British cable manufacturer The Chord Company has announced the imminent availability of their audiophile-grade network switch under a new sub-brand, English Electric. The 8Switch is an 8-port GbE Ethernet switch designed to reduce the impact of hard-wired data networks on sound quality.
From the press release:
“Cosseted by a high-quality machined aluminium enclosure, which offers excellent protection from both acoustic and electrical noise, the 8Switch comprises eight audio-grade 100/1000 Base-T gigabit Ethernet ports, with high and low electrical noise isolation, reducing troublesome data issues when streaming music over a network.”
This is the kind of product that causes self-appointed industry wardens and outraged network engineers, almost always with zero listening experience of their own, to furiously wave red cards and hurl expletives (no joke). The more courteous detractor will present Ethernet’s in-built error correction as ‘proof’ that Ethernet-streamed audio data will always and forever sound the same.
In doing so, both types of naysayer show themselves to be ignorant of the electrical noise that travels alongside the data in an Ethernet cable to ultimately disturb the downstream D/A converter’s data clock and analogue output stage.
It is more broadly accepted that dedicated network streamers sound better than consumer-grade computers when feeding the same DAC. Looking further upstream, a network streamer is also wide-open to the electrical noise pollution spilling from another type of computer: the router or switch to which it is directly connected.
Like a PC or Mac/Book’s motherboard, the internal circuit (board) will generate electrical noise. And like Apple and Dell, switch manufacturers such as Netgear, AVM (the makers of Fritboxen), Asus, TP-Link and Linksys care not one jot for the electrical noise profile of their products. Why would they when the people who do care – audiophiles – are so small in number. Their responsibility is to serve 99.999% of consumers whose only demand is the smooth and correct transmission of data.
“[The 8Switch’s] power supply and clock-generation circuits each have two electrical noise-isolation circuits which ensure stable network signals; an EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) absorber helps to reduce noise further from the digital circuit.”
“The 8Switch is driven by a customised TCXO (Temperature Compensation Crystal Oscillator) with accuracy rated at 0.1ppm: far higher than normal crystals and higher than a normal TCXO, allowing the 8Switch to generate higher-accuracy network signals, which in turn, help provide more stable music-data transmission.”
Higher accuracy matter because, according to many digital audio experts, the Ethernet receiver chips found in network streamers can generate their own dose of electrical noise as they engage additional layers of error-correction circuitry to deal with messier incoming data streams.
Our final culprit for electrical noise generation is the network switch’s power supply. High-speed data transfer demands a high-speed power supply. On this, the Chord Company says: “English Electric’s engineers set about improving the power signal by using an extremely high-quality wall supply. The advanced medical-grade power adaptor permits an optimum-quality network signal, driven by high-accuracy clock technology and has been designed to reduce electrical noise from AC sources, and prevent mains quality issues from affecting network signals. The 8Switch also boasts high power efficiency, a no-load power consumption of < 0.075 W, plus protection from short circuit, overload and over-voltage.”
The English Electric 8Switch is available now priced at £450 and ships with a Chord Company C-Stream digital streaming cable (0.75m) worth £40.
Further information: English Electric