The Antipodes DS Reference Music Server

You may have read my review of Antipodes’ seminal DS1 Music Server published last April. I spent a good six months using and listening to the DS1 and came to think of it as the shining source in my digital front end. It was adaptable, very well built and sounded divine. Smooth, detailed, liquid, with the listener seemingly always in a great seat for the concert ahead. A quick read of that review would be instructive in the technology behind the Antipodes’ Music Servers.

The DS1 took a little getting used to regarding setup, but once it was speaking with the DAC and Ethernet, it sang a beautiful song. The new DS Reference Music Server is more Plug and Play and makes for a very quick setup.

Three connections need to be made to the rear of the DS Reference:

1. Connect the Server to your network with an Ethernet cable.

2. Connect the Server to a USB DAC (if using one) with a high speed USB Cable.

3. Connect the Server to mains power, and turn on the rear power switch.

To begin playing music you need to download and install a Remote Control application to almost any device on your network – iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows PC or Mac.

The DS plays all music file types (unless DRM protected).

– Bit-perfect and gapless within the capabilities of your USB DAC

– PCM files up to 32bit/384kHz

– DSD64 & DSD128 (Double DSD) music files using DoP

There are detailed and readable setup pages for the DAC and the remote control application on the Antipodes website even this musician could decipher. Worried about computers? Fear not.

That’s it. The DS Reference works with the vast majority of USB DACs. Got a problem? Really, it’s not a problem. Antipodes support is incredible and fast. They’ll start a support ticket and even use Citrix’ wonderful Go To Assist to solve the problem at a time of your choosing right from your desk. I’ve never seen anything like it in high end audio. I had a problem connecting to a DAC that used an out of date something or other during my review of the DS1. Owner/designer Mark Jenkins was in and out of the computer in one minute and the problem was fixed.

If you are already an owner of the DS1 Music Server, congratulations. You already know the superb performance of the unit. That will help alleviate any pangs of ‘I wish I had the DS Reference’ as the DS1 is not upgradeable.

I posed a couple of questions to Jenkins regarding the major change to the Reference, the power supply. It seems the New Zealand cousins of the British have inherited the idea and importance of a really good and well designed power supply.

Mark Jenkins of Antipodes and his DS Reference Music Server. At the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest, 2013. Denver, CO

What are the main internal upgrades compared to to DS1?

The power supply is the main difference. While the DS1 was available with an external linear power supply as an option, we developed a much better sounding linear power supply, provided an additional separate rail for the audio card, and being internal the DC cables could be kept very short.

What would you consider the improvements are mechanically/computer interface?

The key thing is that all regulated power supplies generate switch noise, and that with digital it is really important to not only reduce that noise, but through design, put the residual noise in a frequency range that does not interfere with the digital signal. This not only involves the regulation used, but also how the transformer is wound and how it is screened – for example our transformer is completely copper screened.

So, how does that change the sound? I found the resolution to be improved, with micro dynamics benefitting, especially. Bass, too, sounded a little deeper and with better definition. I used my reference track, Thomas Newman’s theme of American Beauty to justify the perceived changes. The track includes incredibly low synthesizers, acoustic percussion and electronic effects. A well nigh perfect trifecta for a component test. I’ve heard the track hundreds of times, probably thousands! It’s a bog standard CD but sounds incredible on the CD players, DACs and music servers I’ve tested over the years.

I ripped the CD to the DS Reference. It’s as easy as pushing the CD into the front slot and leaving things alone for a minute or three. It’ll spit out the CD when finished. Press refresh cache to update the list on your remote control app and you’re done.

The track runs a couple of minutes and features marimbas and struck percussion (bongos, tom toms various, etc) as the prime melody and rhythmic instruments. The music moves quickly and only the finest digital equipment (and speakers) can capture the subtle to and fro between the drums. The marimbas are dead centre of the soundstage with the bongos et al darting in and out of the picture. The best replications allow the listen to hear the decay and fade around the drums’ resonating chambers. It makes for captivating listening. It’s also a superb piece of orchestration by the brilliant Newman.

I’ve heard the synthesized bass sound a little diffuse. Not through the DS Reference. Spot on and defined. And bloody low! But, my main signpost is a synthesized glissando near the opening. It would sound impressive through any decent digital kit and speakers, but as I continue on my digital journey and gear gets better and better, the magic of the inner lines of this glissando keep revealing themselves. Never more so than with the DAC (review forthcoming) and the DS Reference in musical synchronicity. It keeps on removing veils we want gone. Only one more left, surely?

The sounds of the FLAC files continued to show improvement no matter the genre. The DS1 was no slouch in vocal delivery and the same excellence continues with the DS Reference. Orchestral music was explosive as always but the micro dynamics (a mezzo piano breath support push in the middle of the last note of my recording of Debussy’s Syrinx was instructive) shows measurable improvement. It may be a case of the noise floor being lowered or some magical elixir Jenkins has discovered with the interplay of the parts, but subtlety is this unit’s forte.

Jenkins is proud of his Music Servers. He suggests the new Reference in comparison with its predecessor is ‘more rhythmic, organic and lays a tuneful bass foundation for the music’. Pretty words, for sure, but I heard differences in a more ‘measurable’ way. The differences I heard are important differences, differences audiophiles want and will invest in, but they are subtle. In Audiophilia terms, musical subtlety is good.

One of my concluding comments in the original DS1 review was ‘We often read about “lifting a veil”, but the DS1 does more than lift a veil, it shatters a ceiling. It is that good.’ And, it still is. But, the DS Reference is better. Simple. We’re through the ceiling and into the rarified air. It improves in the areas that are important and it maintains where needed. Timbral accuracy (some of the inner lines of Beethoven Quartets — Takacs/Nagy Quartet — wowed me as the 2nd violin and viola fast runs were so resolved and defined in space with lots of the resin intact and previously unheard, at least this clearly), micro dynamics and all around resolution is improved and the solidity and ease of use of the unit is maintained.

The prime reason for the improvement is clear. No, not the much improved power supply, but designer Mark Jenkins. As I’ve mentioned before, the man is a fanatic, and in the very best sense of that word. He’s not a ditherer, he’s not a pedant, he’s not a nit picker, he’s a thinker. He reasons, thinks, acts and then implements. And his servers and cables are the better for it. So are we. Price for the the DS Reference is USD$3,500.

Antipodes’ cables and servers have been reviewed by four Audiophilia writers, each with, let’s say, utterly different tastes in music and gear. We don’t shill. We don’t lie, especially to each other. And each Antipodes component reviewed has received an Audiophilia Star Component Award. That has not happened to one company in the seventeen year history of Audiophilia.

Further information: Antipodes Audio