PONTUS, oh PONTUS, how do I love thee ? Let me count the ways . . . .
As promised this is part II of my association with Denafrips DACs, and Alvin of Vinshine Audio who distributes them. Mr. Denafrips PONTUS has been with me about 3 weeks now, long enough for me to feel comfortable with some early observations. First of all, he is one handsome fella, all brushed silver with an elegance all his own. I have even grown used to the tiny L.E.D. indicators on the front panel, they seem to fit with the no nonsense character of this design and even at night are not obtrusive. Secondly Alvin was right, the PONTUS is a big second rung up the Denafrips ladder.
What struck me first:
1) When hearing the PONTUS for the first time, I was instantly reminded how good the entry level ARES really is ! PONTUS just improves on all the goodness of the ARES. You definitely know they are from the same lineage, it just that the PONTUS does everything the ARES does, only better ! Even better bass definition, better dynamics, smoother midrange, and a high end that is sweeter, yet with even more detail.
2) PONTUS Technical prowess is a cut above. Being an Electrical Engineer I was most excited about the way the PONTUS handles the incoming digital bit-stream as compared to the ARES. I think this has quite a bit to do with the differences I heard. You see one of the bugaboos about digital to analog conversion has to do with clock jitter (i.e. phase noise). In a perfect world the spacing in time between each clock pulse would be identical, in the real world this spacing moves back and forth a bit, known as jitter. With this jitter the conversion is not perfect, and the result is an output signal which has sidebands, not exactly conducive to good sounding music ! This is why so much is made about clock stability in a good DAC design. The Pontus greatly reduces this jitter by incorporating a FIFO (First In First Out) design. The data goes into the FIFO with the clock that comes with the data, but is output from the FIFO with a highly stable internal clock. This jitter reduction means an even cleaner output signal resulting in all those characteristics we audiophiles love, bass definition, layering, sound-stage, micro-detail, etc. Here the PONTUS does not disappoint, just beautiful music !
Extended listening observations:
I started with my “comfort food” tracks and was never wanting for anything, it was that good. The ease with which the music flowed was quite a bit better than the ARES, and way better than anything I had ever heard from a digital instrument. With the PONTUS you relax in your listening room in a way that I had not experienced before.
A couple of analogies are in order here:
1) Remember the first time you drove a car with a powerful motor, a big V-8 in my case. When you came to that big hill in your neighborhood the car just went up and over it, no muss, no fuss, like it wasn’t even there ! Or how easily it merged into traffic on the freeway. That is the feeling the Pontus gives you, not unlike a powerful amplifier with plenty of reserve, nothing phases it. From small details to loud passages, the PONTUS just works to keep you engaged. The cleaner, tighter bass results in uncovering even more detail in tracks, handclaps that take on an uncanny realism, percussion that sounds like it is in the room, ah how sweet it is .
2) Secondly there is the phenomenon of listener fatigue. I ride motorcycles and can tell you that a small irritant across a long time becomes a BIG one. One of my cycles has a really cushy seat that on first sitting on it seems so comfortable that it should be good all day, WRONG ! Like a mattress that is too soft it doesn’t offer the proper support, and in the long run is a real pain in the a$$ ! Like Vinshine Audio, the PONTUS has the right support, your ear-brain interface remains delighted even across long listening sessions. So much so that I find myself listening into the wee hours of the morning without even realizing it.
Listening to “not my favorite tracks” revealed nothing really new. Although the few tracks that I found worth adding to my normal playlist with the ARES, were even more enjoyable with the Pontus. The Pontus cannot make a terribly recorded track sound great, but it usually sounds better . After full break-in I will try even more of my previously left behind tracks and report in on my observations . . .
Lastly there is the ability to listen at low levels without diminished resolution. Some systems only sound “good” when played loud, not so with my system and Mr. PONTUS in the mix. Even at night when my wife has gone to bed, and I need to lower the volume I still find the experience very rewarding and worthwhile. Of course there is the consummate loss of some bass response ( even the mighty PONTUS can’t reverse the laws of physics), but still the heart of the music comes through and makes me smile. Here the PONTUS shines a bit brighter than the ARES. The micro-details come through a bit clearer and better resolved no matter what the listening level.
So that wraps up my early observations of the Denafrips PONTUS. Like his smaller brother the ARES, the PONTUS is a value leader in his price range. I can’t say enough about what he brings to the party. When he shows up in your system just let him take control, sit back and enjoy the ride, and what a sweet ride it is .
danasam @ audiogon