Tweaks and improvements for USB Audio output are pretty common nowadays. It’s no surprise as USB has become a standard connection in a majority of new DACs. But there is one more link needed in every computer audio setup – network. Without Ethernet, it would be impossible to stream audio from online music services such as TIDAL & Qobuz or from local media servers. Do we need to optimize a network connection in order to enjoy the sound at the highest possible quality?
network audio concept
Every network streamer, streaming bridge or network player uses Ethernet to transfer data. Even if music files are stored directly on a drive inside a music server, the network is involved, because this is how media server software works.
The communication between a music server software and a player (renderer) is done via TCP/IP or UDP network protocols, also locally, directly on a computer. This concept is not only valid for devices using UPnP, OpenHome or MPD standards, but also for software players like Roon and JPLAY which use network extensively.
CONSTANT NETWORK ACTIVITY
Network connection is used not only for streaming audio (music) data. The remote app you are using to control playback checks the renderer’s and the server’s state, updates progress etc. As a result, network packets are being sent non-stop. It turns out that the quality of network components involved for transmitting these data has a huge impact on sound quality. The more precise our network connection is, the more accurate timing of packets, the better our system sounds.
Number one source of noise
Ethernet, or more correct, the connection to a home network is the biggest source of noise in a modern hi-fi system. Even if your audio system is on a dedicated AC line and you’re using excellent power cords, power conditioning etc, the moment you connect an Ethernet cable to a streamer / music server / audio PC, you’re getting noise from the router and other appliances that plug to the router – it’s all connected.
The problem is even more serious if the router is not grounded and powered by a switching power supply (SMPS) which is the case in 95% of the systems. Audiophiles just don’t think about LAN as the part of their audio chain. And they should, because using a linear PSU to power the router or at least grounding the router brings incredible improvement of sound quality.
But even if your router is grounded and powered by an LPS, using a hi-end network interface in your PC music server (or transport) will elevate your system to a level you wouldn’t expect is possible – regardless if you’re streaming music from Tidal or from a local storage. Hard to believe? Check out the video below which compares the sound quality of a motherboard LAN with the world’s 1st audiophile network interface, JCAT NET Card FEMTO. You can hear a clear improvement even through YouTube.
A recognized high-end audio consultant. Computer audio pioneer. Co-creator of the award-winning software, JPLAY. Manufacturer, curator, and distributor of high-quality audio products. Constantly strives for perfection of sound. Foundations for his breakthroughs finds in areas that others ignore.