Sound quality: USB vs. Ethernet

According to your experience, does the cable between the NDX 2 and the router/switch make the biggest difference in sound quality? Or do all the ethernet cable need to be high quality as in your case to get a decent result?

Yes. In my experience the last cable, that from the router/switch to the streamer, is which one that makes the biggest difference in sound quality. It’s something they’re always referred to in reviews. Anyway, as each system is different it’s best to try as much as reasonably possible.

I haven’t read any review about ethernet cables yet, however I suspected that the last cable was the most important in the chain (at least theoretically).

I couldn’t agree more on this:

That’s why I focus on my personal taste and perception rather than reviews. However it’s always interesting to compare different experiences, there’s always something new to learn.

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I have two systems in my cottage - the Linn streamer uses Ethernet, the Chord DAC uses USB. The both sound really good as I’m sure your Naim setup does. If I had to choose then I’d pick Chord and USB. I’m not sure it is USB that is crucial though - I think it is more likely that I like the Chord more than other digital replay I’ve heard. Of course, you may prefer Naim.

Because of JRiver Panel, I find its interface for USB is my favourite way to play digital music.

Blue Jeans Cables are excellent and I’ll doubt you’ll find better at any price, although some may say differently. However, in the UK you can buy magic patch leads from Cable Monkey and these are manufactured by BT Connectix in Braintree (if you go there they’ll show you around). They are superb cables at an almost give away price.

BJC is a cable assembler - they use high quality Belden cables. BT Connectix is a manufacturer.

If you are concerned about EMI/RFI you can rest easy with Connectix (Cable Monkey) cables as they were tested by folk that go well beyond the tests any audio company is likely to be able to do and passed with flying colours. These are not sound quality tests, but tests to verify acceptable use in TEMPEST installations.

I agree completely too - I ignore subjective reviews. I check the cable is well made and meets objective tests for working well in a network and then give it a go. I would never rely on other people’s listening tests as we all hear things differently. As I can’t work up the interest or afford to listen to 100s of cables, I just tried a few - I use BJC and Cable Monkey. For USB, I use QED.

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I’m pretty happy with my system right now. I’ve listened to some DACs and streamers from Cambridge Audio, Marantz, Audio Analogue and Rega, but I personally prefer the Naim sound so far (it’s punchy, very clean, controlled and refined; I do like the soundstage a lot as well).

I’ve never been able to test a Chord DAC, I do wonder how they compare to Naim. In the end it’s just a matter of finding the best sound experience for you (and they all might be good, just different).

Cable Monkey doesn’t sell where I live. If it was possibile, I’d be more than happy to compare different cables at the same time (well, not a hundred of them). There’s nothing better than that to come to a good conclusion and decide what’s worth and what’s not. I’m concerned about EMI/RFI only if they make a difference to my ears (I noticed a big difference in my previous DAC after I plugged in an AudioQuest Jitter Bug).

I suspect that only few people are really lucky enough to test so many cables, loudspeakers, DACs, etc. The average audiophile might only listen to the products sold by the local dealers (of course, I might be wrong).

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Yes with some systems it makes little impact - Linn streamers seem immune.

Chord’s Blu2 DAVE on the other hand needs careful cable choice. I follow its designer’s recommendations to use cheap split core ferrite rings that filter specific frequencies (outside the audio range). There are exotic cables that takes it to the limit, but cost an extra £3,000 so I’ve not gone there.

When I had an entry level Naim streamer and Naim DAC/555PS it didn’t seem to need special attention in this area: I used Naim’s cables.

I’m no longer looking at improving my system as I’m happy with it. In UK there are suppliers who will let you return cables so interested parties can try and get a refund if they send them back.

FWIW I think Naim, Linn and Chord make superb products, you can’t go far wrong with any of them.

I wonder what results I’ll get with my new cable, I decided to order a Chord C-Stream.

My audio system placement might not be definitive, therefore I prefer to wait before considering a properly serious and more expensive audiophile ethernet cable (eg. Nordost, Audioquest, etc.). Meanwhile I hope the Chord C-Stream will sound adequate enough, I’m curious to test it (unluckily I couldn’t try it in advance). Have you tried the Chord C-Stream maybe?

My NDX 2 is pretty new so I need some break in time. It has already opened up after 15 - 20 hours, but I perceive a bit of “muddiness” when playing music from the USB, while it’s much better using the Wi-Fi (yet a touch harsh, even though it sounds pretty good).

I think I’m done as well, at least for the time being.
However I want to refine details such as the power distribution, sockets, etc. Small details can make important differences as well.
After that I might consider upgrading with new loudspeakers or an amplifier or an external PS. But it’s not compulsory, that would just be a choice in order to change the overall experience.

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I think I found the reason why the JRiver disappeared from the server list on my Naim app: it’s the router! I refreshed some of it’s settings and it magically started to work properly again.

:small_orange_diamond:That’s not true according to our experience,.and testings.
Linn’s streamers (electronics),.are just as sensitive as other products.

Linn claims that they are insensitive (so does also Naim),.but that is not true in practice.

Stay safe…
/Peder🙂

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Thanks for sharing your experience @Peder !

I’m curious to experiment different ethernet cables as soon as I can. Surely audiophile ethernet cables exist for a reason. They wouldn’t sell them if they didn’t make a difference. I guess some systems do suffer from EMI / RFI more than others.

Enjoy music and stay safe as well! :slight_smile:

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In the UK there are many of them as far as I know, competition and research should help creating better cables for audiophiles, especially today that streamers have become popular and worth of attention.

Better sound is always more than welcome!

The only way is to try them. I disagree with the assertion discernible sound quality of Linn streamers is affected by EMI/RFI. However, you have Naim equipment so the argument is spurious, You need to try some cables with your Naim system: only your own listening tests can determine the best choice; I’d not read what others conclude from listening tests in advance to avoid influence. Read them afterwards.

Many folk hereon cite EMI/RFI as a culprit for lowering sound quality. If we assume it’s true then we need quiet cables. Cables I suggested, especially Cat 6a variants, won’t leak EMI/RFI. I was involved in building systems that are deployed worldwide and our client had RFI/EMI phobia so tested configurations we built in line with Telecommunications Electronics Materials Protected from Emanating Spurious Transmissions (TEMPEST) NATO certification. I think I’m safe in saying no UK audio company has the wherewithal for this level of testing; our configuration passed.

On value for money. a specialist (non-audio) switch I co-designed wasn’t cheap. So I accept specialist audio switches built from the ground up for a limit market are expensive. However cables were inexpensive so I can’t justify high prices for audiophile cables.

Of course, none of what I’ve posted is a listening test. You have to do that yourself. And if EMI/RFI isn’t a reason for deterioration in sound quality then what I’ve posted is not relevant. All I can say is I’m happy with my cable choice. There are huge margins audio companies make on cables so its caveat emptor.

Lastly, termination of cables are as important as the cable itself. US made non-conductive plastic RJ45 plugs from Sentinel are worth a try if you decide to roll your own, You need a good crimping tool.

Good luck with your search - your Chord C-Stream should be fine. It is a standard well made cable. So worth using as a benchmark in your search for improvements.

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I would never buy something without a proper test (or just reading a review), so I can only agree with what you rightly said.

It’s interesting to compare different experiences, they might make you notice details that you haven’t considered. But you can’t be influenced by a review, the sound preference is only yours and that’s the only thing that matters.
Also audio systems, rooms, perception, etc. are different for everybody, so there isn’t only one truth, even though certain ideas might be shared by many.

I’m sure you have quite a knowledge about cables and I have no doubts about what you said.

At this point I suppose that an audiophile ethernet cable has to filter the signal passing through it in order to affect its sounding properties. Shielding is just the basis to get a good cable.

I can’t judge the expenses about high end cables’ manufacturing, but I’m pretty sure they cost way less than their price tag. On the other hand R&D is the worst expense of all. I would never justify certain prices as well, some of them are just out of this world. I would justify money spent on cables up to 10% - 20% of the entire audio system value. That does sound balanced to me.

So far I’m very happy with my cables (all Nordost) as well, they truly enhance my system and suit my style. The ethernet cable is the last one to be properly fixed. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be happy enough with the cheap Chord C-Stream, only time will tell (but I’m sure I’ll upgrade that, it’s just a matter of time).

Details do make a difference for sure (I think you mean this one: http://www.sentinelconn.com).
Thanks for pointing it out and thanks for your interesting analysis.

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To improve the sound with a USB connection get a Holo Audio Titanis USB regenerator. It really does make a positive difference.

Have you tried the AudioQuest JitterBug? I wonder how they compare.
I have one and tried it on the NDX 2. The result was truly terrible, it destroys the sound dynamics and all its verve.

Apologies for being off topic, since it concerns USB & spdif.

I recently mentioned on another forum that when I ran a Chord Hugo1 fed by a microRendu in one of my systems, I used a USB to spdif converter (Gustard U12) to connect the Rendu to the Hugo via spdif. My reason for doing this was because the Hugo did not have galvanic isolation, which I was led to believe would compromise the USB input. Subjectively, I felt that this very slightly improved the sound.

Someone responded on the other forum to say that the USB input on the Hugo was very much better than the spdif input, and that despite not having galvanic isolation, USB was the way to go with the Hugo. He claimed that while galvanic isolation might prove advantageous in one respect, the jitter introduced by using the spdif input would over-ride the benefit.

Anyone have any thoughts?

I can only report my personal experience with the NDX 2 so far (break-in period isn’t finished yet even if I’ve been enjoying it for many hours). I played music through USB, Wi-Fi and S/PDIF and I should get my Ethernet cable soon too (hopefully the best solution, we’ll see). However:

  • USB pendrive: very good, but sound seems cleaner through Wi-Fi. Maybe the pendrive generates electrical noise that degrades sound quality (I should try different drives to see if anything changes). The JitterBug didn’t help at all as mentioned before (while it did in another case).

  • Wi-Fi: very good (I was pretty surprised at first), very clean (especially the middle range and the upper bass), yet there’s a lack of something in what I hear, it seems a bit “digital” and harsh sometimes, especially in high frequencies. I also noticed that this does improve after the device has been turned on for many minutes.

  • S/PDIF: I have an old USB to S/PDIF converter from M2TECH (Hi-Face), so I wanted to try it both with music and movies. I thought it would have sounded terrible, but honestly I found it much better than expected (consider that I’m using a cheap Audioquest VDM-1 cable, I didn’t expect much for that reason as well). I noticed that sound has a much lower volume compared to USB and Wi-Fi.

So far I prefer the USB. My USB to S/PDIF converter isn’t up to the NDX 2 level. I only use it to watch movies right now.

I guess it depends on the source, and/or on how the source and the DAC might connect to ground. First part of this responding to you, but rest general.

When I had a Hugo 1, and first used it with the digital output from an ND5XS (S/PDIF) it sounded fine (or rather it was a major lift in sound quality compared to the ND5XSs DAC). Later when I connected to a Mac Mini running Audirvana, the USB and S/PDIF connections both sounded distinctly worse using ND5XS. Optical from MM to Hugo made it sound OK so almost certainly electrical noise, RF or otherwise, causing a problem related to the non-isolated inputs.

I then added Gustard U12 between MM USB output, converting to SP/DIF into Hugo, and that improved it, such that it sounded better than with ND5XS as renderer.

Rob Watts, Hugo’s designer, has published much on RF ground plane modulation, being a particular problem with Hugo without galvanic isolation, but not confined to Hugo, seemingly: I get the impression that all DACs suffer from the phenomenon, and what differs is how good the DAC is at isolating, plus likewise other things in the input chain. (And in his flagship Dave DAC isolation of the DAC section to stop this was a primary focus.) A battery powered source connected electrically to DAC can improve isolation of the source from ground, compared to anything connected to mains, even if not directly earthed to mains, and so may assist further.

All renderers are essentially computers, however they are wrapped. And all at some stage have sources of RF, even if they have the best lossible linear power supplies. Those genuinely optimised for use as high quality audio sources probably generate a lot less RF than general purpose computers, but all will need isolating components, whether in a streamer box between renderer and DAC, at the output of a renderer, at the input of the DAC, or somewhere between (as done by the Gustard in the above example).

And referring back to ethernet cables and switches etc, of course any connected network is a potential source of additional rf or other electrical noise, while also providing potential additional coupling paths to ground.

I’m puzzling over why the Jitterbig might make things sound worse, but it would help to know where did the jitterbug help? (Sorry if I have somehow missed in your post.)

I guess the main problem is electrical noise, therefore it’s better to get rid of it as much as if possibile to get the best possibile performance out of our electronics.

I share the same impression as well:

By the way no worries @Innocent_Bystander about missing my post.

My previous configuration was: computer (with JRiver) > JitterBug > USB cable > Vivace DAC.
In this case, I had a significant improvement and I was very happy with the USB filter performance.
The sound became more crisp, punchy and clear.

This time I put my JitterBug between the USB pen drive and the front USB port on the NDX 2: the sound became quite flat, lifeless and not engaging. So I had to take it off. I read that the JitterBug performance changes a lot according to the audio system and I can surely say that it’s true, at least in my case.