Denafrips Pontus DAC Impressions

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by Hands, Sep 18, 2017.

  1. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I do not think the Pontus is a particularly good sounding DAC. In OS mode, it sounds fuzzy, gritty, brittle. Treble is a bit hard and glaring. Bass sounds a bit dirty. Staging and layering are both lackluster. Somewhat claustrophobic for OS. The tone is pretty good. Slightly warm sounding if anything.

    In NOS mode, the hard and brittle nature is gone. It sounds less grainy, but still grainy overall. But it also becomes very dull and soft sounding in the mids and treble. It's warmer, more laid back, less focused, darker, less nuanced, and less engaging than the Metrum Amethyst. In NOS mode vs Amethyst, the Amethyst just sounds so refined compared to the Pontus.

    Overall it lacks much in the way of a sense of refinement no matter how you run it.

    It reminds me of a "fixed" S19, but you might recall my review of that was a picture of dog poop. So, the Pontus to me is like palatable, edible poop...but still poop.

    Before you ask, I let this thing play music for a few days straight. I use a good digital transport, no PC/USB fuckery, with AES out. I can't say if the balanced outs on the Pontus sound better, since my Super 7 is SE in. I also can't say if this unit is messed up or not. The PSU was dead on arrival for me, and I had to replace the whole PSU. So, who knows if this is a "good" unit or if the PSU replacement caused problems. But I have no reason to think anything is wrong with it and hate that people jump to that conclusion just because something actually just sounds bad.
     
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  2. alvin1118

    alvin1118 MOT - VINSHINE AUDIO

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    Ahhh, I almost cannot believe what I read here, especially with the number of genuine customers positive feedback I received for Pontus itself from all over the world.
    I see that there is doubt whether the replaced PSU is causing the negative results or otherwise.

    Nonetheless, I'd like to withdraw both the Ares and Pontus. I really do not wish to waste everyone's time, and money to participate in the loaner program, if the products are not up to the expectation here.

    @sphinxvc, I shall chat you to learn how to go about it.
     
  3. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    Well, the S19 got a lot of good feedback from customers, and many of us heard it and even secondary units as possibly one of the worst DACs ever made. So, you know, we don't exactly listen to what any random customer says, no matter how collective.
     
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  4. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    @Auditor It's great to see that someone really enjoys this DAC. Can you provide comparisons to some other DACs that you have owned? It is hard to understand and calibrate a review without comparisons.
     
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  5. Hands

    Hands Overzealous Auto Flusher - Measurbator

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    I did point out I did not use USB or a PC. Dedicated source and AES or BNC only. If a DAC has issues processing any digital signal input, no matter what type, that's a bad sign too.
     
  6. Forza AudioWorks

    Forza AudioWorks MOT: Forza AudioWorks

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    Hmmm, one Pontus might maybe be heading my way soon, yet after what you wrote... yeah. Was it really that bad?
     
  7. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    While not relevant to @Hands evaluation, since he used proper S/PDIF sources and inputs from the outset, do make sure you don't use the USB input on the Pontus. It's worse, in my opinion, than that on the Ares. Both units benefit significantly from a proper DDC in the chain (Eitr, SU-1, Breeze, Aries, whatever), or from a source that speaks native S/PDIF.

    It is a matter for a dedicated rant, I feel, but companies using XMOS or Amanero "USB Boards" (in reality they are typically employed to do a LOT more than handle USB input) are, in my opinion, doing themselves a major disservice. You don't need a multi-core SoC to handle USB input. And when you do put a high-speed, multi-core SoC, in the open, right next to your sensitive DAC and analog circuits, well, it seems some shielding, or other form of isolation, would be beneficial.

    In raw, digital terms, or if you look at the specs/components, both the XMOS and Amanero boards are really quite excellent. But, for whatever reason, when they wind up in the majority of DACs I've heard them in (a good many of which are, unfortunately, originating in China both for design and manufacturing), they result in entirely audible (and typically readily measurable) artifacts of an undesirable nature.

    In the case of the Pontus, the effect is significant enough to cause audible variation based on whether I connected the thing to USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 ports, or if I used the same physical hardware but switched between macOS and Windows 10 (either on the bare metal, or in a VM).
     
  8. soekris

    soekris MOT - Soekris Engineering

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    The problem with USB audio is that you need a very large piece of software, both for the USB chip itself, and for the Windows drivers....

    That's why most use XMOS, which give you all the software needed, or Amanero, which have done their own implementation and software, for a small company that are really the only two choices. Often you also license the Windows driver from a company like Thesycon, they have great drivers.

    The XMOS chip is actually not that noisy by itself, you just need to remember the isolation barrier between the PC and the DAC, and make sure your clock is good or that you reclock.....

    SPDIF interfaces can also be good or bad, a bad one is one that just use a standard receiver chip with high jitter, a good one is reclocking and buffering the SPDIF data....
     
  9. blubliss

    blubliss Friend

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    I have been lazily looking for a DAC which could utilize the i2s from my Sonore Signature Rendu ethernet streamer for awhile. I'm very happy with the Yggdrasil but always curious. I really liked the Holo Spring when I had it as a loaner but I wanted to wait until I heard a Denafrips before deciding (if I buy anything at all).

    I listened to the Pontus with a susy Dynahi and the Utopia or HD800s. And I have a switch to go back and forth between sources. The output on the Yggdrasil and Pontus is pretty close so volume was not a big issue.

    The Pontus does not sound broken to me but in NOS mode the smoothness in the treble is quite obvious. It really sort of glosses over detail and extension. I would say that the Yggdrasil is much better in this respect and sounds more refined. There is also more treble energy with the Yggdrasil which shows up with the phones I used. That doesn't bother me. This smoothness is not a positive trait for the Pontus. I remember the Holo Spring being warmer than the Yggdrasil but I don't recall it smoothing things out like the Pontus, making it better in NOS mode.

    In OS mode the biggest downside I noticed was the closed in feeling with the soundstage. That was distracting and really not pleasant. The presentation seemed flat and lacking depth. This trait would make the DAC a non-starter for me.

    I would agree with this assessment:
    Now maybe the higher end Terminator gets things right but color me skeptical. 6moons seems to think the Terminator is a giant killer (http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews2/denafrips/1.html) but my faith in 6moons is minimal at best.

    Maybe this unit is broken or maybe some people (of the Italian persuasion) just have different tastes? I'm very interested to hear what Torq has to say about the Pontus.

    I think I'll pick up a used Holo Spring at this point (anyone?)
     
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  10. alvin1118

    alvin1118 MOT - VINSHINE AUDIO

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    Hmm.. I really need to get this Pontus back and listen to it carefully. Can't be sure if it's really still in good shape.
    I recall @Torq initial impression, he did compare of OS and NOS modes, and it wasn't bad. In fact, personally, i find OS is better suit my taste :)
     
  11. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    I understand why they are used.

    I disagree that they're the only options though, even for a small company. I'm doing a one-man, self-funded, start-up product and having evaluated both XMOS and Amanero USB solutions directly, elected to go in a different direction than either. ... was not that big a deal (though certainly a bit more work than using using construction-set approaches).

    Anyway ...

    My issue is not so much the XMOS or Amanero boards themselves, either. As previously stated they can be used to give excellent results. Unfortunately the way they are being used, at least in the majority of the DACs that have come my way touting them as a feature suffer, audibly, (and measurably in some cases) as a result.

    If they they were used, in their simplest forms, for purely USB interfacing, they'd probably fare a lot better in actual implementation. But they tend to be employed not just as the core, but as an all-up USB -> I2S construction set, often with format conversion, signal processing, all-up-system clocking (not just audio clocks) and various other features being employed. Which is tempting, since adding, say, DSD support, or oversampling, etc. is little more involved, in most cases, than changing a constant, commenting out (or uncommenting) a line of code, and including the necessary software module in your compile/build.

    Regardless, the proof is in the listening and, all too often, seeing "XMOS" or "Amanero" on the spec sheet would be better off as a warning than a feature.

    It is, of course, all in the details. Unfortunately, the companies that just slap these things into their products, enable every feature they can from the board, and then fill in the blanks elsewhere simply don't seem to paying attention to the other details that would allow the superlative performance that should be expected at the prices being charged. Attention to detail can be the difference between excellence and dross.
     
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  12. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    Alvin, if you find out that there is indeed something wrong, and it appears there might be, please contact me. I would be interested in giving it a shot.
     
  13. Torq

    Torq MOT: Headphone.com

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    I'll try and post my Pontus impressions this weekend (otherwise it's going to be a while).

    My experience with it seems to be a bit more positive than @Hands or @blubliss. At the same time, there are certainly things in their respective commentaries that correlate, at various levels, with my listening; especially over extended listening. How much of that is down to preference, synergy/chain, a "bad unit" (see below) or potential post-failure/fix differences*, is very hard to say.

    Have to wait for my write-up for the details, though.

    --

    On the "bad unit" path ... we are (SBAF, that is) either very (as in almost unbelievably so) unlucky when it comes to, in particular, Chinese-design/manufactured DACs, or such claims are just deflection. In the case of the Audio GD Singularity 19, I've heard three of those fuckers now, all sourced independently, and they all sounded fucking terrible. At this point, I'm 100% convinced that the unit we got was absolutely representative of how S19's perform in the wild.

    With the Ares, post-listening measurements confirm significant performance deviation between channels. Analysis of those findings is interestingly correlative to the effects of power artifacts, and looking at the layout of the circuit I could theorize why. It's also something I've never seen in a commercial product, at that level, before, so something is definitely up there. At the same time, since @alvin1118 was willing to send another unit there, which he was going to have measured ahead of time, it'd be VERY easy to determine if that really just a bad unit or if the issue was endemic to the design.

    With the Pontus ... it failed in transit. I had no issues with it, operationally, but it was dead when it got to @Hands. I doubt the PSU swap was so complicated that it would have been something that could be screwed up. So absent other things failing as well, or, say, ESD issues as a result of the "surgery" on it (no idea if @Hands observes ESD precautions). That is, of course, a possibility. As is that not just the PSU was affected by whatever resulted in the failure.

    Of course, the Pontus I heard had pushing 1,000 hours on it and the one @Hands listening to was at 0 hours on the PSU. I do not, in general, put much stock in burn-in requirements, nor of gross deviances in performance for burn-in in PSUs in digital products (not to say there can't be any changes, but I've never heard something go from bad to good as a result either), but it's outwardly possible that there's some effect there.

    In general, though, I dislike the fact that every time we have anything negative to say about a product the claims of "not enough burn-in", "bad unit" or "being a nest of shills" gets tossed out.
     
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  14. bengo

    bengo Friend

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    Or loaners being hurriedly cancelled for fear of bad reviews affecting sales, which seems to be what's happening here (unless I misread the 2nd post). We value your feedback, but only if it's positive.
     
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  15. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I'm willing to give Denafrips the benefit of the doubt in this case since the unit broke during shipping on its way to @Hands. This isn't anywhere like dealing with the repeated "QC issues / lame excuses" with 70% of Mrspeakers headphones.

    However, a lot of people read this site, and readers aren't dumb. I'm not sure if the perception of a loaner (to different people with different preferences) being canceled for fear of more bad reviews is better than a single bad review. Not saying this is the case here, but perception is a tricky thing to manage.

    I did directly warn Alvin that this group was tough and no one was going to pull any punches. There was a reason why I intentionally as stayed far away from this loaner as possible.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2017
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  16. Forza AudioWorks

    Forza AudioWorks MOT: Forza AudioWorks

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    Alright, I'll use Audiobyte's Hydra-X+ then and will see if there's any improvement over USB.

    I trusted him two times (a pair of bookshelf speakers and an amplifier) and I have to say that I'm exceptionally pleased with the outcome. I've heard some products he reviewed at my own place and - as far as sound profile recognition goes - he knows what's what to my ears. My point is that thus far SE hasn't given me a single reason to not believe him.
     
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  17. m.i.c.k.e.y

    m.i.c.k.e.y Almost "Made"

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    For those interested on their headphone amps:

    ================================

    Dear sir,

    Thank you for your compliment sir.
    Yes, this would happen in 1st quarter 2018.

    Hide quoted text
    On 28 November 2017 at 19:14, <[email protected]> wrote:
    • You have a new message:
    • Via: https://www.denafrips.com/
    • Message Details:
      • Name
      • Email
      • Message Hello! Congratulations always with the success on your new line of DACs (Terminator, Pontus, Ares etc.) Are you releasing also for your headphone amplifiers? Successors to your HA-1Pro, HA-8Pro, HA-10 etc.? Thank you!
    • Sent on: 28 November, 2017
     
  18. daMollydog

    daMollydog Rando

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    For anyone intersted in hearing the full line of Denafrips DACs (Ares, Pontus, Venus, Terminator) compared side by side, Gingko Audio, in Room 1524, will be doing such a comparison this year at the AXPONA gathering near Chicago (see the AXPONA website for details). A good oportunity for those interested.
     
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  19. daMollydog

    daMollydog Rando

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    Here is a brief YOUTUBE statement of what will be presented in the Gingko room (room 1524) at AXPONA 2018:

     
  20. Forza AudioWorks

    Forza AudioWorks MOT: Forza AudioWorks

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    If only I could go there. Damn, it's difficult for us here across the pond. Oh well, one day...
     

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