During my last visit to Taiko HQ, Emile had already demonstrated the influence of the Taiko Extreme Switch and NIC, Router, and DC Power Distributor. Now that I have an Extreme Switch in my system, it was time to dive deeper into the Switch’s sonic attribution to the Extreme Server, as well as to assess the influence of the supporting surface and rack and the effects of a range of footers. Believe me when I say the results are very interesting!
I am using the standard supplied Wall-Wart at this point. The starting position is with the Switch with its own copper feet on top of a double-layer MDF panel that sits via steel couplers directly on the bottom section of an Artesania Exoteryc rack. This is a non-standard method that I employ because the rack’s normal bottom-level position sounds too mellow and rounded for me, due to the rack’s rack-in-a-rack pendulum function. The MDF panel is in no way ideal but in my opinion much better than the rack’s standard bottom-level position. In any case, with some exceptions, I normally do not use this position for critical listening.
As the tests proceed, I will position the Switch on an AG Lifter Apollo Amp Stand and an Artesania Aire platform with Carbon linear Arms and KSH2 Krion shelf. Using these support products, I will assess a range of footers to further test the influence on the Switch.
I performed the tests together with audio buddy Wouter who can be considered a sensible audiophile. He accepts that not everything we hear can be explained and he hears most things I hear, but sometimes, a difference that I perceive can be below his threshold. Well, not when it comes to the Extreme NIC and Switch. This was, quite literally, night and day.
After switching from the server all by itself using the standard UTP input, to the server connected via Extreme Switch, DAC Cable, and NIC, we both shouted primal exclamations along the lines of “Whaaaat???”
The difference was simply out of this world, as the soundstage became meters deeper as well as wider and more enveloping. The music with the Switch is somehow less matter-of-fact and much more magical, with deeper tonal saturation and a certain restraint replaced by a mesmerizing sense of free-breathing. I wouldn’t say the bass is deeper or more powerful but it is presented differently, now richer and lusher, pleasant but relatively slightly fat but still upbeat, in contrast to the native server’s relatively leaner, dryer, and arguably more staccato manner. But irrespective of the individual sonic clues, most of all, it’s the much more organic nature of the sound that makes for an immediate emotional connection and the desire to keep listening.
We’ve switched back between normal UTP and the Switch with DAC and every time, the difference remained fascinating. Before hearing the Switch, the server by itself always sounded really great but after hearing it with the Switch, it sounds comparatively desaturated, dull, flat, and overall, just less involving.
Multiple XDMS App Control and the importance of removing the UTP cable
By the way, even if XDMS can in principle be controlled with two tablets connected to the same IP Address simultaneously, it is important to note that the server sounds better when controlled with only one active app.
Even more importantly, when using the Extreme Switch and Extreme NIC connected via a DAC cable, you really need to remove the UTP cable from the Extreme’s LAN 1 RJ45 UTP network port (part of the standard motherboard ports) if you want to hear the combo at its best.
The Extreme’s standard motherboard LAN 1 UTP network port and the Extreme Network Card’s SFP port have different MAC Addresses and thus will be assigned different IP Addresses by the router. This means that the user has to find out the new IP Address (for instance using the FING app for iPad) and enter it in XDMS. After that, the “old” motherboard UTP port can still be accessed by entering its corresponding IP Address. What’s more, the two ports can even be used concurrently when using two XDMS app instances on two tablets or control points connected to the respective IP Address. However, this is not recommended for stability, and much more importantly, the DAC connection will be compromised as long as the UTP cable is still connected.
With the UTP cable still in place, the sound via the DAC connection is more diffuse, less spacious, less magical, and honestly muddled in comparison to when only the DAC cable is connected.
AG Lifter Apollo
Yes, we may be talking about a network switch, but as incredible as it may sound, as I was about to hear, the supporting surface clearly has a large influence on the sound. It’s really best to think of the unit in the same was as any other audio component. Moving the Switch to the AG Lifter Apollo Amp Stand (which sounds very similar to the Apollo Rack), the bass becomes very noticeably bigger and fuller, the midrange becomes warmer and more laidback, and the treble smoother and less explicit. Actually, the entire presentation moved from “Analytically Revealing” to “Musically Pleasing” with lower apparent resolution and a less spacious and ethereal delivery replaced with a more rooted and earthy delivery. Other experiments unveiled that a large portion of this rack’s sonic signature is dictated by the use of the 2.0 cm thick Acrylic panel which adds warmth, creaminess, and an overall relaxed fulness.
AG Lifter Dulcet 20 Isolation Feet
Using a trio of AG Lifter Dulcet 20 feet, the same as are used as floor interfaces, the bass becomes considerably tighter, the midrange more open and livelier, and the music as a whole more expressive, if not as airy and refined as on the MDF platform on the Exoteryc rack.
Ansuz Darkz T2S footers
Ansuz has a range of footers among which are much more affordable models that offer great value for money but if money is not too tight, the T2S Darkz are simply the best. And, to be honest, Taiko equipment deserves the best. With a trio of Darkz T2S, the sound becomes faster, cleaner, more articulate, more transparent, and more refined, while retaining the inherent fulness and warmth of the Apollo platform. The combined sonic delivery at this point remains on the musical and “pleasant” side, more earthy than ethereal and quite detailed and expressive, but not very analytical and leaning more toward a forgiving, sweet, and easy to listen to performance. With this in mind, I did not carry out additional experiments with the compliant feet that I have at hand. With this rack/platform, hard coupling seems to sound best.
StillPoints Ultra SS V2
StillPoints are one of the most impactful footers I have used and depending on the use case, they can be strong medicine. In this case, they allow the Switch even more control and crisp tightness with more explicit treble but with diminished magic, and with less refinement, the sound now becomes more down to earth.
Artesania Aire with Carbon linear Arms and KSH2 Krion shelf
Moving from the AG Lifter to the Artesania Aire platform, and back on its own copper feet, the Extreme Switch provides a significantly airier, opener, more expressive, airier, and more transparent rendition of the music. It’s every bit as magical again as it was on the MDF shelf but with massively increased articulation, expression, and communication.
The bass is now arguably less “big” and the midrange less creamy, but the combined presentation seems timbrally more acoustic and convincing, and more realistic to me. YMMV, as I know that in some systems, the KSH2 shelf can be perceived as being lean or forward sounding. The Exoteryc and Aire racks themselves, though, possess a very organic nature.
Ansuz T2S Darkz
Just to see what will happen and to register more data points for future reference, I also tried a range of soft-coupling compliant feet, as opposed to the hard couplers used up to this point.
First up are three stacks of two Neoprene pads (hard synthetic rubber) that are normally supplied with Artesania racks as one of 3 possible interfaces to choose between when using their racks. Such pads can sometimes also be found under equipment feet.
As anticipated, these pads are no improvement. The bass becomes “zoomy”, fatter and thicker but the overall sound is messier and more diffuse but does not become more fluid in the process and the overall result is just a little dull, clearly no improvement over the standard copper feet.
Next up are three stacks of two Sorbothane pads, the super-compliant, sometimes even sticky, pads that came with classic Jeff Rowland equipment. Similar pads can be found on the bottom of IsoAcoustics feet.
Surprisingly, these ultra-soft feet provide much clearer and more well-defined bass with no booming or zooming and actually increased definition compared to the Neoprene pads. Dynamically a little comparted, the sound is not as expressive or lively as with the Switch’s own copper feet or any of the other hard couplers but there’s a very seductive refinement and alluring free-flowing quality with lots of magic to suck the listener into the music. Unexpectedly, not bad at all!
Remember these? They were all the rage in the nineties as cheap but effective tweaks. Again, given prior experience, I did not expect much, but the VibraPods were far from bad under the Extreme Switch. The bass further tightened up and the midrange became more defined and expressive but the treble becomes less refined and the level of magic is somewhat reduced. Overall, not the best I think, but still surprisingly ok and may be usable in certain circumstances.
Back to standard Copper feet
Finally, going back to the Switch’s own copper feet, the sound is remarkably robust and ballsy with a powerful lower midrange and great expression albeit less airy and refined than with the compliant feet, or indeed the Darkz feet. Compared with the latter, the standard copper feet provide a less spacious acoustic and an overall slightly boomy or bombastic character, but overall, I have to say the standard feet are well-chosen as a starting point that I suspect will work well with a wide range of support materials.
DAC Cable Length
With the Extreme Switch, I requested a 1-meter cable and a 3-meter cable. Mostly, to allow the freedom of positioning in various review setups, but secondarily, this allows a comparison between the two. These two cables are both standard models that can be purchased from the Taiko site. They have the same outer diameter and according to the specs, they have the same internal construction.
10G SFP+ Passive Direct Attach Copper Twinax Cable
0.5m (2ft) – 3m (10ft) = 30 AWG
4m+ (13.12 ft) = 24 AWG (SFP version = 26AWG)
Ok, so, is there a sonic difference between the two? Well, there is, but it is very subtle. What I hear is that the bass is slightly tighter and more articulate with the 1-meter cable and slightly fuller and rounder with the 3-meter cable. But these differences are infinitely smaller than the differences observed between the various feet.
Remember I mentioned that my friend Wouter is less susceptible to very small differences? Well, this is one such case where he could not tell the difference between the short and the long cable, not even when I explained what to listen for. And I will admit that I may not notice when someone would switch cables behind my back between two listening sessions. As such, I would say this aspect can safely be ignored by most, or kept in mind for those who are as obstinately obsessive as I am.😉
Using Extreme Switch with other brand servers or streamers
So far, I have only been using the Switch with the Extreme Music Server. But when I tested the Switch with my two other servers, the benefits turned out to be much larger than I anticipated. What I hear when using the Switch with the Grimm or Antipodes servers is that the soundstage deepens and the performance becomes more engulfing and immersive. There’s also a heightened sense of relaxation but not at the expense of pacing or dynamics. So, here’s my revised impression: the differences are real and they are rather profound!
In conclusion, the Extreme Switch works to maximum effect when partnered with the Extreme Music Server and the purpose-designed Extreme Network Card but it also provides a very substantial upgrade for other servers and streamers.
More to come
As I get my hands on more supports, racks, and feet, I will keep experimenting with the Switch and I will report my findings. For instance, I will be receiving a Callas Audio Bamboo + Carbon Fiber Soundboard in the near future and I will be most interested to hear how the Switch will perform with that as a support. Likewise, I will add my experiences with the DC Distributor and the Router if and when I receive them. Meanwhile, I wish everyone happy listening. These are good times to be an audiophile!