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Denafrips ARES II USB R2R DAC Review

majingotan

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#81
I have been fortunate enough to compare the Khadas Tone Board, Denafrips Ares II DAC, and Nagra R2R DAC ($35k) side by side installed in a $100k+ system installed in a custom designed "idealized" acoustic room. Sources were a Nagra CD player, Nagra preamp, VTL tube monoblocks, Rockport Avior speakers, Melco streamer. Various redbook CD recordings and streamed files of various resolutions. Connections were via coax for lower resolutions and USB for higher resolutions. The Khadas was powered by a linear supply of 5 volts to header pins 1 and 21 (not via USB). We used RCA outputs for all DACs. The Nagra DAC and Denafrips sounded very similar. The Khadas sounded very different. I'm not talking slight variation in sound but a LARGE variation in sound. The Khadas was more "exciting" with deeper bass drive, larger soundstage, a more forward presentation but slightly grainy in texture. The Denafrips and Nagra were more laid back and sounded more refined and smooth. The R2R dacs were superior in midbass pitch and definition most noticeable on acoustic bass and lowest piano notes. I found the Nagra DAC to be slightly superior to the Ares in refinement, but I must admit to splitting hairs and of course subject to faults of non double blind testing. At my home, I find the sound of the Khadas very similar to that of my old Oppo Blu Ray player that has been upgraded with the Burr Brown OPA1611/12 op amps, but the Khadas is a tad better for revealing ambience, reverb tails and a bit more cohesive bass response and a slightly wider soundstage. My system uses NCORE 400 amps, Pass preamp, and tall Line Array speakers. I am contemplating purchasing the Denafrips so that I can have both an R2R and DS DAC on hand. I can imagine recordings that would benefit from applying a specific DAC.
Once again sighted bias listening. Need a proper DBT test with 19/20 correct identification of the 3 DACs before we acknowledge all that illusionary mumbo jumbo subjective terms you’re describing. All we care here is if there’s an objective difference but unfortunately you don’t have statistical objective proof of what you’re experiencing
 

BDWoody

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#82
...I must admit...of course subject to faults of non double blind testing.
Which it seems you may not really understand, otherwise you wouldn't have just mentioned it in passing as if it really didn't make the rest of your impressions pretty much meaningless.

With no controls, you've just got a bunch of blah blah blah...
 
OP
amirm

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Thread Starter #83
Your nonsense is thoroughly unappreciated. But you sure have a lot of nonsense!
OK, let's be more polite in our disagreements.
 

Francis Vaughan

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#84
No doubt, the consumer is paying for the designer's "tuning" of the R2R to appeal to certain tastes - would be interesting if in a true DBX test whether people can hear a difference between the R2R and a current state of the art DAC like the Topping D90.
I doubt anyone could tell the difference between a Topping D10, let alone a D90, and anything else properly designed.
What is interesting about this DAC is that there is no evidence of "tuning" of the sound. It, like so many modern DACs, has performance that exceeds audibility in any known useful metric. That is in oversampling mode. Which is why testing in NOS mode would be very interesting. Then we might observe less than stellar performance and be able to see audible artefacts that might be tunable.

The extensive description of listening from drkmods above neglected to say whether the Denafrips DAC was used in NOS mode. Given the circumstances of the testing (ie golden eared enthusiasts) I would be surprised if it were not in NOS mode. But we don't know.

Be clear, I would not be rushing out to buy the Denafrips. Personally I currently use a D50s, four Tone boards, and a DX3 Pro. But you have to appreciate the work that has gone into the Denafrips. As opposed to just buying an off the shelf chip solution, this shows serious engineering capability. Misguided perhaps, but quality engineering and design capabilities none the less. (The money saved would be put towards a particular mechanical watch I rather lust after.)
 
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#85
I think a device like this can be appreciated a bit like a mechanical watch. Someone has invested a lot of time, effort, and expertise in designing this thing. And they got it right. That should be applauded. It isn't easy.
Not really, the watch industry are not lying to their consumers (ok there is a lot of doginess on their marketing but for diferent reasons), A Richard Mille or a Greubel Forsey are incredible pieces of machinery well worth their almost million dollar price tag, but they are not pretending that practically speaking they are doing something different than telling the time better than a 10 usd casio F91W. They are giving you a better subjective experience. But with audio where you can objectively measure performance and claim you are getting a better subjective experience is absolute BS. I love the point Amirm made on the recent review of the 2 Shiit headphone amps sure the one measurng objectively worst was probably harder to design but what exactly would you do with that narrative when you can get the better measuring one for the same money
 

Spocko

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#87
We all know you’re referring to an effect box here that distorts the signal out of your DAC and lose transparency. We have a proper way of making our own effect box called DSP and this one preserves the transparency as the output from speakers are calibrated with the best microphones for speaker measurements and proper room correction. No tubes that exists in the world could ever come close to the SQ of a properly calibrated room acoustics and linear speaker response using DSP
Are there any DSPs that can add 2nd order harmonics so revered by the analog community? I know DSP can control ambiance/reverberation/imaging but haven't heard any system applying "euphonic" distortion. On digital modeling guitar amplifiers, this is done a lot, and I imagine it could be used here too, just haven't heard of it.
 

BDWoody

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#88
Are there any DSPs that can add 2nd order harmonics so revered by the analog community? I know DSP can control ambiance/reverberation/imaging but haven't heard any system applying "euphonic" distortion. On digital modeling guitar amplifiers, this is done a lot, and I imagine it could be used here too, just haven't heard of it.
There are all manner of fuzzboxes out there that will allow you to emulate most anything, including that oh so popular 'tube' option.
I know the Puffin phono preamp has a number of 'tuning' options, including 2h, 2+4h, etc...

Edit: I don't mind me some nice 2h now and again...I just like to be able to turn it off when I'm ready for the straight truth.
 

manisandher

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#89
... I'm just trying to understand the appeal of R2R specifically.
A particular type of R2R appeals to me... high-rate input (>384kHz), non-oversampling and with zero filtering. You can then use a suitable software player and play around with a whole variety of filters and noise-shaping... and actually hear what affect these have on the sound.

Not many such DACs around though. The Ares II comes close, but it doesn't look as though you can switch off its filtering.

Mani.
 
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#91
Too bad its a prototype. This matches Holo Audio's current offerings with slightly better DR. And seeing the May's current pricing with the various addons is stretching very close to Mola Mola territory.



Me too. The preamp as well. I have the Hyperion and the only thing I can tell you its really quiet, can have my ears next to tweeter at full volume and zero hiss. Oh and it comes with a remote thats a glorified on/off switch which I am finding extremely useful.

Their self-posted APx measurement showed it matched the stated spec of SINAD of 100db~ and much more than the advertised power.
I own the combo (Hyperion and Hestia) and so far am very very pleased. Especially in the bass department.
 
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#92
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???
There's more to a DAC than just being a DAC. Do you want to be able to switch filters? Do you want balanced outputs? Do you use it with a remote control often? Do you need a good pre-out with volume control. At that point, comparing it with a D10 or a dongle seems unfair. The Topping D70 has a comparable setup though (the D30 still lacks balanced out). But the D70 goes for €499,-. Now that's a good comparison because you have a Chinese DAC and a DAC from Singapore, the Denafrips lacks behind in shear performance but at this point, the remaining ~$180,- can be easily justified if it matched your gear better, has better I/O for your use case, you like the look better, you feel more connected to one or either brand....
There's a lot that goes into choosing a DAC and @amirm 's measurements are a fantastic way to make a short-list. But then you could still find 10 products in your acceptable performance and price range. That's when the real comparisons and shopping begins.
 

renaudrenaud

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#93
Anyway this unit has decent measurements and is not expansive, especially when considering the TotalDac price. So for the ones who want to try the R2R dream, why not?
 

restorer-john

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#94
There is so much wrong with the rationale behind NOS, and yet so much BS talked about it, that some proper numbers would be quite helpful.
Filterless NOS is absolutely ridiculous, I agree. But the D/A converter concerned is most unlikely to have a properly configured (or adjustable) LPF (IIR) to give anything other than a simulated filter or filterless response. I can't see what the point is in even having the option.

NOS (the term) is pretty much confined to CD (16/44) and came to mean ripping out an O/S filter chip (and anything passive they could find for good measure) or removing a perfectly engineered (and expensive) multipole LPF from an early 16/44 D/A chipset. Brilliant. Not.

Then they'd parade their impulse with no "pre-ringing" and declare all was better. :facepalm:
 

restorer-john

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#95
@amirm Great review. Seems like a good value product for a bespoke R2R with performance.

It would be interesting to test a few more samples of this product for consistency, particularly down the track to see if they maintain their low level linearity.

Having the entire precision resistor array open and unprotected doesn't bode well for the long term, especially if people live near the sea.

1580425367733.png
 

mocenigo

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#96
@amirm Great review. Seems like a good value product for a bespoke R2R with performance.

It would be interesting to test a few more samples of this product for consistency, particularly down the track to see if they maintain their low level linearity.

Having the entire precision resistor array open and unprotected doesn't bode well for the long term, especially if people live near the sea.

View attachment 48003
Cover it with wax?
 

mocenigo

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#97
OK, let's be more polite in our disagreements.
By the way, I also want to apologize to you for having claimed that you do not know how to use your measurement equipment. Sometimes the environment here gets heated when one dares to "listen" to the equipment.
 

mansr

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#98
@amirm Great review. Seems like a good value product for a bespoke R2R with performance.

It would be interesting to test a few more samples of this product for consistency, particularly down the track to see if they maintain their low level linearity.

Having the entire precision resistor array open and unprotected doesn't bode well for the long term, especially if people live near the sea.

View attachment 48003
I've seen crazy things caused by salt residue.

Cover it with wax?
It's called conformal coating.
 

mansr

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#99
So you bring up a good point: at what point does a well designed/engineered R2R suddenly become a D-S DAC because if the objective is ultimate resolution/transparency, then all you're doing is matching what the D-S has done successfully. But if it's harmonic colorations you're after, wouldn't that result in visible distortions that affect the DAC's measurements? Is this a conundrum that R2R designers think about? "If I design this R2R perfectly and it measures well, it's going to sound like a cheaper D-S!"
Excellent point. The only way to get good performance out of a discrete R2R DAC is through individual calibration and heavy digital processing, probably at a high sample rate, to compensate. And then you still have thermal issues to contend with. All that can be done much better, simpler, and cheaper with a delta-sigma approach.
 
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