• DENAFRIPS

So, decision points: Ares II or Pontus II?

I love taking risks, especially when they pay off and I am surprised along the

journey.


I took a risk with my first Denafrips purchase, the Ares II DAC. No returns does

not offer much of a security blanket. Still, enough reviewers had praised the

sound, construction and customer service to take a chance. After all, I was not

spending many thousands of dollars like I would on audio gear of similar

reputation.


After a couple of non-critical listening days the surprises started. Many terms can

describe good audio but I’ll keep it to the things that matter most to me: a big

soundstage all around, tonal accuracy, instrument separation and a minimally

“grungy” high end. I don’t want to shudder as musical crescendos are about to

arrive. Fortunately, there was no need to cover my ears with the Ares II.


The Ares II gave me all I expected from reviews. It not just equalled but bettered

the performance of my PS Audio Directstream DAC, and at a fraction of the cost.

I was happy, yes, but I was looking for more. The sound from my rig approached

but did not yet match memories of live acoustic performances.


I was fortunate that by the time the Ares II arrived I already had the Willsenton

R8 tube amp and Klipsch Forte IV horn speakers. I needed a resolving, revealing

system to tell differences up the audio chain.


So how was I to get that elusive “more” that I could not adequately describe?

I could have chased once again after much higher priced gear. Instead, I opted to

test the waters with the Pontus II, next up the Denafrips DAC lineup to the Ares

II. I did not go for the top-of-the-line Denafrips Terminator, despite excellent

reviews, not when I could not return it. My budget limits risk-taking. There are

limits.


So, I risked it with the Pontus II, said to have technology from Denafrips

higher-end DACs. It was double the cost of the Ares II but still did not come close

to insanity pricing.


The Pontus II gave me more of everything I value. It definitely exceeded my

expectations. It was the Ares II on steroids. If you have a resolving system you

can easily appreciate what it does, unless your hearing is deficient or your

hearing aids are broken.


Still, I was looking for that hard-to-define “more”. Maybe “more” was that sense of

presence one feels at a live acoustic performance. I definitely was not looking to

have the musicians in my listening room, a now overused cliche. I wanted to feel

as if I was at a live performance. I was looking for what I call “Thereness.” I

wanted to hear concert-level volumes, power and clarity without distortion or

clipping.


Liking what I had from Denafrips, I started reading reviews of the Iris DDC

(Digital to Digital Converter), a device I was unfamiliar with. Fortunately, YouTube

reviewers came to the rescue with great explanations of what it did, its build

quality and performance.


A DDC is designed to clean up the noise, jitter and other unwanted USB interface

pollution. It’s a pollution control device. Again, the price of just over $500 USD

was worth risking the poverty line. So I got one. Nothing ventured, nothing

gained.


To be deadly honest, I did not expect much from the Iris DDC. If anything smelled

like snake oil, this was likely to be it. Then I was surprised yet again. All the good

Denafrips DAC traits were there with the Iris in the chain. However, this is when a

superhero came on the scene bringing the “more” I wanted.


It was as if Sean Connery, someone to whom I am sometimes unfairly compared,

had come into my listening space and said: “My name is Bond, James Bond.”

Authoritative, clear and very sensual. There he was. Or rather, there it was, the

piece I kept looking for in my audiophile experience. I got the feeling of

“Thereness”.


I was finally in my second row center, first-balcony seat at Orchestra Hall in

Chicago. Sitting practically on top of the orchestra, I felt the blast of effortless

concert-level sound, without distortion, even when all hell breaks loose on Mahler

symphonies.


Anyone who thinks that noise, jitter and timing from USB pollution does not

impact sound quality should experience the Ares II/Iris combo. Better yet, the

Pontus II/Iris pairing.


Not everyone is prone to take a risk on the more expensive Pontus II plus a

DDC, but the rewards are many for the few and the brave. I fortunately did not

have to decide which to keep and which to sell. I have both.



I would definitely recommend getting the Denafrips DAC you can afford, along

with the Iris DDC. I would also recommend the Pontus II over the Ares II. Besides

increased fidelity, it can connect to the Iris DDC with the higher resolution I2S

connector. The Ares II is limited to optical and coax. The Iris USB pollution

control benefits are still there, but can be appreciated to a greater extent via the

I2S connection.



So, decision points: Ares II or Pontus II? A no-brainer. The Pontus II is the clear

choice if you value more of all the good things a Denafrips DAC offers, plus

higher resolution. You’ll never come as close to affordable audio bliss as you now

can with the Pontus II and the Iris. Well, never say never.


My whole rig, not including speakers, cost less than a new PS Audio

Directstream DAC. If that unit is rated at the top by Stereophile, the Denafrips

products deserve similar ratings. My appreciation goes to YouTube reviewers.

They can do so much more than the print media.



I’m using both Denafrips DACs connected to one Iris. The Pontus II routes to my

main system, the Ares II feeds my office. Yes, it can provide pollution control

services for more than one DAC at a time, provided of course you have only one

USB source. Seldom has modest risk yielded so many benefits.




Credit:


Armando R

psalvet@dc.rr.com

California, United States



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