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Testing Ground

Antipodes K50 Test: An audio server and player for top-of-the-range HiFi systems

By Alban Amouroux |

Antipodes K50 test: Audiophile music servers have become an essential part of even the most exclusive HiFi systems. Elements originally created for computer systems are now being developed specifically for the audio industry. The Antipodes K50 is a device that will form the heart and soul of your sound system, making it suitable for even the most demanding music enthusiasts.

Located in New Zealand, Antipodes truly lives up to its name. Since 2011, the company has been producing high-end audio servers that are worlds apart from the usual NAS and file servers. Antipodes’ servers are all about storing media and making it easily accessible. Although their main function is to make music available on the home network, it’s also possible to store photos and videos on these devices. You’d be forgiven for calling them media servers.

The audio server is a recently new product within the world of HiFi, more recent than the networked audio player, which was previously used to pick up music from a simple computer. The audio server is very much like a computer, just with very limited functions. This limited functionality means there are no other parallel processes that could slow the device down and increase the time taken to access your files. The audio server takes the form of a HiFi device so that it can seamlessly fit into a HiFi system. As such, it’s always fanless, unlike conventional computer servers.

Specifications

● Audio server and player
● Price : 16,500 €
● High resolution audio : 768 kHz/32-bit, DSD512
● Server applications : Squeeze, Roon Core, MinimServer, Sonos, HQPlayer, DLNA, Plex
● Streaming protocols : Squeeze, Roon, MPD, HQPlayer, Shairport
● Storage : 3x external slots for 2.5" drives (up to 24TB)
● Connectivity : 1x USB audio, 1x XLR AES, 3x SPDIF (coaxial, BNC, optical), 2x I2S (RJ45, HDMI), 1x WordClock output, 2x Ethernet, 4x USB
● Dimensions (l x h x d) : 445 x 370 x 120 mm
● Weight : 19 kg

Overview of the Antipodes K50

High-quality materials and assembly are usually the result of a higher price point as well as locally designed and manufactured products. This is certainly the case with the K50, as indicated by the inscriptions on its rear panel. The chassis is made up of thick aluminium panels with numerous grooved openings that facilitate the cooling of the circuit boards. All of this contributes to a weight of 19kg, an unusual weight for an audio server.

The computer card is located at the rear left of the interior and is cooled via copper heat sinks. These are connected directly to the radiator which occupies the entire left side of the K50. Two large R-Core power transformers are positioned behind the front panel. A second control card is located in the centre, whilst an audio output card integrates the various connectors on the rear panel. These three cards correspond to the different functions: server, playback with USB output, and playback with multiple digital outputs. Other models in this Antipodes range only include a playback card or a server card.

The K50 represents the top-end of this Antipodes range, so it’s brimming with features. The rear panel is split into two parts; the server functions are on the right, comprising four USB ports and two Ethernet ports. One of the two is used to connect to the network, the second to connect an external network drive directly to the server. The USB ports can accommodate external hard drives as well as a CD drive for copying your collection to the server.

The audio outputs that correspond to the player functions are located on the left side. Firstly, there’s a dedicated USB audio port that supports Hi-Res 768/32 and DSD512. Then you have a choice of six digital outputs in AES, SPDIF and I2S. Antipodes have increased the number of ports in order to offer all solutions, even less common ones with SPDIF on BNC and I2S on RJ45. The K50 has an integrated reclocker intended to improve the clocking of all these outputs. It also offers a WordClock output so you can connect your DAC.

Finally, let’s take a look at the minimalistic front panel. It consists of a single button and two indicator LEDs that show the status of the K50. The large power and standby button don’t seem to match the quality of the rest of the device. An aluminium button might have been more suitable, though this is only a minor detail. We would have preferred a display, even a simple one, in order to see the operating mode of the server and the status of the player.  

Using the Antipodes K50

The best way to use the K50 is to connect it to the network via the ethernet socket and to a DAC or amp/DAC via one of its digital outputs. Two cables are enough. It goes without saying that with this top-of-the-range device, WiFi is not advised as the connection can often be unstable. Although there’s only one network link, the K50 has two separate IP addresses: one for the server and one for the player. To find them, go to the antipodes website and click on the “My Antipodes” section. This page scans your local network for the brand’s devices.

The two functions are therefore accessible separately, the server on one side and the streamer on the other. Let’s take a look at the server first. The K50 server uses existing solutions which have been integrated. Just select the one that’s most suitable for your intended use: Squeeze, Roon, MinimServer, HQPlayer or Plex. To keep things simple, you can also enable DLNA mode or Sonos compatibility, i.e. file sharing recognised by Sonos speakers. All these platforms can be activated simultaneously and they all access the same content stored in the K50. If you’re only using one mode, you can disable the others.

In addition to the USB ports for external hard drives and memory sticks, the K50 also has three rear slots for 2.5" drives, bringing its total storage capacity to 24TB. Unlike its competitors, it’s therefore possible to insert and remove disks without having to open the device. Going back to the server management page, it also offers three tools for disk management, file management and CD copying. All copy, delete, transfer and backup functions are included so you won’t need a computer. However, the K50 is accessible via the network just like any other server.

Now let’s take a look at the player management page. Once again, Antipodes lets you choose the operating mode. Logically, you’ll choose the service that corresponds to the server’s operating mode so that the two can communicate. Here, the mode is exclusive. Then you can choose the audio output (USB or digital outputs). The USB output is only available if a DAC is connected and recognised. Finally, the DSD can be played natively or as DSD-over-PCM. The device comes with some technical information about the output formats and the different formats accepted, which is helpful in the case of any problems.

The specific functions of the K50 are limited to what we’ve just discussed, so it’s fairly straightforward to use. However, when you select one of the server and player platforms, additional configuration windows become available. These are used to adjust a few settings and take you to the usual configuration pages for each platform where you’ll find all the relevant sound settings. From here, for example, you can configure the Roon server and activate the corresponding player.

Listening Experience

We didn’t have any HiFi equipment that matched the quality of the K50 to hand. However, we were ready to compare its qualities to more accessible products by linking it up to our Parasound amplifier and our Dynaudio speakers. We used a Merason DAC with its separate power supply (you’ll soon see our review of it here). We activated the Roon Core server and set up the Roon player in which, naturally, we used Qobuz.

The Antipodes K50 stands out for its fluidity. The sound seems to flow naturally, never grating on the ear even in the most sensitive of registers. Its sonic articulation is masterful with exemplary control. Detail is present throughout the bandwidth, from the deep bass notes to the treble, with finer details never fading into the background when the sound becomes more complex. The lower midrange, which is often simplified in cheaper devices, is full of substance here.

Listening to FKJ’s latest album, V I N C E N T, the bass resonates beautifully and with stunning impact. The sound stage is deep, as if the wall behind the speakers no longer exists. Nothing feels forced; the notes of these dreamy songs vanish into space with great fluidity. The whole is so coherent that it’s impossible to locate the speakers when you close your eyes.

Next, we tried out some jazz with Julius Rodriguez’s album Let Sound Tell All. The bass sounds to be in front of and above the drums, contributing to a sense of verticality. The double bass resonates through our listening room with natural power. The placements are always precise across the width of the sound stage; it’s like we’re standing right in front of the jazz guitar that’s coming from the centre-right.

Stravinsky’s Oiseau de Feu performed by the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra once again treats us to a strikingly realistic sound. Every micro-detail is effortlessly reproduced by the K50, allowing us to enjoy a realistic reproduction of the ensemble with great depth and impeccable placement of the sections. The excellent tonal quality is another feature of this server/player.

Pros:
Addictive
Great sound quality
Server and player
External SSD storage

Cons :
No front panel display
Very high-end price

Conclusion

The Antipodes K50 is an exceptional device. It deserves to be paired with devices of the same calibre in order to make the most of its incredible qualities. Even with our modest test system, it offered improvements across the board, most significantly in the realms of providing an incredibly natural reproduction. Connected to a high-quality HiFi set-up, it will undoubtedly take your system to a whole new level. Plus, what’s more like an audio server than an audio server? With the K50, Antipodes has created a fantastic audio server that delivers a flawless audio stream to your amplifier and speakers. Whilst you could simply use the K50 as an audio server and assign the playback function to another device, we would recommend taking advantage of the fact that these two functions have been linked together. If you can afford to, make the K50 the centre of your HiFi system. You won’t regret it.