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Cat5e - It WILL make a difference.

Discussion in 'Cables & Switches' started by BliarOut, May 24, 2005.

  1. BliarOut

    BliarOut
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    I've just been reading many of the threads about using Cat5e as a speaker cable. Some very interesting posts and some that probably don't offer the best advice. Why do I say this? Well, I'm a data guy and have been for the last fifteen years or so. I started off as a cable installer so I have a bit of an idea about how this stuff works.

    Now I may be about to open a right can of worms here, but I'll take the plunge and have my flameproof suit at the ready ;)

    Firstly the title of my thread. "Cat5e - It WILL make a difference." as seems to have been said, it will make a difference, but why? You'll have to forgive some of my explanations as I'm not an audiophile, but my gut feeling is it's the very nature of Cat5e and in particular something which is unique about comms cable. The twists.

    Cat5e cable is designed for a very specific purpose. To transmit data (eletrical signals) at high bit rates with minimal (ideally no) interference between the pairs. For this reason the pairs are twisted at a different rate. If you don't believe me, take a cable apart and look for yourself. Those twists specifically cancel out crosstalk, or interference between the pairs.

    Now I think this is one of the reasons you can "hear" the difference when you use Cat5e cable. The signal will arrive with a small degree of "skew". Obviously the length of cable will increase this effect, but it is there none the less. The other reason, and I think it's more likely what you hear is the self cancelling or "balanced" nature of Cat5e cable. Each pair is designed to cancel out the signal on it's corresponding white partner. With this in mind, the signal should sound clearer.

    Now for the important bit. There is a small primer here: http://www.lanshack.com/cat5e-tutorial.asp
    which is a non technical best practice guide for installing Cat5e. Ok, it's aimed at data installations, but the best practices are sound. I would recommend them as a good baseline.

    If you wan't something a bit more in depth, you could have a look at the Belden cable college..... It's probably a bit overkill, but it's a good source of reference. http://www.belden.com/college/college.htm

    So, to making audio cables. My personal tips, from a data perspective would be:

    Don't untwist the cable from it's sheath unless you really understand why you are doing it. You'll lose the balancing effect of the pairs. It's still a high quality conductor, but it's no longer self cancelling.

    Do not plait/braid the cables tightly. You'll destroy some of the headroom in the cable. Watch that minimum bend radius.

    If it's kinked or crushed, use another bit. Cat5e cable is cheap as chips.

    Never clamp the cable in anything unless you intend to throw the clamped end away.

    Do not tie the cables tightly together. A very loose plait or loose laid is far preferrable.

    It's already been mentioned, but use whites for negative and colours for positive to retain the signal cancelling properties.

    I wouldn't bother with LSZH. Low Smoke Zero Halogen is just a plenum version of a Cat5e cable. It's designed for installation in hidden ducts where you don't want a smouldering cable spreading a fire. The only difference is in the flame retardent properties of the sheathing. If LSZH sounds better, chances are the difference is in how you made your cable, not the cable itself.

    Don't untwist the cable any more than is absolutely necessary to make your connections.

    I'll also pass on a handy tip from installing thousands of wires hidden all over buildings. To identify your cables, just use notches and bars.

    What's that then? When you start to pull off your first cable, put a single small vertical notch at the end with your snips. When you cut the cable off, put another single vertical notch at the other end. For your second cable, put two notches..... You can see where this is going now! etc. When you are on your fifth cable, nick a horizontal bar instead at both ends. For your sixth cable, it's a notch and a bar....... ad infinitum. They never rub off and are simplicity itself to read back when you're plaiting. Brilliant! (Data guy's don't plait) :nono: ;)

    I have heard Cat5e referred to as "bell wire" and "phone cable" in some posts. It most definitely isn't. To answer the question "Can I just use phone wire?" Well not if you want the mysterious properties of Cat5e you can't.

    Apologies for the long post and possibly contradictory points, but as a data guy just dipping my toes into the audiophile world I felt I had to clear up some of the confusion. Here ends the :lesson: I'm off to knock myself up some speaker cables in the workshop :D
     
  2. eviljohn2

    eviljohn2
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    Good post there although it's worth remembering that data signals are transmitted down Cat5 cables as balanced signals which does a vast amount to reduce the effect of noise on the signals whilst this isn't the case with speaker cable. :)
     
  3. hornydragon

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    also no one has compared solid core of the dimensions of cat 5 in a standard config so is it the geometry or dimensions of cat 5 that make it suitable, it the sound you get from cat5e transparrent or is it altering the sound? solid cores are acknowledged as better for HF signals and thick bundle of twisted thin copper better for LF..........
     
  4. BliarOut

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    Thanks :D

    Here's a thought if you have time on your hands..... Why not make a cable primarily out of solid conductor Cat5e and add a cable of stranded to the mix? Could be the HF/LF solution.

    I made mine up and they sound crystal clear..... But unfortunately my twenty year old Missions couldn't handle it..... There's now a pile of cone rubber on the living room floor. Oh well, it's only money :( :suicide:

    Edited to add:

    As for the question, I don't think Cat 5 alters the sound, I think it's incredibly neutral to my ears. It's a long time since I heard my kit, but I think it just allows whatevers there to come through.
     
  5. Gregory

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    I'm uncovinced that the difference in length from the tighter twists of te data pairs will make much of a difference, even in long runs, at audio frequencies. Of course, in saying I'm unconvinced, what I really mean is I think it highly improbable, but haven't done the maths or tests - and stranger things have happened!

    Loads of great thoughts on not crunching it together too much - however, not sure about the one above. For my money the sheath doesn't do much other than hold the pairs together and stop them getting damaged. What you shouldn't do is seperate an individual pair. So, for example, it feels fine to me to use braided sheathing over twisted pair if its in sight & you wnt a decent look - and some of the more extreme designs on the web involve taking off the sheath.

    Also, although they don't operate as a balanced pair in the classical sense (and so lose some noise rejection), the current going up one side is still coming down the other, so common mode noise will be reduced to a large extent over a widely seperated feed and return wire. How big the difference is vs. a side-side speaker wire I don't know - but it seems less likely to be useful as the currents are also much larger than for signal level wiring, and so the induced currents will have much less chance of being heard. This isn't the case for interconnect wiring - here there is only a signal with an earthed shield - so twisted pair gives you nothing but a leaky shield! To have any impact here you would need a balanced input (XLR or similar)


    Love it - I shall certainly do this in future. 'Obvious' idea as well (as all the best ones are)

    ... although, if you had a hell of a lot of it knocking around, it has twisted pairs in much the same way as CAT5, so it might just be a matter of getting enough runs to get the CSA you want. Never tried it though & there may be some other issue. Key for me is that there aren't any mysterious properties of CAT5/5e/6 - or mains cables for that matter. Speaker cables really don't need much other than a bit of care and enough CSA, and CAT5 is dirt cheap. individually screened wires might be useful - who knows, but given the nano-price of CAT5 who cares - you might as well have them!

    Cheers

    Greg
     
  6. Ian J

    Ian J
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    As quoted above you have stated that not only are you not an audiophile but that you have only tested this cable on 20 year old Mission speakers with rotted drivers and only the tweeter working so I'm not sure how you can claim that that the sound is "incredibly neutral". :confused:
     
  7. Reiner

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    In data applications (LAN/Ethernet) the pairs do indeed function as described, but only because the signal is truly balanced (TxA/TxB or RxA/RxB over one pair).
    If you use two CAT5 cables as speaker cable and each cable connects to one terminal (at amp and speaker) then all wires in one cable carry the signal into one direction, including the white ones, and thus there is no balancing effect.

    Traditional speaker wires are not twisted, for the obvious reason that it's not necessary as the signal is high-level and thus less prone to any interference. Even you wire up two CAT5 cables that the signals are "balanced" (using half of each cable for one speaker terminal each) I doubt that it makes an audible difference, after all there can't be any improvement by avoiding interference if there was none in the first place.

    I also would like to hear an explanation of what 'skew' you refer to and how this should effect the sound.
     
  8. Nick_UK

    Nick_UK
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    Yes, me too !

    I'm clearly convinced that the OP knows his stuff about data transmission, but the stuff that comes down a piece of Cat5 connected to a PC and the stuff that comes down a speaker cable are two substantially different things.

    How different ?

    1. The impedance of the systems are different.
    2. The frequencies that the cables carry are different.
    3. The AC current in the cables is different.

    The only effect that twisting cables is going to make on audio cables is to increase the capacitance between the pair. This could cause a very slight attenuation of top-end frequencies, but only very slight.

    All the other stuff about solid cables and "skin effect" are complete nonsense, since skin effect only becomes a problem on cables carrying frequencies above ~30kHz.
     
  9. CJROSS

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    As others have mentioned Bliar up to this point, the application that CAT5 are used in with network usage & transducer driver current supply devices are vastly different, so I doubt if you have an idea how this works in speaker cable applications. No offence intended. (but blowing a set of 20 year old mission drivers to kingdowm come is not a good grounding in speaker cable knowledge)

    For example it would be worth reading up on the 2 standard methods of making 3CAT5 speaker cable ie the TNT method and the Colour code mode you mention above, ie how they vary in electrical behaviour (not that Im saying it effects the end result) this would highlight the fair bit of knowledge you posess in the context of your quote above. FWIW don’t take my post as a rebuke – I would simply ask you to do a bit of research experimentation on CAT5 before making quotes like you did at the start of this thread (some of which are catching you some triple A), as you will note there are some very keen intellects about to dissemble what you say and Im not talking about me on that front either. :smashin:

    Anyway if anyone is interested IMHO & IME CAT5 FAQ :

    Solid V Multistrand, main benefit for me with solid is that when stripping insulation off individual conductors there is less risk than cutting a multistrand conductor. Im currently using Vdamme multistrand cable with no ill effects. And I really doubt a conductors make up ie solid or multitstrand has any impact on the ability to deliver current.

    Braided : If you consider the actual conductors are twisted in pairs inside a CAT5 cable, then the tightness of the braid is of little consquence for RFI purposes (audible that is IMHO) more for a neat “audiophile” finish TBH. And a nice way of keeping 3 or more CAT5 cables tidy.

    PVC - LSZH v Plenum Teflon – no difference to these ears.

    I actually think that 1 single CAT5 cable has a very nice speaker cable friendly LRC set of values (due to its outer dielectric insulation, individual conductor insualtion & geometry – twisted to avoid RFI pickup & CSA) say compared to 1 half of a pair of dealer bought <£5 a metre cable. Thus 25p-50p a metre seems stunningly good value to £2.50+ a metre for one half.
     
  10. hornydragon

    hornydragon
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    it does impact the ability to carry current, not done power for a long time but there are specific considerations for conductor dimension and its rating for capacity (and safety, which is much lower) most of these are for mains applications but beefy poweramps and low impedance spekars can draw a lot current!
     
  11. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    Horny if CSA of copper is equal (and also dielectric insualtion & geometry being equal as CAT5 is AFAICT) then I cant see how multistrand V solid can be different TBH. Unless you buy into skin effect which AFAIK is just a fancy term coined by audiophiles of electron migration in solid conductors. Skin effect Audible ? Never been other than an audiophiles hypothesis that it is audible. Ive made up loads of sets of CAT5 probably going on for 10 sets of varying “quality” even imported the GTI of CAT5 from the US, Plenum Teflon. Nada difference between them TBH.
     
  12. Nic Rhodes

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    so what do you guys think is the best CAT5 cable to use?
     
  13. hornydragon

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    no i mean the size of the copper does limit the current flow cat5 ratings for DC current is much much lower than than 2 core cable 18V 1.5A or similar (i cant remember exactly) so unless you know the current and voltage being carried and the frequency you cant rate the cable...........but how does the signal get off the OP AMP IC and to the terminal on your AMPs panel? and from the binding posts on your speaker to the cones?
     
  14. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    Nic Ive always been a fan of Maplins VB20W :

    http://www.maplin.co.uk/Search.aspx?Criteria=VB20W&amp;doy=25m5

    Now I know you’re a Belden man, so simply get the nearest Belden CAT5 that matches those specs and hopefully pay quite a bit less than 50p a metre that Maplins charge for VB20W. I think the point I would make is that IME there is no “best” CAT5 when it comes to speaker cabling TBH.
     
  15. BliarOut

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    ;)

    As I said in my original post, I've got my flameproof underwear on :D

    A pair of twenty year old Missions..... While they're not state of the art, my ears know what they sound like and they were clearer. Well until they fell apart :rolleyes:

    Now I'm not going to debate the merits of the auditory properties of Cat5 for now, you'll either end up making me look silly, or do a "paper bag on the head sir?" NTNON sketch on me.

    The purpose of my post was to hilight the nature of Cat5 cable and it's frailty. In data applications I have seen many cat5 runs fail to test out in the field due to incorrect installation practices or damage. If you put a stepladder on it, it'll never pass a test. If you tread on it, it'll never pass a test. We can "see" how many metres down the cable the fault is if it's been abused with our test kit.

    Tight tie wraps will alter it's electrical properties, as will tight bend radii and excessive pulling. Put a kink in it, notch it, compress it and it just doesn't pass current as well. It's delicate stuff.

    I have read posts about holding it in a vice :nono: Holding it down with heavy objects :nono: braiding it really tight :nono: etc..... Avoid these things, follow best practices and in my opinion you'll be making better cables.

    Must dash, I'm off to do a "help, I need new speakers" post.
     
  16. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    Ive made 10 sets of CAT5 in this fashion and not one problems I know of hundreds of other DIYers doing to same to no ill effect. So your raising a concern that had no merit in real life situations IMHO.

    PS If in doubt always use a multimeter to check your cables are functioning properly.
     
  17. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    Colin

    the Maplin one is what I have currently I think, will check tonight, just wondered if there was any differences, might save me some money if I ask first this time :)

    The points made about the delicate nature of Cat5 I think are well made. As an inexperienced engineer in the 80s I made some hum dingers of mistakes making my own cables by basically over clamping, changing the electrical characteristics (C primarily), this killed coax cables making them sound dull. I learned loads then about what made good cables and not. The other thing was solid core works brilliantly when treated with respect but is fragile and not very flexible. It is easy to crack the copper strand and kill something. I have many dead Mission solid core cables and DNM here as well as DIY stuff. Note to self, must test and throw out the rubbish.

    But I have found CAT5 to be more resiliant than most in this respect and had no issues with CAT5 personally.
     
  18. Nic Rhodes

    Nic Rhodes
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    The trick is re CAT5 and any DIY is to treat it with respect and you can get a great cable.
     
  19. eviljohn2

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    Indeed, as with any hifi equipment. The problem really is that cables won't necessarily exhibit signs of external damage in the same way as other stuff. :)
     
  20. Knightshade

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    I use stranded, (just to give everyone something to shake there fists at:))
    I think it's just that little bit clearer sounding than the solid core variety. I know i'm going to get some flak for this but on my system and to my ears that's how it is.
    CJROSS, it is more difficult using stranded cable, you do have to be careful when stripping down the cable. A very sharp stanley blade is better than wire strippers. Very time consuming but worth it in the end.
    However, some of the cheaper/older cat5 solid tends to be a bit brittle. There's nothing more annoying than breaking a cable off when you've nearly finished the job!:thumbsdow

    As for the audio differences? Subtle. It could even be down to the termination.
    Another note if you do have some beefy amps It's certainly worth going with 6 cables. The first few cables I made up were of the 3 variety. These were a little lacking.
    Off to the bunker now....:)
     
  21. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    Im a scalpel man myself KS :smashin: . Find that is the best way to "nick" the insualtion off each conductor before pinching with fingernails. Stanley knives are so uncultured.
     
  22. eviljohn2

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  23. CJROSS

    CJROSS
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    Pah !! Uncouth swordsmanship EJ. IMHO.
     
  24. eviljohn2

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    Guilty as charged. :blush:
    I've always been tempted to have a go with my K-Bar though... :)
     

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