I think it started on Reddit then spread like wildfire to a number of websites including Ars Technica, The Register, HotHardware, and more. Not to mention the forums. What's all the fuss? Expensive Ethernet cables. $10,000 Ethernet cables (actually the price is $8,000 and all of these sites got it wrong).
I reviewed four of the AudioQuest Ethernet cables back in 2013 but a few quotes and a link in the above-mentioned articles has helped bring new packs of well-credentialed network engineers and others to AudioStream to call bullshit (thanks for traffic hit btw). Their point being there's absolutely no way an Ethernet cable can effect sound. Data is either being transmitted or its not. There is no in between. "Bits are bits, after all." With that in mind, the majority of these same people cry foul and suggest the only possibile explanation for perceiving a difference between Ethernet cables is a) rooted in psychological interference like confirmation bias or placebo effect, b) I am a paid shill, or c) I am insane. I'm personally going with d) none of the above and will stubbornly stick to my guns that the differences I've experienced are in fact audible differences. I'll leave it to more knowledgeable people than me to figure out why.
One such person/commentor, CG, who appears to know his way around this issue more than your average network engineer, has offered up another possibility—noise. You can read more about this thought-provoking possibility and the rest of this sordid affair in the comments of my AudioQuest Vodka and Diamond Ethernet Cable Review.
Since I wrote this review, I've had an opportunity to hear more comparisons between the AudioQuest Ethernet cables including their entry level Pearl ($25/.75m). The most notable demo took place in Denver at RMAF 2014 (see my report) where AudioQuest's Steve Silberman took us through a wireless connection, a wired Ethernet connection using a standard Belkin cable, and then the AudioQuest Pearl. In each instance, with each change, the sound improved. I noted "increased clarity and resolution and generally a more musical sounding system."
This demo was performed to a room full, standing room only, crowd. It was clear from the crowd's reaction that I wasn't the only one hearing these changes. John Darko of Digital Audio Review also wrote about this same demo which you can read about right here. There are many other reports around the web of people hearing a difference between Ethernet cables but that's hardly the point. Right?
So what's going on with Ethernet cables that's got everyone in an uproar? Clearly, $10,000 is to most people a ridiculous amount of money to spend on most anything you can't at least drive. But as difficult as it may be to swallow, there are people for whom a $10,000 investment in their hi-fi, like an Ethernet cable, doesn't even register as a blip on their financial statement. Is this wrong? Is it amoral? Is it plain stupid?
The possibility of different Ethernet cables causing an audible difference aside, I suppose we have to ask is there an amount above which it is wrong to spend on a hobby. Hi-fi is, after all, a hobby. It is not a science experiment or a race toward "good enough". Last time I checked, people spend lots of money on lots of things that other people feel don't make any sense including fine food, fashion, art, cars, yachts, jewelry, cigars, spirits, music, antiques, Pez dispensers, sweet sixteen parties, and more so obviously people are free to spend their own money on what they choose (and the Internet was clearly invented to give voice to every opinion on this very subject).
Does anyone need a $10,000 Ethernet cable or a $100,000 wrist watch (especially when your cell phone tells you what time it is)? Of course not. But are we then saying we need to regulate how much people spend on their hobbies? Of course not. We are in fact stuck between a rock and a very expensive place. These things exist and people actually buy and enjoy them. Does that fact somehow tarnish every hi-fi hobbyist and every wrist watch wearer? Of course not. There are extremes in every hobby and the farther out you go, the stranger things get to the uninitiated. Ever seen a furry convention?
As far as I'm concerned, if you use Ethernet in your hi-fi, your opinion regarding Ethernet cable is best informed by listening. Do it blind, do it naked, do it dancing, do it however you like. AudioQuest's Ethernet cables start at $25 and you can return them if you find they make no difference. Or don't try them, I don't really care.
When all is said and done, if I stopped listening to all of the things that people who know better believe make no difference, I'd be relegated to listening to MP3s on my iPhone with a "decent" pair of headphones.