Denafrips Dacs

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by bever70, Nov 8, 2019.

  1. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    Location:
    Belgium
    The information on Denafrips dacs seems to be all over the place, in different threads, on this board so maybe it's easier to share our experiences with them in one thread.

    4 days ago I got my first R2R ladder dac. The Denafrips Ares 2. I was very curious to the sound as I only had experienced 'chip-based' dacs up until now.

    The package:

    [​IMG]

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    I have been listening for 3 days now, comparing it to my Bel Canto Dac 3. The Bel Canto is about 10 years old (using a burr brown 1792 chip), it's retail price was about 4 times the price of the Denafrips Ares.
    I run the same Mogami rca cables from both of them into a Schiit Saga preamp, so I can switch between both dacs instantly. My source is connected via Aes cable to the Bel Canto and Coax/Spdif to the Ares 2.

    The Ares 2 has a choice between OS /NOS mode and (only) in OS mode you have a choice between sharp and slow filter.
    At the moment I seem to prefer the OS mode (which was also the only mode in the original Ares). In NOS mode I find it cuts off hi-hats, cymbals etc...they don't shimmer enough for me, but maybe this NOS mode is a good option for those tinny 80's cd's with too much emphasis on the high freqs....I have not decided on the filter mode, so all my listening was done in OS mode using sharp filter (which is also factory setup as it arrives).

    Compared to vinyl, I always had some problems with the way most voices sounded on cd, especially female voices. I thought the problem was with cd's. Until now, because this is one of the most obvious differences between the Ares and the Bel Canto. With the Ares voices sound more natural, as in real life. The Bel Canto seems to add something unnatural, I don't know how to explain it but with the Ares they sound more clear, without some kind of compression or distortion or whatever it is, added to it.

    2nd difference : the Bel Canto sounds more 'edgy', voices as well as instruments get some kind of edgy and sharper sounding sauce draped over it. I wonder if this is what people call 'digital hash' ? The tone of an accoustic guitar, to name one, is definitely different between these dacs, the Ares sounding more like the real thing.

    3d difference : soundstage. They have the same width, but the difference is in the depth.
    With the Ares, the center stage and everything going on in that area, is layered better and more clear. With the Bel Canto it's just more smashed together as one center stage without any additional layering going on, until you turn the volume way up! This is another thing : I used to listen to 85db and plus levels with the Bel Canto because that was where its' soundstage sounded best to me. I can listen to the Ares at 70db (measured with a simple phone app) and still get nice depth and layering. The center is really open sounding even at this volume. Switching to the Bel Canto at such volume, the center stage just collapses into a smaller bowl of sound.
    The Ares has a lot more presence here! Soundstage is also slightly higher with the Ares.

    These are my first impressions, maybe more will follow and become apparent after more listening.

    For reference: I went from Rega mini a2d to Cocktailaudio X40 sabre dac, to Arcam Irdac, to Rega Apollo cd player dac, to Bel Canto dac 3. I slightly preferred the dac in the Apollo cd player over the Bel Canto. I might reinstall the Apollo in the next few weeks in my system to compare with the Ares....

    One question I have for fellow Denafrips and/or R2R dac owners : is it best to leave these dacs on all the time (like you do with other dacs) or better to use the standby button when not in use ?

    Welcome to share your own impressions or thoughts on these dacs !
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
  2. Classicrock

    Classicrock Forum Resident

    Location:
    South West, UK.
    Interesting. Appears to solve the problem with CD. Flat soundstage and edgeness to the sound. How does it stack up against vinyl (if you have a TT)? This is their cheapest dac, the others do I2S over HDMI which should mean they can do DSD from SACD transport (for reasonable money).
     
  3. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    Location:
    Belgium
    This one also does DSD, from usb/pc, but I am really only interested in pcm at the moment. I don't know your stance on 'professional reviews' (I don't put much trust in them) but Steve Guttenberg wrote a review on it, and came to the conclusion that it might bring some vinyl lovers back to the cd camp...
    I have 2 TT's hooked up (they are in my profile) and might seek out some albums I have in both format.
     
  4. The Beave

    The Beave My Wife Is My Life!

    Very interesting, what’s the significance of going to r2r ladder type dac?
    At $800 us $ this is interesting.
    Any more reviews would be mucho appreciated.
    Beave
     
    bever70 likes this.
  5. roboss38

    roboss38 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Clovis, CA U.S.A.
    Beautiful DAC with great sound. I would leave it on all the time. My friend has a Terminator, and it is sublime sounding.
     
    bever70 likes this.
  6. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    Location:
    Belgium
    I was just wondering, with that much capacitors, if putting it into standby every night would maybe get some extra miles out of them in the long term...
     
  7. Classicrock

    Classicrock Forum Resident

    Location:
    South West, UK.
    Darko has done a review of the Terminator on Youtube.

     
    bever70 likes this.
  8. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Many people "feel" that R2R DACs sound better because they have some sort of subjective magic sauce or whatever.

    This is not supported by measurements or data, and R2R DACs as a general rule have significantly higher levels of distortion than a good D-S DAC. To date, every single measurement of an R2R DAC I've seen is worse than some 30+ year old CD players.

    If we take the specs that Denafrips provides and do some quick conversion the SINAD is roughly 88dB which is piss poor as far as DACs go in 2019. The resolution you get out of this type of device is equivalent to ~14 bits, meaning that it's not even good enough to reproduce 16/44 digital audio, much less any higher resolution format.

    If all that sounds good to you, knock yourself out.
     
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  9. rhubarb9999

    rhubarb9999 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    So essentially an R2R DAC has the same specs as vinyl.
     
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  10. patient_ot

    patient_ot Forum Resident

    Location:
    USA
    Sometimes a little better, sometimes worse. The distortion products are also different.
     
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  11. The way R2R and R2R multibit style DACs can do layering and imaging is a big part of what makes them special. It's difficult and expensive to find that style of degree of layering and imaging in other DAC designs.
     
    wilejoe, bever70 and dennem like this.
  12. The Beave

    The Beave My Wife Is My Life!

    Thanks for that information.
    It’s just intriguing to me that all of the sudden old school dac’s were being re branded as an audiophile alternative.
    As the world turns and burns.....
    Beave
     
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  13. mongo

    mongo Forum Resident

    From what I've read about R2R DACs.
    The original implementation of a DAC until silicone single chip(Sigma Delta) implementation which is what 99.99% listen to digital music with.

    Supposedly, the key to a well-designed R2R is a ton of very close tolerance resistors or a FGPA == Field Programmable Gate Array.
    Not to boast but I know what this actually means having a degree in Computer Science.
    One a basic level it means that the characteristics of the FGPA can be custom programmable & in fact, must be.

    There are other companies that make these kind of DACs.
    Chord, Kitsune, Schiit. Soekris, T+A & Denafrips. I sure there are others but I don't feel like looking them up.
    The thing is you have to be really smart & meticulous to program at this low a level, have a taste in Audio & measuring to do it right.
    So in essence your trusting the person(s) who programmed the FPGA and their design skills
    in getting most out of their implementation.

    Take a Sigma-Delta like the ESS ES3028Pro, the designer has to compensate and design around the strengths and weaknesses of that DAC which they no fundamental control over.
    All DACs have their strengths & deficiences like all everything else.

    I seriously considered the Terminator until Oppo announced they were ceasing production & decided for my multiple systems(3), I couldn't do significantly better.
    Look at the build quality of that beast, amazing.
    If I had more moneyy I'd buy a black onejust for it's looks.
    Although a small company, they seriously attentive customer service like Oppo.
    They released an updated USB interface mini-board. Nice.

    Also look at the 6moons review from a while back.
    I know, I know, lots of inventive adjectives there but they do measure.
    I've never read a less than stellar user review of the Terminator.
    There obviously may be many but I frequent places where folks buy these things and they universally love them
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2019
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  14. The old-school designs like R2R and NOS have never gone away. The revival is due in part because discrete resistor designs have become more practical with modern parts and assembly. And the engineering and design has advanced with ways to correct or average the errors that will happen with ladder designs. In the old-school days the resistors would be hand trimmed. That's a process that doesn't scale. Modern manufacturing is able to avoid that manual step. Which makes the discrete R2R designs less expensive and much easier to mass produce.

    The other part of the revival is that they just sound better for certain sonic goals. Find a chip based DAC that reviews the 3D imaging and layering the way the OP did with the Denafrips. The chip based DAC will measure better, but will lack that style of 3D imaging and layering. For audiophiles chasing more and better 3D imaging and layering the R2R DACs are just what they want. And despite the poor SINAD and imaginary bit depth measurements I'm better able to hear the differences between CD and high-res with my poorly measuring DACs than any of my very well measuring chip DACs.
     
  15. dennem

    dennem Well-Known Member

    Location:
    Bangkok, Thailand
    Thanks a lot for opening this thread and your review of the Ares. I am looking to buy one soon and will post my impressions here.
     
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  16. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    Location:
    Belgium
    You put your trust in measurements, I put mine in my ears....because after all it's ME who is going to listen to MY system. All good....
    In another thread with regards to 3D sound and image layering you said :

    I think that sums it up pretty well and maybe this is the reason you'd rather rely on measurements as opposed to actual hearing and comparing the image layering (and depth) differences between dacs?! As I said, all good but don't tell me what I am hearing/not hearing/ or supposed to be hearing.

    I took the plunge to get an R2R, having only listened to delta sigma dacs for years....to me imaging, 3d depth, layering etc. is very important and one of the kicks I get out of listening to my system. I was prepared to send the Ares back if it didn't better my Bel Canto especially on the imaging/layering part of music. Well I'm sorry but it sounds pretty obvious to me that the Bel Canto will be sold instead and the Ares betters every other dac (referenced in OP) I heard up until now.

    And then there is the thing with voices, this has nothing to do with 3d or layering images. With vinyl, voices tend to sound more like a direct voice, like when someone is talking to you. With the delta sigma dacs I heard, voices from a cd are more rendered like they would sound when a real voice would be amplified through an amplifier, there is something that's added to the voice. Well it's the best way I can explain this difference between both. With the Ares, that amplification 'effect' is taken away, rendering the voice more natural and dry. It is rather obvious when switching instantly from one dac to the other to my ears. The "magic sauce" in this case was obviously added with the Delta Sigma design and it, also rather obvious, isn't all that "magic", it's just a "sauce" that I don't happen to like !
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2019 at 4:18 AM
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  17. JMAC

    JMAC Forum Resident

    Location:
    PDX, OR, USA
    I’ve been intrigued by Denafrips since first reading about the Terminator but didn’t realize they had such an affordable option in the Ares. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    I agree with your findings—that R-2R DACs make vocals sound lifelike and immediate in a way I hadn’t heard from other DACs. I am surprised you preferred the OS mode to the NOS... it’s no contest NOS for my Norma Audio HS-DA1.

    Also interesting is your Bel Canto—that Burr-Brown 1792 chip is well-regarded and isn’t one of those ‘out of fashion’ Sabre chips that people often compare R-2R DACs to. I think it was the first CMOS, non-R-2R multibit chip produced after the PCM1704 found in my Norma Audio DAC.

    I may pick up an Ares to play with for fun.
     
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  18. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    Location:
    Belgium
    Well, I had my eyes on a 2nd hand Metrum Acoustics dac. They are from a neighbor country, which would make it easier if ever I had a problem, but then I read that the original designer had left and started his own business...whatever the reason, that is not good news in my book. And then I learned about Denafrips....

    As far as OS vs NOS, isn't the implementation different from one brand to another ? What struck me immediately with the Ares is that cymbals in NOS (rides, hi-hats,...) appeared to be cut-off in length and also sounded softer volume wise, it just didn't sound as it should be to my ears. The original Ares was only OS originally, so maybe they just added the NOS to please people who prefer that, I don't know ?!
    I will revisit comparisons between both later on.

    And yes, the Burr Brown in the Bel Canto bettered the only Sabre dac I tried with ease.
    I found the Arcam Irdac with Burr Brown 1796 actually was pretty close to the Bel Canto, while also being 4 times cheaper.
     
  19. The Beave

    The Beave My Wife Is My Life!

    Thanks for the great information!
    So basically the engineering of r2r has risen to quality it couldn’t reach when first implemented I take it. Funny how the measurements go but then again, when you compare tech specs between digital and say, a record player, the record player loses, except when listening, then the fidelity of a good rig and a well mastered LP trounces the digital. Funny.
    So, here’s where I’m at, I’ve currently got an Audiolab 8300 cd deck which uses the Sabre ESS 9018 dac chip, it’s a very well engineered kit, but it is missing the 3D effect you bring up that the ESS 9038 chip definitely has, cause I can here the difference.
    Problem is for me, I had the Arcam cds50 which has the 9038 chip in it and sounded wonderful, but it’s ergonomics sucked big time so it went and I got the Audiolab. Now I do have the OPPO 205 BUT IT LOOKS UGLY in the stereo rack. So that leads me here to this thread and me being open to trying a r2r dac with the Audiolab acting as my digital preamp and sending the digital output to a separate dac, but I’m not going to spend $5,$6,$700 on another dac to be disappointed.
    I’ve been lucky to be able to flip my other decks for what I paid for them, but I don’t think I’d be that lucky with a dac.

    So now what about the Topping D70?
    Or just keep this thread going so I can make an informed purchase,!
    Beave
     
    bever70 likes this.
  20. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    Location:
    Belgium
    I actually also considered a Topping D70! People say the AKM chip sounds a bit different, smoother etc ... But then again, it's just another chip design was what I was thinking, so I decided to go for something different alltogether. Lots of reviews (user and professional) talk about the holographic sound (depth) of these Denafrips as a big plus compared to other dacs, which was the main reason for me to get one instead of a (very good measuring) Topping D70.

    Fyi : the dac i liked the least of the ones I tried was also the one with the Ess sabre 9018!
     
  21. The Beave

    The Beave My Wife Is My Life!

    Has anyone heard of this eavesdrop 2r2 dac:

    Airist Audio R-2R DAC

    Beave
     
  22. JMAC

    JMAC Forum Resident

    Location:
    PDX, OR, USA
    That’s the Massdrop DAC, right? I’ve heard mixed things about its design, but I know there are a few SH.tv members who are happy with it. It’s an attractive price for sure.
     
  23. The Beave

    The Beave My Wife Is My Life!

    Yes it is, 1/3rd the price if the Denafrip, but that has more features and I do like the balanced outs.
    And there is a bit of controversy that the circuit board is a clone of someone else's dac but massdrop gave proof that it wasn't.
    So I have quite a few options here it would seem.
    Fun way to spend a Saturday.
    Beave
     
    JMAC likes this.
  24. The Beave

    The Beave My Wife Is My Life!

    Ok, I just placed my order!
    My birthday is the 29th and the Wife said yeah so here I go.
    If this doesn’t give me that 9038 analog sound then I throw in the towel.
    And it comes to $756 in today’s currency.
    Beave
     
  25. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    Location:
    Belgium
    Congrats! Did you order direct from Vinshineaudio? I ordered mine from one of their official distributors in Europe. But from what I've heard Alvin from Vinshineaudio is a great guy to deal with. They also have a 3 year warranty.
    Let us know how you like it !
     

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