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Innuos PhoenixNet network switch

Innuos PhoenixNet network switch

When you have produced some of the best regarded music servers available and followed that up with a USB reclocker that outperforms many streamers what is your next move? For Innuos founder Nuno Vitorino it was to develop a network switch from the ground up. In many ways it’s the next logical step, if you have an Innuos Zenith server and a PhoenixUSB reclocker you will also have a DAC and everyone makes those, but as others including Melco and Ansuz have discovered the network switch is just as critical a part of a streaming system as the core elements mentioned above.

You don’t of course need a dedicated switch in a streaming audio system but they have proven to be a good way of reducing the incoming noise from the rest of the network. Most networks are based on the giveaway router supplied by your ISP and the equally cheap as chips power supply that comes with it, replacing that power supply is the least expensive upgrade you can make by the way. If you can use the router provided solely as a modem and hook it up to a decent router albeit not one that’s festooned with aerials, those things pick up as much noise as they send out, that will also help.

I asked Nuno for his take on the problems with regular network switches and he explained “we saw tremendous potential for improvement as there were many design decisions that were made to satisfy IT requirements rather than audio. In IT, you want the switch to take your data from A to B as fast as you can and preferably consuming the least amount of power. As long as power noise doesn’t prevent the destination from processing the digital data, everything is ok. In audio it’s a different story – we don’t want to simply receive the data, we want the signal to contain as little noise and interference as possible as that will influence components down the chain. This is why we decided to build a switch that makes very little noise in the first place rather than trying to prevent it. For this we required a different approach to designing a switch in order to simplify protocols, keep paths short, power the chips as cleanly as possible and make sure the timing of the signal is spot on. The only way we could do this was designing a switch from scratch.”

Innuos PhoenixNet network switch
Half-sized Innuos case matches the range

The PhoenixNet looks very much like the PhoenixUSB at a glance as the two share the same half width casework and Innuos’ distinctive stealth styling on the front panel, but around the back things are rather different. This unit has four, just four, chunky ethernet ports. This gives you some idea of how dedicated the PhoenixNet is to audio duties, it will work as a general switch but only just. For one thing it has maximum throughput of 100Mb where all commercial switches are good for a gigabit, you don’t need high speeds for audio signals and adding the capability introduces noise, which is very clearly the enemy. Inside the case on a very neatly laid out circuit board you will not find traffic prioritisation circuity nor switching regulators because neither are required for audio signals. Neither is there any optical decoupling which is a popular method for isolating noise, Innuos found that the decoding process required to turn light into an electrical signal introduced more noise than they were able to achieve with purely copper connections.

What you do see are gold plated tracks, Mundorf caps in the two linear power supplies, Nichicon caps for the switch chip and an OCXO clock right next to it. OCXO clocks are found on a lot of high end DACs because they are among the most accurate available. Also on show are isolating transformers and heavy shielding around the four ports because these ports are prone to sharing any EMI that gets into them. Apparently the sturdy ethernet sockets were selected to work with the substantial plugs found on CAT7 cables which are a lot less flimsy than the plasticky ones on most ethernet.

As the Ansuz X-TC switch that I reviewed last month was in the system when the PhoenixNet arrived it seemed an idea to contrast the two, a contrast that did not do the Innuos any favours to be honest. So I left it in the system for a week and found the results to be increasingly engaging and revealing, when Nuno explained that it takes several days for OCXO clocks to become thermally stable the penny dropped and I went back to comparing it with the Ansuz. This time things were very different, now these two switches were very hard to separate in terms of the sound quality they allowed the rest of the system to deliver. That system consists of a BT router, Airport Express access point, Innuos Zenith SE server, AURALiC ARIES G2.1 streamer and Metronome Le DAC converter. When you add in the fact that I need to connect my PC to the network via the switch you’ll realise that four ports were never going to be enough. In the end I used a Cisco 2960 switch for the router, PC and access point connections and hooked it up to the input on the PhoenixNet.

Innuos PhoenixNet interior
Unlike many network switches, the PhoenixNet uses a power transformer

When I put the Ansuz next to the Innuos a week later things had changed quite markedly, now it was difficult to say which was the more neutral and transparent of the two. They sound different with the Ansuz giving a slightly more three dimensional account of the music albeit one that can seem a little pumped up next to the calmer presentation of the PhoenixNet. The result seems to be the same regardless of where the signal originates, be it from the local server or Qobuz you get the same small variation. It’s the sort of thing that could be tweaked with different feet under the box and made me wonder whether the Ansuz didn’t like the glass shelves of my rack, it has much harder aluminium feet than the well damped ones on the Innuos.

Either way it’s safe to say that the PhoenixNet is a first class network switch, one that allows oodles of detail through and delivers it with a very light touch. I love the way it reveals the quiet notes on Van Morrison’s beautiful ‘You Don’t Pull No Punches, but You Don’t Push The River’ [Veedon Fleece, Warner Bros]. this delicate detail is what makes a good piece of music reach out and touch you. If there is too much noise in the system it gets blurred and some of the magic goes with it, the result with the Innuos in the system is very close to good vinyl replay and with the prices being asked for this album today about as close as I’ll get to enjoying it. Equally critical is the sense of calm that this switch brings to proceedings, this is another result of noise being significantly reduced and takes away an awful lot of the subtle glare that afflicts digital audio. There are plenty of components that soften this by smoothing it out using EQ and other means but that tends to rob the music of its energy and impetus, this switch does it without compromising timing or the definition of leading and trailing edges.

The PhoenixNet is very good at revealing reverb of both natural and artificial varieties, on The Weather Station’s beautiful ‘Thirty’ [The Weather Station, Paradise of Bachelors] there is a sense of real space around the singer and her guitar in the quiet intro, it’s like sunlight but not bright in the acoustic sense, just crystalline. It also allows the energy of live recordings like Keith Jarrett’s Carnegie Hall Concert [ECM] to pervade the room, the occasional sounds from the audience mapping out the scale of the venue and the player’s foot making the stage reverberate, all of which adds to the transcendent experience that a good recording can create.

Innuos PhoenixNet rear
The four-connection switch is designed for sound, not speed!

You need a good system to do this of course but if you have one adding a switch that minimises the noise floating around the network is more than the icing on the audio cake, it feels like a critical element, the missing link between the recording and the listening experience. The PhoenixNet is an expensive switch with the minimum of ports but it’s extremely good at the job thanks to its dedicated nature, if you want to know what your streaming system is really capable of I recommend you have a listen.



  • Type: Streaming audio network switch
  • LAN Ethernet ports: 4 (via RJ45)
  • Fibre optic ports: none
  • Clock: OCXO
  • Packet data buffer: not specified
  • Features: Isolation transformers, linear PSUs
  • Finish: Siver/black
  • Dimensions (H×W×D): 87 × 215 × 342mm
  • Weight: 5kg
  • Price: £2,599


Manufacturer: Innuos

Tel: +351 308 800 826

URL: innuos.com


Distributor: Innuos UK

Tel: +44(0) 2475 200 210

URL: innuos.com


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