Welcome back to my weekly Monday ramblings, today will represent a bit of a change of pace as I’d like to tell you about one of the most unusual products that I’ve encountered in months as opposed to waxing lyrical about a system that we’ve set up upstairs. Be warned, this particular product will be a decisive one!
It all starts much earlier in the year, I was away on my holidays and I had phoned the store to catch up on what had been happening in my absence. Dan spun some yarn about this amazing new product from Chord Cables that utterly transformed the system in the demo room. As the receiver was passed to Jon, his thoughts mirrored Dan’s precisely – Chord Cables is bringing out a miracle product that will change my life for the better.
“What is this Holiest of Hi-Fi Grails?” I asked them frantically.
“It’s a Network Switch” they replied.
It was clear that a feverish mania had swept through the shop. Without my calming influence they had gone quite mad.
The offending item finally arrived in stock a few weeks ago and immediately sold out. (https://www.oxfordaudio.co.uk/product/english-electric-8switch-audio-grade-gigabit-network-switch/). I didn’t even have the chance to look at one, let alone listen to it! Batch two arrived on Wednesday and, armed with a healthy dose of cynicism, I scurried off upstairs to the demo room with one of the English Electric 8-Switches to see what all the fuss was about.
They say a little knowledge is dangerous. Little would be the adjective of choice to describe my level of knowledge of how a network actually works. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually pretty proficient with LAN/WAN devices, but there is a definite lack of understanding of how they actually function at an operational level. What little I did know told me that a network switch cannot affect the sound, surely?
I was wrong. The difference is so stark as to be quite vulgar. Your router/switch is holding back your Hi-Fi and it needed changing yesterday.
Firstly, the EE Switch is immaculately presented. It’s a solid chunk, incomparable to any other similar network device. It comes supplied with an external power supply and a Chord Cables C-Stream cable to get it connected to your LAN. I decided to connect the 8-Switch to a conventional TP Link switch already in our listening room and, using the mighty T+A SDV as a source, change between ethernet cables connected to either switch. This way, I thought, as the signal path is exactly the same except for having the 8-Switch in it or not, would clearly show me the difference that it could make.
I started with Sufjan Steven’s “Casimir Pulaski Day” from the album Illinoise. It didn’t take long to see what Jon had been so taken in by. The addition of the 8-Switch removed a layer of previously unnoticed grain and edge from the Tidal-sourced track. It had sounded excellent before, but using the 8-Switch, Steven’s hushed tones and Banjo felt so much more analogue and natural. I tried a bit of a classic in the form of Rebecca Pidgeon’s cover of “Rose in Spanish Harlem”, the EE 8 Switch again confidently removing a layer of hitherto undetectable noise, made suddenly apparent by it’s absence. As the track becomes more complex and the strings and percussion come in, the EE 8-Switch unleashed each performer into their own space in the room. Finally, the day being quite so idyllic and my mood so good, I decided to play a bit of Jeff Lynne’s Electric Light Orchestra. Hi-Fi Hyperbole aside, I have never heard “Dairy of Horace Wimp” sound so good. The 8-Switch adding a lustre and vivacity that I’ve seldom heard.
This £449 Network Switch had clearly infected me too and I don’t think that I will start a streamer demo without one going forwards. You may not know it yet, but your router/switch is definitely holding your system back.