• The Zodiac Gold offers a total of six digital audio inputs: one AES/EBU, two coaxial S/PDIF, two Toslink, and one USB.
• For the popular USB input, the Zodiac Gold offers distinctive modes for PC and Mac to ensure high data accuracy. The USB input supports a maximum data transfer rate of 480Mbits/sec, thus supporting up to 384kHz/24-bit data files (no, that’s not a typo).
• As above, the Zodiac Gold provides two de-jittered, re-clocked digital outputs (one AES/EBU and one coaxial S/PDIF).
• Although many users will be fully satisfied with the Zodiac Gold’s “Antelope Oven Clock”, the Gold provide a separate BNC clock input for those who might own one of Antelope’s upper end Isochrone-series master clocks.
• The preamp section of the Zodiac Gold provides two stereo analog inputs (one balanced via TRS jacks, the other single-ended via RCA jacks).
• The Zodiac Gold preamp also provides two sets of stereo analog outputs (one set balanced via XLR connectors with precision trim-able output levels, and one set unbalanced via RCA jacks).
• The headphone amp section of the Zodiac Gold provides two ¼-inch TRS (phone jack) outputs.
• The preamp uses an analog volume control to avoid any loss of resolution (digital volume controls necessarily throw away data to do their job).
• The volume control is a gold stepped relay attenuator, for precise channel-to-channel tracking that is accurate to within 0.05dB.
• A simple yet flexible remote control is included. As pretty as it is functional, the remote features “aluminum unibody” construction.
• Finally, the Zodiac Gold headphone amp is taken just as seriously as the preamp section, which only makes sense, given the significance of headphones in the pro world.
• The headphone amp features a separate volume control that functions independently from the preamp volume control, indicating that the preamp and headphone amps do not share circuitry.
• Antelope describes the headphone amp circuit as an “ultra linear, dual-stage” design.
• We particularly liked the fact that Antelope provides switching to optimize the amp for low impedance or high impedance headphones.
• The Voltikus power supply is a low noise, regulated design. The idea is to further ensure a clean electrical environment for all the delicate signal handling and timing going on inside the Zodiac Gold.
Consider this DAC/Pre/headphone amp if:
• Sonic delicacy, spaciousness, and detail are critical to you; the Zodiac Gold delivers all three in spades.
• Also consider the Zodiac Gold if you like the idea of a single component that merges the functions of a very high performance DAC, de-jitter module for digital audio signals, preamp (with balanced and unbalanced inputs and outputs), and a dedicated headphone amp.
Look further if:
• Macro-dynamic slam is at the top of your list of sonic needs, or…
• You really need maximum output in order to drive very tough headphone loads (e.g., very low-efficiency planar-magnetic or dynamic headphones).
• Tonal Balance: 9.5
• Clarity: 9.5
• Dynamics: 9.0
• Output Flexibility: 9.5
• Value: 9.0
As “three products in one,” the Zodiac Gold with Voltikus power suplly presents the reviewer with quite a bit of complexity. To avoid getting too entangled in the myriad possible details and comparisons, I’ve chosen to concentrate on the aspects of the Zodiac that are likely to differentiate it from other products (or product combinations) that you might consider.
Zodiac Gold DAC
The DAC is arguably the most distinctive element here, both technically and sonically. (While both the Zodiac Gold preamp and headphone amp sections are well executed, they alone are perhaps not the reasons most customers would choose this product; it’s the DAC that pushes this product over the goal line). Thus, our working assumption is that almost all buyers will end up using the DAC.