March
2022

Country of Origin

China

Aether

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Main system: Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz, Tidal, Sonnet Pasithea, Soundaware D30Ref SD card transport & USB bridge; Preamp: icOn 4Pro S w. hi/lo-pass filter; Power amplifiers: Kinki Studio EX-B7 mono, Enleum AMP-23R; Headamp: Kinki Studio; Phones: HifiMan Susvara; Loudspeakers: Aurai Audio Lieutenant w. sound|kaos DSUB 15 on Carbide Audio footers, Audio Physic Codex, Cube Audio Nenuphar Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL; Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps, Furutech DPS-4.1 between wall and conditioners; Equipment rack: Artesanía Audio Exoteryc double-wide 3-tier with optional glass shelves, Exoteryc Krion and glass amp stands; Sundry accessories: Acoustic System resonators, LessLoss Firewall for loudspeakers, Furutech NCF Signal Boosters; Room: 6 x 8m with open door behind listening seat
2nd system: Source: Soundaware D100Pro SD transport clock-slaved to Denafrips Terminator +; DAC: Kinki Studio; Preamp/filter: icOn 4Pro + 4th-order/40Hz hi-low pass; Amplifier: Crayon CFA-1.2; Loudspeakers: sound|kaos Vox 3awf, Dynaudio S18 sub; Power delivery: Furutech GTO 2D NCF; Equipment rack: Hifistay Mythology Transform X-Frame [on extended loan]; Sundry accessories: Audioquest Fog Lifters; Furutech NFC Clear Lines; Room: ~3.5 x 8m
Desktop system: Source: HP Z230 work station Win10/64; USB bridge: Audiobyte Hydra X+; Headamp: COS Engineering H1; Headphones: Final D-8000; Powered speakers: Fram Audio Midi 120
Upstairs headfi/speaker system: Source: smsl SD-9 transport; DAC: iFi Pro iDSD Signature; Integrated amplifier: Schiit Jotunheim R; Phones: Raal-Requisite SR1a
2-channel video system: Source: Oppo BDP-105; All-in-One: Simon Audio; Loudspeakers: German Physiks HRS-120; Subwoofer: Zu Submission; Power delivery: Furutech eTP-8, Room: ~6x4m

Review component retail: S$2'349 [€1'570 at time of publication]

The 5th element.
The ancients spoke of earth, water, air and fire as the chief elements. Then they added a more mysterious fifth called aether. They believed it to fill the universe beyond our terrestrial sphere.

Hindus have their own names for these elements so pritvi for earth, jala for water, tejas for fire, vayu for air/wind and akasha for space. Enlightened masters, meditators and certain psychics speak of accessing the akashic records. According to them, they include everything which ever happened so also all our past lives back to when we were still clouds and trees.

Luc Besson named his SciFi flick The fifth element and with the famous blue diva interlude, created scenes for the ages.

Denafrips call their new masterclock Aether. No matter beliefs or movie tastes, the name certainly invokes a finer sphere of influence than the gross materialism of primary sound makers. Which is à propos. Consider how these 8 x 75Ω BNC carry zero musical signal, just regular clock pulses¹. What's more, they don't disseminate them at what for external clocks is the 10MHz standard.

Like Grimm, they do it at 44.1/48kHz, 11.28/12.28MHz, 22.57/24.57MHz or 45.15/49.15MMz so direct matches or simple integer multiples of our audio/video sample rates to require no synthesizing.

As Grimm Audio would remind us, the best clock is really the one closest to our converter, preferably just millimeters of circuit trace removed. Denafrips agree. It's why their flagship Terminator Plus DAC features clock outputs. With them one can clock-slave the preceding transport to the converter. It's simply not possible when one's transport lacks the right clock inputs. It also requires high-speed impedance-matched digital cables. Here online seller Thomann can set you up with a 20m (!) Sommer Cable for just £27. Shorter more home-appropriate lengths are obviously available for still less.
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¹ A word clock sends an electrical pulse to let each device know when a sample occurs during A/D and D/A conversion. If the sample rate is 44.1kHz, this pulse is sent 44'100 times per second. Clock information travels one way from master/host to slave. The word clock signal itself is a square wave. To reproduce a perfect square wave requires infinite bandwidth. This isn't practically feasible. But to approximate a square wave's very specific state changes still relies on cables of very high bandwidth to reduce cable-induced clock jitter. One wants to minimize rounding errors in the wave form which create time smear.

Our Soundaware D300Ref and D100Pro USB bridges so happen to carry the right clock inputs opened/closed by rear switch. Having already danced this tango with the Terminator Plus in its review, I knew it to be effective if obviously more etheric than swapping loudspeakers or amplifiers. But the resolution gains were real despite not running a recording studio to sync up numerous digital workstations and processors for multi-tracked mixing/mastering, just one 2-channel source to a home-audio DAC. With the new Aether, such esoteric masterclock options for home-based users just added a new entrant. Being Denafrips, it's not a €10K-ish 25kg 'atomic' Rubidium clock. It's 6kg and ~€1.6K Singapore-direct through global reseller Vinshine Audio. What's more, it has fixed/adjustable outputs so that the latter can be set to one of the three higher frequencies. If you're a normal 10MHz clockist, today's clock can't be your digital metronome. You'll want to look at AfterDark, Antelope, Esoteric, Mutec or SOtM types.

So yes, the Denafrip is twice esoteric. But then it never claimed otherwise. Its name and spelling are a sign: Aether. For when all other elements and their many interactions have been locked down. For when it's finally time to address the steadiest digital clocking. For perhaps when especially the superior recreation of recorded akasha i.e. space is desired? That really would be nomen est omen. Wikipedia claims that the origin of this saying is Roman playwright Plautus who in his play Persa has slave Toxilus lure his owner Dordalus to buy expensive slave girl Lucris ("profits") saying 'nomen atque omen quantivis iam est preti' (the name and the omen are worth any price). A lazy writer who doesn't actually listen might now finish with 'as Plautus said'.