Valley of "audiophile" ethernet cables

I have never read more incorrect or misleading information about how digital audio or computer networking works than the things I’ve read over the years at Computer Audiophile. I quit reading there years ago, but occasionally get pulled back in when someone posts a link. Afterwards, after shaking my head, I repeat 10 times: “Never click on a computeraudiophile link”. :disappointed_relieved:

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I’ll probably take a lot of flak by saying it, but this is in no small part a generational problem: Audiophiles in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s that are completely mystified by computers, can’t accept that they really are mostly a matter of plug-and-play, and desperately trying to apply their analog tinkering habits of decades ago to equipment where it’s no longer relevant.

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Great theory to prove/disprove by a survey of forum members. I’ll try to think of an appropriate way to phrase the question and see if there are enough responses to make any judgements. Objective, you know, not subjective.:sunglasses:

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I understand your point and tend to agree with the premise. There probably is some age correlation on this. On the other hand, I’m a (recovering) audiophile in my 60s, but happen to be pretty computer/network savvy. And I learned many years ago to not try to apply analog concepts to digital music. It may be because I work in a scientific field and I’ve been forced to keep up with (and use) technology.

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I think the other side of the coin is the younger crowd that wants the next best “insert marketing hype” thing that looks cool, NOW, but don’t really understand the physics and reality behind how it works. Gotta have the newest phone, sunglasses, fidget spinner, etc… :slight_smile:

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@Adam_Woodbridge @AE67 @garym and others:

Before I start, I need to say that while I understand what the opposing argument is, I am not endorsing the impact of these comments on sound quality.

The claim here is not that the digital bits on the cable (via the Ethernet frames -> IP frames -> TCP packets) are being altered. The claim, especially in regards to ground loops, is that the ethernet cable is connecting the ground of power going into the switch and the ground of the power going into the device. Thus, you have a system that has “2 grounds”. It is then further claimed that these ground loops, using the hardware given, produce a notable hum or degradation of quality in the D->A conversion, or even later in the chain in analog.

If someone claimed that the bits were being altered and this was impacting audio streams over digitally reliable protocols (in a way other than skips or pops), I would delete that post/topic, because that would be entirely bullshit.

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The ethernet cable will definitely contribute to having a sound if it’s passing a groundloop and leakage current loop in the system, through it’s shield (not talking about the transformer isolation at each end here, but the shield). It will be system (and hearing) dependent as to whether the effect is big or small or can’t be heard at all, but I do think groundloops and leakage current loops can be a real problem, not something of fiction.

I could be wrong (please do correct me if so) but the Cat 7 spec specifies the shielding to be grounded. If that’s the case I would avoid any Cat 7 cable for audio unless the groundloop/leakage current loop is broken further downstream of course.

As suggested earlier, a great and cheap ethernet cable with a floating shield design is the Blue Jeans Cable Cat 6a (based on the Belden 10GX series). The shield is not connected to the connectors (not grounded) at each end, so groundloops and leakage current loops are broken.

An ethernet cable will also ‘have a sound’ if it’s not even properly constructed to a specification (dropped bits). Blue Jeans Cable also provide a test certificate with each ethernet cable they ship, so you will know that each individual cable is built and tested to the spec.

My recommendation to anyone is stick with Blue Jeans Cable Cat 6 (unshielded) or Cat 6a (floating shield) and be done with it for the reasons above: they’re built and individually tested to a standard and they will break groundloops and leakage current loops. Just my opinion but if an ethernet cable ticks these boxes, then they shouldn’t have a sound (parasitic capacitance is another thing for another day lol).

I don’t think it’s particularly helpful or nice to insult audiophiles in their 60’s or above either. Let’s try not to become the Computer Audiophile forum.

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That is not at all what I am implying… When a digital audio stream is altered it can happen a few ways:

  1. bits are changed and/or lost and caught by error correction techniques causing a retransmit
  2. bits are changed and/or lost and not caught by error correction techniques so they are allowed to be played

In the case of #1, if the errors are caught, a retransmit can be requested and if the retransmitted data arrives fast enough that the buffer is not emptied, then the resultant stream is still perfect with no error.

Checksums and sequences numbers can prevent #2 easily, but #1’s retransmits can still take too long to arrive. This can result in a buffer emptying. If the buffer is emptied, you will hear a loop of the buffer or zeros or something else bogus. The sound wave has been damaged; the DAC will not find a continuous audio wave, and will output very unexpected results.

This usually can be heard as a large click or pop, or as silence. A non-networked example of this that we have all heard is a CD that skips. That just means it couldn’t read the data off the CD (and it can verify that the data is valid using the same techniques listed above) before the buffer ran out. There is no “quality loss” when a CD skips… it’s just an “obvious error”. It’s not like the sound got muddy or lost fidelity in some way, it just went to shit.

The worst of the worst ethernet cable would result in the bits being damaged/lost – a good protocol can catch #2, so #1 is the case to worry about. That case would result in retransmits, which if the cable was bad enough, wouldnt arrive in time in a verifiable manner, meaning you would hear “obvious errors”, and not fidelity loss.

The reality of these retransmits is that they happen fast and buffers are relatively long, so even if your network is shit, things probably just work fine. The digital stream can not be altered along the way. That’s the point of making it digital.

Note that ALL of the above is purely in the digital part of this signal path, and claims about a bad cable, noise, ground loops can not affect it, because digital is built on mathematics, and not the realities of electricity. Either it arrives there good and verifiable, or it does not. This binary good or bad nature of a “reliable digital stream” is what drives the “bits are bits” guys nuts when audio guys talk about digital streams being affected by anything.

The claims about noise, ground loops, or whatever else is purely in how that digital stream is interpreted into analog, which is not a digital process. That stuff can not be verified – thus all the trouble. This is what drives the audio guys nuts when the “bits are bits” guys tell them they are old and not versed in information theory.

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That’s the best explanation I’ve heard. Preach on Dany, preach on! Educate us all!

Danny

There you go again with all this techo jargon, can’t you keep it simple for us old audiophiles :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

PS Great explanation :thumbsup:

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Yeah, I decided I was being a ‘Philadelphia lawyer’ and tried to delete my post before you had to hassle a reply, but too late.

Good news, bad news.

Good news - a clear and lucid explanation. Thanks.
Bad news - it won’t make a difference to those not already in the choir.

Peace.

Lol the passion on this topic is fantastic and never ceases to amaze, as long as it’s kept cordial and respectful (like it mostly has been).

Where’s Mike when you need him! :wink:

Quite simply it is your money…if you spend it on a $500 cable to replace a $5 cable and you, for whatever reasons, think it sounds better/different and you can justify that cost benefit then go for it.

I have personally done plenty of ABX tests and for the life of me I personally have never heard any difference with digital cables…and seldom any different from analogue ones baring some minute (perhaps) changes due to LRC properties, but nothing that would make spend a significant difference on a cable. Power cables included.

You milage may vary. Each to their own and only your ears/brain can tell you truthfully what you hear is what you like. Your opinion is yours alone and will always be right.

That said I would not spend much on a pair of interconnects I was going to make myself…but a decent set of RCA connectors for a cable will be around $30-40 (Neutric Profi as an example) and some decent coax cable maybe another $10/M - so for around $40-50 one should be good to go DIY or worst case maybe double for a commercial stereo RCA-RCA cable will be fine. Good quality does not imply ridiculously expensive for a given solution.

However if your audio gear is sensitive to picking up noise (EMI/RFI) then thats bad design.

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Thank you @danny I’m going to print this out and stick it to my forehead whenever I enter a hi-fi shop that stocks fancy “audiophile” cables. Hopefully it will cover up the word “Sucker” that appears there occasionally. :grin:

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Danny you should post that in all Ethernet / music forums. That along with a link to speaks to OSI model layers 1 and 2. Since I have work related education in this area I am just that educated.

But when it comes to analog interconnects and speaker cables I have no formal education. Whether ignorance on my part or reality, I can enjoy the subtle differences I hear when using JPS or BJC. Haha

Truth is when you invest in a nice 2 channel you don’t want to connect it with something looking like lamp cord, even though it may sound fine. (Analogies will not be provided). As some mentioned above if you think it sounds better, then it does. No reason for us to pound our heads in the wall arguing (discussing).

I’ve always loved the coathanger test/anecdote:

https://www.google.nl/amp/gizmodo.com/363154/audiophile-deathmatch-monster-cables-vs-a-coat-hanger/amp

For any John Swenson fans (microRendu, ultraRendu, LPS-1, Uptone Regen, Iso Regen) he posted some interesting observations today:

and

I replaced the ethernet going into my DAC with fiber converters (and left the final ethernet cable very short, 1 foot BJC Cat6) a couple months ago and never looked back. He gives some reasons for possible benefits in those posts.

It’s interesting stuff.

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If you have multiple endpoints, check this out. Cheaper in the long run.

Damn, just got re-involved in the whole audiophile thing. It’s a sickness.:sunglasses:

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It reminds me of someone (Edit: not John Swenson) who makes very expensive LPS said that all switching power supplies (especially including the one for NAS) on the whole network need to be replaced by LPS. May be there is some truth in it?

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I was thinking along the same general lines, but if you read that whole linked thread, Swenson says:

So what I get from that is that he’s not promoting his own power supplies per se. Having read a lot of John’s posts on CA, I don’t get the impression he’s all that commercially minded.

Full disclosure: I’m a happy Uptone customer (JS-2).

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