Audio: Listen to this article.
This story should really start many years ago, but for some reason it doesn’t. I’ve known about Antipodes and its music servers forever. I even have emails with company founder Mark Jenkins dating back nearly a decade. However, until recently, I’d never had an Antipodes music server in my system at home.
This story starts in Munich during the 2023 High End show. I stopped by the Antipodes booth at the right time, enabling us to walk through the product line, really see what Antipodes is all about, and most importantly talk to the people behind the products. Call me old school, but I’m much more interested in a high end product if those involved are good people, who will take care of customers when something happens. The vibe I got from everyone at the Antipodes booth was very positive. I really liked the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” approach to product design and company growth. We parted ways with an agreement to discuss a product review in a few months.
Needless to say, a few months later we decided a Kala K50 music server would be the perfect fit for my first review of an Antipodes product. Since then I’ve spent many hours with the K50 and followed up with Antipodes to learn more about specific features and options. Music servers aren’t rocket science, and I usually know exactly what I’m doing with them, but I always like to hear directly from the horses mouth, what the company thinks and recommends.
The very first thing I noticed when I unboxed the K50 was its robust build quality. The K50 is solid as a rock, with a “fighting weight” to match. The K50’s feet so impressed me that I immediately snapped a photo and sent it to an industry friend. My first impression was complete, and it likely went the way it has for all Antipodes customers, very well.
The K50 features one of those “as simple as possible, and no simpler” type of designs with respect to music storage. The unit accepts up to three 2.5 inch SSDs via slots in the back. There’s nothing to do other than slide an SSD into place. It needn’t be more difficult than that, and it isn’t.
My unit shipped with a 256GB SSD, but potential customers should keep in mind that the first SSD placed in the unit should be a large one. Music sever life will be much easier if one starts with an 8TB SSD in slot one and needs to add more later, than if one starts too small and needs to replaces the initial drive. There are solid technical reasons why, just trust me on this one. Start fairly large if possible.
Internally the Antipodes K50 has two computers. Huh? Yes, two computers, just like all the cutting edge configurations that use a server and network endpoint (HQPlayer and NAA, Roon and Roon Ready, etc…). Many Audiophile Style readers likely remember the initial days, over a decade ago, when two computer solutions were bleeding edge and borderline fringe. Today it’s probably the most common configuration (server > endpoint).
The K50 is an anomaly though. It houses both server and endpoint / player inside a single chassis. If one wants to make life easier for fans of UPnP with network issues, placing both UPnP server and renderer in the same box, but on separate devices, alleviates all the network issues and given the tight control of both devices, should prevent most of the infamous UPnP playback issues.
Two computers inside a single box is great, except for music lovers who want to separate the server from the endpoint with an isolating fiber optic network link. If that’s a must-have feature, the K50 won’t check that box. On the other hand, combining an Antipodes K41 and K22 will make for a two-box K50 if one is so inclined.
The evaluation K50 arrived with the newest Antipodes AMS v5.0.0 software installed. The beauty of this software is that it’s really a platform from which a number of items can be launched. Antipodes doesn’t offer its own music library organization and playback application, rather it offers a platform for the best available applications.
For example, the K50 can run Squeeze, Roon, Squeeze Player with Roon Server, HQPlayer, HQPlayer with Roon Server, MPD with MinimServer, MPD with MiniDLNA, MPD with Squeeze Server, and Shairport. Can’t decide which one to use? No problem, switch between them with a couple clicks of the mouse (and appropriate license). This is especially prudent today given that many people are considering alternatives to Roon since its sale to Harman / Samsung. Testing or switching software doesn’t require new hardware with Antipodes, and it doesn’t even require moving one’s music collection. Just fire up a different app and spend some time listening.
Note: The current version of HQPlayer is 4.x. Antipodes will support HQPlayer 5.x in due time, as some operating system dependencies must be met first, before v5 can be installed. The team at Antipodes are big fans of HQPlayer and understand the need to get this done soon, but to also get it done right the first time. I was told by the team that the AMSv5 final update will include HQPv5.
In My System
I’d love to tell everyone that I used every imaginable software configuration Antipodes has to offer and I wrote a 100,000 word review, wait, no I wouldn’t. I selected my current favorite combination for systems like this, and listened to music while also trying to find flaws. I set the K50 Playback Method to MPD with MinimServer. This runs MinimServer on the server computer and MPD, with what I’m guessing is upmpdcli UPnP renderer, on the player / endpoint computer (both in the same chassis).
MinimServer with MPD on the K50 enables me to use my absolute favorite UPnP control point application JPLAY for iOS. I copied music to the K50’s internal SSD, fired up my iPad Pro running JPLAY (streaming Tidal Max and playing local files), and had it working perfectly in no time.
Note: One potential negative of this configuration is the lack of volume control from within the UPnP control point app. JPLAY can certain control volume, but the volume commands can’t be passed through AES or USB from the software renderer running on the K50 to one’s DAC of choice. I use different volume control in my systems anyway, so this wasn’t an issue for me.
I placed the Antipodes K50 in two different audio systems in my house, my main system and my desktop system. Calling it a desktop system doesn’t do it justice as the K50 fed music over AES to a dCS Lina DAC, output to a Purifi Eigentakt 1ET400A based integrated amp, powering a pair of Wilson Audio TuneTots.
In my main system the K50 delivered audio via USB to a dCS Rossini APEX, out to a Constellation Audio Inspiration PreAmp, Constellation Audio Inspiration Mono amps, and Wilson Audio Alexia V loudspeakers.
While I really enjoyed the K50 in my “desktop” system, I had the most fun with it in my main system, connected via USB to the dCS Rossini APEX. I guess that shouldn’t be a shocker to anyone.
My first couple tests in this system involved going right to a 24/192 classical album that must be played gapless, and playing it for 24 hours straight. Why start with something easy, if one is eventually going to get to the items with which UPnP has previously struggled? The K50 running MinimServer and MPD, and JPLAY iOS as a control point was flawless. No hiccup between tracks and silky smooth music playing for an entire day.
Sitting down to actually enjoy music, my much preferred activity as opposed to examining components and trying to break them, I put on Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio’s Midnight Sugar album (Ampex IMP8308). This album never gets old.
An item I almost always notice before anything else is the reproduction of transients and the leading edge of Yamamoto’s piano. Through the K50, the absolute first thing I noticed was the beautiful tone of his piano. Yes the transients were there, but the tone was what placed me inside the recording venue.
There was something about the reproduction of this album through the K50 that enabled me to forget about the microscopic details and just let the music hit me, feeling the tone as much as hearing its lush beauty. When I listened for it, the details were of course present, but remained an area of less interest to me while I got lost in the music more than anything.
Moving from 1974 to 2000, I played Pearl Jam’s album titled Binaural. On the track Nothing As It Seems, Mike McCready’s guitar tone was epic through the K50. Right from the opening notes, through Stone Gossard’s rhythm playing, and Mike’s continued lead guitar magic and solo around 1:50, it was as if my Wilson Alexia V speakers had turned into Marshall stacks. This entire track had terrific separation and delineation of instruments. Such clear reproduction enabling the listener to figuratively look at the soundstage and hear a single musician, isn’t common, especially when listening to music that was produced without audiophiles in mind.
As if the team at Antipodes knows my family, Beyonce’s track Run The World (Girls) was included on the SSD of the K50. This is a track that my wife and daughter absolutely crank in the car and the house. Seeing it in the JPLAY iOS library, I just had to give it a spin. Plus, a few bonus points with the family couldn’t hurt, when they hearing me playing it upstairs.
Whoa, through the K50 on my Alexia V speakers, this track pounded! My Apple Watch Ultra displayed 87 dB on the decibel meter, as the bass kicked me right in the chest. Sound as clean as the snow that should be in my backyard, and as powerful as I can comfortably listening while still enjoying it. I honestly have a huge smile on my face as I type this, thinking about the similarly huge smile on my face as I was listening to the track initially.
Sometimes we forget that this is supposed to be fun. Run The World (Girls) was a fantastic ride (or two or three) / reality check. What a fun experience.
What about terrible sounding, great music? My Beyonce experience got me interested in playing some very old unofficial Pearl Jam bootlegs. No matter what, it’s the music that matters. I’ll take Pearl Jam on a mono AM radio over Scottish nose whistles recorded perfectly at DSD1024.
I put on Pearl Jam’s cover of Dock of the Bay from March 03, 1994 at Murphy Athletic Center, Murfreesboro, TN. It sounded as bad as it should, but at least this K50 > dCS > Constellation > Wilson system gave it every opportunity to put a smile on my fave and give me goosebumps. I was transported back to the day I found this bootleg for sale in a Fort Collins, CO used CD store in 1996. I had to write a physical check for the boxed set and the guy behind the counter was skeptical because I was from out of town (Minneapolis, MN). Fortunately he saw my passion for the band and this bootleg, and OK’d the purchase.
Listening to bad sounding music should sound bad, but as good as possible, if a system is faithfully reproducing the audio without editorializing. This is what the K50 does. It enables smiles and goosebumps.
It took forever for the Antipodes team and I to finally connect and setup a product review. Perhaps it was better this way because I got to spend time with them in Munich and get a feel for the products and the people at the company. After the meeting, I really enjoyed and respected both.
The Antipodes K50 is built like a tank. It feels like the unit could ship from New Zealand unprotected and arrive at its destination in full working order. I’ll let someone else undertake that test.
Using the two internal computers, one server and one player / endpoint, to split the UPnP server and render duties, along with JPLAY iOS on my iPad, was really a wonderful UPnP experience. Based on many years of different experiences with tons of UPnP products, this was refreshing. I expected nothing less from Antipodes, but one never knows until something is tried personally in one’s listening room.
The plethora of other server and playback options are laudable. Antipodes supplies the hardware foundation and software platform that don’t need to be swapped out when the music lover switches applications. It’s a great system, designed for a marathon of use, not a sprint to the next upgrade.
Sound quality through the K50 was as expected, excellent. The team at Antipodes leaves little to chance, and it shows, or should I say sounds. I fell in love with the sound of my favorites from Tsuyoshi Yamamoto, Pearl Jam, and dare I say Beyonce. The K50 isn’t a one trick pony, it reproduces everything with high fidelity. This resulted in many hours of enjoyment for me and a rekindled love for my two channel system.