As with many DACs, the power cord matters. The Furutech DPS-4 and Snake River Audio Cottonmouth Signature Series complement the Denafrips Terminator tonally. In addition, the more affordable Vovox Textura does a decent job as well.
In addition, for a more spacious and clear sound, go with the High Fidelity Cables CT-1 Ultimate or Synergistic Research UEF Level 3. As for silky and liquid, the Verastarr Grand Illusion 3 and Purist Audio Design Dominus AC are great choices.
Not all inputs are made equal. Certainly, some are better at isolating noise than others and are processed differently.
With the Terminator being intrinsically laidback, using the coaxial input pushed it back even further – and flattened the soundstage. Therefore, the USB remained the input I used for the review.
Unfortunately, I could not test the I2S input.
Update 3/26/2019: Many of you have asked for a test with the I2s input – which is the recommended input for this DAC. Mike Powell was kind enough to send an Audiobyte Hydra Z USB-to-I2S converter for testing. These were my findings:
- The I2S input is much better than the coaxial input in every way – although the coaxial input does have a warmer tone. The USB input has an even warmer tone.
- The I2S has a tonal tilt towards treble.
- I2S presents the most detail, transparency, and particularly transient speed and clarity out of all the inputs. This is apparent with bowed stringed instruments. Overall just an enormous amount of brilliance, texture, and air. It’s also the quietest.
- The I2S is more light-footed, clean, and refined. There’s more perspective as far as depth and insightful resolution. Reverberations decay and settle more fluently.
- The USB input doesn’t have the laser outlines and focus of the I2S but has a much more organic tone. This may have the perfect balance for some ears.
- The coaxial input sounds very flat, fuzzy, and slow versus the I2S. There’s a dramatic difference in clarity and delineation. The I2S is also quieter with a controlled and effortless vibrancy. As mentioned, the coaxial does have a warmer and calmer tone.
In comparison to optical and coaxial inputs, the USB input:
- Has more musical layers and dimension in the music.
- Sounds more forward.
- Presents more accurate timbre.
- Relays more textural nuances.
- Has a more open and free-spirited midrange.
As far as USB cables, the Mad Scientist Audio Black Magic USB cable complements the Denafrips Terminator. It provides sweeter, tonal satisfaction with more warmth and weight. Consequently, it’ll trade off some clarity and resolution for more bloom and “tube-like” qualities.
However, if you prefer something more airy, shiny, and resolving, the Danacable TruStream is another great choice. In addition, clamping on some ferrites will make the sound denser and darker but less open. I found two ferrite chokes were enough for this specific USB cable.
Update 3/7/2019: The Iconoclast OFE speaker cables will provide a richer coating (more heavy-handed vs USB and power cord). Voices have a more natural warmth and body to them. Once again, this will be at the expense of some sparkle, focus, and detail (quite noticeable vs the Danacable). This brings the sound closer to the tone of the other DACs in this comparison – but still relatively less warm.
The Synergistic Research passive ground block with their HD ground cables handled all grounding duties.
I didn’t hear major differences from grounding the digital XLR inputs – perhaps a slight tightening in the midrange. The XLR analog outputs layered out more texture and a more spacious soundstage. Musical pieces also had more shape and silk to them. The trade is a cooler sound.
In short, grounding the Denafrips Terminator doesn’t seem necessary, but could be something you’ll like.
This Denafrips Terminator review unit came with built-in (adhesive) spiked isolation feet. It should be easy to install your own footers onto the recessed grooves.
To NOS or not to NOS?
In oversampling (OS) mode, PCM streams are upsampled to a maximum of 352.8/384 kHz and DSD to DSD256. Bear in mind, the 1X, 2X, 4X, and 8X indicators on the front panel are input rates.
I’ve listened to both modes quite extensively. In every case, I felt enabling NOS (disabling oversampling) sounded better. That is to say, overall timing and coherence are better. It’s also more wholesome, full-bodied, and provides a tonal balance that works for me.
On the other hand,
One interesting thing to note – the oversampling mode seems to sound better when fed DSD64. It imparts a fuller and smoother midrange while sweetening the highs. This includes some PCM tracks converted to DSD from Roon. One example is Les Passants by Zaz (Tidal). It sounds far better when converted to DSD64 first. Even then, I still think NOS sounds less detailed but more natural.
Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler
The Hugo M Scaler will improve focus, spatial clarity, dynamics, and bass definition of the Denafrips Terminator. It just sounds more analog. The tradeoff is warmth.
As mentioned above, the USB input of the Denafrips Terminator sounds much better than the BNC coaxial. And thus the Denafrips Terminator doesn’t benefit as heavily from the Hugo M Scaler. The qualities of the M Scaler is there but the sonic foundation is a little thin.
Lastly, I’d like to point out the Chord Electronics Hugo M Scaler was only used to test the digital inputs. A direct USB connection from the