Review sample supplied by Vinshine Audio
Retail price including 21% VAT: 7.000 euro
My first contact with Alvin Chee of Vinshine Audio was for reviewing the Jay’s Audio CDT-2Mk2 CD transport and the DAC-2 Signature and later for reviewing the Denafrips Venus DAC. That’s when I learned that Denafrips was something special. As is clearly articulated in the review I truly enjoyed the Jay’s components but even if the Venus did not do everything as well, my time with it made it very clear that the Denafrips performed on an entirely different audiophile level. At that time already knowing of the Terminator’s existence, and having read so many glowing reviews, I quickly agreed when Alvin asked me to review the latest and greatest range-topping Terminator Plus DAC. Since the DAC had just been reviewed by fellow reviewer Jaap of Alpha Audio who is also based in the Netherlands, the unit could be in my hands in a matter of days.
Upon receipt, the unit proved suitably heavy and is impressively built. All of its edges are finished smoothly and all the buttons work precisely and confidently. The indicator LEDs are fitted Jeff-Rowland-style: highly sophisticated with tiny holes and precisely trimmed to the right brightness. Its origins are only visible in the quality of the aluminum which, somehow, often looks a little spotty or unpolished with products (or enclosures) of direct Chinese origin. Please note that I made sure to clean the unit prior to taking any photos, so what you’re seeing is not dirt or fingerprints. On the inside, however, the unit is absolutely top-shelf.
The Terminator Plus can be seen as the non-plus-ultra version of the 3.750 euro (+VAT) Terminator II, which is the bigger brother of the Venus II, of which I reviewed the original Venus version a while ago.
Above: Terminator II, below: Terminator Plus
Since the Terminator II is actually the trickle-down version of the Terminator Plus, the two DACs are very similar not only externally, but also internally. According to a quote from the manufacturer, the main differences between the II and the Plus are the curved aluminum front panel, precision, hand-picked, premium OCXO, and hand-picked R-2R resistors. Further, it’s mentioned in the specifications that the dual OCXO’s are powered by a completely redesigned power supply circuitry. And indeed, from looking at pictures of the two DACs’ internals, I can see that the clocks in the new model have a different and larger enclosure, and four big red square capacitors (presumably big WIMAs) have been replaced by large rows of smaller WIMA MKS types. All the other capacitors are Elna Silmic II types.
Seek the differences… I know it’s unreadable in this size but, trust me, each and every parameter has the same value for the Terminator II and Terminator Plus, except for the Total Harmonic Distortion and Noise, which went down from 0.0018 to 0.0010%. While these numbers are vanishingly small and may not mean much for the end result, it has been proven time and again that component changes can have significant audible effects even when they are not measurable using the standard methods.
Above: Terminator II, below: Terminator Plus
The Terminator Plus contains the company’s fourth proprietary generation of discrete-resistor 26Bit R-2R for PCM decoding and 6Bit DSD hardware decoding with 32 steps FIR filters. DSD64 DoP and PCM 24bit 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192 kHz is accepted on all inputs while DSD1024 and PCM 1536 kHz are accepted on USB & I²S Input Only. Speaking of which, the USB connection is a proprietary solution implemented via an STM32F446 advanced AMR-based MCU. The I²S Pinout can be configured according to the PS Audio or the Denafrips standard.
The core conversion R-2R module is constructed using 0.005% high precision, 10ppm low thermal effect precision resistors. Each channel uses more than 500pcs of these precision resistors, or 1000pcs for two channels which, according to the manufacturer, amounts to 4 times more than other typical R-2R DACs. The Digital Processing Board and R-2R ladder network arrays are completely isolated, physically linked only by the OCXO module.
The dual OCXO’s operate at 45.1584Mhz and 49.152Mhz. Encapsulated in a metal casing and 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 Terminator Plus’ high-precision OCXO’s can be utilized not only internally by the DAC itself, but its dual clock outputs can also be used to synchronize external devices that support audio frequencies of 44.1KHz, 48KHz, 22.5792Mhz, 24.576Mhz, 45.1584MHz, or 49.152Mhz. Alternatively, the DAC can be synced to an external clock, for instance, the Denafrips Gaia.
Jitter is addressed by a reclocking FIFO buffer. The adaptive buffer stores the digital audio data in memory, from which the data is read using the ultra-low phase noise, ultra-accuracy OCXO after which the data is converted to analog by the true balanced R-2R ladder network arrays. The linearity of the conversion is guaranteed by the high-precision thin-film resistors, with a low thermal effect temperature coefficient of 10/15ppm.
The unit is powered by a fully encapsulated dual O-Core linear power supply with separate transformers for the analog and digital sections. The power supply is built using ultra-low ESR, long-endurance reservoir capacitors, and multi-stage linear regulation. The supply is built within a separate metal alloy enclosure that is mounted underneath the DAC board, with an additional steel plate divider for extra shielding. According to the manufacturer, this box-within-a-box design eliminates the inherent problems of dual box solutions and is a big reason for the DAC’s capability to present micro-details.
The Terminator Plus (as well as the TII) offers a wealth of inputs: 1x Coax, 1x Toslink, 2x AES/EBU. 1x I²S on HDMI, 2x I²S on RJ45, and 1x USB.
For this review, I used my main system, in the basis consisting of the CH C1 DAC, CH A1.5 power amp, and Magico S1 MkII speakers. For digital sources, I will use the Grimm MU1 and Antipodes K50 music servers, and the Aqua LinQ network interface/streaming endpoint with the Core+NAA module. For the bulk of the comparisons, I will use the Aqua Formula xHD DAC with V2 output board. As my main CH DAC is normally connected directly to the power amp, I also have the Audio GD Master 1 preamp that I will use when comparing the Denafrips and Aqua DACs’ fixed outputs.
Although I have recently added the AudioQuest Fire interlink to my arsenal and it quickly became my preferred link between the CH DAC and amp, it costs more than the Denafrips DAC which makes it a match that precious few people would probably make. And also, I wanted to use the same brand and model of cable for all connections as part of this review. And thus, I mostly used my other favorite cables, the Driade Flow Link Reference 808 RCA and XLR between DAC and preamp, as well as between preamp and power amp.
NOS/OS and Filtering
Since the Aqua is a non-filtering DAC, I also used the Terminator Plus in the NOS mode. This is indicated by a lit orange LED above the NOS button. Confusingly, the Phase Invert function works in reverse, counter-intuitively using a lit LED to indicate positive phase. When using oversampling (the OS mode), the filter can be switched between slow and fast roll-off. The procedure for this also works confusingly by pressing Mute and then Mode once or twice and then checking a lit 1x LED to indicate slow roll-off or the 1x LED off to indicate a fast roll-off.
I listened to all settings and although I can imagine situations in which one might prefer the oversampled sound either with slow or fast roll-off, I had a preference for the NOS setting (no oversampling and no filtering) as it sounded most articulate and direct.
The unit that I received was already run in but Alvin of Vinshine Audio did warn me to make sure to give the DAC enough time to warm up. Of course, I did so, but that did not stop me from doing a comparison from a cold start. Well, it wasn’t straight out of the box as I did let it acclimatize for a day after delivery but I did listen to it right after switching it on. Well, I must say that I couldn’t fault its reproduction. Maybe it was a little lean and perhaps a little cold, but if this was the unit sounding “bad”, then there must be something in store for later! While listening to the unit for several days, honestly, I can’t say that its sound changed very much. Perhaps it got a little warmer overall and maybe a little bit fuller down below but we’re really talking nuances here.