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. And a Netgear GS305P v2 will set you back $70. 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.