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Summer CDApS Goes High End (Read 471 times)
Palomino
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Summer CDApS Goes High End
07/28/20 at 13:26:23
 
We had a small CDApS (Chicago Decware Appreciation Society) meeting this past weekend.  Decware forum member ProggRob and CDApS member in good standing moved to Seattle a couple of years ago.  When he moved back to the Chicago area, he sent me an email pre-Covid and asked to hear some of his gear in my room.


Well, given the whole Covid mess, we waited till we thought it was safe to get together (I’d recently had a test, etc.).  

On Sunday we got together and he brought some of his higher end gear: a Denafrips Terminator DAC https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tGmD6j8fC0, a ZOTL Ultralinear amp https://6moons.com/audioreview_articles/lta3/ and Black Cat XLRs and speaker cables https://blackcatcable.com/pages/reviews.  All well reviewed gear and definitely a step above what I spend on audio.  I think the combined street value of what he brought over was in the neighborhood of $14,000.  

At home Rob also has a Decware UFO Zen Select (precursor to the 25th) and Caintuck Audio Betsys with the alnico drivers supplemented on the low end with Hawthorne Augies.

My room (12.5’ X 16.5’) has pretty much wall to wall diffusers plus bass traps in the corners.  I also have a dedicated power line into a PS Audio P5 Power Plant with a combination of PS Audio (AC10/12) and DIY power cables.  

Source was my upgraded Mac Mini running running Tidal via Audirvana with USB output into a Amber USB Regen and Curious Cable USB cord.  My DAC is a Brooklyn DAC + to a Zbit and then to the mighty 25th anniversary Zen amp.  

My ICs are DIY silver formula from VH Audio with Rhodium connectors on the XLRs and knock off silver Eichman connectors on the RCA cables.  Speaker wires are 8 gauge silver coated copper with silver bananas a la Zen Styx.

We started out with my system to set the baseline then added cables, then the DAC, and finally the amp.  Speakers were my DIY Crystal 10s/Acoustic Elegance LO15s open baffles and then later my Big Betsy’s.  

It was gratifying to get positive feedback on my system/room from Rob.  He has a critical ear and really loves listening to music.   While it’s a work in progress, I truly get pinpoint imaging and a large three-dimensional sound stage which Rob very much appreciated.

To be honest, neither of us heard substantial gains from the cables.  I later did some more A/B as Rob left them with me and there were subtle differences, perhaps a little smoother, but not “I have to have these cables” kind of reaction.  This is somewhat of a testament to the VH Audio IC design and/or the great value of the Zen Styx.  I didn’t have time to test each set independently, so all my comparisons were for both ICs and speaker cables combined.


Let’s just say the DAC was a different story.  I had heard rumblings of the terminator DAC being a top tier DAC and tend to trust the reviews of John Darko, but other than that, I didn’t have any other research under my belt on the amp or cables to set expectations.  


Wow.  Smooth, “analog” and extremely engaging.  It just really sucks you into the music.  Monster soundstage as well.  Not more detail than my Brooklyn DAC+ but smoother, fuller and less analytical.  Longer decay times for sure which also tended to draw me in.


I am basing this on audio memory that is years old, but I found it to be fuller than the PS Audio Direct Stream (several firmware upgrades from the most recent).   Maybe some more micro detail in the Direct Steam but again, its been some time since I heard it.  I’d love to hear them both back to back.

After the session, I found Steve Guttenberg’s https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsgCMjEMe6c review to be on point as well as the one by John Darko referenced above.

Next, we put in the Amp.  To do this, we had to switch to the Big Betsy’s because I bi-amp the Crystal 10s/LO15s with a crown amp on the low end and we didn’t want to mess with trying to bi-amp with the ZOTL.  

In terms of this combo, the results were no less than magic.  The amp/dac combo made the most of the Big Betsy’s giant soundstage.  Only on a couple more electronic songs did I find myself wanting more low end.  The ZOTL has a little more grunt than the Zen and filled out the bass better on the Big Betsy’s.  The engagement factor was really off the charts.

The soundstage reminded me a lot of Aaron’s OTL amp that he bought from Steve.  It would be a great comparison to hear those two OTL amps back to back.

I could spew out some more adjectives, but instead I’ll tell a story of the last song we listened to:  If you Wait by London Grammar.  This is a big, emotional song that I had heard maybe 50 times.  When I am in the right place mentally, it can be very moving.  All I can say is we experienced simultaneous goosebumps – for nearly the whole song.  When the song was over, Rob stood up and said something to the effect of, “I’m leaving this with you, keep it for a couple of days.  I can’t take this away from you.”  

So I have been listening the last two days and really enjoying the hell out of it.  The plan tonight is for Rob to come get his gear and then I am going to pack up the Big Betsy’s for him to listen to for about a week.

I’ve been doing some limited swapping out of gear and here are some of my thoughts:

1.      The 25th Zen holds up extremely well compared to the ZOTL.  The ZOTL is a much more (2X) expensive amp so this is a testament to the value of the 25th.  The fact that it can hang in detail and soundstage with this OTL amp is something.

2.      The key to the formula was the combination of the DAC and the Big Betsy’s.  I think those speakers can find a home in any high-end system.  Also, it might be mentioned that Steve’s sound better than mine – fuller, better low end due to thicker wood and huge base.  Rob aptly made the comment that the Cyrstal 10s were more “audiophile” and the Big Betsy’s were more musical.  He really liked the C10s and we discussed a build until he heard the Big Betsy’s.  Just more synergy there with his gear.

3.      My cables can compete with the more expensive, boutique cables.  

4.      The Denefrips deserves top tier DAC status.  While my DAC is no slouch, the Terminator is a step above (and a pretty big one) in liquidity.

5.      I have to keep both sets of speakers.  I’ve thought about abandoning one or the other, but I don’t think I can.  They both bring so much to the table.

6.      Getting together and listening to gear and providing feedback really helps you figure out where you need to go next.  I already improved my sound with the Brooklyn, but maybe another DAC is in my future.

 
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i7 Mac Mini with LPSU/SSD running Audirvana 3.5, Uptone Audio Regen on LPSU, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, Ven Haus DIY Silver ICs, 25th Anniversary Zen, PS Audio P5 Power Supply, PS Audio Power Cords, Zen Styx Speaker Wire, DIY Big Betsy and Crystal 10 Open Baffle Speaker
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Donnie
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #1 - 07/28/20 at 14:18:25
 
I really can't imagine how good a  Denafrips Terminator must be.
My Ares II is so good and sounds so right to my ears.
Of course there is now a Terminator Plus out there for $6500, maybe I can start selling plasma or knocking over convenience stores as a side job.
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Owner of the infamous RED TORII and Dan the Redheaded Amp
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Palomino
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #2 - 07/28/20 at 14:22:09
 
I forgot you had that DAC.  Might want to do a road trip Donnie.
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i7 Mac Mini with LPSU/SSD running Audirvana 3.5, Uptone Audio Regen on LPSU, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, Ven Haus DIY Silver ICs, 25th Anniversary Zen, PS Audio P5 Power Supply, PS Audio Power Cords, Zen Styx Speaker Wire, DIY Big Betsy and Crystal 10 Open Baffle Speaker
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Lonely Raven
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #3 - 07/28/20 at 14:22:30
 

Yeah, I wish I could listen to that DAC up against my DS with the latest OS installed. Especially in your room Tom!

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HockessinKid
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #4 - 07/28/20 at 15:00:20
 
Pal,

Thanks for the write-up and listening observations. Glad you could get together for a session and hear some different equipment.

I hope to have surgevry (replacement of binding posts) completed on my Lii Audio 15 this weekend. The stock binding posts are brass & steel, not the best conductors. Will be sharing some pictures and listening impressions thereafter.

Best,

HK
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Nottingham Interspace TT w/ Dynavector 20x2LO cart + Modwright PH 9.0 phono pre > ZROCK2-25th OR Modwright modified Cambridge CNX V2 > CSP3-25th preamp > ZMA-25th amp > PI Audio Group UberBUSS PC > Omega SAHO XRS or Caintuck Audio Lii 15 speakers > various cables.
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Palomino
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #5 - 07/28/20 at 15:02:28
 
Yes, interested in that surgery outcome.  I think Geno did this??
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i7 Mac Mini with LPSU/SSD running Audirvana 3.5, Uptone Audio Regen on LPSU, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, Ven Haus DIY Silver ICs, 25th Anniversary Zen, PS Audio P5 Power Supply, PS Audio Power Cords, Zen Styx Speaker Wire, DIY Big Betsy and Crystal 10 Open Baffle Speaker
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HockessinKid
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #6 - 07/28/20 at 15:07:24
 
He did with some Cardas Copper billets. I opted for some KLEI posts. A small strip of continuous cast 6N copper encased in a plastic housing. Had great results with KLEI (formerly Eichmann) RCA jackets. They're inexpensive to boot, $36 for a set of 4. Figured it's worth a try.

HK
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Nottingham Interspace TT w/ Dynavector 20x2LO cart + Modwright PH 9.0 phono pre > ZROCK2-25th OR Modwright modified Cambridge CNX V2 > CSP3-25th preamp > ZMA-25th amp > PI Audio Group UberBUSS PC > Omega SAHO XRS or Caintuck Audio Lii 15 speakers > various cables.
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ProggRob
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #7 - 07/28/20 at 15:24:13
 
Hi Tom and Decware community!

Boy, it has been a good long time since I’ve posted here and so much has happened in my life during that time.  As you can see from Tom’s summary, I have also been buying stereo equipment!

Thanks Tom for the great recap and I can say it was some of the most compelling sound I have ever heard.  I cannot wait to receive the big Betsys this afternoon and hear them in my own space.

The Denefrips Terminator was a massive step up from my Schiit Gungnir Multibit and a purchase I regret not one iota.  I heard similar benefits at Tom’s house, including bigger bass.  In my system the detail took a big step forward, but I heard less of this vs the Brooklyn.  I certainly didn’t hear any detail loss, and voices/decays were more present.

A handy feature of the Denefrips is a phase button.  I used this with my Zen amp and I couldn’t believe what an impact it had, especially on voices.  If you have a phase switch on your devices or in your software, play around with it.  I had a couple of musician friends hear this in person, and they said “what, WTF did you just do?  Let’s listen to that other song again”. Different experience.

Tom and I played around with this and I heard a reduction in haze around voice, slight but noticeable.  Seems system and gear dependent.

Regarding the LTA amp, it was actually a bigger upgrade for me than the DAC.  I don’t have Tom’s 25th anniversary, but a Zen Select from 2013/14 or so that was upgraded later with the UFO transformers and with 25th anniversary bypass upgrade.  I was turned on to LTA when I demoed a pair of Daedalus Muse Studio speakers, which Lou Hinkley set up in my home personally.  Funny story, I took my Zen amp to his workshop in Ferndale, WA, where it was hooked up to a full suite of LTA separates, a Lampizator Pacific DAC ($30k) and Daedalus Apollo 11 speakers.  After that, I was going to buy LTA.  And I did.

This is not to disparage the Zen.  In fact, the full 25th anniversary held up better than mine, but OTL is a different animal, and as Tom noted there is a price difference.

Tom is right about the cables.  For me they were a revelation, but he is on to something with the VH and Styx.  I do think it take more effort to hear differences among well designed cables.  I was using WE 16ga tinned copper for speaker cables, and well, the Cats mop the floor with those.

Final plug, if anyone wants to buy a Zen, I will sell mine.  I am now exploring the Decware line of speakers to pair with my LTA.  You can buy my amp configuration for $2300 roughly, sans tax and delivery, new, on the Decware website.  UFO2 with balanced inputs, stepped attenuators and bypass option.  Please PM for interest but negotiations start at $1600.

Rob
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Baetis Revolution II -> HFC CT-1E Digital Cable -> Denefrips Terminator -> Black Cat Setsuna XLR -> LTA Ultralinear Integrated -> Black Cat Setsuna SC -> Betsy Alnicos
Bass: 4x Hawthorne Augies w/ 2 Rythmik amps
Power: TWL 7+ and Digital, UberBUSS, Furutech Outl
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Dominick
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #8 - 07/28/20 at 16:56:40
 
Tom,

What a great write up.  Nice to hear that the SE84UFO25 can hold its own up against the ZOTL in soundstage and detail.  It’s a testament to just how good the Zen amp sounds at the price point.  

In terms of the DAC....I can’t even imagine how amazing that must have sounded.  ProggRobb indicates that it was a huge step up from his Schiit Gungnir Multibit.  With my new Bifrost True Multibit, Schiit indicates that they are using the same chips as in the old Gungnir Multibit, and comes very close in sound by comparison.  So far I am super happy with my new Bifrost, so I can’t even imagine the sound upgrade that ProggRobb experienced going to the Denafrips.

Dom


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iMac 7 or Google Chromecast Audio, Schiit Bifrost True Multibit DAC, My Audio Cables [MAC] Ultra Silver+ Cables, ZSB, ZSTAGE [Beeswax Caps], DAG Cables, Yamaha THX SS Receiver, Rega P3 Turntable, Velodyne Dual Firing Sub, Decware ERR Radials [Bubbinga Wood].
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ArtMan
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #9 - 07/28/20 at 21:02:37
 
A handy feature of the Denefrips is a phase button.  I used this with my Zen amp and I couldn’t believe what an impact it had, especially on voices.  If you have a phase switch on your devices or in your software, play around with it.  I had a couple of musician friends hear this in person, and they said “what, WTF did you just do?  Let’s listen to that other song again”. Different experience.

I had the same experience with my Pontus. I decided to look at the user's manual and the default setting was Inverse Phase (LED off). The same is true also with the Terminator. Turning on the LED was just putting it in Positive phase. The reasoning for the default value is not intuitive.
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ProggRob
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #10 - 07/28/20 at 21:09:44
 
ArtMan, you are right about that.  The LTA likes the light off (phase inverted) and the Decware Zen likes in on (phase positive).  But the performance delta was much greater with the Zen when playing with it.  No idea why but just a fun tweak.
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Baetis Revolution II -> HFC CT-1E Digital Cable -> Denefrips Terminator -> Black Cat Setsuna XLR -> LTA Ultralinear Integrated -> Black Cat Setsuna SC -> Betsy Alnicos
Bass: 4x Hawthorne Augies w/ 2 Rythmik amps
Power: TWL 7+ and Digital, UberBUSS, Furutech Outl
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Palomino
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #11 - 07/29/20 at 22:12:34
 
Rob has the Big Betsy's and is tweaking his system for them.  Rob has a pretty big room so he's going to need the watts of his OTL.  

I did finally get to hear the Caintuck Alnico Betsys with dual Augies on each side at Robs house.  It put out some big sound.  I didn't have time for more than a song, but it sounded pretty engaging.
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i7 Mac Mini with LPSU/SSD running Audirvana 3.5, Uptone Audio Regen on LPSU, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, Ven Haus DIY Silver ICs, 25th Anniversary Zen, PS Audio P5 Power Supply, PS Audio Power Cords, Zen Styx Speaker Wire, DIY Big Betsy and Crystal 10 Open Baffle Speaker
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Tal
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #12 - 07/30/20 at 00:54:19
 
Artman - you previously advised to experiment with the phase button on my Pontus. I have been so captivate with the default phase setting I never got around to experimenting with phase. Making a mental note to try tonight after work.
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Decware SE84UFO2 (mono block) , ZP3, ZRock2, Rega P3-24, Groovetracer subplatter and delrin platter, Schiit Saga, Denafrips Pontus, DNA2, Omega DeepOmega8 sub, ZLC
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Donnie
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #13 - 07/30/20 at 02:19:28
 
I've been poking the phase button on my Ares II. Not really hearing much, maybe later on tonight when it quiets down I will try it again.
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Palomino
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #14 - 07/30/20 at 02:28:56
 
Big difference in our session.  Audirvana has it.  I’ll give it a whirl tonight.
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i7 Mac Mini with LPSU/SSD running Audirvana 3.5, Uptone Audio Regen on LPSU, Mytek Brooklyn DAC+, Ven Haus DIY Silver ICs, 25th Anniversary Zen, PS Audio P5 Power Supply, PS Audio Power Cords, Zen Styx Speaker Wire, DIY Big Betsy and Crystal 10 Open Baffle Speaker
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ProggRob
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #15 - 07/30/20 at 02:46:48
 
Try it on a vocal track, that’s where I can most reliably hear the difference.  Curious to hear everyone’s findings!
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Baetis Revolution II -> HFC CT-1E Digital Cable -> Denefrips Terminator -> Black Cat Setsuna XLR -> LTA Ultralinear Integrated -> Black Cat Setsuna SC -> Betsy Alnicos
Bass: 4x Hawthorne Augies w/ 2 Rythmik amps
Power: TWL 7+ and Digital, UberBUSS, Furutech Outl
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Dominick
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Still like that old
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #16 - 07/30/20 at 08:01:34
 
Ok.... I’m starting to feel left out.  I’ve had my new Bifrost DAC for 7 months now and have not yet played with the phase button.  The recordings always sounded good, so there was no need for me to change it.  I can’t even use laziness as an excuse because there is a phase selector button right on the remote as well as the unit.  I’ll report back.

Dom
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iMac 7 or Google Chromecast Audio, Schiit Bifrost True Multibit DAC, My Audio Cables [MAC] Ultra Silver+ Cables, ZSB, ZSTAGE [Beeswax Caps], DAG Cables, Yamaha THX SS Receiver, Rega P3 Turntable, Velodyne Dual Firing Sub, Decware ERR Radials [Bubbinga Wood].
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Lon
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #17 - 07/30/20 at 11:56:57
 
My PS Audio DSD DAC has a phase button on the unit and remote as did its predecessor. It helps at times when a recording was released out of phase. Over the years I've recognizrd symptoms and try reversing the phase when I do.
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HR-1,ZTPRE,ZBIT,ZROCK2,SE84UFO3-25th x2, CSP3-25th.Taboo Mk IV; Rega RP3 w/25th mods PS Audio: DMP+DSD,P15,NPC,PowerBases,AC-12 pwr cbls, Statement spkr cbls;Mapleshade:Samson V3; Oppo UDP-205; VooDoo:Cremona+Amati intrcncts, Iso-Pods;headphones:PM1,HD800S,ZMF Ori
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ArtMan
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Re: Summer CDApS Goes High End
Reply #18 - 07/30/20 at 14:06:16
 
My discovery of the effect of the Phase button was entirely accidental. At that time, I had the DAC on my bottom shelf of my rack and was trying to get a better idea of the differences between OS and NOS. It was still early in the burn-in phase so I was doing limited experimentation. There was a consistent difference in the sound between the two but one time I pressed the button, the change was much more dramatic. I was initially confused. Then I noticed the phase light was ON the the OS button was ON. I decided to check the user manual to see what it said.

The initial confusion on my part was the assumption that the default value (light OFF) would be positive phase when it was actually inverse phase. I notice the Terminator works the same with phase as the Pontus. However, the Ares II works just the opposite and defaults to positive phase. That is more intuitive to me.

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