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Denafrips ARES II USB R2R DAC Review

amirm

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#1
This is a review and measurements of the Denafrips ARES II USB DSD DAC based on R2R architecture. It is on kind loan from a member. I think it costs US $680 so not too high for a custom DAC.

The overall look of the ARES II is rather plain:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Audio Review.jpg

The LED indicators are quite tiny so standing top of it, I could not tell they were on.

There is a large toroidal transformer in there making the ARES II quite heavy. So at least on that front, you get the feeling that you are getting your money's worth.

The back panel has the usual connectors:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Back Panel Connectors Audio Review.jpg

I was pleased to see balanced XLR outputs as this increases the cost substantial in R2R implementations. I used that for all of my testing.

R2R DAC Audio Measurements
As usual we start with our 1 kHz dashboard:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Audio Measurements.png


Oh, this is pretty good! THD+N is 10 times better than the specification and the highest distortion product is below -100 dB. SINAD as a result which represents level of distortion and noise is respectable for R2R DAC:

Best USB R2R DSD DACs Review.png


Signal to noise ratio is very good:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Dynamic Range Audio Measurements.png


Intermodulation distortion is very important in the case of custom DACs like this and here, we do see variations that are level sensitive:
Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD IMD Audio Measurements.png


There are some clear jitter components visible but they are well below audibility threshold:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Jitter Audio Measurements.png


Linearity once again is good for an R2R DAC:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Linearity Audio Measurements.png


Multitone response representing "music" is surprisingly good:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Multitone Audio Measurements.png


THD+N vs frequency once again shows better than expected performance:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD THD+N vs Frequency Distortion and Noise Audio Measurements.png


The spec says there are two filter settings but I could not figure out how to change that. Here is the only one that I used for all my testing:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Filter Audio Measurements.png


Thermal Stability
There seems to be no change in performance with temperature:

Denafrips ARES II R2R USB DAC DSD Warmp-up Audio Measurements.png


Yes, I got bored and stopped it. :) Usually when the performance has temperature dependency, it is obvious out of the gate.

Conclusions
It has become a common retort to say that R2Rs measure poorly. Indeed even the manufacturer says this. Good thing that is not the case here as that is just an excuse. The Denafrips ARES II has very good performance as an R2R DAC. And its faults if any, should not be audible.

So if you are itching to have an R2R/custom boutique DAC, the ARES II makes a good candidates.

------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

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#3
Still, apparent performance no better than $90 D10, and arguably (imo) not much better - if any - than the $9 Apple dongle.. Look at all that grass! Why would anyone in their right mind pay $680 for this thing???
I'm wondering the same - is there some euphonic quality to the R2R design, like a tube amp? Hard to imagine any of it being audible, though.
 

MZKM

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#4
Still, apparent performance no better than $90 D10, and arguably (imo) not much better - if any - than the $9 Apple dongle.. Look at all that grass! Why would anyone in their right mind pay $680 for this thing???
For the magic of R2R of course, you are but a buffoon to compare this to the clinical horror of D-S DACs.
 

Matias

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#6

majingotan

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#8
I'm wondering the same - is there some euphonic quality to the R2R design, like a tube amp? Hard to imagine any of it being audible, though.
Why not try it out yourself and return it within the return date policy? If you’re not gonna try it out then you’ll forever be curious about it
 

audiophile

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#9
@amirm did you measure it in OS or NOS mode? I think it’s set to OS by default, but many people prefer to use this DAC in NOS mode. It’s the new feature introduced in Ares II.

How to switch modes:

 

majingotan

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#10
Measurements looks like it’s in OS mode because of reconstruction filter graph
 

Tks

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#11
Not bad for R2R, thanks to wolfman's and bossman's measurements that show there are some out there that aren't catastrophes in totality.

But naturally, aesthetics leave lots to be desired (amp makers should take note of nice tall legs though). As does the price if you're looking at performance in your products.
 

Matias

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#16
Thanks for the link, did not see this review before. How come its not on the master SINAD chart with the other dacs?
It is not an "official" review by Amir. It was done by Wolf, but using APx555 and same settings so they can be comparable.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Thread Starter #18
@amirm did you measure it in OS or NOS mode? I think it’s set to OS by default, but many people prefer to use this DAC in NOS mode. It’s the new feature introduced in Ares II.

How to switch modes:
I tested it however it came. The manual says nothing about switching modes. And I can't tell from that video what he is pushing.
 

audiophile

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#19
I tested it however it came. The manual says nothing about switching modes. And I can't tell from that video what he is pushing.
Info from the Denafrips’ website:

NOS/OS Selection:
1. Press the Mute button once to enter configuration mode
2. Press the Opt1 momentarily
- Opt1 On = NOS
- Opt1 Off = OS
3. Wait for 5s
4. Ares II back in operational mode

Filter Selection:
1. Press the Mute button once to enter configuration mode
2. Press the Opt2 momentarily
- Opt2 On = Slow Filter
- Opt2 Off = Sharp Filter
3. Wait for 5s
4. Ares II back in operational mode
 

bunkbail

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#20
I tested it however it came. The manual says nothing about switching modes. And I can't tell from that video what he is pushing.
Apparently the default setting on this DAC is OS/fast filter. Hope you can test the NOS mode as well.
 
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