Can I Get Some To Go Boxes?
To sum it all up, I loved the sound, looks, and features of the Denafrips Pontus II DAC. The price is certainly right. When I had any questions, Mr. Alvin Chee of the Singapore based importer Vinshine Audio was a great and fast communicator, so I’m going to assume if owners develop any problems or repair needs in the future, Vinshine will assist and stand behind the 36-month warranty.
If you’re an audiophile for whom playing digital is your main reason for getting up in the morning, I can understand using one of the commonly exalted DACs that usually carry a hefty price tag. That distasteful maxim of bigger bucks equals smaller improvements seems to be a universal constant but that’s just how it is, my friends. I’ll also declare that the Denafrips Pontus II has as high a level of performance as most folks will ever need, myself included. What you think you want is another story. It sounded so good I’m curious about how much better the higher level Denafrips DACs are. Maybe I’ll find out someday, but for now, I’m all in on the Pontus.
Enter The Dragon
As I alluded to in the intro, I found the Denafrips Pontus II to be quite an enjoyable listen. Over many months while reviewing many different speakers and electronics, the Pontus never failed to deliver a big, smooth, detailed rightness with its presentation of my fav jams. Again, I find DAC sonic differences to be quite subtle, but once my ear/brain squishware starts computing those tiny differences, I prefer the sound of some DACs more than others.
My system during the Denafrips Pontus review period consisted of: Rega P10 with Charisma Audio Signature One cartridge, Vertere MG-1 with Mystic cart, VAC Master Preamplifier and phono stage, McIntosh MC1502, Pass Labs XA-60.8, and Audio Hungary Qualiton APX-200II power amps, Innuos Zen Mini streamer and BorderPatrol SE-I DAC, Acora Acoustics SRC-2, Audiovector R 6 Arreté, Marten Oscar Trio and Qln Prestige Five loudspeakers. Cabling and power strip was my reference Cardas Clear Light with some additional power cords and filtering by Furutech. Rancilio Silvia espresso machine with the Rocky grinder using Counter Culture Big Trouble beans with oat milk by Oatly, boxer briefs by Hanes, generic Viag–oh wait, that’s enough review context. For me, the Pontus II lacked nothing in its ability to transform all those ones and zeros into a deeply satisfying emotional experience. Was it as satisfying as a well-recorded slice of vinyl goodness played on a great analog setup? Not quite. Yet, I seldom felt like I was putting up with second best when surfing the warm Qobuz seas or playing CDs ripped into my Innuos Zen Mini.
It’s harder to characterize the sound of a DAC when it’s more faithful to the source. The Denafrips Pontus II was in that category. I listened and compared with all the focus I could muster, trying to come up with some detailed verbiage, but in the end its editorializing seems to be extremely minimal. Music played through the Pontus is about as accurate as I’d ever want from a DAC.
Are there DACs that exhibit more detail or musical color to the sound? Definitely. For example, I found more texture and plain old fun to the sound of my beloved BorderPatrol SE-I. Some listeners may prefer that additional excitement and/or texture that some DACs possess. I can sit on the fence about this, but usually I’ll take the cleanliness-without-sounding-dry with a hint of smoother-than-reality that I hear from the Denafrips Pontus II. This type of presentation doesn’t always do the trick of making truly shitty sounding sources sound more palatable. Still, the Pontus II had an engagingly clear and clean (but not boring) vibe that I found lovely to listen to. I also liked the wider variety of the ins and outs of the Pontus. And it looks cool.
The Denafrips Pontus II is yet another component that sits in my imaginary truth/listenability matrix’s sweet spot. Not some crazy, uber amount of detail nor the yummy, sugary coating exhibited by some DACs that might or might not have vacuum tubes somewhere in the circuit. The Pontus II played bright, super clean recordings like Donald Fagen’s The Nightfly without any fatiguing harshness or edge. It also played the darker, warmer stuff like Los Lobos’ Kiko or Brittany Howard’s Jaime with as much clarity and detail as I’d ever want.
|R-2R DAC||Proprietary R2R + DSD ArchitectureTrue balanced 24BIT R2R + 6BIT DSD (32 steps FIR Filters)Native DSD decoding with 0.01% precision resistorsFEMTO Crystal 45.1548MHz, 49.152Mhz|
|HIGHLIGHTS||Low Noise Power SupplyDigital Signal Processing via FPGA Adaptive FIFO Buffer and ReclockingDSD1024, PCM1536 Supports On USB InputProprietary USB Audio Solution via STM32F446 Advanced AMR Based MCULicensed Thesycon USB Driver For Windows PlatformDriverless On Mac & Linux|
|DSD||DSD64-DoP On All InputDSD1024* On USB nput|
|PCM||24bits / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192KHz On All Input1536kHz* On USB Input|
|NOTE : USB Firmware V3.4.1 — PCM1536 / DSD1024 supports disabled for compatibility with macOS|
|DIGITAL INPUT||Coax x 2TOSLink x 2 USB|
|ANALOG OUTPUT||RCA at 2.0Vrms, 625 ΩXLR at 4.0Vrms, 1250 Ω|
|SAMPLING MODE||Non-Oversampling NOS / Oversamping OS|
|FILTER SELECTION||Slow / Sharp|
|AC POWER REQUIREMENT||100-240VAC, 50/60Hz (Worldwide Voltage, Manual Selector)|
|FREQUENCY RESPONSE||20-70KHz -3dB|
|DIMENSIONS||215 x 230 x 45 mm|
IN THE BOX
|BOX CONTENTS||1. Denafrips Ares II|
|2. Power Cable|
|3. User Manual|
The interface on the Ares II is pretty simple. It’s composed of 8 buttons and 15 red LEDs in front. On the left-most portion of the front fascia is the standby button.
By default, the Ares II is on standby mode when the device is first powered on, and the standby button needs to be pressed once before the Ares II can be detected by a computer or an upstream device. Pressing the button again will put the Ares II in standby mode once more.
The 7 buttons in front are mainly for input selection, where pressing any of the first 5 buttons will switch over the DAC’s inputs to either USB, COAX 1, COAX 2, OPT1, or OPT2. The 6th button is for switching the phase of the output, which toggles between in-phase and 180° out of phase.
The final button is the mute button which mutes the device outputs. However, once the mute button is pressed, it enters the Ares II into its different menu options. While the mute button is activated, pressing the button that corresponds to OPT1 once will go into the NOS(non-oversampling)/ OS(oversampling) mode status.
Pressing the OPT1 button again will toggle between NOS/OS mode, where the status of the NOS/OS mode is indicated by the OPT1 LED. Where on corresponds to NOS mode, and off corresponds to OS mode.
While the Ares II is in OS mode, the mute button menu can also toggle between a slow filter/sharp filter by pressing the OPT2. Pressing OPT2 once will go into the status, and pressing OPT2 again will toggle between the 2 filter modes. Where the OPT2 light on corresponds to slow filter, while off corresponds to sharp filter.
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Originally, most DACs were R2R DACs, and those were found in most devices such as CD players. These DACs are made of an array of resistors that will have a voltage pass through them based on which bit in the PCM stream is turned on at the time. The resistors that are used in these converters need to be highly precise to ensure a linear output signal.
Later on, a cheaper alternative DAC was developed, which is the Delta-Sigma DAC. Even when chip-based R2R DACs were being released, they were still generally more expensive than the Delta-Sigma alternative.
Delta-Sigma DACs are cheaper to develop and implement because they came as chips from manufacturers. Today, most DACs utilize chips from manufacturers such as ESS, AKM, Cirrus Logic, and TI.
While these Delta-Sigma DACs are more economical, the conversion inside the chips generally ends up doing some upsampling and data manipulation. This results in some aliasing of the higher frequencies into the audible range, resulting in what we sometimes perceive as digital glare. The output of Delta Sigma DACs typically needs accurate output filters to remove the effects of aliasing.
It’s clear that both methods of converting a signal from digital to analog have their advantages and disadvantages. But with recent improvements in manufacturing technology, and the demand for more natural-sounding DACs, R2R DACs have seen a rebirth in our current market.
Copyright Denafrips 2021
USB Audio Interface
The STM32F446 is an arm-based high-performance microcontroller, and it has been programmed to control the USB signal, as well as the other input and output functions of the Ares II. It also serves as the DSP module onboard the Ares II.
The STM32F446 on the Ares II has been programmed to take in DSD 1064 and PCM up to 24bits/1536kHz streams. The compatibility with these formats ensures that the Ares II is future-proof as far as music formats go.
The R2R DAC inside the Ares II utilizes 4 resistor arrays to decode each channel. It means that there are 2 resistor arrays each that decode the (+) and (-) leg of the balanced signal.
The 2 resistor arrays in each part of the signal are there to prevent any linearity errors which is a common issue among R2R DACs. Essentially, each Ares II has 8 resistor arrays that are meticulously matched by a machine and double-checked manually for accuracy.
Each of the resistor arrays is made of matched resistors with an accuracy of up to 0.01%, which makes the process of matching resistors all the more difficult. These factors typically drive up the cost of any DAC that utilizes R2R technologies, but it also gives R2R its distinct sound.
Linear Power Supply
Typically, most DACs come with switch-mode power supplies(SMPS), since this approach is typically more economical. SMPS are typically more economical because they utilize a high-speed switching PWM IC that is used to directly convert AC line voltages directly to DC voltages typically used by electronics.
However, the high-speed switching of the transistor at the output of SMPS will induce harmonic voltages into the audio system.
Again, Denafrips went with a more traditional, but more expensive approach in the Ares II with the use of a linear power supply. This is done by stepping down the voltage and then converting it to the DC voltage required by electronics.
This approach will ensure that the power supply, as well as outside electrical noise, will not go into the audio system and ensure cleaner and more instantaneous availability of power. The Ares II power supply includes a voltage switch underneath the chassis, so international buyers shouldn’t be worried about compatibility with your country’s system voltage.
- What is the warranty period on Denafrips Ares II and how do I claim warranty?
All Denafrips products come with a 3 year warranty. Read more on warranty claim here.
- Which DAC is used in Denafrips Ares II?
R2R ladder DAC is used in Denafrips Ares II.
- What is R-2R Ladder DAC and how is it better than the binary-weighted resistor DAC?
The R-2R Ladder DAC (Digital-to-Analogue Converter) uses an R-2R ladder network within the inverting adder circuit to deliver an analogue output that is almost equal to the digital (binary) input. Since the R-2R Ladder DAC uses R and 2R resistors, the development of highly accurate resistors becomes easier. This is an advanced DAC system that efficiently overcomes the limitations of the traditional binary-weighted resistor DAC. If the digital inputs contain more bits, an apt number of additional R-2R resistors are added to the system. Due to these advantages, the R-2R Ladder DAC is considered to be superior to the binary-weighted resistor DAC.
- What are the digital inputs for the Denafrips Ares II?
Denafrips Ares II comes with Coax x 2, TOSLink x 2 and USB.
- Does Denafrips Ares II have an RCA output?
Yes, Denafrips Ares II comes with an RCA and an XLR output.
When I first plugged in the Ares II, my first impression of it is that it’s not particularly impressive. I was almost ready to dismiss all the rave reviews that I’ve been hearing about it as hype.
However, 2 factors changed my mind, first is that the manufacturer recommended that I should leave the Ares II on for 10 straight days. I left it on for 10 straight days mostly without listening to it, to prevent my brain from adapting to the DAC.
After 10 straight days of leaving it on, I had the opportunity to listen to the DAC for quite a bit more time before I realized what this DAC is really about.
With my listening tests, I ended up mostly using the DAC in the OS mode, so my sound impressions will mostly apply to OS mode. An explanation of the difference between the 2 modes is in the section below.
As I’ve already implied previously, the Ares II is not a DAC that will wow you on your first listen. The first thing that I noticed about the Ares II is that it’s very neutral. From the sub-bass all the way to the air frequencies, the Ares II presents details well and with equal emphasis in every frequency range. This ensures that each part of the music is presented with equal emphasis.
Sub-bass reaches down deep, and there is an environmental feel to the sub-bass frequencies. The mid-bass region on the other hand has a very textured quality, whereas drum beats have a hollowed texture while still retaining a natural sense of attack and decay. Furthermore, bass grooves in the bass frequencies sound distinct but reasonably flowy.
The vocal range is not particularly colored as well. When presenting powerful vocals such as the ones from Josh Groban, the vocal quality is textured and honest. Female vocals like Celine Dion also have a full quality but are not overly emphasized.
Acoustic instruments such as guitars sound very natural but precise, where each pluck has a very singular but harmonically natural character. Cellos on the other hand have a very gentle, and full-bodied character while having a graceful and flowy presentation.
Treble frequencies are controlled quite well and will be very present when called for. The treble is not particularly emphasized though, so even songs that tend to sound slightly brighter tend to be slightly tamed while remaining detailed.
Generally, the Ares II plays with a gentler wispy character, and this initially gave me an impression that the Ares II doesn’t have as much grunt.
However, when I started listening to orchestral recordings that have a wide dynamic range, such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, the Ares II presented both the intricate details in gentler passages, as well as the vastness of the scale of the crescendo in the song.
The soundstage on the Ares II is expansive, and there doesn’t seem to be an end to the soundstage. When listening to vast orchestral recordings, the room doesn’t seem to have a wall that terminates the soundstage.
The placement of the images within the soundstage is organic, and each element is placed appropriately far out into the stage. Each of the images created by the Ares II is chiseled and separated well from each other, which makes each instrument distinct and natural.
Layering within the soundstage is presented quite well, where sound elements don’t crowd within a small amount of space. Directionality is also very accurate, where the images created have an accurate location.
NOS vs OS
When listening to the 2 modes, the OS mode tends to have a more gentle and wispy character. NOS mode in contrast gives the Ares II a bit more body in the presentation, giving vocals a bit more girth.
While the Ares II can use a touch more girth, the girth that the NOS mode provides tends to make the Ares II sound a touch more intimate, and the images within the soundstage become a bit less defined and layered.
While I ended up preferring the Ares II with the OS mode, the NOS mode is also a good option for slightly tweaking the DAC, giving it a slightly different flavor.
Click on page 2 below for Synergy and select comparisons
THE DENAFRIPS ARES II DAC does not light my fire despite its internet buzz, but dont let that interfere with your evaluation.
- A straightforward tool for the job
- No bells and whistles (preamp, headphone amp, etc.)
- Great soundstaging
Would Like To See
- An owners manual
- A registration card in English
- Specs on output impedance and current capability
- A way to audition prior to purchase
- A more-visible power LED
What is my preference between the two DACs? Do I prefer the OPPO UDP-205 with the Sabre Delta-Sigma DAC or the Denafrips Ares II DAC with its R2R architecture? To me, its quite literally a toss-up. I realize this wont be a popular conclusion since the DACs do sound different from one another, but I could easily live with either
There is no question that the Sabre DAC in the OPPO is a fine-sounding implementation of the Delta-Sigma family of DACs. This wasnt my initial impression, but over time, Ive come to appreciate the OPPOs DAC for its many virtues and despite its slightly enthusiastic upper midrange to lower treble.
But in the area of soundstaging, I think that the Denafrips Ares II DAC has the (very slight) advantage. But that advantage comes at the price of a somewhat more edgy treble that, to some listeners, will be a deciding negative.
Another important question is, Is the Denafrips Ares II worth its $680 price? My answer to that is:
- IF the Ares II is a good match to the rest of your equipment,
- IF you consider $680 a reasonable price to invest in a DAC, and
- IF your ears appreciate soundstaging more than treble smoothness,
Then yes this could be the DAC for you.
So, what about all those internet raves about the Denafrips? Am I right and are they wrong? Not at all! As I mentioned before, DACs just seem to be more dependent on their associated equipment than just about any other component. But of course, this situation precedes a broader question:
Your specific equipment list will never match any reviewers equipment. Does this mean that neither my or anybody elses review will ever apply to your system? And the startling answer is yes reviews can never be accurate as they apply to your gear. But that doesnt mean that the reviews cant be useful. Theres a difference between accuracy and utility.
I had a coworker once who was consistently infuriated by the local newspapers movie critic. He disagreed with every one of the critics reviews. But he finally realized that although the movie reviews werent accurate (in harmony with his preferences), they were still highly useful. If the critic loved a show, my coworker knew that hed hate it, and vice versa.
Now the alignment between an audio review and your personal preference need not be diametrically opposed to still be useful. Once youve read enough of an audio reviewers work to learn their sonic preferences, then you can decide for yourself how closely your opinions and the reviewers align. Then, provided the reviewer is consistent, you can decide for yourself, using your knowledge of where your preferences align and where they dont, how to interpret the information given.
In my system, the Denafrips just wasnt a superstar (but then, neither was the Schiit Gungnir multibit). Is my system just allergic to R2R DACs? Its definitely possible. But the more important question would be Is the Denafrips Ares II right for you?
Maybe This Section Is The Real In Use
I used the SPDIF input for most of my listening time with the Denafrips Pontus, but I also tried the USB and optical connections to be thorough. When making listening comparisons in my mastering studio, the AES/EBU XLR was the connection of choice. Maybe I don’t want to believe a DAC made in 2020 would exhibit sonic differences using various input protocols. That’s what I heard–no detectable changes in sound when using various inputs. The Denafips Pontus II faired better in my studio stress test than any previous DACs I’ve tested. In a level-matched, head to head comparison to my Prism Sound DA-2, the Pontus II sounded incredibly similar. The Pontus II was slightly more relaxed sounding in the upper midrange than the Prism, my neutrality benchmark. Overall spectral tonality, dynamics, imaging, and low-level information retrieval were as good as the Prism, and that’s saying a LOT.I preferred the sound in my home system and the studio when using balanced analog outputs, but the unbalanced RCAs certainly sounded just dandy.
1. Press the Mute button once to enter configuration mode
2. Press the Opt1 momentarily
— Opt1 On = NOS
— Opt1 Off = OS
3. Wait for 5s
4. Ares II back in operational mode
Filter Selection (Effective in OS Only)
1. Press the Mute button once to enter configuration mode
2. Press the Opt2 momentarily
— Opt2 On = Slow Filter
— Opt2 Off = Sharp Filter
3. Wait for 5s
4. Ares II back in operational mode
3 Year Warranty
Don’t sweat it, this Denafrips Ares II comes with a 3 year warranty from Denafrips that covers manufacturing defects. All products featured on Headphone Zone are backed by an original manufacturer’s warranty.Read more about Denafrips’s warranty in India.
WRITER’S CHOICE 2021
«However, this is a versatile little device, with the ability to accept the standard input options USB, coaxial, and optical as well as single-ended and balanced output options.»
«If You’re looking to start with R2R tech, and if you want more presentation and if you want ultimate the detail and a precise soundstage, Ares II should be at your top of your list.»
«Denafrips Ares II DAC does sound different from the majority of DACs out there. Placed into a compatible system, the Denafrips Ares II DAC can sound clean and detailed with excellent dynamics.»
«Excellent Price to Performance Ratio. I also recommend it for those who want a good representation of what R2R DACs have to offer without spending a boatload of cash. Highly Recommended!»