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Denafrips Dacs

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

  1. YtseJammer

    YtseJammer Forum Resident

    Do you hear a big difference in between the DAC of the Node 2i vs the Ares II ?
  2. Ham Sandwich

    Ham Sandwich Forum Resident

    Sherwood, OR, USA
    The PI2AES by Pi 2 Design has been getting good reviews. It's built around a Raspberry Pi with custom audiophile boards added to do proper high quality digital output. It can support I2S over an HDMI connection. It supports the Gustard pin-out configuration for I2S. I believe the Pontus can also support that I2S pin configuration.

    I haven't tried the PI2AES myself yet. I plan to get one after Christmas and see/hear how it works and behaves. It's quite affordable by audiophile standards. The cost of a Raspberry Pi board, PI2AES boards, case, power supplies, and the time to assemble it all together. But you do need to assemble it yourself and load the OS on it yourself and pretend like you're a geek who just naturally knows how to do all of that with Linux.
    Jyrki Parviainen likes this.
  3. adamos

    adamos Forum Resident

    Southeastern PA
    It’s been a while since I used the Node 2i’s internal DAC (or the Node 2 I had before it) so I can’t comment too specifically on the differences but yes for me there was a noticeable improvement.
    YtseJammer likes this.
  4. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

  5. Shangri-La

    Shangri-La Well-Known Member

    ^^ Saw that review too. Tooo tempting.
  6. alvin1118

    alvin1118 Forum Resident

    Thanks for the support, guys!
    ampguy and Go Mifune like this.
  7. Go Mifune

    Go Mifune Go speed racer, go!

    Portland, OR, USA
    Does anyone know the differences between the Ares i and Ares ii?
  8. Linger63

    Linger63 Forum Resident

    displayname and Go Mifune like this.
  9. alvin1118

    alvin1118 Forum Resident

  10. Absolute phase on a multibit DAC is more noticeable than on a DS DAC. There was a post here earlier this week of a Schiit multibit DAC user, who regularly "corrects" phase while listening to older classical music where absolute phase was not set in the recording or mastering of the final product.

    rischa likes this.
  11. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    Took delivery of an Ares II a couple days ago. I wanted to be able to try out some "high end" DSD functions and modulators through HQ Player + Roon + Pi2AES. Current DAC is a Benchmark DAC3L, of which I really have no complaints at all. But I'm getting an outboard preamp so at least some part of the DAC3L will not be in use, and I wanted to hear a counterpoint to it, and R2R seemed reasonable. Plus Ares' ability to do DSD1024 (lol) and PCM 1.5k basically mean that I can try whatever I want, and whatever my PC can deal with.

    It's been an experience over just a few days! First off, Ares II on its own is exactly what I had hoped - an excellent, slightly warm but ultimately unobjectionable DAC. It doesn't quite have the resolution and detail of the DAC3L but I do think it trades a little of that for some swing and maybe a slightly softer touch. It's not warm mush by any means, but I do think DAC3L is a little more clean and crisp. But we're talking subtleties here, I don't think either DAC shoves these qualities in your face.

    So, first issue I ran into - my PC was 6 years old. I say "was" because just last night I loaded in a Ryzen 7 CPU, 32G DDR4 PC3600 RAM, and a new motherboard. And somehow, I had it playing music the same night. Ryzen is FAST, I'll just say that much.

    Second issue? I took care of the speed on the processing side but sadly, a Pi3 endpoint using USB (just a lack of other inputs on the Ares II) is not capable of doing much beyond DSD64. So today, I put together a simple Pi4 RoPieee endpoint with just USB out to the Ares II.

    So - a lot of changes and a hell of a lot of work just to tinker around with stuff. But, now that I've been able to see what something like DSD256 + ASDM5EC or DSD128 + ASDM7EC are actually capable of? To me, it's a whole different world from the older modulators and DSD64 that I could pump through the DAC3L. And I think Ares II is absolutely to be commended for scaling up along with the backend horsepower.

    What it now puts out is almost hard to describe. It's kind of like when I switched from Dyn Focus to Dyn Confidence speakers, also very recently. There's just a cleaner view into not just the music and timbre of instruments, but the space from which that sound emanates is now almost visible. It's like the sound is improved, but the imaging and "volume" of the recording, it's like how my best AAA acoustic recorded vinyl sounds. It's not a matter of deeper bass or more slam or being able to tell what kind of rosin is on the bow string... I will say that I do think articulation of notes and more importantly, of harmonics and spatial cues is absolutely improved by going further into the DSD processing realm, but also some of what I dislike about DSD - it's unfettered smoothness and politeness - starts to give way to a more lean, mean sound that keeps all of the above resolution and space intact.

    In other words, I just enjoyed My Chemical Romance as much as I enjoyed Rach 3 via Ashkenazy. Though MCR wasn't "in the room" like that piano kinda felt like, there was still a more 3D "space" to be enjoyed.

    And just so I'm clear - yes I think HQP is doing a lot of the heavy lifting here but, it would not be worthwhile at all if Ares wasn't able to present it to the downstream equipment. And it does. And now, I actually don't think it's as "warm" as I used to. And even moreso, I'm looking forward to moving up the DF line as soon as possible.
    Kyhl, alvin1118, MayoStudenT and 2 others like this.
  12. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    And I've been continuing to be impressed by Ares II. So much so that I just sent Alvin a bunch of cash for a Venus II.
  13. MayoStudenT

    MayoStudenT Leonard Cohen Fan

    Wow! I look forward to your thoughts on the Venus II. I’m actually thinking the Pontus now too. :p

    Cheers Todd!
    toddrhodes likes this.
  14. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    So I've been living with my Ares 2 just over a year now. Am I still pleased with it ? The answer is both yes and no.

    Recently I started to compare DAC's again because the Ares 2 was not giving me everything I wanted with all of my albums. With a lot of less than stellar recordings, it sounded too lean, too edgy to my ears. With more 'compressed' recordings the sound even started to irritate me to the point I started to ignore parts of my collection.

    In the meantime I also got a more powerfull amp (Parasound A21) and matching preamp (P5, this was included in the deal with the A21).
    Not expecting anything, I hooked up the internal dac of the P5 (Burr Brown chip) just for fun, comparing it to my Denafrips.
    What this P5 dac comparison (and others) has showed me is that the Denafrips Ares 2 can be really good with some recordings, usually they are very well recorded albums. It also showed me that it seems to put more emphasis on the mid bass, more than lower bass (or even cutting down lower bass?), which imho is the reason why it can sound a bit harsh or edgy with lean recordings (recordings that suffer from not having enough low bass).
    The internal dac of the P5 (and Arcam Irdac 2 which I also used for recent comparisons) has a softer sound, with more emphasis on low bass.
    The emphasis on midbass (and lower mids) that the Ares 2 seems to have works very well with the right recordings and seems to render them with better soundstage depth and instrument separation/imaging (maybe because really low bass tend to muddy things up?).
    Sadly, imho, this only works with 20% of my collection. The other 80% is better served by my other DAC(s), especially the P5.
    Depending on what you listen to most of the time (very well recorded jazz would be one of them), I would still very much recommend the Ares 2. I would not recommend it for example if your main listening consists of rock/blues/hardrock/metal...or more modern 'compressed' music.
    As my music collection is very eclectic and all over the place production-wise I find it hard now to appreciate the Ares 2 with most of it. I still have it connected to my P5 preamp and at the touch of a button I can switch from the P5 dac to the Ares 2. When the right album/recording comes along I switch over to the Area 2 and it does all the good things I noted in my OP. But most of the time I now enjoy my other dac.
    Note that all of the above might be very system dependant !
    The Beave, Doctor Fine and toddrhodes like this.
  15. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    I'm sure you have, and it's not as if Ares II is overflowing with filtering options, but have you tried OS mode and the two filters with some of those recordings you find you dislike through it? Or NOS mode?

    If Ares has taught me anything, it's that it can convey the impact of digital filters pretty significantly. And my Benchmark DAC3 can as well, but the Ares opens up far more possibilities on my end since I use HQ Player now. And I have landed on some HQP settings that run counter to your observations but as you said - it's all system dependent. Obviously source is a major part of the delivery.

    At least you have both options at your disposal, that's not a bad thing at all IMO.
    bever70 likes this.
  16. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

    Trust me, I really explored all settings during this past year. I always listen in OS. Have tried NOS several times but I don't like it at all (as I have expressed in one of my previous posts, it takes away the attack of notes, strings, cymbals, and tends to render a more dull and less dynamic image overall).
    As for filter modes, I have tried both on various occasions/albums and yes difference is easily noted. Slow filter mode exhibits even more of the 'annoying' stuff I mentioned above (rendering lean recordings a hard edge) so I prefer Sharp filter most of the times when I use the Ares 2.
  17. fish

    fish Forum Resident

    NY, USA
    I think its very difficult to get low base defined. I think it needs a very good and worked output stage but its also the designers voicing.
    I have had gear that is very detailed and fast with great definition and soundstage but lacks a more robust bottom. The result is a leaner more "Audiophile" sound that is stellar with great recordings but as you said, edgy and sometimes harsh and fatiguing with not so great recordings. Over my journey Ive grown more fond of gear with more soul and robustness. Its hard to find without compromise or its very expensive.
    The PS Audio is a better choice of DAC than the Denafrips but its allot more money. A friend was close to trying the Terminator but determined it was too dry for his taste. He's using an Ayre which is allot like the PS Audio in terms of both detail, speed with a more robust bottom end that is just more musical. Not necessarily better. Its a matter of taste. And models within any manufacturers line vary. Denafrips is new and their house sound is undetermined I believe.
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2020
    bever70 likes this.
  18. brownmagic

    brownmagic Well-Known Member

  19. ubiknik

    ubiknik Forum Resident

    Chicago, IL USA
    More than likely a very wise move.
    When I first started looking at the Denafrips line I saw S. Gutengerg's gushingly positive review of the Ares and I was about 4 or 5 months into owning a Border Patrol dac SE.
    The BP bends over backwards to sound analog and also has tube rectified power which can be switched on or off, the sound was pleasing and it had obviously been designed to have a nice holographic soundstage.

    So I got a Pontus which happened to be at the same price point as the BP, the actual deciding factors for me were that it had a much more expansive power supply in it's own section isolated below the FPGA guts above and the FPGA and circuits involved did seem to have a lot more going on (more is better?).
    The BP couldn't have as much going on inside as it has a decent power supply and a little Faraday like cage to display the tube, all in a smallish package, but it did sound good , but in the end the Denafrips just sounded better overall -much better if you pay attention to subtle distortion (hard to describe but the BP has a lot of it if you compare the 2).
    So anyway, for me the Pontus was a total success purchase (maybe if I keep schilling positive Pontus comments someone at Vinshine or Denafrips will offer me a deal on the new DSP card...).
    Seriously, it's a great dac and I must be ok with NOS mode because I still haven't gotten around to playing with sound tailoring yet and just leave it on in NOS mode all the time.

    So yeah, I had thought about the Venus ('cause more is good..) but I think I'm fine with this unit as it just sounds great, I can only imagine you will have a positive experience that just gets better as the Venus burns in after some time,
  20. alvin1118

    alvin1118 Forum Resident

    @brownmagic , no sir. It's DENAFRIPS PONTUS DAC.

    I have asked Willow Tree Audio to amend it.

  21. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    Venus II showed up and I'm at about 72 hours of burn-in. It sounds really, really good to my ears. It's a bit of a mashup of the warmth and smooth, satisfying envelope of sound of Yggy 2A but then if you sprinkle some of the Convert-2's boogie and beat and slam? It's like that, but with more refinement. Hard to describe but I am thoroughly enjoying it.

    And it's USB input is very good, as was the Ares II. However, I also have a Pi2AES sitting here and figured out that if I set the W1 jumper pins on 1-2 for +5V out on Pin 18, and then set my DF Venus thusly for i2S pinout:


    So each LED lit up aka 1/1/1 in the manual, this produces excellent sound. I'm just using a bog standard HDMI cable, 1M in length. And it looks like a candy cane so that has to help... right?

    In all seriousness, I've played a TON with HQ Player and Roon lately and using i2S from the Pi2AES, and using the built-in oversampling and Slow filter - it sounds marvelous. I still have to listen to more things I've been listening to since it arrived via HQP, but so far, I'm really enjoying this DAC both ways. I've been taking notes each night as well, so I'll dump those all out here, unfiltered, once I get a few more days in the saddle.
    bever70, Kyhl, MayoStudenT and 8 others like this.
  22. alvin1118

    alvin1118 Forum Resident

  23. JumpingBean

    JumpingBean Forum Reedmaker

    Phoenix, AZ
    Swann36, YtseJammer, timind and 5 others like this.
  24. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    Excellent review! I still need to put my Ares II up for sale. I held onto it juuuuust in case Venus II didn't knock me off my feet.

    And I agree with everything you said about Ares. I would only add... it's a gateway drug.
    JumpingBean likes this.
  25. radiogen

    radiogen Member


    I have pi2aes hat and Pontus DAC. My pi2aes board has no W1 jumper (or missing). Shell I install jumper on W1 pins 1-2 to get +5V out for pin 18? what about other pins on W1? Also just figured out that had to change MODE on Pontus to 111 to make same pinout as pi2aes i2s output.

    pi2aes W1 pinout from datasheet

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