The best thing about an audio show? That’s a hard one! Sure, there’s all the gear — and that’s huge. At a show, you get to touch all that gear you’ve fantasized about, perhaps fondle it a bit, and even — especially if no one is paying that much attention to you — rub your face all over it and make motorboat noises.
In no way do I actually endorse such crass and crude behavior, but, well. You take my point. You get to “kick the tires” — whatever that might mean to you. And like I said, that’s huge.
But what’s even cooler is something you can never get on a car lot. At an audio show, while you’re there … ah … kicking the tires … you actually can interrogate the uppermost echelons of the companies that you’re ogling. The designers, builders, architects, intellects — that is, all the folks that actually make this stuff — are usually there. And if you’re one of those annoying people who actually want to understand what’s being said to you, well, the heads of marketing and sales (the ones that are used to actually speaking with normal-sized words) are there, too. Go, show!
Even better is when these industry folks actually demo their own products. And the best rooms have demos just built into the cadence of the audio show day, and if you’re lucky, you can slip right in and catch the pitch from The One Who Knows. And that’s awesome.
So, when asked “what’s best at an audio show?”, I usually come back with, “have you heard the demo in such-and-such-a-room?”
Demos are fun. The best demos are things you’ll never hear anywhere else. Or anywhen else. They’re your exclusive ticket to a magical land … well, at least, to something cool. Hopefully, it’s more than that, of course, because the very best demos are the ones that leave you saying “NO WAY”.
Antelope Audio had a “NO WAY!” demo at Newport this year.
Marcel James, Antelope Audio’s Director of Sales for the US, was on hand to preview the technology that’s going into it’s new flagship, the Rubicon preamp. Pricing is still TBD, but expectations place it around $40,000.
To make his point about the awesomeness of Antelope, Marcel had a pile of his pro-audio gear on hand:
- Antelope Audio Eclipse 384 ($6995)
- Antelope Audio 10M Atomic Clock ($5995)
- Antelope Audio OCX-V Master Clock ($1849)
- Antelope Audio Trinity Master Clock ($2995)
Why does the average audiophile care about all this digital clocking gear? “Well,” Marcel said, “have you seen any movies lately?” If so, that movie was made using Antelope Audio clocks. Skadoosh.
Clocks are everywhere. And as anyone even moderately interested in computer-based audio knows that good clocking is how we deal with jitter. And Antelope makes some very good clocks.
Okay, so, getting back to Marcel. When I walked in, Marcel was in mid-pitch. This was the gear he was using for playback:
- Turntable: Technics 1200mkII (discontinued)
- Cartridge: Audio Technica 155LC (discontinued)
- Monitors: PTE Phoenix powered ($5600/pr.)
- Phone Preamp PTE MMMC ($1600)
So, the chain was set — analog vinyl from a well-respected turntable into a well-respected phono preamp and into a pair of powered studio monitors.
And that same phono rig was also wired into a mastering-quality analog-to-digital/digital-to-analog converter (the Antelope Eclipse).
What Marcel was able to do, then, was switch — live — between an analog source and its output chain, and that same analog source, playing real-time, captured via 24bit/192kHz sampling, before being converted back to analog and played out through the studio monitors.
Got it? Analog v digital. Go!
As you’d expect, there was an older audiophile in the room lecturing Marcel on how digital could never even approximate the emotional involvement that a true analog sound gave him. Sure, he liked digital well enough, but in the “final analysis”, analog not only couldn’t be beaten, it couldn’t even come close. It was like watching a cliché play out in front of you.
Can anybody say “softball”? I hope Marcel slipped that shill $20 or something, because what followed was … pretty telling.
Marcel queued up some large-scale orchestral music — I forget the piece, my apologies, but it had the old audiophile smiling and nodding along. Marcel then switched from “live analog” to “live digital”. And then back. And then back again — all while the piece was playing.
I swear to God, if Marcel hadn’t told us what he was doing, I wouldn’t have noticed. But I was watching. I was listening. Intently. But the transitions were seamless and the sound was completely transparent.
There was some sputtering from the old audiophile, but as for me, I’m done. Analog, shmanalog. Go, Antelope!
So, how does this relate to what they were showing? Well, it turns out that the Rubicon, the Antelope Audio flagship preamp that is nearing completion, has all this stuff in it.
Sure, it’s a DAC that will do up to 384kHz from a connected computer, over USB. It’s also a JFET-based phono preamp — and can use that USB connection to archive your vinyl collection on the fly, at up to 384kHz sampling. The Rubicon also has a headphone amplifier. And it can accept streaming audio over its Ethernet interface. And did I mention that it has an atomic clock?
Rubicon is the first DAC to integrate a Rubidium atomic clock, which is 100,000 times more stable than a traditional crystal oscillator. Coupled with Antelope’s 64-bit Accoustically Focused Clocking technology, the Rubidium achieves a breakthrough in jitter managment, improving the sound quality in an unprecedented way. The same technology is implemented in the company’s flagship master clocks used for scoring blockbusters such as Avatar and available at the best recording and mastering studios around the Globe.
Yikes. Techno-tour-de-force stuff here.
I’ve come to expect great things from Antelope. Their $4,500 Zodiac Gold with the optional outboard Voltikus PSU, is something of a marvel on the Computer Audiophile circuit and regularly receives acclaim. This next foray from a pro-audio focused company into the world of no-bounds/price-no-object audiophile-grade audio should be really instructive. The Rubicon certainly has the guts of a reference-grade product and very distinctive looks, so, color me curious — I’d love to see one of these bad boys in action.