Thoughts on a DAC

Been thinking of upgrading my DAC. I am using a PSA SGCD as my pre and DAC, but was thinking of adding a Denfrips ARES II or Pontus II and using the SGCD as the pre only.
Question is are the two DACS mentioned a significant jump in DAC performance over SGCD DAC and how does a SGCD function as just a pre?

PSA SGCD
Parasound A21+
Node 2
Wharfedale EVO 4.2
2 SVS sb2000 subs

I’ve never heard a SGCD but I’ve owned a PerfectWave followed by a DirectStream DAC. The DS was in my system for about 4 1/2 yrs. I recently decided to change things up and demoed the Pontus II. It’s all subjective but I liked it better overall compared to the DS. It gave me a little more detail, and clarity of detail in the treble as well as better/tighter bass response. I used it with a Matrix X-SPDIF into the 12s input and then later the Denafrips Iris.
I have since moved up to the Venus II/Hermes combination.
If you’re going to try the Denafrips route just go for the Pontus II because you’ll likely end up at least there anyway.
Also, I’m thinking you’re going to want a separate preamp for best results.

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Yeah, I was leaning towards the Pontus II as I know I would get there eventually from the Ares, so why wait.

I guess I am also wondering if I do go with the Pontus DAC, will the SGCD serve as a viable preamp?

I think the SGCD is a fine preamp. There’s no question there are others better, but I suspect if you need the same variety of inputs the Stellar offers, and balanced connections, the price of something appreciably better sonically will be relatively steep, at least by my budget standards.

I wish I could describe the sonic differences between it and the three other preamps I’ve lived with over the years, but two of them were so long ago that any impressions would be obscured by time (GAS Thalia and Apt Holman), and the most recent of them I didn’t compare directly (Adcom GFP-710). All I can say is in my current system I don’t miss anything about the old ones (except for the Apt’s incredible flexibility).

The DAC inside the SGCD is just that, a chip inside a shared component.
The Denafrips are dedicated DACs and are R2R, not Sabre chips as well. I would be amazed if a Pontus didn’t sound significantly better.
And the volume control in the SGCD is excellent.
I’m using a Pontus 2 and it’s clearly better than it’s price imo.

Well, I was just listening to my new SACD Perfectwave transport hooked up to my Rose Hifi RS150B via AES (VDH Digital XLR cable). I think the RS150B is a great streamer/dac/ roon end point. Prior to getting the Rose I had as my main DAC a Chord Hugo2 and 2go. It really depends on your budget and the reset of your system, but I would not want to use the Rose’s pre-amp as my main pre amp, even though there is a reasonable amount of inputs. I run the Rose into a Mcintosh C70, in preference to a PS Audio BHK sig, but that’s my choice and not yours.
Trying to get back to your questions - the Aries and Pontus are both very different in price and connectivity. In fact the Cheap Audio Man on Youtube has just released a video on the Pontus 2 and for him it was the connectivity that gave him pause, even though he thought that it was a ‘better’ DAC than the Aries (was twice the price too) as the two optical inputs were important for him. For example on the Rose , I use eARC in for my TV instead of Toslink and my only other digital source is the PErfectwave. I keep thinking (wanting?) a Chord DAVE but I think connectivity and not the DAC would be an issue.
Perhaps you should try a better preamp/power amp combo? That way you could assess the Gain Cell DAC on it’s own? Does the Gain Cell have a headphone output? If that’s important to you, you should make sure you cover all your bases.

Depending on your budget, long-term system capability plans and current number of sources, you might consider picking up a previously loved PSA DirectStream DAC. The DS Sr. is nearly state-of-the-art (not too far behind) and plays nice with amplifiers when feeding them directly.

The volume control is effective and “neutral” in my experience. You can use the DS by itself if you don’t have a lot of sources or combine it with the SGCD. I believe the DS will provide an immediate jump in performance from a DAC standpoint and you can save your pennies while you search for the next great DAC or a separate pre-amp. upgrade.

I don’t have any experience with the two DAC options you mentioned so I can’t offer any comparisons of their performance vs. the SGCD. I just know the DS is a big leap in performance as compared to the SGCD.

By the way, the only reason I don’t feed my mono amps directly from the DS is I have and love the room correction software in my Pre/Pro (Anthem AVM50v).

Good luck to you.