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.
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.
The audiophile market is full of this kind of BS.
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.
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...
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