When I conduct these types of listening tests – I always throw in standard cables as a sanity check. From experience, just because a cable is high-end or expensive, doesn’t mean it sounds good.
This is not only for validation but to get an idea of how much value (if any) is actually added at the various price points.
Sanity Check: Standard Ethernet Cables
I probably have over 20 standard variants here (I worked in IT since I was 13). And these were my findings:
- Most of the standard Ethernet cables are sharper than they are warm.
- The words “hashy” and “abrasive” comes to mind. Just more of an artificially hyped sound.
- Instruments tend to “overlap” in space. Which means you can’t quite realize the scale or position of the performers.
- Timbre is masked and fuzzy. It’s never convincing.
- I would say 90% have caused fatigue over longer listening sessions (3+ hours). Admittedly, this is a non-issue with the higher-end options.
- The other 10% of the cables were softer – and warmer.
- I couldn’t tell why there was such a big difference in tonal color as they seem to have similar construction.
- The main sonic benefit of a better Ethernet cable is smoothness, balance, and dimension. This applies to the affordable Supra CAT8 as well.
- 100% of the standard Ethernet cables sounded much flatter than the TLS, SOtM, and JCAT. So these higher-end cables are doing something right.
JCAT vs. TLS vs. SOtM
Each of these three Ethernet cables sounds very different. All three also use the same high-performance Telegaertner RJ45 connectors.
- JCAT Signature LAN
- A veil-less and vivid presentation. Typically this comes at the price of tonal density and tone – but this isn’t the case here. There’s plenty of realism to go around.
- The JCAT does a perfect job shaping out singers and instruments.
- Tonal quality isn’t as sweet as I’d like, but it never comes off thin or icy cold. In fact, it’s warmer than most of the generic copper cables I have here. The JCAT will sound natural enough for most ears.
- Although I feel it’s a little clean for hip-hop and some brass, it’s overall wonderfully balanced.
- The Linear Solution Reference CAT7a
- First off, at ~$200 USD, this is one of the best bang-for-buck Ethernet cables you could buy today. If you want a decent upgrade from the Supra – get this cable.
- This is a very “musical” and euphoric sounding Ethernet cable. It has a richer tone yet promotes sufficient shine and clarity. You could feel the hum in the throat and chest.
- The TLS just can’t match the clarity and transparency of the other two cables. It has more of a golden bloom character to it.
- I feel the tonal color is more accurate with the TLS – but it can’t compete with the JCAT in the other departments. Including contouring, laser-focus imaging, and air. It’s a bit softer and has more “connective tissue.”
- The TLS also doesn’t quite have that “crunch” and is more relaxed. In other words, it’s more “silky” rich rather than “textured” rich.
- SOtM dCBL-CAT7
- Tonally “greyer” than the JCAT but denser sounding. The feeling is also more relaxed and less energetic – but far from dull. It gives more of a liquid and “chill” vibe.
- It does have better bass and sub-bass presence (vs JCAT), however. Similarly, the top-end is smooth with zero sharp edges.
- Its strength is primarily in articulation, resolution, control, and envelopment.
- The soundstage is absolutely wonderful with this cable.
- Aside from a cooler tone, there’s not much for me to complain about with this cable. Hence the reason why I’ve kept it for so long.
Which one should I get?
In short, the JCAT Signature LAN has an openness and textural prowess that’s currently unmatched. It gives you that “live venue” feel and relays the character of the instruments very clearly. The SOtM is great if you want to add body and “liquify” the presentation. And the TLS – when you want to add warmth and intimacy.
This is why I enjoy using the SOtM iSO-CAT6 to “blend” sounds together. It takes on more of the character of the last cable (output) and depending on the cable, will layer on the heavier characteristics of the other. I did try to use a few generics on the front-end of the iSO-CAT6, hoping to save a few bucks, but unfortunately, the harshness still makes its way through.
A word of caution, the connector on the SOtM iSO-CAT6 is poorly designed and will rip the tabs off your fancy Ethernet connectors if you’re not careful. Those connectors aren’t cheap. I’m not sure if SOtM has fixed this problem.
With the Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler and DAVE, I already have plenty of resolution. So, I ended up pairing the JCAT on the input and TLS on the output of the SOtM iSO-CAT6. The result preserves some of the organics of the TLS while offering up more detail and precision in imaging along with richer gradations. It’s also smoother in this configuration. As for the SOtM dCBL-CAT7, I kept it between the router and modem.
If the SOtM iSO-CAT6 is out of reach, my recommendation would be to start with the TLS Reference cable and go from there.