It doesn’t happen often that we test products that don’t have a European distributor. But this time our curiosity got the upper hand. We also immediately admit that we have read a lot about this device, and that for once we do not go into this review completely blind. Nevertheless, we are convinced that we can offer a fresh, uncolored view on this internationally acclaimed d/a converter. Today we will test the Denafrips Ares II!
Before we go any further, we want to make it clear that the international distributor ‘Vinshine Audio‘ from Singapore provides a very high quality service and responds very quickly to customer mails. We noticed how quickly we received a response to our request and how constant the mail traffic was over several weeks. So you can certainly contact them for all your questions should you consider a purchase. Important to mention is that there is an import tax of around 35 euros – for Belgium – because the dac is delivered directly from China. Keep this in mind.
Denafrips is a modest Chinese company that operates out of Guangzhou and (since 2012) mainly developed dacs. Owner and designer Mr. Zhao takes care of the creative input and importer Alvin Chee is responsible for the quality control.
In the current range there are four d/a converters of which the Ares II, named after the god of war, is the cheapest. The other three dacs are the Pontus, Venus and Terminator. Surprisingly, the latter is not named after a Roman god but after an action hero who, at its peak, possessed at least a divine body. Besides d/a converters there are preamplifiers, power amplifiers and a CD transport available.
Construction and appearance
The Ares II arrives in a nice box and is well packed. Inside there is the dac and a standard power cord. The Ares II is only available in black in contrast to its stablemates who also get a silver version. Yet the Ares II looks well cared for. The dimensions (21.5x23x4.5cm) are modest but the components inside are anything but.
At the front on the right we see seven push buttons with tiny lights at the top and bottom. These indicate the individual inputs as well as the phase and mute function. From a distance it is impossible to read the correct input, but since there is no remote control, you still have to get out of your listening chair to change inputs. On the left we only see the standby button and that’s about it.
At the back we see a usb connection, two coaxial inputs and two optical inputs. More than enough connections on this dac! Even more impressive is that we not only get a single-ended connection but there’s also a real balanced output stage. The true beauty is inside this time. There we discover a very orderly whole. Maybe Denafrips could have chosen a transparent top plate so we could constantly enjoy this tightly assembled little miracle.
Inside we see a large power supply and several rows of capacitors. Next to that a number of balanced resistors and six linear voltage regulators. A nice Femto Crystal clock should provide excellent timing.
The Ares II is a so-called ladder dac which in this second version has both an NOS (non oversampling) and an OS (oversampling) mode. Quite unique in this price range. In OS mode you can choose between a Slow and Fast filter. Whatever you find more pleasing to the ear.
A second change from the original Ares is the use of an FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) to convert all signals. Sample rates that are supported in case of usb are DSD1024 and PCM1536, impressive but also slightly absurd numbers of course. In any case, the Ares II is future proof and can play just about any file. The improved USB-input is the last major change compared to version 1. If you want MQA you have to look elsewhere.