Hi Audiogon. Been a member and benefited greatly for last 8 mos or so in building my first hifi system. I figured I'd share some of my recent trials and report on my impressions.
Let me start by stating my current configuration. It's a digital system, comprised of:
* Mac Mini (don't hate me :). I have found this with a good DAC to produce some very nice streaming, though admittedly I have not experienced a 1st rate streaming device yet to compare to)
Mac Mini feeds into Denafrips Ares II DAC
The DAC then feeds into a Paraound JC2BP preamp (have a lot to say about this, in another post perhaps)
Poweramp is a Parasound A21+ (contrasting this with Emotiva HC1s may be another post)
Mains are 1.7i Maggies (lots to say about this.. again, another post)
Single SVS SB2000 pro sub. (here again, many things to say about the black art of sub pairing with Maggies, but not here)
PS: don't ask about my interconnects and cables. They are only commodity stuff.. I planned to replace these last once all the components were figured out :(. Looking into BlueJeans to start perhaps.. things in lower price tier. I've read a lot of posts about that on audiogon.. anyway, i digress.
Maybe in another post I can go through how all those were selected. At some points along this journey I had KEF LS50s hooked in and eval'd Emotiva XPA HC-1 monoblocks (as well as the Parasound integrated and Topping DAC which are the subject of this thread.
Now, onto the DAC bakeoff.. I started first with a Topping D70 after reading AMAZON (yes, i know .. don't be too disappointed yet) reviews. My first DAC bakeoff was between Topping D70 and Parasound Halo integrated amp's internal DAC. Why in the world was I testing the Halo integrated you ask? It was because that is what my dealer lent me in order to see if I might like the Parasound standalone preamp.. thinking was that if I liked the Halo integrated, I would like that preamp. At the point I got this loaner from my dealer, i had been listening for several weeks to the Topping D70 connected to the Emotiva's and LS50s. No preamp was in the mix.. was using the D70 internal preamp, which is actually a nice feature I would say, for convenience, not that it competes with a preamp separate. In any case, I did hook up the Halo integrated and found that I did not like the internal DAC. This comparison was probably 2 months ago, so it will not be as precise as the day-of, however I found that the Halo DAC (being a Sabre) did seem a little sharp, but more than that, there was a huge difference in soundstage between D70 and Halo. Very obviously noticeable. My wife definitely noticed the difference. The room opened open when I had the D70 inline and shrank bank to "listening to speakers" when I had the Halo in. I was pretty disappointed. This swayed me away from Parasound as my DAC solution. However, I did a lot of reading about the JC2 preamp and liked the open profile / large sound stage / very quiet / huge separation types of reviews it got, so I wound up snagging one here on Audiogon.
Moving onto the more interesting DAC bakeoff.. How does the Topping D70 (AK4497) ~$500 USD compare with the Denafrips Ares II (ladder DAC) ~$700 USD?
I have at present both hooked into my JC2 and feeding the A21+ and Maggies and I then pick a favorite track on Tidal and switch between inputs 1 and 2 on the pre. This is a really convenient way to compare. Takes only < 1s to switch sources.. enough time for your ears to "remember" the sound profile. I will now attempt to leverage the subjective sounding audiophile jargon that I hear and see all over.. it's an occupational hazard that's just part of being an audiophile right? lol. These first three categories I kindof expected ahead of time to compare. The latter three were a surprise.. things that I heard that I didn't expect to hear a difference in, that I had to come up with a term for.
I will add one more final preface, that I expected the Denafrips to blow the Topping away. I was wrong. Topping is a really dang good DAC for $500.
** Soundstage **: I would say that both DACs do a good job at soundstage. I'm going to call this "wide" sound and leave the depth for next category. In terms of width and filling the room, I was not able to perceive a noticeable difference between the two DACs. I know that this is a real thing though, having heard a HUGE difference in this regard between the Topping and the Halo integrated.
** Depth **: I do give the slight advantage to the Denafrips on this, I am able to perceive a little bit more of the sense of being in the recording studio or recording venue. Maybe like a 10% advantage or even less. When I find a track with very subtle rainsticks or bells (one of my favorites being Iron & Wine, Our Endless Numbered Days album) I was able to strain out a little bit more of the ambience of the room and hear "deeper" into the source environment, if that makes sense. Again, not a huge difference
** Detail **: I found both DAC to present a similar amount of detail, in terms of being able to pull out subtleties and define them well, though there are some notable differences. I found the Topping to be a little more "forward". What I mean by that is that it was almost like some details were over-presented.. I will get to this more in the next three categories. I was not able to hear this when hearing D70 on it's own. It is only when I contrasted with the Ares, that I was able to hear a difference. You could almost call it a harshness versus softness quotient. I have often read of ladder DACs sounding more "natural" or more "analog-like". This is probably what I was hearing. The detail although similar in amount was different in kind between the two DACs. This will be explained more below..
** Tonefulness **: Here was my first serendipitous find. The Denafrips is more toneful. I don't know how else to describe it. Harpsichord and Cello on YoYo Ma's "Simply Baroque" album (one of my favorites), had a more natural tonefulness that my ear and ultimately my brain identified as "real". When I would switch over to the D70 it almost sounded more "square" or edged. It was harder for my brain to identify the actual pitch being played. This particularly was apparent on stringed instruments which include striking or plucking. The D70 presented all of this just as clearly, however the Denafrips had all that but added the tonality, the crystal clear pitch. The density of the note, the body of the note, not just the percussive characteristic of it.
** Ear Fatigue **: The Denafrips was easier on my ears. I suspect this had a lot do with the tunefulness part. I did want to call this out independently though, because I see one as being a symptom of the other. Listening fatigue is bad and if I find a component that allows me to enjoy music for a more extended period of time, I'm picking that one (assuming all else being equal)
** Fun/Foot tapping **: The most surprising attribute of all. The Denafrips made me grin. I put on Bella Fleck & the Flecktones "Greatest Hits of the 20th Century" album. Through the D70 I love this album and enjoy it immensely. Strangely, when I flipped over the Ares, I immediately grinned ear-to-ear and jumped off the sofa and started dancing around the room with my kids. This is the hardest to put my finger on, what it is.. It may be an amalgamation of all the above attributes or something else. Really hard to say but the music was just more "enjoyable"
In conclusion, I am keeping the Denafrips and possibly returning the Topping. (although I am struggling to come up with a reason to keep it). I do really like the D70 and can imagine building a secondary system and taking temporary advantage of the built-in preamp.
Hope this was of some help to someone somewhere, or maybe at least an interesting read
Audiogon Forum: https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/dac-bakeoff-denafrips-aries-ii-vs-topping-d70-vs-parasound-halo-integr
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