Data is data… A 1 is a 1 and a 0 is a 0. Right as rain. So why are we testing network switches? They don’t make data errors, do they? After all, there are ancient protocols for data transmission. Protocols that have proven themselves for decades. True too… But there are more factors that play a role. And they also influence the playback quality. And in this test you can hear that for yourself! Time for a big, extensive test of network switches from NuPrime, English Electric, SOtM, Paul Pang and Cisco. What is the best switch for streaming audio?
Anyone who connects two electrical devices via a conductive connection – whether copper or something else – builds a bridge for energy transfer. The in this case “pulses” that form the ones and zeros get from A to B nicely. However…. also noise. Common mode mostly, we guess. And that is not desirable.
That interference affects the playback. We still have to prove this with measurements. So don’t hold us to that… However, we have a strong suspicion. This is because power supply appears to be crucial. We have already done some tests with different switches and different power supplies. And time after time we hear differences when we replace a power supply. Sometimes big, sometimes small. The switch itself also has an influence of course. One switch keeps more junk out than the other. In short: there is a difference.
Directly from router
The first step in this test, is to set a baseline. So we first played a few tracks directly from the router (or rather a GS724T V3 24-port switch build in the server rack). We didn’t filter or tweak anything. No fancy cables either. Just standard CAT6A that we use for the rest of the test as well.
Now we normally play music via a connection where the Meraki MS220-8P throught fiber to a converter (SFP to ethernet). The converter is fed with an Sbooster. Without question, that plays nicely. So this direct connection is really a step backwards. It feels rough and somewhat cold. Almost distant. Jacques Loussier has lost his rhythm and the James Taylor track has some really hard S-sounds. So: not pleasant. Fast forward to the first step!
We take a standard Cisco switch: a Cisco SG110D-08. An 8-port switch that some people use as a basis to optimize it further. Think of Fidelizer. This switch costs about 40 euros. With a neat metal case, it feels solid. The step is definitely clear: more tightness and calmness in the reproduction. The harsh S-sounds are not all gone, but are somewhat less prominent now.
Also, the stereo imaging is better: the space increases. But what really makes the big step, is when we connect a power supply. In this case, the NuPrime Forester. Guys… what a difference that makes! We really hear more music now. Our advice for those who don’t want to spend too much on a tweak: buy a decent standard switch – Dlink, Cisco, Netgear – and feed it properly. Consider a nice IFI or perhaps a 2nd hand Sbooster. You will be amazed at the differences.
Perhaps a budget approach might be to buy 4 Dlink switches and some short cables and see if that brings about a clear improvement. The dlink switches seem to be quite cheap, I bought one for £11 on ebay, maybe I should buy 3 more to see what that does.