CrystalConnect Monet Network Ethernet
Asking an audio reviewer to review a network cable is sort of like asking a car reviewer to review an alternator belt or a particular gasoline (although gasoline would likely equate more correctly to power cords in this scenario). I might even liken speaker cables or interconnects to tires if I continue the analogy; which have a more direct connection to the signal path, or similarly connect the engine, chassis, and suspension to the road. Under most circumstances, I humbly and politely pass when asked to formally review cables.
Not because I don't think they make a massive difference in the system's performance (which they unquestionably do), but because in most cases cables affect an overall sense of voicing and presentation that is personal and subtle. And, because people seem to marry themselves to a particular cable manufacturer who has won their devotion, and I don't feel that reviews affect a change in the interest the way that reviews of components do. Also, if I'm being honest, it's sorta painful reviewing cables.
I have heard fantastic performances from many cable lines in my listening room: AudioQuest (solid reliable performer at all price points), Analysis Plus (my favorite affordable line), Shunyata (my personal choice for power cable and conditioning), Audience (another solid reliable performer at all price points), Tellerium Q (insane value for the higher cost market), Enklein (really expensive and very good), Wireworld (great, and their USB cable is excellent), Light Harmonic (their USB cables are epic), and Crystal Cable (now CrystalConnect by Crystal Cable) – the topic of this review. So, why then (you are asking) am I here writing a review on the most eclectic cable in the entire cable kingdom, a network Ethernet cable?
The abbreviated answer is that every statement-level Crystal Cable I have added to my system has not just changed the voicing or presentation of the system, it has been transformative; so I quite frankly jumped at the opportunity to hear their newest model line-up premium network cable in my system. If that required me to review the damn thing, then so be it!
CrystalConnect Flagship Series
It consists of a full range of interconnects, speaker cables, power cords, and digital cables. Currently, Da Vinci only offers speaker, interconnect, and power cables; Van Gogh adds digital (USB, and S/PDIF Coax and BNC) and phono cables; and Monet adds the Ethernet network cable under review. As far as I understand, each cable is designed to take advantage of the geometry and design implemented by each Art Series and each cable is scaled as high as each design will allow. I do not know if, for example, there will ever be a Van Gogh network cable or a Da Vinci USB cable.
The Monet network cable as seen above uses dual-layer high purity Kapton and PTFE shielding with impedance-matched and fully shielded RJ-45 connectors. I would be remiss if I did not mention that the CrystalConnect cables, all of them, are just beautiful to behold. These truly are audiophile jewelry for the eyes and the ears.
CrystalConnect explains, "many manufacturers of specialist network cabling focus on data rate and making their cables as 'fast' as possible – without appreciating that audio data does not need to be lightning fast. Much more important is the consistency of the transfer rate and the integrity of the data transferred. Network cables carry digital information, and, just like all other digital cables in a system, the data transfer is incredibly sensitive to tiny variations in amplitude and spacing... It's important to know that higher data rates are more vulnerable to external interference too. That's why maintaining data integrity is more important than transfer speed when streaming music." For comparison, CrystalConnect's Monet network cable is pictured below.
In an effort to achieve the best sound possible, the CrystalConnect network cables utilize the 100BASE-TX specification which supports a maximum speed of 100Mbps. This goes along with the concept of cleaner, not faster. Because of this, it is important to set the ports of smart network switches to the correct speed or on 'auto'.
It is important to remember that the network cable touches your signal, just like your interconnects do. Although the Ethernet cable feels more like a part of the stage crew (power cords and supplies, racks, vibration isolation, etc) than the cast of characters, network switches, and network cables are more like supporting actors. There is both logic and measurable data to support improving the quality of the network cable, although the results may be subtle based on the quality of the system used. But anyone dropping two grand or more on a network cable most likely has a system of sufficient resolution to justify the expense.
Are Audiophile-Quality Ethernet Cables Of
Though I think expecting a Network cable to be transformative is not fair, nor realistic. I don't consider the need for something to be that impactful to consider it worthy of praise, but my expectations were set high after I installed the Van Gogh level Absolute Dream interconnects and speaker cables in my system years ago....
That was transformative! The stage exploded in every direction, dynamics logarithmically amplified and micro resolution changed from a high-powered compound light microscope to a scanning beam electron microscope. The Monet was, however, exceptional in its ability to improve upon what I own, and what I have previously tried.
Crystal Connect claims "these new network cables protect the dynamic impacts and dramatic contrasts that make music come alive by preserving the most delicate details and textures in your music files." I have to give it to their advertising team because whoever came up with this statement clearly listened to the cables! My perception of swapping in the Monet (after 500 hours of burn-in. Yes digital anything needs a lot of time to fully open up) was a lower perceived noise floor, improvements in detail and resolution, improvement in dynamic scale (possibly a byproduct of the lower noise floor), and increases in texture. The instruments held more body, within a more defined space. The advertising text is almost dead on.
As I ebbed and flowed through my routine listening list the improvements in dynamic mass and scale, as well as noise floor reduction, were not subtle. I heard further into the music, deeper into timbral character, and better resolved micro detail and resolution. John Campbell's "Down in the Hole" [Howlin Mercy, Rhino-Elektra 44.1kHz/16-bit] gave me more grit and power. I enjoyed a more refined sense of energy in the music while the tonal character of the instruments seemed to be a bit more natural. I liked what I heard.
Saint Saens' "Danse Macabre" [Witches' Brew, Blue Moon Imports B0098YTXAC 44.1KHz/16-bit] is my go-to for classical. It's a powerfully emotional composition with scale and contrast while maintaining its composure. It is, at times demure and others almost sinister. The lone violin stood a bit further back and had more presence, while the overall presentation felt as if the "scale" knob had been turned up a notch or two. There was also, admittedly, a synergy between CrystalConnect cables.
My interconnect and speaker cable just seemed to say "Thank You" while the Monet was in the system. They did this by presenting to me a real and believable tympani section that almost startled me in its realism and spatial cues. I will admit that the Raidho TD3.8 speakers in for review ($110,000 per pair, review forthcoming) certainly didn't hurt any of this. But my, also not shabby, Wilson Alexia 2 loudspeakers reinforced every opinion reported with very similar findings.
As I said at the beginning, I typically don't jump to review cables. They fall into three broad categories: worse than what I was using, as good but different than I was using, and clearly better than what I was using. As cable synergy with components and other cables is a critical part of the equation, your opinions may widely vary based on what gear and accessories you are using. But in this case, the Monet easily fell into the third category and is staying in my system. I was unwilling to give up the improvements I heard, and I think most higher-end digital would enjoy similar results. I must admit, I am champing at the bit to try their Van Gogh USB cable now! Damn this addictive hobby!
As a follow-up, CrystalConnect also sent me the Diamond Network cable, made of their proprietary silver-gold alloy. If the Monet was a 911 Turbo, the Diamond was a Cayman GT4. It gave me 80% of what the Monet did in a luxurious package that probably over-performed its price. If you can't afford the Monet, but want to try an upgraded network cable, go CrystalConnect Diamond and know you did just fine.
PS: As an aside, the expression "champing at the bit" seems to be more correct than "chomping at the bit." When a horse nibbles at his bit, the old-school horse term is champing. Modern English usage has converted it to chomping, which sort of means the same thing but has no specific equine origin. Useless, yet very interesting!
North American Contact