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    Denafrips Terminator II Review and Comparison

     

     

    In April 2021 I wrote about the Denafrips Terminator and getting the most from this lauded digital to analog converter, including using ultra high PCM sample rates of 1,411 kHz and 1,536 kHz (link). At the time of my review, Denafrips was in the middle of a soft launch of the Terminator II. Worldwide Denafrips distributor Alvin Chee and I both thought it was only appropriate for me to get the new Terminator II, while I still had the original Terminator. This way I could easily write about how the two units are similar and dissimilar. Talk about a tough job. Only kidding. It has been a pleasure to listen to the Terminator I and II in the same system, and run all my favorite music through both components. 

     


    This or That, A or B, One or Two

     

    As a fan of the original Terminator and a consumer myself, I want to know the important things. In addition, I'm sure there are many Terminator I users wondering if an upgrade is something they should consider. Let's get right to it. 

     

    According to Alvin, the improvements to the Terminator II over the original Terminator are the following. 

     

    • Total segregation of Digital Signal Processing and R-2R Network Arrays (Analog) boards
    • Oven-Controlled Crystal Oscillators replace the TCXO clocks.
    • High-speed Digital Isolation. The silicon-dioxide (SiO2 ) isolation barrier with isolated power supply effective isolate the ground and block the noise from one end to the other
    • Redesigned Power Supply Unit (encapsulated underneath the DAC boards)
    • Supercapacitors for Digital & Analogue circuitry for high energy storage to ensure supply of constant cleaned DC power to the circuitry
    • Clock Out eco-system to sync with DENAFRIPS DDC.


    Astute readers identified that this is very similar to the flagship Terminator Plus. They are correct, the II is the product of trickle down technology from the Plus. The major differences between the II and the Plus are the following. 

     

    • Aluminum anodized curvy front panel
    • Precision, hand-picked, premium OCXO
    • Hand-picked R-2R board


    As a hardcore audiophile I've listened to products with only one or two of the above improvements and thought the sonic differences worthwhile. The Terminator II's vast array of upgrades have certainly set the product up for success. 

     

    This list of upgrades looks great on paper and checks all the boxes, but what really matters is how the terminator II sounds. Are the upgrades super or superfluous? Cutting to the chase, I believe the II upgrades are absolutely wonderful and worth it. I should also surround that sentence with some supporting information. I listened to the original Terminator extensively as a daily driver of sorts for months. Ever since the Terminator II arrived, I've doe the same thing with it. I've listened more through these two DACs that anything in my ridiculously large "collection." It's this familiarity with both DACs that enables me to confidently compare and contrast the two. 

     

    That said, the situation may be quite different for those who listen sporadically or those who don't eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff. The sonic differences are most definitely still there, but some folks may not notice them if they don't spend as many hours listening as others have/do. I also want to note that just because the Terminator II is now available, the original Terminator hasn't suddenly lost sound quality. The original is as good today as it was the first day I listened to it in my system. 

     

     

    Denafrips Terminator II Front.jpg

     


    My Experience With Terminator and Terminator II


    The first thing I noticed, and continue to notice to this day, when comparing the I and II, is the II takes a bit of an edge off. Terminator II sounds a skosh smoother and more refined than the original. After listening extensively, I chalk this up in the very positive column. The original Terminator wasn't harsh, bright, or edgy at all, but once it's compared to the II, listeners may notice the smoothness of the II over the original. 

     

    Digging into this refinement a bit more, it's possible to hear it on nearly any recording, audiophile grade or otherwise. I've been listening to Jack Johnson's debut album Brushfire Fairytales quite a bit lately. This is by no means an audiophile favorite, but fortunately I have no such requirement and neither does the Terminator II. 

     

    On the track Posters, the sound is very cohesive, delineated, but more refined and smooth than when listening through the original Terminator. The Terminator II appropriately controls the wonderful cymbals, hi-hat, and bell, that give this track such great space and depth. All hints of edge or abrasive high frequencies are completely gone. This smoothness also enabled me to hear much more into the music, in all frequencies.

     

    Countless times over the last couple months I heard something in a track that I didn't think I could hear through the original Terminator. I'd click over to input two on my preamp and play the same track through the original, and hear the sound that I thought only the Terminator II could reproduce. Here's the thing though, once I heard these things, it was impossible not to hear them through another DAC or system. It was the Terminator II that brought them to my attention or more appropriately enabled me to hear them better than the original Terminator. 

     

    This "hearing new things" experience was most apparent in tracks with space, air, and a sense of environment in the recordings. On the aforementioned Jack Johnson album, the track Flake has nice space around the instruments, especially the drums. But, the thing that blew me away first through the Terminator II, then through the original terminator, once the II made me aware of it, was the individual mallet strikes by Tommy Jordan on the steel drum. 

     

    I'm not joking when I say that I could completely picture Jordan striking the steel drum, ranging between medium speed to somewhat fast strikes with mallets in both hands. I'd never heard this level of detail previously. It gave me a whole new take on the track because it was just more real. A corollary to this is when people are used to one note bass, then they hear a great HiFi system and hear all the notes of the bass, with texture, and air. It's a different experience that brings one closer to the music and artist. This was the case listening to Jack Johnson's Flake. Something as simple as the percussionist playing the steel drum. I like the song even more now. 

     

    Another difference I heard right away between the Terminator and Terminator II was a sense of saturation or richness compared to a flatter presentation in the original Terminator. By flatter I don't mean in relation to frequency response measurements, I mean less lively or less three dimensional. The Terminator II has a better sense of real life. Perhaps it's just letting more real life through to the amplifiers, speakers, and one's ears as opposed to creating a richer sound by editorializing the music. 

     

    These differences are small but important to audiophiles like me who spend so much time listening and seeking the best music reproduction possible. I would never suggest that the difference between a Terminator and Terminator II is night and day. That's just not my character. I'm more reserved and tend to undersell things because I often doubt myself and I never want to disappoint people with such high expectations. I call it like I hear it for sure, but when in doubt I lean toward the conservative interpretation. 

     

     

    Denafrips Terminator I vs Terminator II.jpg

     


    What Does This Mean

     

    cash@3x.pngI can only say what this means for me as an audiophile and consumer, and how I use my HiFi systems. As I write this, I'm listening to the Terminator II through what I call my Summer system with RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones. It's in the cold basement where 100 degree outside temps cause no issues, unlike my extremely hot listening room. My laptop is resting on my lap and feels like it's about to burn a hole in my legs. I could easily get up to grab a book or something on which to set the computer, but that would require me to stop listening for a bit. I don't want to stop listening. Oh the sacrifices we go though to listen to our favorite music on a great HiFi system. That's an easy example of what it's like for me to listen through the Terminator II.

     

    I really like the Terminator II and think it's more than a worthwhile upgrade from the original Terminator. I have both units here right now and I have no desire to switch back to the Terminator, even though it's a fantastic DAC. Once you've seen 4K HDR movies, it's tough to go back to anything less, no matter how close it is to the new reference. 

     

    Audiophiles who absolutely must have the best, will have to upgrade. It's as simple as that. The II is better. That said, it wouldn't surprise me if some people listen to both units and don't unequivocally state it's a no brainer, upgrade now. It's a nice upgrade but not night and day for most people. 

     

    I'm sure there are also people on the fence about getting their first Denafrips DAC. To those people I'd say the Terminator II is a great buy. It has many of the benefits of the Terminator Plus, without the added cost. In addition, its life as a product has just begun and will remain the current model for sometime. 


    As much as I like the original Terminator and would continue to use it all the time, I've experienced the Terminator II and I can't unring that bell. The ship has sailed for me and it's the Terminator II that takes the cake. The II provides a richer presentation that's also more refined than the original. I've yet to hear a downside to the II that would make me reach for the original Terminator. The Terminator II upgrade is real, it's real good, and completely worth it for most audiophiles. 

     

     

    Denafrips Terminator II Rear.jpg


     

     

     

    Product Information:

     

     

     

    Associated Music:

     

     

     

    Associated Equipment:

     

     

     

     

    Listening Room:

     

    This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream. 

     

    551112741_myroom.jpg.7922adb92cf9efcff4c401f0dffbc5c4.jpg

     

     

     

    Headphones

     

    My RAAL-requisite SR1a headphones using a convolution filter created my Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The blue trace is the raw measurement and green is the corrected response. Here we bring down the two peaks above the green curve, in addition to smoothing out the response.

     

    Here is an article all about the headphone filter - https://audiophilestyle.com/ca/reviews/taking-the-raal-requisite-sr1a-headphones-to-another-level-r1020/

     

     

    image3.jpeg.46b81678418b15f2f4634a65b35ed7ce.jpeg

     

     

     

     



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    Nice job Chris, I enjoyed your review.  I had the original Terminator and then moved to the Terminator Plus.  I'd echo your comments regarding the sonic differences as I found the same differences/improvements. 

     

    Did Alvin send you a Denafrips DDC?  If so, I think it would be beneficial to consumers to have you comment on sonic changes when using the clock out feature of the Terminator 2.   To me, I find very nice further improvement with the clock-out engaged and that is a big selling point of the Terminator 2 over the original.

     

     

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    20 minutes ago, Blake said:

    Nice job Chris, I enjoyed your review.  I had the original Terminator and then moved to the Terminator Plus.  I'd echo your comments regarding the sonic differences as I found the same differences/improvements. 

     

    Did Alvin send you a Denafrips DDC?  If so, I think it would be beneficial to consumers to have you comment on sonic changes when using the clock out feature of the Terminator 2.   To me, I find very nice further improvement with the clock-out engaged and that is a big selling point of the Terminator 2 over the original.

     

     

    Thanks Blake. Alvin offered a Denafrips DDC but I wasn't sure I could get to it in a reasonable amount of time, so I passed for now. I agree, it would be nice to give it a try.

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    Please, please (: consider writing a review of the Holo Audio May DAC.

     

    The terminator and the may dac is on everybody lips this days but I haven't found a good comparison of the two

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    6 minutes ago, Martin Herløv Andersen said:

    Please, please (: consider writing a review of the Holo Audio May DAC.

     

    The terminator and the may dac is on everybody lips this days but I haven't found a good comparison of the two

    I reached out to get one but never heard back. 

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    19 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I reached out to get one but never heard back. 

    That's a shame. But you tried

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    I just SOLD my Regular Terminator and was ready to pull the trigger on a T+ to later add a GAIA, but HOLO MAY appeared in my radar and then the Bricasti M1-SE ( one year used ), around $6,000, and around that price range there is the TOTALDAC d1-single-mk2 DAC or d1-Core, but now with this review considering the T-II being less than 4,500 usd delivered, makes me think even more.

     

    Any suggestions ?

     

     

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    19 minutes ago, mikicasellas said:

    than 4,500 usd delivered,

    Compared to the May KTE version the Terminator 2 is 25% less delivered to Denmark.

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    15 hours ago, John A said:

    Huge upgrade that has been taken up another notch with the addition of the Gaia DDC.

    John 

    doesn't adding Gaia DDC limit the sampling that can be sent to the dac? 

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    Thanks for the review.   Always great to see new products that improve the experience.   Had me reading the review in my head with Arnold's accent LOL.

     

    R-2R DACs ....  how do they rank among other DAC types?   

     

    Cheers!

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    I was looking at the May KTE but the price to the UK was simply beyond my budget at that time.

     

    So I spoke to Alvin and Vinshine - always an excellent experience - about the T+ and the newly arriving TII and he helped convince me to go with the TII. I knew about the long burn in process but right away I could see how much it exceeded what my VEGA G1 could ever do. Right away the whole musical experience felt that much more engaging, less fatiguing, and in the balance of changes everything that arrived was positive, and all the 'deductions; in the sonics felt equally as important too. It was only then - once I'd got to terms with the absence of some sonic traits - that I realised how much more natural the R2R sound from Denafrips was compared to the Auralic.

     

    A few weeks later I managed to get hold of a Hermes DDC, and adding TII clock out was another real enabler to bring my front-end nearer to what the TII could deliver. Hugely worthwhile upgrade, and now my Aries G1 streamer with Hoer-Wege PSU upgrade and fantastic cables sounds equally as good through streaming as I could ever get via ripped FLACS.

     

    TII was a great step up for me - adding the Hermes DDC and adding excellent USB, i2S and clock cabling has shown me just how good this DAC is.

     

    Can't imagine needing to upgrade for a long time - one happy customer here

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    Did you compare the Terminator + Hermes with or without clocking Cakes? If so what did the clocking bring?

    I have the 2020 Terminator and Hermes and don't have a clock out on my dac.

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    Sorry. No @Egill23 - never had the chance to hear a TI - read enough about them, but when I was ready to spend that much on a DAC my timing just nudged me into the TII incarnation. Also only bought the Hermes some weeks after the TII arrived, enough time for the unit to burn in. The DDC was 100% worth it, I'd never go back (haven't even done an A-B after time as it was very noticeable from the start. The Hermes looks possibly like the sweet spot for the slightly budget conscious as the better clocks of the much more expensive Gaia are seemingly negated with the TII Precision OXCO clock out. TII and Hermes is a great combination - not sure how it compares with T+ alone, but it's certainly cheaper...

     

    I'm sure there will be more reviews forthcoming that compare the two Terminators, but for now we have Chris' write up above which does seem like a very positive summary for the new model. So much of the T+ tech is put into in the much later released TII that my thinking is it's again the sweet spot for the slightly budget minded.

     

    Surely a T+ mk II beckons soon to make a bit more daylight between the models again...but for now I think the TII and Hermes is giving me a musical experience that I cannot imagine growing tired of. More a case of trying to bring the rest of the components up to scratch...

     

    Hard to not be curious about what the TII brings, but I bet your 2020 TI is outstanding too. With the resale hassle and import duties it could be a lot of money which might be better spent elsewhere. All the best,

     

    John

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    Excellent and insightful review, Chris. I think you did just about everything possible to clarify the difference between the original and the new version. Not an easy task with products of both high performance, and value, as these are. Well done.

     

    JC

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    Hopefully Chris would review the HOLO MAY Level 2 or 3 and comment how they compare 

     

     

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    On 8/4/2021 at 7:01 AM, BrownMagic said:

    upsamples content to 768k

    Hi this is not true for the terminator. 
    the terminator also have a very high output impedance of 1250 ohm so if your pre amplifier has a low input impedance then it’s not going to sound right 

     

    tube amps have a high input impedance around 100K so that’s a good match

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    On 8/4/2021 at 2:21 AM, giordy60 said:

    John 

    doesn't adding Gaia DDC limit the sampling that can be sent to the dac? 

    Yes but the only files that get cut out are DSD1024.  I don't have any of those and I don't think many exist so with that as a limiting factor I feel pretty good about the limitation.  

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    I have a T2 and have found that setting it to NOS and upsampling everything to DSD128 in Roon gives a really nice increase in SQ. I would set it higher but my older "CAPS-like" server has a i3 processor which is now getting very hot with the increased calculating. I have a Hermes DDC on the way so I will report back on that. Currently I send USB to a Mutec USB and then AES out to the T2. My Mutec USB is clocked by a Mutec REF10. It will be interesting to see if the Hermes slaved to the T2 sounds better.

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