Categories: Networking

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

Raw Notes

Raw Notes (unorganized)

Frank Sinatra – Come Fly With Me (192/24)

    • Post AQVOX
      • Sounds muffled and muted vs a straight CAT7 cable without the iSO. Something doesn’t sound right with the AQVOX. CAT7 by itself is so much livelier.
  • Post dCBL-CAT7
      • So much realism, a more realistically sized image, better dynamics and a more balanced sound.
      • Amazing sense of depth and space, a ton of air
    • CAT7 w/o iSO
        • Still alive but the image shrinks by almost half and the sound isn’t as coherent and balanced. Wouldn’t notice without A/B.
        • Much flatter and less “alive” and dynamic.
        • Timbre still good.
      • Less roundness in the instrumentation lacks dimensionality vs having the iSO + CAT7 there.

Bassaku Suzuki / Bach Collegium Japan Orchestra – Bach: Cantatas, Vol. 43: Unser Mund sei voll Lachens – Cantatas 57, 110, 151 – Aria “Ich wünschte mir den Tod, den Tod” (192/24)

    • With just the CAT7, you really don’t get an expansive sound, sounds a bit constricted.
    • With the iSO-CAT7, the music opens up, you could clearly hear all the actors in the music, and realize that without the iSO-CAT6, the music was a bit congested and less extended.
    • At first, I thought maybe the iSO was artificially extending the soundstage but tonality and timbre were still exquisite. That said…a much wider soundstage with the iSO.
  • vs Supra CAT8
      • You’re trading soundstage and resolution for warmth and texture. Basically more meat on the bones. The Supra CAT8 sounds right to my ears but the “expansiveness” of the space is noticeably smaller.
    • Supra CAT8 is much more melodic and musical but definitely flatter and not as detailed. Grayer background as well.

Marianne Thorsen – Mozart: Violin Concertos – Allegro (192/24)

  • This is where the + iSO-CAT6/CAT7 shines. You hear every swing of the bow on the violins. With the Supra CAT8, it’s more of a warm blur. Very musical but even I, who doesn’t really listen to classical, wanted more detail out of the violins.

Mahler – Symphony 6 – San Francisco Symphony, Michael Wilson Thomas D1 – Movement 2 (DSD64)

    • With the additional dCBl-CAT7, a much more involved and detailed sound. Much greater depth and resolution. Just lacks a bit of warmth. Leaner tone.
  • with the iSO-CAT6 you get much better separation but lose out on warmth.

Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out – Blue Rondo a la Turk (DSD64)

    • I like the timbre of having just one dCBL-CAT7 and probably willing to trade the resolution and separation for it.
    • With the Supra, instruments sounded narrow and brighter. Didn’t sound right. The timbre of the AQVOX was better but the sound was pancake flat.
  • It really comes down to using the dCBL-CAT7 by itself or tacking on an ISO + CAT7.

At this point my findings:

    • I think what the iSO-CAT6 changes in the sound is a wider soundstage, better resolution, pinpoint imaging, much better layering, and better separation.
    • Without the CAT7 it sounds fine and I enjoyed the timbre more.
    • The CAT7s have a much more realistic dimensional sound with instrumentation, projection, and air than the other cables.
    • The iSO combo does sound a bit lean for my tastes so the trade-offs with timbre might not be worth it for some.
    • Classical listeners will enjoy the iSO combo more for its spacious and high resolution sound.
  • iSO combo sounds “heightened” and thinner. I enjoy without the iSO for vocals.

Additional observations:

    • With the iSO, you get more grip and everything else. Only thing you use a bit of meat but you get a big speaker sound. the sound is like 2x taller and wider.
    • with the ISO, the music is much better defined, everything is better delineated, much cleaner sounding, no artifacts, no fuzziness at all.
    • Lower noise floor, tightness to the sound.
    • Most noticeable difference, when pairing the iSO-CAT6 + dCBL-CAT7 with the SOtM sMS-200, is in the upper treble, in form of a denser image. There is an added sense of blacker background and effortlessness, most likely reflecting improved decay. When replacing the regular CAT6 LAN cable with the dCBL-CAT6 soundstage gets more three-dimensional, gaining depth and instrument separation, while the overall tonal balance shifts slightly towards a brighter presentation. This reminded me of what the SR ethernet cable did but without it sounding artificial.
  • Each of these cables has flaws but the beauty of the iSO-CAT6 is that you could blend to essentially get the best of both worlds.

Scenario

    • With SR on router and WW to sMS vs generic cable on router
        • Bigger image, better imaging, better separation, more detailed.
      • Loses a bit of timbre, brighter tone.
  • With the SR directly to the SMS, sounded more natural but fuzzy and not well delineated

dCBL-CAT6 vs SR

    • The SR was brighter on the router, the CAT6 smooths it out and make it more coherent and smooth.
    • SR was borderline bright
  • CAT6 had tighter low-end and better control overall. Fluid comes to mind.

Norah Jones – Don’t know why

    • with dCBL-CAT6 on router
  • SR vs CAT7
      • at first blush the SR has amazing blacks but a tad bright with shrills at some point.
      • The CAT7 just sounds right.
    • SR sounds a bit processed and artificial

CAT7 vs Purist Audio CAT7

    • PA actually sounds quite smooth and nice. Nice tight bass.
    • CAT7 definitely has more meat on the bones. More warmth and better timbre.
    • PA has a cleaner sound, very nice blacks, great dynamics, and separation. Pinpoint imaging.
    • CAT7 bass isn’t as tight but the whole song just sounds better and more natural. more artistic intent.
    • PA a tiny bit sterile. I think the black took away some details.
    • CAT7 is more forward, has more meat, slightly less black
    • PA more laid back, precise.
    • CAT7 lets her hair down. Very euphoric, rich, and lush. Sounds more like music.
    • CAT7 has the best timbre and tone for sure. PA has deeper and tighter bass.
    • PA has this pristine and clean quality about the sound. Very…pure. Some might like it with tubes.
    • the PA has more pinpoint accuracy, her voice is more towards the center. Better separation of instruments.
    • CAT7 is just a richer and fuller presentation. smears the edges a bit.
  • Reminds me of Nordost vs Danacable.

CAT7 vs WW

    • WW has pinpoint accuracy but doesn’t have proper timber/tone.
    • WW has a blacker background for sure. Wider soundstage.
    • The WW is really bright, sibilance. Very detailed, not very involving. A bit pitchy.
    • WW Timbre is way off.
  • Tight but light bass on the WW.

PA vs WW

    • PA is much more natural sounding. WW seems to remove some low-end details.
    • PA is more controlled. Very tight bass, very good control.
    • PA not really much to complain about.
  • WW = Shrill

PA vs SR

    • SR has a much bigger and forward sound.
    • SR more spacious sounding.
    • PA is more natural sounding, perhaps a bit more resolution.
    • SR comes off a bit grainy and bright sometimes.
    • PA is more controlled while the SR seems to be a free spirit at times.
    • SR doesn’t sound balanced. midrange forward, big sound, lacks a bit of control and resolution vs the PA.
  • SR vocals have a lot of the sound field, but seems a little stretched. Everything sounds a little stretched. At times flat and fatiguing.

WW vs SR

    • WW is more controlled, timbre is way off as the vocals and piano don’t sound accurate.
    • Biggest drawback of the WW is the tone/timbre.
    • Sounds like the WW removes some music with the noise. This could be due to the SR being plugged into my MC-6.
    • Even without it powered on, the SR has a similar tone, maybe less bright.
  • SR has a artificially large image everything is expanded. Doesn’t sound right but it sounds spacious.

Jazz at Pawnshop – Barbados

PA vs CAT7

    • PA sometimes sounds too clean, timbre isn’t quite there.
    • With the CAT7 you get this rich atmosphere, like a real live performance.
        • Drums have more weight and presence.
      • Saxaphone sounds more realistic.
  • PR has extended highs for sure.

Marian Hill – Down

    • Her voice just fades in from black on the PA. Pianos actually do sound pretty natural.
    • CAT7 definitely not as clean, PA delineates better. PA has a very clean and detailed sound. More than the CAT7.
    • On the CAT7 is just slightly more fuzzy, lush, and warmer.
  • CAT7 pretty much sounds like it’s on tubes.

Sara Bareilles – Live – Come Round Soon

    • CAT7 is just the most natural sounding cable. Doesn’t sound impeded at all.
  • PA you could hear all the different parts of the song, detailed, but sterile.

WW vs CAT7

  • WW is bad. Flat, lacks tonal density, inaccurate timbre, bright. Lacks textures.

PA vs CAT7

    • CAT7 has more density, more texture, tighter and more defined bass.
    • PA is musical and more laid-back.
    • CAT7 offers much more clarity, a blacker background, more musicality, and most of all texture. Much tighter bass and more refined sound.
    • PA has more smearing between low-end and midrange
  • CAT7 much more sparkle, PA is calmer.

CAT7 vs Supra

    • Supra is definitely warmer with a grayer background
    • CAT7 has a much wider soundstage and better separation. A lot more sparkle.
    • Supra has more low-end weight and presence.
  • Supra has superb timbre. CAT7 isn’t bad but on the leaner/brighter side.

CAT7 vs CAT6

    • CAT6 has a beautiful sound, a calmer sound vs CAT7 but still very sparkle
    • CAT6 is definitely flatter, sounds like it hits a wall. Low-end isn’t as defined as even the Supra.
  • CAT6 is more detailed than the Supra.

Supra vs CAT6

    • Supra has much more texture and meat around the bones than the CAT6.
    • CAT6 is more detailed and provides more micro dynamics.
  • Supra just has this warmth that gives the music more life.

Supra vs PA

  • Supra just more meat on bones and sounds more musical

PA vs CAT6

    • CAT6 just has more sparkle, authority, and control.
    • PA tries to sound like the CAT6 but comes off too laid-back and calm.
  • Both sound a bit flat vs Supra and CAT7

SR (silver)

    • has the widest and large image but it sounds stretched out and flat. lacks texture
    • lacks tonal density
    • timber isn’t bad, just stretched
    • artificially extended
  • Bloomy

SR (black)

  • more refined and brighter than silver.
  • tighter and blacker
  • overly bright and tinny at times

SR (black) vs CAT7

    • CAT7 has a more natural tone. SR is overly energetic to my ears.
    • SR is tinny, flatter and lower resolution. CAT7 has better delineation of mids and lows. The bass portions of tracks are better defined on the CAT7.
    • biggest diff between black and silver bullt is refinement vs bloom. the silver has a more natural timbre but the sound really just sounds stretched, so missing a bit of texture and sparkle and energy.
  • CAT7 kinda has the best of both.

dCBL-CAT6 vs Supra

    • CAT6 has more clarity and resolution but sounds much leaner than the Supra.
    • You hear more of the music with the CAT6 but the Supra sounds tonally right.
    • Supra you’ll get more meat to the bones and textures across instruments.
    • Supra more musical.
    • CAT6 sounds more open and better separation
    • Supra has more depth and euphoric. I could imagine people with more analytical gear preferring this over the CAT6.
    • CAT6 does provide a lot more transparency and resolution of details. Really needs some help in the warmth dept though.
  • Supra is the most musical cable so far. It sounds right but miss out on some shine and sparkle and clarity/sharpness/resolution.

Supra vs CAT7

    • The CAT7 just breathes life into the music, a lot more spacious and much better separation and clarity.
    • Supra sounds a bit closed-in comparison.
    • CAT7 does lack that warmth but for the black background and amazing resolution, I think most would prefer the CAT7 (and just pair it with a warmer amp).
    • CAT7 you could hear all of the music very very clearly. This is without being clinical. Supra some of the details are missing.
    • CAT7 is more energetic and holographic.
    • Supra is more down to earth and has a much more lush, rich, and warm tone.
    • Quite honesty, I think it’s a choice between these two, depending on your system.
    • CAT7 has more of that eerie realism although a tad bright than it should be for a more natural timbre.
    • Bottomline:
      • Supra sounds great but doesn’t offer as good as dynamics, air, and clarity as the CAT7. Overall, I must admit it sound have a more accurate timbre due to it’s warmer presentation. When switching over to the CAT7, everything opens up, you get an amazing amount of micro details and extension. much blacker background and just overall a more spacious sound. I would prefer this with a warmer amp in the chain as I don’t think you would be able to extract more detail out of the Supra regardless of what you use after the sMS-200the source. The CAT7 offers the utmost transparency that cannot be denied. The only shortcoming is its every so slightly brightness that gives cymbals and other instruments a very slightly more tinny sound. I will say if you have a very resolving USB cable like the Clarity Cable USB, the CAT7 might be overwhelming.
  • The timbre has to be right and the only ones that presented this in this line up were the Purist Audio, SOtM, and Supra cables.

2-Channel Notes

    • Sounds best with iSO-CAT6 on modem. Sounds warmer than actually having the supra there. Supra a bit too grainy and bright.
    • Having the supra near the Lumin S1 and the Supra takes over. The dCBL-CAT7 at the modem seems to have little effect.
  • Keeping the dCBL-CAT7 at the Lumin S1, the difference in sound from dCBL-CAT6 vs Supra is huge. dCBL-CAT6 is much smoother.

iSO-CAT6 SE

    • Best combo is supra -> iso -> black cable. (amazing musicality, much better than the 2nd best combo)
    • 2nd best is supra -> iso -> supra (not a huge difference but you do get more of natural tone with more accurate timbre. without the iso, the supra sounds a bit excited and lean). The isoCat6 brings it more down to earth. It does sound better.
    • 3rd best is supra to sms-200 (This sounds better than using the iso with the stock cable)
    • Using a shitty cable…the iSO-CAT6 can’t save it. Super flat and horrible.
  • As a sanity check, I took them to another system and got another set of ears

On the BRIX

    • CAT7 is the most musical and has the largest image
    • AQVOX is a smeared mess, really rich sounding
    • Supra CAT8 sounds pretty close to the CAT7 in this case a bit warmer and flatter and not as well controlled.
    • Expand the Supra CAT8, tighten up the sound, add some layering, and you have the dCBL-CAT7.
    • Smells like teen spirit
        • Supra CAT8 has more bloaty bass below 150, a bit more smeared.
        • CAT7 is super clean and tight.
      • AQVOX lacks control and resolution. Bass is wooly and wet.
  • If you want goosebumps, get the dCBL-CAT7

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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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