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.
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.
What Does This Mean
I 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.
- Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender N20, CAPS 20
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil, Meitner Audio MA3
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers, Constellation Audio Inspiration Integrated, Parasound HINT 6
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2
- Headphones: RAAL-requisite SR1a
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, Aurender Conductor, HQPDcontrol v4 (iOS) (Android)
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, HQPlayer
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40')
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
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.
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/