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DAC - Antelope Gold vs Mc Intosh D-100
ANTELOPE vs Mc INTOSH D-100
(February 2013)

I-.INTRODUCTION.

After having reviewed a few DACs under 1.200$ over the past few weeks, I have decided to go one step beyond by reviewing a few DACs in the $3,000 price range, while remaining below $5,000.
Like our recent previous DACs reviews, we take the NuForce HDP as the reference point: it is a top-performer, not expensive, a kind of killer in a small size form factor. It handles both the USB and SP/DIF inputs. To date, none of the DACs that we have reviewed below $3,000 has been able to seriously compete with it. This proves once again that there is no strict relationship between the price and the musical quality.

Consequently, we were curious to see the issue of a battle with a few DACs belonging to the upper category: we have decided to compare it to the very famous ANTELOPE Gold with its Voltikus power supply, and to the Mc INTOSH D-100 Preamp/DAC.


II-.THE ANTELOPE GOLD IN DETAIL.

The best internet link to learn more about the ANTELOPE Gold and its Voltikus power supply is on
the manufacturer website.

This DAC is made in the USA and has been designed by engineers usually working for the professional world like the music studio for example. By surfing on the ANTELOPe website you will a lot of professional products such as an atomic clock with a $50,000 price tag...

Here is the founder ar the AES show in 2011:
igor_photo.jpg

The ANTELOPE DAC exists in 3 levels of price:
  • Antelope Zodiac 192kHz , the base model
  • Antelope Zodiac +
  • Antelope Gold being the top of the line

These 3 models can receive an optional external power supply named Volticus.
The Antelope Gold is definitively beautiful and is available in 3 colors: black, silver or gold. They offer a large range of connectors (see the photo below) and a remote control is provided: this is a plus and not only for the « just married » people.

Here is a photo of the ANTELOPE GOLD with its Volticus power supply:

Antelope_Gold__Volticus.jpg

and its rear:
Antelope_Gold_arriere.jpg
 

III-MC INTOSH D-100.

Here is a brief history of the Mc Intosh brand:

 
Créé en 1949 par Frank McIntosh « Mr Mac », spécialiste des équipements pour le broadcast TV et radio et l’ingénieur Gordon Gow, McIntosh est un constructeur américain de produits Hi-Fi haut de gamme reconnu dans le monde. La marque est considérée aujourd’hui comme l’une des plus emblématiques dans le domaine de l’audio. McIntosh propose des produits électroniques et des enceintes acoustiques conçus pour durer et offrir des perfomances exceptionnelles. La marque bénéficie d’une forte notoriété auprès des audiophiles, passionnés de musique et de design les plus exigeants. Les légendaires vu-mètres bleu turquoise des produits McIntosh sont devenus le symbole du luxe et de l’excellence. Depuis 2001, McIntosh est dirigé par Charlie Randall.

The D-100 has a classic (if not vintage) form factor:
 
 D100_Front.jpg

and the rear face:
D100_Back.jpg


III-.THE SYSTEM SETUP.

The system configuration remains the same: we still use the wonderful
WIREWORLD Starlight Platinium USB, to connect the PC to the DAC. The NuForce HDP is still the reference point to evaluate the other DAC, simply because this NuForce HDP is the absolute bargain in the DAC world.
config_antelope.jpg
 
The two competitors do not use the same conversion chip:
 
Brand  DAC chip
Antelope Gold  Burr Brown 1792
Mc Intosh D-100  ESS Sabre 9016 (8 channels)

 
 
 IV-.LISTENING SESSIONS WITH THE ANTELOPE GOLD + VOLTICUS P.S.
The listening sessions always follow the same protocol in order to remain as unbiased as possible: firstly a classical CD, then a film soundtrack, and finally a jazz CD.
I was a very impatient person when the review approached: I had read so many positive comments about the Antelope... But as usual, I only trust my ears...

The first thing to point out with the Antelope is the soundtage: it is truly excellent, very large with a lot of details.
After a few hours of listening and comparisons with the two other DAC (NuForce and Mc Intosh), the dfferences come to the surface. And unfortunately, they are not at the advantage of the Antelope. Its bass section is too far, too slow compared to its competitors. In addition, a few instruments, such as the saxo or the trumpets, are not correct: they sound « false » compared with what we expect from a > $3,500 DAC. They do not carry enough feelings, are not enough alive to create the passion that the music usually generates.
I confess that I expected more from a professional DAC! I am disappointed and a bit sad, and I am aolso surprised provided what we could read on this device on some other websites or magazines. But I have to continue with the review of the Mc Intosh...
 

Pros:
  • absolutely and definitely beautiful
  • the mids have a lot of matter, sound rich and sweet
  • the front buttons and controls are simple and efficient
  • the soundstage is very good and large
  • the design uses two cabinets, one being dedicated to the Volticus power supply
 

Cons:
  • the bass is too far compared to its competitors
  • not enough punchy
  • the price is too high regarding its musical performance
  • the instruments belonging to the saxo/trumpets family do not sound true
     
TL_3.jpg

V-LISTENING SESSIONS WITH THE MC INSTOSH D-100.
 

MC INTOSH is not a very famous brand in the digital audio world: it has a good reputation in the preamplifier and amplifier devices, it is a sort of legend in this area, but it almost unknown in the digital area. Despite a few previous digital devices, fFor me testing a Mc Intosh digital product is like testing a new generation Mc Intoch product...
As always, the Mc Intosh look is superb: the famous blue vu-meters have been logically replaced by a blue LCD display: it is a change but a mandatory one...
In addition to the DAC section, Mc Intosh has added a preamplifier. It is a good news as well as complain for those who prefer a cheaper product without the preamplifier features...

But let us go to the listening feedback...

As soon as the first notes go out of this DAC, the judgment is an evidence: we are not playing in the same league as th Antelope ! we know that the sentence is difficult for the last one, but I immediately thought: this is a very musical DAC !
This Mc INTOSH D-100 is the first very serious competitor for the NuForce HDP: we had been waiting for a so long time !...

With this Mc Intosh, the bass is present, the speed also, and the musics sound « simply true ». It is very easy to summarize our global feeking about this DAC: we get everything ! Yuor leg will be out of control a few minutes after the beginning of the listening session. If you do not believe us, no problem: just to your closest Mc Intosh dealer and ask for an audition: we know that we are right, and we are not afraid by your judgement...

Mc Intosh is not a digital specialist, and I have never been a fan of its preamps and amps, but we are obliged to recognize that Mc Intosh clearly demonstrates his know how in the digital domain: a new leader in the digital domain is born, and the other manufacturers will have to take care about him. It is as simple as this.
We do not know if this DAC has been engineered by Mc Intosh in house, or it a set of external engineers has been required to design it, but the result is there: this DAC probably offers the best available setup of the ESS Sabre 9016 chip, worldwide.

The Mc Intosh D-100 is better than the NuForce HDP. Period. With a +/-3,000€ price tag, we could believe that this is normal, but all the other DACs that we have reviewed to date, up to the Antelope $3.700 price, have failed to beat the NuForce HDP on the USB dematerialized input.
 
We have only one word to add: congratulations Mc Intosh !

Pros:
  • the look is superb
  • a preamp is included
  • the musicality is fantastic on all music styles on its USB input.
  • the rythm, the ease, and everything else it offers simply brings you into the music...
 

Cons:
  • a bit pricey: €3,100 is a lot of money for a DAC in 2013 (the average DAC price has decreased over the past years...).
  • for those alread owning a preamp, a more affordable version without preamp would have been highly regarded
  • the form factor is a bit old, but this is probably to match with the legacy Mc Intosh products
  • provided its size and wieght, do not expect to travel with it (there is a NuForce for that...)
 
TL_5.jpg

This article has been written by
Florent and Nounours - March 2013.
 

Creation date : 02/02/2013 @ 19:56
Last update : 21/01/2015 @ 14:07
Category : DAC
Page read 189 times


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