DENAFRIPS Terminator and Schiit Yggdrasil Evaluation and Comparison

The Evaluation and Comparison of my Denafrips Terminator and Schiit Yggdrasil DACs is posted in full, here:

Main body of my 'review' is copied and posted below.

For details on my Methodology, System and Room Information, and Music Selection please go to the second section (similarly titled) after opening the link.
"This is a story of contrasts, significant and relevant to me. A story of something new and unknown that upends and unseats something familiar and remarkably good in it’s own right.

I remember John Darko’s review of the HiFiMan HE-1000 headphones that was all of one sentence:

"The HE-1000 headphones are to music what the Oculus Rift is to computer gaming."

Sometimes the best choice is to be direct. So I will.

Similar minimalism could wishfully avoid writing. A set of two photographs in one frame, the picture is worth a thousand words approach: The Yggdrasil sitting in a corner of the room unused and the Terminator in the main system on the top shelf. One way of saying it. And true.

The Yggdrasil is a very good DAC. When heard in relation to the Terminator it is clearly the lesser DAC. Being a fan of the Yggdrasil and having lived with it for 2 plus years I had a natural bias to want it to shine and be close in performance, perhaps even overachieve. It wasn’t and didn’t. This became apparent track after track, and without exception. I kept telling myself that there would be an area or areas that I would prefer it over the Terminator but there were none. And for, me that is the most surprising and revelatory outcome. I expected the Terminator to do well but with closer differences and separation. The differences were not close and the Terminator didn’t just do well, it excelled.

This was not a case of new component excitement. I have lived with the Terminator in my system since early November and have become as intimately familiar with it as I have with the Yggdrasil. This was also not a case of listening in a vacuum or my own bubble. I’m especially careful and deliberate about not falling into that trap. My audio friends know the degree to which I reach out to them to run findings, issues and general aspects of our hobby by them, positive and negative.

I was especially concerned because of how wide the gap between the two components is for me. I went the extra step to have an audio friend listen to both the Terminator and the Yggdrasil in his system and then in my system. His impressions and findings are (generally speaking) similar to mine. He had actually been considering a Yggdrasil seriously but what he heard led him to choose the Terminator, very recently in fact. To summarize his findings, in his words: "The Terminator plays in another league."

I’ll highlight two findings with respect to the Yggdrasil. One very surprising aspect was a light haziness or grayness that I had not picked up nor realized prior to having the Terminator in system. Like how small amounts of particulate pollution affect clarity in the sky. Even more surprising was how my system with the Yggy in it, sounded like recorded music, fleshed out only due to the contrast and comparison.

The Yggdrasil is a DAC the Schiit team are rightfully proud of as are numerous owners, myself included. Their flagship DAC has had incredible success in sales numbers and sustains a happy cadre of owners. I personally like and respect Schiit’s business model and I believe Jason and Mike have done more for the hobby by bringing so many into it than most other manufacturers, many combined, in recent years. A tip of the hat to their team for manufacturing a wonderful component that has given me over two years of pleasure. When I get around to setting my office system up it will continue to be a key piece in that system. To up the ante with a call to arms, I’d love to see another all out DAC assault by Mike and Jason and I will gladly commit to one.

On to the Terminator.

When I know that ’I know’ moments aren’t common, yet when they occur they are a proverbial ’wire with gain’ shot to the brain and an effective and unfailing guide to component choice.

Additionally: What do I keep reaching for and what sits unused? What just feels right when first introduced into my system or when re-inserted once fully broken in? Do my notes with single word descriptors or short phrases repeat track after track and become thematic? Does the component have ’a presence’ in my system and does it deliver ’a heightened sense’ of being in the zone musically and emotionally? Does it elicit a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment?

The Terminator checks all of these boxes. It’s performance and place in my system was undeniable.

Music is presented as Fuller and Richer, with Denser Body and Weight yet Transients remain Fast and Leading Edges Sharp and superbly Defined and the Trails and Decays decadent and lengthy. There is a tremendous sense of Presence and Faithfulness in Timing. Harmonics are Expertly Expressed. These areas, in how and to the degree they are rendered with the Terminator, is extraordinary.

Imaging is rock solid (really quite marvelous). The background is blacker with a lower noise floor (superb). Both are remarkably better than the Yggdrasil. Soundstage is wide and deep and 3 dimensional with the listener in the audience pushed back a few rows or conversely the stage moved back somewhat (which I prefer to a more forward presentation). Soundstage is one area where I found the Yggdrasil and Terminator to be relative equals, with the Yggdrasil being more forward.

It’s abilities with Detail, Layering, Separation and Definition, are all the more astonishing given the richness and density extracted from the music and portrayed, both maintained even at the micro-detail / micro-dynamic levels of musical information. First instincts suggested a lack of resolution and transparency...but Resolution and Transparency are outstanding. I find (make that found) the Yggdrasil to be an overachiever in this area. With the Terminator it becomes obvious that the Yggdrasil does well at this with a cost exacted elsewhere. In fact, the Terminator makes it clear as daylight that it is more resolving and transparent than the Yggdrasil while not calling overt attention to this. To me this is astounding because while much more of the detail and musical information is present it is not spotlighted and I found myself slipping into the embrace of the richness and beauty of the musical whole...and this was while critically listening!

It pulses and shimmers and floats with Energy and Vibrancy and Resonance while delivering IMPRESSIVE IMPACT and DYNAMICS. Felt Tension and Emotion are the best I have experienced in any of my systems and most that I have auditioned, save mega dollar statement ones. My system is now more Connective and Engaging than ever. It makes music Alive (vs. just Live) and does a fantastic job at creating the illusion of Performance Space and transporting me THERE! Yes, as in, I AM THERE.

There is a Rightness and Truthfulness delivered with nuance, delicacy, sweetness, sadness, anger, beauty, rawness, etc. etc. all musically painted with resolute naturalness.

Simply put, it gets music and musical performance RIGHT. And in doing so, is so so very satisfying.

Closing Words.

When conducting these evaluations it is easy to focus on the component and lose sight of the whole. I take a system level view and hear and interpret these findings as system related. In other words, the rest of the system allows the Terminator to showcase itself and it’s potential. Without this system, my system, the findings may well be different. Without the guy (me) that is busy typing the letters of the English alphabet on this digital page and his unique to him musical experience and journey, the findings may well be different.

I would like to recognize and congratulate Mr. Zhao of DENAFRIPS for his STUNNING electronic creation. Bravo! Please accept my deep bow of appreciation for the joy your Terminator DAC has brought to my home and my enjoyment of music.

I also want to tip my hat to all of the manufacturers and their teams for designing and building the components and cabling and peripherals of my system, all of which allow me to experience the expression of human creativity and beauty through the musical art form.


Next Steps.

For me, there is nothing endgame about this hobby. I believe ’endgame’ is one’s personal choice to end the game for themselves. It is not bound by the component.

My journey with one DAC has come to an end and is just starting with another. Will there be other partners in the future, I sure as heck hope so. Stay tuned."

Above is copied from:
David, thank you, I hope I will hear both this two DACs at Axpona 2018...Iam waiting to see if Stereophile or Absolute sound was able to review the Terminator..
@david_ten, thanks for a very comprehensive review and I’m not surprised that it betters the Yggdrasil. Other forums posters have compared the Denafrips favourably with more expensive dacs such as from Total and dCS. If you get a chance I suggest you try a Mola Mola dac, the MM would be a step up again in performance I believe.
@jayctoy Thank you. Do you know if Denafrips will be actively shown and demoed at Axpona?

@toteapaudio Thank you for you comments. I will make an effort to listen to the Mola Mola here in the US. Where are you located in the U.K.?

BTW, I love the simple and elegant layout of your site. Beautifully done. Boenicke speakers are already on my list. : )
I don’t doubt the Denafrips sounds fantastic. However technically I have a bit of trouble with the outlandish claim of 26 bits resolution. I smell a rat that may have been released by the Denafrips marketing department. (Not unlike Yggdrasil which have dubious technical claims also - usual audiophile marketing hyperbole as some would regard this)

26 bit capability requires precision of 1 in 67 million. This resolution requires a tolerance of 0.0000015%on the resistors.

The designers claim they actually use 0.005% tolerance resistors which is technically between 14 and 15 bits resolution.

The only thing that could solve this fact of physics or mathematics is if the designer is using a very large number of resistors and randomizes the selection every clock cycle. In theory you get a reduction in noise by the square root of the number of resistors.

Applying mathematics again, to get to 0.0000015% accuracy (26 bit resolution) from 0.005% tolerance on an individual resistor would require 11 million resistors.

Can anyone with more technical knowledge about the Denafrips Terminator design confirm if they are randomizing more than 11 million resistors to create an output per individual channel? Overall the design should have at least 22 million R-2R resistors for two channels in order to meet the stated resolution of 26 bits - can anyone confirm this is what they have done?

Now that Mr Spock has fully weighed in, I wish to thank you for this review.

As with all things audio, the proof is in the listening and you have captured this in your writing. Congrats!


Thanks David for the beautiful write up, I own the Termy too

and you have put into words what I couldn't express.

I love this DAC to bits and it's definitely a keeper for me.

Perhaps one day I will give it to my son, this component is

too good to be sold.



I share the sentiments expressed above.  This is  a well written and prepared review that clearly details the differences between the 2 DACs and their individual sonic characters. The Terminator is it would seem  a superb sounding DAC. Excellent report. 
@david_ten, thank you for your kind words about our site. Boenicke are indeed beautiful speakers, both in looks and sound. They partner Mola Mola extremely well and combined with Sablon cables and fidata source, the system is stunning. Yes, we are in the U.K. The distributor in USA for Boenicke is Audio Prana who have made some very nice YouTube videos you might want to check out. Even the small stand mount W5 throw a big open sound. The W8 is the most popular, but my favourite is the W11. And they are an absolute bargain, like the Denafrips would appear to be.
Great to see my online stalker is still following and as usual has nothing constructive or useful to add.

Anyway I should also thank the OP for a great review and that my query above is genuine and not malicious, you see this design is very much like the latest ESS Sabre chip - thousands of 1 bit delta sigma converters as in the new ESS chip is little different than thousands of R and 2R resistors in the Denafrips DAC...a similar approach perhaps?
Yes, Denafrips will be in Room 1524 at AXPONA!  Not just the Terminator but the full line: Ares, Pontus, Venus, and Terminator.  What's more, they will be all hooked up to the same system and can be switched in for a real-time comparison! So come and hear them for yourself so see if they live up to the hype.  Stay tuned for more details in the days to come.
Thanks for this great review of two fantastic products that you can't typically demo at the local audio dealer.  I'm a happy owner of Gen B Yggy, but I've heard really compelling reviews about the entire Denafrips line.  I can't wait to hear impressions from AXPONA.

Thank you for sharing your in-depth experience with two amazing DAC’s that offers such exceptional value at their respective price points. 

From what I heard so far about Denafrips, I believe it punches way above it’s weight. I hope to hear this amazing DAC in very near future. 
I too, appreciate the review--thanks.  drrnc2
Thanks to all who posted your kind words regarding my 'review' write-up. 

Always great getting positive feedback and it's encouraging as well.

I have a T+A PA 3100 HV integrated amplifier in system (it is a demo opportunity). System performance with the Denafrips DAC feeding it is superlative and it is different from the system sound with the Pass separates.
Thanks for your well written and carefully thought out comparison
of these two great DACs. FWIW I had the good fortune to hear
the Terminator in Singapore in an absolutely fantastic system
comprised of Shindo amps and old Pioneer horns that was unfortunately so different than my set up I couldn’t really determine
what was contributing what to the great sound I was hearing. 
I bought an Yggy because it cost half of what the Terminator cost. I was fortunate to receive one of the first
units with the Gen V USB and the new analog board. I’m very
happy with the Yggy as it’s clearly better IMO than the Ayre QB9 DSD it replaced. It is not as good as my friend’s Nagra Classic which
retails for roughly 6 times more, and I can’t speak to the effect of the new analog output stage.  Even though I’ve heard both DACs,
I haven’t heard the Terminator in my system. (CJ GAT PR 12s B&W
Sig 30s ultraRendu)  PM me or email me at [email protected] if you’d like to chat further. 
Enjoy the Music 
Hi David.

Terrific review. And thank you!

Question. You mention "....with respect to the Yggdrasil. One very surprising aspect was a light haziness or grayness that I had not picked up nor realized prior to having the Terminator in system."

For clarification, I suspect your Yggdrasil is the analog "A" serial number (version), correct? Reason I ask is that by all user accounts thus far, the analog "B" serial number (version) is known/believed to rid the Yggdrasil of this "grayness" and replace it with "blackness".

Admittedly though, given your overwhelming praise for the Terminator, I wouldn’t think that even if you have the Yggy analog B your conclusion would be any different.
As mentioned before that was a great review and only confirmed my suspicions.. One only need look at the hefty power supplies underneath the main boards staring from the pontus and up to realize these are quality units...

Being an Yggdrasil owner myself I’d like to see some direct comparison between yggy and pontus or Venus as they are more in my price range...

The Denafrips DACs for there complexity  are priced very reasonably no doubt taking full advantage of cheap Chinese labour...

Again thanks for the review...
@cjlover   @gdhal  @zoophaugus   Thank you for your kind words!  Also nice to hear that you liked reading it and that it may have been helpful. 

As stated upfront in the comparison, I have the A board in the Yggy. I cannot imagine Mike and Jason implementing the B board if it didn't perform better than the previous one. I'm waiting for more owner feedback before going forward with it because it is a ~$600 (including shipping) cost to me. Once I get it installed and in system, I will post an update. [@ Hal : I'm hopeful that the finding you pointed to, in your post, will be a non issue or much less of one.]

I've had the DENAFRIPS Terminator feeding the T+A PA 3100 HV (on loan) for a number of days now and one standout finding with this pairing within my system, for lack of a better descriptor (and understanding) at this point in time, is "The Absence of a Black Background." The best way to describe it is that the space is Completely Clear, which to me is a major difference in perception than 'Black.' With the Pass Separates I still perceive the background as black. Just another twist in findings due to components and system synergy.
Update on the AXPONA Denafrips demo.  The Venus is in the house (thank you Alvin) and I was able to set it up to play in parallel with the Terminator.
I can do real-time switching between the two for comparison so the demo will work.  Having all four models in the chain will take a little more coordination but it should work fine.
I am expecting the Pontus and Ares soon.
Vinh Vu
Gingko Audio and Danacable
Another update on the Denafrips demo at AXPONA. I am expecting the Ares and the Pontus this week and am planning on a dry run on Saturday afternoon March 31 in Farmingdale NJ. I can hook all 4 DACs and playing them simultaneously for comparison but I think pairwise comparison between two DACs is more effective and practical (it gets too confusing with more than two). I can also compare the Denafrips with any other USB DACs with a passive level-matching device.
PM me if you are interested in participating in the session.
Vinh Vu
Gingko Audio and Danacable
Update on the Denafrips demo at AXPONA.

I got all 4 Denafrips models running in my system, hooked up to the preamp inputs to allow for real-time switching among them. To ensure that the comparison is as valid as possible:

·         Each DAC is connected to the server with a USB cable

·         Selection of music tracks are done via an IPad user interface

·         Fast switching between preamp inputs is done via a remote to minimize delay

·         Volume levels are matched by using an SPL meter measuring a pink noise track

·         If the two DACs have different output levels, use a high-quality passive attenuator to dial down the higher level until the SPL meter reads the same for both DACs.

·         The inputs of the preamp are set up for the DACs without knowledge for the test audience

·         Although not quite a double-blind test, this allows for a fair comparison between the DACs.

Using Roon, the music tracks can be synched perfectly but I found that quick successive switching back and forth between many DACs is too confusing, especially to others in the audience. I found that the best approach is a pair-wise comparison between two DACs, repeating a familiar musical passage on one and then the other. That way, the audience hears the musical performance as a whole and each person can zero in the aspect of the sound he/she is focused in to look for differences without losing the perspective of the whole musical performance.

The demo dry run is scheduled for 2:00 PM Saturday, March 31, in Farmingdale NJ.

Send me your email if you want to participate in the session and I will send details about the logistics.

Promises to be a fun event! And you can legitimately claim to be at the true world premiere introduction of the full line of Denafrips R2R DACs. Bring your own DAC and if we have time we can do a head-to-head shootout under the same controlled conditions described above.

Vinh Vu

Gingko Audio and Danacable

The dry run of the demo was a successful and fun event for everyone involved. The process I had planned on went without a hitch, the feedback was plentiful and helpful, the food was good, the music was great, and the company was even better. What I got out of the meeting were:

- All four models have a similar Denafrips "house sound" that was enjoyed by all
- Even though it was a blind test (none in the audience knew which model was playing until the end when they have already formed and written down their opinion), the results were as expected, with one (explainable) exception - everyone picked the Terminator as their favorite and the models' performances were commensurate with their price points, except the Venus, which sounded a little constricted (less open-sounding). That is probably due to the fact that the Venus had the least number of hours of break-in as compared to the other models (I have had the Terminator for almost 2 months and the Ares and Pontus were review samples). So the Venus needs some more break-in time before AXPONA.
- For the demo at AXPONA, a pairwise comparison between the Terminator and whichever model has the most interest from the audience - e.g., its price point is right - playing the same musical passages in quick successions would be best to show their respective performances.
- The system sounded right with all genres of music and is primed to show off well at the show.

Thanks to all participants, who came from NJ, NY, PA, and MD (whose representative drove 3 hours each way to attend the event, thank you Richard).   AXPONA here we come!
Vinh Vu
Gingko Audio and Danacable
Hi Everyone, I have had the pleasure of spending time with the Termi, and actually perform a thorough live comparison VS Metrum Acoustics Adagio, COS Engineering D1 and Rockna Wavedream Signature Balanced. This is done on Youtube under my moniker OCD Hi-Fi Guy. (not sure if its OK to post a link here or not) If you have halfway decent computer speakers or are listening on headphones even with just a smart phone I can clearly discern the differences. Termi clearly betters Metrum and COS, yet Rockna is a heavyweight not to be pushed around. At this point there has been no final judgement since I agreed to ship my Termi for review and its not back yet. but I will spend more time to determine how things shake out in the end. At this point with maybe 3 days in of comparing before I shipped Termi out, it seems Termi sounds more "analog" for lack of a better term, and Rockna breathes presence and life into recorded music like I have never experienced. Only time will tell how things shake out.