Had the Denafrips Ares coming through here a while back - excellent sounding DAC especially for its very modest asking price.
It has a few ergonomically shortcomings the silkscreen on the faceplate is almost unreadable, dark gray print on black in 20 pt font or smaller and the almost impossible to see 1mm LED indicator lights, they ought to change this to white print and larger LED's - I did on mine :-)
I just recently have taken a hard look at the Denafrips DACs. Relating to stfroth's description that this DAC is a tad dark sounding. I believe that it mostly has to do with their choice of using Elna Cerafine and Elna Silmic capacitors. The Elna caps are very nice, but they do have a very laid back "tube like" sound. Even the Cerafine is like that -- has an extreme amount of bass, but not as much midrange or high frequency attack and detail when compared to something like Nichicon caps. This could be a great DAC depending on your tastes.
The Denafrips Terminator is broken in and is performing very well.
I’ve been waiting for a speaker delivery, which was planned and scheduled for before the Denafrips DAC was delivered. The speaker was delivered yesterday. My original plan was to have the new speaker fully broken in and to have a significant amount of personal listening time with it, before introducing the Terminator into my system.
I will hold off on posting my impressions etc. about the Terminator until the speaker is broken in and I’m familiar with it.
I went with the Tekton Design Double Impact Special Edition (SE) speakers.
I home auditioned the Volti Audio Rivals. I really liked these horn-hybrids, but decided to wait until I can save up for one of Greg Robert's full horn speakers.
I also considered Spatial Audio and Pure Audio Project, for this go-around.
Any impressions on the speakers yet. I have considered the Tekton Double Impact SEs and the Impact-Monitors as well as the Spatial M4s & M3s. Unfortunately I haven't heard any of them. One speaker I did hear & liked was the Elac Adante at AXPONA this year. At least that speaker is only about a 100 miles away at a dealer so I can go hear it before I make my decision.
I also just received a Denafrips Ares. I'm going to let it cook for a several days before I do any listening to it. Anxious to hear your view of the Terminator.
@edincleve I'll be posting my initial and 'early-burn-in' impressions of the SEs later tonight. I'll PM you after I do so.
The DI SEs are excellent speakers. As always, what you value in speaker performance will play into how you feel about the choices you are considering. PM me so I can help more specifically.
Congratulations on the Ares purchase. I look forward to your impressions.
Since I'm delaying the DAC comparison until the SEs break-in, which is still ongoing, I have rotated the Schiit Yggdrasil in. This should allow for a healthy run-in time and let me listen to it for some time. It has been out of system for over a month now.
The Terminator is very good. I say that with confidence since I have a full month of experience with it. It is different than the Yggy. More specifics when I do the proper head to head comparison.
First a little background:
I am a lifelong audiophile and a retired Aerospace EE. I usually don't find time to engage in audio blogs/forums/discussion groups, but felt compelled to do so this time. I still have a great vinyl rig, but over the last ten years or so have become hooked on the convenience of the digital format. Like most of us I have been pursuing a more analog and life-like sound from my digital source. To that end I have been purchasing the latest DACs based on the Sabre chip. Recently they introduced the new 9038 DAC chip and I found myself ready purchase one. But wait, shouldn't I do a little investigation before spending my hard earned cash ?
What I learned:
I learned that R2R ladder DACs were making a big comeback. In my career I had worked with DACs, they were all R2R back then, mostly 8 bits. The Delta-Sigma DACs, like the 9038, came on strong when digital audio was introduced. They were cheaper than the R2R DACs and didn't require the high precision resistors needed for a 16 bit and higher R2R DAC. What I found out is that the .01% (and higher) precision resistors were no longer a problem for going to 20 bits and higher. Maybe Delta-Sigma was cheaper, but was it losing something when producing the audio signal ? All the reports of the more analog and lifelike presentation from newest batch of R2R DACs intrigued me. There was the Schiit Yggdrasil, Holo Audio Spring, Metrum Audio DACs, etc. No matter what I read the name Denafrips kept coming up as the value leader in R2R DACs, a real giant killer in the world of R2R audio DACs. There entry level Ares DAC was highly rated and super affordable at ~$700US.
Enter Denafrips & Alvin of Vinshine Audio
I contacted Alvin and my Ares DAC was delivered about a week later. I play audio files from laptop via JRiver s/w and the USB intfc. I loaded the Amanero USB driver onto my laptop and was ready to play. Oh, I almost forgot below is a list of eqpt. in my main audio system:
- one-off DC coupled vacuum tube preamp (designed by yours truly:)
- Atmasphere S-30 stereo OTL amplifier
- Emerald Physics EPX-Pro speakers with custom ribbon super-tweeter added on top
I hit play and was immediately struck with the ease of presentation, clarity, and overall sense of a good analog playback :) Like good 180 gram vinyl with no surface noise, and a bit better dynamics and sound stage/layering, WOW ! After an hours warmup there was even a bit more improvement. Being an engineer at heart I tend to trust numbers & specs, but through the years have realized that they don't always tell the whole story, especially in audio. To that end I have developed a couple of simple tests that tell me if I have a real improvement :
1) seat time:
If I sit for long listening sessions without fidgeting and getting up every few minutes to adjust the speaker toe-in or subwoofer level etc., then something is right, the ear-brain interface is happy and enjoying the music, not worrying about something that seems a bit off. With the Ares I just sat there with a smile on my face, wondering why it took so long for me to try this :)
2) new music tracks:
OK, we all have our favorite songs we play on our system, a sort of comfort food that makes us happy, come on admit it ! It makes all that money we spent on our system seem worth it. We also have tracks that we don't really care for when played on our system, a little too harsh, maybe a bit lacking in bass or whatever. When I try a major change in my system I first go to the comfort food tracks, like the doctors oath of "do no harm" they should sound fine or hopefully better, ahhh ! Next up I try tracks that have never been favorites, to see what I think now. With the Ares I listened to about 10 tracks that I previously had passed up. With most of them I could now listen with no irritation, and although most still weren't my cup of tea I could now appreciate the artistry. For a few tracks by Emmy Lou Harris', I heard her voice as it should be for the first time, I instantly added some of her songs to my favorite list, new comfort food, oh joy !
conclusion of Denafrips part #1:
After a couple of days with Mr. Ares I could contain my enthusiasm no more, I just had to tell my audiophile buddies ! My good friend John was excited, I offered to let him borrow Mr. Ares for an audition and he agreed. What had I done ? Could I live without Mr. Ares in my system for a few weeks ? Certainly not ! I went out on the 'net and found a used one in the US that I could get in a few days, bought it immediately, whew. So . . . after a few weeks with the Ares I decided to move up the Denafrips line and ordered a Pontus DAC (~$1700US). Oh, back to my friend John, he put Mr. Ares in his system and after a brief listen said with his previous DAC it was like listening to a 4th generation copy of a song, whereas with the Ares it was like listening to the master ! Back to the Pontus, he arrived a few days ago, much more substantial looking than the Ares, and oh so handsome in silver . Alvin says as good as the Ares is, the Pontus is a major improvement. Alvin was right, Mr. Pontus is definitely a big step up the DAC chain. Upon hearing that I had stepped up to the Pontus my friend John ordered his. I am going to let the Pontus break-in for a few more days before I write up a report on the large silver beauty . . . . stay tuned . . .
@danasam Terrific write-up and story. Thanks for sharing your take on the Ares and then the Pontus. I'm looking forward to learning about your full impressions with the Pontus, once it is broken in...and perhaps a comparison of what it brings to the table over the Ares.
Great first post. Keep posting!
A general update. The Tekton Design SEs have three weeks on them.
I’ve had the Yggy (Gen 3 USB) and the Yggy (Gen 5 USB) in system, for two of the three weeks and the Terminator went back in-system two days ago.
I prefer having some more time on the SEs (they are more or less broken in now) before doing a full head to head comparison between the two DACs. Sorry this has taken longer than anticipated.
For those of you who are closing in on a DAC choice...or just curious...
Given my system and room, my ears and experience, and my preferences....
I can say, with confidence, that the Terminator sounds different than and that I prefer it to the Yggdrasil. I would and do choose the Terminator, hands down.
The Yggy 5 is a step up from the 3 and adds sound quality and performance value to what is already a terrific DAC. I still like and enjoy the Yggdrasil (a lot) and it is an exceptional value at USD $2299.
System: PC based, networked, Tidal/Roon > Sonore Signature Rendu SE > Schiit Yggdrasil (Gen 5 USB) // Denafrips Terminator > Pass XP-20 > Pass XA-30.8 > Tekton Design Double Impact // Double Impact SE
Input (primarily): USB.
PONTUS, oh PONTUS, how do I love thee ? Let me count the ways . . . .
As promised this is part II of my association with Denafrips DACs, and Alvin of Vinshine Audio who distributes them. Mr. Denafrips PONTUS has been with me about 3 weeks now, long enough for me to feel comfortable with some early observations. First of all, he is one handsome fella, all brushed silver with an elegance all his own. I have even grown used to the tiny L.E.D. indicators on the front panel, they seem to fit with the no nonsense character of this design and even at night are not obtrusive. Secondly Alvin was right, the PONTUS is a big second rung up the Denafrips ladder.
What struck me first:
1) When hearing the PONTUS for the first time, I was instantly reminded how good the entry level ARES really is ! PONTUS just improves on all the goodness of the ARES. You definitely know they are from the same lineage, it just that the PONTUS does everything the ARES does, only better ! Even better bass definition, better dynamics, smoother midrange, and a high end that is sweeter, yet with even more detail.
2) PONTUS Technical prowess is a cut above. Being an Electrical Engineer I was most excited about the way the PONTUS handles the incoming digital bit-stream as compared to the ARES. I think this has quite a bit to do with the differences I heard. You see one of the bugaboos about digital to analog conversion has to do with clock jitter (i.e. phase noise). In a perfect world the spacing in time between each clock pulse would be identical, in the real world this spacing moves back and forth a bit, known as jitter. With this jitter the conversion is not perfect, and the result is an output signal which has sidebands, not exactly conducive to good sounding music ! This is why so much is made about clock stability in a good DAC design. The Pontus greatly reduces this jitter by incorporating a FIFO (First In First Out) design. The data goes into the FIFO with the clock that comes with the data, but is output from the FIFO with a highly stable internal clock. This jitter reduction means an even cleaner output signal resulting in all those characteristics we audiophiles love, bass definition, layering, sound-stage, micro-detail, etc. Here the PONTUS does not disappoint, just beautiful music !
Extended listening observations:
I started with my “comfort food” tracks and was never wanting for anything, it was that good. The ease with which the music flowed was quite a bit better than the ARES, and way better than anything I had ever heard from a digital instrument. With the PONTUS you relax in your listening room in a way that I had not experienced before.
A couple of analogies are in order here:
1) Remember the first time you drove a car with a powerful motor, a big V-8 in my case. When you came to that big hill in your neighborhood the car just went up and over it, no muss, no fuss, like it wasn’t even there ! Or how easily it merged into traffic on the freeway. That is the feeling the Pontus gives you, not unlike a powerful amplifier with plenty of reserve, nothing phases it. From small details to loud passages, the PONTUS just works to keep you engaged. The cleaner, tighter bass results in uncovering even more detail in tracks, handclaps that take on an uncanny realism, percussion that sounds like it is in the room, ah how sweet it is .
2) Secondly there is the phenomenon of listener fatigue. I ride motorcycles and can tell you that a small irritant across a long time becomes a BIG one. One of my cycles has a really cushy seat that on first sitting on it seems so comfortable that it should be good all day, WRONG ! Like a mattress that is too soft it doesn’t offer the proper support, and in the long run is a real pain in the a$$ ! Like Vinshine Audio, the PONTUS has the right support, your ear-brain interface remains delighted even across long listening sessions. So much so that I find myself listening into the wee hours of the morning without even realizing it.
Listening to “not my favorite tracks” revealed nothing really new. Although the few tracks that I found worth adding to my normal playlist with the ARES, were even more enjoyable with the Pontus. The Pontus cannot make a terribly recorded track sound great, but it usually sounds better . After full break-in I will try even more of my previously left behind tracks and report in on my observations . . .
Lastly there is the ability to listen at low levels without diminished resolution. Some systems only sound “good” when played loud, not so with my system and Mr. PONTUS in the mix. Even at night when my wife has gone to bed, and I need to lower the volume I still find the experience very rewarding and worthwhile. Of course there is the consummate loss of some bass response ( even the mighty PONTUS can’t reverse the laws of physics), but still the heart of the music comes through and makes me smile. Here the PONTUS shines a bit brighter than the ARES. The micro-details come through a bit clearer and better resolved no matter what the listening level.
So that wraps up my early observations of the Denafrips PONTUS. Like his smaller brother the ARES, the PONTUS is a value leader in his price range. I can’t say enough about what he brings to the party. When he shows up in your system just let him take control, sit back and enjoy the ride, and what a sweet ride it is .
I really need to do a head to head to be specific and fair to both components.
I love cooking, so I’ll use a food analogy (food is on my mind in the moment). Hope it provides some insight.
One of my homemade broths vs. a bisque. Both are delicious in their own right but one is richer and more decadent and caresses the soul in a more life affirming way. : )
@danasam Thanks for your review and thoughts and findings regarding the Pontus DAC. It was a fun read as well. I can relate to your V-8 and motorcycle saddle analogies!
With the PONTUS you relax in your listening room in a way that I had not experienced before.....what this hobby is about, right?
Mr. Pontus gets Terminated !
I have been around way too many years in this addictive audio hobby of ours. There were the earliest days when, at the ripe old age of 14, and much to the chagrin of my parents , I mounted 4 speakers on the ceiling over my bed. Driven from a mono clock radio, the sound was anything but stellar, but humble beginnings we all have. Through the high school and college years there were many amplifiers, speakers, turntables and the like. I found myself visiting every showroom I could find; I even had fun at one of the largest Lafayette radio stores back in the 1970’s ! Now a retired electrical engineer, I look back and realize I have certainly chased audio nirvana with an undying passion. In the 1980’s the first CDs did not impress, so I never sold my turntable. However, in the last 10 years or so I have gotten on-board with the digital revolution in reproduction. Have tried many DACs, happy but never totally satisfied.
I said all that to say this, the Denafrips Terminator R2R DAC is the last DAC I will need to, or want to, purchase . . . . period. It is simply that good, and by good I mean accurate and engaging at the same time. A simple visual analogy is in order here. It is like looking at a perfect photograph, spot on focus, nothing overexposed or under exposed, perfect color balance, realistic depth of field, etc. In short, looking at a perfect photograph transports you to the time & place where the photo was taken. It is as though you were there with the photographer, seeing what he saw.
As good as the Denafrips Pontus DAC is, the Terminator is on the ultimate musical plane. Its sound signature is definitely in the Denafrips family, it is just that it bests the Pontus in every aspect (and I assume also the Venus but to a lesser degree). With Termy (my nickname for him ) the ease of presentation witnessed with Pontus is taken to a level where you wouldn’t even mention it, because it is a nonissue. Music just flows with no sense of struggle or limitation. It feels like when a subcompact car would have done the job, you instead have an earth-moving vehicle ! The bass definition is so good that identifying the particular bass instrument in any song is child’s play. Massed strings and harmonized voices are what really stands out for me. Just prior to writing this report I listed to The Manhattan Transfer : “Boy From New York City”, “BirdLand”, and one of my favorites “Java Jive”. All of them left me with a new appreciation for this tight knit singing group, just awesome. Next up was Joe Cocker, his soulful voice came through like never before. Every inflection and intonation was brought forth in living color !
My Termy now has about 80 hours of break-in, I know there may be a bit of improvement still left but at this point I have not complaint one. I’ll follow up when Termy has in excess of 200 hours . . . so stay tuned ! BTW Mr. Pontus went to a good friend, he couldn’t be happier . . . or could he?
sincerely, Dana (aka danasam)
danasam---I was just to our mutual friend's house back east here--he also having a "Termy". Best sound from his system yet. Such telling detail...one of the things I like --or perhaps aim for-- in my system is being able to hear each instrument/voice AS an individual and then hearing at the same time the combination of the parts. Sort of like seeing the trees AND the forest!!. And that is there with the Terminator. Also there is wonderful dynamics, and accuracy with soul. Sound stage is particularly deep and layered. Holographic.
@danasam Gripping storytelling of Termination Day and putting Pontus up for Adoption.
Great to hear your take and findings with the Denafrips Terminator. Having the Terminator with many more hours than yours, rest assured, you will be in for an even more rewarding experience as it fully settles in.
Your descriptors fit with my experience with this wonderful DAC...it's great to hear the same from you. Congratulations on finding an endgame DAC for yourself!
@drrnc2 Were we just at the same get together???
Likewise, I also felt most happy with the current incarnation of Vinh's system. His speakers have sure come a long way since the early days, physically and sonically. Very impressive design!
That DENAFRIPS DAC looks like a real beast, with excellent sound. Yes, everyone agreed the vinyl presentation still won, but digital's come so far
Yes it was a fun session at my place. Good sound, good food, better company, what more can a guy ask for! :-).
Anyway, the analog vs. digital comparison was not really a fair fight, given that my analog rig costs 5 times the Terminator. Anyone want to buy a great analog rig :-)?
Gingko Audio and Danacable
Standalone thread and a copy of the main body of my 'review' can be found in this Audiogon Thread:
Price is in Singapore Dollars: $5860
Based on recent currency rates the Denafrips is roughly US $4,500.
Vinshine doesn't set prices on Mondays! Though I'm sure Alvin would love having those skills at hand. : )
The market, Central Banks, etc. do. : )
“Correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t the Denafrips Terminator and other models use the Danish "Soren Kristensen" Soekris Engineering R2R Dac board??
I think you are right. I see Soekris claim a 27 bit R-2R converter on their website (with hundreds of resistors) - they do NOT claim 27 bit resolution which is obviously unobtainable with this kind of design - I estimate Soekris and Denafrips Terminator might get 20 bits resolution with this kind of design.