Upgraded to CAT 7 ethernet cabling - *remarkable* improvement in sound quality streaming music to my DirectStream


#1

After 4 hours of cursing in my basement running new CAT7 ethernet cabling through the drop ceiling and down walls/closets, I am sitting here astounded by the improvement in sound quality for music streamed to my DirectStream. I’ve used the network bridge with my PWD, and then DirectStream. Most recently, I’m using an Aurelic Aries streamer to stream my JRiver music and also to stream Tidal to my DirectStream. Main point being, almost all of my listening is from music streamed over my network, sourced either from local network storage or lossless streaming over the internet via Tidal.

My current cabling was a potpourri of CAT 5e cabling from various manufacturers. Truthfully, I never paid it much mind. I upgraded all of my ethernet cabling to CAT 7. Including runs from my Verizon FiOS endpoint to my router, and all cabling to/from internal switches to my PC, NAS storage, and to the Aurelic Aries connected to my DirectStream by a very good pure silver USB cable. CAT 7 cabling is made for 10Gigabit. I’m not running 10 gigabit, but the advantage of CAT 7 cabling is double-shielding- each conductor inside the cable is shielded, and then the whole outer part of the cable is shielded. I think the windings are different/tighter too. In any case, you get much better rejection of RF interference and much higher bandwidth on the cable.

Sound quality has improved on all fronts - tone is more natural, imaging is better, detail is better, soundstage is better. Dollar for dollar, this is one of the best upgrades I’ve ever done. I cannot recommend this upgrade more strongly for folks that stream their music over the network. I had a friend over while I was incrementally plugging in upgraded CAT 7 cables, and he heard the same improvements I did. They are not imagined nor subtle… this is a notable improvement in sound quality.

The cabling is decent quality CAT 7 I bought online (Tera Grand is the brand, I’m sure other brands are fine too). That said, this is not crazy expensive Audioquest ethernet cabling I bought… I needed a few 50’ lengths, and they were $30 each. I also bought several 7’ lengths for $11. Point being, depending on how much cabling you need to upgrade, this is something in the $50-$200 range. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Audioquest cable sounds even better through higher quality conductor materials, though you will certainly pay extra for it.

Clearly there was data loss/mangling on my CAT 5 cabling from RF or others sources that the better CAT 7 ethernet cabling is mitigating. It actually makes sense that sound quality is improved. Consider that almost all streaming is done with UDP instead of TCP. As such, if packets are lost/mangled, they are gone. Unlike TCP, there is no error correction with UDP, so your quality-of-service is best-effort.

I was surprised at the improvement in sound quality for music streamed from my NAS, but even more surprised at the improvement in sound quality from Tidal. Clearly Verizon’s fiber optic FiOS network is doing a damn good job getting Tidal’s bitstream to me, and clearly my own local network cabling was losing/mangling an audibly significant amount of data.

Anyway, I’m thrilled with the improvement in sound quality – very highly recommended upgrade!


#2

nice to hear that upgrading network worked for you :)

just one comment - bridge player is streaming from media server via TCP stream, not UDP stream


#3

I had the same experience. Glad that it worked for you as well!


#4

Thanks for the write up. I went from Cat 5 to cat 6A (which is shielded) and noticed an improvement as well. This was one 3 foot cable from my Mac pro tower to the router and a a 50 foot to the DS unit. I think I did the upgrade when I had the PWD. Sometime after getting the DS I needed the cat 6a for something and went back to the Cat 5. WHen I put the Cat 6a back in I heard improvement with the DS as well.


#5
maniac said nice to hear that upgrading network worked for you :)

just one comment - bridge player is streaming from media server via TCP stream, not UDP stream


I fired up my network traffic analyzer… you’re right… the DLNA streaming is TCP. There goes that theory… That said, the ears don’t lie, so retransmitted packets have to be doing something to the sound… -Jeff

#6

@trim are you seeing retransmissions on your LAN ? that normally should not occur.


#7

Great upgrade! Cat5e should be forbidden. The most easy cable is the Cat6 it could sound even better than Cat7. With Cat7 make sure the screan only is connected to the source side. When it is connected on both sides there will be an earth loop which has it’s influence on the sound.


#8
jtrimm said After 4 hours of cursing in my basement running new CAT7 ethernet cabling through the drop ceiling and down walls/closets, I am sitting here astounded by the improvement in sound quality for music streamed to my DirectStream. I've used the network bridge with my PWD, and then DirectStream. Most recently, I'm using an Aurelic Aries streamer to stream my JRiver music and also to stream Tidal to my DirectStream. Main point being, almost all of my listening is from music streamed over my network, sourced either from local network storage or lossless streaming over the internet via Tidal.
This comes as a surprise. This is obviously not a bandwidth thing, 10/100 and vanilla Cat5 could easily carry the traffic for this application. I have found that network switches make a difference (I use AV priority switching now), but hadn't thought much about the network cables having any influence (other than having a bad cable or termination).

Interesting also that most of your listening is music streaming via Bridge. None of my listening is via Bridge. I just can’t get it to work so I only listen to what’s on the coax input which most of the time is 16/44.1 Good enough for me, I can’t imagine DSD being any better than what DS does with CD.


#9
maniac said @trim are you seeing retransmissions on your LAN ? that normally should not occur.
Either data corruption is being detected and retransmissions are occurring on the lesser quality ethernet cable, or data corruption is being consumed as-is without retransmissions. There can be no other explanation for the dramatic increase in sound quality from upgrading the ethernet cabling.

#10

I would think uncorrected data corruption in TCP packet transmission would evidence itself as a loss of data yielding sonic dropouts, not a change in any analog quality of the music. I could see significant data retransmissions possibly causing an increase in processing power being used by the network receiver. That might flow as noise into the system? How much retransmission would be needed to make something like that happen? We might also be dealing with the improved shielding in Cat7 doing a better job of rejecting surrounding noise.


#11
jtrimm said
maniac said @trim are you seeing retransmissions on your LAN ? that normally should not occur.
Either data corruption is being detected and retransmissions are occurring on the lesser quality ethernet cable, or data corruption is being consumed as-is without retransmissions. There can be no other explanation for the dramatic increase in sound quality from upgrading the ethernet cabling.
I'd actually not expect that to be the difference. As others have mentioned avoiding ground loops is important and without more information we don't know the grounding topologies of the cables in question.

Also shielding makes a big difference: in this case it’s probably keeping the radiated noise down and some other part of the system may be sensitive to that noise level or frequencies of that noise.

[Edit - tony22 beat me :) ]


#12
jtrimm said
maniac said @trim are you seeing retransmissions on your LAN ? that normally should not occur.
Either data corruption is being detected and retransmissions are occurring on the lesser quality ethernet cable, or data corruption is being consumed as-is without retransmissions. There can be no other explanation for the dramatic increase in sound quality from upgrading the ethernet cabling.
Ground loops, shielded cable can make ground loops worse, however, even unshielded Ethernet pass ground loops as I have found out...

#13

Funny how in audio the explanation sometimes comes long after we might detect a difference with our ears. One piece of kit is hard enough to get right. When you throw in all the demons that might hide in one individual’s home network, who knows what will work consistently…eek.


#14

Yep, I think Ethernet can be a great digital interconnect, but there are sure a lot more variables than USB cords, or S/PDIF, etc. Using optical Ethernet seems like a good idea: tho more expensive that standard Ethernet, it’s probably cheaper than an “audiophile” implementation of copper Ethernet, but who knows.


#15

Computer networking/communications has been around for many years and should be a mature technology. Yet, with all of the problems and unknowns it still feels like an infant technology - wireless in particular.


#16

http://www.amazon.com/Corning-Self-Powered-Peripherals-Receptacle-AOC-ACS2CVA010M20/dp/B00JOJRF6K

Optical USB, but they added copper just to maintain that special ground loop magic!


#17

Funny!


#18

[Edited to remove unnecessary quotes. ELK]

I can’t imagine hearing as significant difference in sound quality without the integrity of the data stream being part of the reason why? It’s significant enough that it seems hard to write off to radiated noise from the cable?? Clarity, tone, imaging, and soundstage are all markedly improved. Same thing upgrading your USB cable or digital IC… yes it’s digital data, but something is causing the sound to markedly improve. Digital IC’s and upgraded USB cables can’t be crediting all of their sound quality improvement to just a reduction of radiated noise?? 1 and 0s can be corrupted by a poor medium just as much as analogue signals…

The topology of my network didn’t change at all, just the quality of the ethernet cabling… Also, and I’m almost afraid to say it because of jeers from the peanut quality, the sound quality improved over 3 days, indicating perhaps to a burn-in effect on the ethernet cabling similar to IC or speaker cable… Sounds incredulous I know, but I also know what I heard over the first 3 days or so after upgrading my ethernet cabling and know I’m not imagining things.

Anyway, this is a cheap enough experiment for folks to validate the audible differences. I noticed a significant and audible difference replacing even just the one ethernet cable connecting my DAC to the switch (obivously more improvement upgrading the full path to my NAS). I would be shocked if others don’t hear the same kinds of improvements, especially if they are going from Cat 5 to 7…

-Jeff


#19

The data integrity is rarely an issue (tho certainly possible with broken (or too cheap?) cables or components.) The other things we mentioned do indeed cause the kinds of effects mentioned.


#20
emailists said

Thanks for the write up. I went from Cat 5 to cat 6A (which is shielded) and noticed an improvement as well. This was one 3 foot cable from my Mac pro tower to the router and a a 50 foot to the DS unit. I think I did the upgrade when I had the PWD. Sometime after getting the DS I needed the cat 6a for something and went back to the Cat 5. WHen I put the Cat 6a back in I heard improvement with the DS as well.

Yep Blue Jeans Cat 6a is quite affordable and really well built and they even provide a test certificate for each cable they test.

The Cat 6a cable has a floating shield design which may help with breaking a ground loop through the shield.

When I had a microRendu and Uptone LPS-1 (before the Bridge II for my DSD Snr) the Blue Jeans Cat6a was highly recommended by the guru’s at Sonore and Uptone Audio for these reasons, so that’s the only ethernet cable I use now.

I have a short BJC Cat 6a between by LANRover units for my desktop setup at the moment.

It’s quite a bit thicker than their Cat 6 cable though, which is a pain for short connections like my desktop setup.