Are you CURIOUS? Network Acoustics muon pro Ethernet Filter Review?
This is a review written by Terry Ellis February 2024.
Is this something we need?
When it comes to reviewing HiFi, especially on YouTube where the viewer has the ability to voice an opinion in the comments section certain, I am going to call them topics of system performance are more taboo than others. I totally respect everyones opinion but as we all know certain topics incite very passionate people to comment without any specific or direct experience of the product being reviewed. They are of course topic experts and know the product couldn’t possibly make a difference and its of course just snake oil. I think HiFi networking related products fall very much into this criteria and can be extremely divisive. I would never expect my review to make a believer of anyone, but maybe it will speak to those who like me are open-minded and curious?
After spending many years building and optimising high end computer music servers, I found some of the biggest sonic improvements were achieved from the network, using different dedicated network boards designed for audio that had very extreme filtering of the signal and power. With clearly the best results coming from powering the boards with a very clean linear power supply. This experience made me very open minded to the notion of how the network can effect a high performance HiFi systems sound but thats inside the “component”. Outside I thought I covered the bases well enough too, however after recently gaining more experience with high end vinyl playback its strengths has been showing me some short comings of my digital setup and that made me curious about a lot of things.
In summary for this introduction, I do think network related products for HiFi are something we can benefit from, however I know its not as simple as just ticking the box as like with everything they are not all the same and not all created equal and that is likely where some of the contention comes from.
Clue in the name
Network Acoustics are a UK based manufacturer that have been in business since 2020 I believe and they have a broad range of products available covering networking, digital audio and more. They offer a 30 day money back guarantee which is ideal for customers as these are product types you will want to try and test for yourself with that extra security in mind.
Network Acoustics contacted me at the end of 2023 and asked if I would be interested to try some of their products with no expectation in return other than my thoughts an opinions, I decided to write this review in thanks to them but also to hopefully help you. I had seen a number of my peers say good things about Network Acoustics products so of course I was curious but I also considered there might be nothing new here for me given my current setup but unless we try we will never know.
It was suggested that I try the muon pro Streaming System which is two products the muon pro ethernet filter (£1595) and the muon pro streaming cable (£1,195). The combined system with a retail price of £2195 is an expensive setup for sure and my expectations were commensurately high. I didn’t need the streaming cable however as Network Acoustics suggest different setup and configurations to achieve better and best results I was thinking longer term here and with more flexibility to test different setups over time if that is possible within the review loan time period. Initially I was only interested in testing the muon pro ethernet filter.
Looking at the photos and then holding the muon pro in my hands tells you quite the different story. The muon pro is much larger than I was expecting it to be but also much lighter too. I was definitely expecting the opposite so that was the first surprise. Its a pretty straight forward device to use, one end has a network connection RJ45 input, the other end has an integrated cable with an RJ45 network connector output, so its very obviously an inline device. This is different to other network filters I have seen that don’t have the cable hardwired to the filter and there is an obvious pro and con here. The pro being you don’t need to worry about using another network cable, the con being you can’t pick and choose your favourite network cable if you already own a particular cable your fond of. One thing that definitely appeals to me is that the muon pro is a passive device, meaning it needs no power, so no power supply to think about and no extra cable clutter, mess and stress that comes along with that. Especially good if your OCD about power supplies and power cables like I am.
For some specifics Network Acoustics say the muon pro ethernet filter is rated to 1Gb/s has an 8 core architecture which seems fancy talk for any network cable four twisted pair design, maybe there is more to it than that, I hope so. More interesting is its hand built and wired using 99.99% UP-OCC conductors with a proprietary RFI and EMI filter system that I assume is the reason for the hard wired cable is so that the filter system continues all the way to the Telegartner Cat 8.1 RJ45 connector. If you are familiar with networks its hard to see too much here to be extra excited about so it really boils down to the effectiveness of the proprietary filter system and what does that do?
Filtering common sense
I think its important to initially think about a filter, what can and does a filter do within the network of a HiFi system. I liken it back to the water filter in my fridge, water goes into the filter and the same water comes out of the filter however the taste of the water should be better once the impurities in the water have been removed. Now the word should is powerful as you may prefer the harsher water straight from the tap but I don’t think so long term.
The reason this is such an apt example is because the digital signal that is flowing through our network is still the same signal once it passes through the muon pro filter, the filter cannot alter the digital audio signal in anyway so the music we hear will be the same. Bob Marley will still sound like Bob Marley and not like Pavarotti. The muon filter is there to remove nasties that are accompanying the digital audio signal through the connection to RFI and EMI emitting devices like the WiFi router or a network switch or other devices on the network.
I think this is where the biggest contention among audiophiles arises, they question whether noise can be transmitted from a router for example through a network to a music server and then onto and through a DAC into the analogue domain where we might hear it. Hear what, what are we listening for?
Its extremely important to think about this before any listening evaluation to HiFi networking products because you should not expect a change in the music and we don’t want a change in the music. What we are listening for or expecting to hear that is different is a more refined musical presentation and that is a really interesting one in itself because what does that mean. It comes back to what is better digital sound, some would say a more analogue like sound but that is just as vague. I listen for the clarity, timing and and organisation of the music, paying attention to the focus of individual elements of the music across the sound stage. Am I hearing better organisation or more of a wall / mush of sound in complex music pieces. I listen for the smoothness of the music and whether any parts are glaring or sounding brittle or harsh. I listen for the listenability, could I listen to this sound loud for long periods of time without fatigue and I compare music streamed from the cloud (Tidal in my case) to CD’s I have ripped and stored locally to see how they compare. Most importantly is the enjoyment factor, am I enjoying listening more or less and do I feel inspired to listen to more music or do I want to do something else.
A filter by its design is there to remove not to add, it can’t add to the sound of the music, only remove. But as the filter is not in the signal path it cannot ever remove anything from the music that is supposed to be there, it can only remove what is being added to the music by external sources like RFI from the router. So by that very notion the filter that removes the most from the sound we know is doing the best job and this is very important to think about because your brain can and will play tricks on you when listening. Psycho-acoustically its natural to think more is better and less is worse, however that cannot be the case here, less is always more with one exception. I have found some products that seem to reduce the systems overall noise floor can make the system sound larger and more dynamic but they don’t do it by making the system sound louder or brighter, that is a very important distinction. Some powered HiFi networking products I have tried seemed to make my system sound more exciting but also brighter and to me that has to be a sign of a flaw in the product in some way, so I am always listening out for this as it again can play a trick on you in the short term.
The boring but important bit
Networks are as personal as a HiFi system, each home will have a completely different setup so I can only give you my impressions from the network I have at home. My internet service provider is Virgin Media 1Gbps speed, they provide a “superhub” modem router to their customers but I only use it as a modem. Instead I use an Asus GT-AXE 16000 router which is a top of the line approx £550 unit. This forms part of an Asus Mesh WiFi system that connects wired to an Asus ET12 AXE 1100 mesh router that provides excellent WiFi coverage across my whole home. We don’t care about that here of course but on this network is a typical 4 person home amount of devices, multiple computers, phones, tablets and other smart devices. Most of them connect wirelessly but some are hard wired so its a busy but I think pretty normal used network.
About 8 years ago I renovated my listening room and ran two 15 metre Cat 6 network cables from the top of my home (where the router is) down into my listening room. One connects to the mesh router and the other connects to my music server. My HiFi network is very simple, just one cable from the router to the music server. All my music is either stored within the music server itself or for the testing for this review it was all streamed from Tidal.
The music server is of course important too, I am currently using and reviewing the JCAT XACT S1 which is likely the worlds most advanced computer based music server as it is the first to be fully linear and not use a computer motherboard with its undesirable switching components. JCAT are also the company that invented the high end network card for computer music servers so their expertise here is second to none. The XACT S1 has excellent attentions to details paid to its network filtering and clean linear power. I also have my own “reference” ethernet filter setup which includes an SOtM iSO-Cat6 (£500 approx) network isolation filter used with a JCAT Reference Lan Cable (£700). I have used this same ethernet filter setup for around 3 years.
The HiFi system I had here at the time of the review is the very epic Gryphon Essence Pre and Power amplifier (£36000) driving my Mission 770 speakers (£3500) that are easily transparent enough to show me enough of what might be happening as I make changes.
Both my reference and the muon pro filter setups were tested in the exact same way. The Cat 6 cable from my router would plug into the filter and the filter would then plug into the JCAT music server, so the filter is the very last thing before the music server. The only other thing to mention is I wrapped the end of the Cat 6 cable around a ferrite bead, this is something I did when I first installed the cable so for the no filter testing there is still has a ferrite bead in use, so a very basic filter.
Above is a size comparison between the muon pro and SOtM iSO-Cat6 filters
Listening comparison, testing Level 1
The muon pro was sent to me already run in but as far as I am aware it was a brand new retail sample before that. When I first installed it there was some of a “new” hesitation to the sound of my HiFi but the muon pro wasn’t the only relatively new component so I decided to let the system play for a few days before sitting down and listening. I then listened to the system for a few days before making any changes so I could get used to it and because I was really enjoying listening to it. The worst bit of this job is the need to keep changing things, the best bit is the sitting and listening to great system components so I have to balance the two to keep my sanity in check.
One thing that stood out to me about the systems sound was the ebb and flow of the music, it was easily as good as my high end vinyl setup and normally vinyl has the edge there. I was also really enjoying the up beat energy of the music without any negatives that can come along with that such as any listening fatigue due to digital glare or hardness that is common when you listen to very varied music from the cloud. I was also hearing a boldness in the bass and a quality of sound from the Mission 770 I had not heard them deliver before but I put that down to the exceptional Gryphon Pre Power being such high quality in relation to the speakers but there was more to it than just that I realised later.
The first test was to remove the muon pro and go back to a direct connection from the router to the music server and this was a very interesting change. At first the system sounded louder to me even though the volume on the preamplifier had not changed. There also seemed to be a more direct nature to the music, a more forward sound that was different but initially didn’t seem worse. I think this was because my brain was telling me more is better and more suited the quite rough produced music I was playing, some Queen Omega Reggae, the track No Love. However with extended listening I noticed the distinct loss of focus and organisation to the sound stage, it was more of a wall of sound at times. There was also some “roughness” to the vocals of TOKUNBO track Outer Space that I didn’t recall hearing before. The big shocker was listening through some seemingly quite heavily compressed tracks from a Tidal playlist of 2000’s Club Classics. La Roux track Bullet Proof was now pretty unlistenable at times because the very heavy sections of the track lacked composure and it was all a bit of an over intense mush. Overall I was still enjoying listening to the system but I wasn’t enjoying it quite as much as before as the refinement wasn’t as I recalled it but its still an excellent HiFi so it still sounded excellent and I wasn’t sure how much I was missing the muon pro, I think at this point I was content without it.
Next was the return of my “reference” network filter setup, as a reminder the SOtM iSO-CAT6 and JCAT reference lan cable and this straight away reminded why I was using this filter setup because some of the focus and organisation to the sound stage was back and it was less of a wall of sound when that is not the musics intent. With this being very easily audible in the La Roux track where now chaos was more a controlled anarhcy. The bass seemed to be more prominent or maybe just more well focused and there was very good energy to the music but there was something not right to me. I was getting some listening fatigue in tracks I had not been over the previous few days and there was just something not quite the same that I had a hard time putting my finger on. The SOtM seemed to be filtering the “mess” away well in some regions of the sound but maybe not as well in others and that got me to thinking more about the importance of the linearity of the filtering more so than its effectiveness. Maybe the iSO-CAT6 was filtering more at some frequencies than others, I have no way to know for sure but the sound just wasn’t clicking for me and I was not enjoying it as much, there was an edge to it that was unsettling despite lots of aspects being very good.
Last was to put the muon pro back into the chain and that was when I became the most impressed by its effects because it wasn’t necessarily doing more than the iSO-CAT6 it just seemed to be doing it more evenly, so that wonderful musical ebb and flow was back and the music sounded the cleanest, tightest and most focused and also the most see through the speakers onto the performance from the last few a hours of listening to the same tracks over and over again as I was making the changes. I also think there was more perceived bass punch and dynamics but that could well be me just being more into it the music and and noticing it more.
Level 1 conclusion
I am firm believer in giving praise where its due and Network Acoustics deserve praise for the muon pro ethernet filter because I found it to be very effective, in fact the most effective device of its kind for improving the sound of my HiFi system I have tested so far. A HiFi system of extreme high quality where you might expect it to be difficult to make any improvements just from the network but it did to me. I doubted it would make any noticeable improvement compared to the setup I was already using, to me passive filtering was passive filtering and I assumed I had that box already ticked, but I was wrong. I like making these kinds of discoveries even though they end up being expensive ones.
I think that is the reality here, £1595 for a device of this type clearly will not be for every audiophile or every HiFi system. If you are using a streaming amplifier that costs £2-£3k you might find it difficult to justify almost the same amount again just for a network filter and I would understand that completely. That is where a product like the Network Acoustics eno filter at £750 or the new SOtM iSO-CAT7 at £550 might make more sense as a starting point of exploration. Always making sure you can return them if you feel they do not add value to you and your system.
Value is the key word here, some will struggle to see the value in the muon pro because of what it is, not what it does and probably without even listening to it, that is a shame but its the audio world we live in. I think true value is not what something costs you, its how long you use it for and how much enjoyment you get from it in that period of time. Passive devices have no moving parts and there is nothing to go wrong so essentially the muon pro could give you a lifetime of use. Lets face it if your streaming a lot of music now that is unlikely to change in your future so a product that can improve every song you listen to, improve every hour of every listening sessions can give you a lot of value over time, so it is one worth considering investing in when the time is right for you.
That is likely the sad fate of a device like this, you get all excited for your upgrade, you install it hear the improvement are happy but then shortly after it becomes an out of sight out of mind upgrade but that is ok our HiFi systems are built on products like that, products we take for granted but are what make the difference to give us the extra special experiences time over.
Well maybe not if you take it to levels 2 or 3 with a very fancy networking switch like the Network Acoustics tempus but that is for another day maybe. I can very much recommend you try the muon pro ethernet filter and would recommend you listen to it, then remove it to test the difference but then then put it back in the system if you need to before making any final decisions on if its a keeper for you. Remember what you are / not listening for here, enjoy.
An Essential Audition Award is granted in recognition of a products high performance but with a certain uniqueness that makes auditioning even more essential.
For the full specification of the Network Acoustics muon pro ethernet filter please see their website linked here