Do Ethernet Cables Affect Sound Quality?

Music streaming services make it easy for us to find our favorite albums and songs or discover new music from trending artists. If you are a music enthusiast, you likely prefer to listen to high-fidelity or lossless audio files through headphones or a speaker system. But would upgrading your ethernet cable further improve your music streaming experience?

Ethernet cables don’t affect sound quality, as the internet speeds accessible with standard ethernet cables are more than fast enough to stream lossless audio files. High-fidelity or lossless audio has a maximum bitrate of 1,411 kbps, while ethernet cables have a top speed of 100,000 kbps.

I’ll spend the rest of the article explaining the technical side of streaming music files and why the quality of an ethernet cable has next to no impact on sound quality. Read on to discover how you can improve audio quality to enjoy a seamless streaming experience.

Ethernet cable for good sound quality

Ethernet Cables and Sound Quality

Ethernet cables do not have any noticeable impact on the sound quality coming from your laptop, speakers, or headphones. If you are streaming music, your computer requests information about the audio file over the internet and then plays back the file on your device.

The ability to stream or download files depends on the file’s bitrate and your internet connection.

Bitrate refers to the depth of information in a file and determines how much internet speed you need to transfer information about the file within a specific time frame.

Music Streaming Bitrates

There are four music file sizes that you can expect from the primary streaming services, such as Tidal, Spotify, and Apple Music.

Standard music files have a bitrate of roughly 128 kbps, while high-quality files are 320 kbps. Music enthusiasts who subscribe to premium tiers of a streaming service may have access to hi-fidelity or lossless audio quality, which streams at 1411 kbps.

Tidal also has a further tier, known as the master tier. Master audio recordings are the original files that a music label or artist records, which may stream at bitrates of up to 9216 kbps.

Ethernet Cable Speeds and How They Affect Sound Quality

Ethernet cables are available in six distinct categories, depending on the use case. 

Below are the most common ethernet cables available to purchase.

  • Cat 5
  • Cat 5e
  • Cat 6
  • Cat 6a
  • Cat 7
  • Cat 7a

The average consumer is most likely to buy a Cat 5 ethernet cable, which has a maximum speed transmission of 100 Mbps.

Using one of the most affordable ethernet cables on the market, such as the AmazonBasics RJ56 Cat-6 Ethernet Cable, would deliver those maximum speeds to your computer. The actual speed of your internet connection also depends on your internet service provider and data plan.

Given the maximum bitrate of an audio file is 9216 kbps or 9.2 Mbps, you do not need a more expensive ethernet cable to stream music from your computer or another electronic device seamlessly. 

Your sound quality is not affected by your ethernet cable speed, but the speed of your cables will impact whether or not you have a lot of buffering with your music output.

Can Expensive Ethernet Cables Make a Difference?

Most people will not have a better experience with a more expensive ethernet cable, as a Cat 5 cable has enough maximum stream transmission. 

If you are like me and spent money on a Gigabit internet service, you may want to purchase a Cat 5e or Cat 6 cable. Both those cables have maximum speed transmissions of 1,000 Mbps or 1 Gbps. 

Some internet service providers, such as Google Fiber, offer 2 Gbps connections, so you’ll need a Cat 6a, Cat 7, or Cat 7a cable to achieve those speeds on your computer. Even if you have 2 Gbps internet service at your home or business, a Cat 6a cable such as the Cable Matters Snagless Cable from Amazon.com is enough to deliver the full potential of your connection.

While some ethernet cables sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars, they do not deliver a tangible improvement while using the internet, especially if you are streaming music.

Ways To Improve Your Music Streaming Experience

Are you having issues streaming lossless or master audio files through a music streaming service? 

Perhaps you notice stuttering while the audio file plays or significant wait times before a song starts playing.

Such issues are unlikely to have any relationship with your ethernet cable, as it can achieve faster speeds. One possible bottleneck is your internet connection, which you can check by performing a Speed Test, which shows your maximum download and upload speeds.

If your download speed is higher than 1411 Kbps, or 1.4 Mbps, then you should have no issues playing lossless audio. Download speeds of greater than 9216 Kbps or 9.2 Mbps mean you can stream master audio files without any hiccups.

CPU or RAM Limitations

Streaming anything over the internet, such as music or video files, requires CPU and RAM power from your computer or music streaming device.

Each music streaming service lists minimum requirements for its web application or native desktop program. For instance, Tidal recommends at least 1GB of RAM and a 2.33GHz Pentium 4 processor.

If you own a very old desktop or laptop, music may stutter because your computer struggles to supply the necessary power. Even with a newer computer, having many other applications or web browser tabs open could bog down your CPU or RAM.

When your internet download speeds are much faster than music streaming bitrates, try closing everything else on your computer except the streaming service web app or computer program. If the stuttering goes away, you have identified the issue.

What Are Some Audiophile Accessories Worth Buying?

Companies often market premium products to audiophiles, as they know that music enthusiasts are willing to pay more money for the best experience. Expensive ethernet cables may not impact sound quality while streaming music, but there are other accessories you can buy for a premium listening experience.

A DAC, or digital audio converter, converts digital audio into an analog signal, making it playable through headphones or speakers, but any electronic device that plays music has a DAC chip. However, the quality of DACs in mainstream computers and smartphones may not always be the highest.

A standalone DAC is a worthwhile investment if you notice any distortions or artifacts while listening to music. 

A common complaint from audiophiles is that even with expensive headphones or speakers, they hear far too much noise while listening to music at a high volume.

An external DAC, such as the KGUSS FX-Audio DAC-X6 Mini from Amazon.com, clears up that distortion and results in a much better music streaming experience. The DAC-X6 works with speakers and headphones that support coaxial, USB, and optical inputs, and amplifies volume without distortion.

If you listen to a lot of music by connecting headphones to your laptop or smartphone, you may want a more portable option. 

The FiiO Q1 Mark II DAC from Amazon.com is another excellent option for improving your listening experience while on the go. It uses ADC volume adjustment technology to enhance the listening experience at higher volumes significantly.

Final Thoughts

Ethernet cables allow you to connect computers and other devices to the internet, and a wired ethernet connection is typically faster than a wireless connection. However, different ethernet cables have varying maximum speeds.

Streaming music, however, does not require anywhere near much bandwidth. The maximum streaming bitrates of lossless or even original master recordings are far lower than the top speed of the cheapest ethernet cables.

If you are experiencing stuttering or other issues while streaming music, your internet service provider may be the issue, not your ethernet cable.