Antipodes Reference Series DX Music Server Part 2

If you read Mark Jenkins', Founder & CEO, Antipodes Audio Limited, response to my review of the Antipodes DX server, you'll have read this:
"Regarding your observation of a decrease in sound quality when playing back music from the NAS using DLNA: in general, this is true. But if you'll allow us to assist you in setup mounting the QNAP, you'll find that the difference in sound quality between the internal storage and the mounted NAS is very small -indeed, tiny. We'd be happy to help you in the setup process, just as we would with any customer; the improvement in sound quality compared to playback through DLNA is well worth the minor effort involved."
So that's exactly what we did. Using TeamViewer, I invited Mark into my iMac, what an odd feeling that is, and he went about mounting the QNAP NAS after which I went about listening. Antipodes will perform this same service for any customer.

This will be a very brief followup because Mark was absolutely right. With my QNAP mounted and no longer relying on UPnP/DLNA for communication between the QNAP and DX, the difference I noted between NAS and locally stored music all but evaporated. Here's what I said last time around, "While very subtle, the same music playing from the QNAP appeared to be duller, for lack of a better word, as if a much less intrusive filter than that heard with the MacBook was placed between my music and me." That filter has been removed and I could not easily tell if music was playing from internal storage or from NAS.

But I was curious. Why would this change, from DLNA to direct mounting, make such a sound difference? So I sent along this question to Mark Jenkins who provided this very interesting answer:

"Accepted digital theory suggests that regenerating the signal in the DAC should cure all prior interference with the digital signal. But--as is often the case with theories-- a lot has been assumed away.

"As with all other areas of audio, it turns out everything matters in computer audio too. One area that appears to matter a lot is what happens in the server’s RAM. For example, we find an uncompressed FLAC file sounds a lot better than a compressed FLAC file, and the only thing that is different is that, with the latter, the file has to be decompressed in RAM (becoming identical to the former file) before the next step. Just that little bit of extra activity in RAM is enough to make a significant difference (as we have demonstrated in public blind tests).

"When we mount external storage, at a certain level of abstraction, it is being treated in the same way as playback from internal storage. That is, the file is requested by the server software and then transferred in block mode into RAM. Files stored internally flow over a Sata interface, and externally mounted files flow over Ethernet. The way we manage music files from internal storage in and out of RAM has turned out to be very important to the sound, and we can closely resemble this when we use mounted external storage over Ethernet.

"But UPnP/DLNA is different again. Just because it also comes over Ethernet, it does not mean the file arrives in the same way. For a start, we are less able to manage the process the way we would like and the stack is more complex. Amongst other things, UPnP/DLNA is designed to traverse a range of situations (such as playback of files that are too large to fit in the RAM of the DLNA Renderer) and so has high overhead with a lot of request and response activity, that also involves the playback software stack. More activity is always a bad thing, and worse when it directly impacts the playback software stack.

"When Ethernet is involved (whether mounting or using UPnP/DLNA), we hear less immediacy, and a softened vagueness to images. Some people may actually prefer this by the way, calling the sound more romantic or less aggressive. System context is, as always, important. The simple point is that while mounting over Ethernet suffers a little from this, when using UPnP/DLNA (and internet streaming) this effect is several times greater. At the moment, Ethernet DACs suffer from this effect, but I expect new systems will emerge to bring the sound of Ethernet DACs closer to what we get (greater focus and immediacy) when storage is mounted. We can see some DAC manufacturers already talking about alternatives.

"Just one more thing to clarify the hierarchy of sound performance with Antipodes servers, as it fits with the context of this Ethernet issue. The best sound comes from the DX using internal storage. Second best is the DV Zero playing from a NAS; third best is the DX playing from a NAS; fourth best is the DV playing from internal storage (using our custom HDDs); fifth best is the DV (with internal HDDs) playing from a NAS. And by the way, if we add a small SSD to the DV to hold the playlist we get slightly worse sound.

"To explain: The reason why a DV Zero sounds a little better than a DX playing from a NAS is simply that the DX has additional noise, due to the existence of the internal SSDs. A common misconception is that these things work like a plumbing system. But a powered item within a server has an effect on noise regardless of whether is it directly involved in playback or not. This is the same reason why adding an SSD to the hard drives in the DV makes things worse (with our 2.5” hard drives, that is – the impact is different if it is reducing spinning up large 3.5” drives). Therefore the sound quality of playback from a NAS differs between the DX, DV Zero and the DV (with internal HDDs)"

Fascinating, no? As I said, with direct mounting I could not easily tell a difference between music stored on my NAS and music stored on the DX. While Mark feels there is a difference, I would say that any difference is subtle at best. The DV Zero ($5000) Mark refers to is Antipodes' server without internal storage.

I still used the iPeng 8 app to control playback and the contents of my NAS showed up alongside internally stored music. Nice. So you can mix and mingle and create playlists from both sources with ease. It was also frankly very nice to be able spend some more time listening through the Antipodes DX—everything sounds exquisitely musical as I described in my initial review.

More Better
With music from my NAS now sounding very nearly identical to music stored internally, the possible objection of limited storage has been removed. If the Antipodes fits into your budget for a music server, you'd be wise to give it a good long listen.


Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
CG's picture

"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice; in practice there is." - Lawrence. P. Berra

Bill Leebens's picture

Yogi's one of my favorite and most-trusted philosophers....

DH's picture

If only I can get the money for a DV Zero.... I'd love to have one.The DV and DX seem to be among the very best digital sources out there.

Assisi's picture

Hi Michael,
It was your first review that put me on to the mounting of a USB drive which I said could not happen because my manual said so. You responded with the information that it was a new feature. From that I found out that the NAS could be mounted also. I have had that done and like you I really cannot tell the difference between the mounted NAS and the DX internal files. Both are wonderful.

Thanks
John

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I agree - the DX is wonderful. Enjoy!
Leo2's picture

It seems that the server versus ordinary computer-based system is a major fork in the road, especially at the $6,500 level. I assume that Antipodes DX buyers can't use Roon, but I might be wrong. What are the other disadvantages of switching from a Mac to a server? Thanks.

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