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Digital-to-analogue converter


Manufacturer: DENAFRIPS
Price (in Poland): 650 USD

Vinshine Audio Pte. Ltd (Singapore)


Provided for test by: DENAFRIPS

Founded in 2012, the Singapore-based company DENAFRIPS is known primarily for their digital-to-analogue converters, featuring discrete D/A converters. It is a solution difficult to implement, but yielding great results. They are implemented even in the cheapest devices of this company, also in the ARES model we tested.

igital-to-analog converter (D/A converter, DAC) is a name referring to two different items. One of the meanings refers to a circuit, most often integrated, which included the actual converter, and the second to the entire device featuring the aforementioned circuit. So writing about this type of products sometimes leads to funny situations, when we say something like this: "The D/A converter from company XXX features the D/A converter from XXX brand". And yet, we usually understand which meaning should be applied in particular situation.

The other term associated with DACs - discrete - is far less intuitive. In technical terminology this word is used to describe the type of system in which the individual components are separate, as opposed to integrated circuits. A gain stage in DAC's output can be discrete, or in preamplifier's. We deal with discrete circuit when transistors are used instead of integrated circuits. Such solution is relatively often used.

| R-2R

We hear much less about another type of discrete circuit, namely converters. The technical term describing it brings the Star Wars movies to the mind, the R2-D2 character to be specific, because they are called R-2R. It's just a description of their design. The first digital-to-analog converters were built of resistors switched by transistors. With time, they got smaller and smaller, and finally they were integrated in the integrated circuit.

The digital recorders by Nippon Columbia (Denon) and Soundstream from the 1970s featured discrete A/D and D/A chips (more HERE), but also today one can find this solution in D/A converters from, for example, dCS and TotalDAC.


I have never seen such solution before in a product from the price range one finds Ares in. The company explains its decision in the manual as follows:

The architecture uses the most primitive R-2R DAC technology, it is probably the most suitable architecture to reproduce music. Despite the test results of various measurements and parameters of the conventional R-2R DAC are usually not as good as the mainstream integrated DAC chip, but the sound of R-2R DAC, is often filled with emotion, comfort, high fidelity, transparency, and additive musicality that most of the common mainstream integrated DAC chip cannot match.

But this is not the end of surprises. Looking at it from the outside, the Ares seems to be a standard, although particularly well-made, digital-to-analogue converter, equipped with five digital inputs: USB, two RCAs and two optical Toslinks. The first of them supports PCM signal up to 24 bits and 384 kHz as well as DSD up to DSD256 (11.288 MHz), and the RCA inputs and optical ones support PCM signal up to 24 bits and 192 kHz as well as DSD64 (2.8224 MHz). As you can see it is a very modern device. The USB input utilizes a high quality Amanero Technologies chips, optimized by Denafrips.

As I said, the PCM signal converter is a discrete one. What is surprising is that it's a 20-bit converter with upsampling. Why not a 24-bit one? Engineers agree that the best D/A chips achieve a real resolution of about 20 bits, so maybe it was about making the best use of the available signal. If we send a 20-bit signal to Ares, it has to be downsampled in the input filter. There's something else - the DSD signal is decoded in a second 6-bit stage with 32 cascaded FIR filters. It also features separate analogue filters in the output. The D/A converter is fully balanced and made of ultra-precise resistors with a 0.01% tolerance.

Owner, designer

ZHAO BING RAN: DENAFRIPS incorporated in year 2012, focus in developing high end audio equipment at a very affordable price. Throughout the years of intense Research & Development, and continuous improvement of the product lines, DENAFRIPS had finally settled with the current product range equipped with R-2R ladder DAC technology. The reason behind this is the designer strongly believe that R-2R DAC is the best way to reproduce music.

What does DENAFRIPS stand for?

The name, DENAFRIPS, stands for:


This means a lot and it is the house-sound of all DENAFRIPS products.

What was your first product?
The first product was a DAC, uses BB PCM1704K R2R DAC Chip. We sold dozens of them but realized the need to develop our own R2R technology as these R2R DAC chips were obsolete. 

What is the most important part of D/A converter and why - how you do it?
Power supply, Digital Signal Processing, and DA converts. We believe R2R is the best way to reproduce music with density, details, and most important, draw the listener to the music.

How about streaming - is it comparable with locally-stored media? Streaming has its own limitation. But it's evolving very fast. We still believe in CDs, and locally stored music files. ▪

The Ares housing was made of thick plates and a thick aluminum front. It features nicely composed push-buttons for input selection, absolute phase and muting the output. They are accompanied by red LEDs. It's a very elegant design. User is not given information about the length of the input word, but are informed about the sampling frequency.

This was achieved using an old, proven method, with two LEDs for a given frequency. One indicates one of the two sampling basic frequencies - 44.1 or 48 kHz - and the other a multiplier. For example, sampling of 96 kHz is indicated by turning on a diode indicating "48 kHz" and the other indicating "x2", and for 88.2 kHz the "44.1 kHz" and "x2" LEDs will light up. It may seem complicated at first but it really isn't.

The device does not feature a headphone amplifier, Bluetooth, or volume control - there is also no remote control. This is a classic, "clean" DAC. It does feature both balanced (XLR) and non-balanced (RCA) outputs. The voltage of the output signal is 2.2 Vrms for RCA, and 4.4 Vrms for XLR, so it is slightly higher than the standard for CD Players, which are 2 and 4 V.


The test was ran as an A/B comparison. As my reference devices I used: Ayon Audio CD-35 HF Edition SACD player, Lumïn T1 file player and the file player/digital-analog converter Mytek Brooklyn Bridge. The source of signals was also my laptop, HP Pavilion dv7 (8 GB RAM, 500 GB SSD + 1 Tb HDD, Windows 10, JPLAY). For the test I used CDs, files played from SSD and files streamed from the Tidal.

The signal to the converter was delivered using the Acoustic Revive RCA1.0 Triple-C FM (1.8 x 1.4 mm) digital cables from the Ayon and Lumin digital outputs. The tested converter was powered using the 聖 Hijiri SM2R „Sound Matter”. It used its own feet, but I put a passive EMI/RFI Verictum X Block filter on its top.

Recordings used for the test (a selec- tion)

| Compact Disc
  • Art Pepper, Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section, Contemporary Records/JVC VICJ-42524, K2 CD (1957/2006)
  • Halina Frąckowiak, Geira, Polskie Nagrania „Muza”/GAD Records‎ GAD CD 095, Master-CD-R, (1977/2019)
  • QOPE, Nocturnal, trptk live TTK 0024, CD (2018);
  • Reyna Quotrunnada, Passion, Master Music MMXR-34001, XRCD24 (2018)
  • Siekiera, ”Nowa Aleksandria”, Tonpress/MTJ cd 90241, 2 x CD (1986/2012).
  • Suzanne Vega, Close-Up. Vol.1, Love Songs, Amanuensis Productions | Cooking Vinyl COCKCD521, CD (2014)
| Tidal
  • Ella Fitzgerald, Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Duke Ellington Song Book, Verve Records/Tidal, MQA 24/192 (1957)
  • Madeleine Peyroux, Secular Hymns, Impulse! Records/Tidal, MQA 24/96 (2012)
  • Madonna feat. Swae Lee, Crave, Tidal, SP, FLAC 16/44,1
  • Mary Komasa, Degenerate Love, Agora S.A./Tidal, SP, FLAC 16/44,1 (2019)
  • Nat King Cole, After Midnight, Capitol Records/Tidal, MQA Studio 24/192 (1957)
  • Norah Jones, Begin Again, Blue Note Records/Tidal, MQA 24/96 (2019)

  • P!nk, Hurts 2B Human, RCA Records/Tidal, FLAC 16/44,1 (2019)
  • Roberta Flack, First Take, Atlantic Records/Tidal, MQA Studio 24/192 (1969)
  • Tame Impala, Borderline, Modular Recordings/Tidal, SP, FLAC 16/44,1 (2019)

The latest issue of the Stereophile magazine from June 2019 is the first one for which John Atkinson is no longer the editor-in-chief. He was replaced by Jim Austin. It is also the last one edited and proofread by his friend Richard Lehnert. This is a huge change, because Atkinson was an almost monumental figure, an institution.

In the same issue, I found something equally interesting - a comparison of the first ever Digital-to Analogue converter in the history of the PS Audio, the Digital Link from 1989 with the latest flagship of the company, the Perfectwave Directsream model. The comparison is really interesting, but I was intrigued also by something else – a question asked several times by the author of the text, Herb Reichert: "how the digital music should sound like?".

It's an absolutely legitimate question, especially if we take into account that it was still a period of CD format infancy, and on the other hand a totally false one, suggesting that it is known how an analogue music should sound like. And yet, as I have pointed out many times and what you can read in the report from the 120th meeting of the Krakow Sonic Society, the “analogue" sound is as enigmatic as the "digit" one. An analogue master tape is something very different from a "test pressing", that differs from a LP record and also from a cassette tape. And all of them are something other than a real live event.

However, Herb Reichert was right about one thing - there is no single, valid digital sound model. It has changed over time, it is also understood differently by different designers, and yet differently by music lovers. In an ideal world there would be no discussion about analog and digital sound, but only about the real sound. However, it doesn't work this way and it never will. Welcome to the real world! In the real world, the performance of audio devices is a result of an engineering and artistic creation.

A creation which resulted in Ares from Denafrips is extremely convincing. This is a sound that just a few years back one wouldn't have been able to buy for that kind of money. Though the device overlays its point of view over the music, it does it in a sophisticated way, which allows us to forgot that we listen to a "digital" music and as result we can concentrate on listening to the "music" without any adjectives.

The main advantage of Ares is how unbelievably fast it is. It's not about any kind of exaggeration but rather about the real dynamics and microdynamics - the signal buildup is immediate, making the percussion from the Art Pepper's Art Pepper Meets the Rhythm Section fantastically "present" and full, the piano from the QOPE live track Nocturnal having a realistic voicing, and finally causing good quality files, including those from Tidal, not being particularly slow – which is often the case with music files.

The resolution of this device was equally surprising feature of this device. You see, the tested DAC gives music its own signature, correcting the frequency response a bit and accentuating some elements – I'll get back to that in a moment - and yet it is incredibly transparent. I kept asking the same question again and again – how could it be to make a DAC at this price with such a great insight into the nature of the recordings.

I started listening with the Halina Frąckowiak Geir album. Andrzej Poniatowski, who was responsible for the mastering of this album for GAD Records, sent it to me on Master CD-R - both the material he received from Warner Music Poland, copied from the master tape, and the result of his work (review coming soon). The results are remarkable! Anyway - Ares showed his work in a great way, well pointing out that the sound was opened and devoid of a muddy patina. It was easy to hear that not only the timbre, but also the dynamics and location of the instruments changed.

It worked in similar way with files played from Tidal, because I could clearly hear differences between the Ella Fitzgerald Sings The Duke Ellington Song Book, the First Take by Roberta Flack and the Madeleine Peyroux Secular Hymns. Although all featured fantastic vocals, they were recorded in very different ways.

The Ella Fitzgerald's album has the most natural ambiance, and her voice is slightly emphasized. And on Roberta Flack's album featured high noise and dynamically stifled but full and dense instruments. Madeleine Peyroux sounded in the most pleasant way. The converter from Singapore does not exaggerate the differences, does not extract details, does not "cut" into the recording like a laser. And yet, probably due to its high resolution, it is able to accurately present the right ambiance, timbre and dynamics.

High tones were also surprisingly well presented. The metal cymbals had a proper weight and density known from much more expensive devices. Therefore, the noise accompanying older recordings was a bit stronger, but in the lower part of treble band, which created an impression of listening to an analogue tape, not the noisy recording. Bass was even more fun. It was well-extended, powerful, with an emphasized mid-bass range. It gives recordings some character.

What's the cost of all these advantages? First of all, reverb shortening and focusing on what is happening in the foreground. The soundstage is a large semi-circle, so the vocals are not very tangible, they are placed a bit farther away from us. At the same time one can hear sounds coming from the edges of the stage more clearly – these elements are dense and warm. The midrange though is not really warm - I would say it is clear instead.

There is no problem with brightness, but its upper part is slightly harder. And, therefore, the lesser quality recordings are not as pleasant as the best ones to listen to. What we can hear is still fun to listen to, but you should expect the truth about such productions as Madonna feat. Swae Lee and Crave, P!nk and Hurts 2B Human, and even the Begin Again by Norah Jones that does not offer same quality as previous albums by this artist.


The Ares by Denafrips is a surprisingly refined device available for a small amount of money. It is very accurate in extracting from recordings their true character, it offers a natural, low bass and rich treble. It is not perfect, but its lesser qualities do not disqualify it. This is not a completely versatile DAC, because it is suitable mostly for listening to not very compressed discs, without overemphasized top. It does, however, offer a beautiful bass, which will balance the shortcomings of the sound engineers in this area. It is well-made, very good sounding device regarless of which digital input is used that can be used in a more expensive system than its own price seems to suggest. Hence, a well deserved RED Fingerprint.

The Ares is a digital-to-analog converter with a classic external design and equally classic functionality. It features an extremely solid, very well designed and made housing. The device sports four aluminum cone feet with soft silicone pads that prevent it from slipping on slippery surfaces.

Front and rear | The front is made of aluminum, just like the buttons placed in it. They allow user to select an input, change the absolute phase (0/180º) and use the "mute" function. A separate button is used to turn the power on and off. All buttons are accompanied by red LED indicators, really nice ones. They are not too bright, but bright enough to perform their functions.

The rear panel hosts solid, soldered RCA sockets - two digital inputs and a stereo analogue output. There are also optical and USB inputs, as well as stereo analog output on XLR sockets - the device is a balanced design. There is also an IEC power socket there with an integrated main power switch. Between them sits a fuse that can be replaced with a higher quality one.

Inside | The electronic circuits are assembled on one large printed circuit board, supported by two smaller ones. The signal from the USB input goes to the Atmel chip supported by a second chip, Xilinx. Together, they create a USB signal decoding circuit and convert it to an I2S form. It is a module by the Amanero Technologies company called Combo384 Module, sold as OEM component. It is sold on a small PCB, but Denafrips utilized it in its own way and integrated it with other circuits on its own board.

In turn, the S/PDIF inputs feature a great AKM AK4118 receiver. As we read in company materials, it is currently the receiver offering the smallest jitter. Next to it are two very nice oscillators - one for input circuits and one for D/A converter stage. The latter occupies most of the PCB. There are dozens of microresistors with 0.01% tolerance, switched in, placed next to them, logic systems. The whole is controlled by a large Altera Max II DSP chip. The DAC's output sports simple analog filters.

The power supply is quite impressive. Next to the IEC socket there is a small PCB with a discrete double Pi filter, and the voltage goes to a large toroidal transformer. The voltage is filtered in capacitors, but not a few large ones, and 72 small ones. The manufacturer chose this solution because it allowed him to achieve a much lower ESR = Equivalent series resistance, faster charging and discharging as well as reduced inductance. And these are all good things for the sound quality. Let me remind you that the German company ESR uses the same thinking in their Emitter amplifiers.

It is a high quality design both, mechanically and electrically. ■

Technical specifications (according to manufacturer)

Supported formats:
• RCA/Toslink: PCM up to 24/192 | DSD up to DSD64
• USB: PCM up to 24/384 | DSD up to DSD256

Frequency range: 0 Hz-70 kHz (-3dB)
THD+N: ≤0.004% (1 kHz, A-weighted)
Nominal output voltage:
• RCA: 2.2 V RMS (1 kHz, +/-10%)
• XLR: 4.4 V RMS (1 kHz, +/-10%)
Nominal output impedance:
RCA – 625 Ω | XLR – 1250 Ω
S/N: 115 dB (RCA) | 114 dB (XLR)
Dynamic range: >119 dB (RCA) | >120 dB (XLR)
Stereo crosstalk: ≤ -124 dB (RCA) | ≤ -130 dB (XLR)

Power consumption: < 30 W
Dimensions (W x H x D): 215 x 230 x 45 mm
Weight: 3.5 kg


Reference system 2018

1) Loudspeakers: HARBETH M40.1 |REVIEW|
2) Line preamplifier: AYON AUDIO Spheris III Linestage |REVIEW|
3) Super Audio CD Player: AYON AUDIO CD-35 HF Edition No. 01/50 |REVIEW|
4) Stands (loudspeakers): ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom) |ABOUT|
5) Power amplifier: SOULUTION 710
6) Loudspeaker filter: SPEC REAL-SOUND PROCESSOR RSP-AZ9EX (prototype) |REVIEW|
7) Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|


Analog interconnect SACD Player - Line preamplifier: SILTECH Triple Crown (1 m) |ABOUT|
Analog interconnect Line preamplifier - Power amplifier: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RCA-1.0 Absolute-FM (1 m) |REVIEW|
Speaker cable: SILTECH Triple Crown (2.5 m) |ABOUT|

AC Power

Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - SACD Player: SILTECH Triple Crown
Power (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Line preamplifier - ACOUSTIC REVIVE
Power Reference Triple-C (2 m) |REVIEW|
Power cable | Mains Power Distribution Block - Power amplifier - ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 |ARTICLE|
Power cable | Power Receptacle - Mains Power Distribution Block: ACROLINK Mexcel 7N-PC9500 (2 m) |ARTICLE|
Power Receptacle: Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE |REVIEW|
Anti-vibration platform under Acoustic Revive RTP-4eu ULTIMATE: Asura QUALITY RECOVERY SYSTEM Level 1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RPC-1 |REVIEW|
Power Supply Conditioner: Acoustic Revive RAS-14 Triple-C |REVIEW|
Passive filter EMI/RFI: VERICTUM Block |REVIEW|


Speaker stands: ACOUSTIC REVIVE (custom)
Hi-Fi rack: FINITE ELEMENTE Pagode Edition |ABOUT|
Anti-vibration platforms: ACOUSTIC REVIVE RAF-48H |ARTICLE|

  • HARMONIX TU-666M "BeauTone" MILLION MAESTRO 20th Anniversary Edition |REVIEW|


Phono preamplifier: Phono cartridges: Tonearm (12"): Reed 3P |REVIEW|

Clamp: PATHE WINGS Titanium PW-Ti 770 | Limited Edition

Record mats:


Headphone amplifier: AYON AUDIO HA-3 |REVIEW|

Headphones: Headphone Cables: Forza AudioWorks NOIR HYBRID HPC