Network Acoustics ------ENO Ethernet Filter
Review by George Sallit
Network Acoustics ENO Copper Version
I have been following a course of digital improvements recently and with a review of this product I believe I have gone as far as I would like to ‘down the rabbit hole’. There seems to be hundreds of digital improvement products on the market and to be honest a lot either don’t do anything or they are more a sideways change. Of course, some are not and Network Acoustics's ENO is one of them.
The ENO is a straightforward product and consists of a plain plastic box used to avoid magnetic interference that would result from using a metal box and the filters. Its aim in life is to ‘clean up’ the ethernet data used to transmit digital music. The box has an ethernet input socket and a captive output cable with one of the highest quality ethernet plugs I have seen. The output cable has a Telegartner RJ45 CAT8 connector and it certainly looks the part.
What is in the ABS box and how does it work? Well basically, it consists of hand-wound choke filters. The input signal induces an output signal but because of the design of the filters, the noise is filtered and the input signal is effectively isolated from the output. In effect, the use of these filters is said to be one of the best ways to achieve good signal clean-up but they are infrequently used as they are difficult to design and are therefore more expensive.
I have to admit I was suspicious of this whole idea. Ethernet data transmission is one of the most robust ways of transmitting digital data. Also, the data goes through isolation transformers in the ethernet sockets. I guess there may be transformers and chokes. Network Acoustics are secretive about the internal design of the filters.
Network Acoustics ENO Silver Version
So, testing this device was easy as all that is required is to plug in the original ethernet cable into the ENO socket and then plug the captured ENO ethernet cable into the original ethernet socket. In my case the one on my dCS Bridge. I checked the volume levels to make sure they were the same and they were. Onto the listening session.
I used my Melco+PlixiR, into a dCS Bridge, an Audionote 4.1 DAC/Chord Qutest, a Pass Labs XP22, a Pass Labs XA30.8 and finally the ANE Silver Signature speakers with Cut Loose silver ribbon cable throughout. I did swap the amps for an Icon 4 passive preamp and an ARC Ref 110 to make sure the device worked with solid-state and valves.
I listened to my list of test music plus a few new extra tracks that have caught my attention recently. On the Game of Thrones Medley by the 2 Cellos, the ENO reduced the noise floor, kept the power and dynamics of the music and allowed me to follow the theme far more easily. Some digital filters reduce the air and sparkle in the music and make it sound duller and lessen the dynamics. Not here, the dynamics were if anything increased. The voicing of cellos was excellent and the tonal intensity was kept. Hearing the overall musical theme was not lessened or reduced and it was easy to follow the flow of the music.
Ember’s WhoMadeWho is a dry electronic recording with a powerful bass. The ENO tightened the bass and gave the song much better drive. In the middle of the track, there is a musical break and some powerful bass is played. With the ENO in circuit, this bass had real power and an ability to shock. The bass provides a nice break in the music and allows the catchy theme to return and drive the song along. I was becoming more impressed.
Onto Dazed and Confused by Led Zeppelin from their first album. The nice bass playing intro was easily heard and set up the song well with a few musical interventions across the stereo image. And in comes Robert Plant with his voice letting you know what he thinks. Real, raw power without restraint. The fine detail that allows you to hear the emotion in his voice was easier to hear with the ENO in circuit. It lets you know the difference between a good singer and a great one. Robert Plant, in his heyday, was a great singer. And then Bonzo lets rip. He really knew how to bang the drums with power and subtlety. The ENO made it easier to hear.
On to something quieter, Rhiannon Giddens singing Birmingham Sunday. This sounds like a polite folk song starting with a nice piano intro. She sings with great finesse about a very tragic incident. With the ENO in circuit, it was easier to hear that this was not another twee song but one describing an event where the Klu Klux Klan bombed and murdered four young girls in a Baptist Church in Birmingham USA. Powerful.
Enough of this modern stuff how about Fanfare for the Common Man by Copland featuring the Los Angeles Philharmonic? The timpanis announce the start of a big bold piece of music. The ENO made it easier to hear that the timpani strikes were different and how they were different. The brass was clearly brass instruments with the right amount of blatt and metallic sound from the instruments. You could more easily hear the separate instruments but when they all played together there was a greater sense of power from the collective orchestra.
It is easy to get carried away with these changes and I hope I do not give the impression they are earth-shattering as they are not. But they are really worthwhile and allow you to enjoy the music more. With the ENO in circuit, the musical details were made more obvious and that added to the enjoyment of the music, no matter what genre of music was played. This box costs £500 and uses copper wires or £700 for the silver version. Knowing the price of these filters makes this product good value for the money. So much so I am buying one.
But putting aside the cost considerations, the improvement in the music was well worthwhile and I welcome this new product from Network Acoustics.