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$2,500 Ethernet Switch Effectively Isolates Audiophiles From Cash

Ethernet Switch UEF
(Image credit: Synergistic Research)

Ever wondered if you needed an ethernet switch that has built-in power conditioning for the sake of better audio fidelity? You probably haven't, but Synergistic Research has. The company developed a wild ethernet switch that is designed to smooth out electric signals inside the switch in order to gain higher audio quality from audio streaming services, but the price point is dubious, to say the least. 

The Ethernet Switch UEF costs a substantial $2,595, which will make it appealing to only the most diehard of audiophiles. For comparison, your average, off-the-shelf 5-port GbE unmanaged switch from TP-Link costs less than $20 (opens in new tab). And a Netgear GS305P v2 will set you back $70 (opens in new tab). So stepping up to the Ethernet Switch UEF is a big ask.

The unit is equipped with Active EM Cell technology which claims to close the gap between digital audio quality and good old-fashioned analog tapes and LPs. To "further improve audio quality," the switch is constructed from a solid billet of aluminum and uses carbon fiber to eliminate chassis vibrations from making their way into the switch (which the company claims could interfere with the digital signal). There's even an optional SR Ground Block that serves as a ground for the switch.

According to a review by Robert Youman from Positive Feedback, the ethernet switch does make an impact on audio streaming quality. He notes that when using the switch to stream audio online, the detail of the music is equal to the best files stored locally on his hard drive. He says he even prefers it to vinyl recordings in some cases. 

However, the reviewer says, "This review is based on my subjective requirements, my subjective ears, my specific system configuration, and my specific listening room." This means there are no actual measurements of sound quality, so you'll need to take his observations with a grain of salt. 

More specifically, Youman states that there's a more correct amount of coherent attack, sustain and decay in the playback. In his conclusion, he points out that he thinks the Ethernet Switch UEF is definitely a great investment if you listen to high-resolution audio files that are now becoming more and more common to find online.

But we must caution that this is just one review, and we'd wait to hear more opinions before we declare that Synergistic Research has hit a bulls-eye. In the past, pure digital recordings have supposedly been inferior to more analog audio solutions due to audio compression and other issues like signal interference — the latter can especially be true if you use a PC with cheaper built-in motherboard audio, so that the digital to analog conversion happens within the relatively noisy confines of your PC case.

More to the point, short of some terrible components causing bits to flip — which would compromise any data traveling over a network switch — digital signals don't improve. The hardware either gets the complete transmission or it fails and repeats. The only real candidate for loss is in the digital to analog conversion, which the switch doesn't handle. But audiophiles will swear otherwise, in which case perhaps this product can join the many others of its ilk.

Aaron Klotz
Freelance News Writer

Aaron Klotz is a freelance writer for Tom’s Hardware US, covering news topics related to computer hardware such as CPUs, and graphics cards.

  • JamesJones44
    I going to start with, I am no sound expert, not even by a long shot. However, music from streaming services is encoded digitally, transmitted digitally and then decoded into analog signals once it reaches its final destination device (phone, tablet, AV unit, TV, etc.). So how exactly does this do anything for that digital signal in transport? Seems like it would have little effect me based on what I know, but maybe someone can enlighten me.
    Reply
  • _dawn_chorus_
    Listening to streaming services on that kind of setup seems a bit backwards.. lol. Every streaming platform slaps a limiter on every track to somewhat normalize volume, flattening the dynamics in general. You can often here a distinct difference in depth comparing a quality file on your hard drive to the streamed version, assuming the master wasn't already sausaged. Unless you have more money than you know what to do with this seems like a pointless way to spend it.
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    JamesJones44 said:
    I going to start with, I am no sound expert, not even by a long shot. However, music from streaming services is encoded digitally, transmitted digitally and then decoded into analog signals once it reaches its final destination device (phone, tablet, AV unit, TV, etc.). So how exactly does this do anything for that digital signal in transport? Seems like it would have little effect me based on what I know, but maybe someone can enlighten me.
    It doesn't. It's more snake oil. A digital signal either arrives intact or it doesn't. And while you could make the claim that this helps improve the chances of a digital signal not being corrupted while in transit, this is only something you have to worry about if you're in adverse conditions. Which I'm pretty sure most audiophiles wouldn't allow their setups to be in the first place.

    If anything the quality of the cable is more important, but at the data rates required for audio, you don't need to go that far either.
    Reply
  • gargoylenest
    I know real audiophiles, and they dont to "stream" music to their 50000$+ setups... But it is gonna be good to some amateur who wants to impress people with useless rigs that nobody has
    Reply
  • TwoSpoons100
    And yet any audiophool who buys this stuff will be utterly convinced it sounds better - and if you can't hear the difference then you must have bad ears.
    The audiophile market is full of this kind of BS.
    Reply
  • BillyBuerger
    Oh man. I was looking for a specific USB cable recently and came across audiophile priced USB cable and the same crap was being spouted about them. If spending this much money on something to make you feel better, whatever, go for it. But it's sad seeing "fake news" articles like this. There's no analysis to try to explain why it's better. It just is because the "reviewer" feels it's better even if there's no explanation for why that is.
    Reply
  • hokierif
    LOL!

    I DO consider myself an audiophile and this seems like a complete joke and the very last thing I would ever invest in for my setup. Digital is digital and this doesn't affect that. MAYBE the power conditioning and isolation makes this slightly less susceptible to interference, but that may only result in a few packets needing to be retransmitted. Even IF that happens there is this thing called caching which every single modern streaming device has, and specifically to pad for retransmitted packets. Nah - this isn't for me.
    Reply
  • donner
    You see it smooths out the signal, so it is harder to tell the difference between a 1 and a 0. So, yeah, umm... that makes it sound better.

    And, clearly the ethernet switch is a critical component in the path of that digital data to your computer and make a huge difference compared to the industrial rack mount switches in the data centers and ISPs, hundreds of miles of fiber and/or copper, conversions from fiber to copper, source storage to akamai storage, etc... etc...
    Reply
  • PiranhaTech
    If the audio playback programs are coded correctly, this does nothing. If the music is playing and is continuous, it doesn't matter how the data comes to you. Here's why.

    CD player motors can be horrible for audio quality, but it's still digital. Why? It's because the 1s and 0s get buffered into RAM, which will smooth it out. Once it's in RAM, it's solid state. In terms of audio streaming software, if the RAM buffer is large enough, then it doesn't matter if the packets come in at a sporadic pace. If the source audio is streamed faster than the playback pace, which is very easy to do, if your connection is stable, you can write the software to where there's no lag once it starts playing.

    You can probably make a really precise CD player motor, but the reality is that the motor has to compete with the likes of 256 megabytes of RAM, and that RAM would probably be much cheaper than a precise CD player motor. I suppose I digressed there, but still, if you can store 1/3 of the CD into RAM, then you can have a really crappy motor as long as it's fast enough

    If you have a program coded like I mentioned, if your connection is stable enough, then this Ethernet switch won't do anything, especially if have a large RAM buffer. Also, streaming often uses compression, so that shrinks the needed RAM buffer. 100 megs of RAM is enough for around a 4 minute FLAC file at 24/96. Most audio formats also have built-in checksumming
    Reply
  • spiketheaardvark
    Make sure you pair it with gold plated Monster CAT 7 Ethernet cables.
    Reply