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Reference-grade Roon with the Antipodes DX Gen 2

  • The quiet life. Some of us crave it sooner or later. However, the lure of the big city comes at a price. Being close/r to the action means more people and higher living densities. That spells more daily noise than we’d hear elsewhere: the roar of traffic, the whir of trains, the clang and thunder of construction sites, the boom-boom-boom of nightclubs and (if we’re truly unlucky) neighbours.

    A consumer grade PC or Mac is the digital audio world’s big city. There are many things to see and do but it comes at a price: noise. Here though it’s electrical, not mechanical. Neither Apple nor Asus have electrical noise in mind when designing their laptops or towers and DACs connected via USB allow that noise to degrade the bitstream signal’s integrity. The result is audible. In the worst of cases, music takes on an anemic quality with noticeable treble glare.

    Adding a band-aid fix such as a USB filter or re-clocker is akin to choosing an apartment by the freeway and having the local council erect a 15ft high wall to stem the intrusion of traffic noise. It works – but only to a point.

    For the quiet life proper we must move to the suburbs or, better still, the country, where ambient noise is considerably lower than the city.

    Such thinking runs parallel to that of Mark Jenkins, the CEO and founder of New Zealand’s Antipodes Audio. When Jenkins designs music servers, electrical noise handling is his number one priority. His reasoning: better to have low noise from the outset than expect the downstream DAC to deal with it.

    Each server model’s motherboard, RAM, CPU, hard-drive and USB audio card are selected based upon their electrical noise profile and how they sound. Jenkins says he listens as much as he measures.


    Completing the hardware picture is a custom-wound transformer that feeds a bespoke power supply that is “regulated, linear and designed to shift residual noise out of musical bounds” to ensure the USB output has the cleanest (low noise) power feed possible.

    There I’m quoting from my own review of the (since discontinued) Antipodes Audio DS Reference server, penned for 6moons in early 2014. The conclusion? A server/streamer designed to meet audiophile sensitivities – the DS Reference – can sound better than one that isn’t – a Mac Mini.

    Back on the Mac (and as any Audirvana+, Amarra or Pure Music proponent will tell you), the specifics of how music playback software is coded, as well as the background processes permitted to run on the host OS, all contribute to a computer’s sound quality (or lack thereof).

    Similar thinking is applied by Jenkins to his servers. From Ethernet input to USB output, the audio signal is handled by a fork of Fedora Linux customised by the Kiwi with signal optimising, jitter-reducing scripts and several buffer/re-clocking stages.

    A carefully designed computer tasked only with music storage and playback – and nothing else – can sound superior to a fully tricked-out Mac or PC.

    Re-affirming this finding in 2015 was Aurender’s N100H. And again, Antipodes Audio’s flagship DX, which is a cut above its rival in price and performance. Less so on looks.

    Readers are advised to catch up on the DAR-KO Awarded DX here, on the DS Reference here and, most recently, Ken Micallef’s coverage of the newer DS here.


    New for 2016 is an overhaul of the DX.

    At first blush the second generation DX looks every bit the same as its predecessor but lifting it from its triple-box packaging gives us our first taste of any changes. The DX now wears a thick alloy plate all over.

    Spin it ‘round and we note more numerous connectivity options out back. In addition to a pair of USB sockets for DACs, one with its 5V feed severed, the fully tricked out “DX DUAL” adds three S/PDIF outputs – AES/EBU, coaxial and Toslink.

    These aren’t sourced directly from the host OS. They are first re-clocked by a “XMOS X-CORE 32Bit/500MIPS multi-core processor based asynchronous circuit”, complete with two oscillators, one for each of 44.1kHz and 48kHZ sample rate families. Think of this as an internal USB-S/PDIF converter for which the outputs are galvanically isolated and “use an ultra high quality differential line driver circuit”, according to their designer.

    Jenkins explains: “In developing this [S/PDIF] output set, the aim was to achieve the same level of sound quality that we achieve with our USB outputs into the same DAC, and we are delighted to report that we have achieved that. Listener preferences will be driven by personal taste and the cabling used. This enables customers with DACs that don’t have USB inputs to enjoy the exceptional sound quality that an Antipodes server can bring to a fine system.”

    First timer DX buyers can specify USB or S/PDIF or both. Or neither – in which the DX doesn’t feed digital audio directly into a downstream DAC but serves files to another network endpoint.

    Pop the now heavier lid and we note overhauled internals about which Jenkins says, “a new generation of Intel chips means we could improve a number of aspects of performance by changing the server core – mainboard, CPU, RAM. We have changed the [USB] output card and made some minor but telling changes to the power supply.”

    Chatting to Jenkins via email, he reckons the result is a cooler running DX with greater computational muscle.


    This brings us to the software side of the new DX, which Jenkins has dubbed Antipodes 2 and which includes what many users have apparently been holding out for: Roon. In the new DX we get a double dose. Roon Ready and Roon Core are pre-installed, which affords us a number of Roon-routing possibilities.

    One could stream Roon from a third-party Roon server (like an Intel NUC) to the DX’s Roon Ready component whose output then goes to the DAC.

    However, according to Jenkins, there’s an audible advantage to Roon-ing under one roof.

    Here would have the DX use its Roon Core component host the music library and then have it output audio directly via ALSA to a connected sound device (USB or S/PDIF). Let’s call this Core Direct. (Make note of it only for the purposes of this coverage – you won’t be using it for reasons that will become clear).

    A third way to plumb Roon inside the DX is to have Roon Core talk to Roon Ready directly. Think of this scenario as Roon playing out the server-client model not on a LAN but inside a single computer.

    Jenkins clarifies: “They [Roon Core and Roon Ready] talk using RAAT but when they are in the same device they do not need to use the not-so-good comms layers that sit underneath RAAT when the two apps talk across a network”. 

    Whatever the preferred scenario, control comes from Roon Remote, either another Roon install (like that on a NUC) or Roon’s own Android/iOS apps on a tablet or smartphone.

    Roon. Roon. Roon.


    What does the DX Gen 2 bring to those who don’t know of, don’t care for or cannot afford Roon?

    Here we come to the overhauled “Antipodes 2” server software  – it’s faster and more intuitive than the outgoing VortexBox shell. Users of the Sonicorbiter SE will feel right at home. (And yes, the new Antipodes DX sounds noticeably better as a digital transport than the US$300 cube).

    Via, one can install/activate various alternative options for media handling – Squeezelite, Squeezebox server, MPD, HQPlayer NAA, Bubble UPnP, SONOS ‘Auto configure’, Plex Media Server – as well as configure playback from externally attached USB drives and network shares, automated CD ripping (whose software side has been improved in v2) and back-ups.

    Now comes the kick inside for Roon refuseniks.

    Jenkins is so enamoured with the sound of the recently released Roon 1.2 that he says, “The one big thing is that the sound quality of Roon has gone up several steps, and I think beats out the other players we have, neck and neck with one or two at worst.”

    “I can tell you that the Roon guys look to us to write very efficient code, and that will help. But they do tend to assume a lot of processing resource is available and that Roon Server and Roon Ready will be on different devices. I suspect the good clean code plus RAAT is a lot of the reason for good sound.”

    “But we also employed some tricks to stop playback doing the usual unnecessary things that degrade sound. This does not touch the Roon code it just blocks certain things being kicked off by the code.”

    “After a bit of work we managed to get Roon Ready sounding better than Core Direct.” (The latter can toggled on and off in the Antipodes 2 settings panel.)

    That’s interesting.

    Mark Jenkins at Munich High-End 2016.


    “[Roon] sound quality is way better than SqueezeBox/Squeezelite.”

    Want best sound from a Gen 2 DX? The audible pecking order according to Jenkins is as follows: 1) Roon Server with Roon Ready; 2) MPD; 3) SqueezeBox/Squeezelite.

    In a more general sense, Jenkins claims the DX Gen 2 brings a faster, more open sound than the previous model.

    With my Gen 1 DX making the outward bound journey across the Tasman Sea before Munich High-End 2016 and back again as a Gen 2 DX once I’d returned home from Germany, the time between DX drinks is too long to evaluate such claims with any degree of authority.

    The deltas that separate this type of product are too small for an A/B separated by several weeks to be reliable. This is not a review (and never will be).

    That said, I am reasonably confident that the DX’s organic/smooth sonic signature was not lost to the Gen 2 upgrade. To have this, my reference server, Roon-enabled is a win-win. It’s not just about me though, is it? Reviewers must look beyond themselves…

    To have the whole Roon shooting match sit inside a plug n’ play box without the (sometime) hassle of network configuration and management will likely be the Gen 2 DX’s trump card, especially to long-time digiphiles looking to replace their CD player for the first time or those wholly dissatisfied with a consumer grade PC as transport.


    Time to complete the circle.

    You might be thinking (as I did): what about Ethernet-enabled DACs? Do they not blunt the edge of the audiophile-grade server’s appeal?

    According our man in New Zealand the argument against Ethernet (and for USB) runs like this: compared to Ethernet, USB has the potential to carry more noise from the server to the DAC but generates less of its own noise inside the DAC (think: receiver chips). Ethernet remains a good strategy with a noisy server. However, it can be bested by USB when a low noise server with a decent clock is present. For more tech info on the why, consult Gordon Rankin’s take on USB audio here.

    In other words, a music server/streamer done right returns us to the quiet life.

    The second generation DX sells for US$6500 (and up) and is shipping as of yesterday.

    Further information: Antipodes Audio


    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Got your (not unexpected) comment on the Sonic Orbiter SE.

      Would be interesting to compare this to a PC/MAC Mini server setup with the Sonore microRendu or the upcoming SOtM SMS-200 – both of which are “audiophile” renderers.

      Some users say the mRendu in this situation is competitve with the sound of these specialized and expensive servers, especially with a decent PS.

    2. Love your city-country metaphor. “Neither Apple nor Asus have electrical noise in mind when designing their laptops.” Too true, though my 10 year old Thinkpad exibits a lot less electrical noise than my 4 year old Asus.

      “Re-affirming this finding in 2015 was Aurender’s N100H. And again, Antipodes Audio’s flagship DX, which is a cut above its rival in price and performance.” So you’re saying in the DXgen2 sounds better and is cheaper than the N100H or than DXgen1? It certainly looks to be much more expensive than the Aurender, which is perhaps what you meant by ‘cut above’.

      “According our man in New Zealand the argument against Ethernet (and for USB) runs like this: compared to Ethernet, USB has the potential to carry more noise from the server to the DAC but generates less of its own noise inside the DAC (think: receiver chips).” Does that also imply that ethernet receiver ships inside a server may tend to be a source of noise for the server?

      • Q. So you’re saying in the DXgen2 sounds better and is cheaper than the N100H or than DXgen1?

        A. I’m saying that the original DX sounds better than the N100H.

        Q. Does that also imply that ethernet receiver ships inside a server may tend to be a source of noise for the server?

        A. Yes. The way I understand it is that the harder a receiver chip works to read the incoming signal, the more noise it generates. This apparently holds true for Ethernet and USB.

        • I am curious about the remark “generates less of its own noise inside the DAC” I assume less compared to a Ethernet Receiver. I am not saying this is incorrect just wondered if anyone knew why this was – might be – the case.

          Note: While there might be a range of Eithernet and USB receiver chips available I guess here the manufacture is speaking about those deployed in their products.

          • I believe it relates to how hard the receiver chip has to work to read the incoming signal.

            • Thanks for the comment John

              Assuming the date streams USB/Ethernet are very similar in size one might expect the amount of “hard work” to be similar?

              This is probable not the correct forum for digging any further into this!

              I enjoy your work cheers

            • Hey James – yeah, it’s a little bit beyond me I’m afraid. I don’t think the differential is related to data volume but that Ethernet protocols and USB protocols are VERY different beasts.

    3. I’m having trouble following all this and I don’t have 6500 smackeroonies…

      Squeezebox Touch is isolated from main server (NAS, PC, etc). Roon works with SBT Touch, does that mean SBT is Roon Ready? Or does something in the SBT firmware need to be Roonified?

      Are other inexpensive solutions to isolate computer noise such as Gigabyte DAC-UP motherboards or SOtM USB cards (BTW Sonore is a Roon partner) worthwhile alternatives?

      • you are 100% right by building your own pc and choosing your case parts and cooling wisely you then can pretty much acomplish the same tasks for much cheaper while usually using higher quality parts chips etc. and be able to personally spec it out to your own likes and dislikes all the parts in his server are available to you for much lesss money its just like building your own gaming pc you could buy a custum one for $3500 or build your own for $1000 and usually end up with better parts that come with longer warranties this is a server positioned at somebody that doesnt know better not that there isnt anything wrong with that there are plenty of people who dont know or think its to diffucult to build your own pc or server also by just connecting your server to your network with cat 5e or 6e and passing along your movies and music you pretty much eliminate most of the so called noise from a completely digital signal stick to doing the work yourself it will save you tons of money and garuantee you get exactly what you want and about your statement about the gigabyte motherboard you are correct gigabyte went through alot of trouble to make there boards audiophile friendly from the interchangable op amps to the specialized high voltage low noise usb DAC port to the high quality headphone amp there are several in the multiple lines to choose from from those models and i think that would be a great place to start dont be fooled by a $6500 machine that wont even list its core parts for you to price so you can clearly see the mark up on its final sale price this is clearly a boutique item for the ridiculouly wealthy who dont care there getting cheated

        • I’m curious: why do you feel entitled to a list of the DX’s parts? And what would you do if you had that list? Surely you wouldn’t just point and laugh at (what you thought was) the mark-up?

          Keep in mind, the mobo is not an off-the-shelf unit. The power supply is custom. The transformer too. And then what of the operating system’s customisation? How would you unearth any of the DX’s custom code and therefore discover how much time has gone into writing it? That time is also costed into the DX’s RRP.

          And therein lies an irony – you’d have buy a DX to get to the OS and also carry out an A/B with any copycat unit you might build.

      • Thank you for your comment, Jeff. The substantiation is in the listening as per the review of the DX Gen 1, DS and DS Reference, each linked in the post. If listening reports aren’t enough for you then you’re reading the wrong website.

        Per the ‘About DAR’ page – – we don’t do measurements. Perhaps Hydrogen Audio is more your speed. Or Stereophile.

    4. The DX is a lot of money. BUT I bought the much cheaper DS last year replacing my squeezebox touch and boy has it been great. I am enjoying my music so much more. I don’t know the deltas between the DS and the DX but in my system the DS was a wonderful upgrade. I gotta thank Mr Darko for that.

    5. John H D

      I realise it’s all subjective, but would you have any advise (subjective off course) to the difference going form a DS to a DX.

      I realise we all have different systems, ears, perspectives, etc., but would double the price jump from DS to DX be worth double the SQ (of course everything has diminishing returns, so cost/SQ isn’t linear).

      Just asking as presently looking at getting a DS 2Tb HDD, whereas having to do the jump to a DX 1Tb SDD is double the price.

      Appreciate any comments, thanks

      • I’ve not heard the newer DS so I’m not really in a position to comment on how it differs from the DX.

    6. T’is a complex subject with many parameters to adjust to get such devices to sound great, and all too easy to roon the sound as well.

      Ideally one would need an Antipodes box minus the USB and SPDif outputs, ethernet only, with Roon core. At other end a Roon endpoint to feed the DAC. Well in my case that is as I have the file server etc in the study linked to the hi fi via a fibre optical line.

      My system has a Roon cored headless Mac-mini reading a Thunderbolted Raid drive and via ethernet –> router –> optical line –> switch –> Roon endpoint –> DAC. Power supply to the Roon endpoint is important, as is cabling if the rest is high end. I would love to get rid of the mac-mini but who makes a dedicated Roon Core file server only? (This set up effectively quarantines the computer grunge to the NAS/router/Mac-mini domain which is then fibre=-optic to the hi-fi back to copper ethernet).

      • You can easily run an Intel NUC with Windows and Roon Core. I agree though: what the Roon world needs is a super affordable Core/server solution.

        • Roonlabs themselves basically suggest a powerful standard PC locked away in some cupboard etc and forgotten about. As it’s only a file server and not a renderer, minimising unnecessary processes is not all that crucial. Much like streaming from the internet except the distance is much shorter. Perhaps a technical ideal but not necessarily a practical one.

          • Right on cue Sonore have just released such a beast, reported on the Audiostream site. Based on an Intel Celeron 4Gb NUC running a stripped down Windows 10 Pro. Add Roon and problem solved, apart from a serious hit to the wallet.

        • Auralic LE and I replaced the wall-wart with an Antipodes linear PSU I had spare.

    7. One might argue as long as the following two conditions held it would not matter how electrically horrible the Roon core platform was.

      1. the communications protocol to the Roon Endpoint guaranteed data delivery (e.g Ethernet)
      2. the end point was electrical isolated – (e.g optically)

      N.B the design of the Endpoint being a whole other topic

      • If electrical isolation were a magic bullet, many of us would have sworn allegiance to Toslink years ago. Ditto USB reclockers that slipstream their own 5V feed and don’t let the host device’s power line get a look in.


        Listening experience tells us that Toslink quality varies. Ditto a USB reclocker’s efficacy. I believe the missing part of the puzzle/conversation is how hard the receiver chip must work to read the incoming signal, whether that be USB, S/PDIF or Ethernet. In each case, electrical isolation won’t improve a poor quality signal. And the harder the chip has to work to read the incoming signal, the more likely it is to activate additional layers of processing and therefore the more noise it creates *inside* the device. At least, that’s the way it has been explained to me by Alex Crespi of UPTONE Audio and Mark at Antipodes.

        • My comment was only about the nature of the roon core platform.
          I am sure you correct about different receiver chips


    8. Measurements can be illustrative.

      For instance, Paul Miller (Hi-Fi News June 2016, p 59) showed that jitter spectra from a Chord Mojo looked much better via USB when fed from a Melco N1-ZH60 (£ 3750) than from a standard PC (<5 vs 85 psec). Results with other DACs (Oppo, Inakustik) were worse, with less improvement via the Melco vs PC.
      I am told (by electronic engineers who master both analog and digital theory and practice) that DAC receiver circuits differ in their reactions to signals of poor integrity.

      And Miller has shown that certain Ethernet DACs can generate considerable jitter, e. g, 6000+ psec (like the frequently employed StreamUnlimited).

      Nevertheless, the choice of measurement objects and methods remains subjective, as indeed their interpretation.

      I remain a grateful reader of John Darko's well-worded listening impressions. Hoping that Andrew Gillis of Small Green Computer will let him evaluate one or two of their Roon-compatible servers. Me, I'll be trying to save up for a DX…

    9. Thanks again for helping us navigate these very weird and quickly changing times in hifi. I’m mystified a good bit of the time by this stuff but am less so after checking in on your page.

    10. I’ve been happy to get my DS Gen 2 software upgraded and now running Roon Core on it. Capacity for my library wasn’t large enough, so instead of internal storage I put in a SSD just to run the software and access the files on my network connected NAS.

      The upside is that I can also get it to feed other RoonReady devices – Sonore microRendu and even Airplay to an Apple TV. So whole house covered!

      Tried it with my Squeezebox Touch. Roon works, but seems to disable the navigation on the device itself. No probs – still run SB Server for this one device…

      So anyone stuck with a VortexBox version, I’d recommend the Antipodes software upgrade.

    11. I owned the Antipodes Dxe, that was upgraded to a DX then later upgraded to DX Antipodes 2.0. I was very pleased with the Dxe. Each step up the Antipodes ladder has been a revelation.

      I have owned in the past the Reimyo CDP 777 CD player. The Antipodes products are benchmark level musical instruments (game enders).

      This system takes me out of the hi-end tweak / climb game and includes:

      Antipodes DX (2.0)
      HRT Music Streamer HD (soon to be replaced by Bakoon DAC 12)
      Bakoon AMR 12
      Morrow Audio Ref 7 interconnects
      Klee Grand Illusion Speaker Cables
      Maple Shade Power Conditioner MK II

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