Streaming & high-end switch?
Sunday, 17 April 2016 11:47

A high-end switch for less then 80 euro?

While designing the 432 EVO music server, one of the best sounding music servers without being the most expensive, we often test new ideas.

One of those ideas is: can we improve ethernet switching bypassing conventional audiophile solutions?

Most audiophiles know high-end ethernet cables, and prices vary up to several thousands of euro's.

First let's make a statement, as a former network engineer who has worked for big companies like Alcatel: even though there are audible differences between LAN cables, all LAN cables are already bitperfect.

Here's the 432 EVO in our main room, that has been up for 8 days, and has received 4.5 Gigabyte (technically we should say Gibibyte as it's power 2 based) from Tidal. As you can see not a single packet was dropped or bit within a packet was flipped during transport. We measured this using standard cat5e cable. So if any sound difference can be heard, the reason is not to be found in quality of the data, as the data is already 100% perfect. The real reason cables sound different will be explained later, and is related to how ethernet and the OSI model works.


If you connect a streamer directly into your home router, the home router will be your switch, as most include a 4+1 internal switch: 1 port for internet, and 4 ports to connect your LAN devices. If you have a lot of devices at home, you will typically have one or many 5,8,16,24 or even 48 port switches. Here are some examples which we've used over the past years:

Home and small business switches:

From bottom to top:

  • a dell PowerConnect 2716, a smart gigabit switch with VLAN support
  • a dumb D-LINK hub (not even a switch technically)
  • an early 8 ports 100 mbit switch
  • a modern TP-LINK 8 ports unmanaged gigabit switch
  • a modern TP-LINK 8 ports smart switch

Enterprise switches

In the past I used to be a network engineer for companies such as Alcatel, and I also had my stack of cisco switches and routers. So I know something about this topic.

How do switches work?

Modern consumer switches are OSI layer2 based and receive a frame from one port (e.g. the port coming from your router), verify it, buffer it into RAM, then send it via another port to your streamer or music server in case of internet radio, or tidal/qobuz/spotify streaming or playing files from a NAS (via SMB or UPNP). So a switch is a temporal RAM based buffer, and regenerates the packet from RAM. This is called store & forward.

This means the switch will technically ignore whatever cable is running between the switch and router (layer1 in the OSI model) as long as it can correctly receive the frame (which the network guys also name a packet). Inside the switch, the frame exists in layer2 of the OSI model and contains info about the higher layers, like IP addressing in layer3, but a standard switch ignores this and does not even know about IP addresses. This is your standard dumb unmanaged home switch that you can buy for 10 ~ 20 euro. When a frame leaves the switch, it will be sent out via an interface. In consumer gear, this will be electrical, but it can also be optical or even wireless.

The link between the switch and streamer transports frames that are electrically generated, for which the power is derived from the power supply provided with your switch. The host that is connected to your switch ignores any possible noise that is also present on the link, as long as it can decode the frame electrically. A well known example is wifi: even with high noise levels, or low signal to noise ratios, wifi will still work, but at a lower bandwith still capable of transporting FLAC audio.

Here's a long range WiFI CPE up to 15km. We have one pointing to a location 4km away and the link speed is higher then your usual broadband connection, and even though the link receives a lot of noise from other 5 Ghz wifi access points, we can still use this high speed link.

So the clue is noise!

A cable transports what already is, and most switches come with internal or external power supplies. These power supplies are SMPS, switchmode based. The quality of these supplies is not audiophile, and this power supply then powers the internal switch fabric inside the switch.

From bottom to top:

  • a dell PowerConnect 2716, a smart gigabit switch with VLAN support
  • a dumb D-LINK hub
  • an early 8 ports 100 mbit switch
  • a modern TP-LINK 8 ports unmanaged gigabit switch
  • a modern TP-LINK 8 ports smart switch

We tested the two switches on top op this stack with the new 9V iFI power supply, as the smaller TP Link switches come with external 9V adapter. The difference was quite big. There was even a sound difference between the unmanaged dumb version (white box) and the easy smart version which can be managed (in metal case).

As power supply we used this little 50 euro iFI power supply, which is a drop-in replacement for the standard tp-link adapter:

The noise is the secret.

Linear power supplies or low-noise SMPS like the iFI leak less noise then the cheap wallwarts that are bundled with your router or switch. While the layer2 data is technically perfect with the standard supply provided power supply, less noise will be transported over the ethernet cable when using a better power supply. We have not yet found a streamer that is not sensitive to these improvements. Better ethernet cables will also have better shielding against noise. So if you buy a high-end ethernet cable, also think about the place were the data is regenerated towards your network player: the switch.

What do you need?

The 9 Volts iFI power supply:

A 9 Volts based switch. We recommened the TP Link easy smart series: cheap, super stable, power efficient and never gets hot.

Option 1: the 5 ports  TL-SG105E (+- 30 EURO)

Option 2: the 8 ports  TL-SG108E (+- 40 EURO)

Not recommended:

The easy smart series also exists in 16 and 24 ports, but it has a builtin SMPS supply, so no upgrading:

Update 19 april 2016

The easy-smart switches use as default IP address. If your home router or gateway also uses, you'll need to change the IP address of the easy smart switch.
Please ask your computer shop how to do this, as it goes beyond this article.

If you are a Telenet customer, the IP of the Telenet modem/router/wifi CPE will also be, so you'll need to change the IP address of the easy smart switch to something like

Update 5 otct 2017: we now recommend Sbooster instead of iFI

We now recommend to buy the Sbooster BOtW 9V supply, as it is much more reliable than the iFI power supplies.
The little switch just below the server is the 8 ports easy smart switch, powered by the Sbooster BOtW 9V, and a 9V Sbooster Ultra to further cleanup the sound.

For the non-technical / non-IT people: buy the metal unmanaged (=dumb) version

You can also buy the unmanaged version of the 5 and 8 ports easy smart switches. Those unmanaged versions don't have an IP address, so it can never conflict with another IP address.
These plastic versions don't sound as good as the easy smart version as listed above.

So buy the metal version: TP-LINK TL-SG108 or TP-LINK TL-SG105 (without the E at the end of the model name)

So if you want to be smart, buy an easy smart TP-LINK 5 or 8 ports and the 9V iFI adapter.

Here's the system on which these tests were performed.

Speakers: amphion krypton3 flagship
Source: 432 EVO high-end edition
DAC: Auralic Vega
Amp: Vitus RI-100
Acrolink speakercable & interlinks
3x Vitus Audio andromeda power cables

Have fun testing your new audiophile switch!

Frederic Vanden Poel

former network engineer working for blue chip companies
now designer of the 432 EVO music server

Last Updated on Thursday, 05 October 2017 10:49