Silent Angel N8 Network Switch Review
Neville Roberts samples this interesting bit of digital kit…
N8 Network Switch
£399 (£799 with optional F1 PSU)
Using your Wi-Fi network to connect your digital music source can result in all sorts of problems, ranging from jitter issues to complete dropout of the audio signal. That's why a wired cable connection is the only reliable way to achieve the high speeds necessary to transmit high-resolution audio over a modern gigabit (1000Base-T) network.
Connecting all of this equipment together requires the use of a network switch, which is a hub that enables several cables to be connected together and permits the flow of computer information across all of the connected items. The problem with standard computer-grade hubs, or the switches built into modern routers, is that they are designed to simply allow a reliable flow of information without concerning themselves with the effect that they may have on the timing of the data and/or noise in the digital waveform.
These are big issues for audio applications, as the DAC then has to deal with them. What's needed are digital signals with fast rise and fall times and no ringing at the edges, along with freedom from noise. Unfortunately, the latter is often picked up from poorly shielded digital interconnect cables and the mains through the power supply. That's why a network switch designed specifically designed for audio applications is a must. Enter the £399 Silent Angel N8 Network Switch…
Designed as an audio-grade computer network switch, it has eight 100/1000Base-T gigabit Ethernet ports and includes a customised Silent Angel Noise Absorber (SANA), two noise isolators for the main power circuit and a further two noise isolators for the clock generator circuit. The included switched-mode power supply is quoted by the manufacturers as being medical-grade, which means that it meets 2xMOPP isolation regulations and has a leakage current of less than 100μA. Silent Angel also produces a higher-grade F1 external linear power supply, which sports two independent 5V 2A USB power supplies, each connecting via a standard 5.5mm coaxial DC plug or USB-A connection. This takes the package price up to £799.
Build quality of both the N8 and the F1 power supply is very good indeed. The equipment is housed in strong metal cases, and good quality connectors are fitted in both units. In addition, the N8 is supplied with a 50cm Ugreen Cat 7 patch cable, which employs shielding for individual wire pairs and also for the cable as a whole.
I have a standard Edimax 4-port gigabit network switch connected to a Thecus N2810PRO fileserver, a Cambridge Audio Azur 851N streamer and a PC running Windows 11. This lets me play music stored on the fileserver and also on the PC through the streamer. With my computer-grade network switch, this sounds pretty good. For example, the Allegro from Handel's Organ Concerto No. 4 in F Major, Op. 4 No. 4, played by Rudolf Ewerhart on the organ with Collegium Aureum, gives a reasonably full sound and a pretty joyful presentation.
Moving to the N8 powered by its stock switched-mode power supply, I was aware of more detail in the organ notes and from the orchestra's string section. Powering the N8 from one of the F1 linear power supply outputs, and the soundstage widened further, seeming less constrained with a greater sense of the presence of the organ in my room. As a result, the sound had more height, and the orchestra seemed more refined, elegant, and stately.
Listening to a 24/192 PCM WAV file of Burt Bacharach's The Look of Love sung by Dusty Springfield with my standard network switch, the music was tuneful and the vocals clean and precise. But the N8/F1 was a big step up with better depth and dimensionally to vocals; I could even hear Dusty breathing during the song. Switching back to the N8's supplied power supply, I couldn't detect any appreciable sound degradation with this track.
Rimsky Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol from the Chasing The Dragon album España was impressively dynamic with my standard network switch. Yet dynamics improved with the N8 switch in use and adding the F1 power supply slightly improved the overall clarity. With other records, though, the difference wasn't so marked – for example, The Velvet Brass performing Charlie Barnet's Skyliner demonstrated an extensive sound stage, with plenty of air around individual instruments, whether or not I was using the N8.
Ultimately, the better the recording, the easier it was to notice the improvements gained by using the Silent Angel Network Switch, and that's even more the case for the upgrade power supply. I'd say this is an excellent network switch for audio applications that offers clear audible improvements over a standard computer-grade network switch. The optional F1 linear power supply makes things even more worthwhile. I'd recommend this product and advise that it's well worth auditioning if streamed music is a major part of your musical diet.
A Chartered Scientist, Chartered Engineer, Chartered Physicist and a Fellow of the British Institution of Engineering and Technology, Neville has worked as a Director of the British National Health Service, for the Ministry of Defence and in private industry. He’s a lifelong audio enthusiast and regular contributor to British hi-fi magazines, with a passion for valves and vinyl.
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