Network Optimization Discussion

This thread is intended to discuss the subject of optimizing a network to obtain best sound quality. Some may wonder whether such a thing is possible, or whether optimization makes any difference and that’s ok. Read, participate, argue, but do it with kindness and politeness. I’m happy to have my ideas questioned but if you want to state that something isn’t a particular way, please provide counter arguments and not just denials. I am first and foremost a system developer and not a network or IT expert. My measurements are purely subjective, but I do have a lot of experience listening to some interesting hi-fi (Extremas, Guarneri Homage, Avantgarde Trios, BAT REX system, Naim 6 pack, Isobariks and SBLs, Magico S1 MkIIs, Devialet 440 Expert Pros, Innuos Statement) and in building and developing the systems with optimum mains supplies, single vendor cable looms, room treatment, vibration control etc.
Over the years of using this kit the goal was always to get the best from each systems in whatever way improved and increased their performances. My most recent system was built for local and remote streaming of my own DC rips and files and from Qobuz and I actually found the sensitivity of SQ to the network quite by accident when I added what I thought would be an improvement that turned out to be a substantial downgrade. The item in question wasn’t the problem, but its SMPS-based power supply was in that it robbed my system of a lot of the magic that I was loving. After 45 years of trying to achieve utterly satisfying sound I am pretty picky. The problem is that any even slightly identifiable faults really irritate. I want to be involved in the music 100% with no distraction and no effort and that takes a pretty sonorous system to achieve.
So i removed the offending component, but it got me thinking about another SMPS i had in the system, one powering a switch in the network. I first tried replacing it with a Sean Jacobs DC2 and the results were so good I sent it straight back and got a DC3 with Mundorf capacitor upgrade, which uplifted the sound further. So please was I with the results that I added another dual rail supply to my modem and router and was again rewarded with a substantial uptick in SQ that IMO was well worth what the supply cost. One of my biggest surprises was substituting some already good Neotech DC cables with Mundorf Silver/Gold cable ina JSSG360 screened format. They literally made the system holographic in its presentation.
So by now I can already feel some bullshit detectors going off, so let me digress a little.

The last 2 stages in processing music cannot be measured because they are in your head. Your loudspeakers create 2 channels of carefully prepared stereo signal. These are essentially mono signals from the source that are processed in stereo in order to either preserve or impart spacial information, which is encoded as a range differences in phase (timing) and amplitude. This creation of soundwaves is the last roll your hi-fi plays in creating music and your brain takes over the processing of the soundwaves to first convert them into nervous impulses then to convert them into conscious music, with all the elements we recognise and cherish like melody, rhythm, tone, spacial definition, ambiance, timing, energy, drive and so on. All the musical attributes are created by the brain and if we look at what the brain is doing, its using the differential between the signals reaching each ear to build all these wonderful qualities listed above. If you think about it the differences in amplitude between the same signal reaching each ear are fairly small, ditto the phase change and timing difference, so not a lot has to change in the signal to make quite a difference in the brain’s processing. Said differently, the brain and therefore the signal are very sensitive to very small changes. And what seems to be happening in the case of the network, is that changes to the way the data stream is generated, carried and processed, for example by using better clocks, power supplies with little noise, superior cables etc. make enough difference to the way the bits are processed in the DAC for your ears to clearly pick up probably very small but equally very important changes to the sound waves, resulting in the brain being able to construct a more information rich conscious awareness of the music.
So that’s the background….what specifically have I found to make a difference? Power supply quality (noise, ripple, impedance), DC cable quality and screening, ethernet cable quality and screening, vibration control, clock timing accuracy and stability, network traffic, network isolation and network topology and finally the router (esp. its chip set).
Over the years, my upgrade philosophy has concentrated mainly on the hi-fi hardware…for example a very nice Linn LP 12, Naim 32, 250, Isobarik system ended up with a six pack of amps, NAXO SuperCap, Aro, CDS etc etc. but with this most recent streaming system I am finding that the most productive area for upgrade with by far the most bang for the buck is the network or rather, the elements from which the network is build so this is the topic i wanted to share :blush:

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WARNING - You have exceeded the permitted amount if popcorn emojis.

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I’d suggest it’s worth specifying exactly what streaming equipment you are using. Just because they came with particular supplies and benefitted from particular changes doesn’t make your findings in any way universal. The latest Naim streamers, for example, seem far less affected by these sorts of changes and it’s possibly shortcomings in your stuff that mean the changes you found are apparently so significant.

There have been countless posts about ethernet cables, ethernet switches, posh power supplies for routers, swanky screened leads and all sorts. No conclusion has ever been reached other than that results are inconsistent. Some hear no difference whatsoever whereas others seem to have life changing experiences.

Still, it passes the time and gives people something to get roused about. It also generates income for suppliers of additional bits and bobs that may or may not make a difference.

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Hi hungryhalibut,
Thanks for your reply.
As I mentioned in the above post, network topology makes a huge difference in terms of what we hear and what does and doesn’t make a difference.
Basically the usual IT network is there to move data from one point to another. An audiophile’s network should be different, based on the simple fact that data integrity is taken for granted and sound quality is the important factor. A well constructed network should take the data stream and improve its specification.
When people look at digital, they see the digital pattern of ones and zeros, which are actually voltage polarity switches. The ‘bits are bits’ argument looks at whether the polarity change is a. There and b. Accurate/correct. It does not in any way consider any quality aspects of how the polarity switch was performed and how that performance affects the processing of the bit stream. What I’m saying is that the quality of the bit polarity switch, which is a voltage, seems to affect how the bits are processed and the resulting SQ of the music produced. An ideal bit would have a square wave polarity switch, zero noise and a perfect time base. The better the bit quality, the better the DAC would appear to perform, in terms of the accuracy of the sound waves produced.
But a network is a chain of devices and each device produces bits of different quality. If your network is arranged in a way where bit quality is all over the place, the resulting sound can likewise be anywhere. But if your network is arranged to sequentially improve the bit quality, the resulting SQ will be the best that that particular network can produce.
Think about equating bit quality to AC. If the top of each wave is attenuated and distorted, the sound will reflect this shortcoming. If you include a device to clean and restore the wave form, it will improve SQ, but if you then pass the improved wave through another device that once again damages the waveform, your improvement was for nothing. Networks appear to be the same. If a device includes a clock with 3ppb accuracy, its pointless to forward the stream to the next device that has a 100ppm clock accuracy. Your 3ppb clock would be a waste and you would probably report that the clock made no difference…Improvements to a network need to have the right specs and be in the right place before you’ll hear their benefit. In my current network, i could take several very well reviewed components and they’ll make the sound worse. Why? Because their position in the network vs their specification is incorrect. What does incorrect mean? It means that the incoming data stream is already of superior spec such that the new device cannot produce the equivalent or better and therefore reduces the SQ.

Your point is absolutely correct….audiophiles implement new devices and their results are all over the map, but that is simply a symptom of the network’s design and implementation
What I am saying is that unless a network’s design and set-up is specifically arranged around sound quality, changes could well be all over the map in terms of SQ. But if the network sequentially improves the quality of the bitstream, those variations can be avoided and results become much more predictable.

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Lots of words @Blackmorec , but you do really need to answer @hungryhalibut basic question above. I suspect all you say can simply be the cause of a cheap streamer that is under powered to process the music you are sending it. Does your streamer have a USB drive input and does the music sound even better when playing off it (i.e. no networking)

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I bought an Nds / 500 dr and an Unitserve in 2016. I thought that all I need is connecting both to my router. Which I did.
Coming from the Cdx2 /XPS 2, i was disappointed. The sound was more opened and detailed, but a bit dull.
Then Naim recommended me a dedicated switch. Why? I have already a port in my router.
The journey begun.
I have never could imagine that I will end with about 12k network optimisation investment. It’s crazy ! But I don’t regret, it sounds now so much better, like going from a Cd5x to Cdx2 / Xpsdr.
So yes, I am a true believer. But that journey costed me a lot of upgrades, different switches, Ethernet cables, optical converters, different linear ps….and I lost some money also.
Today I am not prepared to go further, I think I am done. An Innuos PhoenixNet, 3 Audioquest Diamond, a linear ps for the router, and a Melco N1z2 server, with high quality power cables.

Some guys went further, with for example Innuos Statement, PhoenixNet, after having bought 2 Etheregen and 2 top Sean Jacobs ps. I am sure @Michaelb will be pleased to testify.

FR, did you give up on using an optical conversion? I found that if a 10Gbps network segment was implemented before my EtherREGEN switch, not working at that speed but with higher-spec’d SFP modules actually operating at gigabit in SFP+ cages, the 3D soundstage is enhanced beyond a wired Ethernet connection. Greater clarity.

Interesting point. However what I’ve found is that the better my streaming system becomes, the larger the impact of further improvements. So far I have not encountered any law of diminishing returns; the opposite in fact. I would however observe that the more optimized a network becomes, the more expensive the upgrades get. As I mentioned earlier, I now spend a large part of my ‘hobby’ budget on the network, for 2 reasons: 1. Upgrading any other part of my system, for example amps & DAC, Speakers or server would be pretty expensive and 2. I probably wouldn’t get anything like the same bang for the buck I get from the network. My next round of improvements will be ARC6 upgrades for the DC4 power supplies, Synergistic fuses for the entire system and Synergistic Research SX cables in the final ethernet and USB positions.
To demonstrate what I mean by having a constantly improving network, the fuses will be allocated as follows:
SR Blue for Modem and Router PS
SR Orange for Network Wi-fi to Ethernet Bridge, AQVox SE, Melco S100 PSs
SR Purple for Innuos PhoenixNET, Server, Amps & DAC
For the same money as the above I could upgrade my amps to the next level, which will give the usual boost in performance, similar to something like a 250 to 2 x 135s would have brought back in the day but I’m pretty certain that the above mentioned upgrades will deliver a far greater uplift in sonics, in the order of 2 to 3 times what that amp upgrade would achieve.

Yes I gave up. I was using at that time cheap Tp link converters on linear ps. It worked. But then audiophile switches alone done better for me.
Now with the Innuos PhoenixNet i don’t want to go further. But it’s possible of course.

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@Blackmorec , can you tell what is your existing system. I am very curious.

Hi there!

Not sure what I am supposed to testify to - I haven’t been following this.

But I can say I was right royally peed off at the difference that cables and switches and the rest made to my system, delighted as I was with the ND555 with 2xPS, so spent ages experimenting. I’ve not been massively impressed with the high end network cables, but changes to the switches and NAS/Roon core device/music server have made big differences and I went on precisely the journey FR describes, namely:

QNAP NAS with Netgear switch with medical power supply → substitute 1 then 2x Cisco switches → replace NAS with Roon Nucleus+ → substitute Sean Jacobs/CHFC linear power supply for standard Nucelus switched mode PS → replace switch with 2 x EtherRegen → substitute Sean Jacobs/CHFC linear power supply for standard EtherRegen switched mode PS → substitute Innuos PhoenixNet switch for EtherRegens and linear PSU and Innuos Statement for Roon Nucleus+

I’m also very happy now and have no desire for further futzing. My dealer sells Innuos stuff now. I wish he did when I bought the ND555. The system now sounds very nicely close to real life…

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Thanks for sharing Michael.
I wonder what uses now @MidnightRambler . I remember that he had previously 2X Etheregen with top Sean Jacobs ps and an expensive external clock. ( Mutec or Sotm).

Sure but it’ll take some time if you want to understand the subtleties that all make contributions to SQ .

The start of the system is household mains with a Sean Jacobs designed power cord/ power block combination. Into that is plugged a DC3/4 hybrid power supply (DC4 Rectifiers, Statement class transformer, Mundorf capacitor board, DC4 footers, EMI screening, DC3 casework), wired with Mundorf Silver/Gold cable and feeding the DC via a Mundorf JSSG360 screened DC cable to an ISP Modem and TPLink AC5400 Tri-band router, running the well behaving
Broadcom chip-set. The rooter and modem sit on Atacama bases spiked into the floor. A 2m Synergistic Research Active SE Ethernet cable brings the signal from the Modem to the WAN input of the Router, which is set up with ‘household’ on the 2.4GHz Band and Video and Audio hi-res streaming exclusively on bands one and two of the 5GHz bands. The Wi-fi signal is picked up by the TPLink RE650 extender, which functions as a wi-fi to ethernet bridge, with 2.4GHz band and polling switched off. The RE650 is extensively modified to remove the entire power supply and wall mount and replace them with a custom vibration insulated wall mount that maintains correct aerial orientation. The unit is wired internally with Mundorf Ag/Au cable and supplied via a Mundorf JSSG360. The power supply uses the same Orea footers and sits on a Finite Elemente Pagoda Master Reference rack….a lovely piece of kit btw……great sounding and utterly solid once set up. Ethernet out of the bridge is via an SR Atmosphere A Ref cable….another lovely product from a SQ standpoint but rather stiff to route. So that’s up to the first switch……dinner’s ready!

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Thanks for that very detailed network system. Very impressive.
However my question was about your source, electronics and speakers. If you may sharing.

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Hi there fr
When you say source, this is a system for local and remote streaming from Qobuz so the source……i.e what makes the most profound difference to sound quality is the network. For the rest, there’s a cascade of 3 switches used to condition the signal into an Innuos Statement then over an SR Atmosphere X Ref USB into a pair of Devialet 440 Expert Pro monos (with 100% Speaker Active Matching (SAM) into Magico S1MkIIs. Network and hifi are both connected to their own dedicated mains and mounted on Finite Elemente Racks with Cerabase Classic isolation. All cable screens are star wired to a low impedance ground. Both server and switch have hardwired clocks and PS rectifiers, putting the clock signal and DC supplies right next to where they’re needed. No cables, no EMI ingress.

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I stopped tweaking my network months ago after a time of deliberate experimentation with switches and cables based on the results of a handful of members here whose opinion I respect wrt SQ. For me it ended with cascading catalyst switches with the last being POE and BJC Cat 6A ethernet cables. For switches I started with the basic blue catalyst 8TC and a half dozen of other catalyst switches, some with onboard PS, and some with external PS, GB, Fast, etc, with the catalyst PD POE switches being the quietest in my network. My first streaming cables were AQ Cinnamon and the BJC Cat 6 and Cat 6A bested them by a long shot. I settled on the BJC Cat 6A after some back and forth with the Cat 6. And some months later I acquired a couple run in AQ Vodkas on loan to test my curiosity and the BJC Cat 6A was decisively better. I’m content where I am now and have no real need to continue tweaking. That said, I do have some curiosity about the Innuos PhoenixNet and can get get one on loan should I go that route but at that price point I’d rather spend my money on a 272 replacement which I’m hoping comes out this year. :smiley:

If you put your system into your profile then more people would have better context with which to participate in the conversation.

I would also recommend the use of paragraphs in your posts for readability …

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