As an inveterate fiddler, and a long-term believer that almost anything you do to a hi-fi system – any hi-fi system – makes some difference, I’ve just damped my network switch. Yes, I know that sounds like I may have got over-excited, and had an accident of the kind that be a bit dangerous with mains-powered equipment, so maybe I should explain.
I recently bought myself one of those network switches much raved about by those seemingly in the know on various forums, though I must admit I did so more out of cynicism than intrigue.
After all, there was me thinking I’d already optimised my network connections some time back with the addition of fibre-optic ‘wiring’ in place of the more commonly-used CAT5/6 Ethernet.
A short mooch on Ebay found me the ‘approved’ switch – a used (and now discontinued) Cisco Catalyst 3560 eight-port model – plus the little 10GTek dongle to plug into it to link to my fibre music connection, thus allowing me to eliminate one of my converter boxes (and more to the point, another potentially noisy power supply). I also needed a change of fibre cable to convert from my fibre converter’s SC connectors to the LC ports on the GTek – about £10 or so.
It all arrived, and sat in its box in the hall over the Christmas/New Year period while I thought ‘I must try that out’ every time I passed it. I finally got round to installing it on one of those dead January days when something doesn’t happen or fails to turn up, and you find yourself at a loose end.
Meanwhile, conversations with a couple of friends who’ve also been trying the same kind of switch suggested it might benefit from some damping.
Yes, I know… But anyway, I looked into it, and found a suitable material: Dead Mat Hex from British company Dodomat, designed for damping and sound insulation on the panels of vans and cars. Just a millimetre or two thick, and self-adhesive, it looked ideal – and while the company usually sells the stuff via its own website in rolls or jumbo packs big enough to do an entire vehicle, on its Ebay shop you can buy individual sheets, around 12in/30cm square.
Just the job, and even better only £2.50 delivered, leading me to wonder how anyone can sell something on Ebay for so little complete with free 48 hour postage, and still make money.
It was slim enough to fit inside the lid without touching or fouling anything, is said to be good for temperatures up 120C – and anyway, all the cooling of the Cisco is achieved via perforated side-panels and amp-worthy heatsinking on the rear. Well, small amp-worthy.
So, lid off, hold it up by one corner, and rap with knuckles. Clanggg! Cut sheet to size – I only used half of the piece I bought – and stick it in place inside the lid. Then tap again and… Clunk.
Interesting… I mean I’m not for a moment I’m now getting just a clunk transmitted down my network cables where once there was a clang – that would be silly – but rather that damping out any vibration in a piece of electronic equipment can’t help but be good, right?
So, with the lid back on the switch – the use of which (in place of my old Netgear) I’m convinced had already made the sound just a little more focused and clean – and everything re-plugged, I’ve been doing a spot of listening.
And? Well, let’s just say that so far it doesn’t sound any worse, and I’m sort of sure I think I’m maybe sometimes hearing just a little more space in the sound, and slightly better soundstage imaging.
Course, could be wrong, and I’ll spend a lot more time listening to favourite tracks and deciding whether there’s some kind of improvement. But then that’s all part of the fun – and it’ll only have cost me £2.50 to find out.
Only trouble is, I’ve now got half a sheet of Dead Mat left, and am eyeing everything else in the system, and wondering where it might work…
(No cats – or indeed network cables – actually sat on any mats during the making of this blog)