p.s. I'm not talking about using the laptop for music. I'll be sticking with my (physical) CDs for the forseeable future.
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I don't think the wireless network gear has as much an effect on sound quality as the source/transport and DAC components do. Let's say you were using an Apple TV for a source. Feeding your DAC via toslink from your Macbook vs. networking the Apple TV to your Macbook's hard drive is an interesting comparison, but it introduces other variables, such as the Macbook's toslink interface vs. that of the Apple TV's, and the quality of the toslink cables.
You'd get greater differences in sound quality by switching out these components than you would switching out your wireless router. If there is a problem with the network, you will get sound dropouts, not a decrease in sound quality, IMHO.
Hi I think onhwy61 nails it. If you're in a neighborhood, vs out in the country, you likely already have several wireless routers penetrating your room, wires, and snooping on you...
Good quality interconnects and power cables/conditioning always seem to help...maybe it's this reason.
PS...have a cell tower close?
I found my old cordless home phone systems (I think 900 mhz and 1.2Ghz) were interfering with my wireless router. Every time a phone is in used, wireless connection would drop. I bought a DECT 6.0 phone system and it resolved the problem.
Last month I'm hard wired the DAC and music server to my router and surprisingly the sound improved dramatically over wireless.
My understanding is that a strong wifi signal, as received by an antenna that is designed to receive wifi frequencies, will be received with a power level in the rough vicinity of -50 dbm. That corresponds to 0.00000001 watts, at frequencies that are vastly higher than anything in the audio system is capable of responding to. And it would seem safe to assume that there is nothing in the audio system that is optimized for receiving those frequencies as well as a wifi antenna is.
So I wouldn't worry about it. And after purchasing the router you could of course perform a conclusive test by pulling the plug on it and seeing if you can perceive any differences.
A follow-up to my previous post: I would not rule out the possibility that RFI (radio frequency interference) or digital noise from the router, unrelated to (and at much lower frequencies than) the wifi signal it broadcasts, could couple into the audio system and have audible effects. The likelihood of that occurring would increase, of course, with decreasing separation between the system and the router.
The same effect is perhaps just as likely to occur with a router that does not include a wireless function, depending on the specific design and on the specific audio system and setup.
I would not place my audio gear physically close to any typical household computer or router due to potential for RFI type digital noise as Al alluded to. I tend to avoid wired connections as well just as a precaution.
Otherwise Wifi and other radio signals in the air should have no effect on the sound of most audio gear under normal circumstances. The proof would always be in the pudding though via testing with and without presence of suspect offending devices.
A Wifi network data connection from computer server to audio gear is an excellent solution for best isolating potentially noisy digital computers from audio gear that I strongly recommend when needed.
I had the same thoughts so tried switching off the household wifi while listening. I could not hear any change. My system has become more resolving since then so I might try it again sometime. Agree with the comments on isolating the system from some noise via wifi vs a wired connection, and I also think that an optical connection can potentially provide better isolation from other components than coax.