Tonal character is where we tend to start the sound section for most of our reviews and this one shall be no different. The Antelope Platinum sits between two of our favourite DAC’s tonally, it is smoother and warmer than the Lampizator Lite7 (stock tubes) but brighter and quicker than the Totaldac D1-tube MKII (stock, ours is now different). I would say it’s about smack on the money gaining a balance between being light, airy and tight against warm, slower and more natural. This general tonality is present both with and without the Atomic Clock, the effects of which I will talk about later. In terms of soundstage it isn’t huge, but it is more than adequate and does give a good sense of space and scale.
Assume I am referring to the £4250 standard bundle of the Voltikus and Antelope Platinum DAC for the time being. Around this price point our favourite DAC is the Lampizator Lite7 which with the Pre-Amp addition comes in at around £5000, a little more I know but it should be a well contested event with both bringing something different to the table.
This is an area that the Platinum excels. The impact and extension offered is very good indeed, it’s one of the most impressive performers in sub bass that I’ve heard with a very controlled but enveloping bottom end that fills out the whole presentation. Mid bass impact is powerful and can be very agile at times but also has a little extra decay than the likes of the Lampizator which is a more realistic interpretation. Rhythmically I’m impressed by the Platinum; for the most part passages are grabbed and handled musically but accurately. The only criticism I have I that edges aren’t as clear cut, defined or as strict as I would like. This is something that is consistent through the frequency range.
Clear and separated are two words that describe this area, and I don’t mean separated in the sense that I feel separated from the music, quite the opposite actually. What I mean is that there is a very noticeable ability to distinguish parts of the recording and isolate them without having unevenness or any sense of there being any aspect of the sound that is particularly forward. It’s simply an accurate and thoroughly enjoyable ability of this DAC. The natural and emotive signature in vocals is really key in forcing you to forget your source is digital, this is one of the main selling points in my opinion; it just has a little extra weight to it than the Lampizator, I love that. The Lampizator is more precise, more focused, ultimately more analytical and it is a little boosted in the upper mids/lower treble. It could be confidently argued that this is a little less natural but here is where preference will choose.
The ‘analogue’ like sound continues in the treble, it’s a little shorter on decay than the totaldac but not as quick and vibrant as the Lampi. The general top end character could be described as relaxed but that would maybe be a little extreme, so I will say softer instead. Extension isn’t bad but I do wish there was a little more precision, detail and shimmer just to keep up with some competitors like Exogal, our revised totaldac, Lampizator as well as offerings from North Star.
Experience as a Pre-Amp
I used the Platinum as a standalone DAC obviously but also couldn’t shy away from seeing what it was like as a Pre too! I was lucky enough to be able to use it with a couple of Thoress 300B mono-blocks and the NAD M22 as well as the Questyle CMA800R mono-blocks to name just a few. I’ve actually been really impressed and I have to say that in general the DAC/Pre is the way to go as far as I’m concerned; it eliminates synergy issues between the two components and gives short signal paths. On top of this, it saves space and also means that the same manufacturer is responsible for two stages which does fill me with a little confidence that the two will work. As a pre, we have transparency, neutrality and generally a very good alternative to the traditional method. Comparing to the likes of the NAD M12 in particular the Antelope is a class apart, the transparency in particular means that you sustain the sound they have gone for pretty much guaranteeing that if you like the DAC then you will like the Pre in your system too.
The £4600 Clock… Is It Worth It?
To be straight, it turns this DAC around; it becomes a whole different beast, one that is a force to be reckoned with.
So you plug it in and connect the DAC and your source by USB, and the atomic light turns on to let you know when your music is being clocked by this rather pricey upgrade.I have to be honest, when I heard the clock was more than the DAC itself I thought to myself, ‘it can’t seriously make that kind of difference’. In actual fact, it’s pretty shocking. The entire stage is tightened up; throughout the frequency range there is an increase in precision, detail and articulation. As you would hope, there is no negative impact to the clock being connected up; everything has a perceivable improvement from separation to clarity to refinement. Disconnecting it seems to take the life out of the music with simply less authority over rhythms and dynamic shifts.
It’s one of those scenarios that has you recommending something you hadn’t thought you would. However there is a couple of drawbacks.
For me, without the clock at £4250 it’s a good DAC/pre without a doubt, not as good as the Lampizator in my opinion but that’s me, I prefer the cleaner, more analytical sound from the Lamp. I think it’s a decent price though, especially if you are using the Pre, if not then I think it might just be pushing it a little. With the clock, it’s now a product pushing £9000 which is a lot in anyone’s book and puts it at a price that is very much a statement as much as anything. It’s also more expensive than the totaldac which is unanimously the preferred of the two with everyone who we have got to listen, primarily because of its ability to make everything sound wonderfully huge and dynamic as well as its fantastic technical abilities. When you combine that with the fact that the Platinum is a 9 grand USB DAC/pre, that idea becomes a little harder to swallow. However… we haven’t got to the best bit about the Antelope and believe me it is something to shout about!
THE stand out feature. Arguably the best DAC I’ve ever heard with DSD. If you have a decent amount of DSD that you listen to regularly then that alone is a reason to audition this DAC, it may even be a deal breaker. There isn’t much more to say, this is the magic of DSD allowed to shine and I love it.
This space saving high end DAC pre is a talented and very natural sounding choice in a competitive market. The features and size will be a selling point without a doubt and the option to upgrade at a later date with the clock is cool too, and will take the product into a different league. The DSD is a key differentiator between this and the majority of the market. PC users are happy as can be but the problems with Mac connection are inexcusable I’m afraid.
If a top quality attempt at neutral and very natural is your bag (and why wouldn’t it be) then I would heartily recommend you give it a go. It isn’t our top choice at either price point but that is not to say I haven’t got a whole lot of love for the Platinum and is in no way an indicator of whether it will be yours.
Once again we owe a huge thanks to Antelope for the lengthy demo we have had of this product, the whole thing has been able to be relaxed and fun which is exactly what this industry is all about. Thanks for living by this Antelope!