Need recommendation for network switch


#1

Three or four years ago (on the recommendation of folks here) I bought an Apple Airport Extreme that I use in bridged mode to connect all my audio stuff that has ethernet connections. It sounded noticeably better than the cheap switch from the office supply store.

I now need more connections. Can anyone recommend a switch that will accommodate the incoming network cable plus at least five pieces of equipment and that does minimal damage to the sound?

Thanks!


#2

“… an Apple Airport Extreme that I use in bridged mode to connect all my audio stuff that has ethernet connections.”

Could you clarify what you mean here: I understood that operating an Airport Extreme in bridge mode meant that it was on the receiving end of a wireless stream generated after the system router/modem e.g. by a ‘primary’ Airport Extreme.

I use 2 Netgear GS108 switches: one on each end of the bridge in our network (see layout below). I don’t think these have any adverse effect on the sound quality as they are isolated electrically from the DS DAC.

2016-10-Network-layout-with-a-Wireless-Bridge.jpg


#3

A cable comes from the modem/router in the basement through the wall into the listening room and is plugged into the airport extreme. My DAC (actually the Bridge II inside the DAC), NPC, and small Windows computer are plugged into the other three available ports. I set the AE to bridged mode because I want all IP addresses to be assigned by the main router in the basement. I need additional ports for my P5 and soon-to-arrive DMP.

I don’t have your optical isolation so the switch may have a greater impact on the sound.


#4

Magister, I have both Cisco and Netgear switches in my home. Only because I haven’t finished replacing the Netgear Prosafe switches with Cisco SG300 switches. I prefer the build quality, admin, and throughput of the Cisco switches. Where I can, I do have fiber isolation, between switches, and on each port connected to audio devices.


#5

Thank you, Palerider. I have read here and elsewhere about optical isolation and thought about implementing it in my system. Doing so would, I think, eliminate any influence of the switch on SQ. IIUC each connected device requires two boxes, one on each end of the optical run and each with a power supply (or just one of the two?). The back of my audio rack already a mess with power supplies and cables. So I’m not sure what to do with all that.


#6
magister said ... I set the AE to bridged mode because I want all IP addresses to be assigned by the main router in the basement. I need additional ports for my P5 and soon-to-arrive DMP.
You are confusing me....when you put an access point in client bridge mode simply means you are using it as the wireless "cable" to make its wired LAN port a node on the network. If you want the router to assign IP addresses dynamically to the LAN clients you set the client devices to DHCP mode. In the router (DHCP server) you assign the range of DHCP addresses that can be allocated. For clients on static IP you just assign the client device a specific IP outside the DHCP range.

In your application I assume the AE is your wireless link back to the router (because you can’t run a cable for whatever reason), and you have a number of LAN clients connected to the network via the AE LAN ports. Now you need more LAN ports than the AE has available so you need to add additional ports using a switch.

Any unmanaged switch will do. Is your AE wireless link stable with good throughput? I strongly suspect in client bridge mode you will only be getting less than half the nominal throughput, but if it’s working then that’s not an issue.

Check your PM for my suggestion on your hardware requirements.


#7
brodricj said You are confusing me....when you put an access point in client bridge mode simply means you are using it as the wireless "cable" to make its wired LAN port a node on the network.
I may not be using the correct term. All I know is that when I set up the AE I had to put it in bridged mode (the term used in the Apple documentation, IIRC). Otherwise the AE would want to act as a router and assign addresses to things connected to it, which would (potentially, anyway) conflict with the main router downstairs that wants to assign addresses.
In your application I assume the AE is your wireless link back to the router (because you can't run a cable for whatever reason), and you have a number of LAN clients connected to the network via the AE LAN ports. Now you need more LAN ports than the AE has available so you need to add additional ports using a switch.
Everything is wired. See the description above. Yes, I need additional ports.
Any unmanaged switch will do. Is your AE wireless link stable with good throughput? I strongly suspect in client bridge mode you will only be getting less than half the nominal throughput, but if it's working then that's not an issue.
Everything works fine.

#8

If there is a network cable between your AE and router then you don’t need it to be in client bridge mode. If there are no wifi clients connecting to the AE (which there aren’t at the moment because in client bridge mode it can only connect to another access point), then you don’t need it in access point mode either. In which case, replace the AE with a network switch with enough ports for your application.


#9

Replacing AE with a switch with higher port density is one option but if your audio gear sounds good when connected to AE and you need more ports, you could buy another AE, configure it in bridged mode and connect the new to the existing one.


#10
brodricj said If there is a network cable between your AE and router then you don't need it to be in client bridge mode. If there are no wifi clients connecting to the AE (which there aren't at the moment because in client bridge mode it can only connect to another access point), then you don't need it in access point mode either. In which case, replace the AE with a network switch with enough ports for your application.
Agreed brodricj, however it is still not clear what precise functionality is required in the OP's setup.

An Airport Extreme can have many roles: Wireless network hub, router, switch, wireless access point, network extender, and several simultaneously.

As everything is wired in the OP’s network and there is a separate router, my first reaction would indeed be ‘replace it with a switch’ however is a wireless access point required? How is playback from the NAS/Minimserver controlled? Does the OP use an Android device running BubbleUPnP for example? Maybe the OP has a multipurpose modem which in addition to being a modem creates a wireless network (and could probably act as a router and switch as well). In which case the Airport Extreme could certainly be replaced by a switch.

We really need the modus operandi for the OP’s system to make a firm recommendation.


#11

My guess is OP had a spare AE laying around so he’s using it as a defacto network switch to add ports to the end of the cable that runs back to his router. Connecting it directly to the network caused him issues because he didn’t disable its DHCP server, and the fix was to put it in client bridged mode (which disables its DHCP server function).

A single box that does modem/router/wifi is a simple solution, and cheap, and convenient, and usually works OK. However if you want to ramp up your network performance then you should consider using a dedicated cable modem, connected to which is a dedicated router, connected to which is a dedicated network backbone switch, connected to which is an access point, the wired network clients, and any other network switches acting as remote hubs in those places where a single cable needs to connect multiple devices.

There are different flavours of network switch: managed, unmanaged, AV priority, pre-configured VLAN, all with or without POE. An unmanaged AV priority switch is a good choice because you don’t need IT knowledge to configure it. You just connect those devices which need the higher priority to the appropriate priority port on the switch. So, latency sensitive devices such as VOIP or those streaming audio/video get the high priority ports, the control system or access point might get medium priority ports, and printers and computers etc get the low priority ports.

In this instance I suspect the OP just needs to replace the AE with an unmanaged 5 or 8 port network switch, for which there are many choices for $100 or less.


#12
Dev said Replacing AE with a switch with higher port density is one option but if your audio gear sounds good when connected to AE and you need more ports, you could buy another AE, configure it in bridged mode and connect the new to the existing one.
Yes, I actually thought of that. I would have to find space in my audio rack, which is now chock-full, and it would require yet another power supply. So I was thinking of a one-box solution; but I might go this route if it turns out to be the best choice sonically.

#13
brodricj said My guess is OP had a spare AE laying around so he's using it as a defacto network switch to add ports to the end of the cable that runs back to his router. Connecting it directly to the network caused him issues because he didn't disable its DHCP server, and the fix was to put it in client bridged mode (which disables its DHCP server function).
As I said in my original post, I bought the AE specifically for use with my audio components. I was aware that it can act as a router, so I put it in bridged mode since I didn't need/want that functionality.
However if you want to ramp up your network performance then you should consider using a dedicated cable modem, connected to which is a dedicated router, connected to which is a dedicated network backbone switch, connected to which is an access point, the wired network clients, and any other network switches acting as remote hubs in those places where a single cable needs to connect multiple devices.
There are two boxes in my basement, supplied by my ISP: one I guess you would call a network interface (where the FIOS comes into the house) and the second a router. I'm not sure what a network backbone switch is, and hopefully I don't need yet another box; perhaps the router also supplies this function, since it has several network ports available (from one of which a cable goes up to the listening room). I believe what I have in my music room (the Apple AE) is what you are calling an access point. I don't need to ramp up my network in terms of throughput or anything like that. I just need more connections in the listening room without compromising SQ.
There are different flavours of network switch: managed, unmanaged, AV priority, pre-configured VLAN, all with or without POE. An unmanaged AV priority switch is a good choice because you don't need IT knowledge to configure it.
That sounds about right; but see next point.
In this instance I suspect the OP just needs to replace the AE with an unmanaged 5 or 8 port network switch, for which there are many choices for $100 or less.
But, back to my original question: what effect does using a cheap switch have on SQ? As I said originally, people recommended the AE for that reason and it did sound better than the cheap switch I had before. I'd pay some extra for a better-performing switch, if someone can recommend such. Maybe I will end up doing as Dev suggested and get a second AE, despite the nuisances involved.

#14

As per my PM to you, Pakedge market their networking appliances as being optimised for AV applications.

In your case my suggestion is either SE-5-EP or SE-8-EP enterprise class unmanaged gigabit switch.

I use this brand, but I have no idea whether network audio would sound any different through one of these switches compared with a non-AV optimised consumer grade switch.

Using an AE in bridged mode solely as a defacto switch is not something I would have considered, particularly if it was purchased for this purpose (as opposed to having one just laying around at home not being used).


#15
brodricj said As per my PM to you, Pakedge market their networking appliances as being optimised for AV applications.

In your case my suggestion is either SE-5-EP or SE-8-EP enterprise class unmanaged gigabit switch.

I use this brand, but I have no idea whether network audio would sound any different through one of these switches compared with a non-AV optimised consumer grade switch.

Using an AE in bridged mode solely as a defacto switch is not something I would have considered, particularly if it was purchased for this purpose (as opposed to having one just laying around at home not being used).


I can second the Pakedge recommendation. I use an RK router, though primarily its only purposes are to deliver the WAN internet, secure port forwarding, and DHCP for non-audio devices. The router offers excellent VLAN and subnet support, along with easy QoS admin. It is also optimized for AV systems, but my experience is that this optimization is administrstivr, not computational or electrical. I haven’t used the switches brodricj recommends though I am going to check them out. I do know that setting my Cisco SG300 to do the VLAN and QoS was a better solution for me. Lets the router do less work (I am a fan of the divide and conquer approach). I am going to check out the Pakedge switches to see if there is a reason to swap them in.

Also like brodricj, I am not sure I would use the AE as a de facto switch unless it happened to be available for the experiment. I am a Mac guy first, and I still remember stringing my first AppleTalk RJ-12 cabling around almost 3 decades ago. And while Apple is great at network simplification, they are not great at network optimization and speed. I also use two Airport Expresses in bridge mode, one to connect a bedroom TV with AppleTV and Amazon Fire to the network, and another to connect my Lumin A1 listening station to the network. That latter will eventually be replaced by a fiber line and a switch. While wif I is good for isolation, it’s not good for reliable bandwidth and big hi-res files. And even with strong signal and close proximity to the nearest WAP, there can be occasional dropouts. But if it wasn’t about needing the wifi aspect of the AE, IOW, if you already have Cat to your location, I wouldn’t use it at all. Even an inexpensive Netgear or Cisco unmanaged switch would be better. Not prettier, but faster.


#16
palerider said

I can second the Pakedge recommendation. I use an RK router, though primarily its only purposes are to deliver the WAN internet, secure port forwarding, and DHCP for non-audio devices. The router offers excellent VLAN and subnet support, along with easy QoS admin. It is also optimized for AV systems, but my experience is that this optimization is administrstivr, not computational or electrical…

I'm using the Pakedge K60D router at home (and Pakedge managed switches, and Pakedge everything else). RK is a better choice for non IT-tech savvy end users. RK also supports VPN which is very useful to get easy access to the local side of your network if you're away from home. VLAN and QoS are a good starting point for network traffic optimisation, however if you have a latency sensitive AV application then you will need other tools configured on your network for optimisation. Pakedge do not recommend VLAN and QoS as a solution for optimising Sonos and Kaleidescape etc, for that you need to take it a step further with STP configured in the switch connecting the components.

In the vast majority of domestic installations, hardware such as Pakedge SE unmanaged switches are all you need. It’s “plug and play” and works. I do not recommend anything higher up the Pakedge food chain unless money is no object and you don’t mind paying for service calls for a dealer tech pro to maintain it. Whilst I am an owner, I’m not advocating the brand any further than the unmanaged stuff because their end-user support is absolute zero.

Here is some light reading on the Pakedge Technologies that optimise their hardware for AV. It is optimised computationally and electrically, not just administratively.

http://portal.pakedge.com/technology-trustream.html


#17

Light reading is right; that’s some serious marketing pablum there. I agree that their stuff is good for unmanaged plug & play, especially AV. But if you have more complex needs/goals and don’t want to be reliant on a dealer, I am not sure it’s the best solution. As you noted brodricj, their end user support is almost nil. And because of that, there is also a paucity of community support from other end users that can help resolve problems. My dealer has a great team, and they each know their stuff, but I don’t like being dependent on a dealer for the mundane stuff like network admin. So, I took my dealer’s advice and implemented the Pakedge for the very limited purpose of WAN intake and DHCP routing. The RK is in act a heckuva router, fairly sophisticated, and easy to set up. And it offers some potentially very useful features as you mentioned. And its AV focus might be more than enough for most folks. But for me I needed/wanted more that I could administer; the rest of the network is all Cisco L3 managed switches, except for the wireless which is all Netgear enterprise level WAPs. I know there are probably a lot of folks who don’t want to do all that stuff.

P.S. By electrically optimized, I meant electrically. My error on computationally; sorry about that. I know about Trustream, such as it is. But electrically, there is nothing about Pakedge switches and power supplies that is any better than quality switches from other makes. If you want your DAC isolated from the network electrically, you will need to take some additional steps. E.g., fiber. Sorry about my sloppy writing.

P.P.S. Agreed that STP or RSTP could be next step after VLAN and QoS optimization, but I don’t think that’s necessary for most folks here. Or maybe I should say I would be surprised if it was.

Cheers!


#18

palerider and brodricj, thank you both for the suggestions (and my apologies for the slow followup).

palerider said And while Apple is great at network simplification, they are not great at network optimization and speed. . . . Even an inexpensive Netgear or Cisco unmanaged switch would be better. Not prettier, but faster.
As far as I can tell, I have no issues with network speed or reliability with the AE (or any other part of my network). When I bought the AE, I did need the wifi function since at the time I had a DSL line coming into the house and the DSL modem had no provision built-in for wifi. Now I have FIOS (thank you, Verizon, for forcing this change on me even though I didn't need or want it devil_gif). The modem/router they supplied has wifi capability built-in, so I could use that rather than continue with the AE.

I will check out the Pakedge stuff.


#19

I’ve been looking online for a etailer source of Pakedge devices and could find none that actually showed a price. Any recommendations of where to buy these from if we’re in the U.S.?


#20

There is no on-line distribution channel for Pakedge. You would need to contact Pakedge directly at sales@pakedge.com and they will put you in contact with a Pakedge dealer. Alternatively, if you go to the Control4 website they have a dealer zip code search tool (most C4 dealers will also sell Pakedge).

Pakedge MSRP are a closely guarded secret, you won’t find prices mentioned on-line or in their marketing material anywhere. But you will find the Pakedge price list sitting in your PM Inbox.