Martina with trumpet violin.
Isolating the isolation. My first round on the desktop compared the Belden CAT6a feed vs. adding the SOtM box. The tell became Contes de Lune from the Martina Eisenreich Quartet. This combines the useful virtues of being very well recorded and musically clever. It surprises with unexpected timbres that mix with the violin like chromatic cow bells, kalimba, Glockenspiel, a Düsenberg Pomona lapsteel guitar and dobro. Having lived with the SOtM feed for a day, I already had a notion. Now I deliberately verified by subtraction to start with the isolator. Then I removed it to see whether anything sonically meaningful disappeared with it. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all that Jazz. Then I put it back in to screw with the Jazz.


Clearly there was a difference. But it fell outside the primitive treble/mid/bass and soundstage parameters reviewers love to discuss. From today's device you'd neither expect any changes there nor will you get any. Your focus has to be on something else. And you have to trust your ears. Then you might hone in on the contrast between sounds and silence particularly during the pianissimo interludes and lazy fades. You might call the direct stream somehow dirtier, sharper or more pixelly; the one with the 'black' box smoother, rounder, less nervous and more settled. In Martina's flageolet exploits, you might detect more grit without the SOtM. Bass transients could seem wirier and leaner. Are you imagining it to justify a $350 expense that doesn't put food into the refrigerator? After all, the direct stream doesn't sound noisier per se. At all. This experiment is about whether additional noise somehow interacts with (intermodulates) the audio signal and perhaps even affects jitter. With emphasis on somehow, the SOtM isolator works in that domain and hearing notices it.


Leszek Możdżer's Polska followed up for some Polish Jazz piano, acoustic upright and fine drum/cymbal work. Again, the sense of ingrained dirtiness particularly with the piano's upper right-handed notes and the 'hissiness' of the scintillating brass molecules of the cymbals was greater without the isolator. Knowing where to look/hear, it was easy to spot. Of course audiophiles often expect an instant stab-in-the-eye-obvious improvement. If they have to listen longer to inquire with feeling what might set two presentations apart, they fear the influence of their imagination. It's really silly but precisely where measurements intercede and bleed out said fear. And it's precisely here where hedonist audiophiles in full accord with their own senses are more advanced and secure in their own perceptions. Like falling in love or having a mystical experience, they trust that their own body mind knows. This knowing requires no outside approval. But it also can't be proven with fancy measurements. One has to trust and leave it at that. If it communicates itself to someone else too, fine. If not, equally fine. For myself, I preferred it when the SOtM was in the signal path. And I had specific indicators as to why: less needly bits, more smooth round bits and flow, more refined treble. Yet if you weren't sensitive to these aspects or fancied edgier choppier splashier tunes... you'd disagree. As a hobby, I'm not into it for consensus, only for self gratification. To keep it civil, we won't call that sodoffomie. Call it SOtMie and leave it at that.


The next order of business was sorting out SOtM's CAT6 cable vs. my own. As you already know, prior such swaps had netted nothing. Hence I had a bias or high negative feedback against doing another. Imagine my surprise when sticking SOtM's into the isolator sounded louder, more open and lively than when my Belden occupied that spot. This was so unexpected that I promptly reached for Jacques Loussier's Concerto N°1 for Violin and Percussion [Naxos] to go big orchestral and pig out a bit. Returning to my Belden snake—I left both leads plugged into the router and simply swapped connections at the isolator—became somewhat of a boa constrictor. Things constricted. They got duller and somehow smaller as though the volume had been lowered a tad and/or a non-transparent filter inserted. Despite the added two contacts which the audiophile purity religion would consider bad, SOtM's own cable plus the isolator plus its Ethernet pig tail made for a nice aural uptick over my original single-cable direct path. The transcription business of emotional to fiscal is always tricky. How little or big of an improvement is worth how much? Career 'philes who have spent more scratch on less itch have a different perspective on that than a retiree with limited funds who puts together his or her final system. The former tweaks with pucks, cones, cable suspenders and audiophile wall outlets for often tiny gains. The latter couldn't be bothered. For him in fact an active wireless speaker from Genelec or Kii Audio might be the cat's meow and tie things up with a bow.


Meanwhile for the unrepentant hifi nutters amongst us, there's enjoyment in piecemealing our hardware concoction. There's a learning curve which depends on exploring different flavours over time. As new solutions enter the market, we sample and recombine. We even change our minds and listening preferences. In that realm, $350 for SOtM's box is a drop in the ocean. In the other realm, $350 might buy a DVD player or turntable. By the time you need a 15m Ethernet cable as we do for our main system, opinions could diverge on expense vs. return. For the short 2m run to my desktop computer, SOtM's 'audiophile' cable still seemed like a sane investment. But for today's assignment, that's a mere aside. How would the isolator behave in the big system where I'd play things louder? For this session, my brand-new Yosemite OS iMac with 3TB FusionDrive and 32GB of RAM fed a Canary Audio KD-2000 DAC. Then the COS Engineering D1 as preamp controlled volume and drove the Pass Labs XA30.8 amp balanced. Speakers were EnigmAcoustics' Mythology M1 monitors.


Using the same Martina Eisenreich tracks to kick off, I again encountered the dirty pixilated quality in her upper registers and the cymbals and from there, the related qualities. Versus the earlier nearfield, I would have guessed at diminished returns due to the usual reflections. Yet this speaker's superior dual-tweeter treble system still told the tale if perhaps not as emphatically as before. Long story short, the desktop findings repeated themselves but I also thought at lesser potency. In my mind there was no doubt that if I had just one iSO-CAT6, I'd employ it for my nearfield setup.


Conclusion. Keeping an open mind; or being taken for a fool? That's the modern audiophile's Hamletian question. With SOtM's latest, there's no funny business in the state of Denmark. Just so, it's a small sonic transaction which I thought was maximized by the most direct sound of my desktop's nearfield and doubled in magnitude with the addition of SOtM's matching LAN cable. As time passes and Qobuz/Tidal subscribers are augmented by Apple's forthcoming Beats competition to grow the number of serious listeners doing LANfi, the influence of Ethernet cabling and LAN isolators will become a new frontier and business op. One expects more cable makers and PCfi-savvy firms like SOtM to do the necessary R&D and contribute advances to the field. For now, this particular subject remains in its infancy. Hey, once all cables sounded the same. Those were the good old days. Lamp cord was sufficient. Then Monster happened and it's never been the same. Once you discover the joys of 16/44.1 FLAC streaming, give this topic some thought. You might find that SOtM were quite forward thinking to already be there in 2015; and writers like Michael Lavorgna and John Darko equally so for giving the subject air time. Now my review adds a page to that chapter.

SOtM website