How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 4: Ethernet Cables

I really wasn’t planning to write about this any more, but the What Hi-Fi? journalist who believes in magic has doubled down, explaining in detail the testing process and why he is convinced that it works.

His explanation includes things like “We run all cables overnight if not longer,” the myth that all hi-fi gear has to be “broken in,” even digital cables. And he admits that the tests aren’t blind:

We’ve experimented with blind testing over the years but it’s not part of our standard review process for any products.

And, regarding Ethernet cables, he says:

I understand what’s being said. But, I’ve recently been part of a listening session where, in my opinion, I heard differences between such cables, so I can’t really agree.

This is just sad.

Let’s assume there’s something going wrong with an Ethernet cable, and some packets get lost. It would – at its worst, with a lot of packet loss – sound like a damaged CD. You’ve probably had a few, where you get noisy clicks when playing an old, worn CD. That’s the worst that could happen.

So imagine the difference between, say, a cheap Ethernet cable, and a very expensive one. The most difference there would be is a lack of errors, which wouldn’t manifest as clicks in an Ethernet transfer, but probably very, very tiny dropouts. (The cable itself does not manage error correction, but the TCP/IP protocol used on data networks does.)

I actually can’t find any reviews of Ethernet cables on their site, but I did find some of USB cables. Here’s one for a £50 USB cable:

The gains in low-end body and punch, midrange spaciousness and detail, and high-end smoothness alone are significant.

This is simply bullshit. If there is zero packet loss because of this more expensive cable, at best the music will sound exactly the way it sounds at the source. If there is packet loss, there may be some dropout, but no loss in “spaciousness and detail,” or “high-end smoothness.”

The best way to understand this is to read this Cnet article, Why all HDMI cables are the same. Geoffrey Morrison explains – and shows with pictures – what happens if there’s something wrong with an HDMI cable. You can see the sparkles in the images with bad cables; this is what you’d get from a bad USB or Ethernet cable, and you can imagine that it would affect music. As the author says:

If you’re paying more than $5 for a 2-meter HDMI cable, you’re overpaying.

6 thoughts on “How Hi-Fi Magazines Write about Cables, Part 4: Ethernet Cables

  1. http://www.audiokarma.org/forums/showthread.php?p=6429821#post6429821

    Kirk,
    I’ve been reading your stuff for a few years now, but this is the first time I’ve commented. Thanks for the down to earth explanations of all the voodoo regarding cables and other hi fi rubbish. The link above is a post I made on a very popular audio site. I was reviewing my new DAC. I did use some audio adjectives in describing my rig i.e.:” bright” “burn in” “crisp” etc. I hope I didn’t get too carried away. I’m very happy with my setup. The simplicity of an all digital library with easy access is very appealing to me. The Flac file format that I use is simple and very portable (apps for iPhone and iPad). Through the years I’ve migrated from Mp3 files and iTunes to Flac and my current set up. I still buy/play vinyl, and I love my Thorens turntable! Thanks again for your insight,

    Jaime

  2. http://www.audiokarma.org/forums/showthread.php?p=6429821#post6429821

    Kirk,
    I’ve been reading your stuff for a few years now, but this is the first time I’ve commented. Thanks for the down to earth explanations of all the voodoo regarding cables and other hi fi rubbish. The link above is a post I made on a very popular audio site. I was reviewing my new DAC. I did use some audio adjectives in describing my rig i.e.:” bright” “burn in” “crisp” etc. I hope I didn’t get too carried away. I’m very happy with my setup. The simplicity of an all digital library with easy access is very appealing to me. The Flac file format that I use is simple and very portable (apps for iPhone and iPad). Through the years I’ve migrated from Mp3 files and iTunes to Flac and my current set up. I still buy/play vinyl, and I love my Thorens turntable! Thanks again for your insight,

    Jaime

  3. Well, the two sides will never agree. On the left those who actually hear a difference however crazy that seems; on the right those who understand the technology and say “that’s impossible”. On the left, glowing phraseology which makes most neutrals squirm, on the right rational argument and cynicism about high prices.

    But no matter how awful the prose, those on the left are not going to deny the reality to them of what they hear. The paradigm case occurred with the introduction of CD playback. All the measurements said it was far superior to vinyl. “Nonsense”, cried those on the right. “CD encoding is digital, it has error-correction (cf. HDMI today) just like computer disks which can detect and correct the tiniest loss of even one bit. You are just imagining the difference”.

    Eventually measurement techniques allowed engineers to isolate, measure and demonstrate jitter as a very real cause of what people were hearing. New designs reduced or managed the occurrence of jitter and now most if not all listeners are happy with modern CD playback.

    So, with digital music sources, hard disks, even cables, are we talking about yet undiscovered “jitter” equivalents? Last year I posted on one of your blogs, Kirk, that my Bowers & Wilkins MM1s sound better driven by Pure Music than directly by iTunes. I discovered it by accident and was surprised to hear it. You and several other respondents said you had tried Pure Music and Amarra and heard no difference.

    I know what I hear. Don’t ask me to explain it because I don’t have the background knowledge to explain. So I guess that puts me on the left. But oh no — that prose still makes me squirm!!

    • I’d like a source for the jitter thing.

      It’s important to understand that, in the early days of CDs, there were to problems that kept them from sounding good. Early DACs in CD players weren’t great, but also the mastering of early CDs was terrible. Remember, back in the day, how CDs had some letters on them, such as AAD, ADD, or DDD? (A for analog; D for digital.) These told how they were recorded, mastered and “pressed.” Naturally, the last was always D.

      As for vinyl, I like how people say the sound is “warmer” but at the same time boast the increased frequency range. It only takes a few plays of an LP to reduce its frequency range through wear in its grooves, and “warmer” just means fewer high frequencies.

      You may feel that one thing sounds better than another; there can be many explanations, such as confirmation bias, placebo effect, or simply that one is louder than another. It’s been shown that people thing a tiny difference in loudness means something sounds “better.” If Pure Music boosts the volume a bit, maybe that’s what you hear; maybe not.

  4. Well, the two sides will never agree. On the left those who actually hear a difference however crazy that seems; on the right those who understand the technology and say “that’s impossible”. On the left, glowing phraseology which makes most neutrals squirm, on the right rational argument and cynicism about high prices.

    But no matter how awful the prose, those on the left are not going to deny the reality to them of what they hear. The paradigm case occurred with the introduction of CD playback. All the measurements said it was far superior to vinyl. “Nonsense”, cried those on the right. “CD encoding is digital, it has error-correction (cf. HDMI today) just like computer disks which can detect and correct the tiniest loss of even one bit. You are just imagining the difference”.

    Eventually measurement techniques allowed engineers to isolate, measure and demonstrate jitter as a very real cause of what people were hearing. New designs reduced or managed the occurrence of jitter and now most if not all listeners are happy with modern CD playback.

    So, with digital music sources, hard disks, even cables, are we talking about yet undiscovered “jitter” equivalents? Last year I posted on one of your blogs, Kirk, that my Bowers & Wilkins MM1s sound better driven by Pure Music than directly by iTunes. I discovered it by accident and was surprised to hear it. You and several other respondents said you had tried Pure Music and Amarra and heard no difference.

    I know what I hear. Don’t ask me to explain it because I don’t have the background knowledge to explain. So I guess that puts me on the left. But oh no — that prose still makes me squirm!!

    • I’d like a source for the jitter thing.

      It’s important to understand that, in the early days of CDs, there were to problems that kept them from sounding good. Early DACs in CD players weren’t great, but also the mastering of early CDs was terrible. Remember, back in the day, how CDs had some letters on them, such as AAD, ADD, or DDD? (A for analog; D for digital.) These told how they were recorded, mastered and “pressed.” Naturally, the last was always D.

      As for vinyl, I like how people say the sound is “warmer” but at the same time boast the increased frequency range. It only takes a few plays of an LP to reduce its frequency range through wear in its grooves, and “warmer” just means fewer high frequencies.

      You may feel that one thing sounds better than another; there can be many explanations, such as confirmation bias, placebo effect, or simply that one is louder than another. It’s been shown that people thing a tiny difference in loudness means something sounds “better.” If Pure Music boosts the volume a bit, maybe that’s what you hear; maybe not.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.