Getting to know the Melco S100
Working with a bunch of hardened, time-served BBC engineers, as I did until very recently, it was hard to advance any notions of the hi-fi perfectionism that occupies the contentious end of the hi-fi industry. Anything to do with posh cables, posh power supplies and even posh DACs tended to get dismissed emphatically. Imagine what these ultimate exemplars of the ‘bits are bits’ crowd would have thought of an audiophile ethernet switch?
In truth I was originally of a similar bent myself. Yet people from our own crowd who I know and respect had repeatedly reported good findings from their digital explorations, revealing the benefits of their hardcore and arcane tweaking via blogs buried in the dusty parts of the internet. It was almost like the good old analogue days.
From this I acquired a strong urge to experiment with the electrical isolation and distance capabilities of fibre around the house (especially now that I am blessed with fibre TO the house). In principle the SFP port-equipped S100 would give me a very straightforward option to feed the switching hub of my A-V operation directly with fibre. I still have a bunch of wiring work to do before I get to that point though.
Until the various lockdowns I had none of the time, funds or energy necessary to explore any of the digital improvement options. Some downtime recently allowed me to try one of the oft-favoured, fan-less and second-hand Cisco industrial switches in the place of my commodity TP Link switch. These legacy marvels are beloved by some, and there was indeed some audible improvement, but nothing earth-shaking. There does however appear to be something gained in the move from a standard gigabit-fed/gigabit-switching box to an ‘old-time’ gigabit fed/100BaseT-switching model. But there is a downside – there is some stuff you may wish to run at gigabit speed alongside, such as Sky Q UHD downloads…
After I saw the Melco switch at Bristol last year the first person who rhapsodised to me about its capabilities in situ was Simon Nash of MinimServer. Interest piqued, by the end of the year I had the opportunity to try an S100 in place of my own switch gear and the findings were indeed revelatory. I am not an audio-only purist, and if one sensibly eschews wi-fi a full living room setup needs a fair amount of switch capability. The gigabit allocation of half the S100’s RJ45 switching ports is useful to enable all that go-faster UHD download stuff (gigabit also helps responsive app control), and while that side still sounds mighty fine when used for the streaming playback of high-res music there are easily discernible benefits of switching the pure audio stuff to the 100BaseT-aspirated ports alongside. While the former tightens up the bass, the jump to the latter just causes the sound staging to leap outside the locus of the speakers. I recommend a comparative audition.
There is much still to think about if I’m to put together the ideal network topology to take advantage of these findings, but that will have to wait until I’ve saved up!