Chinese made DACs have and are having a bit of a resurgence in the Audio community and two brands that are known to ardent Audiophiles are these two – Holo Audio, the brainchild of Jeff Zhu, which is distributed in the EU by Netherlands based Magna HiFi and in the US by Kitsune HiFi. Secondly Denafrips, which is offered direct to the US and mainland Europe by Singapore based Vinshine Audio. They are both R2R ladder DAC proponents, which has also seen a resurgence.
If you buy a Denafrips Pontus 2 DAC from Vinshine to say an EU country or the US you pay in Singapore Dollars – S$2849 to be precise, which is equivalent of €1930 and $1780 at current ROE’s. But if you buy from the UK distributor you pay £2000, which you have to if UK based, so a 22% price increase to the Euro converted price.
In the the EU and the UK the Holo Audio Spring 3 Level 2 works out at €2,649 and £2,250 respectively from Magna and $2498 from Kitsune HiFi in the US. Clearly Denafrips is cheaper in the US probably in most part because of the lack of import duties and VAT in the EU/UK.
And on Chinese gear….the idea, generally speaking, that anyone can say Chinese made HiFi is of poor quality has been living underground for many years and it doesn’t reflect the real world nature of supply chains, and the world we live in where nothing is made in one place. Mostly, this adage applies to both these brands. Holo Audio just has the edge on the cases used – what looks like luxury Japanese style metal casework, aircraft grade aluminium and without the sharp edged milling of the Denafrips top logo.
I initially compared the very affordable and, quality at price, Ares 2 from Denafrips with DACs like Chord’s Qutest and RME ADI-2 DAC FS. Also the new Mojo 2. The Denafrips Ares 2 occupies a competitive place in the market against these other DACs because the margins of performance is normally close together with relative budget priced gear. It makes the better HiFi DAC against the Mojo2 for example, although the opposite is true for headphone listening, in my opinion.
Venus or Spring on earth?
Comparisons to the Venus 2 : the Denafrips is more expensive at $3020 when converting the S$4149 price tag, to the Holo Audio’s $2498 wallet lightening from Kitsune HiFi. But in the EU the difference is €3290 to €2649 in the Holo Audio’s favour and in the UK, a whopping £2,250, against £3100 in buying from the British Denafrips distributor. That’s nearly a 40% price increase, enough to substantiate a local intermediary? Maybe, but what about Holo Audio…
Some reviewers have placed the pricier Spring 3 DAC level 2 beyond the Pontus 2 – the friendly and relaxed Tarun Sharma, AKA ‘A British Audiophile’, for instance. He awards the Holo Audio against the lesser priced Denafrips – but it’s only a £250 difference in the UK, to make the gap as next to nothing in Audiophile terms and with discounts you might achieve. The gap widens in Europe and the US.
There is no doubt this particular Spring DAC resolves more, it picks elements in the music and layers them with more separation, speed, space and precision, at the same time keeping perfect treble and bass balance. Quintessentially a case could be argued that it represents what being an Audiophile is about – the cliched ‘hearing more into a recording’. It does this too with lots of air and decay in the music relative to the Denafrips capability. This all makes for a harder case to point people away from this DAC. A part time YouTuber friend of mine owned the Denafrips Terminator DAC, so a further exploration of the Holo Audio May DACs would make an interesting comparison with him at the same time too.
But UK based this Holo Audio saves nearly £1000 to the Venus 2, being forced to buy from the UK distributor, and if I was in Europe around €650. But the £250 gap between the Pontus 2 and this Holo Audio, buying in the UK, is also worthy of note.
In comparison the Denafrips Venus 2 smears more – it joins up the points in the music that otherwise would be demarcated and stamped on like a soldier marching on parade. Opposingly and relatively, Venus 2 is a fluid and languid, less precise walk albeit this approach has its own benefits. Venus 2 has a wider more dispersive soundstage with thicker set tone, qualities which possibly makes it more a listen with certain types of music. A sound that envelopes you and makes your HiFi cosseting around you. Would you forsake speed, dynamics and resolution for this and that beautiful decay and space of the Spring DAC? What music do you listen too? What makes for a better all rounder?…. only you can decide!
Specifications – Spring 3 DAC Level 2
- COAXIAL1, COAXIAL2, OPTICAL, AES : PCM 44.1-192K (24bit) , DSD 64X （DOP）
- USB : PCM 44.1K-1.536M (32bit), DSD 64-512X (DOP), DSD 64-1024X （Native)
- I2S : PCM 44.1K-1.536M (32bit), DSD 64-1024X
- PCM 48K NOS : THD+N 0.00032% @1K(-110dB), DNR 127dB, DAC Voltage Output 2.9Vrms (RCA), 5.8Vrms (XLR), (Optional) Pre-amplifier Voltage Output 5.8Vrms (RCA), 11.6Vrms (XLR)
- DSD 128X : THD+N 0.00025% @1K(-112dB), DNR 115dB, DAC Voltage Output 1.45Vrms (RCA), 2.9Vrms (XLR), (Optional) Pre-amplifier Voltage Output 2.9Vrms (RCA), 5.8Vrms (XLR)
- Size (Chassis) : 430x300x55mm (W x L x H, Dimensions do not include protruding parts)
- Weight : 8.5kg
- Power : 110-120VAC / 220-240VAC 50/60Hz