ANTIPODES CX Music Streamer/Server V4H brd - USB DSD512 Roon Spotify (less SSD)

AT 03 MS CX
NZ$ 6,450.01 ea (incl. GST)
Antipodes

HIGH-END AUDIO PRODUCT DESIGNS FOCUSED AROUND HOW THE HUMAN EAR ~ BRAIN ~ EMOTION SYSTEM WORKS

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CLIENTS COMMENT "the Antipodes CX is running in well and has brought precisely the benefits we heard in the audition with you. The noise floor is much lower and like a genuine black on a quality tv monitor allows all sorts of detail, extension and space to come forward. It's a far more relaxed presentation , and Marie approves …… Richard

ANTIPODES are designed & manufactured in NZ and offer full after sales support, so important when considering a digital source. Their music servers are world wide and at the very top of the game. 

ANTIPODES CX is the Reference for high-end music streaming, with high-power V4H circuit, it is based on a modular design, starting as a music streamer, by plugging in an internal SSD converts it into a world class music server. 

1) CX comes standard less SDD, is Roon ready and Tidal & Spotify Direct enabled. 
2) 1TB to 8TB SSDs can be plugged into the rear to provide music storage at any stage. 
3) Plug their high precision P1 platform into the USB socket for ripping CDs onto the SSD. 

The use of SSDs improves dynamics, high frequency sweetness and speed, and is significantly more musically engaging. If you prefer to have your storage disk pre-installed we can assist at time of ordering for an extra cost. 

REVIEWERS COMMENT: "the EX is a great Music Server and an even better Renderer. Just the same, the CX is an amazing Server. But when combined, the two perform at an unprecedented level. All the qualities of the EX remain present but are enhanced with the qualities of the CX and then taken to an even stellar level. There comes a time when a reviewer just lacks the superlatives to describe the latest experience and for me, this is it. How do I describe the CX+EX delivery if I have already used all the superlatives that I can think of for earlier reviews? This combination is, quite simply, the very best digital front end that I have heard"….. Christiaan Punter - HFA HiFi Advice Dec 2018

Go to "READ MORE" for additional information:

The CX delivers stunning sound quality, far exceeding the audio performance of the EX and DX while also providing high processing power to handle demanding server features with ease. The CX can be upgraded to the CX+EX Solution by adding an EX and the combination provides a further very significant audio quality improvement over using the CX alone.

In designing the CX, we have needed to strike a balance between a number of factors. The CX is principally designed to be powerful enough to meet the demands of processor-intensive applications like Roon. But running CPUs hard produces harsh sound. So the CX uses a full desktop 4 Core i5 processor, run at a relatively low clock rate, about half of its full speed capability. If you like analogies then it is like driving a de-tuned, but torquey V8. This is able to yield the best combination of processing power and sound quality. The clock rate is set at a level where sound quality is not impaired by the CPU’s electronic noise, but by using all 4 Cores it can meet demanding processing needs.

In making the trade-off between power and sound quality, we have made sure that the CX can transcode and upsample files to DSD512 using Roon’s DSP features, without any impairment of sound quality. To achieve this, a user needs to set Roon to use ‘parallelisation’, which is Roon's word for using all 4 Cores multithreaded. Because a full desktop i5 has four real threads, and does not use hyperthreading, this produces the smoothest of running conditions to optimise sound quality.

We also want to caution users to be careful about assuming using DSP for upsampling/transcoding will sound better than playing the files at their native resolution. Transcoding on the fly generates more noise interference, DSD loses immediacy compared to PCM, and higher bit-rates can improve high frequency smoothness but reduce presence, particulalry in the lower frequencies. You really should experiment to decide what suits you and your other equipment best. The nice thing with the CX is you have the luxury of doing just that.

If you decide to play your files at their native resolution, the CX is not wasted. The greater processing headroom delivers a refined, rich and full sound that is notable for its speed, scale and ease.

Because the CX does not have a cooling fan, you should ensure the CX has adequate ventilation if running processor intensive functions, and we recommend you leave the background audio analysis function in Roon at its default settings. If you decide to set CPUs to run at 100% to complete background analysis you should monitor the heat of the CX case.

Owners of a CX can use any USB CD/DVD drive to auto-rip their CDs, or add the new P1 platform, with its integrated high precision ripper. The CX is designed so that you can add your own storage disks, and you can self-install up to 4TB of HDD or up to 8TB of SSD storage. Use of SSDs improves dynamics, high frequency sweetness and speed, and is significantly more musically engaging. If you prefer to have your storage disks pre-installed then your dealer can assist you.

Outputs are USB or Direct Ethernet. Direct Ethernet means the CX has two Ethernet ports. Connect one to the network for setup and remote control purposes. Connect the second Ethernet port direct to an EX or an Ethernet input on a DAC using a short high quality Ethernet cable. The direct link cuts out noise from the rest of the network and benefits from the very low-noise environment of the CX.

Running in and Warm-up
Due to the design of the power supply, the EX and CX require some running in to sound their best. It’s not a lot, I’d say less than a day. The sound is powerful, clean and dynamic right away but gains more smoothness and warmth after about an hour and further develops over the following hours. The next day I noticed no further improvements. After having been powered off for a certain period, the units again need some time to warm up but it’s only an hour, maybe two. So, it’s good to just always leave the units switched on.

Antipodes-supplied Ethernet cable
I know, this is controversial, but please bear with me. The EX and CX come complete with a nice Ethernet cable in the box. Normally an afterthought but in this case, this cable was carefully selected for its audio qualities and after comparing it to a bunch of other Ethernet cables, I can understand why.

Compared to standard cables, regardless of their Category, the cable that came with the CX made for a very noticeable increase in impact and tautness! Mark Jenkins, CEO of Antipodes, had already informed me that these cables were something special but also warned me that they would need a considerable amount of running in. Now I must admit to being a little skeptical about the latter myself. I can understand that noise on a cable can affect the performance of a component downstream but an Ethernet cable that needs running in?

I asked Mark about his thoughts on what causes one Ethernet cable to sound warm and relaxed and another to sound tight and dynamic and he responded that this is due to noise. More specifically, he feels that the tighter and faster the sound (due to Ethernet cabling) the better the cable is.

In order to put this to the test, I connected one of the two cables and left it connected while using it between CX and EX for two weeks. Then, I swapped it for the other identical cable that has seen no use. Guess what? Mark was right! The unused cable, by comparison, sounded thinner in the midrange and while bold and impactful, a little bit too tight, while the used cable was just as speedy and dynamic but at the same time lusher and sweeter.

How can an Ethernet cable make a difference? And more so, how can it become better as a result of burn-in? I’ve asked Mark these questions and that resulted in a very interesting but also very lengthy email conversation. Let me just publish some parts below that I hope may help get our collective heads around it.

Mark Jenkins on digital transmission
It is true that transporting bits data from one storage medium in one place to another storage medium in another place is easy. What is stored at the destination is only the data, no noise or jitter. But inducing knowledge, unsupported by experimentation, to claim that it must also be trivial to transmit data to a system that has to process that data in near real time, is simply bad science. You need to conduct a relevant experiment. For example, you can send the digital data as a sine wave, and prove even this can result in bit-perfect transmission of the data. Then listen to a DAC processing a sine wave versus a saw-tooth wave versus a square wave, in any kind of blind test method you like, and any audiophile will agree that they sound different.

As some may not be aware, Antipodes Audio has actually been developing wire technology for audio cables since 1994 and marketed audio cables using their own silver wire and gold wire between 2004 and 2016 and so they know a thing or two about cables.

Mark Jenkins on cable burn in
When a wire is manufactured, it has imperfections. Various methods can be employed to reduce these imperfections. Annealing will boil off some imperfections, but the super-heating of the wire can introduce new imperfections. Cryo treatment can also squeeze out some imperfections. But simply using the cable to transmit a signal will slowly achieve the same thing and with fewer side effects than annealing or cryo treatment. We find that if the wire is made very well then annealing and cryo treatment are not beneficial, but poorly made wire does benefit from these processes prior to burn-in.  In any event, all wire is improved by simply using it and it does this by doing, over a long period, the same that annealing and cryo treatment do, which is to adjust and clean the lattice structure and the imperfections between crystal boundaries.

Whether or not this is audible, and relevant to the enjoyment of music, is the real question. The problem for all of us in audio is that the relevant measurement tool – our ear-brain system – does not have a consistent numeric read-out. But measurement systems that do have a numeric read-out often fail to explain what we hear. “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”. This is one reason why we have the incessant and interminable polarised debates.  Another reason is that some people take simple accepted mental models and dogmatically assume that they are complete descriptions of reality. Ultimately, what really matters is experimental outcomes, not the theories. I can pose a theory as to why something happens, and it can be read as an explanation, but it is not an explanation, it is just a possible explanation that is my current best guess.  People may want definitive explanations, but a true scientist would admit that there aren’t any. You really do need to do some listening for yourself.

Audiophiles need to appreciate that despite a music server or streamer seeming to be just a computer, making one that sounds good is as much an art as making any other piece of high-end equipment.

Features

Specifications

Reviews

Features

OPTIONS

  • Colour: Silver or Black 
  • Storage Options:
  •   Pre-Installed 1TB -8TB SSD, or
  •   User-Installable:
    • Up to two 2.5" 7mm Sata SSDs
    • Factory preinstalled 2.5" 7mm Sata SSDs = additional: 1TB $1,200 / 2TB $2,400 / 4TB $4,800 / 8TB $9600 
    • Note - client can supply their own Sata 2.5" SSD at time of ordering, we recommend: 2.5" Sata SSD Samsung  860 EVO.

HARDWARE FEATURES

  • High Power V4H Circuit
  • Fanless All Alloy
  • Separate Screened Chambers Construction
  • ODAPS2 Level 3 Internal Linear Power Supply
  • USB Audio 2.0 Output
    • PCM to 32bit / 768kHz PCM
    • DoP to DSD512, Native DSD to DSD512
  • Ethernet Direct Output

SOFTWARE FEATURES

  • Music Playback Options
    • Roon Server & Roon Ready
    • SqueezeBox & Squeezelite
    • MPD
    • DLNA/UPnP/OpenHome
    • HQPlayer NAA
    • Spotify Connect
    • SONOS Integration
    • Plex Media Server
  • Admin Applications
    • Find My Antipodes
    • CD-Import Auto-Ripper
    • Playback App Switcher
    • External Drive Mounter
    • Browser-Based Setup GUI
    • SMB Server For File Management & Downloads

Specifications

POWER

  • Less Than 25W While Running
  • 110-120VAC or 220-240VAC Switchable

DIMENSIONS

  • 240mm (w) x 290mm (d) x 90mm (h)
  • 9.5in (w) x 11.4in (d) x 3.6in (h)

Reviews

This ANTIPODES CX/EX combination is, quite simply, the very best digital front end that I have heard.
CHRISTIAAN PUNTER  10 December 2018 

CONCLUSION: The EX is a great Music Server and an even better Renderer. Just the same, the CX is an amazing Server. But when combined, the two perform at an unprecedented level. All the qualities of the EX remain present but are enhanced with the qualities of the CX and then taken to an even stellar level.

There comes a time when a reviewer just lacks the superlatives to describe the latest experience and for me, this is it. How do I describe the CX+EX delivery if I have already used all the superlatives that I can think of for earlier reviews? 

The Difference between EX and CX

The EX is intentionally low-powered to obtain the best possible sound quality as a Renderer but its low power makes it less ideal for server purposes. It can perform both functions just fine but you can indeed notice that browsing Roon is not as snappy as it is when I use my main Windows computer as the Roon Core. However, the sound is much better when the EX is used as a server and that’s precisely what makes the case for the CX: to provide the best possible platform for a server while being designed such that its high power does not affect the sound quality. The CX has very powerful processing to enable snappy browsing as well as complex filtering and real-time DSD upsampling. While the EX’s modest internal heat sink is easily sufficient to keep it cool, the CX uses a heat pipe system without any fans that effectively uses the entire housing as a heat sink. During my use of regular music replay without any filtering or upsampling the CX barely got any warmer than the EX.

Functionality

These components are extremely versatile and can do so much that I can easily fill several pages describing what they do. In short, Antipodes servers can be set to function in various capacities, such as Roon Server, RoonReady renderer, Squeezebox (including UPnP server), MPD renderer and HQPlayer NAA. For a full description of all the technicalities and possibilities and a wealth of screenshots, please refer to the earlier DXDS and EX reviews. For this review, I’ll focus on the sound and only using Roon.

Like the EX, the CX has a new ODAPS2 power supply that reduces high-frequency noise without resorting to filtering that would impede the speed of current delivery. Also, like the EX, there are two Ethernet ports and no integrated CD ripper. Any USB ripper can be used or one can transfer files via the network share, and Antipodes also has a separate external CD ripper in their portfolio, the P1, which has the same footprint as the EX and CX. The user can very easily install up to 4TB of HDD or up to 8TB of SSD storage, without having to open the enclosure. The drives simply click into place via rear panel slots.

What’s so special about Antipodes servers?

Even now that I am writing my fourth Antipodes review it remains difficult to describe what makes Antipodes servers so very special. Any computer can be a server and digital is digital, right? Well, as far as the data stream is concerned, perhaps yes. But in all matters digital it is important to think outside of the box. Slowly, we are collectively discovering the importance of influences that were previously thought to be unimportant such as jitter, clock quality, and bit accuracy. But there’s another factor that seems to be often overlooked: noise. Mark Jenkins of Antipodes Audio is convinced that one of digital’s biggest enemies is noise. It’s the stuff that travels along with the data stream over cables and into digital devices where it is often aggravated by the internal circuitry. And any filtering used to counteract this usually has detrimental side effects that lower the audio quality. This is where Antipodes makes the difference: by tuning the motherboards and using no standard filtering techniques but clever methods that shift noise to frequencies where they do no harm. The precise tuning is a little hard to describe so I will leave that for Mark.

Mark Jenkins:
“The motherboards are sourced from the world’s best supplier and they cost around 6 times what some of the competitors are using. We tune the motherboards to shift the frequency peaks of the noise generated by each component in order to eliminate noise nodes, so the mainboards start as an off-the-shelf board and then are customized for our use.”

Antipodes also places a lot of emphasis on the quality of the power supply, which they manufacture entirely in-house.

Mark Jenkins:
“What we did with the new power supply was to test the injection of noise into the motherboard at various frequencies to see which frequencies did the least damage to the sound quality, and then we designed the power supply board in such a way that the noise component was in the benign frequencies. This has a similar effect as a zero noise power supply.”

As mentioned, the EX and CX have two Ethernet ports. One can be used to connect to the network and the second to provide a low-noise dedicated feed to an Ethernet DAC. According to the info in the manual, “Ethernet can introduce high levels of noise into the receiving device. The Direct Ethernet solution in Antipodes servers minimizes network ‘chatter’ on the link and creates a high bandwidth, phase accurate, low-noise direct link between the server and renderer. This provides a dramatic improvement over connecting your server and renderer devices through a noisy switch or over a long length of network cable”.

I’ve put this to the test and indeed, the direct connection sounds considerably cleaner as well as freer than a connection via the existing network. BTW I also conducted a similar test using multiple network switches and network cables in a range of lengths with surprising results, using Meridian Sooloos components, the predecessors or Roon, so to speak.

USB or Ethernet

In the world of DACs/Renderers, there are basically two camps: Ethernet (streaming) and USB. Having compared all the big names of both camps in the industry I have gained a lot of experiences in this field and I came to the conclusion that Ethernet sounds fundamentally different from USB. When reviewing the Melco N1ZH, I was much impressed with its combination of transparency and resolution on the one hand and its fluid, free-flowing presentation on the other hand. The thing is: it reached this sound only via Ethernet, not via USB.

Around the same time as I reviewed the EX, I also reviewed the Melco N1ZH UPnP server and this had me in a pickle because I liked aspects of both. Functionally, I prefer Roon over any UPnP solution but I was torn between the Melco’s super-free-flowing sound and the EX’s tonally fuller and more solid sound. Ultimately, I preferred the Melco’s presentation, mostly because its soundstage was deeper and the sounds more layered within it. The EX via USB was comparatively flatter and I attributed this to the USB connection. Due to a lack of results that prove otherwise, I felt that Ethernet was just a better solution than USB and currently, you can find many people chiming in with this belief. But, of course, there are just as many people who swear by USB or by SP/DIF. Either way, for now, I was in the Ethernet camp but then along came the CX and EX to turn my beliefs upside down. Read on to find out just how so!

Individual Assessments

For this comparative purpose, the EX and CX were set up next to each other on an Artesania Digital Server platform, connected with identical Belden power cables with Oyaide C-004 connectors and standard Cat5 Ethernet cables. I opted to use the Aqua Formula xHD DAC with the CAD USB 1 cable between them. The CH Precision system was bypassed entirely as the Aqua DAC connected directly to the Ayon Spirit III integrated amp via an AudioQuest Water cinch interlink. The output mode in all cases was via the tighter sounding RoonReady mode. The USB port used in all cases was the top black one, labeled USB Audio 2.0, 5V On.

EX as Server + Renderer

Although I normally use the EX with the CH Precision C1, the EX also pairs extremely well with the Aqua Formula xHD DAC. It has a taut, energetic and lively performance with a clear-cut purity, combined with a sense of body and substance that makes it sound ever so engaging. I’m being a bit short about it now but the EX really is great and I’ve not hidden my enthusiasm in the original EX review. For now, though, I can’t wait to move on to the rest of the tests.

CX as Server + Renderer

As a consequence of its design, the CX is indeed ideal as a server: Roon browsing feels very snappy, every bit as fast as my big tower PC, in fact. As a server + Renderer, it also works perfectly but it does have a very different character than the EX. It is even faster, cleaner and more transparent but also a lot cooler, and leaner in the bass. Personally, I prefer the warmer, more sonorous sound of the EX but this difference is a relative matter and it is not really indicative of quality. There’s another difference between the EX and CX, though, that, for me, totally makes a case for the EX. Whereas the EX has a nice sense of depth and of being wrapped in an enveloping a sound aura, the CX has imaging just as wide as the EX’s, but the imaging in the depth plane is much reduced and the aura that was surrounding me with the EX is now flattened and portrayed in front of me, more or less in the same plane. It seems that the high processing power does indeed have a considerable effect on the sound. But wait for it… the CX has another trick up its sleeve.

CX + EX is like Yin + Yang

Retaining the CX as Roon Core but selecting the EX as the Renderer, still using a standard cat 5 network cable it took all of 3 seconds before I loudly exclaimed: “Holy Shit!” The difference was not subtle, it was huge! Wow man, everything the EX does so well was still there, but magnified. The soundstage was now even larger, both wider and deeper and even more enveloping, the delivery more powerful, with even more impressive dynamics. It was not the effect that you get with dynamically compressed music where everything just becomes louder, but there was an increase in the difference between soft sounds and loud sounds, an actual increase in the perceived dynamic range. It was unreal, all the little sounds being crisp and clear yet with a wholly natural feel. Subtle details and timbral shades were easier to hear as if the resolution and transparency had increased significantly, yet the sound was rich, organic and full-bodied, really the opposite of clinical or cool. Like Yin and Yang, the CX and EX perfectly complement each other.

A new Reference

Remember how I was so smitten with the Melco’s free-flowing soundstaging, streaming via its dedicated Ethernet connection to the CH Precision C1? Well, after hearing what I just heard, I was not so confident of Ethernet’s superiority anymore. But before switching to the Melco for comparison I first listened to some more tracks using the Antipodes CX and EX, this time via USB to the C1. Sure enough: all the aforementioned qualities were still present, along with the extra qualities that the C1 offers such as an even more solid bass and an even richer overall sound.

Then, it was time to compare the CX+EX with the Melco N1ZH. For this final test, I aligned the Melco and the Antipodes servers with the same track and started them simultaneously and then switched between them directly on the C1. Well, that game was finished before I knew it… Indeed: the Melco was beaten at its own game! The Antipodes combo sounded every bit as fluid and free-flowing and just as refined and transparent, yet with an even deeper soundstage, more solid bass, a richer tonality, and an even more organic delivery. The Melco also still sounded very nice for sure but in comparison with the Antipodes combo it now came across as less convincing and organic, less real and therefore ultimately less engaging. How about that?

Mind you, the CX+EX combo connected via USB has surpassed the Melco N1ZH connected via Ethernet! So much for my Ethernet theory… Oh well, that’s the thing with digital audio: we live and learn.

Mark Jenkins:
“USB has greater potential but requires a very good server. Ethernet is better only when the server is a little noisy.”

So, according to Mark, whether USB or Ethernet yields better results, is dependent on the quality of the device in question. Here I was, thinking that the Melco was already extremely good, only for it to apparently be beaten at its own game. But I have no reason to doubt what Mark is saying. The results speak for themselves.

Not just any Ethernet cable

I know, this is controversial, but please bear with me. The EX and CX come complete with a nice Ethernet cable in the box. Normally an afterthought but in this case, Mark has selected precisely this cable for its audio qualities and after comparing it to a bunch of other Ethernet cables, I fully agree with his decision.

Compared to standard cables, regardless of their Category, the cable that came with the CX made for a very noticeable increase in impact and tautness! Mark had already informed me that these cables were something special but also warned me that they would need a considerable amount of running in. Now I must admit to being a little skeptical about the latter myself. I can understand that noise on a cable can affect the performance of a component downstream but an Ethernet cable that needs running in? When I asked Mark about his thoughts on what causes one Ethernet cable to sound warm and relaxed and another to sound tight and dynamic.

Mark Jenkins:
“The Ethernet cables that sound soft and mushy are doing that due to noise. The tighter and faster the sound (due to Ethernet cabling) the better the cable – in my experience.”

In order to put this to the test, I connected one of the two cables and left it connected while using it between CX and EX for two weeks. Then, I swapped it for the other identical cable that has seen no use. Guess what? Mark was right! The unused cable, by comparison, sounded thinner in the midrange and while bold and impactful, a little bit too tight, while the used cable was just as speedy and dynamic but at the same time lusher and sweeter.

How can an Ethernet cable make a difference? And more so, how can it become better as a result of burn-in? I’ve asked Mark the same questions and that resulted in a very interesting but also very lengthy email conversation. In order not to make this review too long, I’ve opted to jump to the conclusion here but to provide a Side Notes part 3 for the technically interested. Also in part 3: information about running in and warming up and a review of the Antipodes-supplied Ethernet cable. But I can imagine that many will feel that I’ve been rambling on for too long already so here’s straight to the Conclusion.

Conclusion

The EX is a great Music Server and an even better Renderer. Just the same, the CX is an amazing Server. But when combined, the two perform at an unprecedented level. All the qualities of the EX remain present but are enhanced with the qualities of the CX and then taken to an even stellar level.

There comes a time when a reviewer just lacks the superlatives to describe the latest experience and for me, this is it. How do I describe the CX+EX delivery if I have already used all the superlatives that I can think of for earlier reviews? This combination is, quite simply, the very best digital front end that I have heard.
..............CHRISTIAAN PUNTER