Networking remains a hot topic. And that’s not odd, because how is it possible that differences between switches can be heard? It’s all package based audio. Of course we have already done some research on that. And no, it’s not corrupted data. Our theory is common mode noise entering the hi-fi equipment via the network. This may also explain why better power supply provides better sound. And that the ‘audiophile’ switches with better (galvanic) decoupling sound better. But we will not look at an audiophile switch today. We are now looking at an enterprise switch: the Meraki MS220-8P.
We got to know the Meraki MS220-8P thanks to a reader that was present at our blind test of network switches. The Meraki got a podium spot, which is remarkable considering the test field. This is of course the proof that the sound depends on the build quality of the switch and the quality of the components.
And it proves that it is not a ‘rocket-science’ or that a separate audio approach is needed. Meraki is a brand name of Cisco. And Cisco is the mother of networking equipent. They know exactly how to make a good device. In hindsight, it’s not surprising that the MS220-8P has scored so well.
Fiber and copper
Now we are curious about the differences in sound between copper and fiber. Our experience is that fiber sounds a little bit better. So we push a fiber module in the Meraki and pull a fiber cable to the converter behind the Metrum Acoustics Ambre streamer. We use a Delock converter with a Netgear compatible SFP module. Please note that the ‘transmitter and receiver’ must be compatible with each other. In the office we use LC connectors and gigabit, 850nm multi-mode modules (Netgear AGM7371F compatible). Works perfectly for audio.
We put the Meraki MS220-8P next to the Zyxel GS2200 switch which has been acting as a media switch for a while now. The advantage of this switch is that we can very easily create vlans and set priorities on the vlans and certain ports. And that was (subtly) audible. However, the Meraki goes a (small) step further when it comes to calmness and refinement. We hear just a little more reverberation and suppleness.
We don’t want to go so far as to say that it is a world of difference. However, in certain tracks the difference is just audible. Think of Jaques Loussier where it can be heard on the piano. Or in the ‘glaziness’ of the vocals with I Will of Radiohead. It seems to be a bit more prominent.
Tweaking the network is taking baby steps. Every tweak does something. Changing UTP to solid core shielded cables is a step. From copper to fiber is – for us – another step. From a ‘stupid’ switch to a switch with QoS is another step. And from that switch to the Meraki MS220-8P is another step. But the difference between doing nothing and then this set-up: that is a very audible step. And for us there is no way back to the old situation.
If you don’t believe it; step in: the coffee is ready!
Before we forget to mention it: the Meraki MS220-8P can be bought 2nd hand for around 100 euro. No license is needed to use it. Login is via the serial number on the back of the switch. Of course, you can’t use the complete feature set – that requires the cloud subscription – but the basics just work. And that will be enough in many cases.