Audiophile Network Switches - What are they and Why Do I need One
Audiophile Network switches will be something that most customers have never heard of. It’s only within the last two years that I became aware of these devices, that's totally understandable why most don’t fully recognise the concept of adding them to your system.
What are Network Switches
Firstly, allow me to explain exactly what Network Switches are. Essentially, they allow you to connect up one or more objects to your home network, they can be connected into your network router or if that's not possible ( your equipment may be in another room) via an extender. Most Network switches can connect up to seven devices via ethernet cables ( some can even do up to 15!). Initially, network switches were designed to allow you to power more devices from one router, and that was primarily their only function.
Audiophile Network switches on the other hand have been designed not only to allow you more connectivity but they are also designed to improve the sound quality from any device they are connected to (more on that later!).
What Do I connect an Audiophile Network Switch To?
Primarily a streamer, but essentially anything with a network port (RJ45 connector). This could extend to the likes of a Smart TV, a network AV amplifier, a satellite junction box, a games console, etc. I personally think the streamer benefits more than any other device but you can improve the picture of many devices as well as the sound.
What do they cost?
They begin around the £400 mark for something like the Silent Angel N8 which is an entry level Audiophile switch which can be upgraded with a higher spec power supply (£425). These are great value for money but you will need at least two Ethernet cables which start at about £40 each as well. If you have a mid to high-end system then you need to look at either the Ansuz X-TC switch (£2000) which already has a high spec power supply already fitted as well as some very clever noise canceling technology including Tesla coils. There are multiple network switches in the Ansuz range and they go up to over £10,000 so you can take this technology with you into every level of system. Ansuz also make ethernet cables which start at £685 but similarly scale up.
There is great versatility in pricing so there's generally an option for any system. If you are utilising a Network Streamer within your system, pairing these with a Network Switch is a must!
In my opinion, unless you have added a Network Switch to your streamer before, you likely haven’t even heard its true potential, and by adding a set of ethernet cables, it will only exaggerate this!
Why Do they Improve the Sound Of Streaming devices
There are a number of reasons why they improve the sound. One is that they contain a re-clocker that significantly reduces the jitter and noise throughout your system. The ethernet is like our mains, full of nasty interference which you don’t want going into your streaming device. Like a good mains cable, Network Switches perform a similar job, just with ethernet. Most Network Switches will ground the signal through the ethernet, again reducing the noise. Good quality ethernet cables are like interconnect cables, they use higher quality cable, provide a better ground, use better plugs and are better shielded so again they significantly improve the signal quality to your streamer. This in turn results in better sound quality.
Are they worth the cost and how much can they improve your system?
In my opinion, and that of many reviewers, I think you need a Network switch in any system if you chose to stream, and good quality ethernet cables certainly helps.
I had always been a bit disappointed with the quality you could obtain by streaming even high resolution music. I never thought they were better than similar CD players, which really should not be the case. Once you add a network switch you can improve the sound quality to a huge degree where the streamer is most definitely outperforming an equivalent CD player.
If you want to put this into some sort of perspective in my system I always felt that the streamer was about 40-45 % of my vinyl source. Now given that my vinyl replay system cost 3-4 times what the streamer and DAC cost, that's pretty understandable. Recently I invested in a Silent Angel network switch and power supply which definitely improved the digital reply system and took it closer to the analogue system. Having heard that improvement, I then invested in an Ansuz streamer and Esprit ethernet and USB cables and this brought the quality alarming close to that of vinyl. For me that's huge and it means I now listen to significantly more streaming through my system than ever before, which has significantly expanded my listening options.
As to how much you spend, that is of course up to you. My Network Switch and cables cost as much as my streamer and DAC but I believe that was totally justified. I don’t believe I could have received the same improvement by upgrading the streamer by the same amount of money.
So again I think Network Streamers, regardless of which model you buy, easily justify their price and that they are an essential part of any streaming system. If you are skeptical, I would suggest coming in-store and hearing for yourself because it won’t be long before you understand.