Reviewer:
Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: 27" iMac with 5K Retina display, 4GHz quad-core engine with 4.4GHz turbo boost, 3TB Fusion Drive, 16GB SDRAM, OSX Yosemite, PureMusic 3.01, Tidal & Qobuz lossless streaming, COS Engineering D1 & H1, AURALiC Vega, Aqua Hifi Formula, Fore Audio DAISy 1, Apple iPod Classic 160GB (AIFF), Astell& Kern AK100 modified by Red Wine Audio, Cambridge Audio iD100, Pro-Ject Dock Box S Digital, Pure i20, Questyle QP1R]
Preamplifier: Nagra Jazz, Esoteric C-03, Vinnie Rossi LIO with DHT module, COS Engineering D1, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage 2
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; FirstWatt SIT1, F5, F6, F7; S.A.Lab Blackbird SE; Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; Goldmund Job 225; ; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics One SE UP NC500MB; LinnenberG Audio Adagio
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence
Cables: Complete loom of Zu Event; KingRex uArt, Zu and LightHarmonic LightSpeed double-header USB cables; Tombo Trøn S/PDIF; van den Hul AES/EBU; AudioQuest Diamond glass-fibre Toslink; Black Cat Cable Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver; Titan Audio Eros power cord
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all components, 5m cords to amp/s + sub
Equipment rack: Artesania Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands
Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators
Room: Rectangular 5.5 x 15m open floor plan with two-storey gabled ceiling, wood-sleeved steel trusses and stone-over-concrete flooring
Review component retail: $5'860 Singaporean [at time of writing, €3,632]; add shipping


What's in a name? Sometimes not so much. Take Terminator. Ahnuld's immortal "I'll be back" streaks across the mind. That's it. But Denafrips? What to make of that? It's no anagram. No glean turns into angel, no lemon into melon. It's a quasi acrostic, an old poem trick whereby each line's first letter adds into a vertical word. At right we see how Denafrips unfurls. I first encountered this Chinese brand through a reader. "I just effected a real comparison between my AMR DP777SE and the Terminator. It did not take long to realize that despite how good the AMR is, the Terminator is better. The soundstage and holographic imaging are equal. Also, both DACs are very analogue; smooth and in no way fatiguing. They are warmish without being too warm. In those parameters they seem pretty much on par. It's with accurately reproducing instrumental timbres where the Terminator bests my AMR. Timbres are more authentic. That makes for a very satisfying—emotionally satisfying—experience. This DAC provides me with the more emotional connection to the music. So, gulp, I am purchasing one." Wheels of synchronicity turning, a few weeks later my hifi friend Dan checked in. Financially, his prior take-no-prisoners system had 'dumbed down' to a Denafrips Terminator fed HDMi via an Aune S18 into a Wyred4Sound preamp into Radu Tarta tube monos (26 driving 46 driving 50 triodes). A Cocktail Audio X50 served his musical media. Speakers remained Voxativ's Pi 9.87 system. Knowing Dan, I firmly expected that his sound now was at least equal to if not better than his prior far costlier setup. Nothing whatsoever dumb about that. Au contraire. Then Dan offered to loan me his Terminator for a few weeks. Naturally I was all in. With that name, I also assured Dan that his would be back. Don't contradict Ahnuld...
  Dynamic
Exquisite 
Natural 
Attractive
Fidelity
Refined 
Intoxicating 
Pure 
Sophisticated

Fully balanced architecture with four resistor arrays (two per channel).


From Singapore, Alvin Chee handles global Denafrips sales via his Vinshine Audio portal. Mr. Zhao, the actual designer, can be reached via his company name @ gmail account. The Terminator is the top model of his four-square portfolio of discrete R2R converters. With a ca. €3'600 retail, the Terminator hits hard with more than a thousand 0.005% tolerance resistors for its converter matrix. This achieves claimed 26-bit resolution for PCM files.


Extremely rare for the R2R breed is 6-bit DSD support for up to 11.288MHz aka DSD512 which is managed with 32-step FIR filters. A customized Amanero Combo384 module with 1099c firmware handles USB, an AKM AK4118 digital receiver oversees all other inputs. Two Crystek 'femto' clocks control time, twin FPGAs (dual mono) manage resistor switching, proprietary coding and glue logic.


One 250VA and one 60VA toroidal transformer oversee power via fuse-free smart tech. This senses your AC voltage to trigger the correct relay combination which switches on the transformers. Instantaneous current-sensing protection cuts off the power supply in the event of overload or runaway temperature. [At right, the encapsulated power supply of the Pontus model with 2 x 60VA transformers, meaning one of the Terminator's is four times larger.] Walt Jung super regulators stabilize power for the required circuit voltages.


A true armada of small ultra-low ESR capacitors form the energy reservoir. Inputs include the usual coax, Toslink and AES/EBU in duplicate each, then add one USB and—very uncommon—I²S in triplicate via three different conventions (one on HDMI, two on RJ-45).
 

The analog outputs deliver 2.3/4.6Vrms on RCA/XLR respectively and the 43x38x10.5cm box puts 19kg on the scale.


On the scope, we'd find THD+N of 0.0007%, dynamic range of better than 132dB, S/NR of -124dB and crosstalk of less than 110dB. Translated, the Terminator means to battle competing R2R designs from Aqua Hifi, Aries Cerat, Metrum, msb, Rockna, Schiit and TotalDAC yet proposes to get the job done at a tag which four years ago bought an AURALiC Vega. On that count, the only true 2017 competition priced significantly below the Terminator was the Soekris 1541. For more intel, download the manual. Highlights include switchable sampling including none (NOS mode); polarity select; mute; slow/steep filter select; sample-rate indicators; and a confident 3-year warranty.

For once, a global voltage input does not signify a switch-mode power supply.