Even before Melco introduced the S100 network switch, hardcore streaming enthusiasts were aware that this oft overlooked part of a streaming network was important. This is evidenced by audio companies making linear power supplies for Netgear and other brands of IT switches, but these were fairly affordable upgrades, the Melco raised the bar quite considerably and I for one was sceptical. Having tried four audiophile switches since that time I am now convinced that the potential of any streaming system is quite significantly hampered by IT switches, even when they have a decent power supply.
Ordinarily the job of a network switch is to route signals around a network as quickly as possible, which doesn’t pose too many challenges for cheap peripheral models, the difficulty arises when you want to do this without letting any interference through with the signal. I was speaking to amplifier designer Tim Narramore (Moor Amps) recently who is of the opinion that the only real problem with digital systems occurs when digital distortions leak through into the analogue signal where their presence is audible even in the smallest quantities. And there is always a degree of this cross contamination in DACs so the best digital systems will be those that have the least amount of noise or interference floating around and the network switch can be a source of this noise if it’s not designed for audio.
Melco is a subsidiary of Japanese storage and network company Buffalo, it makes a range of audiophile NAS drives or ‘music libraries’ as they prefer to call them. There are some clear advantages to being part of a large organisation that specialises in this area not least in terms of expertise. And this is what the company brought to bear on the S100 data switch as they call it, which has eight RJ45 ethernet ports arranged in two blocks of four. One set are 100Mb ports for the low speed traffic produced by audio components, this is where you connect the music server/library and streamer unless you have a Melco or Innuos for instance which have dedicated outputs for the streamer. The other ports are gigabit capable and good for PC and router connections as well as Roon Cores which generate high traffic flow, with an Innuos server (with onboard core) it would seem logical to hook up its LAN port to a gigabit socket on the switch and take its ‘player’ output direct to the streamer.
There are two SFP ports on the S100, these are for the few streaming components that have this optical connection, however Melco’s UK’s distributor, ADMM, will shortly be introducing an SFP audio-over-fibre kit under the new ADOT (Audiophile Digital Optical Technology) brand, which converts ethernet to optical. Melco doesn’t say a lot about what’s going on inside the S100 save that it has a large 1.5MB buffer to the ensure stability and resilience of the data stream and that it uses audiophile techniques in the power supply and high quality capacitors to keep noise down. The first stage of the power supply is switched mode and sits in the power lead providing 12V, the distributor, ADMM, offers a linear power supply by PLiXiR as a £500 upgrade.
It’s worth mentioning the casework on the S100 which is the same as Melco uses on its N100 EX Series music libraries; it oozes Japanese build quality and finish. Internally it has a steel chassis for screening, externally it’s anodised aluminium with a blue LED indicator. There’s no power switch as you rarely need to turn off a network switch.