Categories: Networking

SOtM iSO-CAT6 Special Edition: The Flavors of Audiophile Ethernet

Comparisons

Here are my overarching impressions of each cable (over the course of a few months) and how they sounded on my systems. I’ve included a few generics that have a similar composition (shielding, conductors, etc) to audiophile ethernet cables:

Wireworld Starlight CAT8

  • Pros
    • Pinpoint accurate as far as imaging
    • Quiet background
    • Wide soundstage
    • Detailed
  • Cons
    • A bit bright, sibilant, and peaky
    • Light on bass
    • Tone and timbre is inaccurate
    • Might remove music along with the noise to achieve the quieter background

Synergistic Research Active SE CAT6 (silver and black tuning bullets)

  • Pros
    • Pitch black background (black)
    • Perhaps the largest soundscape of any of the cables here. Super spacious sounding. (silver)
    • Decent timbre (silver)
    • Forward midrange (both)
    • Refinement, control, and tightness (black)
  • Cons
    • Soundstage sounds artificially stretched at the cost of density. Bloomy. (silver)
    • A tad bright and grainy (black).
    • A more free-spirited and looser presentation. Not as well controlled as the other cables. (both)
    • Flatter and lower resolution.

Purist Audio Design CAT7

  • Pros
    • Very few complaints about this cable. It’s silky smooth and musical.
    • Clean sound, very nice blacks, great dynamics, separation, and pinpoint imaging.
    • Tight low-end response
  • Cons
    • Maybe too laid-back and calm for some listeners. Doesn’t have that sparkle.

SOtM dCBL-CAT6

  • Pros
    • The most neutral and balanced sounding cable of the bunch.
    • Tight low-end
    • Fluid, open, and transparent
    • Fantastic clarity and resolution
    • Great focus and control
  • Cons
    • Lacks meat on the bones. Comes off a bit lean.
    • Thinner textures

SOtM dCBL-CAT7

  • Pros
    • This cable conveys the most realism in music via its layering capabilities, speed, transparency, and extended highs. Just amazing spatial resolution.
    • Huge and natural sounding soundstage
    • Rich atmosphere akin to a live performance
    • Well textured and musical
    • Accurate timbre and tone
  • Cons
    • Slightly recessed mids
    • Lean with a lack of midrange density
    • Inflexible cable so difficult to physically chain in some systems

SOtM SE (Black)

  • Pros
    • Aside from the dCBL-CAT7, all other cables in this lineup sound flat in comparison to this one.
    • Great musicality and clarity.
    • Sweet and rich midrange
    • Accurate tone and natural timbre
    • Fantastic low-end textures
    • Proper mass and weight across the board
    • Probably my second favorite cable after the dCBL-CAT7.
  • Cons
    • Not a lot of air
    • Not as detailed
    • Some grain and roughness in the mids

SOtM SE (Gray)

  • Pros
    • A very articulate, clean, coherent, and resolving cable.
    • Delicate, smooth, and well controlled. A bit of a cross between the black and dark gray SE cables.
    • In a word: Polite.
  • Cons
    • Lack of midrange density
    • Very flat sounding versus the other cables
    • Sonic smearing with fast transients

SOtM SE (Dark Gray)

  • Pros
    • High resolution
    • High treble energy without being abrasive
    • Roundness in the midrange
  • Cons
    • Thin and flat
    • Poor delineation
    • Constantly elevated sheen across the entire spectrum

SOtM iSO-CAT6 Generic

  • Pros
    • Decent timbre and tone
  • Cons
    • Fuzzy and flat.
    • Lacks dimensional roundness.
    • Not very dynamic or engaging.
    • Lacks coherence and the imaging is a bit confusing.
    • A little bloated and unfocused. Lacks sharpness and delineation.

Postta CAT7

  • Pros
    • Great coherence, separation, and clarity.
    • Quiet background
    • Nice treble sparkle and a spacious sound.
    • Dynamic and very resolving of micro-details.
  • Cons
    • Sibilant at times
    • Lean with an overall heightened tone
    • A bit of smearing in the upper-mids to lower-highs.
    • Even the generic SOtM SE cable sounds more tonally correct, just lacks clarity. Vocals don’t sound right.

Certicable CAT8

  • Pros
    • Good physical build quality.
  • Cons
    • Although one of a sturdier build quality, this cable is problematic for audio. Tone and timbre are way off, thin mids, troubles in the treble.
    • A very lean sound without many benefits. Vocals are all flat. Semi-spacious sounding.
    • There’s this electronic haze around the mids and treble.

AQVOX Excel High-End CAT7

  • Pros
    • I could see this as a polarizing cable. It’s basically a very rich and borderline dark cable. Perhaps great for tuning with the iSO-CAT6 but might be a bit much on its own.
    • The sweetest and densest midrange of the bunch. It could be quite addictive at times.
  • Cons
    • Lacks reverb definition, shine, clarity
    • Transients are difficult to delineate. Strings, plucks, etc are just smeared.
    • Chocolate-dipped sound

Supra CAT8

  • Pros
    • Very smooth and melodic.
    • Fantastic layering, decent tone and great timbre. Very balanced.
    • Decent amount of midrange presence and density.
    • Never aggressive sounding, nice textures, just wish it had a bit more warmth.
  • Cons
    • Lack of resolution, air, and clarity
    • May be too smooth for some. Doesn’t have that sometimes melodic grittiness.
    • Could use a bit more meat on the mids.
    • Lacks extended treble for a more vivid sound

Vention CAT7

  • Pros
    • Decent amount of detail
  • Cons
    • Grain in the mids
    • Piano notes don’t have the right mass
    • Flat and lacks dynamics
    • Just a very generic sound (isn’t great but isn’t horrible).

I’ve consolidated my impressions into this chart. I plan to reference it in the future for tuning purposes.

Brand Model Price Sonic Seasoning
Wireworld Starlight CAT8 $210 Pinpoint Image Accuracy & Detailed
Synergistic Research Active SE CAT6 $550 Soundstage & Forward midrange
Purist Audio Design CAT7 $350 Micro-details & Smoothness
SOtM dCBL-CAT6 $170 Detailed & Neutral
SOtM dCBL-CAT7 $500 Realism & Resolution
SOtM SE (black) $150 Midrange Density & Musicality
SOtM SE (gray) $150 (?) Detailed & Control
SOtM SE (dark gray) $150 (?) Resolution & Brightness
Postta CAT7 $5.99 Elevated Tone
Certicable CAT8 $30 Avoid this cable
AQVOX Excel High-End CAT7 $227 Heavy Richness & Warmth
Supra CAT8 $44 Silky Smooth
Vention CAT7 $11 Avoid this cable


Most of the generics didn’t make the cut so it’s good to know audiophile ethernet cables are doing something a little different. If you’d like to know the comparison between each cable, I’ve placed them in the “Raw Notes” section at the end of the post (they’re nearly as long as the review itself).


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Jay Luong

Mr. Audio Bacon himself. An open-minded electrical engineer and software developer by trade. I have an obsession with the enjoyment of all things media - specifically in the realm of music and film. So much heart and soul (and money) go into the creation of this artistry. My aim is to find out which products get me closer to what the musicians and directors intended.

View Comments

  • Hey there Jay,

    Is this just a galvanic isolator for the ethernet connection?
    Or does it also combat current peaks on the single signal lines as well?

    Cheers

    • I am asking this because most of the ethernet isolators I know of can not combat transient current peaks of the single signal wires...
      Cheers

      • From my understanding, it only provides galvanic isolation and does not combat transient current peaks. I'll verify with SOtM.

  • I did some testing with a Cary Audio DMS-500, ASRock N315M based system with Intel 2 port GBe Server PCIe, Cisco SG 200-8 L3 Managed Switch, 3 foot Nordost Heimdall 2 ($700) CAT8, WireWorld Starlight 12 foot CAT8 ($350) and a 315 foot HyperTek CAT5e that I terminated off the spool.

    Captured all this into an RME FireFace UFX.

    Made the tracks available for download, anonymized, and no one could tell when the 315 Generic cable was in use or the $233 foot cable.

    For those that didn't even accept that as proof, I've offered to come onsite for bias controlled evaluation in their own setup, room, material. Using the SG 200-8 in LAG would allow for swapping out cable in real time.

    I would bring $2000 if you could hit 18 / 20 random change. If you can't you pay my travel expenses.

    • Are you suggesting there are no sonic differences between all ethernet cables or only between the ones you've evaluated? If you're saying all and you're willing to bet $2k on it...you're obviously a neophyte who hasn't had much experience.

      Care to post the download links for the tracks?

    • You used weak methodology with your weak-ass ADC and your low-res system and even lower-res ears. Digital is just 1s and 0s...yeah, right.

      • Offer still stands. Lets see your ears and high res system vs my weak ass adc and low-res system.

        I have $2000 here for you if you pay my travel expenses and can't hit 18 or 20 using your system from the USB cable back and using your own tracks.

        Let me know if you need any other information about the setup or method.

      • Actually digital is just 1s and 0s. Also they talk about cat 8... thats still being discussed as a standard. Its not available. And its about throughput. Not quality of signal. Too much noise introduced in cat xyz cable equals lost packets not harsher sound.

        Cat 7 usually has better shielding, and thicker individual conductors. More resistant to external interference and higher theoretical speeds.

  • That is you get $2000 and I pay air fare if you hit 18/20. If you don't you just pay my air fare. Funds to be escrow.

    • Mark, I'm going to save you the embarrassment (and money). Having done the networking for a few data centers and hospitals and crimping my own cables for over 15 years, I understand your perspective on adhering to spec. FWIW, I have a degree in electrical engineering and I know it technically shouldn't make a difference. I've also discredited these silly audiophiles over the years. However, like your future self, I realized my assessments were perfunctory.

      All these music streaming services (Tidal, Spotify, etc) use UDP, not RUDP/TCP so packets might not arrive in a sequential manner or at all. Unlike other applications, music needs to arrive in the proper order and the proper timing. Due to inconsistent clocks and RFI/EMI, the noise will have an effect on the signal and thus the bits that arrive at the DAC for processing. The human ear is hypersensitive to this noise. Consequently, different cable designs will have various levels of impact on the resultant sound.

      The day you realize you've been wrong and take down all your Youtube videos, it'll be a humbling experience. At that point, you hopefully wouldn't dismiss the idea of vibration isolation :)

      • Ok. So fundamentally you incorrect on a few things:

        1. Most streaming services use TCP and Not UDP. Any server that is done in the web browser is over HTTP and that is a TCP protocol through and through.

        2. Roon just recently switched over to TCP BTW.

        3. Ethernet networks are Non-Realtime systems cross many differing clock domain boundaries. These differing clock domains are handled by buffering.

        4. When you start playback on a system and remove the cable and the music still plays are you maintaining that timing variance is still in the static buffer?

        I'll make a 2nd offer:

        My $4000 to anyone $1000 that they can't go through and hit 18 out of 20 flips of the coin.

        If you can't hit it then pay my travel expenses and $1000. If you can I pay my travel expenses and give you $4000 I'll post a public Youtube video admitting I was wrong. Money held in escrow.

        I'm trying to figure out what person is so steadfast in their ears that they wouldn't take my $2000/$4000?

        • There's nothing worse than a deaf troll. Crawl back in your hole already. You're not worth anyone's time.

          • I worked at T.I. as an applications engineer designing phy power supply topologies.

            Something you need to understand is that for runs under 40 meters, with a cable that has adherence to TIA/ISO the PHY is going to be running in it's lowest power state. S.I. isn't substantially altered from one cable to another. Out of spec cables will affect this but we still manage to keep the Eye together.

            Once a cable has passed spec for noise immunity, inter-pair crosstalk, skew, NeXT. There isn't much else to do.

            On well built systems with buffer (my Auralic had something like 7 seconds at 16/44.1) the sound you are hearing was delivered ages ago from the perspective of the OS. Further more different parts of the NIC are going to be turned off and on as needed.

            Given all the other sub systems on the same PCB that a PHY is implemented on there are much more demands made by those other systems. CPU/APU, South Bridge, RAM etc...

  • Boy you must be lonesome... I get it... Life sucks sometimes... But there are places more appropriate to search for help.

    All the best, Gonna listen to stiff upper lip, now ;)

  • Do you use an audiophile switch with filters? I have a Waversa hub. It will make a huge difference.

  • I must chime in...

    1) That's one for mythbusters, clearly.
    2) It would be good to post the full setup here. If the content source (eg, a nas) is on the same LAN as the receiver, there should be 0 packet loss, or so few that it is not perceptible, assuming you use half-decent switches. Any decent $5 ethernet cable will be sufficient here. And have a look at
    http://www.siemon.com/us/white_papers/97-10-02-presentation.asp
    for example. In a small LAN, you really have to start doing a lot of things wrongly to start having packet loss/alteration (a cable cannot retime packets by the way, no, it cannot change their order of arrival... come on).
    3) I do assume we are not talking about content from internet here, otherwise one needs to explain me how optimizing 5 meters in a (tens of) thousands of kilometers chain that includes using meters and (kilo)meters of cheap cat 6 cable can make an audibly perceptible difference.
    4) There is a point to be made for the readers, though: with ultra-cheap cables and switches, you may have a faulty system that drops lots of data. You don't usually see that with even $5 cables and $50 switches, but I have had faulty (as in, you realize immediately) $1 ethernet cables. But essentially, it works or it doesn't, i.e., there's electrical connection or there's not. It's bits which are transmitted after all.
    5) There is also another point to be made for the readers: whether the above "study" is an elaborate prank or an honest perception by the reviewer (and if so, probably then an interesting psychological effect to study), before spending more than $10 on a rj45 cable make sure it is the weak link of your system first. This is not speaker cable we are talking here: a bit is a bit, it's not analog direct-to-the-speaker wire, and therefore a link very robust to electromagnetic noise.
    And I must add, to convince yourself that rj45 cables are not posing any problem, make actual computer network diagnosis, to see how many errors you get on your setup. I use iperf:
    http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/linux-and-open-source/iperf-a-simple-but-powerful-tool-for-troubleshooting-networks/
    You'll get essentially 0, showing that changing a cable cannot change the auditory perception: if no bit is altered during the transmission, then no change is made to what is fed to the DAC... Note again, for WAN/internet it's a different story, yes UDP packets may be lost, especially via wireless, but it's nothing your own installation can control anyway.

    Good luck,

  • Quick question:
    What actually causes the supposed difference in sound between network cables? I've yet to meet a professional sound engineer who cared what kind of cat 5 or cat 6 they had in their chain, even when using it for layer 1 or analog signal transfer (yes we'll send analog over cat 6 sometimes). For the life of me I can't provide a scenario in which it actually matters that a digital cable is beyond spec.

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