AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet Cable and Diamond Ethernet Cable
Availability: Online and Through Authorized Dealers
Price: Vodka $339/1.5m, Diamond $1,195/1.5m
Expensive Ethernet Cables
I hemmed and hawed. I procrastinated. I averted, diverted, rescheduled, delayed, prolonged, and put off reviewing the AudioQuest Vodka and Diamond Ethernet Cables hoping that something would change. Namely, I was hoping someone would be able to tell me why, in no uncertain terms, they do in fact make a difference in the way my music sounds coming through my hi-fi. In many ways and for many reasons I wished they made no difference at all. I wish they were just some audiophile nonsense that I could plug in, listen to, unplug, and simply shrug at their utter ineffectualness. But that's just not how these things work.
The line of AudioQuest Ethernet cables are all rated as Category 7 Ethernet cables and include the least expensive Pearl ($29/1.5M), Forest ($49/1.5M), Cinnamon ($89/1.5M), Vodka ($339/1.5M), and the top of the heap Diamond ($1,195/1.5M). I reviewed the Forest and Cinnamon (see review) and found that they improved the sound of music played through them and the rest of my hi-fi. When Steve Silbermann of AudioQuest told me, "You've got to try the new Vodka and Diamond cables. They're sick." I couldn't resist. Besides my sheer dumbfounded wonder at the proposition of sick-sounding Ethernet cables, I was curious to hear them in my system despite my reluctance to get badgered, again, for writing about expensive Ethernet cables. The way I figure, someone's got to do it so that someone may as well be me.
One of the ways the AudioQuest Ethernet cables differ from one another and other standard Ethernet cables is in their use of silver. The least expensive Pearl doesn't get any added to its long-grain copper, the Forest adds 0.5% silver, Cinnamon gets 1.25%, Vodka 10%, while the Diamond sports, "solid 100% Perfect-Surface Silver". Silver as you may know is a very good conductor, better than copper, and whether or not this makes any difference in the sound these cables impart on a hi-fi system is anyone's guess.
Another difference between these cables lies in what AudioQuest calls a "Noise-Dissipation System" which according to AudioQuest, "...prevents a significant amount of RFI from reaching the equipment’s ground plane." The lower level cables do not have any but the Vodka gets a "Metal-Layer Noise-Dissipation System" while the Diamond gets a "Carbon-Based 3-Layer Noise-Dissipation System". The other difference between these cables is their connectors which is plainly visible in their appearance. More money buys you beefier, locking RJ45 ends.
The Diamond Ethernet cable also employs AudioQuest's Dialectric-Bias System (DBS). I'll let AudioQuest explain:
Dielectric-Bias System (DBS, US Patent #s 7,126,055 & 7,872,195 B1)
All dielectric (insulation) slows down and smears the signal traveling inside the conductor, and when insulation is unbiased it slows down different frequencies at different energy levels by varying degrees. This is real problem for time-sensitive, multi-octave audio, and a significant distortion mechanism for all audio cables, digital or analog.
AudioQuest’s patented DBS creates a strong and stable electrostatic field, which saturates and polarizes (organizes) the molecules of the insulation. Saturated (full) insulation absorbs less and therefore releases less out-of-phase energy. Minimizing nonlinear time delays results in clearer sound emerging from a “blacker” background with unexpected detail and dynamic contrast.
Why Ethernet cables? If you store your music on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) device, Ethernet cables are part of your hi-fi. They are in your playback chain. If you connect to the Internet and listen to music streaming from it, you have Ethernet in your hi-fi. My particular setup involves a Netgear ProSafe 5-Port Gigabit Ethernet Switch which is located right in my listening room. There's a very long Ethernet run which is plain old Cat. 5e plenum cable (since it runs through walls and our attic) down to the router on our first floor . But my NAS devices where my music resides are also connected to that same NetGear switch. So the music travels from the NAS, through the switch, and out to my MacBook Pro.
My methodology for this review consisted of my usual routine more or less; listen, swap, listen. Listen longer, weeks at a time, swap, listen again. I mixed in a standard Category 5 Ethernet cable as well as the AudioQuest Cinnamon Ethernet cable and switched the cable between the NetGear switch and my MacBook Pro, as well the cable between the NetGear switch and the NAS.
I really could have written this review months ago. The perceived differences between the Vodka, Diamond, Cinnamon, and Cat. 5 cable are plainly apparent and easy to hear. I'd sum up these differences as more. You get an increasingly large sound picture as you move up the line, greater differentiation between sonic elements, and a greater sense of clarity. I would classify these changes as being better in each case.
I've spent a few months with these cables, and I swapped them in and out any number of times. With quick A/B swapping, which I admit to finding one of the most annoying ways one can listen since you're no longer listening to the music!, I was still able to perceive a clear difference but longer listening allowed me to more fully appreciate the greater clarity and relative ease the Vodka and Diamond cables impart. You can picture the changes when going from the standard Cat. 5 Ethernet cable to the Cinnamon, Vodka, and Diamond as adding more and more color to a faded image. It's as if the sound blossoms more fully with the more expensive cables.
These changes are also cumulative. With all Vodka cable in my system, from NAS to switch and from switch to MacBook, there was a greater level of perceived clarity and scale as compared to swapping out just one of the cables. If I were to pick which cable in the chain made the most difference, I'd say the one that ran from the switch to the MacBook. So if budget is a concern, and when isn't it, I'd suggest starting nearest your music server and working your way back from there. Of course, your results may vary and I'd also recommend experimentation.
Again, these changes are not subtle or slight. I did not have to do any sort of special listening to special tracks, put on a lab coat, or comb my thinning hair in a particular manner. All I had to do was sit and listen and the changes I've described were readily apparent. As plain as day, as the saying goes.
What isn't as plain as day is why these AudioQuest Ethernet cables change the way the music sounds coming through my hi-fi. I can in fact think of more reasons why they can't make a difference. Ethernet is packet-based, it includes rigorous error correction, it works wonderfully for all kinds of super important data and even ineffectual blathering like carrying all of those Facebook statuses, tweets, and Instagrams. If the bits were not relayed in tact on regular old Ethernet, we'd surely know about it. Our networked world wouldn't work! But it does. And these AudioQuest Ethernet cables make a difference.
I Wish I Knew Why But I Don't
I wish I knew why but I don't. I'm not even going to hazard a guess beyond suggesting that the construction of these cables must affect the way in which data is transmitted. My sneaking suspicion is it has something to do with time.
In the hi-fi hobby we are blessed or cursed, your choice, with an inevitable truth—The veracity of anything and everything is decided by listening. Further, the actual worth of something, its value, relates directly to how much enjoyment we get not from it but from what it does to our perception of our beloved music. The greater the musical enjoyment, the greater the worth. Whether we're talking about having a glass of wine (cheap or really precious), a comfortable chair, the right room temperature, or spending the requisite time and energy to position our speakers appropriately in our rooms, all kinds of things contribute to our enjoyment when listening to music on a hi-fi.
If you have your music library sitting on a network, connected with Ethernet cables, and you'd like to improve the sound of your music coming through your hi-fi, I'd suggest you give the AudioQuest Ethernet cables a listen. Whichever ones you feel make the most sense price-wise. If that means you're not interested, no big deal. The things we think we know get in our way all the time. Luckily with hi-fi we only risk losing out on greater levels of enjoyment.
Also on hand and in use during the AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet Cable and Diamond Ethernet Cable review: regular old Cat. 5 Ethernet cable