Antipodes Audio EX Music Server/DAC Page 2

The provision of the various USB ports took some adjusting to, too. There are four, each independently fed from the EX's motherboard, with two black ones offering the best sound quality (one also supplies 5V power for DACs that require it) but the potential for less compatibility with some DACs. The two blue ports offer both 5V power and wider compatibility, so it's a case of 'suck it and see'. In my case I found that the black ports worked fine with all the DACs I tried, from the little Meridian Explorer2 all the way up to the digital input on the Krell K-300i integrated amplifier/DAC.

sqnote Analogue First
With the EX set up, I was able to use it as a Roon Core – yes, doing so involves deauthorising your existing Core if you have one, and thus lengthy re-scanning of the library – and as an end-point. I was also able to use it both as a server for my existing network players and a player for my normal NAS storage and, via the always handy mConnect app on my iPad, as a means of accessing both Tidal and Qobuz streams. I even tried it playing music from a USB stick inserted into one of the 'blue USB' ports on the rear panel.

Once I had it up and running, and got the hang of adding and playing music, I found that all the confusion of the initial set-up evaporated, and it was possible to relax into playing the music. Moral of the story? This device isn't quite as 'plug and play' as some of its rivals – and I'm talking as someone who has fought with vanishing NAS units and wrestled a recalcitrant Naim UnitiCore into eventual submission!

Antipodes makes it clear that the analogue output here is meant as a 'get you started' solution, making the EX capable of just slotting into a system in place of a conventional CD player. Having done some listening with the analogue out connected into both my Naim reference set-up and the Krell K-300i, I'd have to agree with that assessment.

However, while there's nothing wrong specifically with the sound delivered this way, it's just a bit uninteresting. There's some softness in the low bass and extreme treble, and a midband that fails to spring into life and grab the attention. There's certainly a soundstage image in there somewhere, but even with the striking focus of a recording such as Feenbrothers' Play Dave Brubeck [Sound Liaison SL-1032A], recorded without overdubs and on a single stereo mic, the EX sounds slightly vague, and decidedly 'unspecial'.

Bright 'N' Breezy
Things take an immediate turn for the better when the USB outputs are pressed into service to feed external converters. And this holds true whether using the EX's own playback capablities, employing it as a Roon endpoint or even as a means of playing music on a USB storage device. As well as the Meridian Explorer2, powered from the EX, I also connected up self-powered DACs including the Chord Electronics Mojo [HFN Jan '16], and it was noticeable that the 'black' USB outs gave a sound with tighter grip and focus than the 'blue' ones, no doubt due to the reduced noise on the USB line.


Playing the subtle synths of Vangelis's Nocturne album [Decca 7702214], the precision of the sound via the Mojo was immediately ear-grabbing, as was the detail in the sweeps of synthesised backing. The same effect was very much in evidence with Lux Prima by vocalist Karen O and Danger Mouse, where the singer's voice stands out with stunning character from the lush instrumentation.

To sum up at this point, were I to listen to the EX alone, used with its analogue output, I might be a tad disappointed. However, even with the addition of a few hundred pounds of USB DAC, it's completely transformed, becoming a viable alternative to the likes of the Melco range. View the analogue outputs purely as a staging point to that, and they make perfect sense – after all, the analogue capability is already on the motherboard.

As a Roon core, the EX struggled a bit with my massive music library stored on an external NAS. This would suggest the route preferred by Antipodes of using a CX to serve the content, and the EX purely as a renderer, also makes sense. Certainly things became smoother and faster with my separate Roon ROCK server running on an Intel i5 NUC, and the EX as the Roon endpoint, with all the 'heavy lifting' taken away from the Antipodes unit.

That done, and running straight into the Krell K-300i's digital input, it gave a bright and breezy view of Sarah Bareilles's Brave Enough live set [Epic 88883 77360 9], the bass having fine weight and slam and the vocals excellent character. As did the keen live audience and the singer's banter with the crowd. Impressive, too, was the punch of Depeche Mode's 'Personal Jesus', from the Violator set [Mute CD Stumm 64], the big, stomping rhythm section sounding especially toothsome.

Hi-Fi News Verdict
The score here reflects the mildly lacklustre performance of the EX's analogue outputs, even when the manufacturer offers what is essentially a disclaimer. However, used as a purely digital source this 'Music Server' is both a fine example of its kind and a hint of what may be possible when we come to test a complete CX/EX combination. Use it as 'transport' for a USB DAC and you're unlikely to be disappointed.

Antipodes Audio Limited
New Zealand
Supplied by: Elite Audio Ltd, Fife
01334 570 666