Networking with SOtM

Cloud. Ca-clunk. It's how some feel about cloud-based music. It typically enters our listening den via Computer Emporium router with switching wall wart. Isn't that like entering our crib through a pigsty? Do you think so but don't want to get an 'audiophile' network switch, fiber-optic converter or other RJ45 tweak aka door mat or mud room? Soul Of the Music from South Korea propose their inline LAN isolator or CAT7 cable hardwired with the same module. With numerous PCfi solutions including a full sound-optimized motherboard for DIYers [right], SOtM take the cloud serious and know how to make it rain.

When May Park rang me about their sMB-Q370 board, I declined. I don't swing that way. But I could accept her new iSO-CAT7 & dCBL-CAT7u [above]. Like most, my computer connects via Ethernet to a router provided by our local Internet provider. Since our household suffers a WiFi allergy (microwave radiation = migraines), our computers hardwire to this router/modem via industrial CAT8. My Win10/64 desktop workstation sits closest to the modem. It needs just 1m and no floorboard routing. My music iMac across the hallway sees a 15m cable. My wife's PC another room over gets a 30m stretch. If you believe in noise sharing—perhaps 2022's form of ride sharing—having three computers hang off the same router uses our network as a landfill for ultrasonic garbage. As the title implies, SOtM's LAN isolator inserts undisclosed 'cleaning bits' into our RJ45 pipeline to prevent a given PC endpoint from infecting its network mates whilst blocking their noise from reaching it. It's streaming's version of wearing masks and practicing social distancing. There be bugs!

Within SOtM's portfolio, the 100Ω 10mm dCBL-CAT7u is the ultra version of their existing dCBLCAT7. What have u done for us lately? "We tuned it in an ultra-high-performance network audio system that connects our 10MHz masterclock and three of our network switches in series via our own CAT7 cable and isolators. Our dCBL-CAT7u is probably the only Ethernet cable tuned in such a perfectionist system. Inside the dCBL-CAT7u has 4 differential transmission cables each shielded with an aluminum compound foil shield then topped by a copper-braid shield to be very resilient against noise. The maximum frequency for signal transmission is 1'600MHz to support Category 7A, 10/100/1000Base-T and 10GBase-T Ethernet standards."

For my PCfi needs not video broadcasting or a server farm, such specs live on Cloud Nine. Desktop tunes not locally hosted come in from the modem/switch as Qobuz Sublime, Spotify or YouTube streams. They see my HP workstation's RJ45 port via short CAT8 leash. The PC's network card hands over to USB which sees an Audiobyte Hydra X+ bridge. That applies reclocking and dejittering, then spits out up to 24/192 PCM data via AES/EBU to an iFi iDSD Pro Signature DAC which resamples all to 1'024 DSD on the fly. This DAC/pre outputs 6.3mm headfi to a Final D8000 planar; or XLR analog to a pair of DMAX Super Cubes via their DSP/class-D external amp.

Would SOtM's polishing of the Ethernet pipe make any sonic difference I could hear? Or wasn't my kit serious enough for their intended reference standards? May: "We want to have these products reviewed under better conditions. Do you have a music server/player and built a special network environment for audio purposes? Because if the system is more dedicated, the results from this type product will be much more noticeable. A normal PC without dedicated network environment won't be good enough to reveal the capabilities of these products." And just like that, my pending review was cancelled. If your setup is more ambitious, might you not enjoy knowing that SOtM think they can still improve upon it? Of course if it takes three master-clocked network switches in series to set this stage and an Audiobyte/iFi combo make for unacceptable kit, I'm not upset to be out…