Denafrips Hermes DDC is the icing of the cake in my system
Denafrips Hermes DDC
DDC or “Digital to Digital Converter” is hard to review without also saying words about the i2S/HDMI connectivity interface, because i2S is the Denafrips Hermes output alternative with the widest bandwidth and it separates clock signals from data signal transfer. On Denafrips Hermes i2S/HDMI comes in addition to Optical, Coax, AES/EBU outputs.
In my case the Hermes DDC was to be tested and used with the Denafrips Pontus II R2R DAC. Before the Hermes DDC I used an alternative solution: the Uptone Audio IsoREGEN (USB regenerator) connected to Pontus USB input via a very good USB cable — the Sablon 2020 USB. So, for me this was actually a test between Uptone Audio IsoREGEN using USB and an already very, very good sounding DAC, with the Hermes DDC using i2S from same manufacturer in front of the DAC.
So why change and upgrade an already very well sounding system? Well, it was partly out of curiosity for what is possible sound wise, trying the i2S interface, and partly because audiophile members on different audiophile forums claimed the superior sound enhancements by using a i2S DDC connected to their DACs. Some reviewers used chip-based DACs — others used R2R DACs.
I have followed an ambition since I started my digital experimentation: To be true and not to change anything on the analog side of my music equipment: Quad 405-2 power amp (1985), Conrad Johnson tube preamp (1989) and SoundLab Dynastat electrostatic/hybrid speakers (1995). But with all the digital experimentation and improvements I have performed since 2019, the analog components have faithfully followed and revealed the digital improvements with grace and conviction.
I jumped into the challenge and ordered the Hermes DDC from Vinshine Audio. It arrived after a long journey from China about 10 days later. At that point I only had a generic HDMI cable available. Two high quality i2S/HDMI audio cables were ordered — the Excelsior Bluewater Sommer cable ($120), and the high-end 0.5m Tubulus Argentus cable ($480). But transport was delayed due to Civid-19 and other difficulties. Meanwhile, I was not impressed at all by what the Hermes DDC added to listening impression, even with two weeks of burn-in, and a generic HDMI cable. In fact, playing over USB and using the Uptone Audio IsoREGEN solution, sounded much better.
The audiophile grade i2S/HDMI cables arrived one/two weeks later, and time was up for the real test. First the Denafrips Hermes/Pontus combo with the Excelsior Bluewater Sommer HDMI cable. Already after a few hours — better impression compared to USB. But, the big change happened after the Tubulus Argentus i2S cable arrived. Manufacturer recommended long cable burn-in before evaluation (at least 100 hours), but already after 24 hours the Hermes/Pontus sounded really well. Now, after two weeks of cable burn-in, especially the lower midrange and bass sound superior and soundstage is even wider, more datailed and more precise, compared to USB. With the Tubulus Argentus cable listening to Hermes/Pontus is very, very good. The Hermes DDC does not colour the music, but the overall presentation reveal more focused vocals and musicians, even more details in the upper frequencies, more air and a fantastic lower midrange and bass, wide soundstage — all very much helped by the Tubulus Argentus i2S cable.
The clearly audible improvements make me realize the importance of good quality cables between components in digital based stereo systems, especially if you use a very good DAC like the Denafrips DACs. In my system, the Hermes DDC and the Pontus DAC ideally should have been ONE unit, with the DDC benefits integrated into the DAC. Using separate units, the importance of high quality I2S cables becomes even more important at this level. With a Hermes DDC and a Terminator Plus DAC you can sync the clock signals, so that the Terminator Plus clock is used as master clock — unfortunately something you can’t do between a Hermes/Pontus. But, with the Denafrips Hermes properly connected to the DAC, it is an absolute must sound wise, and you won’t miss a note or beat during playback. After a couple of weeks, it is one of those upgrades that make you addicted to music, and you just want more of it.
The Denafrips Hermes DDC is the icing of the cake in my system. Properly integrated, the Pontus/Hermes combo reveals what is there at the original recording, regardless if you play PCM or DSD. The Denafrips Pontus/Hermes is also a tribute to the hardworking artists and musicians, composers, the studio technicians and the music producers, and all the labour and craftsmanship they put into their work…
To make it a bit more understandable, here is the layout of my digital music system:
Internet Modem/Router (SFP optical), Mac Mini/Audirvana and NAS-disk (music storage) >> Cisco Switch via Ethernet (RJ45) >> Cisco Switch (RJ45) >> Sonore OpticaModule >> Optical Fibre (SFP) >> Uptone EtherRegen Switch (A-side SFP) >> Uptone EtherRegen Switch (B-side RJ45) >> Sonore UltraRendu >> Sablon 2020 USB >> Denafrips Hermes DDC >> i2S/HDMI Tubulus Argentus >> Denafrips Pontus >> Preamp >> Power amp >> Speakers
Credit: Happy customer: Tom, Norway
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