AudioQuest Ethernet Cables

Device Type: Ethernet Cables
Availability: online and through Authorized Dealers
Price: RJ/E Forest $29/.75m, $35/1.5m, RJ/E Cinnamon $69/.75m, $79/1.5m
Website: www.audioquest.com/

Cables Categorically Matter
Just try playing music through a hi-fi without cables. Nothing. Nada. Silence. Now try connecting your amplifier to speakers with twine. Again nothing. Nada. Silence. Cables matter in the most fundamental way because you have to use the right cable for the right job. But what about the notion that a choice between two of the exact same kind of cable, Ethernet cables for today's tale, can matter? That two different Ethernet cables can make your network-connected file-based music playback sound different? Preposterous? Pernicious pandering? Have I sold my soul or lost my mind? Have I peed on the sacred altar of Science?

AudioQuest has a complete line of Ethernet cables that consists of the Forest ($29/.75m), Cinnamon ($69/.75m), Vodka ($179/.75m), and Diamond ($595/.75m). The models under review are the Forest and Cinnamon and they mainly differ from one another in the amount of silver used, 0.5% in the Forest v 1.25% in the Cinnamon. They both employ solid cable (i.e. not stranded) and share the same dielectric, the stuff surrounding the cable, of solid high-density polyethylene and their outer layer is PVC. The Cinnamon adds black/red braiding over that PVC for lengths under 5m. Everything over 5m loses the braiding.

Audioquest's Ethernet cables are built to Category 7 standards which means a number of things. Category 7 (or Class F) is a four-pair cable and to qualify as Category 7 each cable pair must be individually shielded and there also needs to be another shield around the four pairs. Category 7 cable must also meet stricter standards for its twisting ratio per inch which is a further measure against RF interference. One practical reason for these extra layers of protection is for use in places where there's strong RFI & EMI interference. Category 7 cable is also capable of delivering higher bandwidth of up to 600 MHz as compared with Cat 5e (100 MHz) & Cat 6 (250 MHz).

If we keep our toes dipped in pure data transmission land, the higher the Ethernet Category, the greater data transfer speeds it can handle. As data transmission speeds increase, there's greater potential for crosstalk and transmission errors. Most current home routers like Apple's Airport Express or any of the popular models from Linksys-Cisco or Netgear are capable of transmitting at Gigabit Ethernet rates. While Category 5 Ethernet cable is capable of delivering Gigabit speeds (you have to use all four pairs), Category 5 cable does not have to be shielded. Category 6 Ethernet cable differs from Category 5 in its use of a heavier gauge wire and "Cat 6 features more stringent specifications for crosstalk and system noise" according to Wikipedia and Category 7's specs are even more stringent.

But what does all this have to do with music? Aren't we just talking about ones and zeros being sent over some wires the same way these words you're reading are getting to you? And you aren't using any fancy wires! But data transmission over wires is not sent as ones and zeros its sent as a square wave and unlike data, music cares about time and timing errors. Even teeny tiny errors. So my only thoughts as to how an Ethernet cable can possibly affect the sound of music coming out of speakers is based on the notion that crosstalk and EMI/RFI interference can be effecting data transmission and the less of it the better and Category 6 is better than Category 5 in this regard and Category 7 is better still.

Of course I'm speculating and I have no logical explanation for why an Ethernet cable can affect the perceived sound quality of an audio system. I wish it didn't. Really.

Writing About Listening To Ethernet Cables Is A Fool's Errand
And I'm the fool in this scenario. There's no winning when writing about cables especially when there's no way for me to prove that an Ethernet cable can make a difference in sound quality. And frankly, the fact that Audioquest offers an 8 meter Ethernet cable for $4,495 (the Diamond) makes me blush for our hobby. It makes me uneasy, nearly queasy. I can buy a hell of a lot of stuff for $4,495, and the fact that Nigeria's per capita income for 2010 was $2,748 [source: World Bank] doesn't help. But let's not rain on our audiophile parade and accept the fact that we, all of us, are truly fortunate and perhaps a bit too fortunate to be able to spend our time talking about how Ethernet cables sound.

My methodology was fairly straight-forward. First I replaced, all-in-one shot, all of the Ethernet cables from my Apple AirPort Extreme router to my NAS and from my router to my MacBook Pro with the Audioquest Forest cables. The Ethernet cables they replaced were generic Category 5 cables. And then I listened to music. For more than a month. Then I did some swapping starting with the Audioquest Forest cables—all out went the Forest, all in went the generic. And I listened for a few days.

Snug

Then I started the A/B'ing proper which I count among my least favorite things to do. During one session, I did some relatively quick swapping, listening to pieces of the same three tracks, swap, listen to a piece, swap. And here I did not notice much difference if any and I believe I would have been hard pressed to tell you which was which if I didn't know.

Next, I went for longer listening between swaps. Full songs and even more than one. Then I'd swap Forest for generic or vice versa and listen some more. Here, I heard a slight but noticeable difference mainly in the texture of vocals—voices sounded less hashy with the Audioquest Forest Ethernet cables. This held for Ella, Mel Torme, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, Isaac Hayes, Billie Holiday, Brigitte Fassbinder, and more. There also seemed to be a greater sense of ease as if some underlying noise had been removed. Interesting (that's what I actually thought).

Next up was the Cinnamon versus generic and in these longer listening swaps, more than one song at a time long, the above-mentioned differences were even more apparent. Of course they were, right? I mean they're supposed to be and the mere power of this suggestion may be the root cause of my perceived differences. And I would not dispute this conjecture but I also would not agree with it, either. With the Audioquest Ethernet cables in my system, and they are in my system since my music is served from a Network Attached Storage device, music sounded less harsh, with more air and ease and with the Cinnamon I even noted greater bass definition and differentiation between instruments. Music sounded better.

How Much Is Better Worth?
On a scale of 1 to 100 in terms of the whole wide world of changes one can possibly make to the sound of a hi-fi system, I would rate the overall improvement of the Audioquest Forest versus the generic Ethernet cables at around a 19. For the Cinnamon versus the generic, I'd ratchet this up to a 25. Just to give another point of reference, something like a change in loudspeakers can get me closer to that 100 high-water mark. That leaves Forest versus Cinnamon and here I'd count the difference at around 10 (yes, I kinda cheated). I also can buy a 3 ft. Category 6 Ethernet cable from Staples for $16.99 and you can find the same cable for less online. I did try swapping this generic Category 6 cable in and out of the mix and I have to say it was more difficult to hear a difference in any scenario.

Hi, my name is Michael and I just spent a lot of time listening to Ethernet cables (picture me standing up before I said that). From a practical perspective (I'm sitting again) where I'm left is this—for the differences I noted over longer listening and swapping sessions, I would not hesitate buying the Audioquest Forest Ethernet cables. I perceived a more relaxed and natural presentation as compared to the generic cables, they're much sturdier in terms of build quality especially the connectors/connections and that's worth $29 for a .75m length to me. But if this entire subject has your ears turning red with rage, I'd recommend at least buying and using all Category 6 cable for your music-serving network system.

While the Cinnamon offered even greater perceived improvements, my initial thought was to suggest that $69 is a lot of money to spend on an Ethernet cable. And it is. But, when push comes to shove, a $69 improvement in our world is peanuts. Elephant food. Barroom floor fodder. So if I had the disposable cash to dispose of (there I go getting uneasy again), this perceived difference would be worth it. Then again, I do have some spare change in a jar...



Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
burnspbesq's picture

The biggest improvement in sound quality when I switched from streaming wirelessly to a Forest Ethernet cable to feed my Squeezebox Touch? That would be the total absence of family members bitching about degraded network performance when I play higher-than-CD-resolution files. That's more than worth the approximately $80 I paid for the eight-meter Forest cable.

Archimago's picture

Nothing wrong with that... Could have been had for <$20 nonetheless.

ConnectedAlt's picture

I'm actually a believer in the improvements provided by cables.  I have an Audioquest Diamond USB cable that frankly I can't live without.  However, ethernet cables really bother me.  All of these cables are inevitably going through a switch of some sort.  If it's the switch on your router or one you picked up for $50 at the store than it's going to drastically reduce the overall improvement from these expensive cables.  If Audioquest wants to get into selling network cables than they need to go the whole way and offer an Audioquest branded, high qualtiy switch to match. Otherwise I think this is just a waste of money for limited gain.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

You can't "live without" your AQ Diamond USB cable because of how it makes your system sound, not because of the ideas behind why you think it works.

My point being...assuming that a cable is a waste of money for limited gain is a conclusion one can only draw through direct experience, imo.

ConnectedAlt's picture

Alright, I guess I'm currently in no positition to make a statement to the value of these cables since I haven't heard them.  Although I will hopefully hear a sample one soon.  That being said, my point still stands.  Ethernet is a step outside Audioquest's comfort zone.  Most of the cables they create are interconnects, which is an A to B connection between two pieces of equipment.  In networking that chain may be quite a bit longer such as A to B, B to C, and then C to D.  In this case, there are two switch points where the signal is going to be compromised.  You're average ethernet switch represents a few dollars of parts that were not assembled with audio in mind.  If Audioquest wants to jump into networking thnen they need to own the entire path between the various pieces of equipment that they're trying to connect.  If they don't believe that building a high quality switch is important then how is a customer to believe that going to high quality cables is important.  It doesn't make sense.  

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I've heard this same 'connections' argument used for power cables, interconnects, and speaker wire.

And I can easily make the argument that after your AQ Diamond cable hands off the signal to your DAC, a well-designed DAC will nullify any potential effects introduced by a cable. Yet you hear a difference. And I could go on to point out all of the connections and processing the signal has to pass through within your DAC that are more critical than any piece of cable. Yet you hear a difference (I have heard differences between USB cables as well).

And while AQ makes a USB DAC, you don't have to own their DAC to hear the benefits of their USB cables.

ConnectedAlt's picture

I knew you would get me with those arguments!!  Frankly, there are a lot of counterpoints to my position so the debate can only go so far.  In the end I'll just have to grab a couple of these things and take a listen.   Mabye I can swap out a bunch of switches and see if I can hear a difference.  I still think they're going to be the weak link in that signal path.  It would be great if Audioquest could at least offer a few recommended switches to match their product.  I have clients who spend $50,000 on their audio systems only to pickup a blu-ray player from Wal-Mart.  They could use a little guidance!!

P.S. - I have no problem with Audioquest and actually recommend them to clients.  They make nice products and people pay for them. 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...to see what you think once you've had a chance to listen.

& thanks for such a pleasant exchange.

Cheers

Archimago's picture

But what makes audio ethernet packets any different from non-audio data packets? Would you not trust a generic ethernet switch with sensitive data like say accounting spreadsheets, medical info in a doctor's office, MRI scan imaged, etc... Remember,unlike SPDIF, ethernet streams have no clock data to be recovered.

deckeda's picture

You make a good point, ConnectedAlt , namely: what about the rest of the network? On the other hand we can usually only improve what we can control and that's represented here by das litzendraht. And if an improvement is realized there then so be it.

As regards the potential value proposition here, I won't deny its possibility nor do I have a reason to so so, but neither am I in a position to consider it. My Ethernet runs are each at least 20-40ft apiece (and I have several I've installed in my home, with at least two more next week to do) and the 1000ft. spool of Cat5e I bought 10 years ago for $50 is still serving me pretty well. All I gotta do now is remember where I put my crimper tool and decide yet again if I'm gonna go with the AT&T wiring standard or the other. Not that it really matters.

What I mean to say is, I personally have bigger, more obvious fish to fry for my systems' improvements but appreciate without reservation the care and sensitivity Herr Editor (OK, so I've now made two false Germanic references in this post) has expended to this review.

Regor Ladan's picture

Audioquest is shameless.

Two British magazines confirmed this is dressed up CAT7 cable. IDENTICAL connectors and wire as various brands like Rosewill.

[Editors' note: I asked Regor to supply the source for these references and he could not. From Regor "So I even don't put stock in my own reference. I was misinformed about the origin." I'm leaving this here as an example of the kind of thing I will not tolerate on Audiostream]

A year ago I bought three 25 FOOT lengths of Rosewill for about 40 bucks from amazon. That is 3 separte 25 foot runs.

Anyone who thinks that microns of silver in Ethernet cables makes one iota of difference is sucking on the crack pipe a bit too hard, IMHO.

I am pretty darn tollerant of audiophile tom foolery but this is where I draw the line.

I  am waiting for blog entries that detail the different sounds of hard drives..oh wait, there is a forum entry about that...

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...than Jon Gnagy!

Two British magazines confirmed this is dressed up CAT7 cable. IDENTICAL connectors and wire as various brands like Rosewill.

Which magazines (name & issue #)? I'd like to read these reports.

And you are contradicting yourself when you say on one hand that the Rosewill and AQ cables are identical, and then point out how they differ - the AQ cable includes silver. So they are not "identical" but you discount the possibility that their differences can make any difference. Which is all well and good from a theoretical perspective but I value my experience over your ideas.

Vincent Kars's picture

What about replacing a SATA cable in a NAS (used as a streamer) by a “super” one and hearing a difference?

http://www.malcolmsteward.co.uk/index.php/the-original-sata-cable-post/

 BTW: does anybody knows a good primer on perception?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'd recommend Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception, Arthur Rimbaud's A Season in Hell, and the Comte de Lautréamont's Les Chants de Maldoror ;-)

O and This Is Your Brain On Music.

DJ's picture

As electrical engineer I know that measurement result is not complete, unless it informs about accuracy, which is defined by measurement uncertainty. Can't see any accuracy spec in this article. Without it any (subjective) comparison like this is meaningless.

Absolute measurement uncertainty (error) of human hearing should be much lower than difference induced with different UTP cables. Unfortunately we know that it's just the opposite and it leads to systematic error ie. false measurement. Why? Because you can't accurately measure difference between two fully charged 3V batteries with +-1V rated multimeter accuracy. Similarly at this level of difference (if exist) human auditory system is poor measurement system and could not distinguish any difference. But our expectations could not accept that so our brain (unfortunately) adds missing information to please our expectations. This is well known and documented function of a brain. So we can pretend that all this is not true, but at the end, we can not fool out brain, but our brain can fool us.

There is amazing similarity between "audiophile USB, UTP,..." manufacturers and modern pharmaceutical companies/health care, instead of treat the cause of illness they rather treat the symptoms of disease. Transmission of digital signals is all about transmission of information, and different physical implementations (cables, protocols, line length,...) is absolutely irrelevant if destination device (DAC in our case) precisely reassembles it. Obviously the cause of "illness" is DAC, so heal it. But than what would audiophile industry sell?
Interestingly, computer audiophile industry at the beginning advocate this but now they change the story. Wonder why? Hihi

PS: Sorry for lousy English and keep up the good work Mr. Lavorgna.

Cheers!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I enjoy theorizing as much as the next guy so if I follow the thrust of your point DJ, what you saying is the changes I perceived could very well have been mainly caused by my brain. Since this is also the place where/how I perceive....everything, the consistency of the changes I perceived between cables would lead me to same conclusion regardless.

And I also enjoy the "perfect or properly designed XXX" argument - if you hear a difference between cables, your XXX isn't designed properly. The problem I have with this one is there's no such thing as a perfect hi-fi system and one reason for that is our enjoyment of same is based on subjective values, not objective measurable and immovable facts.

So to swing back to our first point, if we want measure the effectiveness of a given change to a hi-fi system in terms of our ultimate goal (enjoyment), we should be measuring the brain of the listener.

Regor Ladan's picture

I don't think you need to defend what you perceived. I believe CAT7 cable is superior to cheap CAT5e cable. A simple reason may be the fact it is tangle free and shielded.  It could be the connectors..what ever it is.

The bottome line is you are right to stand by your review.

DJ's picture

I agree. And there is term for this - placebo effect - disinformation by definition. And must say quite expensive one. Also, hi-fi is not about perception but high fidelity sound reproduction. So, in evaluation of components we must exclude brain from equation and that's not a simple task.

Also agree that there is no perfect audio component/system but there is perfect transfer of "digital information". And digital error could not manifest the same as distortion of analog signal (greater bass definition and differentiation between instruments) if, and only if, digital signal does not interfere with analog signal in DAC ie. only information is extracted from digital signal in DAC and components of digital signal that are not information related but are inherent part of all electrical signals (noise, EMI, RFI,...) must not pass to analog side. And that is (perfectly) achievable - unfortunately not in most current DACs. Then only integrity of "digital information" should be held in digital side of hi-fi system and for that you do not need expensive "audiophile" ethernet or USB cables.

BTW, who thinks that I see this web page differently because I'm 6000km away from web server? And is there difference in eg. bass definition if there is different air pollution when sending signal through Wi-Fi? Hm...

deckeda's picture

They require "by definition"---feel free to ask any doctor---a brain to unscramble the perceived sound.

No DJ, you and I can't keep our brains out of the scene.

DJ's picture

@deckeda

Exactly!

 But if you write a review of two components that are (perceptually) identical, ONLY difference that you are aware of is created in YOUR brain (others brain will act differently). So then we all read review about your (editor's) brain and not components in review. That is big misinformation don't you think so? 

 Please read my first post again. The bottom line is that when difference between two components are (perceptually) nonexistent reviewer's brain WILL create (nonexistent) difference leading to huuuuge "measuring" error. In that case human hearing should not be used as reviewing (measuring) instrument.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

....hi-fi is not about perception but high fidelity sound reproduction.

I disagree and talk about why here.

And I have to tell you DJ, my brain is telling me that your arguments, where you try to separate our brains from this equation in search of some machine-defined 'better', strike me as semantically silly. 

DJ's picture

Well, I don't know how I skipped that article previously but I'm glad that you are pointing me to it now. It reveals much of misunderstanding between us. I admire your work but I have to say that you misunderstood meaning of the high-fidelity term from the beginning and everything else is just cumulative error. I'll try to explain it as short as possible.

In the article you said: "the quality or state of being faithful"
But faithful to what?
You said: "a live acoustic event"
Wrong!
Faithful to source, recording on LP, CD,... or data file, what ever it is at the input of audio system. Source could be recording of live acoustic event but equally it could be synthetically generated music or sounds or even sine wave of one frequency. And in all those cases we can talk about "the state of being faithful" and we want it to be high, thereby high-fidelity. So, the existence of the first item in the next example in not necessary existent - we don't know how synthetically generated music should sound.

Allow me to use your example with apple and painting. Equivalents should look like this:

apple                         =  live acoustic event
painting of an apple  =  recording of live acoustic event
daylight light source  =  audio system
eyes+brain                =  ears+brain

So you are correct when you say: "Similarly, the experience of a live acoustic event is not the same kind of experience as listening to a recording of such an event at home."
But then you ask: "Why then should we use the first (live acoustic event) to judge the quality of the second? (third in my example - audio system)"
No, we should not!!! We should use second (recording of live acoustic event) to judge the quality of the third (audio system). I hope you don't listen to audio system to hopefully recreate live event, the same as we don't buy painting just because it's like real apple on the wall. If that is your goal, than obviously you are on the wrong path. Everyone should be aware of the fact that recording (mastering,...) likewise painting is separate art.

Audio system is just transformer of one type of energy/information to other, acoustical energy. For example:

gramophone: mechanical -> (analog) electrical
USB asinc DAC: information -> (digital) electrical -> (analog) electrical
amplifier: electrical -> electrical
speakers with room: (analog) electrical -> acoustical

 Note that in the process of transformation system should not add "components" that are nonexistent in the input and the system that adds lowest possible amount of it, is high-fidelity audio system - output is faithful to input, remember?

 Good thing is that we can measure input and output, and then calculate difference of output vs. input (transfer function) and see how "faithful" the system is (of course with some limitations and error of measurement system). We can try to do all this by listening but then we have a big problem, even if we neglect unpredictability of our auditory system there is no way that we can "listen" to input (recording) directly. Unfortunately, we then intuitively compare it with the live acoustic event which is never equivalent to recording and tells nothing about fidelity of audio system.

  So, if you could have highest fidelity audio system, what you would listen is basically the sound of recording. If you don't like what you hear, skip it. Don't try to "color" the sound of recording with tubes, equalizers... The same as with picture - you would not try to change the color of ambient light to hopefully make it nicer to you. Or maybe you would? Hmmm...I wouldn't. It just doesn't make sense.

Cheers.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

So many I don't really know where to start. So while I appreciate your thoughts on this subject, I don't believe we're going to come to an agreement or even an understanding since what we have here is a failure to communicate. 

But here's a relevant quote from that article that sums up our differences nicely:

When it comes to your appreciation of art, don't listen to anyone who suggests that something he or she knows means more than your own experience.

DJ's picture

 

"When it comes to your appreciation of art, don't listen to anyone who suggests that something he or she knows means more than your own experience."

 

Art? About what art are you talking about? If you think that audio system is some form of art, it's not. Audio system is not an art, it just transparently represents art (recording) in a way that is understandable to us (sound). Audio system has only one major goal which I defined in my previous post, plain and simple. And no, it's not my opinion, it's a fact that neither you or anyone else could deny. The same as TV or refrigerator is not an art - well, maybe for medieval people.

 

We should all have desire to see painting the same way as painter did, and music as engineers in recording studio. A live music event and apples are different things, and if you wish to "recreate" them at your home, buy an apple and bring musicians... Many audiophiles have imposed itself with goal that is unreasonable and simply impossible and it only leads them to spent huge amount of money and  disappointment at the end.

 

And you won't hear me talking about art and my own experience. De gustibus non est disputandum.

 

Cheers

Michael Lavorgna's picture

We disagree.

Audio system has only one major goal which I defined in my previous post, plain and simple. And no, it's not my opinion, it's a fact that neither you or anyone else could deny. 

Well gee DJ, I hate to tell you this but this is an opinion and I do not deny it, I disagree with it. What's more is you do not get to define other people's chosen form of enjoyment (which really should go without saying).

Since we have moved away from the topic of this review, if you'd like to continue this discussion, feel free to begin a related forum topic. I find the forum format more conducive to discussion...

DJ's picture

...and I do not deny it, I disagree with it. 

Right...and you can also disagree that sky is transparent (not blue) but you can not deny it. Same thing. And you don't have to say, I know, you disagree. Sorry, but I have to say that I'm a little bit disappointed with your arguments or lack of it.

I hate to tell you this but this is an opinion...

Based on what? Your opinion? Well, it's a key objective of engineer when designing hi-fi audio device so your comment is at least funny.

Thanks for proposal, but I think that I said enough that anybody can realize how things are, no need for further forum discussion.

Cheers

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Right...and you can also disagree that sky is transparent (not blue) but you can not deny it.

As I said before, I find your arguments semantically silly (and not the least bit funny). I prefer Turner's transparencies to Constable's. Savvy?

Archimago's picture

+1 DJ. Brilliant comments and rational discussion.

deckeda's picture

It's also valid that not everyone could benefit from better cable. But that doesn't mean that more poorly made or designed ones wouldn't be worse for more people in more circumstances.

Take the example of Cat5. Aside from the fact it can't transmit as much data, for what it can transmit it's tested under only certain conditions. If your environment etc falls into that the cable will be fine. If your environment or situation benefits from Cat6 or 7 then there you go.

earwaxxer's picture

I seem to have found about the same 'differences' that you did. I have the Transporter and I use Ethernet connection from my listening position using a 20ft. Cat6 Belkin cable. I have played with various Cat5e, Cat6, and Cat7 cables of various lengths. I have had a couple of 'el-cheapo' no name cat6 and cat7 cables and they broke/stoped working after some time. Thats when I bought the Belkin Cat6, which is more flexable and durable. From early on, I did not notice ANY difference between a 3ft and a 20ft cat5e. That told me alot. I 'think' I have heard a difference, for the better, in Cat6 vs. Cat5e. Lets just say, its a variable that I no longer think about. I have other 'fish to fry' with this hobby. To pay huge bucks for an Ethernet cable is foolish IMO. That money could be much better spend on analog interconnects/speaker wire.

Guidof's picture

When I first hooked up my Squeezebox Touch with Ethernet cable, I had no expectations that different cables could make any difference to the sound. But to me and in my system, they did. Cat6 was better than Cat5. Monster Cat6 was better than vanilla Cat6. Better soundstage. More air. Better Bass.

Placebo? Perhaps.

Huge difference? No. But significant enough. So Audioquest Forest may be worth a try (just ordered a 5-foot run). Will report on the results.

@Michael: thanks for the review.

Guido F.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I look forward to hearing about your experience with the AQ Forest.

Bkhuna's picture

I don't know about anyone else, but I'd be willing to buy placebo in the handy-dandy industrial 30 gallon drum.

It's a whole lot cheaper than constantly craving increasingly higher and higher quality gear.

 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Let's assume for a second that the mere suggestion that one Ethernet cable can offer improved audio performance over another is the reason I perceived a difference. In that case, I offer up the following cure (at no charge):

Never again will anyone who reads this sentence perceive an improvement in their hi-fi due to a change in a component, cable or tweak unless that change is free.

There. That should put an end to all this placebo nonsense.

flot's picture

Please replicate your tests but have someone else swap the ethernet cables without disclosing which ones are in use. Thank you.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'm fine with the results as described.

Rich Davis's picture

not all people can hear a difference since everyone hears slightly different.  I have friends that spent a lot of time shooting guns for a living (ex-cops) and they can't hear anything above a certain frequency, so they have to have the high end jacked up to such a high level to me, I can't listen to it for more than 10 seconds without getting annoyed.

Then there are those that spend a lot of time around high end equipment where they can hear those subtle differences.

The bottom line is, go to a local dealer and see if they have cables to swap out in a nice listening room, or take home to evaluate.  Some dealers are really good about that as they know that audio equipment in general falls into the, user has to evaluate it for the ultimate approval and whether they can justify the expense.

One thing I've learned with my computer DAC set up is DO NOT use those 3.5 mm cables.  They are just bad news.  I replaced a a 3.5mm to RCA splitter cable with good RCA interconnects and it was just such a big difference, it was not even funny.

In addition, I think it would be neat to compare an original sound file to the sound file that comes across on the other end and what the difference is with different cables.  Wireworld has this test they did on some of thier digital cables and it was noticeable.  I think a test of this nature might be more beneficial and probably something easy to do.

It would be nice to see a site that cataloges these tests on ALL digital based cables and has the results on some database for us to see.

Guidof's picture

As promised, I tried a run of Audioquest Forest. Let me curb my enthusiasm and just say that with this Ethernet cable my overall impression is one of greater musical information, more "there there." There is more transparency, more realistic portray of nuances, better tonal balance. I would not attempt to set any percentage value on the improvement, but to my ears it is definitely not subtle. The effect is so compelling that I ordered a run of Audioquest Cinnamon cable. Will try that next. Regards, Guido F.

earwaxxer's picture

Guido - were you using a cat6 or cat 5e before you bought the Audioquest Forest, and what lengths are we talking about? I'm just wondering about the apples and oranges thing. I'm open to the 'suggestion', being that I come from the camp that 'everything makes a difference'. Also what brand of 'generic' were you using. I have found that for generic brands, Belkin seems to be the best. I cant put my finger on a 'sound' that will back that up though.

regards - Eric

Guidof's picture

Eric: I was using Monster Cat6 before switching to AQ Forest. Both 5-foot length. From Squeezebox Touch to DLink Wi Fi bridge. The generic I had used before switching to Monster was a freebe that I had lying around. Yes, Belkin seems like a fine brand; I have one of their high speed USB hubs, which works very well with the Touch's USB output (via EDO). Regards, Guido. F.

DJ's picture

From James Johnston's tutorial:

...about 1/1000th of the information present at the auditory nerve remains after feature reduction, the rest being integrated or discarded into the information that remains. At this level, feature analysis is extremely plastic and can be guided by learning, experience, cognition, reflex, visual stimuli, state of mind, comfort, and all other factors...

I encourage anyone to read complete "Why We Hear What We Hear" tutorial. You won't regret.

Editors background:

This tutorial contains information garnered from 26 years as a research scientist at Bell Labs in Acoustic Research at Murray Hill, and its lineal descendants, from a variety of papers, from learning while I was an Audio Architect at Microsoft, and when I was Chief Scientist for Neural Audio. It contains ideas gathered from a variety of papers and experiments, done by many people, over a long period of time.

He concludes:

In summary, the processing done in the brain is exceptionally plastic, and can be guided by a variety of things. The result of all that processing is what we actually, consciously hear.
If you listen to something differently (for different features or objects)
   *You will remember different things
   *This is not an illusion
If you have reason to assume things may be different
   *You will most likely listen differently
   *Therefore, you will remember different things

Placebo effect in not nonsense and should not be neglected!

Cheers!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

And its purpose is the enjoyment of music but there are many aspects that add to this enjoyment and these vary from person to person. That's why we have things like finish upgrade options which have nothing to do with performance.

My point being, while I do not deny or neglect this notion of placebo effect, the idea that we have to partake in double blind tests in order to be sure that a $29 Ethernet cable is in fact doing what we perceive it to be doing is misguided. And its misguided because our goal is not some abstract notion rooted in auditory phenomena. It's the whole kit and caboodle. I talk about this in Reflections on the Audiophile Image and in Fragile Souls. Here's a relevant quote from the latter:

We're reminded by the objectivists that our senses deceive us and so are the root cause of bias, which makes it impossible for us to objectively evaluate hi-fi gear. Further, they remind us that we can remove this bias and focus on the sound alone by performing unsighted listening tests. We're also reminded that every other field of scientific inquiry embraces the use of blind tests, and that only audiophiles remain in the dark ages of sighted listening tests. No objectivist worth his or her salt would rely on any commingling of senses to make such important life-altering decisions as which speaker to buy or whom to marry. It's also interesting to note that another group of people who view their sensual apparatuses as invasive distractions are monks. But I digress.

My response to this objectivist position is simple: Can you demonstrate the relevance of the blind listening test as it applies to the way we experience and appreciate our hi-fis in our homes over time?

And I have to point out the obvious DJ - I believe in the value of subjective reviews and there's no argument I've encountered that has as much as tickled let alone dented this belief. This does mean I am ignorant of other points of view, it does mean I have a mind of my own and I am thoughtful and purposeful even if you don't agree with my methods.

DJ's picture

And I realized now that we have different backgrounds, your is in art (fine arts? correct me if I'm wrong) and mine is in science (electrical engineer) which leads to logical assumption that we have different approaches. But I think we can make consensus that although we have different paths, our hobby and goals are the same and for the sake of us I hope that we'll come close to it one way or another.

Cheers!

Michael Lavorgna's picture

My education is in fine art, my professional background is in IT. My father was an MSEE, an audiophile and a Stereophile subscriber so I am a second generation audiophile. I grew up in a house filled with music and was running speaker cable in our crawlspace to help hook up my father's new speakers before I was old enough to walk and after he retired I went to Florida to help him setup his then new hi-fi.

My goal is to continue to share a passion for the discovery and enjoyment of music that hi-fi can bring into our homes and lives.

earwaxxer's picture

Well stated Mike. This topic is really 'played', as we used to say back in the 70's! Psycho-acoustics are complex, and you are right, its all about the enjoyment. Thats why there are forums such as this one. So like 'minded' folks can compare notes about such experiences. What we do is take various experineces and try to draw conclusions from them. We make purchases and compare our experiences with those of others.  Its not pure science, but so what!

Guidof's picture

So, I joined the one percenters and splurged on a 5' run of AQ Cinnamon to connect my Squeezebox Touch to the DLink Wireless bridge. The AQ Forest went to connect my Vortexbox Appliance to the router.

Folks, I think this must be the most I ever spent on a single cable run, but for me it is worth every penny.

To my ears, the Cinnamon keeps all the characteristics of the Forest, but it adds a better S/N ratio (blacker blacks), a still more refined and realistic musical presentation, more tuneful bass, and greater overall clarity.

Once again, I am astonished that an Ethernet cable should make any difference to the SQ, let alone this obvious a difference. But whatever the reason, I'm enjoying the results. I suspect that if you tried this wire, you would too.

Best,

Guido F.

Paulmichael's picture

Sorry to say, but you wasted your money. When it comes to transmitting any sort of digital information, the quality of the cable truly does not matter. As long as the signal can get there, it's either perceived as a 1 or a 0. "Premium" cables may last longer due to the better connectors used, but beyond that, you're better off buying Cat 5e or 6 cable in bulk and making your own straight-through ethernet, like I do.

As for this "review"'s claim of: "...data transmission over wires is not sent as ones and zeros its sent as a square wave and unlike data, music cares about time and timing errors."

Data ABSOLUTELY cares about errors. Each frame in a TCP packet has a checksum. If the receiving computer calculates a different checksum from the contents of the packet, then it discards that packet and requests that data from the server again. When you play audio over a network, your computer actively buffers the song ahead of where in the track it is currently playing. You remember portable CD players with skip protection? Same concept. Streaming audio is NEVER in real-time, because network conditions can vary so wildly. Any perceived difference is positively a placebo effect.

stephhance001's picture

In practice, it does not matter if non-crossover Ethernet cables are wired as T568A or T568B, just so long as both ends follow the same wiring format. Typical commercially available "pre-wired" cables can follow either format depending the manufacturer. -Missed Fortune

phatoldsun's picture

Quote: "Most current home routers like Apple's Airport Express..." is inaccurate.  The Extreme is Gigabit, but the Express is not.

http://www.apple.com/wifi/

1audio's picture

The review is a nice start but it leaves a few questions. There were at least two major changes between the cables tested. The Cat5 cable is an unshielded cable. The CAT7 cable is double shielded. Second, there is a reference to silver plating on the Audioquest.

Both are very significant changes and deserve some closer inspection. First the unshielded cable versus shielded is an issue of both bandwidth (the shielded cable has more insertion loss at high frequencies) and radiated noise, with the shielded cable radiating less noise. And a potentially hidden kicker if the shield happens to tie the grounds of boxes together (not normally happening).

Second, the silver plating will attenuate RF less than bare copper. This is skin effect for real. It can be worth as much as 6 dB at the higher frequencies (600 MHz)

Generic CAT7 can be had for much less than the AQ cables. It won't have the silver plating. In fact none of the networking cable factories are setup for silver plating in the normal process so the wire must be made in a seperate process (very expensive).This would account for the increase in price for the AQ cables.

All certified CAT"n" cables are tested to meet the EIA-TIA standards for the particular CAT level. They must meet specific attenuation and crosstalk specs. They are mostly interchangeable in normal applications. 

My question would be to compare generic CAT7 to the AQ cable.  Does the lower loss at VHF frequencies make a difference?  (Of course the real difference may be vibration conducted down the cable to the boxes or some other non-obvious factor and the wire is inconsequential.)

Also, I should mention the difference between a network patch cable and the cable used for fixed runs (in the wall for example). Patch cables are stranded. Fixed cables are solid conductor. Patch are much more flexible and will handle flexing much better without breaking. However they have significantly more loss than the solid cables used for long runs. Don't expect the solid conductor cable to last in an application where its flexed or connected and disconnected (for example a laptop RJ45 connection). They are fine for in-wall and "fixed" applications.

Demian Martin

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I did not compare the AQ cable to Cat 7...But this certainly makes sense. If/when I get to this I'll report back.

Rich Davis's picture

What I would like to see in reviews of cables (audio and video) are some test measurements so we can see actual measurement differences.

Unfortunately this might involve a lot of expensive test equipment, but some of the skeptics might have to see measureable differences rather than subjective anecdotal experiences.

Some people just have been brainwashed into thinking that cables don't make a difference and some of us have actually heard these differences.

One thing that I can point out is that one's equipment and ability to see and hear differences are also a factor.  Some people just aren't trained to listen for subtle differences, they can tell BIG differences like what they hear if they press the "loudness" button commonly found on recievers from the 70's.  Remember those?

Some people just don't have trained ears or the content they listen to is so compressed and processed that it won't make much difference.

I would like to see how these ethernet cables work when transferring computer data and if they have faster speed tests.  I would find that humorous.

SeeHear's picture

With respect to the cable's varying attenuation with frequency, an Ethernet cable doesn't pass "audio", it passes packets. These packets couldn't care less what information they will be assembled into at the end of their trip (or when they get there - they may not even arrive at their destination in order!). In other words, skin effect is non-relevant in the context of data containing audio being sent over Ethernet. The better sounding Ethernet cables may have attributes that make them sound "better" by providing better grounding, reducing reflection induced errors or rejecting noise or by improving some other electrical characteristic; but, by definition, it can't alter the data. If it did, I would call it a bad Ethernet cable. Very bad.

Don't misunderstand me - I am absolutely not implying you guys don't hear differences between these various Ethernet cables; I'm only trying to help identify the sources of those differences. Since configuring my players (JRiver and Foobar) to play from memory, I can hear no difference whether the file is played back from either of two NAS boxes (both connected via Ethernet), a USB drive, a WiFi-connected share from a laptop, or from local storage.

Jinjuku's picture

I grew up with networking standards from Amiga's with dial up SLIP to University, to installing networks for the likes of Key Bank, Hospitals, large manufacturing.

Also hobbyist speaker builder and designer.

I don't care what you think you heard. If using certified cables of the less than $20 variety, as long as they are passing information without error, you CAN'T hear a difference.

I have $$ that says you can't stone cold blind do this in a well controlled SBT.

The first step in this process is to measure the AQ and a certified CAT 6 cable from Blue Jean Cable company. This is easily doable with HP/FLUKE/etc cable testers. These are used in the field to CERTIFY installations meet or beat spec.

The 2nd step is using a Windows or Linux server and using the built in network monitoring and performance tools. Use a test file and SSD for consistency.

Also you don't need Cat6 / Cat7 to even pass full data-rate 16/44.1 or 24/96 audio. CAT5 at 100Mbps will do just fine at ~8MB per second. That is a full CD (say average of 45 minute) transferred in ~80 seconds assuming 640MB of data.

Even a full blown 24/196 mastered file at 2.5GB is about 5-6 minutes on the wire at 8MB / Second.

Let me know when you want to race for pinks. It's time to put this BS to rest.

wormcycle's picture

If I use JRiver with the play from memory option, and my pc can read a .wav file from NAS without IO, how exactly is Ethernet cable involved in a playback?. How it can affect QoS?

CCNE's picture

I could tell you that modern age simply could not exist if ethernet cables worked the way you thought they did but like the a certain emperor and his clothes that wouldn't do any good. However the one thing that is provably false is that the cable you used was not CAT7. How do I know? The CAT7 standard (dead BTW) requires a different jack (CG45 or TERA). The cable in the photo has a 8P8C ("RJ45") connector as have all BASE T and BASE TX ethernet cables for the past 20 or so years. So if you are going to sell snake oil please do us network professionals a solid and not incorrectly use terms. I know the manufacturer also claims it is CAT7 and you are just parroting what they are saying but it undermines both or their "credibility". It would be like you saying you are pretty sure this ethernet cable is made from wood. You just look foolish.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
While the cable is CAT7, the connectors are 8P8C. The manufacturer does not claim the cable is CAT7.

These cables do in fact work, they pass data, so the claim of "snake oil" does not apply. You may object to the price and/or the fact that I heard a difference when using them which is just peachy by me.

Oh....and leave your attitude at the door if you plan to continue commenting here or I'll block your account faster than you can say snake oil ;-)

SiaoJer's picture

It's an even more significant price in price range; but did you get a chance to later experience the Vodka line of cables from AQ? The 10% silver conductor looks like a fairly significant bump (both in quantity and dollars)