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Denafrips Dacs

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

  1. Shangri-La

    Shangri-La Well-Known Member

    I'm curious what components fellow Denafrips owners are using their DAC with, especially pre-amp.

    I'm using an Ares II with a modified Akitika GT102 with volume control, and Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2EX in my WFH desktop setup. I think the setup is pretty well balanced without obvious bottleneck and offers tremendous value. Tempted by Iris/Hermes but that's not first priority.

    I'm thinking about getting a Pontus for main floorstanding setup. Very itching to get the Benchmark AHB2 but will need a pre-amp for the setup. Benchmark LA4 seems to be a reasonable option but I dont know if that gives beset sound for the money. Or would I be better off getting a better DAC and a lesser pre-amp.
    bever70 likes this.
  2. Shangri-La

    Shangri-La Well-Known Member

    When was Venus II released?
  3. misterdecibel

    misterdecibel Bulbous Also Tapered

    Last summer. I ordered my Pontus in August, and the Venus II was announced after I placed my order, but before I received my unit.
    Shangri-La likes this.
  4. Jaytor

    Jaytor Forum Resident

    This is my first post on this forum, so I thought I'd share my Denafrips experience. I've been an audiophile since the mid-70's, and my personal digital progression (not including secondary systems) has been Meridian MCD (mid-80's), Spectral SDR1000 (late 80's), Krell MD-10, Reference 64 (late 90's), Levinson No 39 (late 90's), Wyred4Sound DAC-2 (2015), Schiit Yggdrasil A2 (2019), Denafrips Terminator (2020), Terminator Plus (2021).

    I sold off my Krell gear when I moved in 2003 and focused on home theater, but hung on to the No 39 until fairly recently. I thought I would replace it with the W4S DAC, but after using the W4S for a few months, I went back to the Levinson. Despite the fact it was almost 20 years old, I thought it still sounded better than the W4S.

    The Yggy easily bettered the Levinson though, and was a lot easier to connect to my system. By this point, I had transitioned to using Roon.

    After reading a lot of great reviews on the Denafrips, I decided to take a chance and ordered the Terminator (early 2020). This DAC was eye-opening. Much more musical sounding than the Yggy, particularly for vocals which I listen to a lot. I used the Terminator with a Bryston BDP-2 streamer using a AES3 connection (DH Labs). I tried a few different USB cables, including the AQ Diamond that I still have) connected directly to my Roon ROCK server (with LPS), but the streamer was still a bit better.

    In late Dec last year, I decided to try one of Denafrips' new DDCs and bought a Gaia. Connecting this to the Roon server using AQ Diamond USB, and then connecting the Gaia to the DAC using AES was a bit better than my previous (non-Gaia) config using the Bryston - mostly less confusion in low level detail. I tried ROCK -> BDP2 -> Gaia - > Termy and I couldn't tell the different with the BDP2 in the chain or not, so I sold it. If anything, without the BDP2 might have been slightly better, but I can't say for sure.

    I then tried using a $12 HDMI cable between the Gaia and Terminator. Wow! this really made a much bigger difference than I was expecting - easily discernable almost instantly. The music became clearer, more forceful, with better tempo. I found myself tapping my foot to the music way more than before. And that was with a cheapo cable.

    BTW - I was also using the clock cables from the Terminator to the Gaia the whole time (using DH Labs D75 coax). I actually never tried the Gaia without these connections.

    After a bit of research and recommendations from others, I decided to invest in a nicer i2S cable, and settled on the Tubulus Argentus. This cable seems to be slightly better, but the difference is subtle. I have gone back and forth a couple times, and I think I hear an improvement, but not enough to easily rule out confirmation bias. But over the years, I've found that a great sounding system is the sum of its parts, so even a single change isn't night-and-day, everything adds up. So I've left the Argentus in the system. But I don't think I'd recommend it for value (certainly compared to adding the Gaia in the first place).

    In late Jan, I decided to upgrade to the Terminator plus, given the great experience I have had with the other Denafrips products. I sold my Terminator just before the Terminator II was announced, so was able to get a good price for it. I've now had the Terminator Plus in my system for a couple months. The Gaia/Terminator was already a pretty amazing combination. The Terminator Plus (w Gaia) raises the bar, but I'd say the differences were not as significant as adding the Gaia to the Terminator.

    To be honest, I have not tried the Terminator Plus by itself (my rack is close to the wall, and swapping cables is pretty challenging), so it's possible that the Terminator Plus benefits less from the Gaia than the Terminator did, but given how resolving the Terminator Plus is, I suspect that it is also benefitting significantly.

    Sorry for such a long-winded post - particularly as my first post. I hope some find my experiences useful.
    timind, OC Zed, rischa and 8 others like this.
  5. sbank

    sbank Forum Resident

    Austin, TX
    Here's my rig including Pontus II sbank's Austin City Within Limits - Virtual Systems
    timind, OC Zed, Shangri-La and 3 others like this.
  6. bever70

    bever70 It's all about the soundstage Thread Starter

  7. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    My digital chain is a roon PC --> HQ Player PC --> optical ethernet conversion --> Pi4 --> USB to Digital/Digital Converter --> i2S to Venus II.

    Balanced to Freya+
    Balanced to upgraded McCormack DNA-125 amp
    sub out to SVS-SB3000
    Dyn Confidence C2 Platinum

    I'm not really sure my system has an imbalance or a weakness at this point, beyond a small room. But, that small room sounds fantastic to me across the spectrum, and has punch and warmth, but not too much of it. Venus II compliments my other components by offering great insight, pace, slam, and retaining enough detail to create a proper illusion.
    rockin_since_58 likes this.
  8. inzite

    inzite Forum Resident

    couldn't take the pontus ii talk anymore so just ordered one! :D:D
  9. Shangri-La

    Shangri-La Well-Known Member

    Thanks for that.

    What do optical ethernet conversion and Pi4 do in your digital chain? Can you just go Roon --> DDC --> Venus II?

    I play mostly from my mac, so was tempted by Iris/Gaia. According to Youtube channel Hans Beekhuyzen, he thinks 1) the worse the source, the more difference DDC makes, 2) it's more important to get good source and DAC, then consider DDC. Both of which make sense to me. Since nothing can be improved on the PC side, I'm thinking maybe a DDC does make sense?

    BTW just saw the mention of a Terminator II. But didnt find any info on Denafrips official site and couldnt find any announcement or what's new list. Vinshine Audio has it listed but not much info either. Anything @alvin1118 about the terminator II?
  10. markw1

    markw1 Member

    Hi, I am using a ifi mercury usb cable.
    What usb cables are you guys using? Am wondering if there's an "upgrade"
    toddrhodes likes this.
  11. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    I have tried PC --> DAC
    Going through a Pi4 is an improvement on that.

    I've gone Pi4 --> USB --> DAC
    To me, Pi4 --> USB --> DDC --> DAC is an improvement on that. They are subtle things, but I tend to agree with Jussi who writes HQ Player that separating functions (Roon Core, HQ Player processing, HQ Player NAA) produces the best sound. Adding the DDC after the NAA isn't just so I can add acronyms, it accounts for the fact that a Pi4 has no real "word clock" and because of that, can see improvement. It's also a fairly inexpensive, poorly powered device. So by adding battery power to it and the DDC after it, it offers improvement in noise and imaging (to me).

    As for the optical ethernet? That part is optional and I wouldn't say it produces a major difference, if any. But, I was able to pick up the optical converters for basically nothing ($25 on an Amazon deal) and if nothing else, they provide a layer of electrical protection so I leave them in. Can't get shocked through a fiber optic cable... and since I was running copper ethernet into the room before and I can most certainly say it didn't detract from the sound at all, I leave them in place.

    Hope that makes sense!
  12. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    I use a Ghent Audio dual head cable. Mine is long - 3M - so I'm going to be ordering a new one soon. I power the +5V end from my battery PSU just out of pure "audio nervosa" but it should make little difference. DF USB inputs are not "powered" but rather "triggered" so they are only on when USB signal is input and that +5V line is hot. It helps to isolate other inputs when USB isn't in use, if that helps.

    Ghent takes a bit to arrive from China but they're all handmade and very nice quality, at a reasonable price. I think my cable was about $70.
  13. Jaytor

    Jaytor Forum Resident

    From a post Alvin made on What's Best Forum:

    mprovements of the Terminator II over the older Terminator:
    - Total segregation of Digital Signal Processing and R-2R Network Arrays (Analog) boards
    - Oven-Controlled Crystal Oscillators OCXO replace the TCXO clocks.
    - High-speed Digital Isolation. The silicon-dioxide (SiO2 ) isolation barrier with isolated power supply effective isolate the ground and block the noise from one end to the other
    - Redesigned Power Supply Unit (encapsulated underneath the DAC board)
    - Supercapacitors for Digital & Analogue circuitry for high energy storage to ensure supply of constant cleaned DC power to the circuitry
    - Clock Out eco-system to sync with DENAFRIPS DDC.

    Now you ask, what are the differences between the Terminator II and the Terminator Plus?

    The differences between the Terminator II and Plus, the Terminator Plus comes with premium offering of:
    - Aluminum anodized curvy front panel
    - Precision, hand-picked, premium OCXO
    - Hand-picked R-2R board
    OC Zed and Shangri-La like this.
  14. Calvin_and_Hobbes

    Calvin_and_Hobbes Music Lover

    Seattle, WA
    These are more detailed impressions of the Pontus II after a week of listening:

    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 last Monday so have had about a week of listening to the Pontus. At this point, it's had about 120 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.
    1. 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 phone/laptop backup battery both reduced the noise floor and took away that slight bit of harshness. NOTE: if you try this, make sure the battery's output is 5V.
    2. The Qutest is exceptionally detailed in its sound. But, the Qutest conveyed that detail in a way that seemed artificially Technicolor. Meaning that there was a lot of detail, but either conveyed 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 highlight one recording on which I'm hearing 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 digital and analog (such as EMI) 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 so very close in sound quality when doing sighted listening, that I'm don't know if I could distinguish the difference in blind testing.

    What listening preferences would the Pontus fit well: The Pontus would be a great choice for anyone that appreciates the sound and feel of live music. More than any other DAC I heard, the Pontus seems to savor the texture and feel of every note of music. The Pontus does particularly well with reproducing the textures, tonal quality and emotions of voices and acoustic music.

    What listening preferences would the Pontus not fit as well: Listeners that want a sharp cut-glass feel to their music might not appreciate the Pontus as much. The Pontus digs out a lot of detail, but it presents detail in a way that sounds natural. If you listen to a lot of electronic music and are looking for razor-sharp sounding transients, the Pontus might not fit your preferences as much as the Qutest.

    Summary: I'm sure there are more expensive DACs that might improve on some of the performance aspects of the Pontus, but I am so impressed by the natural and lifelike way that the Pontus communicates music with no apparent shortcomings in resolution of detail, pace, or tonal quality. I greatly appreciate that the Pontus seems to be causing no listening fatigue for me while still presenting music in a full and detailed sounding manner.
  15. rtsusc83

    rtsusc83 Well-Known Member

    Yoo Hoo! My Pontus II is on the way! It just left Anchorage this morning.
  16. inzite

    inzite Forum Resident

    make sure you get us some unboxing shots and your thoughts :D
  17. Harris11235

    Harris11235 Forum Resident

    Minneapolis, MN
    Hi All,

    I'm very interested in a Denafrips DAC after all of the suggestions I received from this post. I'm looking at a Pontus II or a Venus II as a potential solution. I read this review from Poland about the Venus II, and this statement stood out to me:

    "...the Denafrips converter is perfect in what it does. It offers beautiful colors and great resolution. However, it is not very selective and has no clearly defined bass attack. Space for it is only a background for instruments that are large, firm and tangible. So it's a specialized product. Powerful rock, country, rap, hip-hop - all these recordings will be smoothed and sound "polite". But all the rest will sound great." (Emphasis from article)
    1) Is that true by your experience?
    2) Is the Pontus less "polite" than the Venus? E.g. - can it hit harder with rock and rap?

    I don't want Killer Mike or Mike Ness to sound polite.
  18. PoetryOnPlastic

    PoetryOnPlastic Forum Reedmaker

    Phoenix, AZ
    I've never heard the Venus, but my Pontus did not have "polite bass", in fact the bass went deeper and hit harder than my Oppo 105D, and was more punchy than the Metronome Le Dac (Le Dac did go deeper, but its also 7K). I'm using this thing to listen to death metal occasionally, so it's not like my opinion comes from only listening to orchestral and jazz.

    I doubt the Venus would be any different, as it's basically the Terminator resistor array but with the Pontus power supply. I've heard/read lots of Terminator reviews, and one pretty good review that compared the Terminator to the PS Audio Directstream, in which the reviewer said the Denafrips has a little more edge than the smoother PS Audio (he intended it as a knock on the Denafrips, but because I don't find Denafrips edgy at all it means I might prefer it over the PS Audio)

    I might be entirely biased as i mostly listen to vinyl and that has a sound that some digital-focused listeners might not like, but having the filters to play with definitely gives the listener some flexibility to tailor the sound a bit.
    Calvin_and_Hobbes likes this.
  19. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    I love how large scale symphony and piano concertos sound through Venus II, and that wasn't even a genre I was especially interested in until I got it. But they sound sharp, tight, and dynamic. I also listen to a lot of Metallica, Tool, STP, Zeppelin, and similar artists - anything from blues to atmospheric black metal to prog melodic metal - it's my jam. And that stuff is not polite. Now, it's not the Convert-2 - that was the extreme of impolite, but as with most things I think it's fair to say you compromise some of that ultimate edge and sharp transient attack for the space and air it can create that C2 absolutely could not and would not do. But it's not to the point where I feel I'm not able to beat the hell out of my walls if I want to, or get a ferocious guitar solo its due.

    In fact, one thing I keep coming back to is that last part - there is the requisite amount of aggression, speed, detail and veracity, but it never topples over into fatigue. It's special to me in that way.
    Calvin_and_Hobbes likes this.
  20. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    A couple quick follow-ups:

    If politeness is a spectrum of 1-10, with Convert-2 being a 10 and the old Phillips TDA chips being like a 3 - I would put something like Yggdrasil around a 5, and Venus II a 7.5 but an 8.0 if you can use the i2S input or AES/EBU (and especially the dual AES/EBU option). Haven't tried coax but I do think USB is just a little more rounded off than those other options.

    I'm also using NOS mode, so if someone is using O/S Slow mode, that can bring that ultimate number down as well.
  21. Shangri-La

    Shangri-La Well-Known Member

    So how is the Pi4 supposed to help with sound quality? What's the hardware/software config like? I have a RPi3 that I bought with Allo Digi One Signature. I may use that for my setup if it helps. Thanks.
  22. toddrhodes

    toddrhodes Forum Resident

    South Bend, IN
    In my case it's specifically because I use Roon --> HQ Player. The last thing you want to do is push audio out of a PC and into a DAC, even one with as good a USB input as DF uses. PCs are noisy (mechanically and electrically) and just do not sound great.

    The Pi4 is a "bridge" between the HQ Player data processing PC and the DAC. It is still helped by a DDC, but not as much as a PC would be. That said, Pi4 specifically is better in this role than a Pi3 because of the Pi4's separation of USB and Ethernet busses from each other. I used a Pi3 in this role briefly and it creates audible clicks at high bitrate audio. The ethernet bus and USB bus are essentially fighting each other for bandwidth and it creates audible issue. This doesn't happen at PCM 192, but if you have a powerful HQPlayer setup and are using something like PCM384 or DSD256/DSD512 - that creates a lot more network traffic than the native bitrate, so it pushes the Pi3 out of its bandwidth capability when handling both inbound network and outbound USB data.

    If you're not using HQPlayer, I still think it's beneficial to use a Pi as a bridge between a Roon core (or just as a standalone streamer) versus a PC. Using an Allo product would work very well, especially if you can feed it solid, quiet power. This is where the combination of Pi4, battery powered LPSU, and that same LPSU powering the DDC makes for a very formidable and transparent digital source.
  23. Calvin_and_Hobbes

    Calvin_and_Hobbes Music Lover

    Seattle, WA

    I think the Pontus II actually works great for rock and country. Both of those have an acoustic component that is reproduced well by the Pontus. The critical question is how much sharpness you want on the leading edge of notes. The Qutest definitely had that sharpness, but to a degree that sounded artificial and not lifelike. The amount of attack that the Pontus has seems more in line with what I personally would expect to hear with live music. The only type of music for which the Pontus MIGHT not be as ideally suited is pure electronic music, but even music like that from Avicii sounds good to me via the Pontus.​
    bever70 likes this.
  24. Ham Sandwich

    Ham Sandwich Forum Resident

    Sherwood, OR, USA
    Chord DACs can seem to highlight or exaggerate some details or aspects of a recording. In a way that can make some things sound more audiophile or less natural.

    As an example, Chord DACs can be really good at separation and layering. Which with a good audiophile recording can be really neat. But some recordings aren't meant to be heard with that degree of separation and sonic layering. For example, studio recordings may make use of vocal doubling to help get the vocals to sound thicker and stand out. You're not supposed to hear the two (or more) vocal parts that have been doubled as separate singers. It's supposed to merge and sound as one, but with thicker sound. But with Chord DACs you can sometimes notice and hear the vocals as different layers with two versions of the singer(s) signing in front and behind each other. When you hear the vocal layers separate like that it ruins the illusion. To me it sometimes sounds like the Chord DACs are exaggerating something in the timing or impulse that makes that sort of layering or doubling more noticeable than it should be. The result is that some recordings lose their illusion and end up sounding more artificial and less natural. Then you listen to an audiophile acoustic minimally mic'ed recording with a Chord and hear everything perfect and as Chord intended.
    beowulf and Calvin_and_Hobbes like this.
  25. alvin1118

    alvin1118 Forum Resident

    Busy shipping dozens of DACs to the happy customers.

    Talk soon!
    Salparadise, OC Zed, timind and 2 others like this.

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