Audiophile ethernet cables. Most would laugh or vomit when they hear those three words. I firmly believe it’s one of the biggest bottleneck for many networked rigs out there. Naysayers would be believers if they just take two cheap ethernet cables from different brands and just give it a listen. If you aren’t a complete neophyte to high-end audio, you’ll know that quantitative measurements could only go so far. I honestly wouldn’t even know how I would go about measuring the width of soundstage or the clarity of a piece of equipment. Nothing could replace experience. Trust your ears fool. Quoting myself here:
Trust me, I was dumbfounded and skeptical when I heard ethernet cables made a difference in audio quality. It’s over a reliable TCP/IP connection where the bits are error-checked. Presumably the bits should be exactly the same on both ends. Well, apparently there’s EMI/RFI that could envelope the path of the cable and generate a sonic variance in the equipment connected on both ends.
Unlike transferring a file via FTP or downloading an app, which could take a variable amount of time, music needs to be clocked at a certain pace at all times. Most streaming occurs with the UDP/IP protocol where bits aren’t error-checked or resent. Audio streams aren’t just about the bits but the timing of the departure and arrival of those bits. Due to the physical connection of the sender/receiver and the cable design itself, jitter/RFI/EMI could emanate in the chain from the cable. The buffer that puts the stream of bits back together on the ethernet endpoints also plays a more important role. So the clocks, shielding, material, source/DAC hardware, and overall the engineering of the cable could unequivocally affect the sound quality of a cable. It does this by improving waveform fidelity, reducing impedance variations at the cable/connector, and thus lowering the overall noise.
I told myself I wouldn’t spend more than $10 on an ethernet cable. I used to just build them myself and 1,000 ft was only $40. For the love of audio, that all changed. I tried the SOtM dCBL-CAT6 and was blown away once I heard how much more musical my recordings were. For that, I paid $200 for 1.5 meters. Well…worth…it.
So if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know I’m a mad scientist when it comes to some of this stuff. Since we’re streaming from our NAS and from the internet these days, I wanted to test how much of an impact ethernet cables make in the entire chain. There were my findings:
- If you’re streaming most of your library from online services such as Tidal, Spotify, etc, use the highest quality cable you can from the modem to the router. If you use a cheap cable, your music will sound flatter than it should and lose extension both ways. It adds a few layers of greyness the sound. It becomes fuzzy and it loses energy. I was quite appalled when I heard it.
- If you’re streaming from a NAS, try your best to avoid using a wireless bridge. Each bridge will sound different and wireless signals reduce the extension of your recordings. I have a few wireless bridges here and will test them out at a later time. Not everyone, including myself, have the luxury of having walled ethernet or the modem/router in our listening rooms.
- If you’re listening to mostly local files, use your best cable at the source (Your NAS, transport, etc). If you’re bridging your sMS-200 with your Roon server, use your best cable there. I still experimenting with a few cables and setups so I’ll update this post with my findings. They’ve been interesting so far. I wouldn’t be surprised if you get better fidelity from using the highest quality cable at the end of the chain, but in my setup, it sounded like the cable was putting a band-aid on music that has already been molested.
- Everyone’s setup is different and I would suggest you try cables in various locations and see what you like. Generally, the acoustic traits of the cable closest to the source takes precedence.
I didn’t really want to listen to the SOtM dCBL-CAT7 (standard). I didn’t think it could improve on what the dCBL-CAT6 did sonically. I was already “content.” Oh the sound of my fleeting heart. Secondly, $500 for an ethernet cable is a bit insane. SOtM sent me their cable anyway and I frankly was reluctantly to try it. I wanted to dismiss it as “It’s better but not $300 better.” Well, I’m wrong yet again. This cable improved the sound from my listening rig at least fivefold. It was a big deal.
If you’re wondering what that cute little block is:
The Filter Block newly added eliminating the wide band digital noise inflowing from the router or NAS interfering with audio signals is designed to remarkably improve the tonal balance, the one of most important elements in conveying the musical sentiment, and superbly express the dynamic sound characteristics as well as the highly sophisticated and delicate music player’s own nuance.
Here are my raw impressions vs dCBL-CAT6. This was done with a Chord DAVE and Focal Utopia headphones.
- Beck – Lost Cause (96/24)
- The CAT6 is still very music but not as atmospheric.
- CAT6 is much flatter and the bass lacks weight and slam.
- The CAT7 made a huge difference in the melody and construction of this song. The intro comes to life with all its intricate sounds.
- Very holographic. The CAT6…all of it is smeared together. You really don’t know what you’re missing.
- Paramore – Decoy (44/16)
- CAT6 still musical but not as refined.
- Separation just isn’t there. Flat.
- CAT7 has a blacker background and is sharper/cleaner.
- The crunch of the guitar isn’t as apparent with the CAT6.
- Not as much energy on the CAT6.
- Vocals lack a bit more definition.
- Frankly, the variance in performance is quite high. The CAT7 provides:
- A much wider soundstage, much more air around all instruments and singers.
- Really nice slap and slam on the drums. Visceral.
- Much better separation and layering of players.
- Much more transparent. Definitely brighter.
- The CAT6 is more smooth but sounds really dull and grey in comparison. Lacks energy.
- Paco de Lucia – Mediterranean Sundance (176/24)
- Much more texture on the guitar plucks in the beginning of the track.
- More life more vibrancy.
- More involving and captivating sound with the CAT7.
- The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Take Five (96/24)
- Provides great atmospherics, clean, dark background, and amazing separation.
- Is very detailed, cymbals have a natural sound and decay.
- Sounds like how it should be, very vibrant and lively. Energetic without being harsh.
- Gives you a surreal, eerie, and vibrant presentation. You can’t help but to be overwhelmed and enveloped into the track.
- The piano, cymbals, drums, and sax are have a dimensional roundness and have their own space and dimension.
- Pitch black background.
- Drums come off flat without the slam and authority.
- Cymbals are missing a bit of shine and sound weak.
- The instruments don’t come off from black but stay on the same plane as the drums and cymbals.
- Not enough air around the players, a bit congested.
- CAT6 is more chill, still sounds good but not well extended. Interesting balance and you wouldn’t know anything is amiss if you hadn’t heard the CAT7 (shakes fist).
- Is a little bloated and wholly on the low-end.
- lots of micro details and dynamics is non-existent in the CAT6.
- Michael Jackson – Beat It (176/24)
- Amazing visceral detail and rhythm with the CAT7
- Great slam, great crunch, realism.
- Vocals are very clear and strong
- Not as dynamic, not as punchy
- Definitely not as holographic
- Still very good sounding though
- Flatter, not as textured, not as well delineated, instruments bled and smear more
- Not well extended, not as realistic sounding.
- CAT6 sounds good and without hearing the CAT7 you wouldn’t know what you’re missing.
- CAT6 soothes, CAT7 impresses
- CAT6 is smoother so gives it a more analog sound but the level of layering/separation and soundstage is unmatched.
Being so impressed with these cables, I brought them over to my friend’s place with a $60,000 speaker system. He was using generic CAT7 this entire time (He wasn’t embarrassed until after this demo). When I combined the dCBL-CAT6 from modem to router and dCBL-CAT7 to the Lumin S1 (not vice-versa due to length constraints)…his system was instantly elevated into another league. We heard significantly more textural cues, a broader soundstage (and for the first time not at the expense of losing warmth), and an amazingly lush and balanced tonality. The music opens up and we started to get much better sound depth in all the recordings. It really maximized the quality of all our tracks. Low-end slam and definition was abundant and detailed, it was just goosebumps galore.
I’ve heard this system over the course of months as new components were added and removed. Most of our listening was done via Tidal and a few files streamed from the NAS. I’m just going to say…if your collection is streamed either from your NAS or from the internet…you would be doing a huge disservice to your ears if you don’t get a higher quality ethernet cable. I’m absolutely floored.
The SOtM dCBL-CAT7 gives you a much more vibrant and textured presentation. It’s expansive, vivid, visceral, and gives each component of the song its own body which is its greatest strength. It unravels the complexity of all recordings while still maintaining surreal musicality and balance. Compared to the dCBL-CAT6, vocals are a bit thinner and lean but still natural sounding. Really splitting hairs at this point as I honestly think the cable is flawless for audio fidelity. Spatial cues are also more apparent with the CAT7. You could actually hear which venue the recording was done in. You would think the improvements gained from an ethernet cable are incremental, and perhaps they were with the dCBL-CAT6, but I assure you the CAT7 is a whole another beast.
If you couldn’t tell, I love this cable and it has enhanced the sound quality of all my files and online streams, even more than some of my more pricer gear (which includes network streamers, interconnects, and even some power components). Retrospectively, it’s a bit disheartening as I’m just starting to realize how much I was missing from my recordings this entire time.
Admittedly I’m a bit curious about the special edition which includes another filter and your choice of three different “flavors” of ethernet.
The iSO-CAT6 Special Edition that newly combined with dCBL-CAT7 cable is configured with 3 kinds of network cables offering respectively different sound characteristics with high quality, which allows the user organize own unique customized audio system selecting bright & splendid tone, moderate, mild & comfortable tone.
Should you desire to definitely improve the sound quality or experience fresh sound change of your network audio systems or acquire the genuinely advanced sound from ultra-high end audio systems, the dCBL-CAT7 cable will provide certainly clear improvement more than what you may have expected.
Supposedly the best configuration is to have 2 x dCBL-CAT7 bridged with the iSO-CAT6 filter block. For my wallet’s sake…I don’t want to hear this combination. Eh, who am I kidding, SOtM please send in the cables. In a future review I’ll try the various combinations of having the cables at various locations in the chain. Other vendors claim that having the cable as the last link is more critical but that doesn’t seem to be the case from my experimentation, especially for streaming services.
UPDATE: For a limited time, Crux Audio is offering a 10% discount on these cables! Just enter BACON10 at checkout.