Audio and Video Talk > Digital

Switch! in line

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Agaton Sax:
Close associates seem to delight in telling me how others perceive me as being way too serious, asking if I ever laugh and how scared they are of me.  The other day a younger member had the tea room in stitches while he explained to us his,patent-pending, 3 step process on how to approach me with a difficult problem. Seeing my crestfallen face at being called Mr Glum (again) huge laughter usually ensues.

To counter my seemingly stiff professional personality, I tend to wander through the rest of life like a 5-year-old with a lollipop, always curious, never knowing quite what is really going on but always fascinated. Never, more so that in the Yellow Brick Road that is Audiophilia and Music. I want to understand but not too much. Total understanding, I find, removes the element of mystique and magic. Partial understanding creates that sense of wonder that I find so stimulating.

On fora such as these, there are always armchair experts, Internet graduandi who seldomly realise how little they know and therefore just know enough to see one side of an issue. However, usually quiet, there are the true Experts. I visualise these guys as quietly watching bunfights with knowing smiles. One such a guy is pwatts. Now, I don’t know Pierre from Adam but I do know that he knows his stuff, is thoroughly qualified to do what he is doing and that what he is doing is Audio, very much 21st-century Audio. When I posted my experiences with the Croak Switch elsewhere I felt a bit of an idiot but it was OK cos Guillaume cheerfully admitted that he applied known audio tweakery to a commercial switch, didn’t really understand all of the tech but did what he could. Wasn’t that so typical of the big guy? Anyways it sounded fabulous, so good I just kept it and sent him the money. I suspect he wanted his Switch back and would build me another but never said so straight, so I just played stupid. Now we’ll never know.

Then pwatts posted his take on a Switch. To me, it was like reading the instruction manual to the Mars Rover. What is he talking about?  I felt I had to say something but didn’t know what. Clearly, others felt the same as not a single of the other digital swarm “experts” said anything either.

Imagine my total horror when Pierre contacted me to ask for an evaluation of his prototype Switch. At night Free State farmers set out to hunt hares. These pests will freeze when a strong light is shone upon them, totally lame. That is how I felt. Before sending the Switch Pierre sent a bunch of instructions. I sent a weak message to Reeman -"Help!". Turned out it wasn't necessary. With the thing in hand, the instructions made perfect sense.

I set it up, being lazy just plugged it into Croak’s Switch with Pierre’s SMPS. He is developing another supply.  The sound was first-generation CD. I jumped up in horror, switch PSU with the Wyred for Sound, still the same harsh, flat, 2 dimensional. Suddenly the sound turned fuzzy, like a dirty stylus. Finally, I realised, this is an extreme version of what great cables do. I should have headed what Pierre said. Give it 15 minutes to settle.  It was a little more but still. The flower started unfolding.

I find Moby’s music a little like the Curate’s egg. Some bits are excellent. My go-to is 2 albums. 1999’s Play and 2000’s “Songs”. Play became a little overexposed as one time not an ad for a bank, tampon or toothpaste didn’t feature that music. I was intrigued to see the new Moby released on Deutsche Grammophone. What did he do? A Deep Purple or Billy Joel Classical disaster? No. Requiem is the old songs re-imagined. I listened to it last week and thought it ho-hum. Last night something happened. In the middle of “Extreme Ways”, a clear thought shot through my mind: I have seen the future. That future is Digital and that future is good, very good. If someone said to me I would say that a year ago, I would have burst out laughing.

I need to listen more but apart from a brief bypass to the Croak Switch only which left the entire soundscape to collapse and an improvement wrought by an alternative wiring option I was too enthralled to mess.

I honestly believed I am now closest to that ideal sound I had in my head when I started this particular limb of my Audio journey in 2003 than I have ever been. I am just totally amazed that that pinnacle came in the form of digital replay. Schalk’s preamp, Mains power changes with Ben’s Shunyatas, Timber’s thinking on horns and diffusers, Achim’s Dac and now Pierre’s Switch-and G too. Jirre boys, we have some clever people, right here.


--- Quote from: Agaton Sax on July 14, 2021, 07:28:32 AM ---
the Croak Switch,  it sounded fabulous, so good I just kept it and sent him the money. I suspect he wanted his Switch back and would build me another but never said so straight, so I just played stupid. Now we’ll never know.

--- End quote ---
Excuse the editing of your post that  I have quoted from, in order to highlight just one part, but I too tried that switch from Mr G, and immediately heard an improvement, I too paid him and kept it.  I always meant to post my positive experiences with that Switch here in order to promote it, but never got round to doing it, and now it will be to no avail .. meant to is such a empty and useless word ... should be struck from the English language.

Agaton Sax:
 I was a little reluctant to deal with specifics in my previous post as I  felt I may have been hallucinating. I spent this afternoon revisiting the Watts Switch.

What did it do, what stood out? Well, you no longer have to convince me that a Switch is a component as important as any other in a streaming system. Guillaume already did that. The Croak Switch made the sound more believable, less obviously digital, more enjoyable. The Watts Switch?

Music, Maestro: There is a delightful story that when  Neil Young was approached to join Crosby, Stills and Nash, he was interviewed by Graham Nash.  Crosby and Stills knew and had played with Young but Nash came from the Hollies and England. This made me laugh: Imagine you are a member of a high school bible quiz team. For an upcoming competition you need a member as that little prick, Schlomo's mother caught him smoking and now he is grounded. So there is a little kid, his dad is the carpenter and you heard the kid knows his stuff but he needs to be interviewed as not just anyone can join the Nazareth High Bible Quiz team. Anyway, so Nash asks Young why they should accept him in their band? Ole' Neil just shrugged and asked Graham if he'd ever heard him (Young) and Steven Stills jam?

Well, nowhere do they jam better than on the Album 4 way Street and nowhere better than on "Southern Man". My LP of this is an original US copy. Side 1 and 2 is terribly, unplayably, eccentric. 3 and 4 are great. So I play 1 and 2 digital and flip to 3 and 4 on vinyl. Today I played all digital. Digital is said to have a better dynamic range than analogue, yet somehow it sounds more constrained, doesn't bloom as well, doesn't sound as big.  Wow, not anymore. I just gaped as that gigantic horn filled with sound. A soundstage as big as that space and more. Height, yes height! Full-sized images, Young and Still's guitars screaming at each other. Nothing like the squashed up " How many lumps will Madame have?" crap. No, sweat and maybe blood on the ceiling. Stills makes a point to thank the bass player and drummer during the concert. So he should! Stunning playing. I have sort of noticed before but now that Caribbean bass is rammed into my ears. A Switch, a bloody 0 and 1 pusher!

Jonny Cash, Americana IV., Hurt. Cash is so big so there, just here, I feel I can touch him. Tears for Fears must be one of the most underrated of the 80s Brit bands. Their huge sound and dramatic productions hide songs about childhood abuse and unhappiness. Nowhere more so than in that dark, totally weird sci-fi movie Donnie Darko and Gary Jules' rendition of "Mad World". I always slammed that album for distortion, noise and other slovenly techniques. Post Switch, I am beginning to see the whole musical picture and it is riveting.

How can a Switch give more powerful bass? Allan Taylor's Beat Hotel suddenly gained what seems to be an entire octave in extension. I can go on and on and on.

What on earth did Pierre Watts do here? As I understand it, he is doing a limited run of ten. Cabinet work will be by Ghost in the Machine, so is bound to be very special. That is the good news. The bad news is it won't be cheap, it can't be. The good news is that this thing is bound to improve the sound of any DAC outside the really cheap, really bad. The final bad news? They seem to be all pre-sold to Europe. Phone Pierre, beg him. do whatever needs to be done. And no, one of the 10 is not coming to me unless you all beg really hard for a further 10 and I can buy one of those.

In simple English?
Are they selling an audiophile switch?
Do you have pics?

Goodness me, imagine the shock: I sent the prototype off, not knowing how good it is at all and knowing it goes to someone with a ruthlessly revealing system. Next morning half-asleep I see a review on a public forum. Suffice to say the sleepiness disappeared quickly, replaced by trepidation and then relief. Hats off to Johan for his unique style of reviewing and writing :)

The prototype looks a bit like a dog's breakfast following numerous sparks during development and the chassis no less so, so I was very relieved that Agaton opted against a photoshoot. The pictures I posted on the DIY Audio thread a few weeks ago are close enough to the final result though.,94749.0.html

For the context: A year ago I still scoffed at Ethernet audiophile gear. Then a few things began making sense. Long conversations with dearly missed Guilleaume followed - even though we approach things from entirely different angles, there was a lot to be learnt of what matters and what not. My journey then was to figure out why and try to maximize it. It was all just in good fun and as a learning exercise since the capital that went into the prototype, let alone the time, could have comfortably bought a decent commercial audiophile switch.

After posting initial results on overseas fora, inquiries came for a Group Buy. It was not the intention, and 2021 is a terrible year for doing any kind of electronic manufacturing, but I thought it would be fun to share my ideas to a larger audience. Apparently the switch market is not as saturated as I had thought: in the >1kEUR category there are some interesting options but below there are only three main routes: tweaked commercial switches, a Zyxcel model sold as OEM to companies like Chord and Nuprime who then just rebadges and apply some further tweaks, and then the EtherRegen that seems to have the market almost cornered with a very affordable (given the cost of the materials) price and a totally bats**t crazy concept. I spent two evenings reverse-engineering what they did since the marketing speak was the usual fluff. That was not easy, the only good picture available had the IC package markings Photoshopped, so I literally had to make some educated guesses of what some of the core parts were, make a shortlist of each, then check the manufacturers for matching packages and then ultimately counting the pins and checking which are power, signal, gnd etc. to identify the exact part. Would have taken just an hour had I had an actual one with me, but I'm not spending the wrong side of R10k just to peek inside. What I found they did was puzzling and although it may hold merit, I decided to follow a different approach. No fun in copying someone else's ideas anyway.

The Group Buy was set at 10pcs just to limit the amount of money involved and risk of angry buyers not getting what they had expected, as well as the severe shortage of parts. It's not for profit, I'm adding just enough margin to not make a loss. Despite that though, sophisticated electronics on small scale has massive cost overhead, so any added profit would have anyway rendered it uncompetitive. For that reason the chassis, although no slouch being from Ghost in the Machine, needed some austerity measures which unfortunately meant my lofty ideas of a Vanguard-style engraved aluminium chassis had to give way to a more utilitarian folded steel.

Why not marketing it locally, I was asked. Of course that would be easier, most notably not having to deal with international export and the fluctuating Rand. However, in France and Germany there are people who will happily fork over 500EUR to an African in the bush who just joined their forum with post#1 being a picture of a half-built PCB and a Google-Translated description. Our little forum and spending power is just too small for this to fly.. perhaps 10 years ago but not now.

Right now I'm finalizing the revision design that addresses the usual errors found on the prototype as well as several other improvements. Once they are with their owners, some who are swimming in all kinds of expensive switches and digital tomfoolery, and the feedback comes in, I may consider a more serious approach for a bigger production batch when the electronics supply issue has hopefully also recovered.


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