Antelope Audio matching Zodiac Gold with optional Voltikus best Power Supply
Fantastic & versatile DAC with analog input for one input and terrific sound and remote controlled.
Also available on Audiogon by: Weinhart Design pre owned Antelope Audio Isochrone TRINITY & Ischrone 10M Rubidium / Atomic Clock together for $2,995.
See full 6 moon.com review@
Antelope Audio's Zodiac Gold slots above the previously reviewed Zodiac+
as Igor Levin's top current DAC. As a digital pro-audio company,
Antelope joins Benchmark, dCS, Meitner and Weiss with models aimed at
the audiophile community. While Firewire has been the definitive
standard to connect pro processors to studio computer workstations,
Antelope's Zodiac range of three models has instead boarded the
universal serial bus called USB. The associated and proudly displayed
figure 384 in the press photos of the Gold currently has
little relevance. One, should 32-bit/384kHz source material get issued,
this DAC is future-proof. Currently of course 24/192 files from
high-resolution download sites like Linn Records represent the max data
density at which commercial music recordings are released. Two, Igor
Levin's team seems to be one of the few capable of—or bothering
with—writing the necessary firmware code and drivers to exceed today's
24/192 ceiling for PC audio (two others at present are MSB Tech from the
US and M2Tech from Italy). Besides anticipating the foreseeable future
for streaming audio, the 480Mbits hi-speed USB 2.0 spec of 384kHz is braggadocio for Antelope's engineering chops. But it ain't bragging if true.
We can probably agree
that if the 384 figure was all that separated Gold from Plus, nobody
would go Gold for now. Core
differentiators thus include a
clicking remote-controlled analog domain relay-switched resistor volume
control for 0.05dB precision attenuation over 60dB in preamp mode; and
a standard rather than mini USB port for those wishing to experiment
with audiophile cables. The €795 optional Voltikus outboard power
supply with triple-cascaded voltage regulation, LT1021
voltage reference and 90-250V input acceptance can also upgrade the
switching wall wart of the Zodiac+. The Gold then inherits the
proprietary 64-bit Antelope Trinity clocking and jitter management,
oven-controlled clock and BurrBrown 1792-A chip-based digital circuitry
from the Plus. So shoppers will wonder. How would a Plus + Voltikus
compare to a solo Gold?
On exactly how
the Gold's all-important
output stage might better that of the Plus, I asked the company's Leizer
Benvenishty to fill in the gaps. But first, let's run down the basic
features which determine how the Gold can interface with even complex
Source switching accommodates 2 x optical, 2 x S/PDIF coax, 1 x S/PDIF AES/EBU and 2 x analog
on RCA and TRS balanced respectively. The analog inputs bypass the
digital circuitry of course to directly encounter the volume control.
Smart recognition only shows inputs with valid signal as selectable. For
outputs there are digital and analog options. Dejittered by Antelope's
proprietary protocol, digital includes 2 x coaxial and 1 x XLR. For
analog there are paralleled RCA and XLR, the latter accompanied by
miniature trim pots accessible by screw driver. Lastly a BNC socket is
primed for an external word clock.
There are also two paralleled headphone outputs with
switchable 0 or 120-ohm output impedance and dedicated volume control; a
multi-function display for sample rate, main volume, source input,
headphone amp impedance and USB modes*; a mono summing function
exclusive to the digital inputs; soft mute (-20dB only on digital
sources) and full mute; and a Windows/OSX software control panel.
Digital and analog circuitry occupies separate boards with gold-plated
traces and large internal ground planes. A functional summary calls
the Zodiac Gold an 8-input headphone/preamp/DAC with remote control.
Unusual in the current climate and different for example from certain
Esoteric machines which allow PCM conversion to DSD is that the Gold
always processes incoming data at its native resolution without
internal upsampling. What goes in is what comes out. Included in the
shipping box is the standard SMPS DC power supply; an IEC power cable
for it; USB and Toslink cables; the remote control; and an owner's
manual that can be previewed online
* The three available USB operational modes include UF1 (12Mbits full-speed mode for backwards compatibility with support up to 96kHz); UH1 (class 1 USB high-speed mode of 480Mbits with support up to 192kHz); and UH2 (class 2 high-speed mode of 480Mbits with support up to 384kHz for OSX only).
Default headphone output impedance is 120Ω in HP1. The HP2 setting lowers it to 0Ω for higher output.
Technical specifications for the Zodiac Gold are 129dB of
dynamic range; 0.0004% of THD+N; better than ±0.003ppm clock stability
with an oven temperature fixed at 64.5°C; less than 1ppm/year clock
aging; sample rate support for 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192kHz
(352.8 and 384kHz are exclusive to the USB and word-clock inputs);
2.4kg/5.3lb weight; and dimensions of 165 x 112 x 190mm WxHxD (6.5 x 4.4
< ========================== >
Quality of packing:
With designer cosmetics that are very attractively executed—some might
find the white signal lock LED too bright—and truly comprehensive
functionality, the Zodiac Gold sonically surpassed my affordable Burson
Audio HA160D reference on magnification power in the upper half of the
audible range and equalled it in the lower (by default the latter had it
overtake my Weiss DAC2 too). The USB DAC category is presently hyper
active to make ultimate statements more unstable than ever. But with the
Weiss Minerva as benchmark and overachievers like the Burson and
Wyred4Sound DAC2 in the mix, Antelope Audio's Zodiac Gold emerges as a
very strong front runner for extra coin. Even Toslink with a plastic
rather than glass conductor performed better than expected (though less
distinct than coax or USB, i.e. more cuddly smoothness than sharp
attacks). The Gold's 384kHz compatibility is still a non feature in
early 2011 but given the fast pace of changes in digital entertainment,
future-proofing investments for a few years down the road is a solid anti-obsolescence tactic.
Exotic CD players today struggle very hard for the dubious distinction
of 'the last deck you'll ever need'. The Zodiac Gold has all the
earmarkings of being the only PC interface you'll need for the next
five years whilst participating in streaming audio at a very high level.
That's particularly apt with its excellent showing in amp-direct mode
(there is one analog input too). For such applications the
core mandates of analog-domain volume control, precise channel matching
and remote convenience are all accounted for. This really makes one
pause. Think on what else one could possibly require from such a device.
From where I sit ... nothing really. Case closed, jury released. Pipe
in the applause.
Reusability of packing:
A few times.
Ease of unpacking/repacking:
Condition of component received
Completeness of delivery
: Perfect. Includes SMPS, USB and Toslink cable.
Final comments & suggestions:
weakness here is the 500-hour break-in requirement. The changes are so
significant that any premature auditions will fail the mark far more
than usual. Be prepared for real disappointment upon delivery. If you
audition at a dealer, be firm that the unit had the requisite time. Else
you'll be wasting your
time. The Voltikus power supply is a
very credible option but less of an unmitigated upgrade and more of an
alternate flavor. Thicker slower denser systems and adrenaline junkies
could conceivably prefer the stock SMPS. Lovers of 'analogue' sound will
almost certainly prefer the Voltikus The champagne finish (think
Conrad-Johnson) is understated but likely won't match anything
in the black/silver dominated hifi scene of today.
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Making better Sound
One system at at a time,
Weinhart Design, Inc.
President & CEO
The Audio and Video Expert
2337 Roscomare Road, Studio #1
Los Angeles, California 90077