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Reviewer: John Darko
Sources: Mac Mini 2010 w/ Audirvana+, Resonessence Labs Concero HD (as USB converter), iFi iUSBPower
DACs: Schiit Bifrost Uber, Schiit Loki, Resonessence Labs Concero HD, AURALiC Vega [on loan], Metrum Hex [on loan], Resonessence Labs Invicta Mirus [on loan], Aqua La Scala MKII [on loan]
Amps: Clones Audio 25i [on loan], Redgum RGi60, NAD D 3020 [on loan], NAD 3020i
Speakers: Zu Soul MkII, Atohm GT1.0 [on loan] w/ Atacama Nexus 6i stands, Evolution Acoustics MicroOne w/ stands
Headphones: Mr Speakers Mad Dog, V-Moda Crossfade M100
Headphone DAC/amplifiers: Resonessence Labs Herus and Concero HP, Schiit Asgard2, Schiit Vali, Astell&Kern AK120, ALO The Island
Cabling:Light Harmonic LightSpeed USB cable, Zu Audio Event speaker cable, interconnects and digital coaxial, Aurealis Audio UPOCC speaker cable
Extras: PS Audio PowerBase
Review Component Retail: AU$3'992

Won’t you please keep the noise down? Sound quality optimization in digital audio can be achieved by lowering the electrical noise that causes timing errors in the digital audio stream. These timing errors are often referred to as jitter. Jitter manifests as audible glare, detail obfuscation and diminished dynamics. This image found on the back of the box for iFi Micro's iUSBPower illustrates all cartoon-like how electrical noise can influence the outcome of digital playback:

Do you think Apple or Dell pay close attention to the electrical noise that impacts digital audio? They do not. Isn’t this why many of us—myself included—trick out our consumer-grade computers and laptops with USB-S/PDIF converters and power filters? Re-clocking and buffering interventions from the likes of Resonessence Labs and Audiophilleo most likely make an audible difference because my MacMini and Macbook Air are each super noisy to begin with.

Not that we can reasonably expect otherwise. Cupertino design computers to first be user-friendly and functional. Expecting them to double as audiophile-grade music servers is a bit of an ask. But we do it anyway. From his Auckland headquarters where he also designs audio cables, Antipodes Audio’s Mark Jenkins says his priority when building music servers/streamers is to optimize sound quality before adding functionality and ease of use. Not that his implementations are hard to use - not one bit (more on that later). At AU$3'992 the DS Reference is Antipodes Audio’s entry-level music server/streamer. Jenkins calls it a streamer. I call it a server. In fact it doubles as both to store and stream digital audio. Let’s look more closely. 

Hardware. The fundamental idea behind Antipodes’ DS Reference is to remove as much noise interference as possible before it reaches the next step in the chain rather than relying on your DAC (or USB converter) to fix those noise-induced timing errors later. On the face of it the DS Reference ingredients look fairly ordinary: Intel Atom CPU N270 @ 1.60GHz, 2TB hard drive and 2GB of DDR2 RAM. However better chefs know it’s not simply the ingredients themselves that affect flavour; it’s the quality of those ingredients, the way they are combined, heated and served.

Almost everything under the DS Reference’s hood has been very carefully selected and in many cases customized or tweaked. The motherboard and RAM combination were apparently chosen after hundreds of hours of listening. The hard drive is a slow-spinning 2.5” Western Digital that runs proprietary firmware. Jenkins is keen to point out that you cannot buy the hard drive in this form off the shelf and his firmware is designed "to make it run the way you would want a music server HDD to run."