Ethernet Accessories and Cables

SOtM iSO-CAT6 Ethernet Isolator
Device Type: Ethernet Isolator
Input: Ethernet
Output: Ethernet
Dimensions: 4" x 1" x 1 1/4"
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Price: $350.00
Website: www.sotm-audio.com

DJM Electronics GigaFOILv3 Ethernet Filter
Device Type: Ethernet EMI Filter
Input: Ethernet
Output: Ethernet
Dimensions: 5.5" x 3.25" x 5.5"
Weight: a couple pounds
Availability: Authorized Dealers
Price: $1,000.00
Website: www.djmelectronics.com

Rosewill CAT 7 Cable
Device Type: Ethernet cable
Length: 7'
Availability: Online
Price: $7.55 (on Amazon)
Website: www.rosewill.com

AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable
Device Type: Ethernet cable
Length: 3.0m/10'
Availability: Online and from Authorized Dealers
Price: $529.00
Website: www.audioquest.com

AudioQuest Cinnamon Ethernet cable
Device Type: Ethernet cable
Length: 3.0m/10'
Availability: Online and from Authorized Dealers
Price: $119.00
Website: www.audioquest.com

Paul Pang Professional Audio Studio Audio Grade Switcher
Device Type: 4-port Ethernet Switch
Dimensions: 4 3/4" x 3" x 1"
Availability: Direct Online
Price: $149.00
Website: ppaproduct.blogspot.com

"Listen, my children, and you shall hear", from Paul Revere’s Ride Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Captain Obvious says, In hi-fi, the only way to determine preference is to listen. We're going to talk about listening through two Ethernet devices, filters more or less, an "Audio Grade Switcher", and I'm also going to talk about three different Ethernet cables, all of which I own, to see if they make any difference in the mix.

SOtM iSO-CAT6 Ethernet Isolator
Soul Of the Music (SOtM) describes the passive iSO-CAT6 Ethernet Isolator as a "LAN signal filter, LAN signal isolator, and LAN signal insulator." What is it filtering, isolating, and insulating from? Noise. The SOtM Isolator's body is smoky polycarbonate which gives a cloudy view of its insides. There's an Ethernet input marked "Router" with an arrow indicating the signal flow, and an Ethernet output marked "Device" and another arrow indicating signal flow. While arrows on cables appear to drive some people mad, remember this is a filter.

SOtM includes a short (appx. 9.5") Ethernet cable that's meant to go in between their filter and your computer/server.

DJM Electronics GigaFOILv3 Ethernet Filter
DJM Electronics does not make products for home audio use. Since 1978, they've specialized in RF shielding for industry and today they are "one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of EMI filters, RF shielding products, RF absorber and shielding accessories in North America." Here's what the company says about their Ethernet filters:

Standard signal line filters rely on capacitors and inductors to eliminate unwanted RF signals. However, these types of filters often eliminate the high frequencies that make up the sharp edges of high speed digital square wave signals thereby degrading the integrity of the signal. In order to avoid this side effect, it is necessary for standard signal line filters to have extended passbands that allow the higher frequencies to pass unimpeded. Even the best standard signal line filters offer only 70dB from 50MHz to 10GHz and will only work with 10Base-T. There are no Fast Ethernet (100Base-TX) or Gigabit Ethernet (1000Base-T) standard signal line filters available on the market. Also, it is important to note that standard signal line filters do not differentiate between Ethernet signals and undesirable signals. They act like a "hole" in the shielded enclosure to all signals - good and bad - within the passband.

Unlike standard signal line filters, FOIL™ Ethernet Filters utilize a fiber optic isolation link (FOIL) to maintain 100dB shielding integrity. The filter converts ONLY Ethernet packets, so there is no passband and no transmission of unwanted signals.

Two comments: As we can see, the notion of filtering noise in Ethernet networks is nothing new, and DJM is not aware of the SOtM product which supports Gigabit Ethernet.

I received an email from Steve McNally of DJM asking if I'd be interested in taking a listen to their GigaFOILv3 product to see if it makes a difference in a networked hi-fi system. The idea being that if it does, the company may pursue making a less costly device aimed at the home audio. I said, "Yes." I also asked Steve about a fiber-based solution. Here's part of his response:

"I’m confident we could offer substantially better conducted and radiated EMI performance over any existing fiber solution. And it would be simple and elegant - probably about the size of a deck of cards with a single AC adapter."
The GigaFOILv3 body is housed in a 20 gauge zinc plated cold rolled stee enclosure which is made in Mexico (don't tell Trump) and overall I very much like its industrial look. The Ethernet input resides on this body along with the power inlet for the included wall wart supply. The Ethernet output hangs out from a "1" NPS threaded penetration w/brass mounting flange nut and mesh gasket". Yes, you could hurt someone with the GigaFOILv3.

The company recommends placing the GigaFOILv3 as close to your computer as possible. I used the short SOtM cable to connect the GigaFOILv3 to my MacBook Pro.

Rosewill Cat 7 Ethernet Cable and AudioQuest Vodka and Cinnamon Ethernet Cable
Three "Cat 7" Ethernet cables [footnote 1]. I'm going to listen to all of them and talk about what I hear.

Here's what Rosewill says about their Cat 7 Ethernet cable:

The Rosewill Cat7 S/STP patch cable offers the best-in-class Ethernet connection for various applications. Screened Shielded Twist Pairing (S/STP) design and gold plated connectors confidently protects the cable from external Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI) for optimized signal quality. Durable black jacket easily color-codes your cable runs as needed while providing rugged flexibility for network connection. For long lasting performance, the cable features strain relief to prevent the RJ-45 connector from being bent at sharp angle, and snagless design to eliminate the hassle of catching or hooking on things when you have to pull the cable a long way.

In compliance with TIA/EIA-568-B.2-10 specifications, the Rosewill Cat 7 network cable delivers blazing fast speed to address evolving requirements of today's equipment and application.

The strain relief prevents the cable from bending at sharp angle at the connector to reduce the risk of cable damage. The clip protector keeps the RJ45 connector from unwanted snags while routing the cable. The Screened Shielded Twisted Pair (S/STP) cable shielding and gold plated RJ45 connector block out external interference for high quality, error-free signal transfer.

And here's AudioQuest on their Ethernet cables:
Our CAT600 DCP (Digital Copper Plumbing) combines Solid Long- Grain Copper (LGC) Conductors, controlled for controlled for low-noise directionality, with Solid High-Density Polyethylene insulation that both ensures critical signal-pair geometry and minimizes insulation-induced phase distortion. CAT600 FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) offers all the same benefits as DCP, but adds an overall shield for lower noise, cleaner sound, and greater dynamics. CAT700 Pearl uses Hard-Cell Foam insulation because the stiffness of the material allows the conductors in the cable to maintain the same geometric relationship along the full length of the cable, thus ensuring that the characteristic impedance of the cable is consistent. CAT700 Forest and CAT700 Carbon offer all of the same benefits as CAT700 Pearl, but upgrade from Pearl’s Solid Long-Grain Copper conductors with Solid 0.5% Silver and Solid 5% Silver conductors, respectively.

For shorter runs in high-performance applications, AudioQuest’s RJ/E Ethernet line offers a complete solution with an easy, affordable entry and a clearly worthwhile, exciting upgrade path. RJ/E Pearl combines Solid Long-Grain Copper conductors with our geometry-stabilizing Solid High-Density Polyethylene insulation in a simple, but handsome PVC jacket. The durable gold-plated connectors provide 100% shield coverage and feature an extra-strong tab for flawless performance. RJ/E Forest upgrades Pearl’s copper conductors with our Solid 0.5% Silver conductors, while the still affordable RJ/E Cinnamon adds an attractive black-and-red braid and takes another step up to higher-purity Solid 1.25% Silver conductors. Vodka’s Solid 10% Silver conductors offer improved clarity and detail, while its Carbon-Based 3-Layer Noise-Dissipation System (NDS) shields the shields, absorbing and reflecting most of the sonically detrimental noise/RF energy before it reaches the layer attached to ground. Finally, our top-of-the-line RJ/E Diamond makes the big jump up to our highest quality metal—Solid 100% Perfect-Surface Silver (PSS) conductors and adds our patented Dielectric-Bias System (DBS) for unrivaled performance, with clearer overall sound, extraordinary detail, and stunning dynamic contrasts.

In addition to AudioQuest’s hallmark materials and techniques, the top Ethernet models feature extreme-performance Telegärtner RJ45 connectors, which employ a patented combination of geometry and circuitry to minimize impedance-mismatch distortion. The improvement in performance is slap-in-the-ears obvious and indicative of the difference all connectors and materials make.

Those little arrows on the AudioQuest Ethernet cables have caused many an "IT guy" to guffaw and/or writhe in apoplectic pain. I asked AudioQuest if they would explain their concept of directionality in Ethernet cables. Here's the response from Garth Powell, AudioQuest's Director of Power Products:

Ethernet cable is no different than any other cable (analog or digital), in that the effect of directionality is a byproduct of the pickup of radio frequency noise, and is independent of the primary signal.

A wire lead of any quality is capable of transmitting or receiving signals from the source and load of a circuit. They can do so with relatively low loss, as well. However, an RF signal that is picked up by the wire or lead is a parasitic signal that is not driven by the source current of an electronic circuit that would otherwise determine the course of the signal's direction and return.

Rather, as this parasitic noise signal is very high frequency, it will travel the outside surface of the wire (skin effect), and as wires are drawn in manufacture, and the outside surface will inherently have micro fissures that lean in the direction of the way they were drawn, that direction creates a slightly lower impedance path for high frequencies. Since this parasitic noise is not driven by the primary circuit the wire is otherwise connected to, the RF noise will (as any independent current would) choose the path of least resistance.

Ideally, we would have none of this parasitic signal at all, but physics dictates that some is inevitable. By draining the parasitic RF distortion signal away from the more vulnerable or sensitive of two paths (be it the source or load), the distortion, as it mixes with or masks the primary signal, is minimized.

Paul Pang Professional Audio Studio Audio Grade Switcher
Here's the company's description of the Audio Grade Switcher:

The audio grade Switch is designed to improve the sound quality with JPLAY Dual-PC setup, HQPlayer NAA setup or NAS.
  • Two high priority ports for NAS or Control-PC
  • Reclocking by low jitter TCXO module with silver output transformer
image credit: Paul Pang

I asked Paul Pang how his Switch improves sound quality and I will summarize his answers (Paul's native language is Taiwanese). Paul acknowledges that, while the PC sends bit-perfect data, we need to recognize that a PC is not interested in sound quality as well as the fact that the eventual output of a network-attached hi-fi is an analog signal. Further, while it’s difficult to offer a complete explanation for how and why this process can be improved, the most important thing to acknowledge is that for listeners, sound quality is what matters most.

Here's my favorite unedited quote from Paul:

PC could distinguish this file is a dog not a bird,
It will deem this work is 100%,
No matter it is a Husky or a Chihuahua.

Paul Pang takes a stock ZyXEL GS-105B v2 5-Port Desktop Gigabit Ethernet Switch (around $35.00) and adds his TCXO module which re-clocks the signal. The ZyXEL switch is housed in a metal chassis and offers two "high priority" ports which I used to connect to my NAS and MacBook Pro.

Please note that all of the devices and cables we're going to listen through deal with Ethernet's physical layer in a mixed signal system, i.e. the eventual output is analog. It may also be helpful to recognize that with 100BASE-TX and 1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet a series of signal pulses are sent over Ethernet. This form of signal modulation is called pulse-amplitude modulation (PAM), an analog pulse modulation scheme. Gigabit Ethernet uses PAM-5 encoding, which uses 5 different voltage levels, and Fast Ethernet uses PAM-3 encoding, which uses 3 different voltage levels.

The system in use for these listening sessions included my regular setup which includes the Pass INT-30A and DeVore Fidelity The Nines and a second system which consisted of the Ayre AX-5 Twenty integrated amp and the DeVore Fidelity Xs. I consider both systems to be very revealing.

"And seeming to whisper, 'All is well!'" ibid.
Where to begin. I inserted the Paul Pang Switch and the DJM GigaFOILv3 into my networked hi-fi which includes two lengths of the AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cables; one from my NAS to the switch and the other from the switch to my MacBook Pro and went about listening for a few weeks through three different DACs, my reference Auralic Vega, the review sample LampizatOr Lite 7, and the totalddac d1-tube-mk2 DAC. Everything sounded great, especially the totalddac.

Enjoyment interruptus. Then I sat down with the Auralic Vega for some serious comparisons, my least favorite aspect of this job. I began by listening to a bunch of music I enjoy listening to and then zeroed in on mainly acoustic music for my comparisons since I find that things like harpsichord, violins, cellos, saxophones, double bass, and so on can tell you a lot about how your audio system is performing.

The first change I made was to take the GigaFOILv3 out of the system. What I heard was a less refined sound, especially in the upper registers. This was a subtle change, and certainly not worth a grand, but the GigaFOILv3 clearly made my music sound less digital, less harsh, and more natural. While A/Bing is all well and good, having the GigaFOILv3 in my system for weeks was a better gauge of its effects since I very easily noticed a more relaxed and engaging sound over time. My guess is if you don't believe the GigaFOILv3 has any basis for improving the sound in a networked hi-fi system, and you spend your time A/Bing over and over, odds are you will not hear any difference.

Next up was the SOtM iSO-CAT6 Isolator. I inserted the SOtM into the same system, with the Paul Pang switch and AQ Vodka cables and went about listening. Hmm. I also heard a change, albeit more subtle than the GigaFOILv3, where music simply sounded more natural. In terms of overall improvement, I'd give the edge to the GigaFOILv3 as it seemed to offer a greater move away from a digital sound toward a more natural, musical sound.

"The sound of a harpsichord – two skeletons copulating on a tin roof in a thunderstorm." Thomas Beecham

Next up were the Ethernet cables. I removed everything but the Paul Pang switch and inserted the Rosewill Cat 7 Ethernet cable between the switch and my MacBook Pro, queued up Davitt Moroney playing Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier, and hit play. Oh crap. Or if you prefer a more technical term, oh shit. The difference between the Rosewill Ethernet cable and the AQ Vodka was more apparent than the differences offered by either Ethernet filter. With the Rosewill cable, those skeletons sounded thinner, that tin roof more metallic, and generally everything sounded more digital. This was not a subtle change to my ears and there's no way I would spend any time with that Rosewill cable in my networked hi-fi.

How about AudioQuest's less expensive Cinnamon Ethernet cable? While not as dramatic a difference as offered by the Vodka cable, the AQ once again bettered the Rosewill, making my networked music sound less brittle, less harsh, and more natural. Since I own all of these cables, I'll continue to use the AQ Vodka in between my NAS and switch and switch and MacBook and the Cinnamon between my switch and router and live happily ever after.

Would I recommend that you buy the AudioQuest Ethernet cables? I've been using and enjoying them for years which is the most relevant information I can offer. The system these cables are typically used within retails for over $22k and the system I'm using at present retails for over $35k and $40k depending on the DAC in use. Spending between 2% and 3% of your total system budget on Ethernet cables seems about right to me. YBMV (Your Beliefs May Vary).

I will also note that the differences between these Ethernet cables varied according to the music being played and the DAC being used. The Auralic Vega offered the most notable difference while with the totalddac the differences were more subtle. This makes A/B'ing between Ethernet cables using a single track for a few minutes a fairly useless exercise. I find that listening to music over time, as in weeks+, is a much more effective way of recognizing the effects of seemingly subtle changes.

Last but not least, it was time to put the Paul Pang switch to the comparative test. I own and use a Netgear ProSafe 5 Port Gigabit Switch (model GS105 about $30.00). I removed the filters, put the Vodka Ethernet cables back in, and sat down and listened with the Paul Pang Switch. Nice. I then replaced that switch with the NetGear and went about listening some more. Nice. A/B'ing between these two switches showed a very subtle difference and one that I would be hard-pressed to pick out if I didn't know which I was listening to. However, listening over a period of weeks with the Paul Pang switch in my system seemed to offer a more relaxed sound, even more so when coupled with the GigaFOILv3. Subtle for sure, but preferable. Is that subtle difference worth the asking price of the Paul Pang Switch? Only you and your hairdresser know for sure.

"A cry of defiance, and not of fear," that Henry guy again
What's a networked hi-fi owner to do? First off, our one and only job as listeners is to enjoy listening to music. That's it, end of story. If you enjoy debating over the effectiveness of things with which you have no experience, that seems to me to be a different hobby than the one I'm interested in. I enjoy listening to music and I'm really good at the enjoyment part.

The best gauge of the effectiveness of and preference for any cable, accessory, component, or speaker, is to listen to it for yourself, in your system. The longer, the better. I cannot say, without any doubt, that these Ethernet products will perform to the same degree for you in your system as they did for me in mine since you, your gear, environment, network, etc. all influence how much of a sonic difference, or how little, these devices and cables will offer. Of even greater importance is your ability and willingness to listen over time; In hi-fi, there's no substitute for listening.

Short A/B comparisons are really good if you don't want to hear a difference when one exists. If you think you hear a difference and don’t want to, just keep A/B’ing until it goes away. Problem solved! It's also important to keep in mind that A/B'ing has nothing to do with listening to and enjoying music, which is after all what this hobby is all about.

If you find that removing something from or replacing something in your system causes no change, send it back. If on the other hand you notice a change for the better when this something is in your system and the improvement offered is worth the cost, keep it. This really isn't complicated or controversial stuff unless you choose to make it so.

I said this nearly 5 years ago in my As We See It for Stereophile titled, "Why Music Matters Most" and I'll say it again here, "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."


Associated Equipment


Footnote 1. Since both the Rosewill and AudioQuest cables use 8P8C/RJ45 connectors, they are not Cat 7 cables according to the pending specification. However, the relevant issue is the cable itself is a rated Cat 7 cable, which includes employing the extra shielding called for in the spec.

COMMENTS
derneck's picture

- the 7ft Rosewill? Now you've planted a seed of doubt in my OCD head :(

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Since you can try any of the AQ Ethernet cables with minimal financial risk (i.e. the cost of return shipping unless you have an Amazon Premium account in which case the risk is $0.00), there's no reason to fret.

If you find what I found, you'll be happier. If not, you'll be as happy as you already are. Win, win.

;-)

derneck's picture

If nothing else, a boutique Ethernet cable will look better in my system than the generic off-white Rosewill. If I do hear a significant difference in my "digital separates" setup (dedicated Mac Mini - > Simaudio Mind 180 via Ethernet -> Luxman DA-06 via AES/EBU) I will applaud you for steering me in that direction.

MrMoons's picture

Totaldac Ethernet Cable/Filter? I use them here, and they made more of an improvement than the AQ Diamond in my system. Offering up a more weighty and even more focused presentation. I sold the Diamond Ethernet cables.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
But, everything I have tried from totaldac has been wonderful.
MrMoons's picture

About it. Totaldac is by far the best digital I have heard, and by no small margin. As a Twelve owner, it takes over $50K of analog gear to match it IME.

Do try the Totaldac Ethernet Cable/Filter, and you should do whatever you have to do to keep the D1 Tube MKII :) I have some 12AU7 variants you should try in that DAC.

Matias's picture

Hi Michael, does Ethernet cables and filtering also make a difference when you are playing files stored on the MacBook itself, not transferred over the network? Or in other words, are the improvements noticeable even with idle or background Ethernet traffic that is not music?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
My music is stored on a NAS.
Matias's picture

I know you use a NAS to store your library. But for the sake of testing only, didn't you copy a few songs to the MacBook Pro and gave it a shot with and without the filters/cables?
I ask because my source is a pc with my library stored in it (1tb SSD), and that test would be relevant to me.

Also if you could rate between 1 to 100 like you did with the USB filters would be great.

Thank you! :)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
This is not a realistic solution for me.

In terms of 1 to 100, if you want to get the best sounding playback from digital files, go with a purpose-built server like the Antipodes DX or a network player like the Bel Canto REFStream. They both offer performance that far outweighs the difference between cables and accessories.

Boogieman's picture

Sir, what do you suggest when your NAS is in an office 50 feet away from your DAC? Even the cheapest audiophile ethernet cable would get expensive.

Does it make sense to locate the NAS closer to your DAC so you can benefit from an audiophile cable, and run a long, plain cable from the switch to the NAS?

Thank you

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I'd also suggest moving your switch and NAS to the same room as your DAC and running relatively short Ethernet runs from the switch to your NAS and server. You can pick up 2 media converters (like this one: TP-LINK MC200CM Gigabit Media Converter) plus the fiber cable for about $150.

This approach would also serve to isolate your switch, and anything attached to it, from any cable induced noise.

If that's too pricey an approach, AudioQuest sells bulk Ethernet cable starting at $0.70/ft.

CarterB's picture

Thanks for the interesting review. Why do you have a network switch?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
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PeterV's picture

All these influences of differences in the DAC's performance when using different cable quality or applying filters, prove that streaming of music in the digital domain is influenced by noise. What makes 'us audiophiles' so nervous and spend lots of time an money in such 'solutions' while we are also aware that all we need to achieve is 'cloning' one song or one album in perfect, noise-free condition iowards our DAC, like we did when we downloaded or copied the same song or album onto our NAS...?

Kunter's picture

PPA switch should be beneficial for a NAS / Player setup like yours. However, on the setup I use, Mac Mini running HQPlayer and a Cubox as an NAA, it made a huge difference in the sound quality. This is in comparison to an Apple Airport Extreme it replaced. I am also feeding it with battery power, which enhances the effects. Just to go crazy, it is grounded by a spare ethernet cable DIY'd to ground on an Entreq box. And nothing else is connected to the switch, other than the Airport Extreme, which is handling rest of the house network issues.
MacMini and Cubox is connected to the QoS ports with AQ cables.

suggs's picture

Has anyone out there tried comparing the totaldac Ethernet filter with the Acoustic Revive RLI-1? Both purport to do the same job, but there is a significant price difference

mentt's picture

Hi Michael, I am using my streamer only via Wifi, NAS is also connected only via Wifi. Reason? I sounds better compare to wired connection. My question is: As I have only regular Wifi router, will better Wifi router for example Asus RT-AC68U Dual-band Wireless-AC1900 Gigabit Router improve the sound even more? There is no problem with the signal strength . Wifi router is in the same room with my Hifi gear so signal strength is on maximum(full bars). I can also upgrade my NAS with something like this ASUS PCE-AC68 . Will this all improve sound of my Hifi system?

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