Until recently, there wasn't much of an option for audio-grade network switches. Audiophiles using servers and streamers to play their digital music had the choice of a direct line in to their equipment or sub-par switches from the electronics store. The Chord Company typically improves audio signals by focusing on creating the best possible cables to move the signal. However, even the best cables can't do anything to fix the the sub-optimal network signal coming from the cheap hubs. To remedy this, The Chord Company launched English Electric and introduced the new 8Switch audio-grade network switch.
The 8Switch features eight ports, allowing you to plug in the incoming ethernet signal and have up to seven lines running to your equipment (such as a computer, router, media servers, streamers, etc.). However, the 8Switch is set apart from typical network switches by its major decrease in signal noise. Where many computing-grade switches can deliver an adequate signal for a computer to recompile, the audio-grade 8Switch isolates the power supply and oscillator to significantly decrease noise introduced at this stage. In a recent review for Hi-Fi+, reviewer Jason Kennedy goes into detail about the 8Switch and investigates its performance in his digital playback system.
Having previously upgraded from a Netgear switch to a Cisco switch, Kennedy knew the advantages a better network signal could provide in a sound system. However, he was not expecting the extent of the performance boost offered by the English Electric switch. Plugging the 8Switch into his Auralic streamer resulted in immediate improvements:
Going from a Cisco Catalyst 2960 S1 to the 8Switch resulted in a considerable increase in high-frequency detail and better timing, the former undoubtedly begetting the latter thanks to better resolution of leading edges. Cymbals and treble harmonics clearly benefited, and the sound became more vibrant and fresher. The degree to which the upper end of the spectrum was cleaned up was quite a revelation, making the tone of voices and instruments far more appealing. It also opened up the soundstage really nicely, increasing its scale and depth.
Even adding more points between the incoming internet signal and the speakers didn't dilute the English Electric 8Switches effect on playback. When plugged into the Innuos server, the 8Switch passed less noise through the network, resulting in better timing and precision. Streaming from Qobuz showed similar results, with richer bass and stronger vocal ranges. In a head-to-head comparison with the previous network switch, the 8Switch "delivered distinctly sweeter highs and stronger melodic drive."