If you want proof that noise is the enemy of good streaming sound put the Network Acoustics Muon filter and cable between a network switch and a streamer and press play. The sonic benefits are not in the slightest bit subtle, it’s up there with a significant DAC upgrade. Stopping noise getting into a streaming system really does make that much difference. While the Muon Ethernet Filter and Streaming Cable can be bought separately the Muon Streaming System bundle consisting of both components offers a considerable saving on the combined price so this was the way the system was reviewed.
But to go back to the beginning we have to look at where this company started which was with the ENO network filter and cables, these have been on the market for a couple of years now and have impressed every reviewer that’s tried them, I’m also told that Network Acoustics have a very low return rate from customers who have the option of getting their money back. Chris Kelly and I have both been using the ENO noise killing system for some time now and would be very reluctant to give them up.
The Muon network filter is designed to sit between a streamer (or server) and a network switch and has a short length of ethernet cable fixed to the output, the input is a high quality Neutrik RJ45 socket to which you connect the (preferably) 1.5m Muon ethernet cable. The filter is passive, it doesn’t require power, and acts to stop electrical noise on the network from getting into the audio chain. It’s makers do not of course divulge how it does this and the unit is sealed to keep it a secret.
There are other ways of combatting noise on the network of course and we have looked at quite a few of them in the form of CAD’s Ground Control devices and more commonly network switches, the latter do a similar job to the Muon filter in terms of sound quality benefits albeit only the pricier examples have as powerful an effect.
The Muon Ethernet Cable is quite different in appearance to the ENO cable, it is slimmer and has two distinct cores that pass through small inline filters. The nearest RJ45 plug to this filter is the one that should be connected to the the Muon filter. Network Acoustics terminate the cable with high quality Telegärtner RJ45 plugs that have rather more sturdy locking clips than the all plastic variety. This doesn’t make them much easier to remove from the small spaces on the back of some devices however. The Network Acoustics products are all made by hand in the UK which obviously has an impact on price but hopefully on reliability and longevity too. Unusually the Muon Ethernet Cable is not available in lengths shorter than 1.5m and that was the length supplied for review.
The Muon filter is a fairly large device at 19cm long (7.5 inches) plus connections and a 50cm long captive output cable that connects to the streamer (or music server). It’s not metal as Network Acoustics are of the opinion that metal boxes do not engender good sound quality, quite the opposite in fact and my experience with products from Tom Evans and a few others (anyone remember DNM?) suggests that metal in general and aluminium in particular is not a sonically beneficial casework material. The Muon filter is neatly constructed and finished but not very fancy, what you are paying for is the research that has gone into building such an effective noise filter. The only issue I had with it is the same as I have with any box that has in- and outputs at opposite ends; how to place it on a rack?
Listening with Muon
My first experiment with the Muon Streaming System was to contrast it with a Melco ethernet cable between an English Electric 8Switch network switch and an Auralic Aries G1 streamer using Qobuz as the source. The immediate effect was a dramatic increase in openness, scale and ease, this was soon followed by a realisation that there was so much more detail being presented in a tremendously a nuanced way. With Ryan Adams and the Cardinals’ song Dear John the effect was to increase emotional impact and to render the tonal beauty of voices and instruments in enchanting fashion. I don’t think I have ever heard a streaming service feed sound so natural and warm.
The next step was to put the Muon system back where I usually make a connection to the internet, which is between the network switch and a Melco N10 music library, the Melco has its own ‘player’ output which is then connected to the streamer. Contrasting with the Melco ethernet cable again I played Chasing the Dragon’s Locrian Ensemble recording of Mendelssohn’s Octet. This time the change was less extreme but still highly beneficial with naturalness once again greatly increased and the tempo of the piece being much clearer, even the character of the instruments and the way they were being played became much easier to appreciate.
Putting a more familiar piece of music through the same comparison (The Man I Love by Herbie Hancock with Joni Mitchell) revealed a much cleaner, more open sound with real shine on the piano notes and an ease that meant the performance became that much more real. The phrasing of voice, piano and sax had more variety and even the way that the hi-hat was played became apparent, and that’s not something I have noticed in many years of using this track for reviewing.
The Muon Streaming System delivers a significant upgrade in transparency as a result of stopping noise from polluting the signal, this is why tone becomes so much more clear. You can make a system as revealing as you like but if noise is getting into the signal at the source all you will hear is signal plus noise, by reducing the latter Network Acoustics have made it a lot easier for the beauty of the music to shine.
Another contrast I made was to connect the Melco’s USB output directly to the DAC and see what difference the Muon elements made when compared with a Melco ethernet to the switch. The result was essentially the same as you might expect but possibly greater, once again openness was amplified and in the case of Crosby, Stills and Nash singing Helplessly Hoping that meant truly beautiful harmonies that sounded so natural and relaxed that it was like being there. I don’t mind admitting that this genuinely brought a lump to my throat.
Network Acoustics have made a significant contribution to the potential of streaming audio with Muon and anyone wanting to hear the full potential of their system should invest in one before considering other upgrades. This is true whether you stream from your own library or from streaming services, in fact it’s doubly true of the latter because the potential for noise is considerably greater. Network Acoustics’ ENO is very good but Muon is on the next level.