Happy 2023, dear audiophiles!
While I typically publish articles like measurements of audio hardware, discuss albums (usually as part of reviews or examination of things like dynamic range), and offer critiques about extreme "High End" audiophilia, every once awhile I'll talk more generally about my computer hardware and local area network (LAN). I see the network stuff as part of a broader foundation of the modern digital audio system which simply has to work reliably and efficiently for digital streaming/computer audiophiles. Like other parts of the "perfectionist" audiophile system (like say the room which is often also neglected in audiophile hardware talk), this should be optimized for best performance such that those using it will not have to suffer from speed issues or dropouts. Sometimes it's easier said than done given potential interoperability nuances of the multitudes of network hardware!
Apart from silly "audiophile ethernet switches", or "audiophile ethernet cables", there's generally nothing specific to sell to audiophiles when it comes to home network hardware. As a result, it's atypical to see long articles at audiophile websites or in the magazines about this stuff despite the importance.
As a reminder, in my experience, unless we're dealing with faulty gear, "Bits Are Bits" when it comes to sound quality - that's just reality if you take the time to analyze the audio signal objectively or run some controlled listening trials. Despite all kinds of subjective voices/claims out there otherwise, high performance modern computer networks are simply not going to change the sound of audio playback so long as they're reliably "bit-perfect". After all these years, I find no reason to be concerned about ethernet cables, or switches transferring packet data around. Whether the data is of audio content or otherwise is irrelevant - the network doesn't care whether it's audio meant for the DAC or pixels aimed at the printer.
Digital data, given how it's packaged and transmitted, when corrupted will result in rather obvious audible anomalies if not corrected (like an error-prone USB cable). You will not hear subtle changes (like "more bass" or "better soundstage" or even more vaguely "improved presence") as some reviewers seem to promote when hyping nonsensical claims of what they supposedly "heard".
Sometimes, I publish articles like this one today as a kind of journal entry for future reference as the system here at home evolves. I want to document settings on my home network that currently "works" very well not just for general family computing, or file serving, but also stable for Roon streaming which has been an intermittent annoyance over the last few years getting to work without glitches whenever I change network hardware (we'll talk more about Roon later).
Consider this article a case study of a specific network system. Perhaps some of what I discuss here and the settings can be helpful to you and your set-up.
My most recent article about the home computer network focused on improving the stability and issues I had with the ASUS XG-C100C 10GbE network cards (Aquantia/Marvell AQC107-based chips). Since the last major update to my network in April 2021, I've made a few further hardware tweaks and you can see the current network map in the image above. It's actually not a very complicated network even though I do use a few things like the "VPN Fusion" feature of the router for IoT devices. I suspect if you map out your own home network, it might also look quite complex as well! Thankfully, most devices these days are "plug-and-play".
The multigigabit QNAP QSW-M2108 managed switch in my basement electrical panel sits right at the heart of the home network and is the main departure point between 1Gb, 2.5Gb, and 10Gb-compatible devices. Since wired ethernet is simply much more reliable, I've made sure that all the main rooms have access. It was a pain, but well worth it, to tunnel the ethernet cable into and across my basement "man cave" when I first moved into the house.
The ASUS ROG GT-AX11000 wireless router sitting centrally in the main floor of my home remains a phenomenal performer with good WiFi connectivity and I can't imagine needing anything more at this time.
These days, 1 gigabit ethernet systems are ubiquitous and should not be challenging to set-up. However, over the last while I have been tweaking the settings for my 10GbE system and figuring out the best parameters on my ASUS (AQC107) network cards, QNAP switch and the ASUS AX11000 router. Here are my current settings achieving both speed and stability:
ASUS XG-C100C (Aquantia/Marvell AQC107) Network Card:
See previous article for more details like firmware and driver versions. I updated some settings over the Christmas holidays:
Downshift retries: Disabled
Energy-Efficient Ethernet: Disabled
Flow Control: Disabled
Interrupt Moderation: Enabled
Interrupt Moderation Rate: Adaptive
IPv4 Checksum Offload: Rx & Tx Enabled
Jumbo Packet: 9014 Bytes (make sure switches and router compatible)
Large Send Offload (all IPv4 and IPv6 options): Enabled
Receive Buffers: 2048 (max 4096 in multiples of 8)
Maximum number of RSS Queues: 8 (max 8, correlate to number of CPU cores)
Receive Side Scaling: Enabled
Recv Segment Coalescing (IPv4 and IPv6): DisabledSpeed & Duplex: 10 Gbps Full Duplex (no need to auto-negotiate if we know it works)
TCP/UDP Checksum Offload (IPv4 and IPv6): Rx & Tx Enabled
Transmit Buffers: 4096 (max 8184 in multiples of 8)
Log Link State Event: Disabled
QNAP QSW-M2108-2C Managed MultiGigabit Switch:
ASUS ROG GT-AX11000 router:
Windows (10, 11, Server) OS:
|Server computer (iperf client): "iperf3.exe -c 192.168.1.10 -u -f g -t 600 -b 200M -i 60 -l 16k". Workstation computer (iperf server): "iperf3.exe -s -f g -i 60".|
200Mbps UDP stream over 10 minutes sent as 16kB "datagrams". As you can see, 1 datagram got lost out of 915,000. Looks good, but it's a reminder that UDP has been called "Unreliable Datagram Protocol" compared to the error-correcting TCP. The above test was performed also while Roon was streaming to a couple of endpoints from the Server computer and I'm playing a 4K/HDR10 movie from the shared Samba drive.
Quick look at Pi-Hole...
|If you don't want to use your ISP's DNS server, 22.214.171.124 (Quad9) is a good choice with higher security. Fastest public DNS is Cloudflare's 126.96.36.199 currently but check on the speed rankings over time! Alternatively, for the power-user, measure with Namebench yourself.|
|Explanation of Type designation.|