A lot of interesting audio equipment is coming out of Eastern Europe at the moment. Hifi Pig has been reviewing and featuring several items from Poland recently, and now it’s Bulgaria’s turn with Antelope Audio’s 2295€ Zodiac+ DAC / Pre-amp.
Driven by the tremendous interest in computer audio, DACs are now experiencing a very strong resurgence in popularity. The market is swamped by them! What separates Antelope Audio from the vast majority of its competitors is the company’s established expertise in digital clocking. Antelope Audio is a pro-audio company best known for its master clocks including an atomic Rubidium model.
All 3 of the Zodiac range are encased in a very attractive (read: seriously cute!) compact somewhat cubic chassis (165x112x190mm).
Two rotary volume controls are provided on the front panel. One to control the outputs to a pre-amp, one to control the two 6.3mm headphone jack outputs. Both are analog controls, not digital ones that can reduce the digital signal’s bit-rate.
Input selection is via a single button, which scrolls through the auto-detected inputs whose abbreviated names are shown in the LED display at top-centre of the faceplate. When the Zodiac locks onto the source it displays the sample rate on offer. This display also shows output level (dB reduction from maximum) while the control is being used and for a second or two afterwards.
The only obvious omission is of a remote control for volume and input. You get one of these in machined aluminium with the top Zodiac model, the Gold, so the functionality has been developed and it would have been good if remote control capability with, perhaps, a less costly handset had been included with the Zodiac+.
Interestingly – and occasionally usefully! – a mono button is part of the feature set. Stereo sources are converted to a central monophonic image. I don’t think I’ve seen this on a DAC before – I found it useful for the occasional solo piano recording where the image of the piano was engineered to be way too wide and filled up pretty much the whole of the space between the speakers. Much better to hear it as a centrally focused sound, I think. I’m sure that Antelope Audio included a mono option for other reasons, although I can’t think what they might be ….
The rear panel is a very busy place indeed, with a multitude of digital and analog inputs, and RCA single-ended and XLR balanced outputs. Digital inputs encompass SPDI/F co-ax (RCA) and optical (TOSLINK) as well as USB.
The Zodiac+ is the middle model of three Zodiac DACs, the base model is due this spring and the Zodiac Gold sits at the top of the tree at £500 more than the Plus.
The Zodiac+ has its own onboard clock. I was a bit baffled reading the instruction manual to see that the clock is “oven controlled”. Apparently what this means is that it’s kept at a constant temperature, improving stability and, according to Antelope, bringing significant sonic benefits.
The USB will accept signals up to 192kHz, although the use of a mini B socket is slightly odd and limits the array of good-quality USB leads that can be used, although Antelope supply one with the Zodiac+. More »