Editor's Note: From time to time we publish reviews of controversial products. Audiophile network switches fall into this category without question. We welcome all comments in the comment section below the review as long as they are respectful and not personal. - Chris
Do network switches make an audible improvement?
- Designed for high end network audio
- Specially designed Ethernet noise filter
- Support 10, 100, 1G ethernet
- 8 x RJ-45 ports
- 2 x SFP ports
- LED indicator on/off function
- sCLK-EX High End clock module
- 10MHz master clock input
- Wide range of power input (6.5v ~ 12v)
Pricing starts at $800 for the plain Jane model, $1500 with sCLK-EX clock board and the full blown $1700 with sCLK-EX clock board and master clock input with your choice of 50 Ohm or 75 Ohm connector. The difference between the sms-200 and sms-200 Ultra is the addition of the sCLK-EX board. The sNH-10G tested here included this sCLK-EX board, maybe this should be called the sNH-10G Ultra? I did not have the plain Jane model to compare.
The fit and finish of the switch is top notch. It is apparent that a lot of design work went into the aesthetics of the unit (such as the melodious grill work on the top plate), after all a $800+ product should look like it’s worth $800+. The design and manufacture of the unit was all done in house. This is not just a modified consumer switch with added clock and filters. My unit arrived with an sPS-500 power supply and DC cable along with a dCBL-CAT7 ethernet cable.
I am a believer that every component can potentially impact the sound quality for good or bad. On hand I have an older Linksys EG008W 8 port consumer switch powered by an LH Labs LPS-1 and an Aqvox Switch-8 powered by an iFi 9 V power supply. The differences in price and performance was readily apparent.
Q&A with May Park from SoTM
Q : How was it invented? Even though there are many routers and switches already available?
A : Because we’ve experienced sound quality differences by the different network devices but there was nothing to fulfill the quality of sound, so we started development for audio equipment.
Q : What is the benefit of using sNH-10G into the system?
A : As for the audio equipment, the most important factor is sound quality. Also it has the optical ports and LED on/off feature.
Q :What is the technical background of sNH-10G?
A : All SOtM products have their own unique technical points. The sNH-10G is for the network audio device, every LAN port has filtering technology, which improves sound quality dramatically and this filtering technology has also been applied to the iSO-CAT6.
The noise coming from the Ethernet signal has a very wide frequency band. In order to eliminate this wide frequency band, we've created various parts corresponding to the noise of each frequency and then combining them to became the broadband noise filter. This filter is already applied to iSO-CAT6 and is also used in sNH-10G.
Also, ultra low noise regulator, active noise canceller for clock and selectable audio components are used, and all such combination is well synergized to make better sound quality in the audio system. All SOtM products have their own unique technical points. The sNH-10G is for all network audio devices, every LAN port has filtering technology, which improves sound quality dramatically and this filtering technology has also been applied to the iSO-CAT6.
The noise coming from the Ethernet signal have a very wide frequency band. In order to eliminate this wide frequency band noise, we've selected various parts corresponding to the noise frequency band and then combined them to become the wide band noise filter.
Also, ultra low noise regulator, active noise canceller for clock and specially selected audio grade components are used, and all such combination is well synergized to make much better sound quality in the audio system.
Q : What is difference between the other network ethernet switch in the market and the sNH-10G?
A: The difference is about the sound quality and it’s very real factor which is why the sNH-10G has been developed even though other vendors are also developing network switches.
Q : How to use the optical ports? What is the benefits of the ports?
A : The SFP ports on sNH-10G can also bring benefits from the filtering feature which were explained on above. But we recommend using RJ45 ports with the good quality network cable like dCBL-CAT7 & iSO-CAT6 combination over using the optical ports, because the connection with RJ45 and dCBL-CAT7&iSO-CAT6 could bring the better sound quality than SFP ports.
Q : What is the switch on the back panel?
A : There are 3 steps of the switch, it controls the LED power on/off. When it is positioned to be up, the led is on and power is on. When it is in the middle, the unit will be off, when it is in down, the LED is off but still the unit works.
Q : Why recommend using the dCBL-CAT7 and iSO-CAT6 even though the sNH-10G is used already?
A : There would be no single product which removes noise completely, but they can help reduce noise and improve sound quality, so even though the sNH-10G and iSO-CAT6 have good quality filtering technology on their own, if they can be used together , the synergy is better than using only one filter and brings better results. There is no single product which removes noise completely, even though the product are good at reducing noise so it improves sound quality, it doesn’t mean that the products remove noise completely. But well designed audio products like sNH-10G and SOtM’s other products reduce noise and help to improve sound quality.
My music network is very flat and simple.
TELUS ISP Fiber Modem
Netgear Duo V2
(WD Red 4 TB RAID 0)
Asus Vivobook (Anker Unibody USB Ethernet USB Hub)
(Windows10 Pro, Fidelizer 8.2, AudiophileOptimizer, Bridged Ethernet Ports)
SoTM sms-200 Ultra SE
LH Labs Pulse X Infinity
Reference Line Preeminence 1B Passive
Sonic Frontiers Power 2
Fostex TX-00 Purplehearts
The recommended burn in time for the sNH-10G is 50 hours but after initially setting up the unit, I could tell something special was going on. The noise filtering technology really does what SoTM claims. The device was powered with SoTM’s SPS-500 SMPS power supply.
I did not have access to any fiber networking connections. May Park from SoTM recommended I test with RJ45 cable which is what I did.
On the back, you will notice a small 3 position switch. Its function is an LED ON/OFF switch with the middle position powering off the switch. Under close listening there is a slight improvement in sound quality with LED off. The difference is very slight and at first I needed headphones to discern the small improvement.
First up I connected the Aqvox Switch-8 listened to each track and then switched to the sNM-10G and made comparisons.
Here are my listening notes.
This is a very natural folk recording with traditional Italian roots. Sweeping and romantic with a touch of bite. The most apparent difference here is the microdynamics and detail resolution. Instruments suddenly became more interesting and the music became more involving, at the same time more relaxed with an ease and flow which made the music more natural.
Bruce Springsteen’s classic cover by Meghan Andrews. This is a single available on Blue Coast Music. You can download this in various formats, FLAC, DSD and WAV for your own comparison. I used the DSD128 version. A very spare acoustic voice and guitar recording. Most apparent here is the guitar seemed to have more wood and body as compared to more strings with the Aqvox. The voice had slightly more chest as compared to more throat.
Mad Season | River of Deceit Above 1995 (24/44)
This test produced more interesting textures. Layne Staley’s voice more falsetto. Better bass texture and articulation and a slightly wider soundstage.
Metallica | Black Album Wherever I May Roam 1992 (24/96 FLAC)
Using sitar- like guitar playing, the change brought about a more visceral and robust feel to James Hetfield's vocals yet at the same time the highs were more relaxed with a greater sense of ease to the flow of the song. The same character as with earlier listening bringing about more interesting sustain to instruments and more decay in percussion.
This is one of my desert island recordings. I thought I would include a standard redbook recording. The difference here is more air. The soundstage created slightly more image height. Each instrument having more decay and sustain. Already quite beautiful through the Aqvox, everything was just more there with the SoTM.
Another cover, this time Pat Metheny’s version of the Stylistics classic. Here it was very close. I have a redbook version of this recording and I can hardly tell the difference. I had to use Fostex TX-00 Purpleheart headphones to detect just a slight bit more wood in the guitar and sustain in the notes.
I have to declare that SoTM’s design goals of producing a good sounding switch by reducing noise has been a resounding success. Musical textures are more interesting notes have more air and decay. In some cases more image height and slightly deeper soundstage. For fun I put in my old Netgear consumer switch. I immediately had to take it out. So here we have some careful considerations to make. I can’t speak to the $1000 plain Jane sNH-10G but this upgraded version with the upgraded clock sounds much better than the 398 Euro (around $456 USD at time of writing) Aqvox Switch 8 which in turn sounds much better than a consumer Linksys switch. Is it $1200 better? That is hard to say. Myself, I think this is a special product and worthy of consideration.
May Park just sent me a note. Having done some internal testing they found that under this parallel configuration there was a dramatic sonic improvement.
Product: sNH-10G Network Switch ($800+)
Where to Buy:
US Customers - Crux Audio / SOtM USA
International Customers - SOtM