The Denafrips Terminator PLUS DAC Review.
By Steve Huff
I have been on a mission for many months, or at least it seems that way. I have been enjoying hearing and evaluating many different digital to analog converters, or the DAC, within my reference system. Not only to review them, which is why they are sent to me, but for my own personal curiosities.
I find it fascinating how much difference a really good DAC can make to a well setup 2 channel audio system. Back 10-15 years ago many within the HiFi hobby thought that all DAC’s were the same, since they all do the same job of converting the digital 1’s and 0’s to an analog signal.
Today we know that the heart of a great system that streams digital music is indeed the DAC.
I have talked about this previously but a good DAC can really solidify and finish off a system. Yes indeed they all do sound different once you get into the high end offerings. It’s not about which one is the “best” for all as that doesn’t exist. We must find the “best” for our own ears and rooms.
What I will do in this review is tell you what I experienced with this Terminator Plus DAC from Denafrips, and I will compare the sound performance with other Denafrips DAC’s I have reviewed as well as others that are competitors to this mighty converter.
The Denafrips Flagship
I recently reviewed the Denafrips Pontus II DAC and then the Terminator II. The TII uses trickle down tech from the T+ I am reviewing here. In fact, these two DAC’s appear to be VERY similar with what seems like only slight differences in the more expensive + version. I do know the PLUS has hand picked R2R Resistors and OCXO. It also has a curved and quite striking metal front plate.
SPECS (from Denafrips):
The TERMINATOR-PLUS Digital Processing Board and R-2R ladder network arrays are completely isolated. The two boards are physically linked by the OCXO module. The physical isolation yields even lowered noise-floor and achieved higher signal to noise ratio.
OVEN CONTROLLED CRYSTAL OSCILLATORS
The TERMINATOR-PLUS is equipped with dual OCXO operating at 45.1584Mhz, 49.152Mhz – 1024x of based sampling rate of 44.1kHz and 48kHz. Encapsulated in a metal casing, located at the center of the DAC, these OCXO are specially designed for high-end audio applications with ultra-low phase-noise and ultra-accuracy. The dual OCXO are powered by the complete redesigned power supply circuitry (encapsulated, shielded, underneath the main boards), supplying constant current to the OCXO. The adequate power reserves ensure linearity and stability of the OCXO.
ADAPTIVE FIFO BUFFER RECLOCKING
The DENAFRIPS approach to address the jitters issue by the FIFO BUFFER RECLOCKING. The adaptive FIFO buffer store the digital audio data in the memory. These data are read from the memory using the ultra-low phase noise, ultra-accuracy OCXO, located right in the DAC.
The data bits are converted to analogue signal by the true balanced R-2R ladder network arrays. The linearity of the conversion is guaranteed by the high-precision thin film resistors, with low thermal effect temperature coefficient of the low 10/15ppm.
IT SITS AT THE TOP
I will start by saying that I have been listening to the T+ for about 6 weeks now, and I have been enjoying the sound so much that I have proclaimed it to sit up with the top 3 DAC’s I have ever heard within my system.
In fact, it may just be sitting at the very top when it comes to the desirable things such as extreme musicality, detail and an enveloping wide and very holographic soundstage. It is smooth and silky yet incredibly detailed even matching the $10k Chord DAVE in its spatial presentation.
Another thing that the Terminator Plus has over the Chord DAVE is that it is more musical.
Instead of wowing you with sharp 3D sounds throughout your space, we still get this 3D performance but it doesn’t come at the expense of warmth and all out musicality. What the T+ is doing here in my system is performing that incredible balancing act that the Pontus II did but at a an even higher level. As great as the smaller Pontus II is, and it is my opinion that the Pontus II is one of the best values going today, the T PLUS is without question at the next level up, or maybe a few levels up.
So before I talk about the looks, build, specs and performance I will state that yes, this DAC is up there with the best of the best, regardless of cost (or at least sits with those I have heard up to $15k). As we approach DAC’s in the $5k and up range there really are no bad choices. The choice comes down to your partnering gear and speakers really, and the sound you enjoy.
Most DAC’s in this price range will sound refined, smooth, detailed and offer up some magic but some will do this for less than some of these over $10k monster DAC’s.
OUT OF THE BOX
The T+ is big, heavy and very well made. In fact, this is one of those pieces that you could be buried with as it just might outlast YOU. It’s all metal and super solid in build and feel. It feels like a slab of tech that has been built with pride because it has been. The inside is beautiful and shows the quality of build we are dealing with.
The PLUS is an R2R Ladder DAC, and therefore will sound a little different from run of the mill DACs that just use off the shelf DAC chips. Even so it is all about implementation and the analog section of the DAC that matters. This one has hand picked premium parts for the best overall performance and that is pretty cool.
The Terminator PLUS and other Denafrips DAC’s I have tested were all above board and top notch in build, parts and design. In fact, open up one 0f these and you will see something that looks much more expensive than it actually is.
Before I installed the Terminator Plus it in my system I was enjoying other DAC’s like the Weiss 501 , a Lab 12 Reference 1 DAC and a Hifi Rose 150B. I will compare the sound of all of them.
The Terminator II looks almost the same as the PLUS but there are differences!
THE SOUND (ALL THAT REALLY MATTERS)
What I will do here is tell you what the T+ sounded like in my system which today is comprised of Fleetwood Deville SQ speakers, an Enleum AMP 23-R integrated and Cardas Clear Reflection Cables. The system changes often.
I also use and have on hand a Cary Audio SLP-05 and a set of Pass Labs XA 60.8 Amps. This is for when I want to beef up the sound even more. As a reviewer it’s always good to have multiple pieces on hand for comparison sake, so I do.
My speakers are very musical, very detailed, very holographic and have some meat on the bones as well when they are driven properly. They lean ever so slightly warm and are extremely musical. They also show the differences between almost everything. If I change an interconnect, I can easily hear the differences. A DAC? I hear massive differences. So the Devilles are resolving enough to do this with ease.
Depending on what DAC I use or install the sound can go from warm and juicy (Rose 150b) to very bright and alive (Lab 12). It can also sound ethereal and extremely 3D (Terminator PLUS). Some DAC’s bring weight and musicality above all else (like the Hifi Rose or Weiss) and some DAC’s are incredibly refined and very audiophile (The Denafrips fits in this category).
A DAC like the Terminator PLUS is very audiophile and very refined. It’s dead silent. It’s beautiful in build, parts and style. It’s just a DAC! There is no streamer or fancy gimmicks included. It has one job only and it does that job as well as some over $10k DAC’s I have heard. There is also no remote.
The T+ will bring a smooth and see through transparency, detail, solid and VERY detailed bass along with beautiful holographic imaging like you may have never heard before. Yes, a DAC can do all of this and create magic with your system if it synergies with it.
THE STYLE (Let’s face it…LOOKS MATTER)
The T+ has a nice design and while it keeps the family resemblance that begins with the Pontus II I would say the Terminator PLUS is the GrandDaddy of all of the Denafrips DAC’s and easily the most beautiful I have heard from the brand within my system. As good as the previous DACs were from Denafrips that I talked about on these pages and within videos, the PLUS is truly an end game kind of piece.
It is beautiful in the flesh indeed. From its curved front metal plate. The red lights. The anti vibration feet to keep vibrations away. The inputs and outputs (all we would ever need) are all here. It has balanced connections as well as single ended. It’s built as well as any $10k piece I have seen yet comes in at less than half the cost of those pieces. That is the beauty of this brand and all of the DAC’s that Denafrips offers. They are truly all bang for the buck from their starter DAC to this one I am telling you about right now.
As you know I reviewed the DAC that sits under the PLUS a little while ago, the Terminator II. Much of what I said in that Terminator II review can be transferred here except for the sound quality, which is a bit different. Looks, build, parts, tech are very close.
This tells me even small changes like the hand picked parts and slight changes made vs the II makes a big difference.
In my system the Terminator II was smooth, a bit laid back and very expansive in the soundstage and details. The flagship Terminator PLUS is not as laid back yet retains the smooth quality and may have even more body than the II.
There seems to be more detail as well yet I can say with 100% confidence that it never ever even gets close to sounding clinical or hard or cold. It never sounds flat (rather it’s one of the most 3D DAC’s I have heard) and never even gets close to sounding dull or boring.
This is a very transparent DAC so you can “see through” the music. It walks that line that these Denafrips DAC’s seem to do so well. It gives us the detail and air and realism without any of the hard edges (that I hear in the Lab 12) or grain. There is no hint of digital issues in this DAC, at all. Zilch, Zero. Does it sound Analog? Well, nothing sounds like Vinyl but to me this DAC will bring sound that far surpasses vinyl.
I believe it would take a $30,000 vinyl system to best what I hear with this DAC and others that cost much more than the Denafrips does. I have invested a lot of cash into vinyl at various stages of my audio journey and I have found, for me, that high end DAC’s always do a better job in the sound quality dept. There’s also MUCH less hassle with no maintenance or tinkering needed.
That’s the thing, the T+ hangs with the upper class. You know, those DAC’s that are out of the reach of so many due to extremely extravagant costs. What is awesome is that this DAC performs at those levels for HALF the cost! I have heard some of these “mega DACS” and the T+ hangs with them, period.
DIGGING IN DEEPER (THE SOUND COMPARISONS)
I will now compare the sound of the T+ to some other very nice DAC’s. I am not saying any of these are better than the others, as that depends on you and your gear and something called Synergy. Remember, everything makes a difference in high end audio. Your speakers and amps, your preamp, the integrated amp, the streamer, the DAC, the power, the cables. YES, even the cables make differences at this level and will help to finish off or polish the sound.
- VS the Reference DAC 501 from Weiss: The Weiss has a studio sound to it. A master tape sound. The mid bass is juicy and plump and the treble is extended a touch which makes the treble pop a little more. The bass is deep and solid with a big weighty sound. While the weight and bass help with the rhythm in music this DAC lacks in in the soundstage and imaging when compared to the best. It does these things scary well but others do it better, like the Terminator PLUS. The Denafrips is more ethereal, more open, more airy and has a wider deeper soundstage. The bass is not as plump with the Terminator PLUS and what this does is make the sound more floaty and even more real as the bass is not obscuring any details. The Weiss is world class but so is the Denafrips.
- VS the Lab 12 Reference 1: The Lab 12 is a pretty cool small $3500 DAC that has many raves from those who own it. I understand these raves as in the right system it can sound natural, musical and nicely detailed. In my system it does sound thinner than the Denafrips. I mean it sounds brighter and edgier with some digital hash included, but it is half the cost of the T+. Out of the box I was even getting sibilance issues with the Lab 12 but after a few weeks of running in that has subsided. The Lab 12 is an exciting listen but not for long as I started getting fatigue after an hour. Again, this is in my reference system which normally runs a bit to the warm side but the Lab 12 just didn’t have the synergy here to show me its full potential. The Terminator PLUS has more body, is much more refined, sounds bigger, and has more micro details that are exposed within the soundstage.
- VS the Hifi Rose 150B: The Hifi Rose is an all in one streamer, preamp and DAC. It has a gorgeous huge display and offers up things other streaming DAC’s do not, such as 4K video streaming. It’s a very versatile piece and one that has been here for a few weeks now. The ROSE is so nice to look at and the sound that comes from its built in SABRE DAC is the warmest of all of the DAC’s I will discuss here. It has a warm fluid presentation for a cool $5k. It’s also very spatial and offers up a nice soundstage and 3D depth but not to the level of the big guns. It doesn’t match the Terminator Plus in these areas. To me it offers up a similar inviting sound but is just a touch duller than the Denafrips, lacking some of that air and hidden details that the Denafrips pulls out with absolute ease. The Rose is not dull, but compared to the best I get the impression of a duller sound.
- VS the Chord DAVE: The Dave is electric, alive, dynamic and uber detailed. It can wow you with sounds and it is among the best I have heard when it comes to 3D details and dynamics. The Terminator PLUS is a touch more laid back, not as in your face and not as ALIVE sounding as the DAVE. The Denafrips is more subdued, more open (soundstage is larger) and just as 3D. It is not as dynamic but again, I never tire of listening to the Denafrips. It has a natural vibe about it that makes music sound realistic and very musical in my system.
- VS the TERMINATOR II: The Terminator II was a lovely DAC that I kept here as long as I could before it had to go back to Denafrips. It has a relaxed, laid back yet detailed vibe with that wide open soundstage I have come to love from Denafrips. Where the PLUS exceeds the II for me in my system is that is is even more refined, smooth and offers up an extension of what the II brings in. So you get a little more of all of the good that the II brings in. It’s a 5-10% jump in performance with some slight differences but in my system the + did sound better. It also has that sexy curved front plate.
- VS the Pontus II: I love the Pontus II. It’s small, sexy and sounds unreal for what it costs. The T+ is without question next level vs the Pontus though, as it should be for the extra cost. It is more open, more detailed, more transparent and has more of the magic. As good as the Pontus is, and it could be end game for many, the T+ is just in that upper echelon of DACs and will bring more of the good.
It’s a TRUE REFERENCE (and VS the others)
I spent several weeks with the T+ hooked up to my Lumin U1 Mini and even Hifi Rose 150b used as a streamer. It never left me wanting and if I can be honest here it did outperform my reference $9k Weiss 501 DAC in overall performance and refinement. I did like it better than almost any DAC I have had in my system. This is a DAC that will never offend you, never be in your face, and never leave you wanting for better imaging, soundstage or realism.
It’s bass is lighter than the others but it’s also much more tuneful. You can hear every detail in the bass much like the Chord DAVE, so it’s musical even though it’s not as weighty as something like the Hifi Rose or Weiss. It invites you into a vast, expansive and beautiful haunting musical soundscape and keeps you there.
The Denafrips Terminator PLUS is a true reference DAC. It’s high end and competes with DAC’s up to and even over the $10k price bracket. It comes in at around $6400 in the USA when buying direct from Vinshine Audio, who sent me this DAC to check out and review.
While there is no such thing as “the best” for all there is such a thing as “the best” for YOU. These audio pieces will sound different depending on what you hook them up to but they will retain the same overall character of sound that I describe here. The T+ is one DAC that offers up amazing magical digital to analog conversion. It uses high end hand picked parts and is built to last you a lifetime.
The sound is wide open, smooth, detailed, transparent but always brings a ethereal magical performance. The imaging is about perfect. It’s not tight, constricted nor sloppy. The artists from well recorded music are placed where they should be but they never sound etched nor is there any hint of that old digital hash so many DAC’s used to bring in. When I inserted the T PLUS the sound was easy to peg as very high end. It does well with all music, even my Spotify streaming sounds unreal good.
Truth be told, overall it did better in my system than my nearly $10k reference in areas of soundstage size, imaging and that holographic 3D presentation. It offered up a smoother and airier sound that was more 3D and spatial than the Weiss 501. The 501 has its own special qualities that others do not but if you want wide open, smooth and holographic the Denafrips Terminator PLUS is one to check out. I have not heard better in these areas from ANY DAC.
As I wrote this I listened to a playlist from Marissa Nadler using the Hifi Rose 150b as a streamer. Listening to “Elegy” from her Path of the Clouds album was a magical ethereal and beautiful mind relaxing treat. My stress melted as I sat and heard this voice, her voice, pop out into my room and sing just for me. The smooth sounds, instruments and textures were stunning with the T+ running the show.
I have heard this kind of thing before in something like the Chord DAVE but to have it in a DAC at almost half the cost is extraordinary. With more humanity and warmth to boot.
THE END GAME?
If you are looking for a DAC that you can install and forget about knowing you have one of the nicest sounding music machines available then you must hear the Denafrips Terminator PLUS.
You can read more about it or buy one at the Vinshine Audio website HERE.
PROS AND CONS of the T+
- It’s one of the most refined and magical dacs I have heard up to $10k.
- It’s built to last you a lifetime.
- You can expand on it by adding a DCC reclocker making it even better.
- Sound is very wide open, detailed and very 3D in the right systems.
- It has body but the bass is more tuneful and tight. Nothing exaggerated.
- It never sounds digital to me. No hash, dirt or grain at all.
- It’s dead quiet.
- Matches DACs that cost much much more. So it’s kind of a deal.
- Vinshine Audio has fantastic top tier support.
- It’s very musical, natural and welcoming in the way it presents the music.
- It’s heavy and large. Make sure you have the space!
- You must buy from outside of the USA (but I have not seen issues due to this at all).
- Some may be bothered that there is no remote.
- Menu configuration can be a bit tricky.