DAC Comparison - AN 2.1x Signature, Denafrips Pontus 2, Lampizator Baltic 3

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Gerd, Feb 19, 2022.

  1. Gerd

    Gerd Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Dear forum members,

    I am on the move to an Audio Note Chain with CDT2/II, M5 Phono, Vindicator Silver signature and AN E/SPE HE, DR Feickert Venti with DV Kaitora connected to AN-S2. I also own an Auralic Aries G2 network streamer. At the moment I connect the CDT2 and the streamer through an Audio Note DAC 2.1x Signature (on loan).
    Before I make a purchase decision I wonder whether anybody has had a chance to compare the DACs mentioned in the thread title and can help me in understanding how they differ to the AN DAC sonically, given these DACs are technically very different in their implementation? What about retrieving fine details, 3d imagining, tonality, etc? What about AN Chain synergies?
  2. Dafox

    Dafox Well-Known Member

    Northern Colorado
    @Gerd Did you discover any comparisons of the Lampizator to the Pontus?
  3. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Hong Kong
    I watched a breakdown video of denafrips - they claim their DAC is NOS and apparently they are not - the measurements don't support them. But this is about Ares 2 not the one you're looking at but maybe be sure of that if you are actually looking for a REAL NOS DAC over one that sort of lies about it.

    NOS DACs rely heavily on the quality of the source disc player and recording because NOS DACs don't sample and process and "fix" the sound with smoothing and shaping and filling in the missing info with sampling. I suspect people think they'll sound warmer but that's not the case. My Line Magnetic CD player and DAC sound "warmer" than my AN DAC but then that warmer is always there all the time on every recording. I feel the AN DAC is more of a chameleon and takes on what it gets.

    The problem of course with AN DACs and presumably those companies that have more or less copied Audio Note is that you won't get the higher bit rate recordings natively - these DACs will effectively downsample them to RedBook. Personally, that doesn't bother me as I prefer 24/192 from my AN DAC than 24/192 into my 32/192 ESS Sabre DAC but I do get why people feel the need to match up numbers.

    Very few people, including reviewers or even some dealers, can compare all these things fairly. By fairly they need to be compared in the same room with the same gear with the same music at the same volume level with your internal bias removed (Ie your favourite brand versus the one you don't know or like).

    As we are both Audio Note owners we will tend to be biased toward Audio Note for a variety of reasons such as "we bought the gear based on auditions and those auditions probably included a NOS DAC from Audio Note." So it's already a "known quantity" to us. And it's also an established brand and one can sell them.

    I remember a dealer here when I mentioned I'd be willing to trade my Line Magnetic for an Audio Note - he just said keep the LM - we can't sell it - no one wants it. LM is very good but it's made in China and the Hong Kong Chinese don't like made in China stuff (generally). They also wouldn't take my KEF LS-50 and a second hand shop was interested until they found out it was made in China - and the offer dropped in half.

    So perhaps take a look at the resale value - people always say that the current darling will be the last stop on the audio merry-go-round and then a year later it's upgrade time.

    Let's say you want to buy a second-hand 3.1X or 4.1x in 3 years. In 3 years you'll get something for the 2.1x - probably Lampizator - but never buy from companies who change model numbers a lot - the Chinese stuff can be very good but the second they drop a model - it's a paperweight.

    You could also add ANKits or SW1X - the latter company basically copies Audio Note in large part - they buy AN parts and transformers and capacitors and then make some changes here or there - the prices are lower than Audio Note and they do differ in some ways.

    Their DAC chips are 1541 while AN uses 1543 but Audio Note can't get enough 1541s which they would prefer - SW1X is made to order and a smaller company but they can then use more desirable parts. So a kind of Pseudo sister company since their gear is largely Audio Note inside anyway - you're just getting an alternate approach. But then the resale value may not be there so the saving in the purchase price versus the NET cost may not be worth it.

    News Blog | SW1X Audio Design
    DeeKay and jonwoody like this.
  4. tillman

    tillman Forum Resident

    Why would one purchase an R2R DAC? A DAC shouldn’t add any sound to your chain and R2R DACs underperform (provably using math and actual science) non-R2R DACs. If a DAC makes your system sound warm that means you’ve added noise (distortion) which is a bizarre thing to want to do no?
  5. Helom

    Helom Forum member

    Can’t speak for the AN DACs but the Denafrips DACs produce the good aspects of R2R without the drawbacks. They actually have SOTA measurements capable of nearly 21 bit resolution when used in over-sampling mode. In “NOS” mode they produce the typical NOS sound despite not being true NOS.
    adamos, basie-fan and bever70 like this.
  6. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Hong Kong
    Because they can make music sound much better than every other DAC.

    Principally - an R2R non-oversampling DAC is the less additive - the bits are read once sent to the DAC and processed once and sent to the preamplifier. Over and upsampling designs "process" it. UHF Magazine noted that while the graph looked rather appalling compared to other approaches they had to admit that the sound was better than their reference player.

    Martin Colloms, the Stereophile measurements guru before John Atkinson, noted the same that while the measurements are poor - it sounded better than any other digital player and in his scoring methodology "twice as good" as the next best DAC - and also tested in level matched blind conditions. So even for the measurements first reviewer, he had to tip his cap.

    When I compared a Bricasti to an AN DAC it always makes me scratch my head when the bad measurements just sound better. At the last Audio Show I attended in the US the three best rooms had NOS DACs and CD players as transports and Vinyl. CD and Vinyl! Ugggh.
  7. tillman

    tillman Forum Resident

    Collums wouldn’t know an objective measurement if it slapped him in the face and Stereophile is the literal definition of laughable advertising mouthpiece. There is nothing scientific about any of their measurements. Sound is math and math can be measured. If you really want to spend thousands on snake oil, go for it but don’t perpetuate nonsense like this to others. Also, NOS DACs? Lol
    timind likes this.
  8. Lowrider75

    Lowrider75 Forum Resident

    Philadelphia, PA
    I thought that Level 2 DACs and higher will output 24/96 natively. Yes, 24/192 is downsampled, but it's been my understanding that there's no manipulation of a native 24/96 stream. Is this documented?

    I know Peter Q. believes the Redbook format, when well mastered and corrected by the source, is capable of high fidelity. This philosophy applies to the AN transports. The DACs are capable of reading a 24/96 stream, so why down sample it?
  9. Gerd

    Gerd Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Hi Dafox, I never listened to a Denafrips DAC myself. I had AN DAC 2.1 Sig in the house for a while and then Lampizator Baltic 3 with tube upgrade (i.e. KR Rectifier). At the end I decided to go with the Baltic 3 as
    • it is more universal: Plays high-res files without downsampling and offers more input options which was important to me as I connect my AN CDT2/II as well as streaming bridge which I could switch to with the front button on the Lampizator (USB input for the streamer).
    • I found the sound quality a tad more convincing: a little more resolution, especially in the treble region and overall a bit more open sounding which results in a more refined sound stage.
    These are my first impression with the rest of my AN electronics still bedding in whilst the DAC 2.1 and Lampizator where already bedded in when I connected them to my chain. It was a very close choice as the difference wasn't huge. I was able to purchase the demo device from my dealer at a very attractive price which made the decision easier as it was less costly than AN option (delivery times not considered!).

    Not what you asked but maybe a litte help.
    Dafox, Ham Sandwich and jfeldt like this.
  10. DyersEve726

    DyersEve726 Schmo Diggy

    Michigan, USA
    Tell me you've never heard a NOS R2R DAC without actually telling me :laugh: If you're gonna throw R2R in the snake oil category for introducing distortion, you may as well put basically anything tubed in with it. And no, they do not necessarily make the system sound warm. To my ears, they just sound more natural and analog. Closer to vinyl. Don't knock it till you've tried it. My current DAC really increased the amount of enjoyment I get out of my system, and that's the entire idea. I never plan on measuring anything, nor do I care.
    adamos, jusbe, lsipes1965 and 5 others like this.
  11. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Hong Kong
    This is a forum - people can have their say based on listening or they can have their say based on measured performance (or both) - As someone who began solely buying gear based on measured performance - I understand that perspective.

    Audio Note has been selling NOS DACs for around 27 years - they sell their DACs to people who have all owned "far better measuring" DACs. No different than pretty much ALL tube amp owners - all of them had some "great measuring SS" amp. Or at least a SS amp that measures better than tube amps.

    The OP is interested in these DAC designs - for all we know his interest in NOS is due to listening to the "great measuring" DACs and deciding that NOS sounds better. Martin Colloms has auditioned and measured a great number of DACs as well - he liked the AN DAC the best - including in blind level matched sessions. Fellow Stereophile measurements guru Wes Phillips also liked it a whole lot. Non Measurements Stereophile reviewer, Art Dudley felt the CD4.1 was the best digital he heard and Engineer Peter Van Wellensward (contributing engineer for Stereophile) owns one. Herb Reichert, the non-measurements guru, has said one of the very best systems he ever heard was Peter Qvortrup's in the UK (which is NOS). And Peter Breuninger also a Stereophile reviewer (non-measurements type) owned one.

    So I definitely understand why you think Stereophile is a joke - you kind of have to - a whopping six reviewers/contributing technical writers past and present owned or raved about a system with NOS DAC. That's just one magazine. And that's not even counting the good reviews of other NOS DACs from other makers like Zanden, Border Patrol etc - I don't really read Stereophile so who knows maybe there are others. And the best part is Audio Note doesn't advertise with Stereophile. And they rip AN measurements too - so it's not exactly like they're shilling - you have to like the sound because you sure as shyte won't like the measurements.

    That's why I don't get the animosity - no one looks at AN measured performance and says "wow that looks great" - LOL - no one. No one buys a tube amp or NOS DAC or their speakers and says "wow that's SOTA." It's like you think people can't see the same thing on a frequency graph or THD measurement. UUUUUGLY. The owner himself says the same thing about his NOS DACS "they measure a bag of nails" - in other words, "they measure crap" - The owner of the company is telling you that. So if a person sees all the measurements, the owner of the company is telling you it measures bad - you listen and you like it in spite of all that - then what's the problem?

    No one goes in and buys SET amps and NOS DACs blind - they ALL know the measurements SUCK compare to buying a Yamaha integrated amp and CD player for $1500. None of these buyers are unaware. I've been on forums since 1998 - I have read the same arguments for decades.

    Who cares? All audio gear are WANT items - this is not a need-based product. This is stuff people buy with disposable income. You want to spend your internet time "saving people" and then spend the time on issues that matter and can make an actual impact on the world. People who can afford $7k DACs are not exactly hurting for cash.
  12. adhoc

    adhoc Gentlemen Prefer Stereo

    Ok, so I'm guessing that the stash of 10 double crown nos tda1541s I have in the basement is actually worth something? :confused:
  13. ubiknik

    ubiknik Forum Resident

    Chicago, IL USA
    I had a Border Patrol dac and it sounded really good but something about it's sound tipped off the amount of extra noise it added to the sound -it had a beautiful, holographic soundstage but it just sounded noisy at the edges.
    I then got a Denafrips Pontus (not 2) for comparison and long story short is that I got rid of the Border Patrol.

    True NOS or not, the Pontus truly delivers a great sound which can be tuned with some filters in OS mode, although I just leave it in NOS mode. It has all the connections I would ever need (I2s,usb,rca coax x 2, aes and optical) and I actually think this is my final dac (I've ad it for 2 years now).

    That said I have heard the Venus is pretty sweet...
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  14. Dream On

    Dream On Forum Resident

    I think DAC technology and implementation have improved a lot over the years. I have a Rega Apollo, so nothing too high end and not R2R or NOS. Sounds very natural to me. I wouldn't mind trying an R2R NOS DAC but I don't really feel a strong need to do so.

    A lot of thinking on forums is too black or white, one camp vs the other. OS Delta Sigma = cold and harsh, NOS R2R = warm and natural. Same with tubes and SS. In reality the differences become blurred; a well designed product will sound good no matter which technology it uses, and the opposite it true for a poorly designed product. And then you have to factor in system matching and listener preferences. There is no right or wrong approach.
    adamos, timind, Gjo and 2 others like this.
  15. Tony C.

    Tony C. Forum Resident

    Ludicrous. Audio Science Review in extremis.
    Synthfreek, lsipes1965 and ubiknik like this.
  16. Gerd

    Gerd Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    All. Can I kindly remind everyone that I started the thread just to get experience from other dear forum members who might have had the chance to compare the 3 DACs with each other, sonically, technically and whatever.

    In the end, when I started the thread I was undecided. Nobody did reply to the question. In the meanwhile I fell for the Lampizator Baltic 3, without the chance to hear any Denafrips. As said, compared against AN DAC2.1 sig only on convenience and sonic impression.
    All good chaps, this is our or at least my hobby…
    timind, Gjo, unclefred and 2 others like this.
  17. Gjo

    Gjo Forum Resident

    Los Angeles
    This is what makes the high end audio obsession fascinating. We hear differently. We have varying preferences. Perfectly okay.

    Over the past eight months, I have had a significant number of DACs in my system that were either on long term loan, or that I purchased outright. The DACs I purchased were all used, so fully broken in. In many cases, DACs were in-house and in the system simultaneously. All were sourced by a Rockna Wavedream NET via AES, USB or i2s, whichever was appropriate and optimal. All were level matched using the XLO Test Disc and a dB Meter Pro app. All were run balanced.

    I own a Bricasti M1SE, and previously owned a Bricasti M3. DACs auditioned/owned include: EMM Labs DV2, Audio Note DAC3.1x/II Balanced, Holo Audio May KTE, Rockna Wavedream Edition Balanced, Mola Mola Tambaqui.

    Several of these are R2R DACs.

    Once level matched, if I switched DACs remotely during a track, neither my wife nor I could hear any difference between the M1SE, Holo Audio May KTE, Rockna Wavedream Edition Balanced, and to a slightly lesser extent the AN DAC3.1x/II Balanced (we preferred the M1SE).

    Bottom line, I kept the Bricasti M1SE and returned or sold the others. The EMM Labs DV2 was beyond my pay grade, but I still would have kept the M1SE because its tonality skews more to my personal preference.

    @Gerd, I am intrigued by your experience with the Baltic 3. Please expound upon it if you are so inclined.
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2022 at 8:46 PM
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  18. Gerd

    Gerd Well-Known Member Thread Starter

    Very insightful feedback. Thanks.
    Couple of points: my AN chain is still bedding in as I couldn’t spend a lot of time in the last month with our hobby of high end audio.

    the descision to go with Lampizator Baltic 3 was 2-fold: The option to switch between different inputs which allows me to simultaneously connect my AN CDT2/II and my Auralic Aries G2 Streamer. The other was the sonic signature which appears a bit more open, more extended highs and inch more punch in the lows. Comparison was only made on CD, hence the issue of high resolution files being downsampled for the AN DAC 2.1x was no factor. Have to admit that I only adjusted the volume by listening not measuring.

    Once everything settled in, I will report back.
    Gjo and timind like this.
  19. Gjo

    Gjo Forum Resident

    Los Angeles
    @Gerd, how does image size compare between the Baltic 3 and AN CDT2/II: width, height, and depth?

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