Antelope Audio Does DSD

Photo: Antelope Audio

Antelope Audio, long respected in pro circles, showed two important products: the finally available Rubicon Atomic AD/DA preamp ($40,000), an all-in-one beauty that combines a 10M Rubidium atomic clock with a 384kHz converter, phono preamp, and headphone amplifier; and the due-this-fall Zodiac Platinum DSD-capable DAC/headphone amplifier ($4895) with optional Voltikus power supply ($995). Paired with ATC SCM100-AT active loudspeakers ($35,000/pair), the Rubicon produced supremely beautiful sound with exceptionally refined highs. And that was from a computer source equipped with a stock USB cable. Those who have experimented with aftermarket USB cables know how much more color and life the system would have produced had a better USB cable been in the chain.

I realize that some would call the $40,000 Rubicon’s level of refinement an example of the law of diminishing returns. But for this music lover, who immediately followed attendance at T.H.E. Show with his own live performance, and then sat in prime orchestra seats for San Francisco Opera’s opening night Tales of Hoffmann, the Rubicon’s level of musical refinement provides a remarkably clear window on the real thing.

It won’t surprise anyone to learn that, as good as it sounded, the highs from the Zodiac Platinum were not as refined as the far more costly Rubicon’s. Taken in context, however, it sounded great. I’ve got the Zodiac Platinum’s near cousin, the Zodiac Gold ($3895), in my computer desktop system, and have also paired it with Wilson Audio Sashas and Pass Labs 200W class-A monoblocks in my reference system. With the Voltikus power supply, it’s an exceptional DAC for the price.

Hats off to Marcel James and crew for getting far better sound out of this set-up than they did the last time I auditioned it.

I only wish the Zodiac products had BNC digital inputs. Folks who connect a CD transport equipped with BNC output to DACs such as the Zodiac Gold and Zodiac Platinum, both of which appear to have only RCA, AES/EBU, Toslink, and USB digital inputs, may want to experiment with using a BNC digital cable equipped with an RCA adapter, rather than an RCA digital cable equipped with a BNC adapter. In my experience, with digital products from both Antelope and dCS, a BNC digital cable, even with a BNC-to-RCA adapter, yields superior sound to an RCA cable with an RCA-to-BNC adapter.