You just can't stop the onslaught of discrete R2R DACs. The Denafrips Pontus is a R2R DAC with separate resistor networks for both PCM and DSD. Really solid build, a lot of nice ideas and a price tag that will not break the bank - S$2,200.
Denafrips is a China manufacturer with a line-up of 4 DAC models, ranging from the very budget friendly base model, Ares (retailing for the very auspicious sum of S$ 888) to the top of the range model, Terminator (no Arnold jokes please ! This retails for S$ 5,860). At the time of writing, the exchange rate was about S$ 1.35 for US$ 1.
The model on review here is second from the bottom.
Pontus was a sea god in Greek mythology. This Pontus is a rather petite landlubber. Measuring just 320 x 330 x 80 mm, the Pontus weighs 8.5 kg. It is very well equipped with a total of 7 digital inputs (coaxial RCA, coaxial BNC, twin AES / EBU inputs, Toslink, I2S (my sample uses HDMI, but RJ45 can be specified), and USB.
The output stage is fully balanced, and both XLR and RCA outputs are provided.
The front panel buttons from left to right are for the power switch, inputs, phase (called Reserval (sic)), oversampling, mute and the digital filter mode. A plethora of pin-prick indicators show the active input, sampling rate and DSD mode. In my bat-cave, the wording was so small that I couldn't really see anything.
Denafrips may want to have a re-think on its ergonomics and the quality of it's user manual. I found it very odd that the Reserval (spell-check guys !) light indicated normal phase, while the OS/NOS light indicated that no over-sampling was selected. The manual simply explains that the mode button toggles between slow / sharp filters and advises that, "You are fine with either selection should you hear no difference."
Otherwise, the Pontus is all good. The build quality is outstanding, especially considering its price tag. I liked the cut-outs at the rear of the top panel. They look artistic and bring some variety to the otherwise monotonous box. Practically, the cut-outs were probably necessary to avoid blocking the push tabs of the XLR sockets.
Looking at the pictures on Denafrips web-site, parts quality is outstanding, with a Furutech AC inlet and other premium parts from manufacturers like Nichicon, Neutrik, etc.
The Pontus uses double toroidal transformers for its power supply and dual mono FPGA decoders. The R2R ladder network uses 0.01 % precision resistors and is capable of 24 bit resolution. DSD is decoded natively by a separate resistor network.
Looking at the comparison chart on Denafrips website, Pontus is separated from its elder siblings by a number of features. The Terminator sports a far larger power transformer, while both the Terminator and Venus get higher precision R2R resistors (0.005 % tolerance), Femto clocks and a 26 bit resolution R2R ladder network.
All inputs are capable of DSD64, while DSD 128 and 256 are only available via USB and I2S. PCM sampling rates up to 352.8 kHz and 24 bit resolution can be decoded.
I tested most of the inputs including the I2S and USB inputs on both PCM and DSD 64 - no issues were encountered. The I2S output from my Singxer SU-1 did require a bit of leg work to get the settings right though. No surprises there, since there is no real industry standard for I2S pin outs.
To be continued ...