Antelope Audio's Atomic Masterwork
Because it was housed in a protective plastic case, which was allergic to my flash, my photo cannot possibly do full justice to the US pre-debut of the gorgeous Rubicon Atomic AD/DA preamp (price not yet announced, probably under $40,000, hopefully to be demonstrated in full form at the Rocky Mountain AudioFest in October and available for purchase at the end of the year). This 384kHz converter, phono preamp, and headphone amplifier with an integrated atomic clock and gold-plated relay volume control utilizes the 10M Rubidium atomic clock, which is said to be 100,000 times more stable than a traditional crystal oscillator. Coupled with Antelope's 64-bit "Acoustically Focused Clocking technology" the Rubidium purportedly manages jitter superbly. Already boasting an award from Japan, the unit is one of several from the company that uses DACs endorsed by Morten Lindberg, founder and chief engineer of audiophile label 2L.
The Rubicon has the same 384k DAC and 64-bit clocking and jitter management technologies as in the much less expensive Zodiac Gold "HD Audiophile 384kHz DAC" ($3895) plus the Voltikus power supply ($995). This much smaller, less imposing unit also boasts a preamp, headphone amp, and remote control. (The Zodiac 192kHz DAC, and Zodiac+ Mastering DAC, one of which is shown to the right of the Rubicon, are available at even lower prices, and reportedly sound excellent). The Rubicon, however, is claimed to deliver superior sound because DAC, preamp, and everything else listed above are housed together, obviating the need for lots of extra cables.
Most impressive was Marcel James' demo where a 192kHz digital transfer of an analog original sounded remarkably close to the vinyl itself; so close that I could not distinguish the difference in fast back and forths. That is, as far as I could tell. Hooked up to pro gear and speakers that I was unfamiliar with, the system was played quite loudly, with an aggressive sound that I could not warm to. The Zodiacs and Rubicon are definitely units that I hope to evaluate in my reference system, with material I'm familiar with.