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Tested the Ares II in two setups over a period of 5 days.

 

1) Ultrarendu USB to Ares II RCA to Mcintosh MA8900 to Kef Ref 1 

 

In the above setup the goal was to compare the Ares II against the internal DAC of the MA8900. Straight out of the box, the setup sounded quite flat and warm but in about 4 hours of the DAC being turned on, the first thing that was noticed was the sound stage. It just was going much outside of the speakers. We played multiple tracks and when we close our eyes and try to point where a particular sound came and each time it was outside the realm of the speakers. When the Ares was removed from the chain, the soundstage from the internal dac became much smaller. 

 

However we noticed that when playing fast complex tracks with a lot going on, the Ares just could not keep up. Felt like the instruments were falling into each other like a collision. The bass was also not as impactful as the internal DAC. A quick message to Alvin and he advised that the Ares needs to be on for about 24 hours before it settles down. Let the unit on for a about 48 hours before we sat back again for a session of critical listening. This time we started of with Metallica’s Master of Puppets where the Ares struggled on Day 1. We noticed that the Ares 2 was a completely different beast than what it was on day 1. Leaving the Ares on for 48 hours seems to have given it a shot of audio voodoo and it managed to play the fast heavy metal songs much better. However there were instances when it still lost steam even compared to the internal Sabre dac. The internal dac managed to hold the song better together with clearer details but sounded digital. I will not recommend the Ares II if your music has too much going on with too many instruments. For all other genres, it is amazingly good for the money. 

 

So my friend who has the Mcintosh feels that maybe moving up the chain will address the faster tracks. I think in all other areas, the ares was simply better and it made us rethink the idea of buying any integrated amplifier with an internal dac. The MA8900 costed him close to 14 times the cost of the Ares so it was quite a bit of a shock when we saw how the Ares bettered the internal quad balanced dac. I most certainly did not expect a 1k dac to add this much improvements to a high end integrated amp. 

 

2) Elac Discovery Optical to Ares II RCA to Line Magnetic LM88IA to Elac Adante AF61

 

In this setup, the impact of the sound stage with the Ares was not as much as in the first setup. The sound stage did not expand as it did in the first setup and I think the reason being this setup had a pretty wide sound stage in the first place which I think is the nature of the Tubes or it could be that my setup is not as capable of extracting the most of the Ares. I don’t know so I will not speculate further.

 

I use my wife’s ears when auditioning any gear because high frequencies irritate her more than mine. So made her sit down and just told her to listen to Dreams by Fleetwood Mac with and without the Ares. I did not tell her what was what and just referred option 1 and 2. This was as close to a blind test as possible. 

 

Her observation was that option 1 was easier on her ears. She could follow every instrument clearly. She could hear the background vocals clearly. Option 2 was good by itself but if compared with Option 1, she would definitely prefer option 1 and that was a big win for...

 

Option 1 was Ares acting as a Dac for the Discovery

Option 2 was just Disco as a streamer and dac. 

 

My feeling after the trying the Ares 2 in different setups is that, it surely is an upgrade over the internal dac of your integrated amplifier or budget streamers (the discovery was bought for 1.8k sgd so it is not really budget but you should get the idea..). I am keen to hear the other Denafrips DACs especially the Pontus which at around 2.5k is more price appropriate to the rest of my gear. 

 

Big thanks to Alvin for giving us the chance to try out this DAC in our homes. I wish more manufacturers offered in home auditions at least for smaller components like dacs/streamers so that it takes the guess work out of how a gear would perform with rest of your system. 

Edited by BrownMagic
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Actually you need quite a bit of playing time for it burn in, so to speak. I have a Pontus and it took about 70 hours of personal playing time for it to flex it's muscles. 

 

I believe the models from the Pontus upwards also have 100 hours of factory burn in before being shipped.

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On 24/11/2020 at 5:51 PM, Niktech said:

Actually you need quite a bit of playing time for it burn in, so to speak. I have a Pontus and it took about 70 hours of personal playing time for it to flex it's muscles. 

 

I believe the models from the Pontus upwards also have 100 hours of factory burn in before being shipped.

Hi Nik

 

This is a fully burned in Ares which goes on a home trial for anyone who wants to try it. This a nice system that Vinshine audio offers in Singapore.

 

I am very keen to demo the Pontus. I feel it should address some of the issues the Ares had. How do you describe the Pontus? What is the rest of your gear and what music do you mostly listen? :-)

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Yes, I rather like the Denafrips Ares in my mates system..... I do prefer my Abbas Audio DAC2.2SE TDA1541A R1 though to be fair that's nearly 3x the cost. A much fairer comparison is with my Chinese made non oversampling TDA1540D DAC, which at the time of acquisition was a similar cost. It's also a more natural sounding unit though sacrifices features and inputs having just a single coax input.

 

The DAC with the biggest sound stage I've heard was my old hot rodded Muji Studio DAC II which now lives with @DrMikeOz  :)

Edited by MattyW
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Good write up.  The Mcintosh MA8900 has the DA module which you can upgrade to DA2 for US$1k.  Slightly more expensive that the Ares2.  So better to compare the DAC this way price wise.  30% of the MC cost is the chassis then add in the blue meters and everything else.

 

I have a Ares2 too and a Mcintosh C2700 with the DA2 module.  Agree that the DA2 sounds digital since it is a Sabre chip.  The Ares2 on the other hand sounds better to me.  Doesn't have that digital sheen and the vocals are very well presented.  The Ares2 is a grea DAC for its price.

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@madfonzy - You are right. I did not intend to belittle the MA8900. It would be a great amp for most people. I was just surprised that when you spend 5 figures on an integrated amp, you do not expect it to improve when you add a 1k dac in the chain. I wish Mcintosh made the DAC module optional. I am surprised that the Ares 2 betters even the C2700 from your experience. 

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Love my AresII, I have a mostly DIY system, pre amp is an Elekit 8500 valve and the power amp is a First Watt M2 clone from DIYAudio.

I previously used the 'Battery DAC" which I thought was better than the Audio GD I had previously. Speakers are Mike Lenehan's LK1 kit speakers which are very good by the way.

I use the Ares as a kind of input selector for my CDP, Squeezebox touch and Spotify via a Yamaha streamer, that way I only need 2 inputs on my pre amp, 1 for analogue and 1 for digital.

My wife is my ultimate test when it comes to upgrades, she seems to pick things up I miss as I think I "expect" to hear a difference. She will ask me what I have change because this sounds better (or worse) or that sounds different.

The Ares is definitely staying.

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On 25/11/2020 at 6:59 PM, BrownMagic said:

Hi Nik

 

This is a fully burned in Ares which goes on a home trial for anyone who wants to try it. This a nice system that Vinshine audio offers in Singapore.

 

I am very keen to demo the Pontus. I feel it should address some of the issues the Ares had. How do you describe the Pontus? What is the rest of your gear and what music do you mostly listen? :-)

 

Hello, sorry I missed your post earlier @BrownMagic.

 

The Pontus is incredible value. I have the newer model with the upgraded DSP which can oversample to PCM1536 or DSD1024.

I upsample 44.1 kHz to 88.2 kHz in Jriver to take advantage of Sox resampling. The settings I then use on the Pontus are positive phase > slow filter > oversampling to PCM1536. My system is computer audio based; you can see it in the About me.

 

Of course, your ears and gear will probably differ to my experience with the Pontus, but I find it has a very quiet background, an incredibly detailed holographic soundstage, whist at the same time having an organic or very smooth analogue sound.

 

The above points were very important to me as the majority of the music I listen to is electronic: ambient, psybient, chillgressive and downtempo as well as reggae and traditional dub. My interest in these electronic genres developed from my love of reggae and traditional dub as I sought out new beats and rhythms.

 

Listening to the music I listen to on dual chip-based DAC’s, such as the Sabre was very fatiguing, clinical and lifeless. The Pontus and its R2R brings warmth and life to the music. I can sit for hours with my headphones on enjoying the pure blissful sound.

 

Cheers

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