Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold 384kHz DAC test review





NARROWING THE BORDERS


Antelope Audio is more then just interesting company. With charismatic Igor Levin behind the company Antelope brings already proven and recognised products to the world of high-end audio. Well we have high-end audio on both shores of professional and audiophile industry, but things are a bit different by nature between those two. You can check my interview with him here to get a clear picture about Mr. Levin and company vision. It's interesting to see more and more companies moving from 'pro" to audiophile side of universe. It gives a certain positive overwhelmed feeling and a clear side, that high-end audio is becoming a matter serious recognition for larger crowd.



GOLD DESIGN


In times where industrial design take more then just A casual part in the presentation Antelope audio created an instantly recognisable chassis, that not only look slick and refined, but give and instant substantial feel of the product. Elegance and ergonomic feel of handling things around Zodiac Gold is spot on and it shows how many efforts and design choices were put into consideration. Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold 384kHz DAC is greatly though out device with seamless design and functional ergonomic layout.

VOLTIKUS


Antelope Voltikus is Ultra Low Noise Triple Regulated Analog Power supply for partnering with Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold. It matches cosmetically with the main unit with same refined design and colour.




The biggest question I hear already is if its worthy addition to DAC itself? Without a doubt. Voltikus is a must for any serious listener. It adds refinement, ground tone, focus and those appreciated blacker backgrounds we're use to with upmarket power chords and separated power supplies. For some it might take longer to hear the difference, but others will instantly recognise Voltikus workings. It took me just one quiet night to make a clear notes of Voltikus attributes mentioned above. If you're already at the level of investing for Zodiac Gold, then do add this power box. For me it is a must addition!

PRO DNA


Antelope don't hide in any way the pro audio heritage. It's clearly shown in the way things are handled  and designed. With such rich heritage in pro audio circles it was an easy transition for Antelope regarding technology being used and the quality of production. In past few years the difference between pro market and high-end audio seems to be narrowing down to the mutual path with high performance demands from both sides. Antelope Audio carried their foray into audiophile high-end audio with style and pace and with clear message to a competition. Be aware of us!

CONNECTIVITY


Let us look into a rich features of Zodiac Gold 384kHz DAC:



2x Headphone Outputs on 1/4” TRS
Trimmable balanced Analog Outputs on XLR
Unbalanced Analog Outputs on RCA
Balanced Analog Inputs on 1/4” TRS
Unbalanced Analog Inputs on RCA
AES/EBU Digital Input
2x S/PDIF Coaxial Inputs
2x Optical TOSLINK Inputs
USB on standard B type connector
Word Clock Input on BNC
De-jittered AES/EBU Output
De-jittered 2x S/PDIF Outputs


FEATURES


UP TO 384 kHz SAMPLING RATE

Antelope Audio is one of the first to offer 384kHz capability. In doing so, we hope to match and exceed the expectations of even the most critical of ears. Now audiophiles can enjoy the highest bandwidth that a USB 2.0 interface can provide for audio.

STEPPED RELAY VOLUME ATTENUATOR

When adjusting volumes, it’s imperative that the stereo image remains completely intact. The Zodiac Gold achieves this by incorporating stepped relays that are matched to 0,05 dB to maintain the most accurate stereo balance at all volume levels. Watch short video

DE-JITTERED AUDIO OUTPUT

Digital Outputs on AES/EBU and S/PDIF offer all the benefits of Antelope’s 64-bit Acoustically Focused Clocking, so external devices gain significant sonic advantages when connected to Zodiac Gold.

OVEN CONTROLLED CLOCK

Often overlooked, the quality of the clock is extremely important when high quality audio is desired. The clock is housed in a shielded container where the temperature is kept constant, therefore bringing significant benefits to the detail, dynamics and stereo placement of the audio.

64-BIT TECHNOLOGY

Sophisticated 64-bit algorithms allow precise control over our Acoustically Focused Clocking (AFC) and Jitter Management, two critical components to improve audio via clocking. The incoming digital signal is brought to life with this unique 64-bit technology, resulting in smooth and detailed audio whatever the method of digital connectivity.

ANTELOPE PERFORMANCE USB

Custom implementation of the USB chip leads to extreme audio performance and comprehensive support for your system. There are user selectable modes tailored to suit both Mac and PC; and with a data transfer rate of 480Mbits flawless audio is achieved with native drivers.



SMOOTH HEADPHONES

Ultra Linear, Dual Stage Headphone Amps deliver smooth sound at both high and low levels. Custom designed for accurate monitoring with a wide range of headphone impedances. Controlled by a dedicated volume knob. For different sound texture the amplifier impedance is switchable between 120 and 0 Ohm.

CUTTING-EDGE DESIGN

To preserve the full bit resolution of the DAC, volume adjustment is entirely in the analog domain. Separate analog and digital power supplies eliminate digital cross-talk. This is further enhanced by keeping analog and digital circuits on separate PCB’s. These gold plated boards utilize large internal ground plains, canceling noise and voltage shifts.

SOFTWARE CONTROL PANEL

Zodiac Software Control Panel allows remote control of the DAC directly from the screen of your computer. It is compatible with OS X, Windows and Linux and provides easy access to a number of additional features such as fast firmware update, peak meter, product registration and feedback form.



THE SOUND MACHINE 


Zodiac Gold is Antelope audio exploration of an audiophile sound. With DAC's 384 kHz audio streaming capability and custom designed USB controller chip digital audio can be streamed up to 480 Mbits. We already elaborated on features and connectivity above, but let me reveal sound and musical qualities further on.


Zodiac Gold 384kHz feels like Swiss knife of digital audio. Being preamplifier, headphone amplifier and DAC's in one box makes him very versatile device that can serve for any contemporary audiophile needs.

Compact size and modern aesthetic allows it to be placed anywhere in the house. It looks nice either on desktop near to computer hub or on audiophile rack. Especially when Voltikus is joined to Zodiac Gold the appearance is both catching and captivating. Two box combo looks like serious business.

THE SOUND


Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold 384kHz DAC doesn't hide its pro audio DNA. Design and circuits wise. Company came a long way in refining everything under the hood of their pro audio gear and their success across the globe proves that clearly. In past few years we're seeing the narrowing of pro and consumer digital audio as they closely correlate on many fronts. Basically the sound quality, clocking and up to date format support are among few.

Zodiac Gold 384kHz comes with high potency of speed and balanced sound. I don't know their pro audio products, but I know pro audio converters sound by nature as I'm recording often myself.


All the attributes of quality, speed and headroom comes within this package. Their carry the pro audio nature with a bit of audiophile touch, that keeps mind attached to the music for audiophiles and music lovers and in the way they're used to.

Zodiac Gold will keep both technical and musical oriented listeners with interest for intellectual and sensual part. So both left and right brain hemispheres are getting their treath :).

THE MUSIC


Whenever I'm at late night listening hours I try to make things as enjoyable as possible. Therefore I have a stack of 'test' records I can enjoy both listening and critically testing. Among many golden eighties records Roxy Music Avalon is for sure a true stand out and a happy returner. It seems I cannot get too fund of this record. Avalon might be one of the best albums of that era and it carries the melachonic view of upcoming Bryan Ferry mood.

Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold 384kHz DAC did't disappoint with Roxy music as it didn't with my favourite other music material from John Coltrane, George Benson, Donald Fagern, Michael Franks, Joni Mitchell, Ry Cooder etc. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt & Ry Cooder - A Meeting by the River (1993) is one of the best acoustically recorded albums. Not only the sound, but interplay of musicians expertly captured by legend Kavi Alexander. This album brings so much positive embracing and joy into listening, that its hard to be unmoved. Yet, if things not flowing with right attitude (in digital conversion) album can quickly become dull and loose some of its 'magic'. This is where any DAC (under review and test) ability to portrait the recorded soundscape and actual event comes in place.


Zodiac Gold 384kHz have enough headroom and speed to convey things as supposed to be. It stands on its own and with abilities to show for.

SUMMING UP


In the times where digital audio is developing at such pace, that digital products feels quickly obsolete Antelope Audio Zodiac Gold 384kHz DAC offers a unique step into high-end audio, that ensure its longevity and unique approach.

Zodiac Gold 384kHz is an contemporary DAC with enough features and connectivity to make your mind spin and keep your hands busy. Its stand out beautiful industry design makes it eye catching and sound quality is push things further enough to make competition nervous.

Digital audio have come far and in past decade everything is happening at fierce speed. Antelope Audio seems keep up with the pace of changes without second guessing and with few interesting twist coming from company. Namely highly anticipated Rubicon with it's atomic clock in the hearth.


Norway 2L records is one of my favourite labels. Morten Lindberg out of the box efforts brings so many stand out albums. Most interesting and of relevance regarding this review is, that he relies on Zodiac Gold DAC to “Proof Listen” its High Resolution Masters. Clearly not a coincidence...

It's true that in this market segment there are many products worthy of exploration, but Zodiac Gold 384kHz offers everything under the hood in an expert package, that it's hard to resist. On the top of everything it comes with the substantial feeling and heritage that carries the proud ownership.

Antelope Audio


Matej Isak. Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine. All rights reserved. 2006-2013. www.monoandstereo.com. ..:: None of the original text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-printed or used in any way without prior permission! ::..