Antipodes CX + EX Music Server and Renderer part 1/3
Review sample supplied by Antipodes Audio
Retail prices in the Netherlands incl 21% VAT:
EX: 4650 euro
CX 6.895 euro
I’ve lived with the Antipodes EX for half a year now and as can be read in the review, it is the best Roon Server and Renderer that I have heard. When the EX was released, however, plans were already in the making to create a matching component called the CX and after having anticipated it with my usual impatience, now it’s here!
While the use cases for the EX and CX might seem to overlap and this might lead to confusion, it’s really quite clear, once you understand the different tasks at hand. When thinking of Roon or any other streaming audio solution, there are two main functions: the Server and the Renderer. The former holds the music and creates an index of the library that you can browse via a tablet or computer and the latter receives the music stream via the network, plays it back and outputs it, in this case via USB. In most cases, the best results are obtained by performing both tasks by the same machine (the Antipodes DX is a good example) but extra efforts have been made to provide even better results using the independent EX + CX devices, specialized for each task.
All Antipodes servers are available in a Black or Silver finish.
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.
Above: the main Audio App Switcher screen.
Above: Apps screen.
Above: Settings screen.
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 DX, DS 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.
“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.
“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!