a cable will indeed cause problems in the future. 
@almarg

Quote

As an electrical engineer having extensive experience designing high speed digital, analog, A/D converter, and D/A converter circuits (not for audio), I don’t find the reported differences to be either surprising or mysterious. And I consider them to be well within the bounds of established science and engineering.

Most likely what is happening is that differences in the characteristics of the cables, such as bandwidth, shielding, and even how the pairs of conductors that carry the differential signals are twisted, are affecting the amplitude and spectral characteristics of electrical noise and/or RFI that finds its way via unintended pathways to unintended circuit points "downstream" of the ethernet interface in the receiving device. "Unintended circuit points" may include the D/A circuit itself, resulting in jitter, and/or analog circuit points further downstream in the component or system, where audible frequencies may be affected by noise that is at RF frequencies via effects such as intermodulation or AM demodulation.

"Unintended pathways" may include, among other possibilities, grounds within the receiving device, parasitic capacitances, coupling that may occur into AC power wiring, and the air.

What can be expected regarding such effects, however, is that they will be highly system dependent, and will not have a great deal of predictability.


----------

Yup. Badly designed or faulty equipment will indeed be vulnerable to unintended pathways.

Always better to get good equipment to begin begin with rather than band aid things by finding the least bad sounding Ethernet cable !!!!!

Strange comment or conclusion based on AL's comments? We are talking about a cable that goes into a computer/server etc...

Anyway a better cable with improved shielding will improve most every computer based system .
shadorne, you stated, "Badly designed or faulty equipment will indeed be vulnerable to unintended pathways. Always better to get good equipment to begin begin with rather than band aid things by finding the least bad sounding Ethernet cable !!!!!"

??? The exploration of Ethernet cables has nothing to do with poor equipment or dissatisfaction with the sound. It is simply seeking to explore what avenues remain to further enhance sound.

The equipment being used is as good as any that will be available to audiophiles. The Ethernet is feeding the Salk Audio StreamPlayer Gen III, which I reviewed. This is a superb source and built by Jim Salk who I discussed in my review: His background is engineering, specifically audio engineering. He states, “I started exploring digital audio processing in 1973, long before personal computers came on the market.” Jim was steeped in computers already when IBM introduced the first PC. He has been building his own computers for decades and was on the Internet before the World Wide Web existed! He has his own web servers and has been programming since 1985.

So, at least in my instance it’s not the quality of the component which is in question. You are looking for reasons why the Ethernet cable would not innately be important, but it is.

If you feel you have good gear why not try it and see for yourself? If you hear a distinct difference you would be confronted with two possibilities; that the cables are causing the change, or that your gear is not as good as you thought! :)
.....Or that the "difference" you hear is what you "want/need/paid" to hear.  Even if it is not actually real.
dynaquest14, You're talking to a person who did ABX testing and passed it multiple times. So, don't talk to me about "want/need/paid to hear". 




@douglas_schroeder

I don’t agree.

I prefer to buy audio equipment that maximizes the source signal and minimizes errors from unintended pathways like Ethernet or power supply, humidity, temperature etc.

I am sorry but I don’t care what expensive name is on a product - if the product is badly designed such that you have to baby it with special cables this is just all too ridiculous to me - more so the more costly (and supposedly robustly performant) the product. For me it is best to move on when a product is as finicky as worrying about an Ethernet cable.
What brand computer do you suggest that is built not to reflect the sound of various Ethernet cables?  What laptop, streamer, or desktop device is up to snuff to you? 
@shadorne seems you have really never listened to a digital rig that can resolve the differences in cables. The reality is actually that cables are in some cases the limiting factor in current top end digital reproduction.

My current digital rig is a DCS Vivaldi stack. I was surprised to discover that increasing the clock frequency (from 44.1 to 88.2 or 176.4) far from making it sound better, made it sound worse -- despite the fact that the upsampler and DAC were operating at these higher frequencies (i.e. if I clock them at 44.1 they need to increase the clock frequency in each component). Surely it would be better to generate that higher f clock once only?

Turns out not because even with the current best available BNC cables (Transparent Ref XL) the timing and jitter errors introduced in transmitting higher frequency clocks are audible, hence better to stick with a stable shared 44.1 and go from there. 

@folkfreak  

I have observed jitter problems with DSP DACS and even CD players.

I am aware of jitter transmission issues with clock signals.

Since I moved to Benchmark DAC's about a decade ago I have not had any jitter issues (at least not audible ones). I use optical - so no physical wires between my digital sources and the DAC (except what they share through mains power)

My understanding is that Benchmark are not using traditional jitter prone PLL master/slave algorithms and my listening experience seems to support their claims.
So you are not even using Ethernet for streaming music? 
@grannyring 

I do not stream. I use CD quality or higher resolution only.
Well until you get Tidal and stream with Ethernet how could you possibly know wether two Ethernet cables sound different? Goodness. Nothing like actual experience and evidence. 
I don't understand the need for the seasoned folks on this forum to reply to azbrd and dynaquest4. Why do you give a rat's ass to what they think? I heard a huge difference when I moved from my $300 Signal Cable loudspeaker cables to $500 Clear Day cables. So I simply switched to Clear Days. On the other hand my current $1600 preamp bested a $4000 preamp so I did not bother getting the expensive one. I don't need a scientific jerk to tell me if I should hear the difference or not and all electric signal sound the same. Lets not make this forum a mess like avsforums. I am sure azbrd and dynaquest4 are more welcome there than here. Sorry for this blunt response, but at least it is a sincere one.
@milpai:.On this forum, I sometimes feel like a father with decades of real world education and experience trying to get my teen to realize that "being cool" and "popular" is not that important in the scheme of things. Teens just don’t get it. I know I am right.

I bought my first stereo system in 1969. I’ve been there done that in just about every way possible in audio. Money is not an issue except that I will never waste money on BS scams or components that are of little real value. My $20K Emotiva/Oppo/B&W system uses cables and wiring that meets basic length/resistance requirements. Most are Monoprice brand. I’ve tried other brands costing more...no difference. I currently use Kimber and Wireworld on some of my components. Not impressed...but I have them so I’m use them. The science confirms there should be no difference. If you get sucked into their made up marketing, your ears are hearing what you WANT to hear to personally justify spending ridiculous amounts on "exotic wire."

I’ll say again. I’ll not ridicule those that surrender money to slick, albeit deceptive, marketing, but I will continue to highlight my offense to these deceptive manufacturers and marketeers who trick the money out of the wallets of less savy "audiophiles."