Digital audiophiles — we feed our DACs with all manner of Macs, PCs, USB re-clockers, USB-S/PDIF converters and dedicated network streamers/bridges because not all digital audio connections sound alike. If they did, there’d be no market for high-end solutions and digital audiophiles the world over would be quite happy with consumer-grade PCs or Google dongles.
But we’re not: experience tells us that the sound quality of a Bluesound Node 2/i’s coaxial output bests a Chromecast Audio’s TOSLINK feed; that an Innuos ZENMini’s USB output will run rings around that of a Macbook Pro. Why? Lower jitter and lower electrical noise.
Once the network streamer is in place, our attention turns to the streamer’s Ethernet input where, thanks to error correction, data arrives fully intact but hitching a ride along the network cable is electrical noise. From whence does it arrive? The network router or switch to which the streamer is directly connected!
Consumer-grade routers are built to a price. Their sole job is to get data from A to B. Minimising electrical noise isn’t part of the product design brief. To 99.99% of the world’s population, it’s a non-issue. To the 0.01% – high-end digital audiophiles – it isn’t.
Catering to this niche is Japan’s Melco (Maki Engineering Laboratory Company). Drawing on the significant R&D resources of subsidiary Buffalo Inc., the Melco S100 has been designed as a low-noise network switch, wrapped in the same vibration-isolating aluminium chassis as Melco twin-boxed N10 network streamer.
From the press release, the S100 “features an audio-specific mainboard with a 1.5MB packet buffer, a powerful processor, plus an audio-grade capacitor bank. Its low-noise design, coupled with highly precise data-handling, gives the S100 uncompromising sound quality when used with Ethernet audio devices.”
On rear panel ports, we note ten: 4 x 100Mb Ethernet; 4 x 1Gb Ethernet; 2 x SFP optical fibre.
That’s the hardware. The S100’s software layer – its packet-traffic settings – have reportedly been optimised for popular NAS drive models, Roon Core servers, Roon Bridges and Melco’s own N1, N10, N100 network streamers.
Price? £1999. Shipping begins in November. And if you can’t wait that long to request an A/B demo, the Melco S100 will make an appearance at The UK Hi-Fi Show Live this coming weekend: 637-638 (Level 6, Core C).
Further information: Melco Audio