Why should you care about an audiophile grade network switch? Stick with me a while, and I’ll tell you a little bit about the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro.
You see, like most of us, I am an AV nerd. I was an early Roon convert, and it has been my digital staple since it showed up on my radar around 2015. With the cost of storage dropping like a lead balloon and the exponential increase of Roon capable players, I quickly realized the dream of having streaming audio in each room of my house.
Words and Photos by Matthew Partrick
When we last moved in 2017, we essentially gutted our new-to-us house down to the studs, and I took the opportunity to run coax, speaker, and cat6 ethernet cable to each room. So far, so good; but this is where the gremlins started invading. I had a ton of slow loading, cutouts, and generalized poor performance that I might have associated with a crappy Wi-Fi signal and perhaps wrongly assumed would have been addressed by the simple act of hardwiring each endpoint. This turned into the bane of my sonic existence; a plague on both houses that welled up like buboes in France circa 1348, progressing to hemorrhagic fevers, weeping pus, and a miserable death.
With herbs and salves shoved up my nose and ears, I upgraded the router, which didn’t help. I bought a Roon Nucleus+ as a dedicated core thinking it might be suboptimal processing power.
While that is a fantastic product, as far as cutouts go it didn’t help. On a complete fluke, I ditched a garden-variety 16 port network switch and substituted in two nicer 8 port switches, one of which was dedicated to the audiophile network. For some dumb reason, this solved most all my signal bugs that were making me lose sleep at night. It didn’t click with me at the time, but as I’ve had some perspective on the situation, isolating the audio signal away from the data-heavy video streaming makes a lot of sense in retrospect.
Science Defeats the Black Death!
That’s a bit of a long lead-in to why you should care about an audiophile grade network switch. That being said, I’m not the only one that has gone down this rabbit hole. At a retail price of $1,499, the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro sits firmly in the mid-priced pack of offerings for audiophiles, from $300 offerings from PPA all the way up to $3,500 offerings from Innuos, totaldac, and Nordost.
That the big boys are offering them tells me a few things; that there is a palpable market for these more expensive products, and that a dedicated network switch for one’s hi-fi system makes a ton of sense for people who stream a lot and are dealing with irritating network issues, and perhaps this is something we should have considered five years ago. A reasonably priced switch like the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro is a product whose time is nigh overdue.
Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro Specs
There are several relevant specs of the Bonn N8 Pro that would pique the interest of any red-blooded computer audiophile nerd, most of which relate to noise reduction and clocking issues. The switch sports eight spaced-out gold plated Gigabit Ethernet ports to reduce the possibility of physical signal interference. Additionally, there is a 10 mHz Temperature Compensation Crystal Oscillator (TCXO) clock to greatly reduce network latency and jitter. This clock has an onboard dedicated power filter to eliminate crosstalk and other noise.
Silent Angel’s product information states that most switches average around 700 picoseconds of jitter, while the Bonn N8 Pro “clocks in” at around 370 ps. Lastly, there is a radar-grade internal switching wide dynamic range AC to DC power supply module which is virtually guaranteed to smoke your generic switch’s noisy wall wart. This module features a stable low ripple noise secure
protection circuit encased in an aluminum heat sink and a high isolation common mode choke
circuit to reduce proximity noise from other nearby AC components in your system.
Straight from Silent Angel’s Anthony Chiarella:
“The technical director of Silent Angel—Mr. Chorus Chang—is an audiophile who started the company to improve the sound quality of streaming. Along the way, every aspect of optimizing the sound quality of a Network Switch for audiophile use was scrutinized, which led to the critical spacing of input ports, experimentation and optimization of internal EMI absorbers, and every other specification of the Bonn N8 Pro were designed for ultimate sound quality.”
Additional words from Mr. Chang himself on design:
“Prior to the establishment of (Silent Angel), I shared the belief that digital music was immune to the interference we encounter every day and that music would be reproduced perfectly due to the lossless nature of network data transmission. Then one day I conducted a simple test with my entry-level sound system; I optimized the output-buffer size of the network switch to improve the sound quality and tested it myself. To my surprise, the change of parameters made a profound sonic difference. I realized that these phenomena were worth investigating.
“There were clearly some factors that, though not yet quantified, played important roles in the reproduction of sound. In our server development work, we found that sound quality varied significantly with the user’s network environment, which inspired our work in the quality of network transmission. The first product of this research was the Silent Angel Bonn N8, which debuted in 2019, and provoked numerous forum discussions regarding why a network switch could make a sonic difference.
“Although we heard and confirmed the differences with audiophiles and industry experts, we continue to ask the question: how do we explain in theory the fact that a network switch could significantly impact the sound quality of a digital music system? Unfortunately, given the relative novelty of this field, we could not find much prior work to reference. We undertook endless experiments to identify the differences in sonic performance and the reasons behind them. We discovered that at least three design parameters could improve the quality of music: power supply, clock precision, and EMI interference. Thus, based on these three factors, we developed solutions which are embodied in the Bonn N8.”
Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro Setup
Setup with this device was an absolute snap, somewhat because of my Centralized AV Nerd Closet, the brains of my smart-ish house. When the aforementioned gutting and wire running occurred, it stood to reason to have a central hub where the coax input from the street went into an active coax amplifier, which then supplied the router/modem and then to the switch with the NAS and Nucleus+. The double-edged sword of this situation is that all those heretofore ugly components and wires are hidden away; the downside being less convenient if you want to publicly show off your new-found and visually striking high-end digital gear.
In any case, I uneventfully popped out my generic 8 port switch and introduced the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro switch. With the exception of the hand-terminated super-long cat6 run to my main
Roon endpoint, I exclusively used AudioQuest Cinnamon Ethernet cables, a great product that lives in the middle of Audioquest’s digital cable offerings and a sweet spot price-wise.
My main system consists of a dCS Bartok streamer/DAC, Vinnie Rossi Brama integrated amplifier, and Volti Rival horns (since it’s a prerequisite to feature the letter V in my setup, from now on in perpetuity the streamer will be known as the Vartok.) Most every other room in my house has
hardwired digital audio; the master bedroom sports a Mytek Brooklyn Bridge with an LTA Z10 amp powering Fern & Roby Raven II speakers, while the office is currently decked out with a Cambridge Audio Evo 75 streaming integrated amplifier with Harbeth P3ESRs. Even my oldest son has a HifiBerry Digi+ RPi tied into a little TEAC integrated with Focal Chora 806 bookshelves.
I listened to each of these systems individually, mainly sticking to my main system for critical listening. That said, I spent a fair bit of time with all of these systems grouped under Roon, which is not only awfully convenient while walking around the house, but also offers a pretty good idea of how integrated things sound from place to place, which provides palpable value least as a lifestyle product that the whole family can enjoy. In each of these situations the Bonn N8 Pro acquitted itself with aplomb.
Bonn N8 Pro listening
As mentioned above, for critical listening, I spent the vast majority of my time on my main system, which images very well and as my reference, allows me to detect somewhat subtle changes that an upstream digital product as an audiophile network switch would provide. However, I can’t stress enough how a dedicated switch basically eliminates cutout gremlins in today’s typical modern-day data heavy home, and how that non-sonic aspect should factor heavily into your considerations.
I’ve been on a bit of a Tears for Fears kick lately, revisiting their excellent 1983 album The Hurting. I must have heard one of the tracks on some retro streaming show, but something welled up in my amygdala and urged me to go back and put it in heavy rotation. While everyone seems to know tracks off Songs from the Big Chair, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith’s debut album doesn’t seem to get as much love, which is a shame because at least to me it’s as good if not better. Less pop-oriented or mass market friendly perhaps, but for a deep dive into early 80’s brit wave, it’s hard to beat.
I was particularly enjoying the palpably firm and low noise floor the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro provided. Additionally, there is a certain je-ne-sais-quois that the switch exhibits; it’s hard to describe, but the intro drums on “Mad World” seemed more alive, more separated, more spatially placed than before.
To fall back on a somewhat worn-out audiophile trope, I dropped some Donald Fagen, mostly off his latest release Morph the Cat. In my defense, I was listening to Steely Dan and Fagen long before I considered myself an audiophile and eons before having “IGY” beaten into my aural cortex at an audio show. In typical Fagen-Dan fashion, Morph the Cat exhibits near-obsessive production and engineering and comes across a reference system in all the right ways. I’m hearing comforting phased Hammond organs and mu major chords, tying the Dan’s late work to Fagen’s solo trilogy.
The insane level of attention paid in the studio production and post-production mastering shows through from the start, and the Silent Angel Bonn does an excellent job getting out of the way of Fagen’s work, allowing me to enjoy tracks like “H Gang” the way the artist originally intended. Crystal clear playback with a vanishingly low noise floor.
One of two albums I like to use to assess vocals is Just Roll Tape by Stephen Stills, in particular the track “Treetop Flyer.” I’m not sure if I was exposed to this because I’m a CSN fanboy or at an audio show, but either way this collection of demos showcases Stills’ vocals in a way their studio albums don’t capture. I can hear the gravelly timbre of Stills’ voice and can virtually see the coating of nicotine on his vocal cords, brand Lucky Strike. Compared to my generic Ethernet switch, the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro palpably elevates the listening experience and seems more in line with the high-end gear I have come to expect of my reference system. It’s nice to know that the switch is no longer the weak link in my digital system.
Another track I use a ton to evaluate vocals and midrange is “Summertime” off the Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald 1957 collaboration of Gershwin and Heyward’s Porgy and Bess. I have loved this musical ever since I first heard it in person at the Spoleto festival in Charleston circa 1986, and let me tell you it was pretty special to hear a production of hometown hero DuBose Heyward’s play and libretto to Gershwin’s music in person. That must have really sunk into my brain at an impressionable age; that plus a lifelong appreciation of George Gershwin’s style makes me always yearning for more tracks like “Summertime.” My absolute favorite aspect of the vocals on this track is being able to hear Armstrong chuckle a little in the background when the verse is transitioning from Fitzgerald to him. It’s subtle enough that I cannot appreciate it even at higher volumes on lesser systems, so if I can hear it at lower volumes on another system I can reasonably say that said setup is very revealing.
It’s that kind of subtle detail that the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro is very good at reproducing, certainly better than my previous garden variety network switch. I chalk this up mostly to virtually undetectable noise floor and essentially absent jitter.
The Power Supply
Silent Angel was kind enough to send the Forester dedicated power supply along after a few weeks, and this gave me an excellent opportunity to see how far the elimination of noise could be taken. I’ve been very impressed so far with the addition of the power supply and if you’re taking the plunge with the network switch, it stands to reason that one should consider isolating all that carefully dedicated hardware away from the noisy mains power coming in from the street. The sonic benefits reaped with the network switch were heightened with the Forester, to the extent that they should be considered a package deal.
Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro: The Verdict
I very much enjoyed my time with the Silent Angel Bonn N8 Pro. The sound quality was elevated to the level of my respective digital streaming products and removed the only remaining weak link in my network. Additionally, coming from hard-fought experience with Ethernet Evil, I deeply appreciated the N8 Pro’s flawless operation with elimination of slow loading and cut-outs that plagued my previous switches.
For audiophiles who can’t afford the N8 Pro, Silent Angel also offers the Bonn N8 ($549 MSRP) which offers significant sonic improvements for a price within the reach of almost all music lovers. Either way, I am having a hard time packing this back up, and am considering adding it to my system when finances allow.
A very highly recommended product.
I didn’t get measurements from the manufacturer. It has long been PTA’s policy to not rely on measurements for a review. My review is in a way an opinion piece; I thought it sounded better in my system than my generic switch. That is of course subjective, and may have been due to clean power, etc.
I’ve seen that YouTube clip as well. One of the things that guy was shredding is companies re-stickering generic switches and up-marketing them as new products. I think we can all object to that. However, this product is designed from the ground up.
Like I said, I thought it sounded better. Your mileage may vary, and in my humble opinion that’s what makes this avocation so great. We all like different things, and are able to choose our components carefully and spend our hard earned money carefully. It’s our job at PTA to present you with options and leave it up to you to listen and discover whether or not it makes sense in your home, sonically and financially.
Thanks for following along 😊
I’m a moderator of a forum dedicated to music streaming technology.
One of Silent Angel’s representatives was a member, and I politely asked him one evening to provide the group with some performance data of their products. He refused to do so, and went into this long rant filled with technical jargon that made absolutely no sense to anyone with a science and engineering background, which a number of other members and myself have.
He’s no longer a member as I showed him the exit.
Networking technology is very mature, and has been for decades now. We’ve corporations with billions of dollars worth of assets using off the shelf networking components, and somehow these unscrupulous audiophile focused manufacturers claim to offer superior performance with their products. Every, and I do mean just that, lab analysis of an audiophile branded networking component I’ve ever seen proves otherwise.
I’m streaming to a USB DAC off my Android phone, saves money in networking and is 100% clean DC powered.
Please for the love of God stop the madness. https://youtu.be/NMFQ3YvR3Eo
Digital signal transmission has been very well understood for decades. This includes areas where noise is of critical concern, like laboratory signal analysis. If this switch makes a difference, it should be provable in measurements of the audio output. Has the manufacturer ever provided this?