This is an exceptional device, made by the US manufacturer, Antelope Audio, whose emblem, yes you’ve guessed it, is a leaping antelope. This may seem trivial but you’ll certainly leap for joy when you listen to the Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum DSD DAC. Platinum, DSD, yes, it’s top-of-the-range today, with a USB and S/PDIF DAC, equipped with a truly exceptional hi-fi pre-amplifier and headphone amplifier.
For those of you who don’t know a whole lot about audio DACs, these devices are used to convert digital signals into audible sound. All DACs are not the same and there is a wide range of different features separating an self-powered DAC from this Antelope Zodiac Platinum DSD, whose price is close to 5000?.
One of the questions you might ask yourself is the following, is this DAC a top-of-the-range model because it’s sold at a very high price or is it the opposite? You won’t have to wait long for your answer. Let’s, however, firstly examine it more closely. The Zodiac Platinum DSD DAC is compatible with PCM up to 24 bits / 384 kHz and DSD 64/128 audio streams via USB, S/PDIF or AES/EBU. It features a high-quality digital clock-buffer to synchronise it with computers and digital sources, Quad architecture with 2 double Burr Brown chips, an optional 64 bit PCM/DSD oversampling mode and an external audiophile power supply. It is fitted with unbalanced and balanced analog inputs and outputs for its hi-fi pre-amplifier role. It can be used with several audio sources thanks to its digital inputs and outputs, with the added advantage of a pass-through (the possibility of connecting the audio source to another device fitted with an input). A control clock connector is also present. The supplied control clock operates at 64 bits.
For those of you who are regular DAC users, whether they are self-powered or fitted with a low-quality switch-mode power supply, the presence of this Antelope Voltikus 2 power supply is quite simply intriguing. To put it bluntly, implemented algorithms and long and costly developments aside, what makes a DAC is its power supply. Without a quality fuel, there is no quality performance.
Let’s get down to business. We opened the Antelope Zodiac’s huge box and inside we found the DAC, the power supply and a connector including the cable to connect the DAC to the power supply, the power cable, the USB A-B cable and an S/PDIF Toslink cable. The overall finish is impeccable, with a brushed grey and black aluminium front panel and sides. The front panel of the Voltikus power supply is surrounded by 4 pins embedded in a thick aluminium plate, while the DAC plate features a potentiometer and chrome knobs. The overall weight is over 8 kg…so we say to ourselves that the musical performance is going to be excellent. The more it weighs, the better the sound…generally.
We decided not to use the Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum DSD DAC with our usual test speakers, as they are not adequately reliable. The device is too high-tech and using such speakers might not do the sound justice. We therefore chose to use HiFiMAN HE-560 headphones to test this DAC. We used the USB cable which comes with the device, connected to a PC operating in Windows 7, with the ASIO pilot downloaded from the Antelope site (MacOS version and Linux available). Our playback software was Foobar2000 with an SACD input module and ASIO DSD output module. We listened to this DAC for about 7 hours per day over a 2 week period, using various sources, such as CD quality FLAC files, studio quality FLAC files (ranging from 48 kHz to 192 kHz), SACD ISO images (DSD 2.8 MHz) and even Deezer.
Initial listening impressions
It’s unmistakable, the device delivers a very large bandwidth with no flaws on either end of the audio spectrum with a perfect energy distribution. Listening is soft at all times with, nevertheless, a significant dynamic range full of micro-information. The notes seem to last longer, which isn’t obviously the case but fade-out is progressive as with all exceptional electronics and we can even hear the artists breathing or we can decipher the delicate strum of an acoustic guitar above the cascading electric guitars. The Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum DAC unties tangled sound levels for each type of music we listened to, without withdrawing or influencing anything. The delivered partition is always perfectly balanced with voices well represented. All styles of music have outstanding results and we are tempted to listen to styles and genres we wouldn’t necessarily listen to otherwise.
We replaced the supplied USB cable with an Audioquest Coffee USB model, which added airiness.
Where I Want to Be (California), Lilly Wood & the Prick (FLAC 16/44)
Well established delivery with a heavy bass drum, the artist’s voice is never tainted but always smooth despite a balance which seem to shy away from the higher part of the sound spectrum. On Prayer in C, a summer hit in its remixed version, the electronic drums don’t drown out the overall sound which is perfectly balanced. We notice, without any difficulty, the female voice reverb and the chords played with so much energy. We’re listening to music and it’s so good… the way it should always be.
Game of Thrones (Main Title), Ramin Djawadi (FLAC 16/44)
An interesting piece of music with a natural listening balance. There are lots of details in the lower range that we had never heard before. The rolling of the drums and toms is exquisite. Strings resonate unusually. This is a real re-discovery.
Depeche Mode, A Question of time (FLAC 24/44)
Initial listening in high definition. A real hit! Did you think the track was poorly mixed and was a bit short in the lower range? No way, listening is soft and fabulously light and consistent.
Knights of Cydonia/Starlight/Map of the Problematique, Muse (FLAC 16/44)
The natural qualities of the Zodiac Platinum DSD are exceptional and add a spectral balance which seems ideal. Listening is full without being tiring. This track, which sometimes seems unclear as it’s so rich and is recorded with a low dynamic range and added loudness, gives you shivers. The intro to Starlight uncovers percussion which up until now has gone unnoticed. The different guitars play with style and control and crescendo with ease and serenity. On Map of the Problematique, it’s even more complex. The Zodiac is in its element and is never in difficulty, despite the incessant wave of drums and guitars.
Let’s groove/Boogie Wonderland, Earth, Wind & Fire (FLAC 16/44) Amazing! The range is unbelievable and the robotic voice in the intro is of a rare intensity. The DAC uses all its energy to transport the listener, to surprise him/her with new details and to make the singing even more passionate. The drums are a delight, going way down low in infra-bass just like the synthesiser. With Boogie Wonderland, the rhythm literally takes you, as you drum to the beat and move your head to the ?dance? sung by the backing singers. Turn it up a notch for a few extra dB and enjoy an even more intense experience.
Isaac Hayes, Walk on By (ISO SACD, DSD 2,8 MHz)
Open and airy throughout with instruments placed high and low, a magical reverb and a pulsating rhythm, you can’t help but fall for this track. The final flourish is controlled with organ, bass and guitar all finding their place.
Naughty Girl, Beyoncé, (ISO SACD, DSD 2,8 MHz)
This track is worth it just for the electronic drums with low harmonies, all impressively delivered. It goes down so low that we almost feel bad for the diaphragm of our headphones. It’s all controlled masterfully. Excellent.
Video Killed the Radio Star, Buggles, (ISO SACD, DSD 2,8 MHz)
Impeccable sound placement with jaw-dropping attention to detail. It’s not ?great music? but how exciting it is, much richer than we’d imagined. DSD definitely killed the PCM star, dare we say it!
New Kid in Town, Eagles (ISO SACD, DSD 2,8 MHz)
An analog sound, reminiscent of the warmth of its original vinyl release. The SACD transfer is exceptional and much better than the PCM CD version. Impeccable.
A Dark Knight, Hans Zimmer (ISO CD, DTS 5.1)
The Voltikus power supply never fails and offers this legendary track spectacular bass. The dynamc range is breathtaking. Likewise for Why So Serious or Like a Dog Chasing Cars, where you feel like you’re hurtling along with your hair in the breeze. It’s totally exhilarating and only high-quality electronics can offer such a sound experience.
Headphone output impedance settings and gain reduction allowed us to quickly find a dynamic balance suited to our taste (listening at -33 dB approximately) for most music we listened to.
When you listen to the Zodiac, you think that most DACs are not capable of mixing the sound levels, let alone linking them. To achieve this, the Zodiac Platinum DSD extracts minute details: breathing, reverb, string echo.
You have to listen to the most insignificant golden oldies music to realise how versatile it really is. Sardou, Dassin and Hallyday, we listened to things which we’d never thought we would be listening to for one of our reviews, with immense pleasure and that was on Deezer. Give your Zodiac Platinum DSD quality sources and it’s bliss.
We preferred listening in NoS mode (Non Oversampling) or without oversampling at the top of the spectrum. A DSD format has never impressed us so much with its natural sound.
The Antelope Audio Zodiac Platinum DSD DAC is a high-quality converter which will enhance any amplifier, regardless of its range level. It may be a big investment but many years of listening pleasure await you.