DAC for second system

Putting together an office audio system; with space constraints ( not to mention cost).

Looking at R2R  NOS DACS; for an organic sounding system.

There are many threads on Border Patrol, MHDT, Lab 12 etc.  I see there is an upgraded ( as compared to earlier threads) Border Patrol SE-1.

Any listening perspectives on the upgraded model.

Any suggestions in the 2-3 K price point ( up to 5 if its really good ).




I did not have the Terminator and the Aquarius in my system at the same time, so I'm going off of a few notes and my memory.....for what that is worth. My equipment: Denafrips Hades Pre-Amp, Denafrips Thallo amp, Tubes4HiFi VTA ST-120 tube amplifier with highly upgraded NOS tubes, BlueSound Node 130 with LHY LPS, Audiolab 6000CDT transport, and Buchardt Audio S400 MK II speakers, very good for the value cables.

(1) Pontus II (Note: I have not yet added the Pontus II firmware update that was released over the weekend, which appears to offer real world improvements) - This is the DAC I currently own and love, I've often posted that this DAC has no comparison at it's price point......and I still feel that way. The Pontus II is lively, detailed (enough for me), wide and high soundstage though soundstage depth is not class leading, great instrument separation, good attack and bass, and glorious mid range, and NEVER fatiguing which is my major concern. The DAC is more on the "comfortable" side of things (which I find all R2R DACs are to some extent), and definitely not analytical.

I have since added the Denafrips Iris DDC ($550) between my LPS modified Node 130 and the Pontus. This has brought the noise floor down greatly, and the background is quieter (black background as some might call it). The soundstage is now even wider and taller, though it didn't do much for the depth. Detail is improved, but still comfortable. The Iris just brought out more of the "goodness" of the Pontus, and covered up more of the Node's faults.

(2) Musician Aquarius - I did not have the Denafrips Iris when I borrowed this unit, so notes are from the DAC alone. Compared to the Pontus the Aquarius is a definite improvement in many areas. It has a wider and taller, and definitely a deeper soundstage. Attack and speed are better, and the bass has a beautiful grip that gets your attention, it has the same wonderful mids of the Pontus and more detail and instrument separation up top....drums sound sublime with this DAC.

What I had issue with, is the detail, speed, and urgency being so defined. This DAC is more "in your face" and let's you know it's there, not the comfortable sound of the Pontus II. To me it was a lightly fatiguing after a few hours, especially with critical listening. However, if you are looking for all of that "extra" from a DAC, it is a GREAT option. Also not that when paired with the tube amplifier, it was amazing. For me the Aquarius is more closely related to the Holo Audio May DAC, for $2,400 less.

(3) Denafrips Terminator II - Here I also did not yet have the Denafrips Iris DDC, so listening is with the DAC only. HOLY CRAP! Take all of the wonderful things I said about the Pontus II, and every single one is improved with the Terminator II. It is more of everything, and improves the things that I feel the Pontus needed: soundstage depth, instrument (and vocal) placement and separation, more detail.....all while keeping the warmth and easy listening sound, it was hard to listen critically as I just wanted to play more music and relax with a warm blanket.

Overall these are 3 great DACs! The Pontus is the definite value winner, the Aquarius is the "more is better" winner, and the Terminator II would be my price doesn't matter winner. Take with a grain of salt: I definitely have a sensitivity to audio components that provide a great amount of detail, they can get "too much" after a few hours of listening and cause me to cut my listening time short.

@vthokie83 Excellent summary and thanks!  That’s kinda what I woulda thought but very helpful to hear from someone who’s heard them all.  BTW, I inserted the Iris into my HeadFi rig and found much the same improvements.  I found the noise floor dropped and imaging improved greatly where individual elements just popped more in a 3D space and more occupied their own space.  IME the difference was not small and I’ll no longer listen without the Iris.  Thanks again. 

couple years back i had compared the original terminator to the pontus 2 at length, both had the ’updated dsp module’ offered in that period - i felt the terminator brought the treble energy forward quite a bit and had a slightly broader soundstage (no doubt due to a more robust output stage and power supply), and a slightly finer grain to the sound

the one fault of the pontus i heard was a sense of noticeable grain in the lower treble/upper mids, despite the midrange and midbass being so lovely, warm and dimensional (which made it special, to my ears).... at that time, i ditched the term and kept the pontus, which i felt represented great value given its sound and fairly modest cost

only later i got a modded mhdt tube buffered dac and that to my ear was even more beautiful and organic sounding than the pontus, with enough detail and speed, and without the slight grainy texture to the sound


Similar for me, I preferred the Pontus II to the Venus II straight up, even though the Venus II is $1,300 more expensive......others will disagree with me on that point. The Venus seemed to not have the Denafrips "house sound" that I personally like very much.

A Pontus II with the Iris DDC clearly outperforms the Venus IMO, and the cost for the Pontus II and Iris DDC is still $750 less than a Venus II.

For office use, I think convenience and practical aspects are major. I would look into active speakers. I agree with Pontus (I have one), but I think it is overkill for office.  Dali or Bluesound speakers with a bluesound node will let your colleagues easily connect their Spotify or Apple accounts, so that all can contribute to the sound in the office.