Optimising Wi-Fi to beat a wired connection

Is it possible to confound conventional forum wisdom and get Wi-Fi to as good or better than wired? Even a separate dedicated Wi-Fi network for music would be a small outlay compared with the £1000s spent on fancy switches, cables etc.

(And how would you do it?)

Discuss :popcorn:

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Yes, there is a LAN problem thread doing the rounds at the moment, and I mentioned Wi-Fi so rather than encourage thread drift there thought I’d start a separate discussion.

I’ve been on here for a few years now and have seen endless discussion about switches, cables etc but not so much about Wi-Fi (other than it’s not usually recommended). Thought it might be good to redress the balance.

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Hi there Weekend Warrior
When it comes to networks, noise and mis-timing are the greatest enemies. And what causes the most noise is primarily network activity……traffic.
There are typically 4 ways to connect 2 local area network points. Ethernet cable, power cables, fibre optic cables or wi-fi.
Ethernet is favoured but has downsides….you need to route a cable, it transfers stray currents and noise and has a strong sonic impact.
Power cables are really a non-starter for obvious reasons.
Fibre optic offers complete galvanic isolation but is very sensitive to power supplies and the hardware itself has a major sonic signature.
Finally wi-fi, which again offers complete galvanic isolation but is very bandwidth and signal strength dependent.
Of all the above, I have found wi-fi to be the best but ONLY when fully optimised. So what does that mean?
Firstly network traffic occupies bandwidth, causing bottlenecks at the router, which can cause interrupts and errors, generate noise at both transmitter and receiver ends and in the respective power supplies. In wi-fi, voltage is transformed into radio frequencies then back into voltage. Those radio frequencies can be picked up by hi-fi equipment, so can add more noise.

A really successful WiFi starts by ensuring that network traffic is minimised as early as possible. Further its best to ensure that the hi-fi isn’t bathed in wi-fi related radio frequencies. Associated power supplies should be optimised.

In order to achieve the above I do the following

  1. Use a 3 multi-band router and dedicate one band exclusively to audio. Everything downstream of that router band now only sees music related traffic.
  2. Use a wi-fi to ethernet bridge with good quality PS to capture the audio band’s radio signal and convert it to ethernet.
  3. Place a switch with high quality LPS between the bridge and server to reduce the bridge’s noise, improve timing and provide isolation between bridge and server.
  4. Use 5GHz band to ensure that only a moderately energetic signal reaches the bridge, with insufficient power to penetrate cable and hi-fi hardware screens and casings.

In summary, there is no wi-fi running on the actual hi-fi hardware (any wi-fi capability is disabled) and only low energy wi-fi signal is reaching the actual hi-fi. There is no traffic on the hi-fi wi-fi stream other than that required for music. All components involved are therefore producing minimum noise and power supplies are always running on lowest possible demand. Other useful steps are
a. Vibration and resonance control for every component
b. Cabling that has been developed for hi-fi use because cables have a sonic signature
c. Reclocking to assure minimum jitter and mistiming at all stages
d. Zero continuity between components via cable shields
e. Avoidance of Puma chipsets in routers due to some serious bugs
f. Maximum speed and bandwidth so its easy to offload and manage all other network clients without causing bottlenecks
g. Optimization of the balance of your home network to minimize interference with your hi-fi and assure a productive, fast, fault free connection for all devices.

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WiFi would be fantastic I suspect if you lived in the middle of nowhere. My iPhone reveals FIVE neighbours sharing the WiFi bandwidth. This traffic, although it is secure, slows down my WiFi communication. My local dealer has Cat6 wiring through out, and no doubt it is isolated from the mains circuits too.

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Thanks for comprehensive reply.

Looks daunting initially, but actually it’s just using a dedicated router audio band (@5Hz), good quality mesh network adapter providing the bridge (I presume that will do the job adequately), switch and hi-fi. Have I understood correctly?

That’s not what I meant. The £1000s comment was relating to expensive switches and cables, and I was asking the question if there was a need to do this if WiFi could do the job as effectively for no or very little cost.

You know the answer is ‘it depends’ - just get another bucket of popcorn ready… :wink:

That’s perhaps why @Blackmorec suggested a separate ethernet bridge?

Yes, and the wisdom seems to be hardwired. Just asking why!

Really helpful. I have just googled Wi-Fi to Ethernet bridge and there’s an overwhelming amount of choice!
Do have any recommendations- bridge and ps?
Thank you

I know.

Don’t confuse ‘wisdom’ with ‘what everyone else does’… but I’m glad WiFi works well enough for me (note the caveat) ‘cos the router’s on the other side of the house…

There are cons to both approaches, and it never ceases to amaze the holes people dig for themselves in misguided (often ‘it worked for someone else’) attempts to ‘improve’ things.

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You can spend hundreds or many thousands on a network, regardless whether or not it includes wi-fi.

But you are absolutely correct that a few hundred spent wisely, including wi-fi can make profound improvements in sound quality and in the general functioning of the entire holdhold network.

Normally in i-fi the law of diminishing returns steps in quite early on in the game but in the case of the network, improvements become more and more profound as the network stream approaches its theoretical ideal. What does happen is that improvements do become more and more expensive but the SQ improvements they bring also increase.
Very dangerous for the wallet!

Music doesn’t require much bandwidth, but if the rest of the network clients are dragging down network performance, that does affect SQ and limits what you can do on the hi-fi side. Ideally for hi-fi you want a very quiet network with little traffic. A high bandwidth allows you to divert all your household clients and traffic to other bands, without forming any bottlenecks. The more bandwidth and speed you have, the less time the network is busy.
The reason wi-fi has a bad name is typically due to too little bandwidth for too many clients and poor signal strength WHERE you need it.

Regarding Wi-fi radio, Its why I avoid using wi-fi cards in hi-fi components and is what the switch following the Ethernet bridge corrects. The very nice thing about digital and networking in particular is that corrections can be made and faults removed along the entire chain. My entire network is designed to do just that.

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Because hard wired if better than substandard wi-fi. The wi-fi my ISP provided was truly horrible….very poor quality router with flakey technology like the Puma chipset, poor signal strength, poor bandwidth sharing algorithm etc. But with a decent router and bridge wi-fi, with its 100% galvanic isolation wi-fi sounded a lot better than even a 15m Synergistic Research Active SE Ethernet connection. This was true even when I used the 15m cable for the much shorter connection between bridge and server, so it was down to what was coming out of the router along with the data stream that the isolation was not allowing to pass.
If you are using something like the above, then investment in a simple router and bridge (wi-fi to ethernet convertor) will already bring a substantial uplift in SQ for around £350 (£ 430) all in.
I use a TPLink Archer AC5400 and TPLink RE650 extender, sep up with 2.4GHz and polling turned off. The 2nd 5GHz band of the router is dedicated to a single client and the only client on the RE650 is the ethernet output to the first (of 3 ) switches. While neither the router nor the bridge are anything special, they do allow management from a single simple app that runs on phone or iPad. This brings me to a very interesting point. Both that router and the bridge can be HUGELY uplifted in performance. Don’t get me wrong. They start off great, perfectly adequate for music listening. But audiophiia is my hobby so part of my time is spent thinking about and upgrading my hi-fi. Both the modem and bridge respond hugely to power supply upgrades and moderately less but still significantly to vibration control. And what I have found is that those power supplies are like any other hi-fi component. The better they are and the more they are designed for music making, the more the quality of the PRESENTATION of the music changes for the better. It becomes bigger, bolder, faster, more detailed, more holographic, more revealing of inner detail, more feeling rich and emotional, more involving, more ‘powerful’ in every sense of the word. What you’re hearing isn’t the router or extender getting better. What you’re hearing is the DC that powers everything, including what you hear getting better. The router and bridge allow you to hear better power supplies. So saying that a $100 bridge doesn’t justify a $4000 power supply is missing the point entirely. What the $4000 power supply brings you is exactly what you’d expect from such a power supply, namely massive improvements. The bridge is just an active gateway to the power supplies’ voltage, current and of course noise. Vibration control has more to do with providing a non-resonance-exciting platform. You basically want to stop stuff getting exited by vibration. Remember that no matter how high the frequency of the vibration, harmonics can work in both directions so even very minor sub-harmonics can excite components. And a £150 component like the wi-fi-ethernet bridge responds extreme positively to such treatment, presumable due to its consumer grade, non-hi-fi-use-optimized structure. But what comes out of a vibration and power optimised bridge is very different indeed to what comes out of a standard unit, that in itself is already miles better than a non-optimised ISP installation. So the point is, the network is as much a hi-fi component as any other that responds to refinement and improvement by providing higher quality, more intensely enjoyable music.

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Very interested in the replies to this. I’ve dumped Ethernet/switches for WiFi recently and have noticed absolutely no degradation in sound. Can it actually be improved though ? The steps outlined so far are things to try, certainly.

For information- we don’t have traditional broadband, only a 4G router, so “wires” are kept to a minimum. I do have 2x RE650’s, but use them solely to connect phones and laptops throughout the house. Streamer connects to the 5GHz band on the router/modem directly and is the only thing on that band. We live in the middle of nowhere, so little to no WiFi interference.

Please understand that I am not saying you are wrong. However, I do have to say that my own personal experience here is contrary to the popular view.

I have used ‘Powerlines’ to distribute internet coverage around my small house for the past 15 years or so. My house is 60 years old next summer & the majority of the wiring is, I believe, original . A couple of newer circuits have been added since I have lived in it (since 1986) but as far as I know, the lounge circuit from which the Hi-Fi runs from, is original. I have it checked out every five years.

I have, what I think, is a simple, but robust, home network which incorporates 3 Powerline devices, one to the router, another in a separate room to my desktop PC & the final one in the lounge which has my Nova, Core & BT TV box plugged into it via a cheap Netgear GS 105 switch. This system has performed faultlessly for the three & a half years that I have had my Nova/Core.

When my wife was away recently I did try running two 10m ethernet cables direct from the router to the Nova & Core & neither I, or the friend I bought in for an independent opinion, could hear any difference at all.

I accept that I may have been lucky with my network setup & that it is indeed the only setup I have come across connected to a Hi-Fi system.

I am simply saying that I fail to see why Powerlines receive such a bad press, based on my personal experience.

Dear jmtennapel,
You say that WiFi set up with most streamers won’t be as good as connected.
Hmmm, first I would say that it more than a little bit depends on the streamer and its wi-fi implementation, but I tend to believe you due to all the noise wi-fi creates converting radio to ethernet voltages, which is why I don’t use streamers for wi-fi. Its the wrong place to convert radio to volts.
Instead of going to the streamer, I go to a network bridge because the bridge does the radio to volts conversion in isolation with nothing else to contaminate and gives me access to the data stream via its ethernet output for further clean-up….so the wi-fi takes care of any electrical noise prior to the bridge and the switch following the bridge improves the bridge’s ethernet output prior to passing it to the streamer or server. No disturbance to the streamer or server and a better quality, more refined input.
Also the idea that its switches or wi-fi is not correct. Wi-fi is only one part of the network chain….the means to easily get the signal from one place to somewhere remote while isolating the stream from all the prior broadband and LAN generated noise. Switches still have a roll in terms of their ability to refine the bit stream.

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Hi Canaryfan,
Ive tried Powerlines quite extensively and had some almost jaw dropping results. I thought it would be nasty and it was exactly the opposite.
The problem with Powerlines is more the mains contaminations, multiple cable joins and it’s inability to cross circuits (downstairs ring, upstairs ring, etc). With Powerlines there are a lot of issues that can’t easily be addressed so its easy to get very good results, but you can’t take it any further, thus while I agree that Powerlines work and in my case worked well, I dont believe they are suitable for Audiophile applications

So, just to be clear…with my set up, would you suggest 4G router in bridge mode to RE650, then Ethernet to one or more switches (with improved power supplies and physical isolation) then to streamer ?

WiFi channels can become very congested, because your neighbours may also be using similar bands. A local dealer near to me, who is in the middle of no where uses Cat6 wiring for connection. The newer higher 5g Wifi networks 802.11.ac that have speeds of up to 1300Mbs second will not be used by neighbours so would be desirable. The older 802.11 b/a/g are likely to be congested. Open your wireless network detector on your phone or computer, you’ll see how many WiFi hotspots there are about.

Confession time. I use EoP for my spare room/bedroom systems that are modified SA devices that work as Squeezebox endpoints, the work well with Roon.