• Extending A Network For HiFi

    More and more music lovers are using Ethernet or wireless audio components to enjoy both serious and background listening experiences. Many of us are fortunate to have a robust network near our audio components. We find the components we want to use, whether that be Sonos, Bluesound, microRendu, or dCS Rossini etc..., and drop them into our homes without a second thought. On the other hand, many music lovers live in places where wired Ethernet can't be run to the appropriate location within the residence or wireless can't penetrate the walls well enough to stream lossless audio. 

     

    I've seen and heard about some whacky "solutions" thought up by many audiophiles to work around these unfortunate circumstances. Based on these experiences, I decided to do the research and come up with recommended hardware that people can purchase off the shelf, for a very reasonable amount of money, to solve the nonexistent or shoddy network issues. 

     


    The Problem

     

    Here are some use cases this article was designed to address. This list is far from exhaustive. 

     

    1. I want to use a HiFi device that only supports wired Ethernet, such as the Sonore microRendu, dCS Rossini, or any number of DACs. 
    2. My audio device can supports wired and wireless, but requires a specific USB adapter for wireless that is less than ideal and I'd rather stay away from wireless if possible. Plus, I don't have wired Ethernet near my audio system.
    3. I need a wired network connection to control my music server, even though the music storage for playback is all local to the server.
    4. I have a wireless only audio device and the wireless signal strength isn't strong enough where I want to place the device. 

     

     

     

     

    The Solutions

     

    There are two straightforward solutions to this problem. The first is to extend one's wired network via powerline networking devices. The second is to extend one's network via a wireless range extender. Both solutions can work great and both solutions have many options. On the contrary, both solutions can fail miserably or not come with little added features that make life easy. 

     

    My recommendations below are based on researching the potential solutions, purchasing what I think are the best solutions, and extensively testing these solutions in a HiFi setting. I have no doubt that there are other solutions that will work just as well or not at all. I'm also certain that the following recommended solutions will not work in all situations. Some home power lines or configurations or building materials just aren't conducive to anything related to computer networks. 

     

    In addition, I'm certain that the recommended solutions have zero negative effects on audio playback quality in my system. Meaning, I can't hear a difference between these two solutions and the $13,000 Cisco / Ruckus network I had in place during these tests. I can't say what the experience of others will be, but I can at least state that this is my experience. 

     

     

    Solution A: End-to-End Wired Ethernet with the TP-Link AV2000 Powerline Adapters $100

     

     

    TP-Link AV2000 People looking to use wired connections only, for better or worse, should consider the TP-Link AV2000 Powerline Adapter Kit (TL-PA9020P KIT) for $100. I my testing this kit was substantially slower than its rated speed, but never caused a problem for music playback. Technically this kit could achieve 2 gigabit per second speeds, but in my house I averaged between 175-200 megabits per second (image). Given that I was only testing this system for high resolution and streaming music playback, the achieved speeds were more than enough. I successfully streamed gapless PCM at 24/352.8 and DSD128 without a single issue. 

     

     

    Below is a diagram of the configuration in my house while testing the TP-Link AV2000 Powerline Adapters. My house was built in 1941 and contains a mix of original and circa 1990 electrical wiring. The main electrical panel has been updated since the house was built. My guess is that it was also installed around 1990. The total length of electrical wiring between the powerline adapters was less than 100 feet. All of this can matter greatly, due to how powerline networking functions. 

     

    To state the obvious, powerline networking uses one electrical power wires to carry Ethernet packets. The recommended TP-Link AV2000 uses the latest HomePlug AV2 standard. This means it's compatible with a host of other devices that also meet this standard and should work with devices meeting the earlier HomePlug AV standard (version 1). 

     

    Getting back to the age and length of electrical wiring, powerline networking performance is similar to wireless in that it degrades over distance and certain obstacles. One of those major obstacles is circuits. Powerline signals degrade are attenuated by roughly 20 dB for every circuit breaker they traverse. In my situation, the signal was attenuated by 40 dB because it traveled through two breakers. 

     

    Circuit breaker caused attenuation is one factor, but the length and health of electrical wires can also degrade the Ethernet signal as can other devices on the same circuit. Noisy switching power supplies from many of our devices can cause signal attenuation similar to appliances such as a refrigerator or air conditioner. Of note with the AV2000 is its built-in passthrough AC port. This is a great feature, but provides direct access to inject noise on the AC line, that is essentially the Ethernet wire. According to all powerline adapter manufacturers I've seen, using a surge protector or power stripe is not recommended.

     

    One item of concern for newer homes may be use of AFCI or Arc Fault circuit breakers. These can cut performance of powerline networking by as much as 50%. According to Wikipedia, "AFCI breakers have been required for circuits feeding electrical outlets in residential bedrooms by the electrical codes of Canada and the United States since the beginning of the 21st century; the U.S. National Electrical Code has required them to protect most residential outlets since 2014, and the Canadian Electrical Code has since 2015."
     
    Powerline adapters such as the TP-Link AV2000 should be plugged into a three pronged / grounded outlet because the grounding prong can actually be used for Ethernet signal transmission. During my tests, I originally connected one unit to a grounded outlet and the other to an outlet with an adapter missing the ground prong. After fixing this "issue" I re-ran the same tests and found zero difference in performance. 

     

    Using the AV2000 adapters in my house was really easy. I plugged them in and pressed the "Pair" button. In a few seconds I can a live Ethernet connection over my power lines. These units come with a software utility for configuration and display of network speed between the devices. In my testing, for the purposes of playing music, I found the configuration options to be needless. I tested switching the Quality of Service from Internet to Online Game to Voice over IP to Audio or Video, but noticed to measurable difference performance. This may be likely due to the fact that QoS isn't really needed on a network without much traffic. 

     

    A nice feature of the AV2000 is its dual Gbps Ethernet ports. This enabled me to connect two audio devices such as the Sonore microRendu and dCS Rossini. Of course, should more ports be needed, I could have easily added a small switch. The size of this unit is a bit large in that the top covers the bottom of the outlet above, assuming it's installed in the bottom of a duplex outlet. Only a two pronged device will fit above the AV2000, but the built-in AC passthrough port will accept a three pronged device. 

     

    One final note for those worried about injecting noise into their audio playback chains. The AV2000 essentially gives you an Ethernet jack in a location where you need it. Thus, you can use a fiber converter to isolate your audio components from all electrical signals related to the powerline adapter. The signal would go from the AV2000 to a fiber converter to a fiber cable and back to a converter to an Ethernet cable for connection to the audio device. 

     

    Full name of the kit (pair of two units) I recommend - TP-Link AV2000 Powerline Adapter Kit, 2-Port, Gigabit w/ Power Outlet Pass-through, up to 2000Mbps (TL-PA9020P KIT) - $100

     

     

     

    AV2000

    click to enlarge


     

     

     

     

     

    Solution B: Extending the Network with a Wired and Wireless Combination Using the TP-Link AC2600 Dual Band Wi-Fi Range Extender w/ Gigabit Ethernet Port $145

     

    This a very interesting solution, and the solution I prefer, for three reasons. 

     

    1. It can be used to extend one's wireless network in the case of a week signal.
    2. It can be used to place a wired Ethernet port in any location and connect the Ethernet device to one's network via wireless.
    3. It's much faster than wired powerline networking in my house.

     

     

    TP-Link AV2000 In my testing, I used the TP-Link AC2600 Dual Band Wi-Fi Range Extender, not for my wireless devices, but to connect my Ethernet based audio devices. The name of the device says Range Extender, but for HiFi purposes the real benefit is to place an Ethernet port near an audio system, without requiring an Ethernet cable run to anywhere else in the house. The signal path goes from a device like the dCS Rossini to the RE650 via wired Ethernet, then to the rest of my main wireless access point (ASUS RT-AC3200, Asuswrt-Merlin firmware v380.66_4, in AP mode) and on to the rest of my network (see diagram below). This eliminates any physical connection, for good or bad, between the network devices. 

     

    Using a couple different wired Ethernet audio devices connected to the RE650's Ethernet port, I successfully streamed gapless PCM at 24/352.8 and DSD128 without a single issue. In fact, I'm writing this article on, and streaming audio to, my iMac that's connected to the RE650 right now. It works for high resolution audio, streaming audio, and anything else I've tried over the network. Absolutely zero issues. 

     

    What surprised me most about the RE650 was its speed. For the heck of it, I ran an internet speed test while connected to each solution and without either solution (directly connected to my switch). My direct connection to the switch (and on to the internet) was the fastest, reaching speeds of 929.45 Mbps download and 934.34 Mbps upload. The AV2000 powerline adapters performed at speeds of only 43.82 Mbps download and 51.62 Mbps upload. The RE650 was much faster than the AV2000, reaching speeds of 279.29 Mbps download and 641.68 upload. Given that the speed of the much slower AV2000 was fast enough to play all my high resolution audio, I am certain the increased speed of the RE650 isn't needed, but it's nice to know I could add several more devices on to the RE650 without a perceived drop in performance to my audio playback. 

     

    Direct AV2000 Test RE650 Test

     

    click to enlarge
     
     

    The RE650 supports both 2.4GHz and 5.8GHz wireless bands. This means that it can connect to the existing wireless network on either band and it can connect wirelessly to a client on either band. During the easy setup procedure it's possible to select which band to it should connect to and the client device can also select which band as long as SSID names are separate. Setting the RE650 to connect to the main wireless router on one band and clients connecting to the RE650 on a different band is highly recommended. Because I didn't connect to this device via wireless, I can't offer any feedback here, other than to say a major performance hit can be taken if the same band is used. 

     

    A really cool feature of the RE650 is ability to restrict which devices can connect to it via wireless. For example, if you only want audio related devices connecting through the RE650, you can blacklist (or whitelist) devices or set time based permissions. In house full of network connected devices, this may be very nice. 

     

    One final note for those worried about injecting noise into their audio playback chains. The RE650 essentially gives you an Ethernet jack in a location where you need it. Thus, you can use a fiber converter to isolate your audio components from all electrical signals related to the RE650. The signal would go from the RE650 to a fiber converter to a fiber cable and back to a converter to an Ethernet cable for connection to the audio device. 

     

    Full name of the device is TP-Link AC2600 Dual Band Wi-Fi Range Extender w/ Gigabit Ethernet Port (RE650) - $145

     

     

     

    RE650

    click to enlarge

     

     

     

     

     

    Wrap Up

     

    Over the course of my tests of the TP-Link AV2000 and TP-Link RE650, I was 100% satisfied with each devices' performance for audio playback and stability. I successfully pulled high resolution PCM and DSD128 from my NAS to different audio endpoints over both wireless and powerline networking, without a single issue. Both technologies worked in my house and I highly recommend people try either one, based on some of the information above. If you have old electrical wires or AFCI circuit breakers, it may be advisable to go with the wireless option. I know some people are absolutely against wireless in their homes, thus making the wired powerline solution a better choice. If your house is similar to mine, you can't go wrong with either solution. That said, only you know the makeup of your residence. No wireless is going to penetrate concrete walls well and no powerline network is going to fend off all the potential attenuators inherent in a home. However, for $100 - $150, the cost of entry is fairly low and the potential benefits are priceless. Music in one's house is worth much more than the cost of these devices. 

     

     

     

     

    6




    User Feedback




    If the powerline adapters are using the same power circuits as the hifi component, would the power circuits be affected by electrical noise or harmonics 

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    I was just looking to do this so I could use my endpoint to play music out back.  These are both great solutions.  Thanks for the info.

     

    As a side note,  I was looking at the KEF LS50 Wireless speakers as an option.  Are you aware of any other similar speakers?

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    1 hour ago, agentsmith said:

    If the powerline adapters are using the same power circuits as the hifi component, would the power circuits be affected by electrical noise or harmonics 

     

    There are switching power supplies in both the RE650 and AV2000 units. These supplies would inject some noise back into your power line like any SMPS. 

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    1 hour ago, esimms86 said:

    What about (admittedly expensive but essentially bulletproof) options like EERO?

     

    I believe eero would work in place of the wireless solution I recommend, but you'd need at least two eero devices to make it work like it should. That would be roughly $300.

     

    I've been thinking about trying eero. I've heard great things. 

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    Nice review @The Computer Audiophile!

    I personally use the TP-Link RE450 as a wireless adapter. IME connecting the RE450 to a Isolation transformer with floating secondary and using a battery powered (w/disconnected charger) AQVOX switch-8 between the RE450 and my Aries Mini had a huge impact on sq with Tidal as source.

    Also powering the router with a floating LPS is highly recommended.

     

    I had great use for the black list settings to ensure that the rest of the family did´nt connect to my RE450. I also set the RE450 on a separate channel with static ip and DHCP off.

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    23 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Excellent info. Thanks for the comments. 

     

    You´re welcome! :) In my experiments with this specific network chain it is extremely important to use a battery powered network switch with disconnected charger while listening to music. In my "simple" B setup (see signature) this was also constistant with the D-Link DGS-105 network switch. In this setup I use a TP-Link pocket router in client mode instead of the RE450 (same same, but different). Also important to note that this have only been tested with Tidal as source where all the music bits are passing through the whole network chain. The result listening to locally stored music could vary.

     

    As a side note grounding the network switch via the GND screw in the back of the switch was also an eye opener.

     

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    My experience using the TP-Link AV2000 was similarly positive.  Running Ethernet cables through a second floor apartment in a 3 story building constructed about 1910 was not an option. I used the TP-Link to connect my Roon Core (a Mac Mini) via the DSL Router/Apple Time Capsule in the dining room to the MicroRendu in the living room.  It runs 24/192 without a hiccup.

     

    Before this I tried using an Apple Express as an Ethernet Wi-Fi adapter.  It only worked for 16/44, with anything higher bandwidth causing Roon to freeze every few minutes.

     

    My power lines are old and supply a window AC and refrigerator.  Even though they're about as noisy as it gets, the SQ is great--far better than supplying my DAC from the Mac directly.  I haven't strung an ethernet cable across my apartment to compare wired versus power line ethernet. It's a worthwhile experiment, but I choose not to know since it's not a permanent option and I choose to be happy.  Does the combination of Microrendu with a Uptone Audio Ultracaps LPS-1 effectively shield the DAC from power line noise?

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    1 hour ago, AvilleAudio said:

    I haven't strung an ethernet cable across my apartment to compare wired versus power line ethernet. It's a worthwhile experiment, but I choose not to know since it's not a permanent option and I choose to be happy.

     

    I love this statement. I'm in the same situation with many things here.

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    8 hours ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

     

    I believe eero would work in place of the wireless solution I recommend, but you'd need at least two eero devices to make it work like it should. That would be roughly $300.

     

    I've been thinking about trying eero. I've heard great things. 

    I've had Eero since the very beginning as an early adopter.  It's the BEST money I've ever spent on my network.  I have 6 of them and they're amazing.  I have no dead spots, DSD512 can easily be streamed and I've had up to 25 wireless devices going all at once with no issues.  I can't recommend them enough!

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    22 minutes ago, jtwrace said:

    I've had Eero since the very beginning as an early adopter.  It's the BEST money I've ever spent on my network.  I have 6 of them and they're amazing.  I have no dead spots, DSD512 can easily be streamed and I've had up to 25 wireless devices going all at once with no issues.  I can't recommend them enough!

     

    Great to hear!

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    I think a better option to Powerline networking is MOCA (Multimedia over Coax).  Won't work if your have satellite instead of cable (due to the higher frequency's satellite tv operates on which would interfere with MOCA networking) however.  I've tried both and found MOCA to be faster and more reliable.  In fact my TIVO Bolt has it built in... fwiw

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    I, too, can recommend MoCA, particularly v2 and up, and I have used it for years.  CAT6 and fiber optic cables being installed now will soon make it superfluous. :D

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    5 hours ago, jtwrace said:

    I've had Eero since the very beginning as an early adopter.  It's the BEST money I've ever spent on my network.  I have 6 of them and they're amazing.  I have no dead spots, DSD512 can easily be streamed and I've had up to 25 wireless devices going all at once with no issues.  I can't recommend them enough!

    Agree as an early adopter of the Eero.  I've one wired into my Cisco smart switch (along with MacMini, dCS Network Switch, and QNAP NAS) collocated with audio system.  The other Eero's include one wired into an upstairs arrangement of Cisco switch and cable modem, while another supports a microRendu and Audio Alchemy DDP-1.  No glitches or sonic degradation found.  May move the QNAP upstairs if it ever becomes a sonic issue (so far I never hear it at all, unless I'm adding music to it or Roon needs to rescan the music folder), which is very infrequent.

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    14 hours ago, Pedro Romão said:

    Been there, tried both before and in my case went for a third option (although only valid if you have a pre-installed tv-cable: MoCa (Ethernet over Coaxial).

    Works perfect, no speed issues and unlike the solution over power line, I cannot detect sound degradation.

     

    I agree with Pedro.  I’ve been down the powerline path and find MoCA to be a much better solution.

    I’ve been using an Actiontec Dual-Band Wireless Network Extender and Ethernet Over Coax Adapter Kit (WCB3000NK01) for several years now. 

    If you have coax in the vicinity of your router running to your hi-fi rack this solution will work great.

    The outlet end has two Ethernet ports and serves as a wireless extender.  My notebook via wi-fi in the basement is just as fast as my desk top connected via Ethernet to the router on the second floor.  Plus, I use one of the Ethernet ports on the Actiontec to connect to a Ethernet switch so the Home Theater PC, the Oppo, and the PS-3 can all have a hard-wired Ethernet connection. 

    If you don’t need the wireless extender feature consider Actiontec’s Bonded MoCa 2.0 Ethernet to Coax adapter.  This setup claims speeds up to 1Gbps.

    Either system is about $150.

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    I've never found range-extenders to work particularly well. Their advantage is that they are easy to set up, but they don't have good connectivity (hard to connect, frequent drops) and they are slow (slower than directly connecting to the network which they purport to extend).

     

    The better solution, and one that's preferred by knowledgeable IT types, is simply to set up a WAP (wireless access point). The physical part of this is easy; however, configuring it is a pain, and can be a frustrating experience.

     

    So, physically,  all you need to do is take an extra router (your generic Linksys wrg54t is fine), and put it in the room or area lacking decent wireless coverage. You need to have one Ethernet line running into that room, and you plug the Ethernet cable into one of the numbered connections in the router. (I.e., it's counterintuitive--do NOT plug the Ethernet into the "internet" input on the router. Plug it into either "1," "2," "3," or "4." (doesn't matter which)

     

    Now, of course you lose the availability of that nice, high-speed wired Ethernet connection into that room, but you will replace it with the ability of any device in the room to connect wirelessly to the WAP, which that router will become once you configure it.

     

    OK, so how do you configure it as a WAP? The main thing to remember is you have to turn off DHCP for that extension router (NOT for your main one). I mention this cause one of the links below doesn't mention this, and to me it's the main thing you need to know.

     

    The other big challenge is "finding" the admin screen for the extension router (so you can turn off DHCP and also set up a password for it. I recommend a separate password from your main network, otherwise it might bounce between the weak original signal and this stronger new one). Note, annoying that many (most) routers will not let you do initial setup in situ, so you may have to take this WAP router and connect it directly via a short Ethernet cable and then it will let you access the admin screen. (After it's been set up, then you'll be able to find it on the network like any other device.)

     

    I would add that, if you don't know anything about PCs or IT, these articles might only get you 90% of the way there, because in my experience there's always some nit they don't address. 

     

    Personally, I would go with a Linksys (although their article below is not how i experienced setup; it doesn't mention DHCP. Maybe they've made their admin software more "for dummies," I don't know. I would also suggest staying AWAY from Belkin routers. They have a "one button" setup which makes it impossible to reset the thing as a WAP.

     

    Anyway, hope this helps. Here are some links:

    http://www.linksys.com/us/support-article?articleNum=136548

     

    http://www.tp-link.com/us/faq-417.html

     

    https://www.cnet.com/how-to/how-to-turn-an-old-wi-fi-router-into-an-access-point/

     

     

     

     

     

     

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    Hi @garrardguy60 Thanks for the info, but this article is written for situations where a wired Ethernet connection can't be made. 

     

    If someone can run an Ethernet cable, then I'd recommend a totally different solution from what I mentioned in this article. 

     

    By the way, did you see the performance of the RE650 wireless extender in my system? Really great. 

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    Thanks so much for this article as it speaks to a need I have been turning over in my head.  I am using a Mac Mini with Audirvana/USB drive and I would like to remove the Mini for a more purposed device such as Rendu/Aries around those price points with my USB DAC.  The RE650 and EERO look like interesting solutions opening up options to use an ethernet based solution.  

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    This article is timely, and proved helpful to improve my tplink AV1000 powerline performance.

     

    I was getting 300-400 Mbps throughput before reading this article, with the tplink plugged into a two-prong ungrounded outlet.

     

    When I plugged it into a three-prong outlet, throughput increased, to always >450, and sometimes >600 Mbps. There is less grunge on the three-prong as well.

     

    Thanks for the tip Chris!

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    I get flawless operation streaming DSD256 (about 3 megabytes a second?) from my server to an NAA with a lowly $40 TP-LINK extender that only operates at 2.4g. In my rural area though there isn't a single other network in range so interference is relatively low. With all my other devices connected to the 5ghz band of my actual router, even heavy wifi use elsewhere has no effect on the stream. As for sonic benefits, well, getting the server out of this room is a tweak I *can* hear. Very happy when something like this "just works"...a rare pleasure. 

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    I was going to comment in the same sense as garrardguy60. I'm considering to add a second router and add just it to the network. However, since I've got good WiFi reception at the location (just want wired connection to TV, NAS and stereo) I would have it hanging via WiFi. Don't see why it wouldn't work.

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