Streaming Ethernet Cables.

Wide-bandwidth precision-made cables for streaming audio.

Why use specialist Ethernet cables for audio?

The Ethernet specification is defined by the OSI 7 layer model, which standardizes the communication functions of a telecommunication or computing system without regard to its underlying internal structure and technology. Within this model, the cable is part of the ‘Physical’ layer, the lowest level in the hierarchy, while the six layers above deal with packet switching, error correction, timing, ‘end to end’ transmission, etc.

Ethernet cable specifications are further defined by the bandwidth requirements of the system – Cat5, 6, 6A etc., each of which is tightly specified to be able to deliver a guaranteed bandwidth. The wider the bandwidth of the cable, theoretically, the easier it should be to extract the data.

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The Sum Of The Parts.

To understand the factors involved, you also need to break down the Ethernet cable itself into its constituent parts, and look at how each affects the totality of the delivered product:

1] The conductor.

Tough pitch copper, copper-clad aluminium, and OFC (Oxygen Free Copper) can all be used to produce data equivalent Cat-x cables.

Typically Ethernet data cables use solid conductors for ‘in-wall’ applications and where data needs to be transmitted over long distances, whilst data ‘patch chords’ typically use stranded conductors for optimum flexibility.

Atlas choose solid core OFC for audio applications for optimum performance, as they suffer less from inter-strand distortion and capacitive variation.

2] The dielectric.

The more efficient the dielectric the more bandwidth potential the cable will have, of course this is balanced out in the ‘real’ world by cost factors, which leads producers to use inferior less-compliant materials that don’t crush’ as they are being twisted and wound.

Atlas use Polyethylene and foamed Polyethylene to produce our streaming Ethernet cables, experience gained developing our USB and HD video products showing these are stable wide-band materials that guarantee great audio results. The key is precise control in manufacturing so that the balance between tight twist ratios and symmetrical twist patterns are maintained.

3] The screening.

Data cable manufacturers have focused on the humble twisted pair to drive data speed and bandwidth forward. With its inherent common mode rejection properties, it’s a cheap method of production, so a winner in the data field for years.

However as you push the bandwidth of the twisted pair you soon get to a point where further twisting offers no more benefit – at which point you need to add cable screening to enhance rejection performance.

As the bandwidth requirement of the cable increases so does the shielding required to deliver the specified performance, specified as:

  • U/UTP - Unscreened / Universal Twisted Pair
  • U/FTP - Unscreened / Foiled Twisted Pair
  • S/FTP - Screened / Foiled Twisted Pair

Atlas has always paid particular attention to shielding and screening, our dd (dual drain) and Grun technologies are specifically intended to address the ways in which such issues impact on performance. The Mavros streaming cable features our Grun Coherent Earthing System as standard.

rj45 line rj45 line

4] The plugs.

A plug is a plug is a plug? No. Again, what’s acceptable for a low-cost cable for data is quite different from the standards required for high-resolution audio.

We use very stable polycarbonate shielded plugs with robust gold plating up to 10 times the ‘Industry norm,’ even on our entry level products.

Our Mavros streaming cable utilise precision diecast Zinc connectors for the highest quality connection. These connectors also have precision pin alignment optimised for multiple secure insertions.

5] The assembly process.

In the bulk data cabling world, a cable of ‘bandwidth X’ is typically mated with a mis-matched plug of ‘bandwidth Y,’ often using uncalibrated hand tools, which frequently over-crimp the plugs (applying uneven crimping pressure applied across all four pins), resulting in inconsistent product to product performance.

Such cables typically fail ISO/TIA certification standards. Even a fully-tested and bandwidth-guaranteed Cat6 cable terminated with a Cat5 plug will only deliver Cat5 performance.

Is a Cat6 or 6A cable a better choice for audio than a Cat5e product?

All else being equal, the wider the bandwidth of the cable, the easier it should be to extract the data. However all the factors discussed above come into play, so a cable using high quality components and precision manufacturing to certified standards will typically outperform a less carefully manufactured item of nominally higher spec.

Atlas cables are hand-assembled using our precision-calibrated ‘triple prong’ insulation displacement connection method – we made our own tool for the job – for consistent, effective piercing of the dielectric & conductor bonding, and to accurately control the plug contact height.

The result is a high-quality cable which performs precisely as specified – we employ Fluke patch-cord certification tools to guarantee bandwidth performance. All our streaming Ethernet cables are individually certificated for guaranteed performance.

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grun lead and adapter

Grun on an Ethernet cable? How does this work?

As stated above, the bandwidth requirement of the cable increases so does the shielding required to deliver the performance. However, when you plug the shielded cable into your system, the screens are typically connected at each end, and the ground current drain path is defined by the equipment. In the audio world we all know that this is an undefined path, if you can make this drain path more predictable across the system, you gain the potential for better sound quality.

The Grun connection allows any RFI/EMI conducted in the cable’s outer screen to be drained to earth in a defined and predictable way via a Grun ground cable and adapter (supplied(, generally attached to the equipment’s ground terminal or chassis.

Performance can typically be raised further using an optional Grun mains adapter which provides for connection of up to three Grun cables to an unused mains socket or via a distribution block.

See our Grun page for further information.

the performance connection