Initial impressions of the S100 were based on a contrast with a Netgear GS108 powered by a Longdog Audio linear power supply, a rather more affordable package that made the newcomer sound very sumptuous indeed. The obvious benefits were better timing, a much stronger sense of body to the sound and a significant reduction in coarseness through the mid and treble. It made the Netgear sound flat and hard by opening up the soundstage and putting space between the instruments and voice on Michael Chapman’s Rainmaker [Harvest] and making it sound like a much better production than was previously apparent. It also made me wonder why this man’s earlier work is not better known.
With Keith Jarrett’s Budapest Concert [ECM] the piano notes are remarkably clean bright and shiny, as if a veil of grunge has been removed so that the purity of the recording can come through. This also means that the quieter sounds like audience coughs are apparent and that the solidity of the piano, its presence in the listening room is that much more palpable. More important perhaps is that the melodies he plays are that much easier to appreciate, the reduction in noise lets you hear the nuances of playing clearly and you feel a stronger connection with the player. In truth this switch will be a revelation if you are still using a IT peripheral like the Netgear.
With a Cisco 2960 which is a well regarded IT switch in audio circles and using files from Qobuz rather than local ones as above, the results were similar to the earlier showdown. Here the Melco opened up the sound allowing the highs to sparkle and the imaging to solidify, and the hard edged nature to ‘digital’ sound was largely eliminated to let the music flow in a highly natural, vinyl like fashion. The Cisco times well but the S100 bettered it in this department by introducing greater rhythmic sophistication. I stuck on what has become a bit of a bass reference track in Bob Marley and the Wailers’ ‘Natural Mystic’ (Natural Mystic (The Legend Lives On), [Island} and was impressed with just how gorgeous the bass is on this recording and just how much shape, depth and texture it can offer up when the system allows it.
Up against the current crop of high end network switch competition things are much more closely fought and the differences become nuanced, however the Melco’s inherent musicality helps it to shine even in pricier company. I particularly like the way that melodies, grooves and rhythms are so well delivered. It achieves this by giving the impression that there’s all the time in the world to present the notes in the correct order and at precisely the right time. Devices that time well are often described as fast but while the S100 could never be called slow, it has a sense of effortless coherence that makes a very strong case for its approach. It allows the drive and power of William Tyler’s ‘Fail Safe’ [Goes West, Merge] to come through in full effect but without any sense of grain or digitality about it. The syncopation that the Grateful Dead achieved is delivered superbly, the relatively rough nature of the recording on Europe ’72 [Warner Bros] is evident but in no way emphasised as is often the case with a recording that captures the band at their finest tight but loose selves. Once they get rolling with the Melco feeding an Auralic Aries G2.1 streamer and Métronome Le DAC converter you just have to go with the flow, there is no inclination to do anything else.
This Melco really does bring many of the qualities of good analogue replay to digital streaming. It doesn’t turn your music files into the sonic equivalent of vinyl but gets pretty damn close if the rest of the components are up to the job. There are a number of albums that I failed to discover before the vinyl revival caused prices to skyrocket, Europe ’72 among them, but this switch goes a long way to making up for this unfortunate side effect of an otherwise good thing.