I assume, that most of you heard about the “butterfly effect”. I will immediately clarify, that I am not talking about the SF thriller from 2004, I only vaguely remember, but a much more scary, for most people, synonym of a deterministic chaos, or fragile dependency on initial parameters. Translating this into a more digestible form, this means that I am talking about things and processes, where even the slightest errors, anomalies, or even rounding off or averaging of some data, result in completely different output. But what does this all have to do with audio? As it turns out – quite a lot. It questions the approach of “accessory agnostics”, who stubbornly claim, that all kinds of cabling, power cleaners, or other accessories, do absolutely have no influence on what we hear from the speakers, so they do not have any reason for existence. In short, logic alone dictates, that one should care for the quality of the entry parameters, to avoid any issues existing there from multiplying and amplifying. This is the reason, that in this review we will take a look at something, that should be important, given streaming is so common, but in fact it is not neglected, but often treated as something separate to our field of interest. As you probably guessed now I am talking about our … home ethernet network. Yes, the physical transmission medium – cabling and communication gear, like routers, switches and servers. A medium that allows for transmission of electrical signals, and I will underline that – electrical signals – and not zeros and ones, what is repeated by our opponents as a mantra.
We could experience the influence of using a server, which was built with audio in mind, during the test of the very good Melco N1A/2EX 2, which was accompanied by a inconspicuous, but not less important, device, which improved the sound of the played files, the Melco S100 switch. As you can imagine, the observations we made during that review, that such a device, we thought being negligible in our audiophile setup, has a significant impact o the audio quality, as well as having already some experiences with cables (Audiomica Laboratory Anort Consequence, Artoc Ultra Reference, Arago Excellence, Fidata HFLC) we decided to explore the segment of audiophile switches, trying to catch up with the developments there.
This is the reason, that in short notice, we laid our hands on a novelty on the Polish market, the switch Silent Angel Bonn N8, supplied by the Wroclaw based Audio Atelier. So if you are wondering what this small device, of clearly computer related ancestry, could do in a streaming oriented system, I invite you to read on.
As a kind of business card of the tested device, I think we should write a few words about its creators. Well, the Silent Angel brand is owned by Thunder Data, a company founded by Eric Jian Huang, the former technical director of EMC China, and the company has currently the following products in its catalog: the tested switch Bonn N8, a music server Rhein Z1 and a module dedicated to the Raspberry Pi 4 called VitOS.
At first glance the Bonn N8 does not differ from similar, at least in terms of functionality, “civil” gigabit competing products like the Netgear 8p GS108GE or TP-Link 8p TL-SG108E, or other widely available switched from around 150 zloty. Fortunately, while unpacking the Silent Angel from its elegant, black box lined with precisely cut, grey foam, you can already feel the difference in quality of manufacturing and used materials. The metal chassis is very stiff, and its thickness does not only prevent unwanted vibration, but you cannot bend the covers when trying to pinch the unit. The looks is typical, no-one wanted to go uncharted ways, so on the front we find only the company logo and ten LEDs, eight of which show the status of each port, and the last two inform about power status (lights green when power is on) and any errors (this one is red in such case). The chassis is not decorated in any way, so looking in its back we see eight Ethernet (RJ-45) ports and a barrel plug socket for the DC adapter. So there is not much to talk about. In the pack we can only find the mentioned DC power supply and a short Ethernet patch cord, which I decided to leave in the packaging, as I do have much better cables at hand.
But it is not the outside, what gives the N8 an advantage, but that, what the Asian manufacturer put inside. So we have double filtration reducing noise by 18dB (or 17.78dB to be precise), there is an ultra-precise TCXO clock with 0.1 ppm precision, and a second filter reducing the noise for sensitive components by 20.79dB. To reduce EMI interference, the inside of the chassis was covered with a special Silent Angel Noise Absorber (SANA) foil. Just behind the Ethernet ports there are induction coils (four for each port), which act as filters, and a battery of 32 micro transformers separating all the ports galvanically. The operation of the whole unit is controlled by a micro-processor covered by a metal plate.
And one more thing. If you search around the Internet, you can encounter some interesting things. That was also the case here. It turned out, that the tested Music Angel can be purchased in a different enclosure. The insides of the N8 are licenced to NuPrime, where they are packaged and sold under the name Omnia SW-8, and the only changes pertain to adding a monolithic enclosure and low noise power supply. Of course such “tuning” is not free, so the price rises to 499 €.
So lets move to the most important thing, the influence of the tested device on the digital part of my system, where on the input we have a dual-band modem from my cable operator, and ISP, Connect Box, connected to my private router TP-Link Archer C6, to which I have also connected the MyBookLive NAS as well as the Lumin U1 Mini, using the NEYTON Ethernet Cable Cat7+. The tested switch was placed behind the Archer in the chain, and all other elements of my home network were attached to it. Additionally, to eliminate the signature of my cabling, due to the kindness of (alphabetically) Audio Center Poland, Audiomica Laboratory and Voice I was able to use the following cables during the test: Wireworld Chroma 8 and Starlight 8, Audiomica Anort Consequence, Artoc Ultra Reference, Arago Excellence and three pieces of Cardas Audio Clear Network. This is one of the reasons test have taken two, very intensive weeks of my life, during which the emotions related to a new element of the system gradually diminished.
But let us get to the point. From the start we could hear, that the spectrum of influence of the Silent Angels is much broader, than the one from the Melco S100 switch. The Melco eliminated the digital noise, removed the parasitic artefacts and thus creating the velvety black and impermeable background for the music, improving at the same the signal to noise ration and resolution. On the other hand, the Bonn N8 goes a step or two further. It not only does the same thing it predecessor did, but it also clearly moves the edges of the audible sound spectrum. We get more treble and bass with the N8. But it is not about those extremes being brutally pushed out, but the amount of information there, its resolution, differentiation and clarity, together with their volume, are increased. Using a car analogy, the inclusion of the tested unit into the system can be compared to chip-tuning with a much more invasive improvement of the driving capabilities of our four wheels. Returning to our toys, we do not only hear more, but we hear better, but it does not mean, the Chinese switch added something from itself, interpolated, multiplied or glued something on, but it just removed the bottleneck at the input. This information was there the whole time, in the source material, but we could here it is there for the first time in full. And that is a completely different game.
To hear that you do not need to immediately reach out for any ultra-pampered audiophile recordings, already the mainstream hard rock like “Black Moon Pyramid”, where, due to a weird coincidence a nice ballad “Silent Angel” is placed and Axel Rudi Pell proves, he can nicely shred on his Fender Stratocaster, we hear what we should hear. Of course, moving from guitar gallopades to more sublime esthetics, as represented by the very moody album “Afro Bossa” by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra from 1962-63 (available on TIDAL in the MQA Studio Master 24bit/192kHz version as well as on HDtracks in classic FLAC 24bit/192kHz and Highresaudio in 24bit/96kHz) allowed the typical audiophile plankton to came to voice. And I mention this on purpose, as the initial “wow!” effect of aggressive filtration and coarse cleaning results in a loss of such, seemingly unimportant, nuances, what in turn removes the so needed flow between the musicians, impairing the impression of authenticity of the recording. The N8 does not touch this natural movement of the dust around the musicians and their aura. It rather shows them, operating the lighting in such a way, that the edges of the virtual sound sources get a truly holographic palpability. And I did not write about sharpness or contours on purpose, as it is not about the usual result of the “Unsharp Mask” filter, but a much more complex, three-dimensional creation of palpable shapes of musicians and their instruments. Leaving the reference wind instruments aside and their undisputed differences in timbre (the chocolate cream clarinet of Russell Procope) please turn your attention to the percussive instrument player Sam Woodyard and how he is performing, or the virtuoso nonchalant piano playing of Ellington.
But let us go back for a while to the mentioned extension of the sound spectrum extremes. If this statement does not leave your mind, then I would recommend to use one of our albums on duty – “Khmer” by Nils Petter Molvaer, where we have a truly subsonic, synthetic passages, reminding of the achievements of Bill Laswell, as well as brain-drilling trumpet sounds, similar to the electric period of Miles Davis’ works and guitar riffs. This trans-jazz apparent bedlam is a true challenge for most systems, a very mean and malignant one. It can enchant already on budget systems, and keep us enchanted, until we hear the same music on a set, that reproduces it better. Now it turns out, that we did not hear some percent of the whole – the bass stopped in the middle and the treble was played with half-heartedly, so we stop listening to it, until we can hear it again at the better quality, being more than aware of what we miss. And the inclusion of the Silent Angel in the system is such a jump, one or two steps higher. It is a better, more noble and generally higher class version of our system, of which we have become aware just now. Quite an achievement given its price tag.
It would seem, that we have dealt with most of the physical aspects regarding audio. We managed to have appropriately cleaned power, we decoupled our set from parasite vibration, so we can now just sit down and enjoy music of highest quality. But it turns out, that there is a lot of truth in that statement, it just seemed that way, as we left out the issue of the quality of the digital signal reaching our streamer via the home network. And I underline once more, those are no zeros and ones, those are the same kind of electrical charges like in other cables, being it interconnects, loudspeaker cables and others, so why should Ethernet be excluded from the rules we tested true in other cases. So if you want to check for yourself, with your own ears, what your systems have hidden in terms of playing files, just from curiosity, please take the Silent Angel Bonn N8 from the store shelf and check it out, and you will see, that this is a one way ticket and there is no going back to the situation from before the N8 was plugged-in.
System used in this test:
– CD/DAC: Ayon CD-35 (Preamp + Signature) + Finite Elemente Cerabase compact
– Network player: Lumin U1 Mini
– Digital source selector: Audio Authority 1177
– Turntable: Kuzma Stabi S + Kuzma Stogi + Dynavector DV-10X5
– Phonostage: Tellurium Q Iridium MM/MC Phono Pre Amp; Musical Fidelity Nu-Vista Vinyl; Musical Fidelity M6 Vinyl, RCM Audio Sensor 2 Mk II
– Power amplifier: Bryston 4B³
– Loudspeakers: Dynaudio Contour 30 + Brass Spike Receptacle Acoustic Revive SPU-8 + Base Audio Quartz platforms
– IC RCA: Tellurium Q Silver Diamond
– IC XLR: Organic Audio; Vermöuth Audio Reference
– Digital IC: Fadel art DigiLitz; Harmonic Technology Cyberlink Copper; Apogee Wyde Eye; Monster Cable Interlink LightSpeed 200
– USB cables: Wireworld Starlight; Goldenote Firenze Silver; Fidata HFU2
– Speaker cables: Signal Projects Hydra; Vermöuth Audio Reference Loudspeaker Cable
– Power cables: Furutech FP-3TS762 / FI-28R / FI-E38R; Organic Audio Power + Furutech CF-080 Damping Ring; Acoustic Zen Gargantua II; Furutech Nanoflux Power NCF
– Power distribution board: Furutech e-TP60ER + Furutech FP-3TS762 / Fi-50 NCF(R) /FI-50M NCF(R)
– Wall power socket: Furutech FT-SWS(R)
– Anti-vibration platform: Franc Audio Accessories Wood Block Slim Platform
– Switch: Silent Angel Bonn N8
– Ethernet cables: Neyton CAT7+, Audiomica Anort Consequence + Artoc Ultra Reference + Arago Excellence
– Table: Rogoz Audio 4SM
– Acoustic panels: Vicoustic Flat Panels VMT
Polish Distributor: Audio Atelier
Price: 1 749 PLN
– Interface: 8 x Audio Grade 100 / 1000 Base-T
– LED: 1 x Power LED (Green),1 x Alarm LED (Red),8 x Port Status LEDs (Link / Activity)
– Main Clock Accuracy: 0.1 ppm @ 25 °C
– EMI Absorber: Silent Angel Noise Absorber (SANA)
– Noise Isolator:
Main Power Circuit: 17.78 dB @ 100MHz x 2,
Clock Gen. Circuit: 20.79 dB @ 100MHz x2
– Power Adaptor: Medical Grade 5 VDC @ 1A
– Max Power Consumption: 5W
– Dimension (W x D x H): 154.5 x 85 x 26 mm
– Weight: 1.2 kg (Gross Weight)