Denafrips Terminator DAC Review

Discussion in 'Digital: DACs, USB converters, decrapifiers' started by purr1n, May 8, 2019.

  1. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    A big shout out to @Thenewerguy009 for making this happen!
    MEASUREMENTS HERE: https://www.superbestaudiofriends.org/index.php?threads/denafrips-terminator-dac-measurements.7828/

    Denafrips.jpg
    The Denafrips Terminator was fed coaxial SPDIF from a modified Marantz CDP. It's not the best CD transport that I have, which is the Theta Data III, but it's good enough to tell me how any DAC will perform. Note that I do not use USB and all my comments regarding DACs in the past few years utilize either one or both of same CDPs, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the Terminator was evaluated on my DAC blind test rig and compared to other existing DACs (Convert-2, Gungnir A2, etc.) with matched volume levels.

    I'm not too sure where to start. If we believe everything that we hear on the Internets, that the Terminator is a transcendent experience, that it parts the clouds and allows us to hear the sound of angels, then we will be disappointed. This is not to say that the Terminator is a bad sounding DAC. But all means no. It's a solid DAC which excels in many areas.

    The Terminator took a few days to warm up. When cold, the bass sounded congested and the highs slightly strident. This behavior seems common with many R2R DACs, so I knew at least two days or more of warm up would do. The DAC really started to hit its stride after ten days of being left on (I do not turn off my multi-bit DACs).

    In terms of bass articulation, grip, and pitch differentiation, the Terminator is not quite up to the Convert-2 (best in this category) or Gungnir "A2", but it's close enough. I don't think this difference would be noticeable on speakers with inferior bass quality (not many drivers are going to beat a near 0.20 QTS 18" woofer in a big ported box). Slam seems to be a little bit behind Yggdrasil A2, better than Gungnir A2, around X-Sabre Pro. Actually, the bass does remind me of the X-Sabre Pro's bass. Very good heft, near but not quite the tops for transients, grip, and pitch.

    Before I say more, the OS (oversampling mode) just sounded off. I can't even describe it, other than it seemed to make worse all its weaknesses (stated above and will be stated going forward). This isn't unlike other members' experiences with the Holo Spring L3 DAC which went along the lines of OS sounded like ass - NOS is where it's at. NOS has specific effects of the soundstage for better or worse, which I don't want to go into for the tenth time. The soundstage isn't too upfront though, so there's no feeling of claustrophobia. I can't say for sure how this will affect headphone listeners.

    The tonal balance, timbre, and transients of the Terminator are much like the higher-end Soekris DACs, except with a little more low end. A little more bass and warmth. As for notes, the higher-end Soekris DACs don't have much density. They are rendered cleanly without the stereotypical vintage R2R thickness. This is not to be confused for tonal balance. It's more a matter of overtones. For example, a recording without much bass content will sound denser and thicker on a Metrum or even a Gungnir A2 compared to a Soekris, Terminator, or X-Sabre pro. Because of this, there does seem to be a sense of clarity. However, the Terminator still does have a veil, particular in the lower registers. This isn't too different from the veil on the Convert-2 (where it is across the entire audio band; however, this veil does seem to be more evident than the Convert-2's where it is barely noticeable.

    Lastly, the one Achilles heel of Terminator is that is just isn't all that involving. The microdynamic rendering is rather poor, the instantaneous changes in volume levels, not the big ones, but the little gradations just aren't quite there. You have heard me say this time and again where it sounds like a cliche, but it's flat and boring. The Terminator does a lot of things right. But I just don't want to listen to it. Honestly, if like this kind of presentation, a Soekris DAC1521 with EQ shelf below 150Hz +0.5db will get you very close with slightly lesser macrodynamics but better microdynamics.

    Yeah, I expect a lot of people to be pissed off or outraged.
     
    Last edited: May 12, 2019
  2. Lyander

    Lyander Too sensitive for SBAF

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    When did that stop anyone before, and why should it? :))

    Plus if there's anything I learned today (cuz I didn't review for exams like I planned to) it's that preferences play a massive part in system building and perception, as bazelio's new thread exemplifies.
     
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  3. rlow

    rlow A happy woofer

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    Yes, finally a review of this DAC from someone here, without the hyped up BS.

    I can hear the internets already on this one: “Wait, he didn’t use i2s input??!! Stock power cord??! JBL passive preamp??!! Yep no wonder. Conclusions invalid”
     
  4. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    @purr1n

    Nicely put! Can easily imagine how it would sound. It's a bit strange if I will write about bench dac3, it would not be that different from this post.. Anyway how you described terminator reminded me of that specific experience. I'm thinking of r2r version dac3. Hmm.
     
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  5. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's kind of a downer because the Terminator was so talked up, etc. I never had a chance to hear the other Denafrips stuff so I didn't know what to expect. So part of this review was based on pumped up expectations. Kind of like how Avengers: Endgame and Black Panther turned out to be disappointing, but Solo surprisingly refreshing - and again it's subjective. And also, I trust this community. @Torq has his own way of putting things and I didn't get the sense that he was very enamored with even the lower end Denafrips gear. I bet I'd love the higher end Metrum DACs though. Would love to hear a Pavane one day.

    Not to mention the Guitar Center cables.

    I'd argue the more exotic stuff like some of the TVCs or fake-passive photometer VCs that members of www.orfas.org to commit such significant sins of omission where comparing DACs becomes a matter of preferring which one's tone or timbre was more acceptable to one's tastes. I've attempted to take this out of the equation with this review. There are certain things which are beyond tone, timbre, or transients: emotional involvement with the music.
     
  6. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    I hope this makes sense to you considering your recent XSP audition:

    Denatrips Terminator = R2R version of X-Sabre Pro - edge - microdynamics (and also - a bit of macrodynamics from mids to highs)

    I thought DAC3 was a bit edgier sounding than XSP.
     
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  7. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    A few important things I forgot to point out:

    The few simple measurements I took are actually very good. The precision matching resistors advertised by Denafrips is legit. If I remember correctly, maybe the best of the discrete R2R designs. I hope I remembered to save the measurements. I should have them somewhere.

    It's decently resolving of plankton but doesn't particularly excel here. The sharpness knob is turned up just a very slight bit which does impart a sense of detail, but not what I would call true resolution. Plankton is on the scale of the MOS16 or DAC1421 (not 1521).
     
  8. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    As someone who owns a XSP, this comparison makes too much sense (especially given the fact that it seems like we had almost identical preferences with the XSP). Probably not something up my alley.

    Is it safe to say that Terminator isn't quite up to snuff with the "good" DACs of late, but at the same time isn't garbage?
     
  9. Cellist88

    Cellist88 Afraid someone will shit on his opinions

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    @purr1n the highest model of the soekris is the 1541. I don't really get the number difference but oh well. Glad to see a review on this dac! @ChaChaRealSmooth at the price they are asking, it probably had to at least match the hype.
     
  10. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    Reading comments, the following question poped up from my brain.

    Is this really hyped?

    Let's exclude head-fi and equivalent audio forums (including random youtubes). I've never heard the experienced and well-regarded ears praised terminator or other denafrips.

    My impression is the opposite. Afaik, they're very new company (prol found in 2017). And I know NO maker can get r2r right at the first try. Considering this, terminator's performance at this level (at least it can compete against state-of-the-art dac frontiers in SOME criteria) is rather a good signal in my book. Yeah, I expected way much worse evaluation -- for a random maker's first try of cost-no-object.

    On the other hand, I think it a potentially bad signal that this company seems to spend more time in advertising, not trying to collect constructive criticisms.

    Overall, I am kind of with Daniel. Marv's evaluation sounds like if this dac is sold at 1k-1.5k why not try.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
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  11. mitochondrium

    mitochondrium Friend

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    @purr1n you just don’t listen to real instruments enough and your Italian side is underdeveloped therefore you cannot appreciate the superiority of Denafrips DACs, which is just as well, because if you did not have these shortcomings you would be utterly overwhelmed by said superiority rendering you speechless so that you would not be able to talk (or write) about the Denafrips magic. Sometimes TOTL is just short for and off total BS.
     
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  12. songmic

    songmic Gear cycler East Asia edition

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    This is just the kind of review I was looking for. All those comparisons of Terminator vs Yggdrasil I’ve read online were done by those using a Yggdrasil A1 (not A2) or overhyped Mercer-wannabes biased toward new FOTM.

    So at the end of the day, as far as DACs go, Schiit multibits (A2) and Convert-2 still reign supreme?
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
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  13. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's definitely not garbage. To put things in perspective of a proper price point. Let's say $2k for X-Sabre Pro, $2.5k being fair (actually a bargain) for Yggdrasil A2, then it seems the proper price point for the Denafrips should be $1500-$1750. (To be honest, this is the last DAC I would fire up given the list of pricey DACs which have recently come my way).

    I admire that Denafrips went balls to the wall with x2 humongous power transformers, shielding, massive small capacitor bank for ultra low ESR and low noise, layers of regulation, super precise resistors for great measurements, but brute force can only go so far.

    Some real design creativity such as a big choke in the PS, a well tuned digital filter / upsampler, or maybe better output stage (no idea since I didn't open up the chassis), might have yielded better results for less parts cost.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
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  14. Elnrik

    Elnrik Super Friendly

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    I wasn't sure, so I googled it. $6000 new. Yikes.
     
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  15. Vtory

    Vtory Illogical Spock

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    That's Singapore dollar. Multiply it by 0.73. Then you'd get 4400-ish usd -- not as expensive as higher metrum (adagio 6300, pavane 5500). Worth it? I doubt :)
     
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  16. Luckbad

    Luckbad Traded in a unicorn for a Corolla

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    Everything I've read says this is utter garbage, then. I take price into consideration, and it's about $4500 everywhere. That means it's overpriced by 2-3x, therefore it's garbage.

    DACs have been going the same direction as headphones, and we shouldn't celebrate a $4500 DAC for sounding good. We should acknowledge that it's offensively priced.

    The trend in pricing is disappointing. Amps are starting to take a pricing hit with offerings like the Liquid Platinum and Lyr 3 trouncing amps at higher price points.

    I get frustrated seeing newbie manufacturers pricing their equipment in the stratosphere for what's on offer. It always reeks of cash-grab to me.

    "Those audiophiles will pay anything for a decent product that looks great and has a full complement of buzzwords." I'm looking at you, Airist, Meze, Denafrips...

    Ugh.

    Get off my lawn, damn kids.
     
  17. Biodegraded

    Biodegraded Friend

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    I note purr1n's comparisons to the Soekris units. DAC1541 is $1299 and DAC1421 is $899. Price multiplier is therefore 3-5x.
     
  18. Elnrik

    Elnrik Super Friendly

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    They must smoke some good shit in Singapore.

    The pricing can explain the ridiculously good reviews it gets on Head-Fi. Assume you bought one. $4,500 worth of confirmation bias goes a long way, and would probably make you think it was the best DAC ever too.
     
    Last edited: May 8, 2019
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  19. ChaChaRealSmooth

    ChaChaRealSmooth SBAF Gearmaster

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    I'm not necessarily against the high prices of certain items. I understand that some things are expensive to manufacture, and hey, if the product turns out to be good (in this case, perform exceptionally well and have unique features), then the price, while high, might at least make sense.

    That being said, I'm pretty disappointed that for nearly 4x the cost of a Gungnir MB, you're getting a DAC that's worse (being uninvolving and "boring" is a cardinal sin in my book). Heck, $4500 could get you a really kickass full headphone system guaranteed to make you create suspiciously white stains in your pants.

    But....but.....moar expensive! Moar hi-fi! Moar shtuffs!

    I don't remember quite exactly who said this on this forum, but I'm beginning to buy more and more into the notion that everyone who wants to get into higher-end gear should at one point own/seriously audition a Gungnir MB/Yggdrasil; they really can compete with some seriously expensive DACs.
     
  20. msommers

    msommers High on Epipens

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    This review is really helpful as I've wondered how it really was without some sort of vested interest behind it. That an comparison to various dacs definitely helps triangulate where this thing lies in the dac world. I've spoken with some owners on various forums privately (not professional reviewers) and they seemed really enamoured by it. So either they genuinely like it, haven't tried a lot of dacs to compare to, or both. I was hoping given the specs and materials used that it wouldn't show up as a 'not bad, not great' outcome. Value is one attribute, overall performance is another. Unfortunately it seems the Terminator excels in neither.

    That said, the tone of some of these response are almost a celebration that it "failed" which makes me chuckle. And if someone doesn't really love Yggdrasil A1, they're not magically going to love A2. So IMO the difference is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things.
     
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