Three’s A Charm…

Physically, the Ethernet Control is far closer to the USB Filter than the diminutive USB Control. It’s elegant, mat finished Perspex case really is matchbox shaped – unlike the narrower Aardvark. Also unlike the Aardvark, it eliminates the short flying lead, the RJ45 connector being built into one end, a matching socket into the other. Whilst I understand the logic at work here – every element and every junction is a potential access point or generator of noise – it is also the one significant (practical) limitation in the design. Inserted into a typical switch or router, the Ethernet Control’s broad shoulders are very likely to impede the sockets on either side. Inserted into the typically close-packed rear panel of today’s digital devices, the same restriction may well apply. In a worst-case scenario, the casing may prevent insertion into recessed sockets. However, that aside, the Ethernet Control is an absolute triumph.

Mind you – at more than twice the price of the already excellent Aardvark, a triumph it needs to be. Fortunately – for both CAD and its potential customers –your first listen will convince you that it’s a triumph indeed. The improved sense of musical flow, articulation, overall structure and purpose is impossible to miss, whether it is the dramatic attack and dynamic contrasts of Anastasia Kobekina on ‘Limestone & Felt’ or Bill Evans’ fluid phrasing and changes of impetus and tempo. The Ethernet Control elevates the sonics but more critically it elevates the musical qualities in the performance, bringing you closer to the original event. The longer you listen the more it becomes apparent that the ethernet control is significantly more capable than the more affordable: the shape and volume of the instruments, the spaces between them, the distance (physical and temporal) that defines their musical relationship. At its simplest, this is a question of pattern: what was where, what did it do and when. But that is the very essence of music and its challenge – a challenge that streaming has by and large, totally failed to meet. The Ethernet Control changes that. It isn’t a magic bullet: you still need to pay attention to your network infrastructure, cabling and power supplies (in particular), but for the first time, with all those aspects attended to and with the CAD Ethernet Control in line, streamed music is both listenable and in the best instances, able to approach the performance of optical disc replay on a regular basis. It takes streaming from a necessary chore to the level of a viable and versatile source, finally delivering on virtual music’s loudly trumpeted promise.

The ‘buisness side’ of the Ethernet Control, showing the directly mounted RJ45 connector – an arrangement that eliminates a junction but can prove problematic in tight spaces or when it comes to supporting heavier Ethernet cables.

The compact and surprisingly dense body of the Ethernet Control has a certain tactile integrity, but it still looks expensive for what you get – until you hear the results. Given the price of many high-end streaming components – and the lamentable musical performance they all too often deliver, the Ethernet Control is a bargain of monumental proportions, one that potentially, finally allows your crazy expensive boxes to actually do what you’ve probably been telling yourself they’ve been doing all along. Best of all, it’s tiny and tucked away behind the system, meaning you don’t have to ‘fess up to your delusions – even to yourself.

A Conclusion – of sorts…

In one sense, the conclusion here is stark: network hygiene is critical to the musical performance of streaming-based or file-replay systems. I’ve looked at three options at three distinct price levels and each fully justifies its cost. But the musical rewards of the more expensive Aardvark and CAD units is a strong indication of just how fundamental their influence is. This is a case of the inverse law of diminishing returns! The potential benefits are so great that I suspect there’s still plenty of design and performance headroom to go before we hit the optimum price/performance point.