Cable Monkey

Jcat Net FEMTO nic

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My system:

ITX based Roon Server running ROCK. Music held locally and on a NAS.

Teac NT-505 DAC/streamer

Ropieee powered Pi3+ with official Pi 7 inch screen as display/control only

These are connected by a TP-Link 5 port unmanaged switch. Internet and NAS is into the WAN port via an Ethernet over power plug. The Teac is set to be a pre-amp and uses its balanced outputs straight into a NCore NC400 dual mono power amplifier. Speakers are custom 10 inch Tannoys. After some tweaking I got a sound I was very happy with. 

Recently, while poking around some of the deeper recesses of the Internet, I found a discussion on a nic card of which few claims were made other than the promise to enhance computer audio. Having played around a lot with USB up until the arrival of the Teac, I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole of additional boxes just to get a good sound. But this peripheral card was slightly different in that it just slotted into the PCIe slot of a PC and was supposed to bring about an improvement over the on board nic all modern PC’s come with these days. After some internalised discussion which I admit may have involved name calling and other insults I finally decided to give the card a try. At €435 at today’s exchange rates (thanks a bunch Brexit!) it would represent the most expensive individual part of my PC setup, including a powerful gen8 Intel processor, a 2gb SSD for storage and a branded multi-rail linear PSU. But I pressed the button and made the purchase anyway.

A week later, having played hunt the parcel with UPS I had the card in my possession. I listened to a few tunes then shut down my server. I fitted the card, powered it from my linear PSU, entered the bios on boot up to disable the on board nic and fired the machine up. Roon instructed me to de-authorise the old core (due to a change of MAC address I presume) and I had Roon back up. I cued a familiar tune, pressed play and... wow! Basically, omitting any audiophile superlatives, I was taken back by how much the presentation felt like it had changed. Now I’d like to qualify this by stating that nothing I’d ever changed in a PC or HiFi had made such a big change to presentation. And I am at pains to state that I am not saying it was better. I am saying it had definitely changed. I listened for a couple of hours, during which it seemed to get tighter and better focussed. Then I walked away. I have a HiFi and a marriage to maintain!

So as is the norm, work then proceeds to be crazy. It is 48 hours before I can get back to listening.  On placing myself back in the chair and hit play I note a couple of things. The thing that stands out is in the bass region. A little tighter and better defined perhaps. I also have a sense that the sound stage has changed. I say this because I listen near field in a tiny room and that distorts the stage somewhat. But it has changed. And so, 72 hours in those are my initial feelings about this card. At the moment I feel it is having a beneficial impact. I’d like to get to the bottom of why that is. So with that in mind I will be following this up with further posts. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

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