The Denafrips Terminator PLUS 12th Anniversary Review
By Steve Huff
It’s been almost six months since I reviewed the last Denafrips DAC that was shipped to me to check out. That was the wonderful Terminator PLUS which was the flagship DAC from Denafrips and it was indeed a world class DAC. It creeped up into position as one of the top 3 DACs that I have heard, and I have heard quite a few high end DACs over the last couple of years!
DACs from Chord (Dave, Qutest, TT2), Weiss (501), Lab 12 (Reference), DCS (Lina and Clock), Holo MAY, Playback Designs, Luxman, Jays Audio, Mola Mola and of course Denafrips.
Since I wrote that review back in June I still have had memories of the Terminator PLUS and the beautiful music it made in my system. Even though it was not the most expensive DAC I have heard, it is up there in sound quality with other pieces in the $10k range though it came in for thousands less.
Now Denafrips has released The 12th Anniversary Terminator Plus
A few weeks ago I received an email from Alvin Chee over at Vinshine Audio. He asked if I would like to review the new Terminator PLUS 12th Anniversary Edition DAC. This is an ever further refinement of the Terminator DAC and one that Alvin feels competes with any DAC on the market. It is without question the best DAC Denafrips makes today and while it looks the same as the PLUS version, there is a new 12th Anniversary logo on bottom right of the front faceplate.
When the review unit came in I saw it was all black. I prefer silver but the black looks mighty nice as well. Being able to check out both colors of this unique DAC in house I feel that the silver looks more luxurious and the black a bit more under the radar. The DAC is still heavy of course, weighing in at a whopping 41lbs as it is truly a Terminator PLUS with some enhancements. Three of them to be exact.
What is NEW?
While the changes do not seem to be huge changes at first glance, I have detected an even more refined sound than before and I will talk about this down below, but first let us take a look at the changes made to the PLUS model in this 12th Anniversary Edition…
Gold, Silver, Copper shielded alloy O-Core transformers.
Optimized Critical Circuitry – Further reduces noise, enhances tonal density, ultra resolution
- Direct FPGA processing of I2S, SPDIF Signals without intermediate converter, Shorter signal path.
Denafrips says this is their “Flagship DAC Re-Imagined” and I was curious as to what these changes would do to the sound vs the PLUS model. Without a PLUS here for direct side by side it may be tough but after two weeks of listening to the new 12th edition Terminator PLUS I was once again sucked in to the music. Some DACs can reproduce music in a dry way or lean way, but the T+12th is all about flow, rhythm, musicality, bringing forth those small details in an organic way and yes, scale.
This DAC creates a soundstage quite a bit larger than even my $20k DCS Lina and Clock combo.
If you have not read my Terminator PLUS review I suggest you do so HERE. I mention this as the new 12th still sounds like a PLUS but there are some improvements made to the sound. Overall my review of the standard PLUS can and does pertain to this 12th when it comes to everything else besides these sound refinements.
But It Looks the Same!
Yes indeed the build is the same, design is the same, and it looks exactly the same as the previous plus model. This is an update to the flagship, that makes it a bit better than before. This new 12th has some extra sugar on top with the enhancements so let me get to the sound. I will also compare the DAC to other DACs from DCS, Chord and Weiss.
When I installed the 12th into my system that is comprised of my Fleetwood Deville SQ speakers with a Luxman 595 ASE for power duties. I am using Nordost Red Dawn cabling throughout and also have a Michi X3 integrated amp on hand as well for comparisons.
Within my system I heard a very similar sound to the Terminator PLUS but there were some differences.
IT’s LIKE DEEP SPACE
The first thing I noticed was that the background silence was even a deeper black than before. When we have noise free components in our system it allows the music to breathe easier out of your speakers. It allows our ears to hear nothing but the music and therefore the details emerge with an ease that is heard to describe.
The 12th anniversary plus truly has a deeper than black silence about it. In between notes I heard absolutely nothing but blackness. It stood out and I do not remembering being this impressed with the original plus in this regard.
For streaming duties I was using the latest budget streamer from iFi called the NEO STREAM. This little guy is amazing for the money it costs and exceeds the blue sound node in all ways (even has a nice DAC built in that sounds wonderful) and while I am not a fan of the looks, the function is superb. Allows use of almost any streaming service via their own apps. No dedicated app is needed to use it, and it works fantastic as a streamer. It also features active noise canceling and fully balanced circuitry for under $1300.
Also, do know that I do use power purification in my system in the form of a Puritan Audio PSM 156. When I reviewed the plus in June I had a PS Audio P20 doing power duties. Even so, I noticed a deeper blacker silence about the 12th Anniversary model. It was rather stunning when playing music that had silence in between notes or verses. That silence was SILENT without any trace of hiss, noise or hum.
The second thing I noticed was it seemed as if detail retrieval has ticked up a notch and I mean micro and macro details. I was hearing things I never heard, and that is a tough thing for any audio product to do for these ears. The way details emerged were very beautiful indeed. This DAC has a way of bringing forth music with a gentle flow, emotion and refinement. It’s smooth but in no way does it ever enter dull territory. It has world class resolution but it is does not sound forward or lean. It has a slight warmth yet it will not sound mushy, flat or boring.
Pretty remarkable what DAC tech is doing these days and while this is a $7500 USD priced DAC it’s up there with the big guns as far as performance goes, surpassing some that I have heard in the $10k range.
It is interesting as 10 years ago most DACs sounded very digital. I am talking about a top end harshness, flatness and grunge. These days the nicer DACs sound refined, smooth, and they far surpass that old “Analog” sound we have tried to mimic with digital for decades. Todays best digital, IMO, exceeds the sound quality of vinyl. The Terminator PLUS 12th does this with ease. Even my $13k retail analog front end (Luxman PD-151, Luxman MC Cart, Pass Labs XP-17, Red Dawn Cables) doesn’t compare to what the T+ 12th is doing in regards to all out sound quality.
I have found over the years that the DAC within a system can really bring the life, breath and beauty out from our digital music of choice and the Denafrips flagship delivers a heck of a lot of life from digital sources. It doesn’t excel in only one type of music, rather it can play just about anything and sound refined, smooth, musical, highly detailed and it delivers this sound with body and a gentle ease that is very addicting.
This is not a DAC that sounds forward, rather it seems its only job is to create beautiful music. Remember, there is no streamer built into this DAC so you will need a source for your digital music to stream into the T+12th.
The hookups, ins and outs are the same as the PLUS model I reviewed in June.
- Proprietary R2R + DSD Architecture
- True balanced 26BIT R2R + 6BIT DSD (32 steps FIR Filters)
- Matched Precision Thin Film 0.005% R-2R Network Arrays
- Encapsulated Flagship Ultra Low Noise Power Supply
- High Purity Gold+Silver+Copper Alloy AC Transformers
- High-end Oven Controlled Crystals OCXO
- Adaptive FIFO Buffer Reclocking
- Direct Digital Signal Processing FPGA
- DSD1024, PCM1536 Supports On USB & I²S Input
- Proprietary USB Audio Solution via STM32F446 Advanced AMR Based MCU
- Licensed Thesycon USB Driver For Windows Platform
- Driverless On Mac & Linux
- Dual AES/EBU Input Supports
- Sharp/Slow Filters Option
- I²S Pinout Configuration
- I²S DSD Channel Swap Configuration
- DSD64 (DoP) on Coax/AES/Opt Input
- DSD1024* On USB & I²S Input Only
- 24bits / 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192KHz On All Input
- 1536kHz* On USB & I²S Input
Sampling Mode: Non-Oversampling NOS / Oversampling OS
- Coax via RCA
- TOSLink x 1
- AES/EBU x 2
- USB2.0 Type B
- I²S via HDMI LVDS
- I²S via RJ45 LVDS
- I²S via RJ45 LVCMOS
- RCA at 2.0Vrms, 625 Ω
- XLR at 4.0Vrms, 1250 Ω
Clock Output BNC 75Ω
- 44.1KHz, 48KHz
- 22.5774Mhz, 24.576Mhz
- 45.1548MHz, 49.152Mhz
The Terminator 12th also comes with a three year warranty.
Seeing that I just reviewed the PLUS six months ago there is not much I can say about the 12th as it is in spirit, in essence, in reality almost the same DAC with some improvements that do up the sound game, though the sound signature is similar between the two.
The 12th is a DAC for those who want the “Ultimate” DAC that Denafrips can make. If you love the sound of the Denafrips DACs they all have a similar house sound, and it’s truly a beautiful sound. When you move up the range you get more of the GOOD and that good keeps going until the last stop which is the Terminator PLUS 12th Anniversary.
This DAC is for those audiophiles who are picky and always searching for the best you can find. While there are DACs that cost 2-3X of what this Denafrips 12th does do not assume they are “better”. I recently heard a near $24k DAC that was mighty impressive but in realty not really more so than my Lina & Clock and this 12th!
VS THE TERMINATOR PLUS
VS the previous plus version the 12th does appear to add more refinement to the sound. We hear this more as we turn up the volume as well and everything stays composed and rich. It has a blacker background and therefore we hear more resolution and details emerging. The sound remains smooth and velvet like, even more so than before, but vocals are deep and slightly richer than before. It’s all about those micro and macro details though.
As awesome as the standard plus is at this, the 12th does it a little better. The sound is full and never gets lean though it never gets bloated, which is nice. I would say the 12th is indeed improved in sound vs the last PLUS model. It’s not night and day but it is noticeable and appreciated. I wouldn’t sell my PLUS for the 12th, but if I were looking for a new flagship type of DAC the 12th would be on my list without question.
What you can expect from the 12th is a very nice wide but natural soundstage, natural imaging, an organic smooth flow and musicality with class leading retrieval of micro and macro details. These details come forth in such a way that we know we are listening to a performance rather than a recording. This isn’t a warm muffled kind of sound, rather it is alive and fresh yet with a smooth refinement that makes you just get into the groove. Sounds like music to me.
VS THE DCS LINA AND CLOCK
The DCS Lina is a DAC I fell for quite easily and I love it even more now than when I initially received it. I bought this DAC on my own and reviewed it on this site along with a video on my YouTube channel. I was then contacted by DCS who sent me the clock to test out with the DAC. After a few weeks with the Clock I could not send it back as it made a nice but delicate difference within my system.
The DCS Lina is also a full sounding DAC with meat and density but it’s also more forward than the Denafrips. The DCS has more energy to the sound and music, instruments and voices come out further into the room with the Lina. The DCS is not bright in any way (nor is it lean) but it is not as velvet like nor does the music flow as effortless as the Denafrips. It It also creates a smaller soundstage but this smaller stage is more focused with a more precise imaging performance.
They bring forth different sound presentations. The Lina is more forward the Denafrips is more laid back. For the BASS win, well that goes to the Lina as it does bring forth a deeper lower register but I feel the mids of the Denafrips are richer and have more depth. The DCS is not as silky up top as the Terminator 12th. The 12th is slightly warmer and richer sounding than the DCS yet the DCS brings forth a more exciting listen. Instruments are more separated with the Lina but they sound natural with the Denafrips. This will come down to personal preference as to which sound you prefer.
If I remove the clock from the Lina the fight gets closer and there were days I preferred the Denafrips and days I chose the Lina as my fave. But DAC vs DAC, this is a tough fight as both are just beautiful music makers. Just an FYI the T+12th is $4k less in cost than the Lina on its own.
VS THE WEISS 501
As much as I love this DAC, and it’s also a top tier choice, the Lina and the Terminator 12th edge this one out for me. It seems DACs are sounding better and better each year and the older Weiss may be showing its age when compared to the other two. It is sharper in the treble, has more weight in the mids but less down below. I still feel this DAC brings forth a studio kind of sound, a more “correct” sound. The Weiss is over $9k, the Terminator PLUS 12th is $7500 or so.
The Terminator is also expandable and you can improve upon it down the road by adding a clock to it (See Denafrips Clock option Here). Just as DCS is known for their clocks that improve their own DAC’s the Denafrips offerings are also upgradable in this way. I have never tried a Denafrips Clock but if I were to buy a T+ 12th I would 100% buy a clock to go with it.
With my Lina the clock added more clarity to the sound, better detail retrieval and a more focused yet beautiful sound. I hear the reverb trails from the studio or venue much easier with the clock. Adding a clock to the Denafrips would do the same kind of things though out of the box the T + 12th is mighty impressive.
PROS of the T+ 12th?
The Build. Top notch build. As I said in my PLUS review, this thing may outlive YOU. It’s solid if not understated.
The Sound. The is what it is all about after all, and the 12th PLUS brings some of the most refined sounds I have heard from my digital streaming. Deep, rich, layered with amazing detail retrieval. It has body and some warmth as well.
Support. Vinshine Audio is where you go to purchase a Denafrips DAC and their support is simply awesome.
Competition. This hangs with DACs in the $10k range with ease. It’s as good as many top tier DACs in sound quality.
Versatility. Add one of the Denafrips clocks to upgrade it even further. With the many connection options you are all set no matter what you want to hook up to the DAC.
Filters: This DAC can be run in NOS mode without any upsampling or it can upsample. I preferred the NOS mode during my time with the T+ 12th but these filters can help fine tune the sound to your tastes as they are subtle rather than jarring in what they do.
The FEET. As I sit and write about how glorious this thing sounds I do have a couple of things I would like to see improved. For one, the feet. It comes with three “feet” that are not attached to the unit and these feet fit right in with the slim small attached feet underneath the DAC. I would prefer if it had feet that were fully attached as it can be a pain to get the little metal round rubberized feet perfectly under the feet on the unit.
NO REMOTE. This is not a con to me but I do know many of you love your DACs to have a remote. My Lina doesn’t have one, neither does this one.
CUSTOMIZATION. This DAC is a little confusing to configure as there is no screen, just buttons. We have to press this button and that button a certain number of times to get into a menu and watch out for the small red lights to know what modes we are in. It’s a bit tricky until you figure it out. The manual shows everything we need to know, but in a perfect world there would be an easier way to set the DAC up.
While not a huge change from the Terminator PLUS there are differences here in the new 12th anniversary edition from Denafrips due to the improvements they made here. So yes it is an upgraded PLUS model and the best DAC Deanfrips makes as of November 2022. Yes it looks the same and yes the improvements are not many but what they have done here to the flagship DAC model is make it as good as they possibly could.
This is the best DAC Denafrips makes and the price reflects this. While it is mighty expensive for a China made DAC sold only from a dealer in Singapore I look at it as getting a $12k DAC for $7500. This is because it is just as good as some of these other flagships from bigger name brands (where we pay a premium for the name).
Every high end DAC I have heard has a “House Sound” of sorts. Chord has their house sound which is extreme detail retrieval in a forward WOW kind of nature that reveals everything, warts and all, in the recordings. DCS is about density, richness and detail but it is not over the top in any way. Weiss is more about recreating a master tape studio kind of sound. Holo May has the warmth, body and richness much like the Denafrips but I feel the T+ 12th pulls out more micro and macro details than Holo (I have heard the top flasgship from Holo May just a few weeks ago).
Denafrips sound is really more about musicality above all else. I feel as this DAC digs deep into the recordings without an excess of anything. It doesn’t have the biggest bass or the most tipped up treble but the Denafrips sound is rich, layered and exquisite. You get the best of their sound in this 12th Anniversary PLUS model.
The 12th PLUS is an addicting DAC and one that can be listened to for hours on end without getting bored. While I still love the PONTUS II in the Denafrips lineup as I feel its the best bang for the buck that they sell, once you hear the PLUS 12th it will be tough to un-hear it. No one “needs’ such a fancy DAC to appreciate music but if your system has top shelf gear installed, the Denafrips will be right at home in that kind of system.
Yes, even if you have a $100k system the Terminator PLUS 12th will fit right in. It’s that good.
I can also highly recommend the Pontus II for those with a more modest system. It’s a killer DAC and under $2k ($1700) which makes it the best DAC I have heard in the $2-$3500 price range without question.
What about if you own the older PLUS already? Well, if so I would say you do not need to upgrade unless you want the best Denafrips makes. There are improvements but if I owned the plus already I doubt I would sell at a loss to spend more. If you are shopping for a new DAC up to $10k though, the Denafrips should be in your radar if you enjoy music that flows with ease, beauty and musicality with immense detail retrieval and resolution. Yes, all while staying somewhat warm and with a very nice flow to the music. This is a beast of a DAC and it was my pleasure to evaluate it for a while. I enjoyed every second of it.