I've had a Chord Qutest in my system for the past 2 months with the intention of comparing it to the Denafrips Pontus II. I received my Pontus last Monday so have had about a week of listening to the Pontus. At this point, it's had about 120 hours of break-in on top of the 100 hours that it received at the factory.
Background on the Qutest as a reference point: The Qutest sounded really good with notably a high level of detail retrieval. There were two shortcomings that stood out for me about the Qutest.
With the stock power supply, there was a slight, and I do mean slight, degree of harshness. I found that using a pretty common Anker phone/laptop backup battery both reduced the noise floor and took away that slight bit of harshness. NOTE: if you try this, make sure the battery's output is 5V.
The Qutest is exceptionally detailed in its sound. But, the Qutest conveyed that detail in a way that seemed artificially Technicolor. Meaning that there was a lot of detail, but either conveyed to a degree or conveyed in a way that didn't feel natural or lifelike to me. It sounded slightly, and again I do mean slightly, more "audiophile" than musical in sound.
My Objectives for getting the Pontus: In my decision to try out the Pontus, my objective was to get 90% of resolution that a Qutest provides with more of the warmth that I heard in the Denafrips Ares II. Harshness and listening fatigue are very real problems for me with digital audio so a balance of detail and warmth is important for me.
Impressions of the Pontus:
Resolution and Warmth: I always thought that resolution and warmth were traits on two opposite ends of a spectrum. It has already been eye-opening that Pontus actually seems to have even more detail and resolution than the Qutest and also more smoothness and warmth than the Ares II. What's interesting is that this resolution is delivered in a more lifelike and natural sounding way than via the Qutest. I'm noticing this right now with the piano and string bass in the 'Pueblo Nuevo' track on the Buena Vista Social Club recording as well as the trumpet and the tonal quality of metal and wood percussion instruments. The Pontus sounds both smooth and full in its sound. One artist for which this unique combination of resolution and warmth really does justice is Jimi Hendrix. I often have not liked to listen to Hendrix on digital due to harshness and noise from jitter and analog sources, compared to my typically better experience of listening to Jimi Hendrix on vinyl. I'm not finding this to be the case with the Pontus. Jimi Hendrix' Voodoo Child is sounding both engaging and listenable via the Pontus.
With the Pontus powered by a Shunyata Venom power cord, I'm hearing no sense of the slight harshness that I heard from the Ares. I also have a Synergistic Research UEF Blue power cord that made the Ares II DAC sound smoother without any loss of detail. I'll try that out on the Pontus DAC in a couple of days to see if it makes any difference to the sound of the Pontus.
Presence: Instruments and voices are conveyed by the Pontus with what sounds like an appropriate level of weight for each instrument. On the 'Orgullecida' track on the Buena Vista Social Club recording, the string bass has a greater level of fullness in its presentation than the voices, electric guitar and trumpet as would be appropriate in real life. In contrast, the Qutest communicates the details but seems to be less able to convey the weight and fullness of each voice and instrument's sound. The 'air' around voices are also conveyed by the Pontus in a very palpable way but with a sense of refinement and restraint that sounds realistic when compared to a real-life performance. In the Cowboy Junkies' 'Trinity Sessions' recording, I hear this very clearly in the 'Blue Moon Revisited' track.
Soundstage: The Pontus definitely has a broader and fuller soundstage than the Ares and the Qutest as well, I think. The fullness of the Pontus sound might be a major contributor to my perception that it has a bigger soundstage than the Qutest. I hear this in the Cowboy Junkies' Trinity Sessions album.
Pace & Emotional Range: What appeals to me most about the Pontus and perhaps what I noticed first was wide range of pace that the Pontus is able to convey. Some DACs like the Qutest have good pace. Other DACs such as the Ares II sound more relaxed. It's intriguing to hear a DAC that can sound both relaxed as well as upbeat and dynamic as needed. For the Pontus, that ability allows it to sound relaxed and calm or energetic and dynamic depending on the music being played. Music through the Pontus seems to be conveyed as the artist or composer intended instead of the Pontus imposing its own sonic signature onto the music. Examples of these two ends of this scale that I have heard are Sara Watkins' new 'Under the Pepper Tree' album versus Les McCann & Eddie Harris' excellent 'Swiss Movement' recording of their performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Flow & Continuity: Consistent with my comments on the Pontus' adaptability in terms of pace and emotional range, it is conveys the flow of music really well. Its presentation makes it easy to "follow the tune" when listening to music. For lack of a better way to describe this quality of the Pontus, I would say that it has a lot of patience in how it conveys music. It's not in a rush to get the next note out as the Qutest sometimes seems to be, but can play quicker or slower depending on emotional nature of the music. The 'Murmullo' track on the Buena Vista Social Club recording has a languid pace that the Pontus conveys well while not losing the underlying drive behind the music. Partly this is due to good timing, but the Pontus' ability to convey tonal colors also helps it to provide this sense of drive and forward movement even on music that is not conducive to an insistent sense of pace. I'd like to highlight one recording on which I'm hearing this quality from the Pontus, but the truth is that I hear this sense of flow on everything I'm listening to with the Pontus.
Sound quality of streamed versus local files: Something else that I've heard is that the Pontus seems to at least narrow the sonic difference between streamed Qobuz files and local files. Local files have always sounded better to me. I attribute that to a shorter signal chain without the digital and analog (such as EMI) noise that might come in through being sent through the internet and then transmitted through my local network. Listening to local files and the equivalent music track from Qobuz were so very close in sound quality when doing sighted listening, that I'm don't know if I could distinguish the difference in blind testing.
What listening preferences would the Pontus fit well: The Pontus would be a great choice for anyone that appreciates the sound and feel of live music. More than any other DAC I heard, the Pontus seems to savor the texture and feel of every note of music. The Pontus does particularly well with reproducing the textures, tonal quality and emotions of voices and acoustic music.
What listening preferences would the Pontus not fit as well: Listeners that want a sharp cut-glass feel to their music might not appreciate the Pontus as much. The Pontus digs out a lot of detail, but it presents detail in a way that sounds natural. If you listen to a lot of electronic music and are looking for razor-sharp sounding transients, the Pontus might not fit your preferences as much as the Qutest.
Summary: I'm sure there are more expensive DACs that might improve on some of the performance aspects of the Pontus, but I am so impressed by the natural and lifelike way that the Pontus communicates music with no apparent shortcomings in resolution of detail, pace, or tonal quality. I greatly appreciate that the Pontus seems to be causing no listening fatigue for me while still presenting music in a full and detailed sounding manner.
Thank you so much for your attention and service. I really have enjoyed working with you on this purchase. If anything, the reviews fail to capture how good the Pontus II DAC sounds as it is very non "audiophile" in how it sounds very musical, lifelike and dare I say, "analog" in its sound qualities.
Credit: Jeff C. @ USA
WHERE TO BUY?