Coming from a software engineering background, I would usually be the first to tell you — all things being equal — that different (properly terminated, undamaged) Ethernet cables should not make a difference in audio quality.
It would seem that things are not equal, however. A regular customer of mine recently made an unconventional request: a single AudioQuest Carbon Ethernet cable with Telegärtner plugs, 1.5 feet long.
“Just one?” I wondered. They explained that they wanted to try upgrading the final leg of an “optical isolation” run — a method of decoupling the network storage system (NAS, standalone server, etc.) from the playback stage (in their case, a network streamer) while still using “wired” Ethernet. But instead of wires, a pair of optical fibers is used for the majority of the run… With a Tx-to-Fx (copper to fiber-optic) converter at either end and some very short lengths of Cat7(00) Ethernet to make the terminal connections on the wall side and on the player side.
This short run of Carbon would plug into the Streamer. Makes sense when you think about it: The Carbon has excellent shielding, materials, and construction, and after a fiber run done to eliminate noise (EMI/RFI/resonances), you really want to keep it out!
We listened for a couple of hours to the custom solution before making some targeted swaps. We tried reverting to a standard (bulk) Cat7 cable ~25′ and (when listening to the optical solution) also swapping the last leg out for the equally short run of bulk wire the system was using before Carbon.
The “base” optical solution gave a big improvement to the clarity and precision of the presentation beyond what Cat7 could offer alone. If you’ll forgive a digital photography analogy, reverting to straight Cat7 from optical was a bit like someone playing with the “softness” filter in Photoshop. Everything blurred just a little.
Conversely, the AudioQuest Carbon Cat700 cable increase the sharpness even further. If you categorized the improvement that optical isolation offers on a 100 point scale, bulk wire solutions will get you about 85% of the way there. Replacing that last leg of Cat7 with Carbon seems to maximize the effect, revealing even more detail and increasing the sense of focus, articulation, and extension in the upper range.
I also felt the lower registers tightened up a little, adding a small measure of weight and impact. Piano sounded more natural in both the attack and the decay. Peter Gabriel’s naturally sibilant vocal work sounded less like a hot mic and more like he was in the room.
I went into the room a skeptic, but I emerged a believer. The customer said it best: “even [the] last foot and a half of cable can matter.”
Whether you need a single cable or an entire custom cabling solution, give us a call!