Happy Denafrips user here – I really enjoy the sound these DACs
Only recently I started rebuilding my HiFi system. What’s left for now from my former setup is only the speakers, which I am still happy with. Bought them during my time in China. These are Elite Aesthet VI.
After trying several middle/higher class integrated amps, I settled on the Yamaha A-S3200. With my speakers, it has smooth and silky sound, enough bass articulation, and is a big step up from my older amp, the Yamaha A-S801. Solid bass foundation is provided by 2 REL T7x.
Now for the DAC part: That has been a quite interesting journey so far. For a long while, I was perfectly OK with my older amp’s integrated DAC (Yamaha A-S801 with some ESS chip).
Then I discovered that my USB DAC (Audioquest Dragonfly Cobalt) provided much nicer and smoother sound compared to my Yamaha’s integrated DAC, and I was reminded that of course DACs do have a sound signature of themselves.
From there it was not far to ordering the ARES II due to the very good reviews it got on the net. I much prefer musical and smooth presentation over hyper detailed and fatiguing sound signature.
The ARES II came some weeks before the Yamaha A-S3200, so for a while the ARES II was hooked via RCA to the Yamaha A-S801, making my music listening experience instantly much better.
Then I found a 2nd hand RME ADI-2 DAC FS, which I wanted to try. It has very nice features – you know that, since you bought one yourself recently . Sound-wise, it leans more into the analytical and at times slightly fatiguing direction, especially when connected via RCA to the old A-S801. I tried the EQ section regarding bass management / room modes, but settled for now on the conclusion that I accept the slight boom thanks to my room’s dimensions, and not reduce bass impact via EQ.
Then enters the streamer: This is a very interesting little device, the ArgonAudio SOLO. I think for now it is only officially distributed in Europe, but I might be wrong.
Anyway, it is a little 250€ / $ box, WiFi only, but with a fair internal DAC and two digital outputs. It streams Chrome/GoogleCast and is therefore perfect for me – I like to use the Qobuz service with the native app. Since the SOLO has to digital outputs which are active simultaneously, it feeds two external DACs for easy A/B comparisons via SPDIF/Toslink.
Hint: Anyone using this device (ArgonAudio SOLO) should try a better USB power supply – I noticed much improved sound with an iFi iPower2. My guess is that the better power supply reduces jitter.
Back to DAC: What I like about the RME ADI2 DAC is its compact and speedy bass. In this regard it trumps the ARES II.
So I went crazy and thought about … the PONTUS II as an upgrade to the ARES II. But then sanity came back and directed me into going up 2 notches, not one, on the DAC ladder (no pun intended ). So I skipped the PONTUS and went for VENUS.
The first VENUS unit that arrived unfortunately had some quality issues. After intensively discussing with Vincent, we got everything OK again – the 2nd VENUS came in perfect order, as expected from my very positive first buy experience with the ARES II.
Now, after some weeks of use and A/B comparisons, my conclusion is this: The VENUS II is clearly the best DAC in the HiFi rack – as to be expected, of course.
I should note that differences between the 3 DACs – at least in my setup – are not night and day. My kind of music is enjoyable on all 3 DACs. All 3 DACs are connected via not-so-cheap Chord Shawline XLR cables to the amp. AC power is not conditioned but distributed through IsoTek cables and distributor.
Compared to ARES II, the VENUS II has
- wider and deeper sound stage
- more refined sound, in direct comparison the ARES II sounds “gritty” sometimes
- more articulate bass (still not as tight as the RME ADI2, though)
- a juicier mid band / tonality
- there is simply more detail and life to music
Or, put the other way around:
The ARES II is a fantastic DAC by itself, that makes you simply enjoy music and forget about technical details or specs.
But, whenever I switch from VENUS II to ARES II, it seems like a quite noticeable step back – like some veil is covering the music now. It does not make the ARES II sound bad at all, but the difference is there. Once you experienced it, it is hard to settle for the lower level. Thankfully, all my audio budget is spent now – and I see no reason why I shouldn’t be happy with my setup for the coming years now.
BTW, did you know that fiddling with the ARES II’s housing (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VImip66zLA ) really works? I did the loosening and gentle re-tightening of the screws after some weeks of use, and instantly got a wider / deeper sound and better bass on the ARES II, even though I strongly wanted NOT to believe in this tuning method. But it actually worked for my device.
Happy Denafrips user here – I really enjoy the sound these DACs have. While the ARES II already ticks all the important boxes, the VENUS II improves in all directions. So, the ARES II will be in someone else’s HiFi rack sooner or later – no hurry, though.
The RME ADI2 DAC will probably stay, I like to keep it as a second DAC with a significantly different sound signature. It is a terrific DAC/headphone amp BTW for driving my Audeze headphones.
Cheers Alvin, keep up the good work!
Regards from Munich,