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TEST: Denafrips Arce

By: Neven Kos



After Alvin Chee, the owner of the company Vinshine Audio, serched for the past year and a half on his YouTube channel for the best streamer for Denafrips D/A converters, Denafrips introduced its own music streamer called Arce (twin sister of the rainbow goddess Iris in Greek mythology). The primary focus in the design of this streamer was the quality of playback, so at Denafrips they developed their own computer platform instead of resorting to existing ones, such as PC platform, Raspberry Pi, or something else already existing.


The computer part of the streamer is based on the Quad-Core ARM Cortex processor, high-precision oscillators and a power supply built after the 60VA toroidal transformer. There are also low-noise and fast linear regulators, and unlike many others that resort to existing and available solutions or use standard computer solutions and operating systems, at Denafrips they have also developed their own operating system optimized precisely for music playback.


Arce streamer is compatible with various music streaming protocols, such as Roon, HQPlayer NAA, Airplay, and DLNA, and supports playback of local content from an SD card, NAS, or USB device.  The Roon Ready label is still on hold, and when asked where we stand with Roon certification, Alvin Lee replies, "Roon certification is ongoing, but it takes much longer than expected. I hope the certification will be completed by June 2024."



Arce features a fairly rich selection of digital outputs, including S/PDIF (Toslink and RCA), AES/EBU and I²S, and offers the ability to sync the clock with existing and future Denafrips DACs via BNC ports. This means that Arce can work in perfect harmony with any Denafrips DAC, and provide the best possible listening experience.


For more information on Arce's features and specifications, visit their https://www.denafrips.com/arce  page.


The Arce streamer is the result of years of research and development at Denafrips, and is adorned with several features that distinguish it from other streamers.



One of these features is the streaming module itself, designed by Denafrips' team of engineers. The module features a powerful quad-core ARM Cortex processor, which allows fast music streaming from any source, although DLNA streaming is surprisingly limited to a resolution of 16-bit/44 kHz.


Another feature is a custom and dedicated operating system (OS), which is optimized for the best possible sound. The OS supports a variety of file formats, including DSD, PCM, and MQA. The streamer also supports various connection modes, such as USB, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and others. It can be controlled via a smartphone application, which is not the last cry of usability and readability, available on the Denafrips web page as .apk files. We preferred to use Roon, Audirvana and JRiver.



The third distinctive feature of Arce compared to most streamers is the FPGA chip for processing the digital signal. This chip is tasked with performing the complex mathematical operations required by the DAC to convert digital signals into analog sound. The FPGA chip is also galvanically isolated to prevent any transmission of interference between the digital and analog parts of the device.


The fourth feature is Arce's advanced power supply, which starts with an IEC socket made of UPOCC gilded copper. The socket is adapted by Denafrips  and has very low resistance and inductance. The power supply employs a fairly powerful 60VA O-Core protected transformer, also made in house. This transformer uses UPOCC copper, very high in purity and conductivity. The transformer delivers current and voltage to a multistage linear power supply, consisting of several voltage regulators and capacitors.


All of the above is housed in a sturdy anodized aluminium chassis looking very robust to both the eye and the touch. In addition, dual BNC inputs are provided on the back to connect to the external clock like the Denafrips MCLK Terra.


As far as the functionality is concerned, the interface and initial installation of the streamer is not at the best level, without the use of instructions the control of the function can be a bit confusing. Also, after turning off some functions, for example  DLNA or Roon inputs, the device becomes invisible to these servers on the network, which may create difficulties when initially setting up. Following the instructions, we updated the Arce operating software to the latest version (the December 2023 was the one that was previously installed).


Concerning the limitation of network input via the DLNA protocol to 16-bit/44 kHz, we asked Alvin Chee what the reasons for this restriction were, and he replied: "Interesting question. I thought support for high-res was limited due to technical issues. It's undeniable that DLNA 16/44.1 sounds pretty good."

 

Via Roon, Arce supports 32-bit/384 kHz resolution. With all software and protocols, the sreamer, in a functional sense, worked flawlessly, without error, stagnation, loss of signal, and the like.

 

Listening  test

We connected Arce to the test system using it as a streamer for Denafrips Pontus II DAC, Meitner MA3 DAC/streamer and Chord Qutest DAC, all via S/PDIF connection (RCA or AES/EBU). We compared it briefly to the Allo USBridge Signature streamer. We used Roon, Audirvana, JRiver and Asset UPNP server software. Compared to the Metrum Ambre, which recently left the listening room, and based on my auditory memory, Arce seemed equally musical and detailed, with a high dose of transparency. It was interesting to compare Arce to an internal streamer built into the Meitner MA3 DAC.



Connected with the AES/EBU digital cable (Wireworld Solstice 8) into the balanced digital input of Meitner, Arce sounded similar to the internal Meitner streamer, losing only a little transparency and space, which was diagnosed only by extremely careful listening. As we talk about minute differences here, the message is that the buyer does not have to fear whether he has made the right step by buying Arce. Compared to Allo USBridge Arce is slightly faster and more open, a bit more detailed, and brings a nicer exterior design.


Using Roon, the functionality of the system is not limited by anything, as Roon himself recognizes Arce as the final point of playback, despite Arce not yet being certified as "Roon Ready". Since I am not a big fan of Roon, we tried Arce with several other server software platforms via DLNA protocol. Although resolution is limited to 16-bit/44 kHz, the sound via DLNA, as usual in comparisson with Roon, was a little faster, firmer, more detailed, colder in tone. The playback of files in CD format was excellent, with a lot of detail and speed so we had no notable complaints.



Comparing  the I²S and AES/EBU outputs, we clearly noticed that the first one is superior in every way. From top to bottom, the I²S sounds faster, more dynamic, cleaner and more natural. The spatial image is shifted firmly between and further behind the speakers, with the more pronounced flow of sounstage air and ambience assuming a nice spherical shape, which makes the listening additionally interesting. In general, through I²S output, the sound is more fluid, softer, but at the same time more authoritative and simply attracts more of your attention, so if you have Denafrips or some other DAC compatible with one of the eight I²S configurations, it is worth investing in a higher quality HDMI cable (we used the Wireworld Sphere 48 HDMI cable, which is located in the golden middle of Wireworld offer). Added to that is a clearer, deeper bass and more airy high frequency reproduction, so there should be no doubt about choosing an I²S input.


It would be entirely correct to proclaim that Denafrips Arce streamer does a great job for its itended function, it streams music without obstructions and somehow gets itself out of the way, leaving lots of unobstructed apace for message hidden in digital bits, without interfering with the final result.


Conclusion

If you are a Roon user, and have a good to excellent DAC that supports I²S or AES /EBU connection, Arce streamer is an excellent choice. Not only because of the sound, appearance, and functionality, but also because of its price. In today's price realities, around 1.000 EUR does not seem excessive for a plug'n'play streamer with this set of features and capabilities.

 

hifimedia

February 2024.Croatia




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