New Taiko Audio Extreme Switch And Network Card.


Taiko Audio writes: "The new Taiko Audio Extreme Network Card is a single-connection PCIe option board for the Extreme Server. It can go in any vacant PCIe slot and will effectively (not physically) substitute the Extreme’s on-board Network connection.  The card is powered internally via the PCIe slot. There is a single SFP+ module slot that can be fitted with either an RJ-45 connector module or a Fiber connector module."


Availability 


The Taiko Audio Extreme Network Card can be pre-ordered now
Expected Shipping Date - 28-02-2023

Taiko Audio Extreme Switch


The new Taiko Audio Extreme Switch is an external network device intended to replace and optimize the direct ethernet interface to the Extreme. Milled from a solid block of copper, the Extreme Switch has a smoothly polished Chrome finish, with more finish options to come later. The provided connectivity is one in and one out. To this end, the switch contains one SFP+ input module slot and one SFP+ output module slot that both can be fitted with a range of options.

The input SFP+ slot can be fitted with either an RJ-45 connector module or a Fiber connector module.
The output SFP+ slot can be fitted with either an RJ-45 connector module, a Fiber connector module, or a DAC Cable in a variety of lengths ranging from 0,5 – 7m.
  • Dimensions (WxDxH): 22 x 22 x 5 cm / 9 x 9 x 2 inch
  • Weight: 15 Kg / 33 lbs

What is a DAC cable?


A Direct Attach Copper cable or a “DAC cable” is a twinax copper cable terminated with SFP connectors that connects directly the SFP ports (or line cards) within active equipment, such as switches, routers, servers or data storage devices, in a data network. 


More info can be found further below.

Supplied without a Power Supply


We will not be able to supply an audiophile grade external power supply with it in the same timeframe and at these quantities but can supply a standard 12V wall wart (still sounds great with that).

For the best sound quality, we'd recommend powering the Switch with our upcoming battery power supply (BPS) but we cannot supply this before around May 2023.

Power Connector and Consumption


The Switch consumes around 500mA @ 12V
Standard DC barrel polarity
2.5mm Connector diameter
The Switch has a pretty wide range input of 12V-19V DC

For Oyaide DC plug users - possibly the best option - they use a color-coding of red for 2.5mm and black for 2.1mm. 2.5 mm to 2.1 mm adapters are readily available.

Finish Options


We are offering the first run in the Polished Chrome finish. 

Black will be added next which we hope may become available in February 2023. 



Natural copper is estimated to become available in February 2023 but this is to be confirmed.


Bead-blasted and Anodized Aluminum (which is identical to the silver Extreme) availability looks to be May 2023 due to Aluminum lead times and the anodizing process. We’re investigating if we can get the same color finish by coating which would make it a lot faster.


Other finishes than standard Polished Chrome will likely come at a premium.

Availability 


The Taiko Extreme Switch in Polished Chrome finish can be pre-ordered now. Other finishes will become available in the next months.

Expected Shipping Date


28-02-2023. This is for the first 100 switches in Chrome which can ship on the 28th of March 2023.

Switch and Network Card Public Announcement


We are delighted to be able to announce that we have secured all the necessary parts to supply both the switch and network card in quantity to Extreme owners. 

It has been a very long and often wondrous journey as the first PCB designs date back as far as April 2020(!) after an even longer period of data collection and research, altogether we have probably spent as much as 3 years on it. But I believe we have truly managed to solve the puzzle, and as far as I have been able to track the market, I did not see anything like it yet, hence further details will be released closer to launch.


We’re not in the habit of boasting about sonic qualities, but we can say it's a very large upgrade, significantly larger than the previous hardware update to the Extreme (the April 2021 USB upgrade). And Roon also sounds sublime, better than ever.

Our new switch is very different to other switches. The first switch we designed was uniformly positive, for instance, it did not provide a cleaner sound at the expense of density, it did not compress dynamics, it did not just sound more pleasing and/or "fuller" by rolling off the top end. In our opinion, it was truly "neutral" and only lowered "noise". However, the most remarkable aspect of it was that everything just sounded better with it connected rather than disconnected. This was around halfway into 2021. We could have stopped there and just release it as it provided a good uptick in sound quality, and I'm sure everybody who would've bought one would've been pleased with it, but it did not actually solve anything, instead, it gave us some interesting insights. 

This led to more discoveries, some of those led to the software update we released early in 2022 which provided a similar uptick in sound quality as the switch on its own. 

What we have designed since then is truly different, and operates and functions on a whole different level. It also scales with your system outlay. For example, on the Alsyvox Raffaello loudspeakers, with its huge dual bass ribbons, it's almost like there's a +6dB boost at 20Hz combined with a mayor increase in transparency and detail in that range (yes there's detail in sub bass). It makes for a rather shocking difference, it produces shockwave-like bass, but it's not just that, the midrange energy and drive are on a whole different level too, like if you went from an underpowered amplifier to something with power to spare. 

On the Magico A5s you don't get the same level of improvement in this area, but still, the bass is much more controlled and has more energy, grip and dynamic punch. The lowered distortion over the entire frequency range is very obvious and the midrange is more colorful and engaging. 

Removing the switch leaves the listener with a suddenly rather disappointing sound, grey and lackluster. We have a lot of switches here, but none of them do anything like this, this is more fundamental, it alters your musical experience. There goes our "We’re not in the habit of boasting about sonic qualities" out the window… Let’s rephrase that to hoping that you will all agree with these impressions. You are welcome to visit us in Oldenzaal and hear the difference for yourself.

Why did we end up designing both a switch and a router?


After years of trying and experimenting we have not found a single solution leading to full immunization to the influence of networking on sound quality. This network is an active component in your home. A perhaps shocking discovery is that your home network can even influence your analog playback chain. Every component of your network exerts a degree of influence, ranging from very minor to major. What this means is that when you introduce any type of streaming digital source into your system (and even when you don't) and you care about sound quality, you should absolutely look at the large picture, including every single component and piece of wire, not identical to but similar to how you look at for example your power utility setup, where the utility breaker box, fuses and all bits of wire make a difference.


A router is like the airport / main distribution center of your network, it performs customs clearance on international packages, checks for illegal content, and sorts and transports all packages to where they should arrive in a timely and organized fashion. It should have plenty of capacity to ensure everything runs smooth and in a timely fashion, and good management- and quality control departments.

A switch is like your local post office / distribution center, it needs a well-maintained road system and a fleet of delivery trucks with good suspension so packages arrive undamaged at their final destination even when encountering a few bumps in the road and last but not least well-mannered delivery guys.

In audiophile language, using the earlier mentioned power utility setup analogy, your house mains utility distribution box would be the router, your in-wall wiring would be the ethernet cable running from the router, your local system power strip or power conditioner would be the switch, and your power cord would be your ethernet cable. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their respective degrees of influence on sound quality are very similar. The router being the mains utility distribution box in this example can furthermore be enhanced with things like power regeneration, cleaning, stabilization etc.

Why did we select the SFP interface instead of the usual RJ45?


The ethernet cabling system that we use in our homes is designed to transport large amounts of data at high speeds over an as economical as possible cabling system. For this to work it uses block coding and error correction to enable data to pass through a cheap (economical) cable and connector system without error. The block encoding requires reading the data block into the transmitter, running a mathematical function on the data, and sending the encoded data over the link. The opposite happens at the receiving end and error correction is applied.

Below is a graphical display of error correction:


To provide an indication of the processing overhead, this is standardized to take 2.6 microseconds where the actual data transfer latency is 0.1 microseconds for fiber and 0.3 microseconds for copper (or times 8.6 for copper and times 26 for fiber). But more important is the increase in power consumption which is between 5 and 25 times higher for RJ45 over SFP (for EACH port).

At a first glance, SFP fiber appears to be the ideal solution. Unfortunately, it is not as straight forward as that as a SFP fiber module, which converts an electrical into an optical signal, uses a substantial amount of power. A single fiber SFP module consumes more power than our entire switch design, and the additional noise this generates is multiple times higher than that of the switch itself.
  • Inside the system, there is an accumulation of several types of noise:
  • Processing noise
  • Noise generated by power consumption (and associated heat)
  • Interface noise
We have managed to achieve the absolute lowest possible noise by minimizing these 3 by designing a Network Card and Switch by producing the lowest possible noise, consuming the lowest possible power, and with the least possible processing overhead around using a so-called DAC SFP cable between Network card and Switch.

What is a DAC cable?


A Direct Attach Copper cable or a “DAC cable” is an Industry-Standard twinax copper cable terminated with SFP connectors that connects directly the SFP ports (or line cards) within active equipment, such as switches, routers, servers or data storage devices, in a data network.


Above is an example of a DAC SFP Cable, or in other words, a DAC cable terminated with SFP connectors


Above is a photo of a fiber and a copper SFP RJ45 module


Above is a photo of the DAC Cable connected to a slot of the Extreme

We already had an SFP card fitted in the Extreme in that position, however, that was not a design with the lowest possible noise in mind and it does not support the software enhancements that are provided by the upcoming Taiko proprietary TACDD interface, to be explained in another article.


Above is a photo of a 3D print of the switch PCB which reveals that the switch employs 2 SFP ports exclusively

Our recommendation for the lowest possible noise:
  • RJ45 from router to switch as it still uses less power than dual fiber SFP modules (for which you need a SFP RJ45 module (which we can supply with the package)
  • SFP DAC twinax copper cable from switch to Extreme (which can supply with the package)

Q&A


Does the switch improve the sound of other servers?

Yes, it does, but not to the same extent, and there's a good reason for that, as you need the network card, and a specific software configuration to achieve the full Monty. The network card on its own is a nice upgrade, the switch on its own is a substantial upgrade, and the combination is "magical".

Will the router and switch also be made available for non-Extreme users?

Never say never, but this is not currently considered, as it was quite a challenge to secure enough parts to be able to supply one to each current Extreme owner and have a few spares for future ones.

With some adjustments it's possible for non-Extreme owners to use but it will not give the full benefit, which includes a software / firmware interaction.

Does the Network card/switch solution improve local playback as well?

Yes, it does, almost to the same degree as streaming. In fact, it affects both almost to an equal degree. There is the general idea that switches mainly influence streaming sound quality as they “pass on“ the actual bits but that’s not really where it’s at. There is a slightly larger improvement for streamed over locally stored file playback with the Switch and Network Card, but if the improvement would be 25% for local files it’s perhaps 30% for streamed content.

How does the sound of streaming content through the router compare with the same file played from the Extreme storage?

This is a work in progress, honestly the hardware of the router is brand new, it just passed EMC testing very recently and it’s running a basic set of software. But it should on paper get us close if not there. For XDMS, I have zero doubts we will get it on an equal level, but for Roon we have a lot of very clever coding and even some hacking to do.

Was all your testing done with UTP CAT6A (Unshielded) or did you experiment with anything else?

We tested with just about everything we could get our hands on.

Does Taiko still advocate for unshielded ethernet cables?

Without going in detail, with the new Taiko Network Card and Switch, it doesn’t really matter anymore what kind of Ethernet cable is used.


In which slot does the network card go?

The new Network Card can go in any available PCIe slot and can replace the existing fiber optic card.

Is there a way of getting the same enclosure as the Extreme for the Switch?

Yes, but in a limited quantity, and with longer lead times.

Regarding concerns about surface durability

The glossy Polished Chrome surface finish is actually stronger then anodized aluminum, but being glossy, a scratch does show more clearly.

Regarding concerns about reflectivity

The Switch has too small a Square Footage Area for that to be a real concern. The circumstances in which an exact 90-degree angle is created with a spotlight are not very likely. But chrome is indeed a highly reflective material.

Do the different finishes affect the sound?

Fortunately, the unit’s sheer mass minimizes the coating influence.

Regarding concerns about copper finish tarnish

Copper needs to be finished as it’s very soft and scratches easily, and if you just briefly touch it, a black spot will start showing after a couple of weeks, also underneath lacquer. What we do in the Extreme is brushing, chemical cleaning and immediately lacquer, but this would be a very elaborate process for the Switch chassis. But we do have other options to get there.


We did a dozen or so copper mods for T+A DACs about 6 years ago, and those are all still looking identical to back then.

Purpose of the Recess on the rear of the switch/router


The big recess (as shown on earlier photos on WBF) is only to make the router prototype fit in the same size chassis; the switch recess is small.

Switch Chassis Size


Actually, we do have 2 versions:

190 x 150 x 40mm, weight 7.5 Kg / 16.5 lbs
210 x 210 x 50mm, weight 15.7 Kg / 34.6 lbs


The difference in the PCB sizes is caused by a more elaborate power regulation section. The cost saving is significant. We’re considering releasing both.

What is the difference between the small device and the large one?

Both units are Switches. Please note that the announced Taiko Router is a separate product that will be detailed in a separate document. 

The large unit is the switch we are releasing first and it looks like it’ll end up near or at 5K in price. As we intended to stay below that for the switch + network card package we are now considering releasing a smaller version which could be below 3K in price, more competitive in pricing to other “less extreme” switch offerings. This is still an excellent performer and allows usage of the superior SFP DAC cable connection, and brings the whole package at below 5K in price.

We can only launch the small switch if there’s enough demand. A handful of people have expressed interest but the absolute minimum production run would be 100 units.

Will there be any difference in functionality/connectivity between big and small switch?

The big Switch simply sounds better, but we’re certain that listeners will already be impressed with the small Switch.

What are the sonic differences between the two Switch size options?

The larger one is a large step up in clarity, transparency, larger & more holographic staging and significantly increases bass definition, impact and extension, very similar to adding subwoofers, a peculiar effect. But as long as you’ve not heard it the smaller one is excellent and still manages to make Roon sound better then XDMS (without).

Can we swap the RJ45 and DAC cable at a later stage after purchase? - If I have rj45 input to the switch at first, could this be changed to a DAC cable later if we wanted to go DAC between the router and switch? 

Yes, you can change at any time.

Would you expect any SQ benefit from using DAC vs. CAT 6 between Router and Switch?

Perhaps, but in that location, its impact should be much smaller. Directly into the Extreme is where its impact becomes “huge“.

Copper RJ45 SFP or Fiber SFP?

We prefer RJ45 for the switch. The SFP fiber modules consume more power, which means higher noise. Furthermore, Fiber isolation is irrelevant with our new Switch.

Does the Switch DC cable length affect its sonic performance?

The length of the DC cable would likely indeed matter. Ideally, the switch is positioned close to its power source, or the upcoming Taiko BPS (to be detailed in a separate document), with a shorter cable.

Is the performance target to have the new switch on the same main power line as the server? Or should we isolate them?

No noise is passing there, but unfortunately, you're still mains powered!

Does the new network card replace the current network port?

No. The current Ethernet port is motherboard-based. It replaces the current SPF card (if present). 

Why is it called a switch if it only has a single input?

Perhaps a better name for it would have been a “Media Converter“, but since it really is a switch we stuck with it.

Is there any benefit for Revanna user to buy 2 network cards? One for internet and one for Revanna (audio over IP)?

This is unsure but worth trying. You can return the card if it doesn’t work out as planned.

Is there any merit in keeping the Uptone Audio EtherRegen in the chain, or should I go direct from router to switch?

We would expect there won’t be any merit in retaining the EtherRegen.

What cable to use to the switch?

You may use unshielded twisted pair copper ethernet cable with RJ45 ends if that is what you are using now. If your existing router has an SFP cage you may use a passive DAC cable so long as the distance between your existing router and where you will put the Taiko switch is 7 meters or less. 

We will include an SFP module specific for RJ45 with the switch if that is what you specify. If you plan to go with a standard passive DAC cable from router to Taiko switch and the distance is less than 7 meters, then you can specify that in the notes when you order on the Taiko website or with your dealer. A passive DAC cable is generally twinaxial copper and is not a Cat 6 cable.

From switch to network card the cable is passive DAC cable (<7.0 meters). That is a change specific to the switch/network card combination.

Into the Taiko switch from the rest of your local area network can still be RJ-45 unshielded twisted pair (UTP) commonly CAT5, 5e or unshielded CAT6.

However, if and when someone purchases the upcoming Taiko router (to be detailed in a separate document), they can continue to use RJ-45 from Taiko router to Taiko switch, or if the Taiko router and switch can be connected with a passive DAC cable < 7.0m the two can be connected by passive DAC for a slight improvement in sound quality.

How long can the cable between the Taiko Switch and Extreme be?

The maximum length is 10 meters (30 ft) but we recommend a 7-meter (20ft) maximum. Longer lengths require an active cable (as opposed to standard passive) which unfortunately severely degrades SQ (to fiber levels).

Will you offer shorter lengths than 7 meters?

Sure, we offer 1,2,3,5,7-meter lengths.

Is there any further benefit to being closer than 20 feet with the switch?

There are some minor differences but not of the better or worse kind. Over 20 feet, however, there’s some deterioration.

20 feet is a smidge over 6 meters. Why offer a 7-meter cable if it exceeds the threshold?

We’re on the metric system and for us, it’s all meters. A common length offered in the US is 20ft.

I there any SQ benefit to choose 2m over 7m, for example?

They do sound ever so slightly different but even we would fail a blind A/B test.

What length sounds best?

We simply recommend picking the length which fits best.

Are there differences in sound from brand to brand?

We have tested a few different lengths and brands and in high-end everything sounds somewhat different, but the differences are relatively minor relative to the delta to a rj45 terminated UTP cable, like 1-2% of that.

Switch/Network card Wiring option Examples


The bottom line is that you INSERT the switch between the network cable you currently use and the Extreme. Then you can also get the new SFP network card for the Extreme.

Scenario A

You purchase the Network card and the Switch package which includes a DAC cable
  • Option 1: You currently use a cat5 or cat6 or cat7 or cat8 / UTP or STP network cable with RJ45 connectors, also often referred to as a copper network cable, you remove that from the Extreme, plug it into the switch and connect the switch to the Extreme with the DAC cable.
  • Option 2: You currently use fiber into the Extreme. You remove the fiber cable from the Extreme, plug it into the Switch and connect the switch to the Extreme with the DAC cable.
Scenario B

You purchase the Switch but not the network card
  • Option 1: You currently use a cat5 or cat6 or cat7 or cat8 / UTP or STP network cable with RJ45 connectors, also often referred to as a copper network cable, you remove that from the Extreme, plug it into the switch and connect the switch to the Extreme with another cat5 or cat6 or cat7 or cat8 / UTP or STP network cable with RJ45 connectors.
  • Option 2: You currently use fiber into the Extreme. You remove the fiber cable from the Extreme, plug it into the Switch and connect the switch to the Extreme with another fiber cable or a cat5 or cat6 or cat7 or cat8 / UTP or STP network cable with RJ45 connectors (which I would strongly recommend in that case).
Subsequently, you can consider removing other switches or audiophile tweaks from your network which now most likely only increase noise. We are fairly certain of this because even a single RJ45 or Fiber network port has a higher noise level then the new network card and switch combined.

Furthermore, using the full package moves a part of ethernet signal processing which currently happens inside the Extreme to the Switch reducing the total amount of processing performed inside the Extreme which in turn lowers the general noise floor. This processing always happens, during both streaming and local file playback, hence is audible with both.