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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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    On 8/4/2021 at 1:01 AM, BrownMagic said:

    We did a Doge 8 vs Terminator Plus w/ DDC vs Holo May KTE shoot out and the audience voted for the Holo May as the overall winner in this setup. YMMV. 

    Also as per @GoldenOne's findings, the terminator upsamples content to 768k even in NOS mode. So for those of you who want to compare the Terminator with other dacs, you might want to use HQP to upsample the other dacs as well. 

     

     

    Good data point. I do wonder if the impressions would have been different if the comparison had been made with the more current Terminator 2 and the new Hermes DDC. These units have clock out and clock in respectively.

     

    I am interesting in the claim regarding NOS "upsampling". Can you provide a reference or link?

     

    Thanks!

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    On 9/3/2021 at 8:27 PM, mourip said:

     

    I am interesting in the claim regarding NOS "upsampling". Can you provide a reference or link?

     

    https://www.soundstagenetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2612:denafrips-terminator-plus-digital-to-analog-converter-measurements&catid=434&Itemid=577

     

    You can see in the above measurements that NOS is not really NOS. This was also called out by GoldenSound in his review. 

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    1 hour ago, BrownMagic said:

     

    https://www.soundstagenetwork.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2612:denafrips-terminator-plus-digital-to-analog-converter-measurements&catid=434&Itemid=577

     

    You can see in the above measurements that NOS is not really NOS. This was also called out by GoldenSound in his review. 

    I believe it depends on what sample rate is being sent to the DAC. If one sends 1,536 kHz, it’s NOS. 

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    3 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    I believe it depends on what sample rate is being sent to the DAC. If one sends 1,536 kHz, it’s NOS. 

     

    I do not how know it works at 1.536. I am of the understanding that if you were to feed your Qobuz/Tidal which say is 16/44 to 24/192 into any denafrips dac and the mode selected is NOS, then the DAC applies DSP and upsamples it to 768k by default. Where as a NOS dac in NOS mode should allow 16/44 to be processed as 16/44. Maybe @GoldenOne you can explain in lay man's terms why denafrips dacs are not really NOS in their NOS mode compared to other NOS dacs. Thanks

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    4 hours ago, BrownMagic said:

     

    I do not how know it works at 1.536. I am of the understanding that if you were to feed your Qobuz/Tidal which say is 16/44 to 24/192 into any denafrips dac and the mode selected is NOS, then the DAC applies DSP and upsamples it to 768k by default. Where as a NOS dac in NOS mode should allow 16/44 to be processed as 16/44. Maybe @GoldenOne you can explain in lay man's terms why denafrips dacs are not really NOS in their NOS mode compared to other NOS dacs. Thanks

    Cause the 'NOS' mode still applies an oversampling filter, therefore it is not 'non-oversampling'. Simple as that really.

    It might not do so when feeding it 768khz or 1.536mhz, but then you'd need to be doing oversampling with HQPlayer or another external OS tool anyway. Meaning you're still oversampling.

    It cannot play standard PCM content at 44.1khz without oversampling.

     

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    I have a terminator plus coming in for review and I'll do a bit more extensive testing once it arrives. If anyone has anything in particular they'd like me to look at please let me know.

    Rockna Wavedream signature review is up on patreon and will be up on youtube at the end of the week. 

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    35 minutes ago, GoldenOne said:

    Cause the 'NOS' mode still applies an oversampling filter, therefore it is not 'non-oversampling'. Simple as that really.

    It might not do so when feeding it 768khz or 1.536mhz, but then you'd need to be doing oversampling with HQPlayer or another external OS tool anyway. Meaning you're still oversampling.

    It cannot play standard PCM content at 44.1khz without oversampling.

     

    Which begs the question, do people really listen to NOS mode with content that isn’t externally upsampled?

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    35 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

    Which begs the question, do people really listen to NOS mode with content that isn’t externally upsampled?

    Quite a lot of people do. 

    Whether that's better/worse than os will likely forever be debated. 

     

    Personally I listen to nos and os in mostly equal amounts. They provide different sounds and I like using one or the other depending on mood and track. 

     

    But quality of different reconstruction approaches can be debated on the merits of those.

    The reason I don't like denafrips calling the DACs NOS isn't because I think they 'should' have NOS, it's because I don't think any manufacturer should advertise features or behaviours that the device does not actually have.

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