I am new to digital streaming but not in audio.
I am new to digital streaming but not to audio.
I come from a family of music lovers and musicians. My Grandmother is a professional piano teacher and it was her only job and passion since she got married and until she turned 70+ years old. My dad is fond of singing and playing his acoustic guitar. My Eldest sister loves to sing and was part of many musical productions before she got married and became a doctor. My youngest sister is a professional viola player and is part of an orchestra. Last but not the least, my lovely wife is a choir singer as well.
I on the other hand is just a lover of music and just so happened to grow up with a family of musicians and music lovers.Since i was little, i picked up my dad’s interest in home audio.But where my father invested heavily on home audio (and home theater), I invested in car audio as i was almost always inside my car more than inside my house.
Fast forward to today (20 years later), i find myself hanging inside the house more than in my car.So i started investing on my home audio system.
I started selling all my turn tables last year because i felt like hi-res digital streaming has come a very long way.I also felt that going digital streaming for me is more economical and practical as i have no space nor time in hunting CD’s or Vinyl.
I started my digital audio journey with humble DAC’s like the Schiit Modi and the Topping E30.Those were very good DAC’s for what they cost.But somehow i wasn’t satisfied, and no matter how much i tried to match the those DAC’s with my system, it felt like they still sounded “digital” to me.
So as i was doing research for a DAC upgrade, i saw NUMEROUS positive reviews on Denafrips.which at that time, i had never even heard of before.
I placed an order for an Ares II just last March.A few days later, it arrived at my doorstep.
From the thick cardboard packing box of the Ares II alone, i already had a sense that this is one seriously made DAC.
The weight of this relatively small-medium footprint DAC caught me off guard.As i lifted it out of the box, i was surprised how heavy it was for its size.
The metal chassis is solid and thick. The finish is done in a tasteful manner. There is a sense of class, simplicity and elegance in its design. Which will all lead in making the Ares II look “current” and “relevant” in years to come.
The facia has all these buttons which feels solid when you press on it. It gives you the impression that this DAC is more expensive that what you actually paid for. The amber LED indicator lights have the right amount of brightness to it. I had amps before where i found their LED indicator lights too bright that i wanted to put a tape on it just so it wont bother me at night. The Ares II indicator lights are just so easy on the eyes.
The back panel have ports that are generously and intelligently spaced.I don’t think there will be any issues using thick gauged wires hitting each other when plugged in the Ares II.Everything is labeled properly and legibly leaving no room for confusion as to what goes where.
I gave the Ares II a full 100 hours of break in before doing some critical listing. I played around with NOS/OS (and its filters) and the phase mode (negative and positive phase) during break in but only to check on how to do it and if there was any audible difference when changing those settings mentioned.
Alvin was very helpful and quick in answering my questions through email. And i really appreciated that.
Anyway, 100 hours after, it was now time for some serious listening.
The sound stage of this DAC is amazing. It made my small listening room sound much bigger. Layering of instruments are defined and spaced in a three dimensional plane as compared to other DAC’s I’ve had where they seem to occupy, if you can imagine, only one or two rows on the stage separated only from the left-to-right plane.
With the Ares II, you have the sense of more rows in the stage, and each element (wether a singer or musician) is placed in different spots of the stage in different rows. But there are more rows that are empty in between. This gives you the sense of a deeper and more three dimensional soundstage. Truly quite amazing. Multiple voices are also clearly heard. Imagine a choir where you have an alto, soprano, tenor, and bass singers. With the Ares II, the different voices are layered apart and yet seamlessly grouped together singing in harmony. This DAC gives my system a sense of air and black background that i have never experienced before.
The Ares II is a very neutral DAC (leaning towards warm), I find it smooth, full of emotion, and organic; extracting more than enough details from every track i play. In fact, there are more details and nuances i hear now on certain tracks that I am familiar with, compared to the other DAC’s I’ve owned before. Granted that it’s unfair for me to compare a $100 DAC to the Denafrips Ares II, but that is my only point of reference and this is the reason why i wanted to upgrade anyway. And it was an upgrade indeed.
Musical instruments were never as natural sounding as it is now with the Ares II in my system. Cymbal crashes are convincing and smooth in its decay. Drums and bass notes are strong when it needs to be and soft when the song calls for it to be soft. I never had a sense of over or lack of bass. Everything seems to just about right. Midbass are tight and with authority. Piano notes are spot on throughout the whole frequency spectrum.
Acoustic instruments and jazz tracks are my favorite to listen to with the Ares II. It conveys realism in the sound, with dynamics and nuances which that are ever so present. This gives you the sense of involvement and emotion that makes you experience the track you are playing live.
Listening to more modern and fast music is also a joy to listen to with the Ares II. I used to skip bass heavy tracks in my playlist as the bass sometimes sounds very rolled off, mushy, or boomy before the Ares II came along. Some songs from the band Queen, for example, have very harsh highs, that quite frankly, hurt my ears. But with the Ares II, i was surprised to have never even attempted to skip the said tracks because they were for once, enjoyable for me to listen to!
There is no listening fatigue for me when listening with the Ares II.I can just get lost listening and enjoying my music. For the fist time, i stopped looking for ways to improve my system and started enjoying music the way it was intended to be.
I use the NOS mode most of the time when i want to relax, and OS/Slow Filter mode when i want to do some critical listening. In both cases the positive phase light switched on as this gives me a tighter and more authoritative bass. This is a cool feature of the Ares II where i can adjust my listening mood with a couple of pushes of a button.
All in all, there is absolutely no regrets in my decision in getting the Ares II. There were some other DAC’s that i was considering to get; such as the Topping D90 MQA, Doge Tube DAC, and the RME DAC. I chose the Ares II because i felt like it was the most natural and organic sounding DAC among all others in its price category. If this Ares II is Denafrips’ “entry level” DAC, and i am wowed by it. I can only just imagine what it would be like to have a Pontus Venus, or Terminator. My audible senses will probably short circuit in amazement.
System Set up:
Vintage JBL L166 Horizon Speakers with outboard crossover and Jantzen and Duelund capacitors
EAR Yoshino 834L Tube preamplifier hot-rodded with NOS tubes, Mundorf, Jantzen, and Duelund capacitors
Vintage Mcintosh MC2105 Power Amplifier
Dedicated Music Roon core on a Windows 10 PC
Audio Quest Cinnamon USB cable
Canare RCA, speaker wires, and power cables.
Credit: Chris B. @ The Phillippines
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