Categories: NetworkingReviews

SOtM sNH-10G Audiophile Ethernet Switch Review

Intro

The sound quality of your Spotify streams and digital music depends on more than just your headphones or speakers. Your digital cables (USB, Ethernet, coaxial, optical), modem and router, the hard drive on your computer, and even the type of Internet Service Provider (ISP) you have (coax vs fiber) – all contribute heavily to what you hear.

Anyone who tells you digital devices and cables can’t make a difference – is bullshitting you. They either haven’t heard it for themselves or choose to be ignorant. Assuming healthy ears, those are the only two possibilities.

Aren’t they just zeros and ones?

I’m probably one of the very few audiophile reviewers who have a Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Computer Science. As far as tech is concerned – you name it, and I’ve probably done it. From writing audio/video codecs and programming microcontrollers – to setting up highly secure HIPAA compliant networks.

This domain requires many configurations to be absolute – and measurable. I prefer numbers and I’ve cultivated quite a binary mindset. I’m all about log files, charts, and graphs.

In such a technical environment, the only thing that kept me sane – was listening to music. When I started my audiophile journey, it was easy to accept the possibility that headphones and analog cables could sound different. But when I first heard about “audiophile” USB cables and routers – my “snake oil” senses went off. My engineering mind shouted, “It’s just 0’s and 1’s fools!”

Regardless, an astute engineer (and human being) always uses the right tools, for the right job. They should know when the scientific method applies – and when it doesn’t.

At this point, I could do one of two things: Be egotistic and demand proof – or just hear it for myself. Which path one takes largely depends on personality. Although it was easier to dismiss these notions, I decided to just hear it for myself. I’ve now been listening to audio gear full-time for about 5 years now.

The Audiophile Mindset

I’ll be reviewing SOtM’s new “audiophile-grade” Ethernet switch. The “job” here is to figure out whether this audiophile product makes an audible difference. And more importantly, whether this difference enhances one’s personal enjoyment of music. This means that the problem is inherently subjective – objectivity has very little relevance.

We could all agree, if a product sounds good to us, it doesn’t matter how a piece of equipment measures. In fact, some of my favorite headphones measure very poorly. I’m good with that. And that’s enough reason for me to ignore measurements completely.

Aside from finding problem areas and repeatability purposes, there’s little gain from looking at measurements. Especially for making purchasing decisions. Besides, it’s a fact that even if a cable were to measure the same, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will sound the same.

The right tools for the right job…

Consequently, the best tools are your own ears and an open mind – not an oscilloscope or LCR meter. My suggestion would be to listen to as many designs as possible and figure out what you gravitate towards. Also, realize that your tastes may change over time.

Once you’ve done that, you could figure out if there are any correlations between what you like – and what is measurable. However, I’m not sure how fruitful that would be.

Your listening experiences and preferences are the only things that matter in this hobby.

Measurement Morons

I believe our preconceptions can be (and should be) challenged. It’s what breeds progression and makes us human. We’re not omniscient and there’s still a lot to learn. Digital audio has gone a long, long way just in the past decade.

There’s a difference between someone who says “I don’t hear a difference. Thus it makes no difference.” and “There can’t be a difference (gives a scientific reason). Either your mind is playing tricks on you or there’s something wrong with your system.” Be wary about those who say the latter. They’re usually #measurement_morons.

It’s interesting how some of these other engineers (and their minions) denounce what audiophiles are hearing as placebo and hallucinations. They also demand double-blind and null tests for everything. Do they really think intelligent people who are able to afford this gear – would drop lots of cash for something they don’t really hear? Time to get off that high horse, homie.

100% of these Measurement Morons aren’t even real audiophiles. Yeah, I said it. If you were an experienced audiophile, you would already know that higher quality digital cables could help improve the sound of a system.

As discussed, they just have a different personality. They’re usually (not always) the close-minded, introverted, dismissive, cynical types, who treat their textbooks as gospel. Ironically, they want to spread “the truth” but are actually misleading the masses. I have no clue what their purpose is in this space – but I’m positive they have too much time on their hands.

The Sound of Networking Gear

Take two different Ethernet switches you have at home and try to stream Tidal, Qobuz, or Spotify through it. They’ll sound different. I guarantee it.

In fact, I recently switched from cable (coax) to fiber for my Internet Service Provider (ISP) – and immediately noticed the differences in how my music streams sounded – even on a Google Home. I had both connected so I was able to A/B very easily. For what it’s worth, the fiber sounded quieter, quicker, and more transparent at the expense of warmth and body.

I’ve written quite a bit about why it isn’t just 0’s and 1’s here, here, and here. It boils down to noise (RFI/EMI) modulating how the DAC interpolates the bits – and how it affects the analog output section.

Many don’t realize that a digital signal is still an analog signal – and it’s not perfect. Better clocks and isolation equates to lower phase noise and jitter. The human ear is discerning enough to hear these minute mistimings in music – especially in the form of transients. If you want to nerd out on the technicals, feel free to read this white paper.

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Jay Luong

Mr. Audio Bacon himself. An open-minded electrical engineer and software developer by trade. I have an obsession with the enjoyment of all things media - specifically in the realm of music and film. So much heart and soul (and money) go into the creation of this artistry. My aim is to find out which products get me closer to what the musicians and directors intended.

View Comments

  • Chris Conneker of Computer Audiophile concurs with your POV, as do many others.

    There is an alternative to the wildly expensive SOtM switch.

    Paul Pang offers two Audio Grade Switches. One @ $219.00 and the other at $1190.00
    https://ppaproduct.blogspot.com/2015/07/audio-grade-switcher.html?m=1

    Pang suggests that two of the $1190.00 switches takes fidelity to an even higher level.

    A follow up review comparing the Pang modded switches to the SOtM and Cisco switches would be most welcome.

  • "MEASUREMENT MORONS"

    Thank you!!!
    You stated my my view to the letter, with 1 exception. I call them :"Flat Landers" rather than Measurement Morons.

    As we know "Flat Landers" KNEW that the world was flat, in much the same way that audio naysayers KNOW that the things that they either can't afford or don't want to pay for cannot possibly change the sound.
    We as humans are still the equivalent to infants in our knowledge.
    Just because WE DON'T YET KNOW how to perform the appropriate measurements to satisfy the Measurement Morons, does not mean changes do not exist.

    • But here's what I do know any piece of equipment that doesn't have a signal to noise ratio of CD quality or better is a no go for me. Then start listening with Pet Sounds. More likely than not I'm done, the piece of equipment can't do it. By the time I get to my reference banjo and harmonica recordings I have eliminated nine out ten pieces of equipment.

      And I can safely say a lot is known about what measurements are important.

  • I was wondering can this switch be deployed as a noise filter? due to circumstances I have to use a wireless bride to connect to my innuos so if I add the SOTM switch between my wireless bridge and the innuos, will it improve the sound quality?

    • Most definitely. I'm only saying that because I've tried using an ASUS bridge directly before. Sounds better with the SOtM.

    • You don’t buy such a switch because you need more ports, you do it because of its re-clocking and lower noise capacitors etc. Is it worth the price tag? -> you have to decide for yourself.

    • Agreed. I have been in professional audio for 40 years, and this is easily the silliest article I’ve ever made the mistake of reading.

  • How can this be a audio switch, it doesn't even support IEEE802.1BA standard. Go lookup a Catalyst 9200, 3850, 9300 and get a real switch instead.
    A rebranded cheap switch and call it audiophile doesn't make the product better, even if it costs 10 times more than normal.
    Sorry, I really don't believe this review. And the speakers in the test are more like midrange too.
    OK, you're probably a bachelor in engineering, but not in networks. :)

  • You obviously have a faulty music player. The fact that plugging a cable in can alter the sound of the player means that the players designers did a bad job of designing the EMI / RFI suppression system in the music player.

    There is so much buffering going on in file playback that in a well designed system, only two factors are relevant, file integrity and sample clock performance. In a badly designed system, where shielding and interference suppression were disregarded, all sorts of things start to mess with the system.

    My question is why you are barking up the wrong tree and kludging a "fix" that means paying snake-oil money to address a problem that should not exist in a well designed system.

    • You said it better than I could have, a well designed DAC should be immune to what is plugged into it. I suspect a lot of audiophile digital gear is indeed poorly engineered.

      • You guys obviously aren't audiophiles. Tell me...which DAC or music server/player is completely immune to noise? You wouldn't be able to point out a single damn product - because it doesn't exist. Even "well-designed" gear is susceptible. Also, the level of suppression matters and could adjust how one enjoys the sound. Which goes back to "If it measures well, it doesn't mean it'll sound good to everyone."

        • They all are susceptible, to a varying degree. Agreed. But the thing that matters is whether they will degrade their output as a result of it. "Audiophile" gear has a long history of not being designed to be robust and tolerant, interface-wise, probably because there are observable problems with constraining bandwidth in the analog domain. But this is digital data. If the bits that come in are identical to what is being sent from disk (and the CRC32 on the Ethernet frames pretty much guarantees that, together with the TCP checksumming and retransmission going on, for which we have buffering), the resulting waveform will not deviate as a function of the transfer.

          In my experience, as a broadcast network engineer doing several orders of magnitude more complicated things than essentially copying a file over a short cable, (like transfering 100+ channels of real-time live sound 600km over dedicated networks and playing some of them back in surround, which of course requires path delay alignment in the microseconds range to be believable) the cable and the switch are negligable. As long as they perform to standard and lose no bits, and the switch supports the timing protocols. (This is of no concern to your test case, because you can buffer and will use your local sample clock oscillator steered to the values derived from metadata in the file. I am listening to my GPS-controlled OXCO putting IEEE1588-2008 packets on the wire, and using that as sample clock steering. Much harder. And measurable.)

          Why am I going on about this? Because _everything_ is done to a budget. It simply does not make sense to start wandering off in these directions before the problems with the DAC are solved. Because, I'm 100% certain that that is where you'll find the root cause.

          Paying large amounts of money for Ethernet gear simply does not make sense from a systems engineering point of view, not here, where no optics are involved, no distances are critical, and no bandwidths are even remotely constrained.

          I'd start with getting a good oscillator for the DAC, one that is stable and has negligable jitter. Probably means that it needs to be an OXCO, i.e ovenized and separate. Or rubidium, steered by GPS, if you want long-term stability.

          Oh, and don't forget, make sure you do not have ground loops running in the Ethernet cable screen. Potential equalization with short and low-impedance cables is very important; as is insensitivity to Pin 1 problems (Muncy, JAES, 1994).

          This is /engineering/ -- it is not voodoo. It is treated as voodoo by people who earn large amounts of money from people who want to believe in it. But in the end, there are simple reasons why things work and not, especially so in digital transmission.

          Put your money in record players and loudspeakers instead. That is where money makes a direct difference. The rest is simple. At least in comparison.

          And compare double-blind. We have 100+ years of solid psychology research pointing to it being completely necessary to get anything remotely repeatably true out of subjective evaluation.

          Thanks.

          • fantastic reply, Måns !!

            Jay's response of "You guys obviously aren’t audiophiles." is the perfect red-flag for cult'ish, mob thinking over a quest for objective truth. In a time where lots of anti-science rhetoric is flying about, that and other monikers like "measurement morons" cast the audiophile community as a sort of voodoo religion.

            For years, I've called myself an audiophile... I love music & I simply strive to re-create it to the best of my ability. That ability is a combination of budget, understanding & limits of my own perception. First, we need to acknowledge that this industry is FULL of snake-oil. Some is malicious, some is not... but where there's a buck to be made, you can guarantee somebody will be there waiting for a sucker. Nobody wants to be that sucker and most would never want to admit to it either.

            Anyway, in the realm of analog hi-fi, I think there's still plenty of wiggle-room for some crazy-complex electrical interactions masquerading as some kind of witchcraft. From the DAC-forward, there's a complex system where each component up to & including the electromagnetic thing moving the air has it's own butterfly-effect on the net result.

            I see lots of folks applying that same type of thinking to the even MORE complex digital system on the other side of the DAC... so many that really want to believe that the same principals apply to the packets, frames & serial-streams of binary data. And while it is a modulated signal that can have errors, those have been mitigated by the checksums, error-correcting protocols & buffers. Yes, if you're streaming audio via. UDP, it can contain glitches... but that's not how most of this media is streamed.... it's treated like files over a application-level protocol. Think about it... if you send a file from one computer to another over ethernet and it gets corrupted... something is very very wrong!!

            Audiophile switches... *SMH* it's like somebody found a band of zealots out in the desert, desperately looking for a new god...

          • TCP checksumming? Make your homework!
            Music- and Videostreaming does not use TCP/IP but UDP/IP and Google has even an own Protocol -> less overhead, but no checksumming or resending of lost packets. Therefore quality of components and cables matter even more or error correction has to fill the gaps, which will be audible when reaching a certain threshold. Digital is not fool proof, it can go wrong as well.

          • You are 100 % certain that his DAC is "bad". Have you measured his DAC or the same model ? Have you checked the manufacturer's website for specs ?
            Maybe you should offer to replace the clock for him with a money back guarantee?
            Otherwise why should he follow your guesses at his expense ?

        • I've worked in networking for 20 years, TCP-IP is a lossless protocol, if a packet gets corrupted, then it's re-sent... What switch you use has zero impact on the quality of your sound.

          Following your theory,all content on the internet would suffer degradation every time is duplicated, and 90% of it would be corrupt - as as a "software developer" you should know that is crap, every file has a checksum, any corruption would be detected.

          • I'm not saying the packets have errors - they don't. Otherwise, it would be clearly audible. I'm saying the cable itself indeed changes the sound at the output due to how it modulates noise and interacts with the connected components.

    • Have to agree with you here. Although, with a tiny budget like his it is probable he might get bad results even if there were a decent component here and there in the signal chain. In my humble opinion, no point reviewing a switch before the rest is in order.

  • Thanks for the laughs! I applaud your ability to write absolute utter nonsense for 5 pages straight and still making it sound like an article.

  • Oh boy.... wait until someone flags the Master on this review --- the one and only Dr. Ethan Winer! Then the hell will break lose.

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