So, decision points: Ares II or Pontus II?
I love taking risks, especially when they pay off and I am surprised along the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.