Whilst I’m all in favour of (and spend considerable time and money on) reducing self-generated noise from network components and taking steps like galvanically isolating the audio network from the rest of the digital devices in the house, there can be no question that the single most effective place to act is at the point(s) where the system and the ethernet meet. Time to meet the Aardvark, your friendly, domesticated digital noise gobbler!
Aardvark is a one product company out of Argentina. Eduardo Cabral grew up being taken by his parents to jazz gigs and jam sessions, graduated to his own audio store and thence to publishing his own audio magazine, at first on paper and then on-line, at first in Spanish and later English. Fascinated by both the promise and frustrations of digital audio he started an increasingly dogged pursuit of improved digital performance and, with the advent if file replay he quickly zeroed in on the issue of network noise. The result was the Aardvark In-line RJ45 Filter ($449.00 USD plus sales tax) a deceptively simple device that nonetheless represents both the culmination of quite a journey and a substantial potential upgrade in system performance.
Not all networks are created equal…
In-line RJ45 filters aren’t exactly thin on the ground, just like all the other bits and pieces of network infrastructure. But also like those other pieces, the widely available ‘cheapie’ solutions are a long way from meeting audio requirements. The Aardvark filter is purpose designed and built by an audio obsessive. It consists of a small, moulded, oblong block with an RJ45 socket in one end and a short flying lead on the other, terminated in a shielded RJ45 plug. In fact (and not surprisingly) the whole question of shielding and shield integrity is key to the Aardvark approach. After all, what’s the point of removing as much noise as possible at the system gateway but leaving the backdoor wide open? Like the product of any audio related and equally obsessive pursuit, the seemingly simple components were selected after exhaustive auditioning of as many available options as possible, the passive filter elements are custom built and the whole is hand assembled using silver solder to maintain shield integrity.
So much for the theory, what about the practice? Installing the Aarvark is as simple as disconnecting the Ethernet cable feeding your streamer/server (or anything else), connecting the Aardvark to the end of the incoming ethernet cable and re-connecting the Aardvark’s plug to the device input. This being computer audio, there will be a momentary hesitation while elements handshake or re-set after the data interruption, but otherwise you should be good to go. I started by plugging the Aardvark into the Ethernet feed on my Wadax Reference Server. Now, bear in mind that the infrastructure for this feed is already way beyond average. The dedicated audio network uses optical isolators running from linear power supplies and a dedicated local router for wireless connectivity (again with its own linear power supply). The SOtM switches (and PSU) is located immediately next to the Server and the whole network runs from a separate AC supply, with Nordost V2 power and Ethernet cables. Yet even so, the addition of the Aardvark produced a very real lift in musical performance. Even when replaying locally stored files, the removal of grain from within the soundstage, the improved instrumental colour, textures and dynamic shadings were far from subtle, as was the greater sense of flow and musical articulation. As expected, once I switched to streamed material those improvements were magnified significantly, to the extent that they elevated streamed music from a convenience to a viable source, with the better streamed files now comparable in quality to all but the best locally stored material.