Bouncing off the walls of Hotel Irvine was chatter about a music server from New Zealand’s “Anti-poads”. No wonder PR dude Bill Leebens spells out the correct pronunciation at the top of each Antipodes press release: “An-TIP-uh-deez’.
“In geography, the antipodes (from anti- “opposed” and pous “foot”) of any place on Earth is the point on the Earth’s surface which is diametrically opposite to it.” That’s how Wikipedia explains it. For you and I, Antipodes means Australia and New Zealand.
Main man Mark Jenkins started with cables – digital then analogue – before taking the evolutionary steps into music server territory – another arena into which he can pour his obsessive audiophile tendencies.
In the music server realm, Jenkins’ main objective is to lower electrical noise. I recently reviewed his DX music server here. It sounds considerably better than a a Macbook Air or MacMini, even when appended with USB-S/PDIF converter and/or iFi USB power supply, thus reflecting Jenkins’ core belief that better to keep EMI/RFI as low as possible from the outset rather than attempt to correct it after the fact. So much for the marketing spin of DAC manufacturers who rely on bold claims about their hardware’s corrective capabilities!
Where things get really spicy is when you hear how the DX can almost level the playing field between affordable and more costly D/A converters. Choosing DAC and transport now becomes a dollar see-saw. Spend big on the DAC in the hope that it can make properly nourishing sound from a noisier, more jittery source (sauce!) or apportion more of one’s spend to the server knowing that it will give a more affordable D/A converter less noise and jitter to re-track.
A DAC-first methodology has the end user playing trial and error. Go the Antipodes route you’re greeted with greater certainty. And certainty is something that Jenkins has decided to expand upon.
On the rear of my DX review unit sits a 3.5mm analogue socket, originally implemented so that Team Antipodes could test each unit without first hooking up a USB DAC. Jenkins told me it sounded “pretty good” but being a 3.5mm stereo output it lacks audiophile credibility. Perhaps it was such subconscious snobbery that saw me to take a pass in favour of outboard units?
Mark Jenkins is a restless product developer but with the Antipodes range now streamlined and locked to three models, where to tinker? Feature expansion is where.
New for the DX’s Newport Beach appearance in 2015 is that same analogue output but fashioned to output over a pair of audiophile-approved RCAs. Now we’re cooking! Not only that: a jump to the left reveals a S/PDIF coaxial output.
A quick in-room A/B demo at Hotel Irvine – with Bricasti M1 DAC, Merrill Audio monos and Alta Audio Celesta FRM2 standmounts – revealed the S/PDIF output to lack the incision and clarity of the USB output but I can see how it might appeal to those who dig (ambiguous) terms like “musicality”. The USB output sounded better to this fella but additional options like this, especially those provided at no additional cost to the end user, are welcomed with open arms.
“We had [previously] looked at providing at least S/PDIF in our usual obsessive way but I became concerned that this would drive the cost and price up markedly. So it sat there as an option we did not see a way to pursue, unless we offered it as an option in place of USB when a customer wanted it,” says Jenkins in a post-show email exchange.
“However, in the process of developing the base server technology that we use in all of our server line-up, we did provide raw outputs for optical and electrical digital outputs, in case we wished to use these into an internal reclocker and then to a high quality output. Given how very simply we had done it, I had not listened to the S/PDIF output, and expected it to sound poor.”
“Listening to this basic S/PDIF output versus the USB output is very interesting. The USB has less obvious noise; with the SPDIF exhibiting some of the characteristic electrical S/PDIF dirty but warm colouration, that slightly obscures detail. But on the other hand the S/PDIF has a liquid and continuous musical flow that is extremely engaging. I personally prefer the precision of the USB, but have had two exceptionally good ‘ears’ tell me they prefer the SPDIF, and by a significant margin. It does depend on personal taste, digital cable used, and the DAC used, but the point is that even if you prefer the USB, the SPDIF is close and does not introduce any glare or harshness at all.”
“The thing is, the S/PDIF has no right to sound good but it does. Something in me does not want to spell out how it was done. Embarrassment I suppose. I had no intention of providing user access to it till I heard it. I may upgrade it one day and add AES as many have asked for that too. But since it is not put to shame by the USB output I simply went ahead when we made the USB board change.”
That’s good news then for those with legacy DACs that predate the modern world’s USB standard. Note though that source material with a sample rate above 96kHz is transcoded down to 96kHz.
“And finally – the DAC inside the DX. It is nothing much. I suspect any $2k DAC would beat it. We are just using the Realtek chip on the motherboard but with very good software. It does not obviate getting a good DAC, but it does allow you to happily delay getting one for a few months. Resolution and musical flow are good, but compared to adding a good DAC, there is a lack of dynamics and full tonal colour. Despite these shortcomings, the natural timbres, solid organic images and ease you hear with our servers are present.”
“What it has reinforced for me is that if you get the server right, up front, how easy it is for even very modest digital stages to do a great job. I am convinced that the difference between very modest and very good DACs diminishes greatly when they are fed a great digital signal.”
Amen to that. I could not agree more. The downside is that existing Antipodes server users might feel short-changed. Ah well, such is fall-out of progress.
Further information: Antipodes Audio
T.H.E. Show Newport 2015 coverage sponsored by LH Labs: