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The Ethernet Cable Shootout
#1
Disclaimer: This is a long, and possibly controversial post, which is based upon opinion and subjective impressions only. If you are looking for scientific results, or not willing to accept the possibility of cables sounding differently, then this thread may not be worth your time.

The Ethernet Cable Shootout

A good friend of mine (Nickname is BertBird) called the other day and asked if I would be interested in getting together and subjectively comparing a few Ethernet Cables. Given that I always enjoy listening to his system and was also curious as to the results of such a comparison, I did not hesitate to accept the invitation.

The Listeners

BertBird and I have always enjoyed traveling to various audio shows and exchanging opinions about our impressions of components and music. Although we share a commonality with the fascination of audio, we are a bit different when it comes to our personal tastes. BertBird prefers the musical experience and emotional connection from a SQ perspective, where I lean a bit more towards the analytical side of things with more preference to soundstage and clarity over a “full-bodied” sound.

The Test System

Given BertBird’s SQ preferences, it comes to no surprise that his system is based upon top of the line Naim components:

- Verity Audio Sarrastro II Speakers
- Naim ND555 Streamer + 2* 555PS DR Power Supplies
- Naim NAC552 DR Preamp
- Naim NAP 500 (non DR) Amplifier
- Fraim Audio Rack
- Melco N1Z Music Server
- Superlumina Speaker Cables and Interconnects
- Ansuz Powerdistribution + Powercable

This system just oozes with PRaT, and combined with the Verity Audio Sarrastro II Speakers, is one of the best all-rounder systems I have heard. Regardless of genre, the system imo delivers an incredibly transparent, emotional, while non-fatiguing, experience. For this test, the ethernet cables were swapped at the direct connection between the Melco Server and the Naim ND555 Streamer. No Ethernet Switch was used.

The Test Candidates

- AudioQuest Vodka 0,75m - BertBird’s standard cable to date. Price approx. 275 €
- AudioQuest Diamond 0,75m – Price approx. 760 €
- ViaBlue EP7 Silver 1,00m – My standard cable to date. Price approx. 85 €
- Chord Music 1,00m – Price approx. 5000 € (yes, there are 3 zeros in that number)

The Process

BertBird and I decided to do a purely subjective test of each cable through a series of four songs straight. Once that was completed, we decided to test the top two candidates via an A/B swap for each of the songs individually. Last, but not least, we did a final A/B comparison of all four cables using a fifth song. We also choose two different approaches to testing. Bertbird just made notes of the strengths and weaknesses of each cable. I chose to pre-define 4 categories to measure each cable against a 5-point scale with 1 the best and 5 the worst. The categories were:

Soundstage – Width and depth of stage. Clear instrument placement within the soundstage scoring higher than a diffuse placement.
Dynamics – For me this is the amount of impact and emotional connection the cable delivers.
Clarity – This focuses on the individual note definition, decay, quantity and quality of information revealed.
Fatigue – The musical aspect and bridge between too much of a good thing versus long, enjoyable listening sessions.

The A/B portions of the test were not scored but a purely subjective sanity check of the scores previously recorded.

The Music

   

The Results

So how did it turn out? Here is a summary of my scoring for each cable:

   

I found it interesting that when comparing the Avg Scores for each cable the spread of the scores are not that far apart. Given the variation in price, I personally had expected a wider range. Also, the most expensive cable did not reflect the best overall score.

What I believe is even more interesting, is that if you compare each cable at a category level, taking the absolute number of best scores for each category, the results look like this:

   

Quite surprisingly, each category reflects one distinct cable with no cable having best scores in multiple categories.

Summary

AudioQuest Vodka (The Allrounder): This cable is the one which had the best overall dynamics while maintaining a very low level of fatigue. It is very enjoyable to listen to while maintaining a high level of engagement with the music.

AudioQuest Diamond (The Specialist): Looking for the last bit of detail in your music with a slight compromise in fatigue? Then this is probably a cable to consider. I personally enjoyed the Diamond because it revealed the quality of the recordings for what they were. Some were incredibly good while others were a bit fatiguing or lacking accurate instrument placement. It is the surgical scalpel of the batch.

ViaBlue EP7 Silver (The Roughboy): My current cable and the winner within the Soundstage Category. Surprisingly, I found that it lacked a consider amount of punch in the low end compared to its peers and was somewhat overwhelmed in challenging sections of some of the tracks. A cable with very good instrument placement but limitations in the other categories.

Chord Music (The Musician): What can I say, although it did not achieve a top overall score, it still was in my opinion the most enjoyable cable of the bunch. Never fatiguing and always engaging, it was the cable to beat. Its name is the game and was truly the most musical cable of those tested.

Conclusion

The test was an incredible amount of fun and I was surprised as to how easy it was to hear the differences that each cable brought to the overall listening experience. Of course, our test system contributed to this and one could come to a different conclusion using a different setup. Do the results justify the substantial variance in cost? Well, that is call that each of us need to make based upon individual factors. For me, the biggest take away from the test was the clear confirmation that Ethernet cables do play a role in influencing the SQ.
Kii Three Speakers | JL Audio Fathom Subwoofer  | Gordian Lab 12 Power Conditioner | SOtM sNH-10G Modded Switch
Innuos Statement (Endpoint w HqPlayer OS) | DIY HqPlayer Audio PC (HqPlayer OS) | Innuos Zenith SE Mk II (Roon Core)
Sean Jacobs DC-3 Custom Build LPS | Melco N1ZH60 | Trinnov Amethyst | 2x Mutec MC-3+ USB | Mutec Ref-10
Oppo UDP-205 | T+A G 2000 R | DS Audio E1
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#2
Very interesting results...
Thank you for sharing this experience.
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#3
I have also tried a few ending up with the Vodka. At the time I ran my NUC straight to the Devialet with ethernet and the sound differences were quite obvious, at least to me. Now I run it between my NAS and router and I have doubts if it will make even the faintest difference...
Acoustic Signature - jRiver/Asus NUC/Audiophile Optimizer/Process Lasso/USB - Devialet 220 pro - Rockport Ankaa
AQ Vodka/Curious USB/Nordost Valhalla & Tyr/Ansuz Mainz D8 & C 
Isoacoustics OREA/Shunyata Dark Field
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#4
Thank you for those thought-provoking results. In my setup, I have the AQ Vodka from my router to my Nucleus & the AQ Diamond from Nucleus to 440 Pro. Hence, am using 2 of those test cables.
Roon Nucleus w/ LPSU & AQ Tornado + Roon Air & iPad  >  AQ Diamond ETH | CEC TL0X CD Transport + AQ Z3 + 3 x Orea Indigo > AQ Diamond AES/EBU 
Devialet 440-PRO CI >  AQ Wild  RCA-XLR | 6 x Orea Bronze, 2 x SR Atmosphere PC | B&W 802 D3 {Bi-wired}  >  AQ Redwood (Biwire)
PS Audio PP 12 + AQ NRG-1000 | SAM DISABLED - DPM OFF - Washington DC - US
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#5
Hi Baconbrain, great work!!
Devialet 220Pro/CI, B&W 802 D3, McIntosh MA9000, Audio Physic Avantera III, Linn Klimax DS/Katalyst, Burmester 089 CD, Melco N1ZS/2A + D100, Cable Audioquest (NRG-10,Diamond,K2,Yukon,Coffee etc.), iPad-Pro, KECES P8 Dual, Sbooster MKII, Melco S100 Switch, Qobuz Studio
IsoTek: 2 x EVO3 Genesis One, EVO3 Titan One, EVO3 Syncro 
Roon: Nucleus+, Roon Lifetime                                                                                                                
Germany / Bavaria
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#6
(20-Nov-2019, 17:32)daniel.avasilichioaei Wrote: Very interesting results...
Thank you for sharing this experience.

(20-Nov-2019, 17:48)frejo Wrote: I have also tried a few ending up with the Vodka. At the time I ran my NUC straight to the Devialet with ethernet and the sound differences were quite obvious, at least to me. Now I run it between my NAS and router and I have doubts if it will make even the faintest difference...

(20-Nov-2019, 19:02)audio_engr Wrote: Thank you for those thought-provoking results. In my setup, I have the AQ Vodka from my router to my Nucleus & the AQ Diamond from Nucleus to 440 Pro. Hence, am using 2 of those test cables.

(20-Nov-2019, 19:14)K4680 Wrote: Hi Baconbrain, great work!!

Thanks Guys, really appreciate the comments.

@frejo In my setup I notice the biggest difference when utilizing the preferred ethernet cable for the last mile. (i.e. directly into the DAC if possible)
Kii Three Speakers | JL Audio Fathom Subwoofer  | Gordian Lab 12 Power Conditioner | SOtM sNH-10G Modded Switch
Innuos Statement (Endpoint w HqPlayer OS) | DIY HqPlayer Audio PC (HqPlayer OS) | Innuos Zenith SE Mk II (Roon Core)
Sean Jacobs DC-3 Custom Build LPS | Melco N1ZH60 | Trinnov Amethyst | 2x Mutec MC-3+ USB | Mutec Ref-10
Oppo UDP-205 | T+A G 2000 R | DS Audio E1
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#7
Very interesting! Thank you @baconbrain for sharing your results.

I have structured wiring (Cat 6) throughout my house and have never bothered to compare various ethernet cables since it all went thru the wall cables anyway. But, I've always wondered if "the last mile" argument held true for ethernet as it seems to for power cords. Now I'm wondering if I should give that a try (e.g. wall to Expert Pro) or even between RoonServer and wall, wall to router, etc... There is no end to how I could spend money on cable. (please, oh please, tell me the differences are very small at best ;-)

Question to @baconbrain ... did you attempt any blind comparisons? Do you feel the differences between the cables would have been readily identified if you didn't know which cable you were listening to? (not trying to stir up trouble - I just know that every blind test I've ever attempted has made my head explode ;-)
Devialet 440 Pro (two 220s)- Oracle CD transport - Kuzma Stabi S/Stogi S turntable - Von Schweikert VR-35 speakers - JPS SC3 SCs - PI Audio power conditioning -
Triode Wire Labs ICs and PCs - Roon Labs music streaming
Durham, NC USA
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#8
(20-Nov-2019, 22:26)mdconnelly Wrote: Very interesting!  Thank you @baconbrain for sharing your results.

I have structured wiring (Cat 6) throughout my house and have never bothered to compare various ethernet cables since it all went thru the wall cables anyway.  But, I've always wondered if "the last mile" argument held true for ethernet as it seems to for power cords.    Now I'm wondering if I should give that a try (e.g. wall to Expert Pro) or even between RoonServer and wall, wall to router, etc... There is no end to how I could spend money on cable.    (please, oh please, tell me the differences are very small at best ;-)

Question to @baconbrain ... did you attempt any blind comparisons?  Do you feel the differences between the cables would have been readily identified if you didn't know which cable you were listening to?  (not trying to stir up trouble - I just know that every blind test I've ever attempted has made my head explode ;-)

Hi Mdconnelly,

We made the conscious decision to not do blind comparisons. It is definitely debatable if that choice was right or wrong, but we opted for all senses in.
Kii Three Speakers | JL Audio Fathom Subwoofer  | Gordian Lab 12 Power Conditioner | SOtM sNH-10G Modded Switch
Innuos Statement (Endpoint w HqPlayer OS) | DIY HqPlayer Audio PC (HqPlayer OS) | Innuos Zenith SE Mk II (Roon Core)
Sean Jacobs DC-3 Custom Build LPS | Melco N1ZH60 | Trinnov Amethyst | 2x Mutec MC-3+ USB | Mutec Ref-10
Oppo UDP-205 | T+A G 2000 R | DS Audio E1
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#9
Thanks for the great report.

I second the question about the scale of differences: Were they big enough that you could identify them "blind" or whether you had to switch back and forth many times to try to hear the difference?
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#10
(25-Nov-2019, 22:32)deviousalet Wrote: Thanks for the great report.

I second the question about the scale of differences: Were they big enough that you could identify them "blind" or whether you had to switch back and forth many times to try to hear the difference?

The differences were quite apparent but the degree of difference was not as large as I had anticipated given the variance in price. Or to put it in another context, does a cable that costs 10x as much, sound 10x better? IMO, no, but that direct relationship is probably rarely the case with many audio products.
Kii Three Speakers | JL Audio Fathom Subwoofer  | Gordian Lab 12 Power Conditioner | SOtM sNH-10G Modded Switch
Innuos Statement (Endpoint w HqPlayer OS) | DIY HqPlayer Audio PC (HqPlayer OS) | Innuos Zenith SE Mk II (Roon Core)
Sean Jacobs DC-3 Custom Build LPS | Melco N1ZH60 | Trinnov Amethyst | 2x Mutec MC-3+ USB | Mutec Ref-10
Oppo UDP-205 | T+A G 2000 R | DS Audio E1
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