I was completely taken by the sq of the Aqua hi fi la scala dac during a demo. Even with a discount the price is out of budget and would have to add a streamer as well I have been following multiple impressions of direct to consumer units such as Denefrips pontus, audio gd 7 and Holo May. Anyone with experience with the Aqua hi fi and the subsequent dacs? TIA
I have two friends who own the La Scala. One previously owned and loved the La Voce II and upgraded even though the La Voce was very good. The other owned Meridien's top of the line preamp with built-in dac(latest version). He borrowed the La Scala and a Schitt Yggdrassil. We and another friend who's a professional musician and an industry insider(highend preamp manufacturer) compared all 3 DACs over numerous sessions over a month. We all liked the La Scala best. I found myself in the same boat as you recently looking to move up from a Schitt Gungnir Multibit, considered same contenders including Soekris, and ended up choosing the Pontus II. After about 6 weeks with the Pontus, I'm thrilled with it and think based on what you've shared, think you would too. My experience with Soekris was on a friend's system with an older model. That rig wasn't super resolving, so it's hard to draw too much from it, but I didn't walk away impressed. @georgehifi or anyone else hear the latest Soekris vs Pontus II side-by-side? Sometimes, the world's still too big. Cheers, Spencer
I have the Pontus. It is the best DAC I have ever heard or owned. I used to have a Chord Qutest that was “in your face”. The minute I turned the Pontus on then I felt myself relax into the chair. It is fantastic.
I have the Terminator. I compared that to a Mytek Brooklyn, PrimaLuna EVO 100 Tube DAC, and the D/A in a Lyndorf Integrated (Tdai 2170). The Mytek had a lot of detail but cold sounding to me. The Lyndorf was similar to the Mytek but it was a great all in one unit. The PrimaLuna was the total opposite. Liquid, round almost mushy to me. The Terminator is just outstanding. It's full sounding, detailed but not cold... it's fantastic. That being said, I have read that the Pontus II is the "sweet spot" for value in the Denafrips line. Most people say it sounds very similar to the Terminator. I would strongly consider the Pontus II on your budget.
I too have the Aqua La Voce S2, purchased used for about $2,700 (I think new is about $5,000); and although it was wonderful as is, I had Aqua upgrade it to the S3 for about $1,500. It’s an outstanding DAC, very organic sound, unlike digital. Sound is rounded, without the loss of detail. Don’t know how they do this.
Another Denafrips fan here. I started with the Terminator with upgraded DSP board, then added the Gaia DDC. The DAC by itself was excellent, but adding the Gaia with an i2s connection to the DAC was a VERY meaningful improvement. I've since traded my Terminator for a Terminator Plus which takes it up another notch.
I think the Pontus II would be a great option, particularly since you can get a nice performance boost down the road by adding an Iris or Gaia DDC.
@tennisdoc56 No, it just indicates that they're using a (now obsolete) R2R chip. Phillips (e.g.,
TDA1541) and Analog Devices (e.g., AD1865n-k) are two of the common ones used in the best gear. Other manufacturers, such as Aqua Hifi, Holo Audio, TotalDAC, and MSB build their own R2R resistor ladders, but I personally do not believe that this approach guarantees better performance over a chip-based solution.
I haven't heard the other DACs on your list, but here's in-depth feedback on the Denafrips Pontus II DAC compared to the Chord Qutest. I had the Denafrips Ares II on loan from a friend in my system for several months as well, so can compare the Pontus to the Ares also.
I've had a Chord Qutest in my system for the past 2 months with the intention of comparing it to the Denafrips Pontus II. I received my Pontus this past Monday so have had several days of listening to the Pontus after giving it 24 hours of break-in on top of the 100 hours that it received at the factory.
Background on the Qutest as a reference point: The Qutest sounded really good with notably a high level of detail retrieval. There were two shortcomings that stood out for me about the Qutest.
With the stock power supply, there was a slight, and I do mean slight, degree of harshness. I found that using a pretty common Anker battery both reduced the noise floor and took away that slight bit of harshness.
The Qutest is exceptionally detailed in its sound. But, the Qutest conveyed that detail that seemed artificially Technicolor. Meaning that there was a lot of detail, but either to a degree or conveyed in a way that didn't feel natural or lifelike to me. It sounded slightly, and again I do mean slightly, more "audiophile" than musical in sound.
My Objectives for getting the Pontus: In my decision to try out the Pontus, my objective was to get 90% of resolution that a Qutest provides with more of the warmth that I heard in the Denafrips Ares II. Harshness and listening fatigue are very real problems for me with digital audio so a balance of detail and warmth is important for me.
Impressions of the Pontus:
Resolution and Warmth: I always thought that resolution and warmth were traits on two opposite ends of a spectrum. It has already been eye-opening that Pontus actually seems to have even more detail and resolution than the Qutest and also more smoothness and warmth than the Ares II. What's interesting is that this resolution is delivered in a more lifelike and natural sounding way than via the Qutest. I'm noticing this right now with the piano and string bass in the 'Pueblo Nuevo' track on the Buena Vista Social Club recording as well as the trumpet and the tonal quality of metal and wood percussion instruments. The Pontus sounds both smooth and full in its sound. One artist for which this unique combination of resolution and warmth really does justice is Jimi Hendrix. I often have not liked to listen to Hendrix on digital due to harshness and noise from jitter and analog sources, compared to my typically better experience of listening to Jimi Hendrix on vinyl. I'm not finding this to be the case with the Pontus. Jimi Hendrix' Voodoo Child is sounding both engaging and listenable via the Pontus.
With the Pontus powered by a Shunyata Venom power cord, I'm hearing no sense of the slight harshness that I heard from the Ares. I also have a Synergistic Research UEF Blue power cord that made the Ares II DAC sound smoother without any loss of detail. I'll try that out on the Pontus DAC in a couple of days to see if it makes any difference to the sound of the Pontus.
Presence: Instruments and voices are conveyed by the Pontus with what sounds like an appropriate level of weight for each instrument. On the 'Orgullecida' track on the Buena Vista Social Club recording, the string bass has a greater level of fullness in its presentation than the voices, electric guitar and trumpet as would be appropriate in real life. In contrast, the Qutest communicates the details but seems to be less able to convey the weight and fullness of each voice and instrument's sound. The 'air' around voices are also conveyed by the Pontus in a very palpable way but with a sense of refinement and restraint that sounds realistic when compared to a real-life performance. In the Cowboy Junkies' 'Trinity Sessions' recording, I hear this very clearly in the 'Blue Moon Revisited' track.
Soundstage: The Pontus definitely has a broader and fuller soundstage than the Ares and the Qutest as well, I think. The fullness of the Pontus sound might be a major contributor to my perception that it has a bigger soundstage than the Qutest. I hear this in the Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Sessions album.
Pace & Emotional Range: What appeals to me most about the Pontus and perhaps what I noticed first was wide range of pace that the Pontus is able to convey. Some DACs like the Qutest have good pace. Other DACs such as the Ares II sound more relaxed. It's intriguing to hear a DAC that can sound both relaxed as well as upbeat and dynamic as needed. For the Pontus, that ability allows it to sound relaxed and calm or energetic and dynamic depending on the music being played. Music through the Pontus seems to be conveyed as the artist or composer intended instead of the Pontus imposing its own sonic signature onto the music. Examples of these two ends of this scale that I have heard are Sara Watkins' new 'Under the Pepper Tree' album versus Les McCann & Eddie Harris' excellent 'Swiss Movement' recording of their performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Flow & Continuity: Consistent with my comments on the Pontus' adaptability in terms of pace and emotional range, it is conveys the flow of music really well. Its presentation makes it easy to "follow the tune" when listening to music. For lack of a better way to describe this quality of the Pontus, I would say that it has a lot of patience in how it conveys music. It's not in a rush to get the next note out as the Qutest sometimes seems to be, but can play quicker or slower depending on emotional nature of the music. The 'Murmullo' track on the Buena Vista Social Club recording has a languid pace that the Pontus conveys well while not losing the underlying drive behind the music. Partly this is due to good timing, but the Pontus' ability to convey tonal colors also helps it to provide this sense of drive and forward movement even on music that is not conducive to an insistent sense of pace. I'd like to point out one recording on which I've heard this quality from the Pontus, but the truth is that I hear this sense of flow on everything I'm listening to with the Pontus.
Sound quality of streamed versus local files: Something else that I've heard is that the Pontus seems to at least narrow the sonic difference between streamed Qobuz files and local files. Local files have always sounded better to me. I attribute that to a shorter signal chain without the noise that might come in through being sent through the internet and then transmitted through my local network. Listening to local files and the equivalent music track from Qobuz were very close in sound quality in sighted listening to the degree that I'm don't know if I could distinguish the difference in blind testing.
Summary: I'm sure there are more expensive DACs that improve on some of the performance aspects of the Pontus, but I am so impressed by the natural and lifelife way that the Pontus communicates music with no apparent shortcomings in resolution of detail, pace, or tonal quality. I greatly appreciate that it seems to be causing no listening fatigue for me while still presenting music in a full and detailed sounding manner.
But, the Qutest conveyed that detail that seemed artificially Technicolor.
Because it's said Delta Sigma based dacs, while "so far" the way to go for converting DSD, can only give a facsimile of PCM Redbook 16/44 24/96 or DXD, where R2R does them "bit perfect" and one day will do DSD consistently better also.
I own a Denafrips Pontus purchased less than a year ago and I am very satisfied. It was at the high end of my budget but I am very pleased. The Pontus has been upgraded to the Pontus II and I suspect it will be better. I think this would be an excellent choice. I have mine paired with a Roon Nucleus+ server using Qobuz and I don’t want for better. Bill in Nova Scotia
Calvin, That was quite a review. Alvin may want to borrow a few lines. I had the Ares 2 for two weeks and had to sell it. My ears found it a little too harsh. Great improvement over the DAC in Oppo 205. I wanted an R2R Dac with a tube in hopes it would soften the sharp edges enough for me.
Thanks to George I finally understand the workings of a DAC with both a chip and R2R. My new DAC uses the AD1865 but did not cost $20k as the AudioNote Version does. $1,500 Audio Mirror Tubadour is keeping me happy.
I am looking to borrow a Pontus 2 for a comparison.
As the good stuff just keeps coming I am happy to get another in a year or two that does even more for less $$.
I'm also looking to move to an R2R DAC. I was leaning toward a tube-buffered R2R like the Audio Mirror Tubadour III or the Monarchy Audio NM24 but I have the opportunity to purchase a now discontinued MSB model for a decent price. Has anyone heard the MSB Analog DAC? If so, what were your thoughts compared to other DACs you've heard?
Has anyone heard the MSB Analog DAC? If so, what were your thoughts compared to other DACs you've heard?
👍 MBS discrete r2r dac direct to amps. It has re-invented all my CD's, especially ones I thought were shocking recordings that I thought were harsh and confused sounding, are now for some reason that I've yet to hear why, are now very enjoyable.
A friend of mine has the MSB R2R DAC and it works well with the MSB CD transport. I owned the CD transport for while but it wasn't as impressive w/o the DAC. I can't say how the DAC is as a stand alone unit. I use a Holo Audio Spring DAC which is also an R2R DAC and as others have commented, it is very analog sounding. I will likely post it for sale soon since I would like to move up to the new MAY. My sense is, you can't go wrong with an R2R DAC that is well implemented and that includes the Denafrips and Soekris. I considered both before settling on the Holo Audio. Good luck on your choice.
I think you should research the Holo May. I own the Spring and a Chord Hugo TT2. They are different but not better than one another. I have also had a Chord Dave in my system comparing it with the Spring and there wasn't much difference. I am expecting the May delivery this month which should be an improvement over the Spring.
@calvinandhobbes Thanks for that review. Before I decided on my Pontus II, the Qutest was the other top contender based on research without the opportunity to listen to it. Your description of what you hear with the Pontus echoes my own experience. You did a great job explaining in detail much of what I'm hearing. Cheers, Spencer
Anyone with experience with the Sonnet Morpheus that can chime in on how it compares to the Aqua or some of the others previously mentioned? It’s similar to the Aqua in that it’s also R2R with an FPGA, but I’ve never actually heard either one.