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Denafrips Ares 12th - An Up & Down R2R Experience - Honest Audiophile Impressions


R2R DAC are unique and somewhat rare. I have always been somewhat interested in them. I owned one for awhile but it just didn't have the chops to beat out my other reference gear at the time. So I was interested when the Denafris Ares 12th was offered for review. Does the Ares 12th have the chops to beat my current reference gear?


A BIG thank you to WaveTheory for lending the Denafrips Ares 12th for review, much appreciated. If you haven't already, please check out WaveTheory on YouTube, subscribe and tell him I sent you. https://www.youtube.com/@wavetheorysound/featured


Full Discloser: I don't have a lot of experience with R2R DAC. I owned a Soekris DAC1421 in the past and have had a few come in for reviews (if you consider Schiit Multibit). But I have not heard an R2R DAC in quite some time.

I was unable to locate the original Ares 12th price or specifications. I do not know if there are any differences between the original Ares 12 and the Ares 12-1. I did update the Ares 12 to the latest firmware version 5.68.0


Specifications (unable to locate original Ares 12th information):


ARES 12TH-1 Anniversary Edition

  • I²S Input

  • True NOS R-2R DAC

  • Enhanced Power Supply, UPOCC Copper

  • Anodised Aluminium Chassis Silver/Black

  • Upgraded 12th Anniv. Firmware v1.8

 

Technical Highlights

  • Proprietary R2R + DSD Architecture

  • True balanced 24BIT R2R + 6BIT DSD (32 steps FIR Filters)

  • Low Thermal Effect, High Precision Hand-Matched 0.01% Resistors      

  • FEMTO Crystal 45.1548MHz, 49.152Mhz     

  • Low Noise Power Supply

  • FIFO Buffer

  • Digital Signal Processing via FPGA

  • DSD1024, PCM1536 Supports On USB Input

  • Proprietary USB Audio Solution via STM32F446 Advanced AMR Based MCU

  • Licensed Thesycon USB Driver For Windows Platform

  • Driverless On Mac & Linux

           

DSD  

  • DSD64-DoP On All Input

  • DSD1024* On USB Input Only

PCM  

  • 24bits / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192KHz On All Input

  • 1536kHz* On USB Input 

 

Sampling Mode: Oversampling OS / Non-Oversampling NOS

           

Digital Input  

  • Coax x 1

  • TOSLink x 1

  • I2S x 1

  • USB2.0 Type B

           

Analog Output          

  • RCA at 2.0Vrms, 625 Ω

  • XLR at 4.0Vrms, 1250 Ω

                      

Frequency Response: 20-70KHz -3dB

THD+N: 0.004%

S/N Ratio: 115dB

Dynamic Range: >119dB

Stereo Crosstalk: -124dB

 

AC Power Requirement: 100-240VAC, 50/60Hz (Worldwide Voltage, Manual Selector)

Fuse: T2A/250VAC. 5x20mm 2A Slow Blow

Power Consumption: ≤20W

Dimension: 215W x 230D x 45H mm (Feet +18mm)

Package Dim: 375 x 330 x 115 mm

Package Content: DAC & Power Cord. No remote control.

Weight: 3.5 Kg           

Color: Black / Silver


Purchase (non-affiliate link; please note all links go the the Ares 12-1): https://www.denafrips.com/product-page/denafrips-ares-12th-1-r-2r-dac



The Denafrips Ares 12th is a well built DAC. There is a bit of a dull, boring look to the Ares 12th. It isn't very premium looking. The Ares 12th just looks like it wants to get to work.



On the front there are some push buttons and red led lights. From left to right, you have a Standby, USB, COAX, OPT, I2S, OS/NOS, PHASE/MUTE buttons. The top row of red led lights show the bit rates 44.1K, 48K, 1X, 2X, 4X, 8X, DSD and then your input selections USB, COAX, OPT, I2S, NOS, PHASE, MUTE.



On the backside from left to right there is the AC power input, USB, I2S, Optical, Coax inputs, RCA output and XLR output.



Overall, the Denafrips Ares 12th is big enough to provide enough space for wires and connections and the front buttons have enough room for fat fingers to maneuver. Not the flashiest, sexiest looking of DAC but it isn't an ugly duckling.


I tested the Denafrips Ares 12th with a variety of amplifiers; Mytek Liberty THX HPA, Aune S17 Pro, DROP SMSL HO150X, DROP THX AAA One Linear, Tor Audio Roger and Fosi Audio V3 Mono.

Speakers that I used with the Fosi Audio V3 Mono were the Wharfedale D310 and Martin Logan Motion 15.

A few notable headphones and IEM that I used with the various amplifiers; Audeze LCD-5, Fiio FT5, Aune AR5000, Hifiman Arya Stealth, DROP Sennheiser HD8xx, Sennheiser HD660s2, Audeze LCD-2 Closed,Moondrop Para, Westone Mach60, Effect Audio x Elysian Audio Pilgrim Noir, I/O Volare, NF Audio NE4, Simgot EA500LM, Rose Technics QT-X.


I use Audirvana Studio as my music management program. I do not use upsampling or any conversion options that Audirvana has available. I use Kernel Streaming instead of Asio or Wasapi.


I did play around with the OS/NOS (over-sampling and no over-sampling) and phase filters a bit. The differences were subtle but occasionally noticeable. The phase filters made the least amount of difference but the most noticeable was the intensity of the details and resolution. The OS/NOS difference was more noticeable to my ears. NOS sounded more natural with more accurate tone and timbre, the OS had a digital sheen in the uppers and didn't sound quite as natural with tone and timbre.


My Review Process:



My Reference Music:



So how does the Denafrips Ares 12th sound?



The Denafrips Ares 12th has a warm, pleasurable presentation with natural tone and timbre.


The bass of the Ares 12 is extended into the sub bass regions. There is an adequate amount of rumble and grumble when called upon. The mid bass has more impact, punch and slam. The upper bass is well controlled while still adding an adequate amount of impact. The bass has good depth and layering. The texture of the bass is accurate. Note weight is reproduced well giving a sense of power and authority. The control of the bass is excellent with no distortion noticeable unless in the track. Overall, the bass has an accurate reproduction of instruments and vocals.


The mids of the Ares 12 is balanced and cohesive. There aren't any peaks or valleys, everything is even keeled. The mids have good depth and layering, allowing for exploration into various instruments and vocalists performing at the same time. The tonality is natural with a slight kiss of warmth. The note weight and body is accurately reproduced giving a sense of realism. Overall, the mids reproduce instruments and vocals accurately and does not add in extra flavoring influences.


The treble of the Ares 12 is extended nicely. There is good control throughout the treble regions. The treble does stay a little bit in the safe zone though as it lacks a bit of sizzle, sparkle and bite. The tonality of the treble is naturally reproduced. The air and space is accurate, nothing sounds artificial or cramped. The note weight and body of the treble is accurate like the mids and bass. Overall, the treble is controlled, safe and pleasing.


The technical abilities of the Denafrips Ares 12th are excellent. The stage width is natural in reproduction, does an extremely good job of giving a sense of the venue; from intimate to grand. The imaging within the stage width is specific and precise. You can lock onto an image and following it across the stage as well as follow it through a track. Depth of the stage is deep, several rows in. Layering is also very good, you can place images in front and behind and around each other without cramping or fighting for space. Detail retrieval and excellent for the price, you won't miss a thing and you might even hear a new thing every now and then. Resolution of the details is also very good all though slightly rounded, especially in the uppers. Tone and timbre is very natural and accurate.


Comparison to Aune S9C Pro: The Denafrips Ares 12 is only a DAC and the Aune S9C Pro is a DAC/amp. But comparing only the DAC sections the Aune is slightly warmer in the mids, is a little behind in depth, layering, detail retrieval and resolution. The Aune has a touch more bite, sizzle and sparkle in the uppers. The stage width is similar but the Ares 12 is better with imaging precision. Both are analog, relaxed leaning listens but the Denafrips is more than the Aune.


Comparison to Mytek Liberty DAC ii: The Denafrips Ares 12 is only a DAC and the Mytek Liberty DAC ii is a DAC/amp. But comparing only the DAC sections the Mytek is more neutral and analytical. The Mytek has more bite, sizzle and sparkle in the uppers, slightly more detailed, resolving, more depth and layering. The Denafrips is a more analog, relaxed listen and the Mytek is more of a neutral, analytical listen.


Overall, the Denafrips Ares 12 impresses me as an R2R DAC. I love the overall presentation with it's somewhat laidback, warm approach while giving enough analytical information but not overwhelming the senses. But I find the Ares 12 to be a bit too safe and pleasant sounding to be considered a reference DAC. I find it compliments my reference Mytek Liberty DAC ii but doesn't replace it. But I already have the Aune S9C Pro and the Denafrips doesn't do enough to convince me that it deserves to unseat the Aune as my compliment to the Mytek. The Denafrips Ares 12 lacks to connect with my emotions like the Mytek and Aune do. I highly recommend the Denafrips Ares 12 if you want a safe, laidback warm presentation that gives you all the information you need without giving you sensory overload.


I am Dave the Honest Audiophile. Thanks for reading, and I will catch you in the next one. Don't forget to enjoy the music and that honesty is the BEST policy!


I am not a professional sound engineer, producer, musician, or vocalist, etc. I have not done any scientific research, measurements, or in-depth testing of any kind; just my own listening, comparing and internet reading/research.  I have limited, real-life experience with recording, mixing and mastering gear.  I have been involved since my teenage years with various churches as an amateur sound booth technician.


Please take these thoughts, opinions and reasonings as just that, my honest audiophile thoughts, opinions and reasonings.

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TalkDbs @TalkDbs


Recommended Gear:

Rosson Audio Design RAD-0: http://www.rossonaudiodesign.com/

Audeze LCD 2 Closed: LCD-2 Closed Back (audeze.com)

Massdrop THX AAA 789: 


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