July
2020

Country of Origin

China

Terminator-Plus

Reviewer: Srajan Ebaen
Financial interests: click here
Sources: Retina 5K 27" iMac (4GHz quad-core with Turbo boost, 32GB RAM, 3TB FusionDrive, OSX Yosemite. iTunes 14.4), PureMusic 3.02, Audirvana 3, Qobuz Hifi, Tidal Hifi, COS Engineering D1, Denafrips Terminator, Soundaware D300Ref,  AURALiC Vega, Jay's Audio CDT 2 MkII & DAC-2 SE
Preamplifier: Vinnie Rossi L2 Signature with WE 300B/VT52 or Elrog ER300B/50; Nagra Classic, Wyred4Sound STP-SE Stage II, Vinnie Rossi LIO (AVT module); April Music Stello HP100 MkII
Power & integrated amplifiers: Pass Labs XA30.8; LinnenberG Audio Liszt monos; FirstWatt SIT1 monos, SIT-3, F5, F6, F7; Goldmund/Job 225; Aura Note Premier; Wyred4Sound mINT; Nord Acoustics NC500 monos; April Music Stello S100 MkII;  Crayon Audio CFA-1.2; SAG AIO; Bakoon AMP-13R
Loudspeakers: Audio Physic Codex; Acelec Model One; Cube Audio Nenuphar; Kroma Audio Mimí; Albedo Audio Aptica; EnigmAcoustics Mythology 1; Boenicke Audio W5se; Zu Audio Druid V & VI & Submission; German Physiks HRS-120; Eversound Essence; Fram Midi 150 & 120
Cables: Complete loom of Allnic Audio ZL3000/5000 and 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 redlevel Lupo; Ocellia OCC Silver
Power delivery: Vibex Granada/Alhambra on all source components, Vibex One 11R on amps/sub, Puritan Audio Labs PSM156 & PS106-DC
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: 4 x 6m with high gabled beam ceiling opening into 4 x 8m kitchen and 5 x 8m living room, hence no wall behind the listening chairs
Review component retail: $8'698 Singaporean [€5'550 at press time]

I'll be back.

Ahnuld goes back to the gym. If your best DAC is called Terminator and you issue a Terminator-Plus, such comments are cheap but certain.

Lately, Denafrips have been on a tear. Earlier this year they bowed the Iris and Gaia D/D converters, then Avatar the CDT, Athena the preamp and Thallo the power amp. The mid-level Hermes DDC is still on the books.

Given such a bumper crop, who had seen a buffed-up Terminator coming? I'll be back. Already?

One glance at its guts shows a complete overhaul. The front panel sports a new clock-out LED encircled in red above; the rear two new 75Ω clock output BNC. One of those replaces an earlier S/PDIF.

The black casing visible just above those [right] is for the new oven-controlled crystal oscillators. They run at 45.15/49.15MHz for the 44.1/48kHz sample-rate multiples. These dual OXCO are powered by a new constant-current spur of the shielded and encapsulated linear power supply of the lower storey.

In NOS mode, all internal upsampling is bypassed. In OS mode, all data are upsampled to maximum power-of-two rates. DSD is never upsampled and hardware decoded on 32-step FIR filters.

In conjunction with the new precision clocks right next to the true balanced R2R matrix with 0.005% thin-film resistors works a high-speed adaptive RAM buffer which stores incoming digital data in memory for purportedly negligible jitter when read by the super clocks.

The USB transceiver goes live only with USB selected and is still the company's proprietary execution written to STM32F446 AMR. It supports 24/1'536kHz PCM and DSD1024. For all S/PDIF inputs, the Terminator-Plus no longer uses a digital receiver chip but instead goes to the FPGA for a shorter signal path.

Here we see the power supplies of the Plus/standard left and right. "The copper tan of the toroids in the Plus is their copper shielding between primary and secondary. The shield is grounded to earth to shunt noise and power transients. This effectively avoids noise on the secondary winding. These transformers are made in-house." The Plus gains 4 x 0.1F supercapacitors for the digital and 12 x for the analog circuit side to "provide high energy storage with a steady supply of constantly cleansed DC power". And instead of opto-couplers, the Plus adopts a TI ISO7241M quad-channel silicon-dioxide or SiO² isolation barrier with its own isolated power supply to "effective isolate the ground and block related noise from input to output." The related MO is clearly the banishment of noise.

Externally the Plus gains a speed stripe to divide the fascia's row of indicator LED and lower controls. Viewed from above, its face plate now also slopes back just a bit at the left and right side. Analog outputs on 2.2Vrms RCA and 4.4Vrms XLR show high Z-out of 625/1'250Ω to suggest that like the Terminator, its resistor ladders couple direct to the outputs in TotalDac style to eliminate an output buffer. Two devices connected thus load each other to deteriorate performance. Use RCA or XLR but not both at once. If you expect a machine with twin outputs to operate them together—a not unreasonable expectation—then this Denafrips isn't for you.

With a standard Terminator in our big system, it made sense that I'd be asked to take Plus for a spin and race them side by side. Already non-plussed Terminator won an award from us, one from Audiophile Magazine owner Joël Chevassus, one from Jay Luong of Audio Bacon, a Premier League rating in Darko.audio's DAC index, a major thumbs up from the Audiophiliac's Steve Guttenberg, another from AudioStream's Alex Halberstadt.

Making an acknowledged champ still champier was the mandate for the rise of Plus. As illustrated by the total PCB overhaul, this isn't a bolt-on mod. It's a comprehensive rethink on what Denafrips can do for a 2020 flagship DAC.

As recent efforts with external reclockers suggest, this 40-strong firm in their own Guangzhou plant now focus on ever better clocks for ever lower timing errors. Cynics could claim that normal clock specs already eclipse the human ear. Actual listening showed me already that external reclocking works. Hence our D300Ref by Soundaware. If my ears hear improvements, I enjoy them. If I don't, it needn't mean that something doesn't work; just that I couldn't hear it. Which could mean that my hearing isn't good enough, my system not resolved enough; or both. Now ignorance is bliss and a money saver. If one does hear an improvement and rates it, it can be hard to do without. It's how this hobby perpetuates itself.