Nordost QNET Network Switch Review

Posted on 18th March, 2024

Nordost QNET Network Switch Review

Mark Gusew banishes noise from his high-end digital front end with this premium-priced device…


QNET Network Switch

£3,320 RRP

Nordost QNET Network Switch Review

If you believe that because digital audio data consists of ones and zeros, streamers should all sound the same, you should click on another page now. Although it does indeed comprise the aforementioned binary numbers, they are carried by an analogue waveform that also contains noise, which creates audible degradation. That, in a nutshell, is why some digital systems sound better than others.

Digital audio signals also suffer from time-domain errors, where the packets of data are not perfectly synchronised between sender and receiver. The digital information is sent at very high frequencies, further stressing the system. Even though there are excellent protocols in place, this jitter is a known cause of distortion. This is most evident in highly resolving systems that already have low-noise floors. Noise can come from any device with a power supply that has a data touch-point, and there may be several in your home before your hi-fi. Even cables that are less than perfectly shielded can play a part.

With the move away from physical media to streaming services, the market is heating up with products that promise to arrest and negate the influence of annoying network noise. Although typical inexpensive data switches get the job done, do audiophile-focused switches make an audible difference? Yes, says USA-based Nordost, which has just launched its QNET switch…

Nordost QNET Network Switch Review


A network switch is a hardware device that allows two or more IT devices, typically computers, to communicate with one another via an RJ45 Ethernet cable exchanging packets of data from one device to another. It allows a streamer or computer to communicate with the internet, file storage and Wi-Fi devices. Most high-end network players prefer a wired connection over Wi-Fi to ensure reliability and sound quality. The internet provider's router can be connected either directly to your devices or you could use a separate network switch, which is the preferred option.

Network switches have been around for decades and connect the globe with internet and network services. Unlike conventional switches, the QNET has been specifically designed with audio performance in mind. Whereas some other such audiophile switches have used common switch circuitry with upgraded power supplies and oscillators, the QNET is said to be completely redesigned from the ground up.

According to Nordost it uses, “a high speed, multi-layered, impedance-controlled layout, which optimises signal routes, minimising reflections, interference, and crosstalk. It also boasts an extremely low-noise, stable oscillator for the main clock of the device, which allows for minimal jitter and phase noise. It is equipped with six dedicated power supplies, which provide unencumbered current to all parts of the switch, while minimising noise cross-contamination and ensuring clean, interference-free operation.”

The QNET is constructed differently from a regular network switch, with its round disc-shaped solid aluminium housing acting as shielding and heatsink. It’s almost a work of art with no exposed fasteners, and at almost 900g, it is quite heavy in the hand. The circular form factor is quite deliberate, and there are five widely spaced RJ45 connectors and a 2-pin Lemo power connector. They are widely spaced to minimise interference between each other.

Ports 1, 2, and 3 are 1000BASE-T/100BASE-TX (1 Gbps) capable of auto-negotiation and auto-MDI/MDI-X support, so should be connected to the router and other generic network devices. Ports 4 and 5 are 100BASE-TX (100 Mbps) full-duplex only, and these slower and optimised quieter ports are best used for primary audio servers/players or external media sources. Power for the switch comes from a bundled 9V DC low-noise switching supply. However, Nordost points out that there are benefits to using its own QSOURCE linear power supply £2,850 RRP) and naturally recommends using its Ethernet cables. For this review, I was loaned both.

My network consists of an NBN Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) internet connection, the service provider-supplied router, and for connecting to my listening room at the other side of the house, I use twenty metres of fibre connected via Ethernet to fibre media converters to provide galvanic isolation. In the listening room, I use an Sbooster linear power supply on the media converter and a Wireworld Starlight 8 Twinax Ethernet cable. So, it is already more evolved than a standard setup, and I can certainly hear the benefits of going to this effort. I also run a standard CAT6 cable in-wall along the length of the house, for comparison's sake.

Nordost QNET Network Switch Review


It has been my experience over the past couple of years that everything that you do to a home network, from changing cables, power supplies and switches, is audible. In that regard, it's similar to tweaks done to turntables, CD players and streaming platforms. They all play music and share a commonality with the things that degrade the sound.

Streaming Future People by Alabama Shakes, the QNET tightened up the sound in the opening sequence, making the guitar on the left channel sound further forward and better separated from the rest of the track, with more attack and superior decay to the notes. Bass drum beats were more powerful and hit with more impact, while vocals were more localised and better divided from each other. The track felt fuller and had a wider soundstage – a definite improvement in almost every area. With this improved clarity, I was able to compare the same track streamed from both Tidal and Qobuz at the same resolution, and quickly decided which one I preferred.

As a tool for hearing deeper into the music, the QNET is highly effective. It doesn’t make it sound more analytical or harsh, add brightness to the top end, or make the midrange or bass unbalanced. Rather, it simply allows the music to emerge from a deeper, darker background and shine more lustrously.

Changing the supplied switching power supply for the QSOURCE linear gave a useful boost in performance. It was not a night and day difference, yet it was still noticeable. It delivered blacker and quieter backgrounds, giving the music greater dynamic contrast, nuance and texture, and the soundstage deepened. By the way, I also found that the QNET and even the Ethernet cables sounded better off the floor – suspended, or at least isolated, from any vibrational surface. This affected the soundstage in particular. Nordost retails a dedicated stand and Sort Kone vibration feet and both should be considered if you’re not cutting corners.

I used the QNET in a mate’s ultra-high-end streaming-focused system, and the lift in performance was significant – proving that the better the system, the larger the perceived results can be. Rolling Sea by Eliza Carthy had greater clarity and separation of voices, percussion and violin, and the instruments sounded more lifelike. The male backing singers were more localised and held pinpoint in space. Soundstage size, depth and definition are areas where the QNET never failed to impress, yielding greater focus as the layers of haze were removed.

Using the QNET to stream music files from a NAS drive on my network also improved the way the files sounded, adding life, detail and dynamics. The more devices that can be connected to this switch, the greater its usefulness. I used my Apple TV 4K to stream movies to my TV, resulting in marginally better contrast, brightness and colour saturation.

Nordost QNET Network Switch Review


The vexing thing about electrical noise in hi-fi systems is that you don’t realise it’s there until you remove it. With Nordost’s new QNET in place, everything sounds smoother and more fluid; it’s better balanced with less harshness. The leading edges of notes seem to be sharper and have more energy, giving the system greater dynamic expression. It’s certainly expensive for what it is, but it yields very real and positive benefits.

There’s nothing ‘snake oil’ about this– it identifies a key problem in the digital audio signal chain and seeks to solve it. Data is, of course, data, but that’s not actually the question; instead, it’s the way that the data is transmitted that’s the issue here, and the QNET ensures it has a fighting chance of reaching its destination on time and with as little noise as possible. To my ears, this is the best product of its type that I've heard by a large margin – and is capable of improving your digital audio system’s sound in ways that you might not have guessed. Highly recommended, then, for high-end networked systems.

For more information visit Nordost

    Mark Gusew's avatar

    Mark Gusew

    Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early 80’s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now manages a boutique audio manufacturer.

    Posted in:Hi-Fi Accessories Modems/Switches
    Tags: nordost  renaissance audio 


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