How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 14: Ethernet Cables

In the never-ending saga of ridiculous reviews of high-end audio equipment, I look at a recent review of audiophile Ethernet cables, running $339 and $1,195 for 1.5m. I was actually going to hold off on this one, since it seems so ridiculous, but several readers wrote me to point out this review.

The reviewer of this AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet Cable and Diamond Ethernet Cable seems almost ashamed by his review. He starts by saying:

“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.

That’s a good strategy in this type of writing. Try and show that you’re a skeptic too, so you don’t face too much ridicule.

“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.”

Sick as a good description. Perhaps the reviewer should have instantly stopped when he saw the price of the most expensive cable and laughed at Mr Silbermann.“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.

No, it’s not. It’s anyone’s guess as to why you think it makes a difference in sound. I think the silver just adds an additional reality distortion field to the cable.

“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”.”

That’s the key to these things: come up with a fancy term to describe what they do. Because Ethernet cables, that transmit bits, and nothing but bits, need “noise-dissipation systems.” All those bits crashing into each other; they make noise.

“The other difference between these cables is their connectors which is plainly visible in their appearance. More money buys you beefier, locking RJ45 ends.

Hell yeah!

According to the manufacturer, AudioQuest:

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.”

Right. This is where I draw the line. There are no “different frequencies” in Ethernet cables. This is a digital cable that transmits 1s and 0s, bits, nothing else. The cable doesn’t know that this is “multi-octave audio” (is there any other kind?), and bits don’t distort.

An audio journalist should examine such statements and highlight them if they are ridiculous.

AudioQuest also says:

“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.”

It makes the 1s stand out more from the 0s?

So, the reviewer describes his methodology:

“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.”

That sounds like a pretty well-designed blind test, right? And the results?

“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.”

Uh-huh… And now he waxes poetic:

” 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.

Yes, the sound “blossoms.” And anyone can hear it, even if you don’t have a lab coat:

“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.”

But the reviewer expresses some remorse.

“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.”

Yet…

“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.”

Time. Okay.

‘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.”

This conclusion is a good example of weasel-words in audio equipment reviews. The reviewer says it sounds better, but then tosses in the idea that, well, maybe, actually, it just makes him think it sounds better. At $1200 for a cable. If I had that much money to spend, I’d buy some good wine.

I actually wonder if this review isn’t just link-bait. It’s gotten a lot of coverage, and hundreds of comments. Perhaps it’s just on this specific site to attract attention. If so, it’s succeeded. But it’s also shown that the site’s logo, “Computer audio for everyone” needs a makeover.

24 thoughts on “How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 14: Ethernet Cables

  1. One simple way to check any differences between cables is to record (the same way for all cables tested) the audio output and look at the waveform. Is there any difference?
    Bit rates/Depth/Bits would need more electronic testers.

  2. One simple way to check any differences between cables is to record (the same way for all cables tested) the audio output and look at the waveform. Is there any difference?
    Bit rates/Depth/Bits would need more electronic testers.

  3. Spectacular psycho-babble! Thank you very much for providing the quotes and the link. I would never have been aware of this, without your posting. One amazing element that you didn’t quote, is the assertion that having one premium audio ethernet cable, in line with one standard ethernet cable, also helps. The horrible degradation of the first ethernet cable can somehow be improved by the second. But it also helps if you connect them in the other order. Such is the transcendent power of quality cables.

    In the linked article, the author provides no description of how the sound is produced (amp and speakers), only of his home network, from his NAS to his MacBook Pro. He does mention that both Internet audio and NAS-stored audio are improved by the premium cables. In the subsequent 18-month online discussion, he refuses the requests to provide a complete description of his audio setup. Streamed Internet audio can somehow have enough integrity and quality to be worth listening to, then two ethernet cables in the reviewer’s house leading to his MacBook Pro make a critical difference in the sound quality, then the rest of the audio chain is not important enough to even mention.

    My favorite comment is the first one, which may be satire:

    “I congratulate you on the review and I am happy to see that personal integrity and competence of an audio reviewer shone brightly and unambigously through once again. “

  4. Spectacular psycho-babble! Thank you very much for providing the quotes and the link. I would never have been aware of this, without your posting. One amazing element that you didn’t quote, is the assertion that having one premium audio ethernet cable, in line with one standard ethernet cable, also helps. The horrible degradation of the first ethernet cable can somehow be improved by the second. But it also helps if you connect them in the other order. Such is the transcendent power of quality cables.

    In the linked article, the author provides no description of how the sound is produced (amp and speakers), only of his home network, from his NAS to his MacBook Pro. He does mention that both Internet audio and NAS-stored audio are improved by the premium cables. In the subsequent 18-month online discussion, he refuses the requests to provide a complete description of his audio setup. Streamed Internet audio can somehow have enough integrity and quality to be worth listening to, then two ethernet cables in the reviewer’s house leading to his MacBook Pro make a critical difference in the sound quality, then the rest of the audio chain is not important enough to even mention.

    My favorite comment is the first one, which may be satire:

    “I congratulate you on the review and I am happy to see that personal integrity and competence of an audio reviewer shone brightly and unambigously through once again. “

  5. And Swami Audananda says wearing a pyramid on your head helps to align the cosmic Om with the digital frequency emission of your speakers. Of course this is only true for those who comb their hair in a counter-clockwise manner. I know it’s true because I read it somewhere.

  6. And Swami Audananda says wearing a pyramid on your head helps to align the cosmic Om with the digital frequency emission of your speakers. Of course this is only true for those who comb their hair in a counter-clockwise manner. I know it’s true because I read it somewhere.

  7. 1s and 0s do not travel down the cable. read the AES papers. Pulses do. they are corrupted all the time. you are out of your league and are doing a disservice

  8. 1s and 0s do not travel down the cable. read the AES papers. Pulses do. they are corrupted all the time. you are out of your league and are doing a disservice

  9. If any of you guys were in my house in front of my stereo i world seriously screw with your world view. Words can be worth something if there is any substance behind them, but this just a person quoting someone elses article and saying no without explaining why. Atleast The reviewer gives explinations to why. Do people go around saying my ears are not reliable i need someone to tell me in writing? Use your own ears, If you cannot hear any difference then ave your money.

  10. If any of you guys were in my house in front of my stereo i world seriously screw with your world view. Words can be worth something if there is any substance behind them, but this just a person quoting someone elses article and saying no without explaining why. Atleast The reviewer gives explinations to why. Do people go around saying my ears are not reliable i need someone to tell me in writing? Use your own ears, If you cannot hear any difference then ave your money.

  11. > and bits don’t distort.

    …and that’s where you go wrong.

    Quite a while ago, there was another similar test, with HIFI SATA cables. I sent an email proposing some follow-up tests:
    ———-
    the part where you say “to confirm or deny the suspicion that digital bitstream coming from hard disks are not all equal.”

    That is true – the data can indeed change somewhere in-between. Transfer speeds don’t matter, as music players pre-load data to memory buffer (so essentially, no matter which device it’s “played” from, it’s always played from ram)

    But the question remains, what if the data changes somehow, and how does that sound?

    May I propose a follow-up test regarding that?

    You probably have a set of test audio files you used. Take a copies of them, and use a hex editor (a program, that can change the bits contained within a file) to change a few bits in the middle, and see how that sounds.

    That should:
    1)remove any doubt whether or not the data has changed (it has), and
    2)Clearly demonstrate, how music file with changed data sounds, so you know what to look for, when doing further listening tests.
    ———-

    For some reason, such follow-up tests were never done. I wonder why?

  12. > and bits don’t distort.

    …and that’s where you go wrong.

    Quite a while ago, there was another similar test, with HIFI SATA cables. I sent an email proposing some follow-up tests:
    ———-
    the part where you say “to confirm or deny the suspicion that digital bitstream coming from hard disks are not all equal.”

    That is true – the data can indeed change somewhere in-between. Transfer speeds don’t matter, as music players pre-load data to memory buffer (so essentially, no matter which device it’s “played” from, it’s always played from ram)

    But the question remains, what if the data changes somehow, and how does that sound?

    May I propose a follow-up test regarding that?

    You probably have a set of test audio files you used. Take a copies of them, and use a hex editor (a program, that can change the bits contained within a file) to change a few bits in the middle, and see how that sounds.

    That should:
    1)remove any doubt whether or not the data has changed (it has), and
    2)Clearly demonstrate, how music file with changed data sounds, so you know what to look for, when doing further listening tests.
    ———-

    For some reason, such follow-up tests were never done. I wonder why?

  13. These tests were never done because really, it’s simply a set of 0 an 1. Ethernet protocol’s been around a while, and retransmission is used and handled by higher-layer protocol, typically TCP, and that will happen WHEN needed and WHEN bits have been lost on the way. Receiving device will detect CRC error and ask for a retransmission… so while the cable, clocked at 1.25 Ghz (i might be wrong here) for a 1Gbps connection, data travels both ways and at the same speed, errors are very rare and if they were not so rare, regular data transfer (which is critical.. imagine if banks, who use the same cables all over the place, had just inverted a 1 and a 0 on your last bank payment… that would not be cool…) are critical.

    Anyways, I though it was hilarious to read such crap on digital data transmission. Makes me wonder where these folks went to school (if not great marketing schools but how they sleep at night is another question).

    • little_: it’s not actually 1.25 Gbaud. 1000BASE-T uses a fairly complicated encoding onto 5-level 125 Mbaud on all four twisted pairs (simultaneous transmit and receive on each pair). For comparison, 100BASE-TX uses 3-level 125 Mbaud on a single twisted pair per direction.

      Other than that you’re correct, any bit errors result in a packet being dropped and (typically) retransmitted by a higher-layer protocol such as TCP. You can query your network card for statistics on how often it has dropped a corrupted packet (typically never).

      There is absolutely no mechanism by which the quality of a network cable can affect the quality of audio data being transported over it.

  14. These tests were never done because really, it’s simply a set of 0 an 1. Ethernet protocol’s been around a while, and retransmission is used and handled by higher-layer protocol, typically TCP, and that will happen WHEN needed and WHEN bits have been lost on the way. Receiving device will detect CRC error and ask for a retransmission… so while the cable, clocked at 1.25 Ghz (i might be wrong here) for a 1Gbps connection, data travels both ways and at the same speed, errors are very rare and if they were not so rare, regular data transfer (which is critical.. imagine if banks, who use the same cables all over the place, had just inverted a 1 and a 0 on your last bank payment… that would not be cool…) are critical.

    Anyways, I though it was hilarious to read such crap on digital data transmission. Makes me wonder where these folks went to school (if not great marketing schools but how they sleep at night is another question).

    • little_: it’s not actually 1.25 Gbaud. 1000BASE-T uses a fairly complicated encoding onto 5-level 125 Mbaud on all four twisted pairs (simultaneous transmit and receive on each pair). For comparison, 100BASE-TX uses 3-level 125 Mbaud on a single twisted pair per direction.

      Other than that you’re correct, any bit errors result in a packet being dropped and (typically) retransmitted by a higher-layer protocol such as TCP. You can query your network card for statistics on how often it has dropped a corrupted packet (typically never).

      There is absolutely no mechanism by which the quality of a network cable can affect the quality of audio data being transported over it.

  15. I don’t like when people philosophize instead of listening. I am not a physicist, but an architect and amateur musician and I trust my senses. I just concluded my humble, non scientific test of three Ethernet cables using my Ayon NW-T network player, Ayon Stratos DAC and Ayon power amplifiers – all tubes system – and my large Soltanus Virtuoso electrostatic speakers.

    I can describe precisely the difference between each of these cables with appropriate classical or jazz music from CDs to high res files Usually high res file will reveal more, but not necessarily. On purpose, I am not mentioning the manufacturers, but these cables are from 50 to 1500 Euros per meter and as a rule the more expensive ones sound better – better transients, better balance and definition, better basses and so on.

    I don’t like the reviewer’s enthusiasm, but equally dislike when they negate something just because of prejudice or inexperienced ears. Please make the effort, listen to the cables and you will come to a conclusion and save yourself of inadequate judgement.

    • Was it a blind test you did? Or did you know what you were listening to when you compared the cables?

  16. I don’t like when people philosophize instead of listening. I am not a physicist, but an architect and amateur musician and I trust my senses. I just concluded my humble, non scientific test of three Ethernet cables using my Ayon NW-T network player, Ayon Stratos DAC and Ayon power amplifiers – all tubes system – and my large Soltanus Virtuoso electrostatic speakers.

    I can describe precisely the difference between each of these cables with appropriate classical or jazz music from CDs to high res files Usually high res file will reveal more, but not necessarily. On purpose, I am not mentioning the manufacturers, but these cables are from 50 to 1500 Euros per meter and as a rule the more expensive ones sound better – better transients, better balance and definition, better basses and so on.

    I don’t like the reviewer’s enthusiasm, but equally dislike when they negate something just because of prejudice or inexperienced ears. Please make the effort, listen to the cables and you will come to a conclusion and save yourself of inadequate judgement.

    • Was it a blind test you did? Or did you know what you were listening to when you compared the cables?

  17. I’m as skeptical as anyone when it comes to cables, etc. But I was surprised at the unmistakable difference between the Audioquest Diamond Ethernet and my run of the mill Cat 7’s. Resolution and clarity are greater with the AQ’s. The cat 7’s sound a little wooly by comparison.

    Now, I’m not even sure I like the AQ’s better as they add a brightness to the sound which I’m not sure I prefer. But there is a big difference.

    It’s entertaining to make fun of audiophilia, cables, etc, but if you’ve haven’t actually listened to what you’re making fun of…. You Have NO Credibility!

  18. I’m as skeptical as anyone when it comes to cables, etc. But I was surprised at the unmistakable difference between the Audioquest Diamond Ethernet and my run of the mill Cat 7’s. Resolution and clarity are greater with the AQ’s. The cat 7’s sound a little wooly by comparison.

    Now, I’m not even sure I like the AQ’s better as they add a brightness to the sound which I’m not sure I prefer. But there is a big difference.

    It’s entertaining to make fun of audiophilia, cables, etc, but if you’ve haven’t actually listened to what you’re making fun of…. You Have NO Credibility!

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