Toronto Audiofest 2022: Final Words and Observations

The Toronto Audiofest 2022 may not have been the busiest audio show I've attended, but it was still a success. It had plenty of new product launches, great-sounding rooms, and a good amount of traffic, especially on Saturday, when seats became a hot commodity in many exhibit rooms.

A few other observations: the sound of digital keeps getting better. Thanks in part to the advent of network switches and better Ethernet cables, digital has reached a new tier of performance. It has never before sounded this overall smooth, sweet, and analog-like organic—there, I said it! It's amazing how much quality digital sound you can get for your money nowadays.

Second, room treatment, and here I include room correction features in audio gear, seems to be a real thing now, by which I mean more audiophiles, gear manufacturers, and even the exhibitors I visit, seem to be taking this category more seriously than ever. And with good reason. Room treatments allow our expensive systems to perform nearer their potential in our run-of-the-mill, acoustically-flawed listening rooms. I think the tipping point has been reached; room treatments are destined to enter the audiophile mainstream.

Lastly, Toronto's Westin Airport Hotel doesn't serve calamari, and refused to serve me any, despite my whining, pleading and sobbing. I won't forget, Westin!

This is Rob Schryer, signing out. Back to you, Jim.

Dick Hamerbush's picture

Went to the show on Sunday; not too crowded, great exhibits, great people and conversations from everyone and I was glad to see everything out for display and listening.


The Toronto Westin is just a hideous place to have this type of show. Multiple floors with little to no directions - after an hour I had walked past the same booths 3 times and still couldn't find most of what I was looking for - because nothing was marked!

Next year if the organizers have a choice between the Westin or any number of Mississauga's fine homeless shelters and/or underground condo building garage parking lots in the Square One area I would ask that these options be given serious consideration.

RH's picture

I appreciate the show reports very much!

That said:

"Thanks in part to the advent of network switches and better Ethernet cables, digital has reached a new tier of performance."

Oh dear...I thought for a moment I had mistakenly wandered in to a Positive Feedback article. ;-)

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

Please see my review of the Nordost QNet ethernet / network switch in the pages of this very magazine. I daily hear what it accomplishes in my system... when I'm not in Warsaw, Chicago, or other exotic realms.

Ah, I can hear the refrain, "First it's cables, then it's equipment supports, and now it's network switches. What is the world coming to?"

Surprise. It's been there for a long, long time.

I'm eager to review other network switches in the future as time permits.

RH's picture


If you hold your hearing to trump any well-known engineering theory and practice, or lack of objective evidence (e.g. measurements that show the digital signal is actually changing using expensive USB cables or switches)...then what can anyone say? You can always say (and believe) "I Heard It!"

Stereophile could have easily tested if the digital file, or musical signal, was altered in any likely audible way with or without the Nordost Switcher. such tests were performed (just as they usually aren't performed on things like cables in Stereophile).

Nordost could show such evidence too if they had it. But I don't see such evidence on their site for the switch. Rather we see the typical mode for audiophile manufacturers: Give a technical-sounding story that is catnip for audiophiles, but instead of actually producing technical evidence, it's instead booted to the marketing department and released in to the audiophile world where some will dependably hear some difference or another. And thus the audiophile world goes 'round.

I'm not trashing subjective review magazines. I've been a stereophile reader since the early 90's and still enjoy it. I like the reviews and have been led to some great components via stereophile and other magazines. I just prefer to see claims in context in terms of the limitations in these reviews.

Some claims about audio gear are less plausible than others, and frankly audiophiles have been known to really believe some crazy stuff. You can find audiophiles saying "It Makes An Obvious Difference!" for literally every wild tweak any audiophile has dreamed up. So I think skepticism is justifiable in the face of some claims in audio, and looking for more than yet another anecdote (even an extended one in a magazine) makes sense.

John Atkinson's picture
RH wrote:
Stereophile could have easily tested if the digital file, or musical signal, was altered in any likely audible way with or without the Nordost Switcher...

No-one has claimed that data transmitted to a DAC via a network are altered by switches or routers. The Ethernet protocol allows for corrupted data packets to be retransmitted. If there are audible differences, the only mechanism that can lead to differences is the DAC's susceptibility to noise on the ground connection, noise that might exist despite the network cable using twisted differential pairs of conductors.

I have been thinking about how to test for this phenomenon, but without success so far. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

RH's picture

Thanks for the reply John!

These devices are sold to audiophiles with the explicit...or heavily implicit...promise they will reliably upgrade the sound of your audio system.

From Nordost:

"Whether you stream music and/or video from a local server, a NAS drive, or from the internet, upgrading your digitally-run system with Nordost’s QNET will make all the difference. This premium network switch will deliver enviable dynamic range, extension, and clarity to your system. As a result, the voices and instruments in your music will stand out against a surprisingly black background, giving you the fluid, life-like performance that you are looking for from your digital experience."

And...wonders never always seems the reviewers "hear" a sonic difference. (The same goes for Ethernet cables). When it comes to the explanation regarding "noise susceptibility" at the DAC end, it seems rather suspicious that so many people will just happen to have DACs so poorly engineered (or set-ups so problematic with noise) as to need these solutions. Let alone that this is such a reliable "problem" the claims made for such products make sense.

I look forward to any objective (measurements) and/or controlled subjective tests of such claims (blinded). Personally I'll remain skeptical until such evidence is presented.


Habanero Monk's picture

Sorry but what ground connection are you referring to? It can't be the Ethernet side of the fence since 99% of installations are wired with unshielded cabling and thus no ground plane.

Since these systems are highly buffered it's trivial to start playback and remove the cable. This can even be done blind.

Just an FYI I'm a dual CCNP, ACEP, and quite at home with broadcast A/V and PTP protocols like AES67, AVB, AES70, SMTPE 2110.

We could do a multicast setup, we could do 802.3ad, Roon has a multi-zone solution...

Let me know if setting up an evaluation rig at a show would work for you.

rschryer's picture could listen to a switch yourself and see if you hear a difference. If you do, would you need a measurement to corroborate it?

You know, the audiophile hobby was never about measurements, it was about the search for better sound, which is all about listening. The audiophile hobby grew from that practice.

Remember when Stereo Review thought good sound was all about measurements? It went out of business.

As for "...and frankly audiophiles have been known to really believe some crazy stuff", you're talking about JVS here. You either believe he knows how to listen or you don't. I know where I stand.

RH's picture

Hi, I appreciate your reply Robert.

" could listen to a switch yourself and see if you hear a difference. If you do, would you need a measurement to corroborate it?"


What I mean by that is: I don't feel I NEED to have measurable evidence in order to buy what I want. Like anyone else, that's entirely up to me as to whether I buy something for which there is strong evidence for the claims or not. However, IF I really wanted to have more justified confidence in concluding the claims made for the device are true, then yes I would certainly want stronger evidence than what other audiophiles are saying or, in some cases, than even my own perception in situations where I have not controlled for bias effects.

We really, really can imagine things. I know that seems strangely hard to swallow for so many people...but it's a basic truth about human perception.

If one is really trying to get to the bottom of whether something is changing the sound, there's no good reason to ignore these facts about human perception.

So for instance: A while back I switched music servers, from streaming my ripped CDs (uncompressed files) via iTunes to a Raspberry Pi server. I did not have any technical reasons to expect any sonic difference at all. And yet...upon switching I immediately "heard" a sonic difference! The new server sounded a bit more bright and brittle to my ears. This really bugged me because...again...wasn't expecting it, and I didn't want to take any steps backward sonically. However, I also understood the power of sighted bias (and that we can hear differences even when we aren't expecting to...they can occur simply by switches of our attention).

So I had an audio pal help me do a blind, randomized shoot out between the two (easy to do blinded because both servers were in a separate room from the listening room). The result? Once I didn't know which server I was listening to there was NO audible difference. No "brittleness" or "brightness" at all that I could discern for one vs the other. My guesses were utterly random.

That helped me put those worries away, and indeed my system did seem to sound the same as ever, after I put that worry away.

I've done numerous blind tests - sometimes I can reliably identify differences, sometimes not. And it's always educational.

But if a claim is technically dubious, and the "evidence" for the claims are more audiophile anecdotes about hearing differences, I think I'm quite reasonable in factoring in possible biases and would look for stronger evidence (e.g. measurable differences/people being able to identify differences when controlling for bias).

"You know, the audiophile hobby was never about measurements, it was about the search for better sound,"

That sounds like a strawman. Nobody has ever really thought audio was "all about measurements." The only point of measurements had to do with "what is audible and why things sound the way they do."
The relevance of measurements had to do with how they were correlated to The Sound.

"Remember when Stereo Review thought good sound was all about measurements? It went out of business."

Wait. If I have my history correct: Stereo Review was just one of the names of a magazine that started out in the late 50's and lasted all the way in to the late 90's where it eventually became Sound And Vision. That's one hell of a run!

Not to mention audio magazines were quite engineer/measurement oriented for much of their history. Examples like Audio Magazine ran from 1947 to 2,000! High Fidelity magazine from 1951 to 1989.
Both of those (and other) magazines brimming with measurements testing gear.

It would be pretty silly to imagine these long-running magazines were not representing what audiophiles cared about!

One could cherry pick from all the failed subjective review mags and say things like "Remember when Fi or Listener Magazine thought only subjective descriptions were needed in reviews? They went out of business!"

You'd immediately recognize the cherry-picking nature of that response just as I have in your example.

Also your own magazine does measurements as you know! Someone there - along with many readers - think they are important. (And to respond "well no one is saying measurements can't be useful" would be the point: just like no one thought audio was "just about measurements, not the search for better sound.")

"As for "...and frankly audiophiles have been known to really believe some crazy stuff", you're talking about JVS here. You either believe he knows how to listen or you don't. I know where I stand."

That's a false dichotomy and again doesn't account for listener bias. It's not "Either Jason is always reliable in what he reports" or "He's never right!" The truth is doubtless in between. Sometimes I have no doubt he is hearing and accurately describing real sonic differences. Other any human...he may be in error and falling to bias effects.

How to discern between them?

For me I just scale my confidence to the plausibility of the claim.
Is Jason comparing the sound of two different speakers? Ok, we know different speaker designs produce audibly different characteristics.
I can accept that. Is he describing the Amazing Upgrade In Sound for a network switch or Ethernet cable? Sorry...those are in the areas of disputed effects among people with the relevant technical knowledge. They are less obviously plausible, so I'd prefer to see stronger evidence for such claims. Basically using the heuristic "Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence."

Habanero Monk's picture

I've had three 'Audiophile' switches in situ and compared to my Cisco or Aruba or even TP-Link gear not one iota of difference.

I setup an 802.3ad lag on my Aruba switch with a dual homed computer, JRiver, and Emotiva Stealth DAC-1, AKG 701's HP's. No difference as I played back and literally unplugged network cables with no break in play.

So my standing offer is $4000 to someones $1000 to reliably tell in a blinded test. I'll trust your ears as much as you do.

RH's picture

Habanero Monk, the response to you will likely be: "Well, if you didn't hear a difference it can only be that your hearing is not as acute as mine, or your system is not resolving enough."

They can always claim to hear what you don't, and always believe they hear "what can not be measured."

And when you throw down the gauntlet proposing a blind test to see if they can really hear the differences, the excuses will start coming for dismissing the relevance of blind testing.

It's an unfalsifiable position. This is actually a dogmatic approach, though most don't realize it.

rschryer's picture

Why assume that Habanero Monk could hear a difference with a switch if there was one?

If I told you there's no difference in the taste between a lemon and a lime, and that I've made three such comparisons, would I be right? Or, if I said there was a difference, would the naysayers say that I'm delusional or implying to have a better sense of taste than they do?

Can Habanero Monk hear differences between cables, or do they all sound the same because a cable is a cable?

Exactly what side of the fence is Habanero Monk on?

And what about you RH, have you ever heard a difference between cables? If not, then okay, I get it. But if you have, where's the white paper that proves what you heard was real?

You know what, if you tell me you've heard differences between cables, I'll believe you. I won't think you're crazy, even without proof.

RH's picture

Thanks again for the thoughtful response Robert.

To be clear: I'm not espousing dogma. I don't think any audiophile needs to be especially rigorous in testing equipment with measurements or anything else. We all do this in the way that we enjoy. Personally, I'm just trying to keep my critical thinking cap on, especially in regard to the wide range of claims made by high end manufacturers.

First, I would take issue with the use of words like "delusional" and "crazy." Those are disparaging terms that need not apply.

It's one of the frustrating of these conversations that folks who take a very subjective approach to vetting audio gear - by that I mean putting trust in their perception above any objective evidence - presume that to question their results is to question their integrity or sanity. It makes the conversations more fraught then it should be.

Nobody has to be "crazy" to hear differences that aren't there; they just have to be human. Researchers don't use double-blind testing because the are controlling for insanity; they are simply controlling for well understood variables like human bias - their own as well as the subjects.

I can pretend that audio somehow lives in a bubble that protects it from the variables of placebo and other forms of bias that affect perception. So, when technical claims by manufacturers enter the zones of controversy, I keep the variable of perceptual biases in mind when evaluating the evidence available for those claims.

Does that seem unreasonable to you?

So in the example of your tasting a difference between lemon and lime, that seems entirely plausible. I don't know of any (food) scientist who would say there is no difference to perceive.
It's not an extraordinary claim.

It's like if you were cooking and reported to me that you added more salt and the dish then tasted a bit more salty. Of course it COULD be a bias effect - you taste more salt because you know you added some, even though it wasn't really a detectable amount. But in a practical sense since it's entirely plausible adding salt made the dish taste more salty, it's reasonable to just take your account.

On the other hand, if you told me you were practicing Homeopathic Cooking, and you "added salt" by adding a drip of water that had all the salt molecules removed but has a 'memory' of the salt...and then the dish tasted more salty...I'd be quite reasonable to be more skeptical of that claim and say "I'd want to see better evidence than your belief you tasted a difference." The variable of perceptual bias intrudes much stronger there in terms of assigning confidence to a dubious claim.

So it goes with things like cables, especially USB, Ethernet, Switchers etc. To the extent I understand how they work, the claims made for audible differences seem very dubious. And I've seen plenty of technically knowledgeable people break down why these claims are often based on nonsense. So when I see yet another audiophile claim to hear a difference between digital cables and the like, I'm going to want stronger evidence: a cogent technical explanation/measurable evidence/if necessary blind testing.

Like...for medical claims.

Again, I don't HAVE to have this additional evidence. I could just buy whatever I want, so can anyone else. But I have reasons to be more skeptical of some claims vs others.

I've "heard" differences with cable, for instance some expensive AC cables from a very well known brand. I could have sworn one AC cables "obviously" changed the sound of my system. BUT...since I understood perceptual bias and in this case I wanted to be more sure before spending my money, I had someone help me do a blind shoot out with an off the shelf cheap AC cable. Turned out those "obvious" differences were nowhere to be heard once I didn't know which cable I was listening to. None of the sonic signatures were in evidence.
I saved myself a bunch of money. If someone else wants to go only on what they perceive in such instances and ignore alternative explanations...that's fine. We are all free.

For instance, I hear differences when I roll tubes in my amps. I find the effect very convincing and enjoyable. Do I bother blind testing this? No for one thing that would be very difficult. For another...if it happens to be a bias effect (ha!) I'm ok with that.
However I'm hearing the difference, it's reliable and it's fun to tweak around with this stuff. I'll happily discuss the results of tube rolling with others who enjoy it. But I also won't call anyone skeptical about my reports "deaf" or a dogmatist for wanting more evidence than my say-so. I'll understand they may have reasons to be skeptical.


RH's picture

typo correction (editing function doesn't work for me):

* I can't pretend that audio somehow lives in a bubble that protects it from the variables of placebo and other forms of bias that affect perception.

Stevens's picture

Having mainly streamed for over a decade, and it was a bit rough to start, a decent switch along with fibre, clean power, low noise and good grounding all leads to really good digital. The Nordost switch is a bit rich for me, I settle for the EE8.

It is amusing that RH, who advertised his posts on ASR, has to reply to his fellow traveller Habanero because no one is rising to the bait, but a decent switch is part of a sensible digital system and the gains overall are blindingly obvious.

RH's picture

"a decent switch is part of a sensible digital system and the gains overall are blindingly obvious."

Which is the type of testimony one can find for literally every audiophile tweak ever proposed or sold.

This switcher has plenty of audiophiles thinking it makes "obvious" sonic improvements too:

The points isn't "all tweaky stuff is b.s." The point is that a lot of audiophile tweaks slide in to snake oil/dubious territory, and since you can find enthusiastic testimonials for ALL of them, mere testimonials aren't reliable if you really want to get at the truth of the matter. That's why break downs like the above, technical measurements, controlled listening tests etc can become additional helpful information.

Habanero Monk's picture

All I can do is put up my own $$ at a 4:1 ratio.

What I'm relying on is that I'm both a network engineer for a Bell company and have a professional background in A/V production and also a hobbyist builder with measurement gear.

My offer of $4K to your $1K stands. My preference is to remove the room from the equation and do this with headphones.

Again I'll trust your ears as much as you do. Talk is cheap.

Anton's picture

Much appreciated.

rschryer's picture

Thanks, Anton.

David Harper's picture

Could anything be less important than the imagined "sound quality" of digital switches and cables? Nothing that I can think of. I understand that audio reviewers have a vested interest in convincing readers that they actually hear these differences. And I think that said reviewers sincerely believe they hear these differences. So when rschryer says he hears a difference (or, more accurately, he thinks he does) I take him at his word. What's important is for every reader to grasp the fact that the audible differences described in these reviews is not a matter of demonstrable fact. As has been pointed out over and over in the past when subjected to properly designed blind tests these differences always disappear.

rschryer's picture it as simple as you not being able to hear certain differences and it pisses you off? It's not impossible.

teched58's picture

One can believe whatever one wants.

However, if one expresses in public the viewpoint that Ethernet cables and network switches change the sound, and that audiophiles should spend their retirement savings on said gear, that is called -- to quote the latter part of an old saw with which we are all familiar -- speaking and removing all doubt.

rschryer's picture

No one's asking anyone to spend their retirement savings on a switch. Buy one for $500 and see if you like it. If you don't, send it back.

ChrisS's picture

There has never actually been any "properly designed blind tests" where "these differences always disappear"...

You just made that up.