Here’s a report on the super-interesting, and frankly, rather perplexing, Taiko Extreme Switch, Extreme Router, and Extreme DC Power Distributor tests that Emile and I did last Monday at Taiko Head Quarters in Oldenzaal.

Rather than explaining everything via app or mail, Emile invited me to come over to listen for myself and form my own opinions. Believe it or not, this would mark only my second listening session at Taiko HQ. Such is the distance between my residence that I don’t frequent here often, to my regret, but fortunately, most of my work can be done remotely.

Initial Listening

The starting point for today’s listening session (and what would soon turn into a decision-making session) was a combination of connection methods that Emile had decided the preceding evening to be the maximum solution.

We listened exclusively using Roon and Emile did not disclose any details but I could see the Extreme Switch + Extreme Router were powered via the Extreme DC Power Distributor that was in turn connected to a very large, 4 Ampere, proprietary linear power supply. The Router and Switch were connected via a DAC cable, as were the Switch and Extreme server.

Since this setup differs a lot from my own setup, I was given 20 minutes to play some familiar tracks and become accustomed to the sound. While the 360-degree acoustic treatment of the room was coming along really nicely, and I clearly heard the enormous benefits of this compared to my previous visit, Emile was quick to add that all the Helmholtz resonators still needed tuning, and the speakers had only just been set up so-so. Still, the sound was neutral, transparent, revealing, toe-tappingly rhythmic and expressive, with expansive soundstaging, a free-flowing and organic nature, and possessing of surprisingly robust and deep bass, along with excellent resolution of detail.

Back to normal

After I formed by benchmark impressions, Emile removed the Extreme Switch, Router, and DC Power Distributor, and changed the connection method to direct RJ45 from a standard router. To my surprise, the entire presentation became rather diffuse, seemingly with much lower resolution and refinement. The center-imaging focus was still good but the soundstage was considerably flatter and the presentation duller. As I uttered my observations, Emile just “uhum’d” as if in agreement but refrained from further comments. Most surprisingly, the bass, always an important factor for me, was now less incisive as well as less energetic. The midrange and treble, too, suffered and were both more congested. Perhaps the best way to describe this was that the entire presentation was grayer, duller, and just less expressive and involving.

Adding the Extreme Switch

Then, Emile added the Extreme Switch to the setup, connected via DAC cable to the Extreme, and powered directly from the big proprietary power supply. So, the Extreme DC Power Distributor was left out of the equation for now. But sure enough, the sound was now tonally more saturated and the refinement had returned. The resolution was also higher. As I listened to Rachelle Ferrell, I sighed in relief that the music was alive and breathing again. Now go figure that the former configuration, the standard connection method, was how I had been listening to the Extreme in my own system all along… then, consider how much further improvement turns out to be possible! Mind-boggling.

Although the Extreme Switch had reinvigorated the music, the bass was not yet quite as articulate and incisive as I heard it with the maximum solution. And while the soundstage bubble now extended more to me as well as more into the back, the overall staging and imaging were comparatively still a little diffuse.

Adding the Taiko Audio Extreme Router

Returning the system to its original position by adding the Extreme Router, the sound bubble increased in size and the soundstage grew in the depth plane. Interestingly, the resolution increased without reducing the tonal saturation. Rather, the sound with the Router was slightly fuller, more organic, and more human, in a way.

Adding the Extreme DC Power Distributor

Now, it was time to re-introduce the Extreme DC Power Distributor, and at this point, Emile unveiled that there were a few filter options associated with the Distributor to choose from. He did not say any more, but clearly, the plot thickened!

Filter 1

With the Extreme DC Power Distributor configured with filter 1, the same as I had heard at the start of the day, sure enough, the treble clearly was airier, more explicit, and more highly resolving. At the same time, the entire presentation was harmonically richer, no longer gray and relatively simple, and ultimately more convincing and realistic. Just to be absolutely certain, I asked Emile to switch back to no DC Power Distributor, but indeed, the sound returned to a duller, comparatively less realistic, and relatively more synthetic version.

Filter 2

With the Extreme DC Power Distributor configured with filter 2, I felt strongly that the treble was darker, coarser (less fluid and less finely resolved), and had less air, and as a result, the bass was also less tight and articulate. Then again, I also heard a notable increase of naturalness in the midrange with piano clearly sounding more like the wood-string-steel construction that it is, and vocals sounding luscious and fleshed out. Now, the presentation had clearly gained harmonic richness and the increase in timbral differentiation was undeniable. After I had shared my impressions, Emile finally commented on having a soft spot for the deeper saturation and more organic midrange and I could totally relate. But the bottom line for me was that the sound was now also less propulsive, incisive, and ultimately, less exciting. In a word, for me, it was less toe-tapping.

So far, Emile did not want to influence me in any way, but now that I had shared all of my impressions and we seemed to hear the same things, he was prepared to share some details. I’ll keep the precise inner workings to myself as I’m not sure how much of it is a company secret, but suffice it to say that it was absolutely perplexing to learn how much of an influence the component brands, types, and values turned out to be for the end result.

Filter 3

Next up was a third incarnation of the filter. Emile shared with me the fact that this was a super-analytical filter. Basically, it was the turbo-charged version of filter 1 that I personally preferred. The filter sure was aptly-named as indeed the treble was now wide-open, super-detailed, and super-highly resolving. Sure, it had a lot of bite, but I did not mind that. It wasn’t just the treble, though. The midrange and bass as well, and actually really the entire presentation was now ultra-crisp, clear, and articulate. Fabulously incisive and excitingly rhythmic, than with any of the other connection methods, this kind of bass was truly right up my alley. Remind me again, this was Roon? It sure was.

Whereas I strongly prefer XDMS over Roon at home, here at Taiko HQ, and with the Switch, Router, and these filters at hand, the distinction between the two was most definitely no longer as clear-cut. That said, XDMS is still pending further coding that will endow it with all that makes Roon great, in addition to retaining what XDMS currently already does so well.

In any event, with this filter, small recording artifacts now also stood out like a flashlight in the dark and that includes any sharpness or edge that is in the mix. I noticed how Emile wasn’t quite happy with the sound but I had to admit to being quite fascinated myself, even if I agreed with him that the overall presentation was now comparatively rather barebones and clinical, and smoothness and romanticism had left the building.

Access Point

Before moving on with the other filters, Emile demonstrated the influence of the wireless Access Point. I’ll leave aside all the impressions that we gained but will say that it proved to be a double-edged sword. We won terrain in certain areas while losing terrain in others. No matter how the Access Point was powered, even when it was on the other phase as the rest of the system (Taiko HQ has its very own Transformer Building outside with access to both 240V phases), its influence was audible. Only when it was unplugged from the power, its influence subsided. Since we were testing on the very same day as the router was promised to be released on the website, Emile decided to go ahead with the solution as it has been published now and leave the matter of the Access Point for later to allow more time to experiment and evaluate.

Removing the Extreme DC Power Distributor and adding another LPS

Although this was a big item, we ended up spending very little time testing this. What we tried was using an LPS + DC Power Distributor for one device (let’s say just the Router) and another LPS for the other (say, the switch). Then, we swapped the power supplies between Router and Switch. I forget the specifics but what I recall is that either solution was a mixed bag and clearly inferior to using a single LPS and the DC Power Distributor for Switch and Router. The difference was so clear to us that we did not dwell on the particulars and quickly reconnected the Power Distributor to both devices and continued testing the filters.

Even more Filters

After this, several more filter incarnations followed but by now, the trend had become abundantly clear. When the tonality, richness, and naturality were increased, the openness and resolution were decreased, and vice versa. The most natural filter was absolutely fantastic for vocals, piano, and acoustic instruments while the most accurate filter was an absolute party with anything electronic. Meanwhile, I also observed that acoustic bass benefited from both filters but in different manners. This coincides with what aspects we personally feel most personify actual live instruments. For one person, this might be tonality and timbral complexity while for another it might be speed and snappy transient behavior.

Whilst listening to all these differences, and considering how Emile and I seemed to have slightly different preferences, the idea formed to include more than a single filter in the final incarnation of the Extreme DC Power Distributor.

As this idea was ping-ponged between Emile and me, and Emile discussed the details with the rest of the team while assessing the impact of this on the product, the available options ultimately converged to 3 different filters. We could have chosen 5 filters as well, or even more. But the trouble is that it was not just a matter of adding a switch… To enable the different filters, the eventual unit had to contain completely independent filter sections for each filter incarnation, complete with rather large and rather costly capacitors. This unavoidable aspect, along with the machined-from-solid-copper material enclosure that had to be ever larger to accommodate more filters, dictates the price, which as we added filters went north rather quickly.

Three final Filters

What we ultimately ended up with as ideal is what we dubbed the “Default” filter. This is what is considered to be neutral, when referenced against a Battery Power Supply, in the Taiko Audio system. This Default Filter is basically filter 1 from this test, which turned out to be the ideally balanced version that I liked the most. Incidentally, Emile confirmed actually also preferring this filter himself, even though he loved some of the aspects of the second filter. In addition to the Default Filter, we included two alternative filters that allow pulling the presentation basically to opposing ends of the sonic spectrum. These two alternative filters allow tuning the sound towards either a darker, fuller, warmer, and more expansive sound, or a tighter, brighter, more incisive, and subjectively more detailed sound.

An important extra motivation for including more than a single filter is that experiments proved time and again that the balance will shift depending on the mains conditions, what kind of power supply is used, what other audio components are connected and how, and basically depending on a whole range of variables that exist in the real world. The shift could actually be so large that it resulted in a different filter preference.

With this in mind, the two alternative filters very effectively allow the user to tune the sound towards getting a neutral balance even with varying power supplies and mains conditions. Alternatively, the user can of course also deliberately divert from neutrality to taste.

And this is the story of how the Taiko Audio Extreme DC Power Distributor and its multiple filters were finalized!

Please note that all images shown in this post are preliminary renders and a mockup. The final product will look just like the Taiko Extreme Switch, just smaller.

Extreme DC Power Distributor Connections

The Extreme DC Power Distributor offers one input, two identical Unfiltered Outputs, two identical Default Filter Outputs, and two different Alternative Filter Outputs.

How we arrived at this particular set of outputs

The extra unfiltered output is a nice bonus that costs very little to add. However, adding multiples of each alternate filter would have required the implementation of entire additional filter sections with expensive parts which would have resulted in a larger device and much-elevated cost. We have contemplated this very thoroughly and ultimately decided on the current configuration as shown in the mock-up below.

Normally, you’d likely use at least 1 default filter and the other would be unfiltered, default, or alt 1 or 2.

Christiaan Punter