Electrically Isolate Your Networked Audio

I've been thinking about this for years. Literally. I've had any number of people ask, "Have you tried using a Fiber Media Converter?" And I always said, "No, but I plan to." Now I can say, "Why yes, I have tried this and it works wonders."

The idea, implementation, and improvement are all simple; use two fiber media converters between all your noisy network stuff like routers, NAS, and server (I use the sonicTransporter running Roon Core), and your audio stuff. This way, all that electrical noise from the noisy stuff cannot get into your audio stuff because they are separated by a length of fiber optic cable which does not transmit electrical noise.1

Here's what my network side of this picture looks like, right up to the switch that serves my microRendu and any other network-enabled device I have here for review:

And here's the shopping list:

  1. ASUS (RT-AC68U) Wireless-AC1900 Dual-Band Gigabit Router ($158.25)
  2. 2x Cat 6 Ethernet cable (I use AudioQuest RJ/E Forest (0.75m $38.75/ea.)
  3. 2x TP-LINK MC200CM Gigabit Media Converter, 1000Mbps RJ45 to 1000M multi-mode SC fiber, up to 550m/1800ft, chassis mountable ($45.55/each)
  4. Tripp Lite Duplex Multimode 62.5/125 Fiber Patch Cable (SC/SC), 2M (6-ft.)(N306-006) ($16.99)
  5. NETGEAR ProSAFE GS108 8-Port Gigabit Desktop Switch (GS108-400NAS) ($39.00)
I'll assume that most everyone reading this already has a router and an Ethernet Switch so all we're looking at today is adding the fiber bit in between.

Installation
The Media Converters are powered devices so you'll need to plug them in.

  • Connect Ethernet cable to Router and Media Converter 1
  • Connect Fiber Patch Cable from Media Converter 1 to Media Converter 2
  • Connect Ethernet cable from Media Converter 2 to the Ethernet Switch
All done, plug and play. fyi - I have all of this network stuff plugged into a circuit which is separate from my hi-fi stuff.

The Sound Of Less Noise
Electrical noise sources are like opinions, everybody has one (OK, more than one). How many will depend on your setup and how much noise they introduce into your networked audio depends on damn near everything that's connected to your network and even things aren't. All this to say, your mileage may—OK it most likely will—vary when dealing with noise.

In my network and in my hi-fi, adding the TP-Link Media Converters and Fiber in between my router and switch improved the sound of my hi-fi. These improvements included an immediately recognizable lower noise floor as evidenced by an increase in perceived loudness, greater clarity across the board, and a larger and more focused sound image. In other words, all good.

I could go on talking about specific bits of specific recordings and how they changed but that's all really beside the point since these changes are not recording-specific: They are changes in the presentation of networked my hi-fi system.

A $108.09 Improvement
If you have a networked hi-fi system, I'd recommend trying this out for yourself. I purchased all the above gear from Amazon, so it can be returned for free (we're Premium Members). If you hear what I hear, you'll throw away the boxes, too.


1. see Optical Fiber Communications, Gerd Keiser, John Wiley & Sons (2003)

Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
SoundsGood's picture

Got the parts in today and I noticed the improvement immediately - less noise let's your brain not work so hard to sort out the sound.

I did notice that the port left side green LED on the mRendu did not light up with the FO isolation but it does with a straight Ethernet cable? Any idea why?
Also, Cat 6 patch cables seems to sound better than Cat 5.

Set-up:
CAPS Zuma (Roon/Tidal) > Cisco switcher > FO isolation > mRendu > SOtM DAC/Pre > Hypex amps > speakers

Lifer's picture

My Optical converters arrived, but I ordered the wrong connecting cable so I am in wait mode still.

But, I rearranged my Ethernet cables and now have the SOtM Isolator sandwiched between two AQ Diamond Ethernet cables and the three dimensionality of the sound is appreciably better. The lesson for me is that you should put the best you can between the switch and the microRendu; it is the critical part of the network soundwise.

One other thing, if you are using a Windows based server computer I strongly recommend Fidelizer Pro. If you can, use it in Purist/Network Player mode - way to go.

I await the correct optical cable and new results.

Lifer's picture

I have the optical isolation in place for a week or so now. I am pleased with the sound - even better than the SOtM Isolator. So even with the added complexity it is staying. I am using an iFi power supply (plugged into my Shunyata Hydra power conditioner) on the second optical converter.

mikey8811's picture

Hi

Did you ever try the FMC's with the stock switching supply rather than the iFi power supply on the downstream optical converter?

Was that an improvement over the SOtM as well?

I have the FMC's on the way but was looking at the EMO EN 70 HD passive isolator too which costs more upfront but not when you factor in the need for a better power supply for the FMC's

Thuandb's picture

Hi Michael et al,

Thanks for sharing the tweak. I've ordered two plus patch cables, they'll be here in two days. I plan to use LPSU to power them for further improvement. Can you tell the converter's input voltage?

Steven Plaskin's picture
It's 9v.
Thuandb's picture

And have a nice weekend.

Lxgreen's picture

Excuse my ignorance but I am still confused how I would set this up. Can you diagram exactly how I would set this up with Microrendu, sonic transporter, DAC, router and Ethernet switch. Thanks

Michael Lavorgna's picture
If you are only connecting to the microRendu, there's no need for a switch. Connectivity would look like this:

DavidL's picture

Hi Michael

Good to see you are one of the more responsible reviewers - not following the latest fashion but looking for supporting evidence!

I first picked up this optical isolation setup a year ago from a blog by Andrew Everard:
https://andreweverard.com/2015/06/08/high-resolution-audio-now-with-adde...
As it was inexpensive to implement (including linear power supplies for the TP-LINK converters) I added it to my system in July 2015. Since then it has worked without a hitch and given a noticeable improvement in sound quality. Frankly I was not expecting the improvement I achieved because my computer stuff (NAS, iMac, router etc) is isolated (purely for practical reasons) from my audio-visual kit by a wireless bridge, however I put the isolation in the final ethernet link to my renderer/DAC.

A couple of points to note:
1) Many renderers / DACs (Naim, Sonore etc) need a 10/100Mbps ethernet connection (not Gigabit) so TP-LINK MC100 converters are required for these. (When I asked Sonore about this Jesus said he did not want GHz signals in his renderer that could generate interference.)
2) If like me you are using a wireless access point to control music playback it is essential to keep this well away from the renderer/DAC. When I moved mine from 1ft away to 8ft away I got a noticeable improvement in sound quality.

Thuandb's picture

I run HySolid as player which uses iPad / iPhone to control payback wirelessly. Thanks for sharing the last year's article of the same subject.

Thuandb's picture

They came yesterday and I set them up right away. The fiber cable isn't long enough, my Comcast router us downstairs, my audio stuff upstairs, so I temporarily set two Media Converters side by side next to the router, while waiting for a longer cable to arrive in two days. Even with the supplied switching PSU and less than optimized setup, I've already heard and liked the improvements. Battery banks came today (thank you Phil), being charged now, and will be put in use shortly. Once the longer fiber cable arrives that will allow me to connect directly to router without going thru the power line network, will report further.

bodiebill's picture

Would this one also work? It has one SFP connection for the fibre cable instead of the two connections (TX and RX) of the MC200CM. And if the double wiring is essential for this tweak: why is that the case?

Ruud's picture

Thank you Michael, for your tip, it really sounds better!
But I do have one question.
If I use the TP-Link directly to my dCS Rossini DAC/streamer I have no network connection on my dCS.
How is that possible?

GOOD NETWORK CONNECTION:
Netgear router > TP-LINK > TP-LINK > Netgear switch > dCS Rossini DAC/streamer

NO NETWORK CONNECTION:
Netgear router > Netgear switch > TP-LINK > TP-LINK > dCS Rossini DAC/streamer

( I need the switch also for other devices )

SoundAsInSchall's picture

As someone wrote in this discussion before:
Quote:
"A couple of points to note:
1) Many renderers / DACs (Naim, Sonore etc) need a 10/100Mbps ethernet connection (not Gigabit) so TP-LINK MC100 converters are required for these. (When I asked Sonore about this Jesus said he did not want GHz signals in his renderer that could generate interference.)"

This should explain why it works in front of the switch but not behind it.

Cheers
Axel

Ruud's picture

Thank you Axel, I had read it, but on the rear back of the dCS DAC:
NETWORK inputs: MAIN 10/100/1000 (and LOOP 10/100)
With these 2 inputs no connection.

I think I buy a TP-LINK MC100 because I still want to have a second one.
With or without a switch is still a beter sound.

SoundAsInSchall's picture

Sounds strange indeed. Maybe something else is missing, which the dCS expects? I don´t know nothing about networks anyway ;-) But in my setup the use of those things does also improve the sound. Happy playing around!

audioruud's picture

I did buy the TP-LINK MC100CM and the "problem" is solved.
And the 2 TP-LINK MC100CM connection after the switch sound even better.
I was already pleased with the results, now even more!

Digital nomad's picture

Learned this the hard way - so thought I'd share. The TP Link media converter Michael suggested is only compatible with gigabit ethernet clients. I thought this was not an issue but turns out that both the Naim NDS and Devialet Expert have 10/100 built-in capabilities.

As a result the only way to use the TP LInk gigabit converters with them is if you use a Gigabit switch between the TP Link and your device. Trendnet was supposed to have media converters that were auto-sensing- but this did not work for me.

In the end I ended up using 10/100 TP Link switches that have worked like a charm - you can find them on the same page in the same page on Amazon as the M200CM

Mike Rubin's picture

My network equipment mostly is in my basement where the cable enters the house, but my audio stuff is upstairs in the living room. Before I got my microRendu, I used a SoTM SMS-1000 connected to the network using an ethernet cable connected to a wireless bridge.

I asked Jesus at Sonore about using that arrangement with the mR I was buying and he strongly advised against it, suggesting instead that I use power over ethernet instead. I bought a two-unit PoE set, one end of which is connected to my router and the other end of which is connected to an inexpensive four port gigabit switch. The switch connects to both an Oppo Blu-ray player and to the mR, the latter over a 15 foot CAT 5 cable. Thus far, it's sounded good, at least in the sense I never have heard anything that obviously is a product of electrical noise, not that I really know how that would sound. (I should add that the mR now is connected to my DAC via the PS Audio LAN Rover, which made a significant improvement in my system in nearly every way.)

My question is whether the optical isolators make sense between the cheap switch at the PoE, on the one hand, and, on the other, the mR. Would I need to upgrade the switch? Would I need to use CAT 6 instead of CAT 5 over the 15 feet between switch and mR?

Mike Rubin's picture

I see something I would like to change slightly in the post above, but I don't see a way to edit it. Is it possible to do that on this forum?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
There is no Edit feature. In the future, if you'd like something changed, you can re-post the comment with the corrections and I'll delete the original.
Mike Rubin's picture

Good to know. Thank you.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
While some people have experienced dropouts using optical isolators with the microRendu, I have not have any issues. It seems that the safe bet is to use the 10/100Mbps TP-Link (Amazon) as opposed to the 1000Mbps model I have. Based on my experience, placing these in between your switch and mR may very well improve things. How much is anyone's guess but the TP-Link can be returned for minimal expense if you not hear an improvement that's worth the asking price ($34 x2 + cable).

In terms of "I never have heard anything that obviously is a product of electrical noise," the issue here is the noise we are talking about becomes part of the music signal so there's no obvious "noise" as in hum, etc. The easiest way to hear its effect, is to remove it ;-)

I'd recommend a good quality CAT6 cable from AudioQuest or Blue Jeans Cable.

Mike Rubin's picture

Thanks. I presently am using a gigabit connection from the switch to mR without incident, but will throttle down if I go optical.

Mike Rubin's picture

Just ordered the 10/100 version, a TrippLite SC-SC cable, and some cheapo CAT 6 cables from Amazon. I won't order better power supplies or high end ethernet cabling until I am certain that this arrangement works and is worth the candle - although, it should be noted, Amazon no longer appears to have a customer sat return policy when it comes to computer electronics, so I may be stuck with the these products whether they do anything for my system or otherwise. (Instead, according to the note that appeared on my screen before I placed the order, these products are returnable only if DOA or unopened, so this isn't such a low-risk proposition as it used to be. Wish me luck.)

Mike Rubin's picture

My converters and cables arrived today and I added them to my system this afternoon in lieu of the CAT 5 that I ran from the switch to the mR. I'm using the stock power supplies and generic CAT 6 connector cables for now.

As soon as I played the first track, I was impressed with how much "bigger" yet more relaxed everything sounded with this connection in place. Bass particularly is enhanced. For the $80 or so that I paid for the converters, SC cable, and three CAT 6 stubs (including one from the PoE unit to the switch, I haven't had a sonic improvement this large, ever. It's impressive, really. Thanks for the tip.

One downside: there are a few dsd files that I use for testing. With the mR, I streamed them from JRIver Media Center 22 using the MPD/DLNA application and eos or Bubbleupnp, the latter with JRiver as the DLNA server. Unfortunately, DSD tracks simply no longer play. In a couple of cases, I got periodic bursts of music separated by silence, but most of the tracks wouldn't show a progress bar or provide any output that I can hear at all. I wonder whether throttling down from gigabit to 10/100 mbps might have resulted in inadequate bandwidth for these files. I can't imagine what other explanation there might be.

Subject to that frustration, this is a great upgrade and the single best tweak I have tried at anywhere near its modest price.

Mike Rubin's picture

The DSD playback issues with optical aren't unique to my mR setup. The apparent reason is that the latency of fiber optical connections is crazy higher than with ethernet cable. My SoTM server, connected via cable to the same switch as the optical converters, gets an average of 7.25 ms when pinged, but the mR averages almost 75 ms. The only solution, seemingly, is just to switch back to Ethernet cabling.

austinpop's picture

Mike Rubin,

I was concerned to read your comments about the increased latency and DSD playback issues. I had the MC200CM on order, and they arrived today, along with an SC-SC cable, and a Blue Jeans Cat 6a.

To cut to the chase, I do not see either of the issues you encountered. In my configuration, the FMCs are downstream of the switch, and just upstream of my streamer, which is an Auralic Aries Mini.

Addressing each in turn:

a) Latency: Using a Macbook Pro at the location, first with straight ethernet, and then with the FMCs in-line, the ping time to my NAS barely rose by 0.1ms. This is just approximate, but my point is I didn't see anything like the ~75ms you mentioned.

b) The highest resolution files my DAC can handle are DSD128 and DXD, so I tried both. The former puts an 11.2Mbps demand on the network, whereas the latter, due to FLAC compression is more like 8 Mbps. I experienced no dropouts whatsoever.

As for SQ - have not had time to compare, but liked what I was hearing!

Mike Rubin's picture

Based on the comments on this thread, I ordered the 10/100 MC100CM. It is possible that this is a bandwidth issue.

I just tested latency now from my ethernet-cabled computer. The latency for both the SoTM and the mR are the same from here. The gross disparity was what resulted from a test using a network scanning app on the phone that I use to control the mR. That phone is being recharged as I type this, but i will ping again from there just to see if the results are replicable. In the meantime, perhaps I ought to upgrade to the gigabit version of the FMC, because the DSD issue definitely persists.

austinpop's picture

Yes, I have the gigabit FMCs, because the Aries Mini has a Gb ethernet interface.

Mike Rubin's picture

.... and I was running gigabit from the switch and playing DSD's without incident when using CAT 5 cabling from the switch to the mR. However, if you scan this thread, you'll see folks commenting that the mR seems to be more reliable with fiber optical when run at 10/100, which is why I throttled down with the MC100CM. I now am wondering if that was the smart move, especially since Michael Lavorgna was using the gigabit without incident when preparing this article.

Mike Rubin's picture

I never could not get DSD files to play over DLNA using the MC100CM. A post at computeraudiophile.com led to this media converter, which I substituted for the MC100CM:

https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B0062K68D0/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00...

It's gigabit ethernet, not 10/100 like the MC100CM.

I sometimes get a loud pop at the beginning of the first file of a DSD playlist or ahead of each DSD file if I bounce around between various DSD files, but, otherwise, there are no streaming issues on DLNA. I also have no issue streaming DSD's using Logitech Media Server. For me, and for only a few dollars more, this was a better solution than throttling down to 10/100.

stevebythebay's picture

I've a Mac Mini -> Ethernet -> Cisco switch -> Ethernet -> microRendu -> DAC
Only other thing connected to the switch is a WiFi access point
Question: put fiber between microRendu and switch - or - between switch and WiFi access point? If between microRendu and switch, should I also use comparable Ethernet cable (AudioQuest Vodka) that I'm currently using?

stevebythebay's picture

Since my WiFi access point has 2 Ethernet ports (it's one of 3 Eero mesh network devices), should I remove the Cisco, and simply connect the Mac to one port and the MC100CM Media Converter to the other (using the other Converter for the microRendu)?

John G's picture

Just set this up, with the media converters in the listening room, between the Ethernet wall outlet and the music server. The converter at the server end of the fiber optic cable is fed 5v by a linear power supply that was already in the system. The sound improvement is real and substantial, and seems like a real bargain.

atxkyle's picture

I just set this up. Unfortunately it didn't result in any improvement for me ... if anything I felt like the sound quality was slightly degraded. Oh well, was worth a shot.

RichZ's picture

I have the media converters and cables on order to set up the isolation strategy you describe in your July 21, 2016 article. QUESTION: each MC200CM has a switch to select "Force" or "Auto." What setting should be used on the unit closest to the router (i.e. the one converting to fiber) vs the unit converting from fiber back to ethernet? Thanks for any advice you can provide.

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