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Review
LAN cable + LAN isolator
Acoustic Revive LAN-1.0 PA + RLI-1

Price (in Poland): 1190 zł (1 m) + 1190 zł

Manufacturer: Sekiguchi Machine Sales Co., Ltd

Contact: Acoustic Revive | 3016-1Tsunatori-machi, Isesaki-shi, Gunma Pref. 372-0812 | JAPAN
tel.: +81-270-24-0878 | fax: +81-270-21-1963

WWW: www.acoustic-revive.com

Country of origin: Japan

Product provided for testing by: Eter Audio

Text: Wojciech Pacuła
Photographs: Wojciech Pacuła
Translations: Krzysztof Kalinkowski

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Published on: March 1. 2012, No. 95




Haters from all countries – ALERT! This is a text for you and you can have a good laugh! It is about the influence on the sound of a LAN cable and LAN isolator (known for example from medical products).
The Japanese company Acoustic Revive introduced two new products to the market – the LAN-1.0 PA cable and the RLI-1 isolator, aimed to improve the sound in systems where the sound source is a network player using resources stored on a server or network disk.
You are free to laugh and get it over with. And we can tackle the serious things.

When somebody told me a few years ago that I would be testing LAN cables, I would smile too. Maybe without malice, because I got used to the fact how little is known (how little I know) about the mechanisms of sound reproduction, but with some distrust. But this change of my attitude shows that on the one hand I really know little about the nature of signal transmission, and on the other hand, how big has been the quality leap in sound reproduction over the network.
What is a LAN cable used for? Well, to transmit digital signals, in so called “packets”, over a local network. Common sense would lead to the conclusion that following basic rules, i.e. a good CAT-5e cable with good contacts, etc., this part of the signal path has no influence on the sound. Yet it has.

When somebody told me a few years ago that I would be testing LAN cables, I would smile too. Maybe without malice, because I got used to the fact how little is known (how little I know) about the mechanisms of sound reproduction, but with some distrust. But this change of my attitude shows that on the one hand I really know little about the nature of signal transmission, and on the other hand, how big has been the quality leap in sound reproduction over the network.
What is a LAN cable used for? Well, to transmit digital signals, in so called “packets”, over a local network. Common sense would lead to the conclusion that following basic rules, i.e. a good CAT-5e cable with good contacts, etc., this part of the signal path has no influence on the sound. Yet it has.

The first impulse came from the man who has spent the last two years researching digital transmission and interaction of a network player with a local area network, including NAS disks and servers. I am talking about Gerhard Hirt and his network player S-3, about which we wrote HERE.
Gerhard prepared his player in cooperation with one of the best groups of people for this task, the company StreamUnlimited from Vienna. It is a group of engineers from Austria and USA who worked for Philips and in the end of the 70-ties designed the mechanical drive for the CD-player, and later was also involved in the creation of the CD Pro-2. After starting their own company they designed and made the first music server in the world. Now they specialize in CD and DVD/BD drives as well as central processing units for file players – their modules are used by companies like Musical Fidelity, Audio Research, Pro-Ject or Ayon Audio.
During our meeting Gerhard told us that it had taken them a long time to understand why the sound of the player is much worse when the audio files are played from a pendrive plugged into the USB port, and much better when the signal is running via LAN from a server. And they came to the same conclusions as people from LINN did some time ago: that the LAN allows for a much better clock synchronization of the network player and the network disk. I do not know if you remember but for a long time, maybe even today, LINN has not included any USB port in their players; the signal always comes through a LAN port.
The second impulse also came from a person related to audio technology while being at the same time the “HIFICRITIC” magazine editor, Malcolm Steward. In his article Build Your Own NAS he describes his experiences with eSATA cables, and how their different versions influence the data transfer (Malcolm Steward, The Infamous SATA Cable Saga in Build Your Own NAS, „HIFICRITIC”, October/November/December 2011, Vol5, No4, s. 23).
Such “revelations” (this is just “data” so it should not depend on the way of transfer) made the manufacturers re-think the role of the LAN cable in the audio system. And so a lot of specialized cables came into existence – they can be found for example in the catalogs of Supra and many other companies, including the Japanese Acoustic Revive. The latter specialist designed the LAN-1.0 cable (the two meter long version is called LAN-2.0) and a low-pass filter cleaning the LAN network from high frequency interference. Such filters are used as standard in medical devices, where high performance and low distortion are top priority. These filters are simply isolation transformers. The guys from Acoustic Revive examined their influence on the sound and – they claim – it turned out that using only the transformers diminished the dynamics of the sound. They added some coils and rearranged the circuit and it was much better. Thus the RLI-1 filter was created; it is plugged in between the router and the server or the router and the player. Better yet in both places.

SOUND

A selection of files used for the test:

  • Audiofeels, Sounds of Silence [z:] Audiofeels, Uncovered, Penguin Records, 5865033, rip z CD, WAV. David Sylvian, World Citizen (I Won't Be Disappointed) + Angels [z:] David Sylvian, Sleepwalkers, P-Vine Records, PVCP-8790, WAV, rip z CD.
  • Kankawa, Dear Myself [z:] Kankawa, Organist, T-TOC Records, UMVD-0001-0004, Ultimate Master Vinyl, 24/192 WAV;
  • Keith Jarrett, January 24 1975. Part I [z:] Keith Jarrett, Köln Concert, WAV 24/96, HDTracks.
  • Nosowska, Kto? [z:] Nosowska, 8, Supersam Music, SM 01, WAV, rip z CD;
  • Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, Searching [z:] Pieter Nooten & Michael Brook, Sleeps With The Fishes, 4AD, GAD 710 CD, WAV, rip z CD.
  • Sonny Rollins Tenor Madness [z:] Sonny Rollins, Tenor Madness, WAV 24/96, HDTracks..
  • Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Corcovado (Quiet Nights Of Quiet Stars) [z:] Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto, Getz/Gilberto, WAV 24/96, HDTracks.
  • The Alan Parsons Project, Sirius + Eye In The Sky [z:] The Alan Parsons Project, Eye In The Sky, WAV 24/192, rip z DVD-A.
Japanese versions of the music on CDs available on CD Japan

LAN-1.0 PA + Accuphase DP-900/DC-901
This was the basic configuration for me, where I checked the direct influence of the Japanese cable on the sound, with the cable working as a digital interconnect in the HS-Link port. This is a digital transmission interface designed by Accuphase to transfer signals between the drive and the DAC in their newest top system (price 170,000 zł) using standard RJ-45 ports (Ethernet type). This link must be of the highest quality, because besides transferring PCM signals up to 24/192 it has to deal with the DSD signal 2.8224 MHz/1 bit. It also seems that the drive and the DAC clocks are separately synchronized. This is a large amount of information which is naturally prone to distortion.
I was reviewing the Accuphase system for the “Audio” magazine. Mr. Robert Szklarz, the Polish distributor of Accuphase and AR, asked for a comparison between the HS-Link and the S/PDIF connections; whether the S/PDIF is better. The test was done by plugging in both cables: S/PDIF – Acrolink 7N-D6100 and HS-Link – the Accuphase cable supplied with the player. My response to the question was short – no, S/PDIF does not sound better. For the first five minutes it seemed that the sound was more palpable, fuller, but it quickly turned out that it was simplified, shallow, worse. This was clearly audible with CDs, but with SACDs it was simply unacceptable.
As you can see two absolutely incomparably priced cables were used in this comparison – the very, very expensive Acrolink cable (10,900 zł/1m) and the bundled, rather cheap Accuphase cable. Even in this comparison, the much better connection formula of the HS-Link allowed to see its advantage.
Changing this interconnect (because in this case the LAN cable works as a digital interconnect) to the Acoustic Revive cable was a big unknown to me.

Ha! The change in the sound was immediate and explicit. It was bigger than going from RCA (S/PDIF) to HS-Link. The Acoustic Revive cable transfers incomparably more information about the room, extra-musical elements, so much that it seems that we listen to a completely different device. The Accuphase system is extraordinary, and with every cable it sounds in a way that allows us to sit down in the listening chair and fly away. Better with SACDs than with CDs, but the latter also show their better side.
Yet it was with the Acoustic Revive cable that I heard details that seemed intrinsic to a master tape and studio sound, directly from microphones, such as: bass definition, incredible amount of information in the treble, etc. Now I cannot imagine listening to the Accu without it.
But… Damn it, there is always a ‘but’. And even if you think that I approach each reviewed device enthusiastically, this is not the case. For once, we publish only the reviews of products that are good, that we picked from a crowd of others. Secondly, I always publish information about weaker points of a reviewed device. Always. That it is not seen by the readers, or its importance is neglected, is an error on their part. Please look inside any good review in any good printed magazine – it always shows the good news first, because it decides about the device being reviewed at all. Let me repeat: I do not review poor devices!!! Or those that I do not have confidence in!!! Life is too short for that. And, for as far as I can see, this is the way other reviewers do it too, be it in “Stereophile” or “Hi-Fi News & Record Review” – just to mention the two best – in my opinion – printed magazines, to which you should add “6moons.com” and “ToneAudio”, the best representatives of internet press (“HIFICRITIC” is a completely different story…). That is why you should treat what I will write now with the same attention as my words of admiration a moment ago.
The sound with the Acoustic Revive is brighter. I mean it seems brighter, mostly with CDs. In reality the timbre does not change much, but there is so much more information in the treble that things get thicker and you have to adapt to that. With SACDs this happens quickly and it is OK, but with CDs the problems of this format seem to surface. Usually, even with the best CD players we can reach a moment when we have balance between the quality of listening (our comfort) and quality of reproduction (adherence to what is recorded on the disc and the format itself). Because “absolute sound” is not “neutral sound”, it is natural sound. And they are two different things.

With the Acoustic Revive, with SACDs I got sound that was neutral and natural at the same time. With CDs it was only neutral. And, frankly speaking, the listening pleasure went down. And I had a problem – changing back to the Accuphase cable I heard a lot less. Literally. After some accommodation, after a day of listening using that cable, the enchantment with this top player sound would return, but then a short try with the AR and again: how much information!

While I hear that the LAN-1.0 PA cable in the role of a digital interconnect is better than the Accuphase cable, I do not know if everybody will like the change. And those kind of dilemmas will come, more and more, because LAN cables are more and more often used as digital interconnects, let me just mention MSB Technology and their transmission format MSB Network; unfortunately during my review of the Platinum Data CD IV and Platinum DAC IV I made for “Audio”, the LAN-1.0 PA was not yet available. Also Ayon Audio just introduced a CD transport with I2S on a LAN cable – it can be hooked up to the Skylla II DAC this way.

LAN-1.0 PA + router
Now when my experience with the Accuphase player was positive, and the changes introduced by the LAN cable clear, I went on to try out this cable in the role it was created for – as a digital cable connecting a network player or network disk to a router.
The changes in this configuration seemed subtle at first. I started the listening session from the two recordings opening the album Eye In The Sky by The Alan Parsons Project, a copy from DVD-A [24/192]. I heard immediately that something changed. But I was not sure what it was, or if it was for better or for worse.
I needed a few more recordings to catch what turned out to be key – and they were, in order of importance: changes in timbre, changes in resolution and changes in cleanness. And I would like to describe them in this order.

The change in timbre is quite significant and this was probably what threw me off-balance with Parsons. I could not identify the areas of change, because the session was made mostly using the cheap, very nice, but very cheap Music Hall dac 15.2, which smoothens the treble, withdraws it slightly and boosts the midrange, imposing this character on every recording. As I said, with subsequent pieces, mostly with the title track from the disc Sonny Rollins Tenor Madness [24/96], and then with the CD rips [16/44.1] of Nosowska, David Sylvian or Audiofeels, the true character of the AR cable came out: the lower bass is slightly lighter, the upper midrange much smoother and it works better with the sweeter treble. And the range around 800 Hz - 1 kHz is much clearer with the AR cable.
I would like to repeat: after some time you do not need to listen-in to hear those changes – once noticed and remembered, they are automatically identified and evaluated. Because it does not work that way that we immediately “buy” everything, and that it will fit into every system. The case is that with each change for better, like in this case, problems in a different place in the system are revealed, in this case mostly in the network player I used. The slight thinning of the lower bass worked for better with almost all recordings. With an ordinary LAN cable the tonal balance seemed to be shifted down, at least at the bass, but in the midrange it seemed higher, on the upper midrange. This resulted in a hole between those two “peaks”. For some time it might seem that stronger bass with the ordinary cable has the advantage of putting weight to the sound, that it is stronger, more “fleshy”. Until I listened to the recordings of Keith Jarrett from the Köln concert [24/96] – then I returned to the same recordings I used before, now with a different perspective. The thing was that the sound of the lower frequencies with the ordinary cable in the system I described was too fat, too thick. I confirmed that later with the DC-901 DAC from Accuphase. It could be likeable for a moment, because it was so “in your face”, but after some time it became boring, especially when we heard how this could sound with a different cable. We can add to that what I already mentioned – the midrange is smoother, more refined, as well as the treble.
But this is not the most important thing in this change. More important are the resolution related changes. With the LAN-1.0 PA we have much more information. Not detail – this we get too, but it is audible differently. We get the “new” sound as much more open and natural. This was brilliantly audible with Jarrett’s piano, but it shocked me with the CD rips. Especially because all the recordings I used base on incredible energy – if it is not there, then it is audibly worse, as just another recording. With the LAN-1.0 PA the timbre and resolution were ideal (at least compared to the ordinary cable). The voice of Sylvian was strong and saturated – with the standard cable it got thinner and the tonal accent got higher, which ruined the sound. All this translated into a much cleaner sound. And the timbre and resolution with the Acoustic Revive resulted in something that gave a more credible sound – a sound that was better to listen to. With the ordinary cable it seemed “dirty”, internally blurred. And although in the beginning the differences seemed negligible, and the change of timbre could favor the standard cable in some systems, after longer listening it became clear that the Acoustic Revive is like a nobleman among the “mob”, in a way. Or differently, maybe better – like a well dressed man, in good, tailored clothes among ordinary people. At first sight the difference is not clear, but when we have a closer look, when we know how a good shoe looks like, or tailored pants, etc., then we will be able to find such person within seconds, automatically. With the LAN-1.0 PA it is exactly the same.

LAN-1.0 PA + RLI-1 + router
The above comparison was made exchanging a single cable connecting the network player with the router, and then I added to that the cable connecting the router and network disk. I had similar impressions from listening, although a bigger change was noticeable in the first case – the second cable only completed the picture.
Connecting one, then two and finally three filters (one between the server and router and two on each end of the cable connecting the router and network player) brought additional changes to the sound. Those were again small changes. And they seemed reversible for a longer time; I mean, that it seemed to me that I can live without them. Now I am not so sure, although the evaluation of the character of changes will depend on our preferences and system even more than with the cable.
The RLI-1 makes everything sound quieter. Everything seems softer and more delicate. And it is not about damping of the signal – we deal with a digital signal here, the amplitude of which does not translate into the volume! Due to that we can move the volume knob one or two notches up (1-2dB). Now it can be heard better that the sound is smoother, more delicate, more “analog”, in the sense of being less aggressive, more intrinsic.
I am sure that not everybody will like it. Because the internal aggression of some of the recordings disappears – and it is needed with stronger pieces. Only with small ensembles it is beautiful, because everything is more palpable, smoother, fuller and nicer.
In the company materials we read: “… doe to the fact that the product is aimed at the audiophile market, the RLI-1 does not have side effects, like loss of energy and reduction of dynamics, which cannot be avoided, when we use isolators used for medical equipment…”.
I do not fully agree, at least in my system. Lower dynamics was a fact. But the assets of the RLI-1 were big enough, so that in some systems they can outweigh the shortcomings.

Conclusion
Haters did not reach this point; I am 99.999999% (8N) sure. I think that the conclusion is read by people who are interested what came out of the experiment, of exchanging an ordinary LAN cable connecting the player with the router and the server with the router. The second part of the experiment was to add filters to the setup, clearing the signal from high frequency noise.
For all of you I have an important announcement: a LAN cable is as important as an analog interconnect. I will say more: its destructive influence on the sound, a derivative of the weak transmission of the digital signal and a word clock is much more severe, because it affects digital recordings, especially sensitive to that. And those recordings can sound splendid, when we are able to play them back, transmit them and decode them properly (even with a cheapo player and DAC). The cable introduces much more information to the sound (allows it to be transmitted), which translates in a more natural, more truthful sound. The isolators go a step further, but they will not be liked in each and every system. Is it worth it? I cannot answer that – this is similar to me trying to answer, if it is worth drinking better wine, wear better shoes, better watch, etc – everything will depend on the individual user, his sensibility, needs and experience. But I can answer two other questions. Do those products change sound? – Absolutely!!! For better? Yessss…

Review methodology
I used five network players in the test: HDI Dune TV-101, HDI Dune MAX, Popcorn Hour A-300, Musical Fidelity M1 CLiC and Ayon Audio S-3. I used the LinkSys WG320N router and a four hard drive (2GB each) Synology DiskStation DS410sj server – the drives work in a RAID setup with one spare. The server and the player were connected to the router with thick, solid “no name” cables. All devices – server, router and player were plugged into the same power strip Oyaide MTS-4e, and this, using the Gigawatt LS-1 cable to a separate Furutech FT-SWS(R) wall socket. I compared the cables in two modes – switching between the cables (connect the one or the other) every thirty seconds without interrupting the track and switching them every 2 minutes starting the piece from the beginning. Those were AB comparisons with known A and B.

DESCRIPTION

LAN-1.0 PA is a LAN (Local Area Network) cable, designed to transfer digital signals (data) in a local (home) computer network. It is made of ultra-pure Single Core PCOCC-A copper. The shield is made of copper foil. The plugs are made from gold plated copper elements, covered with a plastic coating, which removes static electricity. Dielectric is a material based on “fluorocarbon” (PFC).

RLI-1 (“LAN Isolator”) is a high frequency filter. It is small – this is a plastic box with a socket and a short cable with a plug. The whole is 79mm long and weighs 40g. Inside this plastic box we have coils and isolating transformers in a few sections. The cables inside are the same as in the LAN-1.0 PA, Single Core PCOCC-A copper. The influence of the RLI-1 on the signal is shown on measurements available on the manufacturers web page HERE.

Distribution in Poland:
Eter Audio

Contact:
ul. Malborska 24 ǀ 30-646 Kraków ǀ Polska

tel./fax: 0048 12 425 51 20/30
tel. kom.: 0048 507 011 858

e-mail: robert@nautilus.net.pl

WWW: nautilus.net.pl

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associated-equipment

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  • Phono preamplifier: RCM Audio Sensor Prelude IC, review HERE
  • Cartridges: Miyajima Laboratory SHILABE, review HERE), Miyajima Laboratory KANSUI, review HERE
  • Preamplifier: Ayon Audio Polaris III [Signature Version] with Re-generator Power Supply
  • Power amplifier: Soulution 710
  • Integrated amplifier/headphone amplifier: Leben CS300 XS Custom Version, review HERE
  • Loudspeakers: Harbeth M40.1 Domestic, review HERE
  • Headphones: Sennheiser HD800, AKG K701, Ultrasone PROLine 2500, Beyerdynamic DT-990 Pro; 600 Ω version, review HERE, HERE, and HERE
  • Interconnect: CD-preamp: Acrolink Mexcel 7N-DA6300 (article HERE, preamp-power amp: Acrolink 8N-A2080III Evo, review HERE
  • Speaker cable: Tara Labs Omega Onyx, review HERE
  • Power cables AC (all equipment): Acrolink Mexcel 7N-PC9300
  • Power strip: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE
  • Stand: Base; under all components
  • Resonance control: Finite Elemente Ceraball under the CD, Audio Revive RAF-48 platform under the CD and preamplifier
  • Pro Audio Bono platform under Leben CS300