This is a follow-up thread promising some observations between these three switches in my system. It was in response to the existing English Electric 8 thread, which prompted me to get one this week as a last resort to trying out these audiophile-type network switches in an effort to extract that extra or last bit of SQ with my streaming as others have reported on in some matter of degree.
I’ll preface this by adding some system background and results, as there are many who don’t at all know my dissenting status by comparison to quite obviously the majority here who have bothered with any combination of these switches. I admittedly have been the outlier; the exception to the rule when it comes to the reported uplifts in performance either one, two or all of these have netted for those who’ve tried.
My network components include and have been:
• Google Home Router
• All Blue Jeans Ethernet cables, from router to switches
• Cisco Catalyst 2960 with Black Sands Silver Reference, AV Options Tibia-Plus 12 or VH Audio AirSine PCs
• UpTone UltraCap LPS-1.2 as a LPSU to the switches that receive 12v and 5v, respectively
(meaning, the EtherREGEN and EE8)
• UpTone EtherREGEN and EE8 switches
The networking components were fed through an approximate 50 ft. run(?) of in-wall Ethernet from the utility room in the basement to my music room/system at the top floor, which consists of an AudioQuest Vodka Ethernet cable as the last leg from the wall jack to my Naim ND5 XS2.
Now, I won’t go into the backstory of the Cisco or EtherREGEN switches, as I’ve reported on at least two separate threads that neither one configured in the above way with every combination of connections had any perceivable effect if we’re to judge by SQ only. I will add, however, that the EtherREGEN was very sensitive to power supplies outside of the LPS-1.2 in my system for whatever reason; meaning in my case that it didn’t seem to make any appreciable performance difference when it functioned, but would cause network dropouts on various occasions. Also, trying out different DC cables was a bust, both performance-wise and connectivity if you didn’t have a native 2.1mm-2.1mm connection. Using any kind of adapter for cables with too large a diameter to bring it to the 2.1mm was sadly a no-go. The LPS-1.2 and EtherREGEN would either work for a while before dropping out or would not connect, period. A Ghent 4S6 (which happened to be the right 2.1-2.1) and the supplied DC were the only DC cables that consistently played nice between the two. There were not ever any problems with either of these, but oddly neither one was better than the other when performing listening comparisons.
The switching out of the switches
I received my EE8 switch early Friday morning and connected it straightaway to the LPS-1.2. I did zero critical listening, as I just wanted it to run all day with Internet Radio while I worked, reserving judgment for the evening.
For this rather limited experiment, I only used two albums front-to-back this weekend in order to get a sense of consistency (if I could perceive such a thing). The two I used were Ulrich Schnauss’s beautiful, Far Away Trains Passing By and Circulation’s groove-inducing, Colours albums. Why these two? Simple: on a simplistic level, both achieve exceptional recording quality, with bags of space and nuance; complexity of real instruments mixed with layers of artificiality from top-to-bottom; bass drive that can hit you in the eardrums and chest; and lastly they’re both efforts that I am extremely familiar with.
I have been able to notice over the course of six months with subsequent system changes either a perceived shift to the presentation only, improvement at times, or even slight degradation with the change in component (a DAC or speaker)/ancillaries (IC or speaker cable). With the exception of the EE8 switch, I now have somewhat of a baseline to work with insofar as potential changes to the sound I’ve become accustomed to with these recordings.
Just to add as a side note: my initial night’s comparison went from about seven in the evening until three in the morning, so about eight hours.
Before sitting down to assess the new toy, I decided to revisit the other two first and actually removed it, putting the EtherREGEN back and connecting it with the Ghent 4S6. I finished dinner and went for some critical listening. I ran the first five tracks of the Schnauss album, then selected five of my favorites from Colours. Nothing of substance had changed, nor did I expect it to. I proceeded to finish out the tracks on both albums, really concentrating on the soundstage, minute queues, and details.
I then changed it out for the Cisco, randomly choosing the VH Audio AirSine PC for the IEC inlet and plugged it in. I returned upstairs and repeated, listening to both from start-to-finish. In all honesty, there was no real sense of improvement or degradation—just…a slightly different presentation. Nothing more. I felt like if I were to ascribe a feel to it that on the whole, it might’ve been more pleasant to listen to. There was a small degree of sparkle, layering, illumination to the sound—a general sense of separation and additional cooling as opposed to ever-so-slightly leaning the other way with the EtherREGEN. In addition I felt there was a consistent sharpening to cymbals, synth and kick bass. Again, these observations are to be taken as very slight and nearly imperceptible if one wasn’t really concentrating to this level. Upon an evening’s typical listening session, I doubt there would be much to it, and factually I would fail in a double-blind test in identifying which switch was which. There simply wouldn’t be any reliable consistency, that’s how minute these differences were.
Now, the EE8
From so-called cold, I connected the LPS-1.2 on the 5v setting to the EE8 and returned upstairs. What I’m about to report seems difficult for me to comprehend, but it is what it is. Again, there is no night-and-day difference. There is no system transformation. There is no box upgrade or takes my existing streamer to the next level. It just isn’t there. Having said that, what the English Electric 8 switch had managed to do was make me think, ‘Holy s#$t. What the f%@& was that? What just happened?’ This is not hyperbole. I finished the session with the Schnauss album and had to really try to manage my thoughts around how much different the presentation was compared to the other two, which as I’ve attempted to illustrate has shown very little difference between them. Very nearly amazing.
I repeated the second listening session with Circulation, and again after each track I was struggling to believe what was transpiring. By the end of the album I just sat transfixed for a few moments, then rummaged through Qobuz and played some Hi-Res Glenn Gould without trying to listen critically anymore. Here’s the rub: I couldn’t. The piano was stellar. I began picking apart the recording with very little effort, identifying the nuances going on. The weight. The soundboard. The note decay. String reverberation. Glenn’s humming coming even more so to the forefront. The studio. All these things just sounded…more tangible. Again, they were presented unlike anything I heard prior, albeit in a very small but effective way. And I think that’s where things are differing: in effectiveness. The change is small, but wholly memorable. It’s not due to it being a new toy. The others were, too, and I couldn’t have cared less; they simply didn’t do much of anything for my system. The EE8? It has so far managed to set itself apart somehow in how it’s able to extract a very small degree of realism compared to the others I tried. There are parts of a recording that simply breaks free of the speaker where it didn’t before. Unfortunately, it didn’t take it entirely out of the box unlike a top-of-the-line Naim kit manages to do. No, just parts of it leaped out and detached itself from the usual soundstage.
Another thing the EE8 does is create a solidity to the sound. What I mean by that is everything you can manage to identify within that soundstage is simply less congealed. Each ‘sound’ is set apart from one another, thus creating its own rightful space. It isn’t interfered with by an adjacent sound. Each one seems to hold it’s own and project from there in a pinpoint sort of manner, making it relatively effortless to pick it out. When this is listened to as a whole, rather than on singularly focusing, the entire image just ‘stays put’. You don’t become distracted that the bass just to the right of the speaker melds with an electronic ‘blip’, for instance. Instead, those two are definitely in the same place, but the bass snaps slightly more into focus while the repeating ‘blip’ is set behind it and apart from it quite discernably. It really is an unmistakable phenomenon. So imagine everything in the soundstage doing this to some degree.
With regard to taming some high-frequency harshness with certain instruments or passages, it seemed to manage or limit that, too, in a way that came across as relieving, imparting an evenhandedness that has otherwise existed anywhere between plain shrill to unpleasant to annoying in the past.
As an example, there are some guitar riffs on track 2 of Schauss’s album that has always been almost painful to listen to in the way it was recorded. Same could be said of track 3, where what sounds like thunder sheets are used for an effect, but one that makes my ears bleed. With both of these examples, I always have to brace for it and cringe until they pass. They’re also so loud and in-your-face that they smear and sound like one long, exaggerated cacophony rather than distinct string strumming or waves traveling off the steel sheet, conversely. With the EE8 these stridencies weren’t just tolerable, but they came across with a much different delivery; as if they were actually an interconnected part of the score as I’m sure they were intended to be, rather than a prolonged ‘noise’ or series of them. It made me immediately write down other albums I know historically possess the same issues to later visit in an effort to see if it doesn’t impart the same effect.
A last observation is how dimensional—no, undeniably textured sounds are. Synth and other artificial sounds from both albums just came across with not just a beginning, followed by the actual projection of that sound, then its end. In-between there was this propagation of timbre that ultimately lent a holography to it. Same could be said of cymbal strikes (hi-hat or crash). Not always, as some recordings just don’t allow it no matter how good the equipment is. In the case of the aforementioned recordings this was very apparent. It was mesmerizing.
Last thought (on performance)
To say I am impressed, even within the span of 24 hours, would be an understatement. I’ve had some free time today to just sit and listen some more and am unwavering in my assessment. It confirms, subjectively, the three things I most notice with the addition of the EE8: Solidity. Texture. Nuance.
Caveat: Not wishing to over-embellish or risk someone reading this and taking away from it that it sounds transformational after all. It isn’t. It is, however, within the context of my system and the subsequent inability of audio-grade network switches to bring about any worthwhile amount of performance improvement quite something to remark about. Again, these changes or alterations to the sound are just that, and quite comparatively understated.
At the end of the day, is it providing a bona fide SQ improvement, or at least a consistent one? Within this context I would have to answer yes. With the EE8 in the mix, it’s apparent enough within my and the environment’s limits. Veils weren’t lifted or anything, but my system as it stands today never needed any lifting to begin with. It’s much more than that. Within those listening evaluations I felt moved one peg closer to realism and another peg further away from hi-fi. With hi-fi you’re aware of inequities within the system and the unwanted deficiencies those inequities provide. Since adding the EE8, those obvious shortcomings diminished by a small but appreciable margin—at times even became extinct, instead momentarily transporting me to the point of becoming immersed in the program, not merely observing the sum of its parts. I don’t know how this is happening, given it’s an unmanaged device with no real technology breakthrough or verified, proven solve to a problem that I can discern. Even somewhat more disappointing is what it is doing within my system compared to, especially, the EtherREGEN, which by all accounts attempts to explain the problem and design to it.
The rant (or slight drift)
The EE8 is a copy of perhaps another copy of a switch currently made by Thunder Data Co. out of China. The other switches in constant question don’t really even attempt to distinguish themselves apart from one another, and more disturbingly so, neither does anyone online who has purchased them. No one to my knowledge has felt the need to investigate or otherwise vehemently question exactly what specific differences there are and why one would want to pay $200 or more from one example to the other. It’s one of the oddest things I’ve encountered in audio (I said one of). Not so much the marketing aspects (because marketing is the bane of such endeavors, IMO), rather it’s almost as if each of these companies licensing the tech, manufacturing of bits and the physical boards are hoping nobody will compare them at some point. I know it’s not the case, but it is completely suspect and quashes any validity they might have or wish to convey in the industry. That aside, one could see why I’m perplexed. It’ll needlessly bother me a little because I have no technical expertise on the matter, yet I am typically not one to sit idly by and state that I don’t care how it works…it just does and that’s all I care about. I hate reading said absolutes like that. Sorry, but I do.
The folks at UpTone really do seem to have the upper hand when it comes to networking solutions for audio, and attempt to back up their years of research, trial-and-error and finished product for the masses to digest. I don’t even have to mention Cisco in this regard. Silent Angel? English Electric? AQVOX SE? Who the hell are they and what is it they are doing differently? Nobody knows. None of them even attempt a non-marketing-speak explanation of what the switch was designed to do and how it goes about doing it. This bothers me to no end because the EtherREGEN and Cisco had marginal-to-no effect in my system and the EE8 clearly, subjectively, enhanced those sessions.
LPSUs in closing
I’m reminded before closing something esteemed member @frenchrooster said about his MCRU linear power supply and how it really made the EtherREGEN perform in his system versus the LPS-1.2. Tonight I switched things around and as a last resort, re-connected the EtherREGEN but substituted the LPS-1.2 with a Paul Hynes SR4-12 LPSU/PH annealed silver DC lead/AudioQuest NRG-Z3 combination. I’ve listened to a couple of albums and some Internet Radio with no joy. Well, with joy, but not because of any SQ improvement. Back went the UpTone LPSU. These supplies simply seem on-par with one another when powering the ER on my network—nothing to parse here. I suppose I’m not too surprised, since both supplies when powering my Chord Qutest performed about equal. I just didn’t hear enough differences to justify keeping one in that particular spot versus the other, so the LPS-1.2 partnered with the EtherREGEN where consistency has historically been king, and is where I value its contribution most in this regard.
So my next experiment will be to power the EE8 with the Hynes SR4. Not certain what to expect, but it’s worth a try next week. I hope this has been somewhat helpful to anyone considering the EE8 or the ER for that matter. They both have their boosters. Which one will work ‘better’ for you is entirely worth a punt. Both are the flavor of the month and retain their value in the event you need to move one on (or God forbid both). In my situation, I can recommend the EE8 switch. It gave enough pause for me in my quest for always improving digital playback to ditch the skepticism and at least acknowledge the real-world potential for these devices. It’s a keeper.