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Lift-off: Armed with Furutech's snazzy blue cable, Wireworld's flat Starlight 5² link as well as Antelope's generic USB cable all with the necessary but detestable mini B plugs (try to seat one of them with the component in the usual shelf), my iMac with Snow Leopard at first failed to recognize the Zodiac+. It didn't show as a selectable audio device. My Windows XP-based HP Workstation meanwhile had no issue. It identified the DAC by its proper name right off. My Antelope contact Leizer Benvenishty asked whether I'd checked that USB mode was UH1. I had not. For that press/hold the source button while the unit is powered off. If the display shows UF1 instead, a single press source again will switch it to the desired UH1. Now power up to lock down that setting.


This magically took off the device's invisibility cloak and the iMac suddenly saw it. Switching from iTunes to Amarra next reset the displayed sample rate for Redbook files from 192kHz (iTunes) to 44.1kHz (Amarra 2.0) and to 96kHz or 192kHz for my high-density Linn Records FLAC files. Next I used my Weiss DAC2 as Firewire-to-S/PDIF interface to toggle through all the usual sample rate options in its OS device window. This had the now clock-slaved Zodiac+ track all rate changes without fail (including 88.2kHz and 176.4kHz for which I didn't have native files). Each upsampling change was accompanied by a single click/flash of the white signal lock LED. Everything was plug & play as advertised. My fears that the Weiss DAC's special Firewire drivers had mysteriously 'deactivated' the native drivers which the Zodiac+ needed were groundless.


The obvious: Calling the Zodiac+ a high-resolution device seems foregone conclusion and cheating. We all knew going in of its BurrBrown/TI 1792-A chip whose astonishing 132dB S/N ratio makes it that family of parts' highest performing silicon; and of Antelope's advanced jitter management as it is duly surrounded by quite noisy marketing gobbledygook. But sometimes the obvious is simple fact rather than fluff or superficial.


The trouble—and it probably causes recording engineers and pro-audio designers endless consternation who view more resolution as more truth—is that audiophiles often do equate high resolution with superficiality. That references presentations which are sterile, clinical, analytical, dissective and thus bereft of 'soul' or 'musicality'. This isn't the place to debate our strange conventions and touchy-feely terms. Suffice to say that we nearly reflexively counter statements of "you can hear everything with that device "with a big question mark. "But does it convey the emotions" we want to know. The subtext is huge doubt.


So where on our audiophile checklist do emotions prosper? What technical parameters are responsible? If you point at upper bass impact in the so-called power zone between roughly 100 and 200Hz, the Zodiac+ isn't the most guttural or endowed. This subjectively softens particularly macrodynamics. If you point at tone density or the depth and saturation of tone colors, the Zodiac+ is less dense and saturated than for example the Eastern Electric MiniMax. Between those two machines, Antelope's designer would seem to be the superior digital specialist, his Hong Kong equivalent the analog man. (The Zodiac Gold's primary advantages are said to be in its analog section. This suggests consensus at Antelope that the output stage and/or power supply of the Zodiac+ leave room to build out from).


To my ears, this machine's true fort√© is spaciousness built upon profound airiness. This combination of qualities strengthens the connective tissue between the notes, what we call recorded reflections, decays and harmonic halos. Rather than mass and impact, the Zodiac+ seems dialled for speed, articulation and nuance. Whether the forthcoming optional "heavy-duty audiophile" power supply—one suspects a traditional rather than SMPS design—increases heft and slam remains to be seen. It would seem a sensible expectation.


If you're amongst those for whom soul spells expansive soundstaging, the Zodiac+ should prove special. Take for example Cigala & Tango. It's the ravishing genre-crossing follow-up to the Lagrimas Negras canon of three albums where a very gifted Flamenco cantaor met various Cuban pianists. This time the long-haired Gypsy singer reinvents Argentine tango with the same vigour and mindblowing mastery he applied so effectively—and multi award winningly—to Cuban boleros and rancheros before. This album captures him live in front of an appreciative audience (plus saucy violin, bandoneon, piano, flamenco and classical guitar). The Antelope converter conveyed all the cues necessary to suggest significant venue depth and an absence of nearby recorded boundaries.


On various Øystein Sevåg numbers for well-recorded intelligent 'adult contemporary' fare, cymbal workouts were highly finessed and soundstaging rather capacious, the latter due to deliberate studio trickery. This confirmed how today's converter seems especially tuned to retrieve space and air. Compared to my Weiss DAC-2/Minerva which marked my entry into PC audio earlier this year, the lower-priced Antelope staged wider, deeper and with more specificity. By specificity I mean a heightened sense of there or image lock that was effective even when sitting off axis.

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