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There is simply no comparison. This is truly next level.


 

A couple of years ago I started taking my digital front end seriously. November 2020 I ordered the Denafrips Ares 2 and was much surprised by the musicality and build quality of this DAC. In fact so much surprised that by the end of 2022, I upgraded to the Pontus II. I also upgraded the network distribution: a modified Cisco Meraki switch, Audioquest Vodka cat. 7 cabling with Telegartner connectors and Roon Optimised Core Kit in a Nucleus like enclosure. Both of these powered by top grade linear power supplies from S-Booster and Teddy Pardo. All the while I had been using the Allo DigiOne Signature/Shanti as a streamer. Mid 2023 I was made aware of the new Arce streamer. Since I was curious what the use of I2S connection to the Pontus II would add to my musical enjoyment, I ordered the Arce. Not expecting a lot of improvement on the streamer side, but particularly interested in the possibility of switching from coax to I2S.



I'd like to tell a bit of my approach to listening. I've always been searching for a natural and lifelike presentation. In my room there is no TV, there is no home theater. I do not consider music the soundtrack of whatever I have to do at a certain moment. I just listen to music for at least 3 hours a day. Since I only use the iPad for music selection, I keep a constant playback level nearly all of the time. Over the years I've built or modified most parts of my music system. I consider myself a critical listener. Listening mainly to classical and jazz with a preference for hard bob and a soft spot for Ella, Billie and Sarah.


 

I know the sound of my system by heart. Now, without hardly any burn in time of the Arce, nothing could have prepared me for this change. This is really shocking. Wider soundstage, more depth, higher resolution without any of the aggression that usually accompanies this. In two words ‘More Music’. This is crazy, this can't be only a difference between coax and I2S. It's is not at all subtle. This is a major change in the overall balance. Music seems louder, more defined, more layered. Instruments and voices are separated in a way that sometimes surprises you.


 

After listening for a couple of weeks with the Arce, a peculiar thing has happened. I prefer to listen to non oversampling rather than oversampling. NOS is definitely more lifelike, but on some occasions it could be a bit too much etched. Or as I like to compare to digital photography, a bit too much sharpening.




My JBL horn drivers have been fitted out with beryllium diaphragms. These provide for an unprecedented clean reproduction with no perceptible distortion at all. These big 4" diaphragms have no problem reaching 10 kHz and will slowly roll off beyond that. Before using the Arce streamer, many times I was considering augmenting the high frequencies with a super tweeter. The JBL 2405, good as it is, was not able to deliver the same purity the Be driver did.



Now with the Arce streamer high frequencies not only seem more extended, but there is also no need for switching to oversampling anymore. Oversampling is now obscuring the highs compared to NOS. I wonder, could it be that because drivers are not able to keep up, they need to be masked by oversampling? And as an extra, I don't feel the need for additional HF transducers anymore.


 

Many audiophiles are ridiculing this kind of attention to network switches, cabling, streamers and power supplies. Digital is just one and zeroes right? Not! Digital is high frequent analog voltages with steep slopes that can make detecting and therefore timing, extremely critical. The benefit of this upgrade is clear. My Allo DigiOne streamer is still there as a different Roon endpoint, but connected with coax to the Pontus II. In playback I can group the Arce and the Allo in Roon. Now one only has to switch between the inputs on the Pontus to hear this upgrade. There is simply no comparison. This is truly next level.


 

To be fair, I had to compare the Allo DigiOne Signature to the Denafrips Arce, both over coax. There is clearly a difference between coax and I2S - Audioquest Carbon in this case - but the main benefit clearly comes from the Arce streamer.


 

A few words about the rest of my system. The complexity of the digital chain stands in stark contrast compared to the analog chain. Music out of the Pontus II goes directly into a Single Ended 300B amplifier by Triode Dick. No feedback, no push-pull crossover switching, just two tubes per channel: Mullard ECC35 and Western Electric 300B. The loudspeakers are my own take on the JBL Everest project. Jokingly I call them my 'JBL Denali project' after the highest mountain in North America. The LF cabinets are modified JBL 4508A cinema enclosures with two 15 " JBL 2226J LF transducers. The wonderful horns on top are the famous Yuichi A-290 horns, hand made in Vietnam. The two way crossovers @ 550 Hz, are based on the network principles of TAD TSM-1 Studio Monitors. Efficiency of this system is a staggering 100 dB/1 W/1 mtr. Of course there is also a turntable in the system. Garrard 401 with SME 3012 and re-bodied Denon 103-D with van den Hul tip. Phono pre amp is an E88CC tube based and Black Gate modified Sphinx Project 4. Cabling is by Duelund DCA16GA for speakers and DCA20GA for signals.


 

Hats off, if you've made it reading till here. I rarely share my thoughts on components and don't want to be too technical. It's just that this upgrade took me by surprise and I feel the benefits are such that I don't hesitate sharing this with others.

 

All the best and 'groeten' from Amsterdam,

 

Wim v. S.




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