DENAFRIPS Terminator & Jay’s Audio CDT-3 MK2, A Review


Short and sweet, the DENAFRIPS Terminator is a very significant development for me, a game changer. If it is within your budget I highly recommend it for your consideration regardless of the top-end of your budget. Here is where I am coming from. I love music. My passion over a number of decades has been pursuing the hi-fi that can let me hear what musicians want to convey and involve me in their performances. My main rig is vinyl - Acoustical Systems Axiom Arm and Palladian Cartridge, Micro Seki 5000/5500 Turntable & HS-80 Flywheel, Acoustical Systems Omnigon Phono Preamp, custom 8W Class A battery monoblocks, Pioneer Exclusive TAD 2404 Studio Monitors & EnigmaAcoustics Sopranino Electrostatic Supertweeters. It has been a labour of love and undergone years of refinement and now to my ears delivers the musical information I need for me to become immersed in particularly well composed, performed and recorded vinyl.

I have two other rigs, both CD sourced. The first features Rey Audio Kinoshita KM1V Monitors driven by custom 8W Class A battery monoblocks fed by a modified Lightspeed Attenuator with a custom power supply featuring a hand-wound silver wire transformer. Each monoblock, despite its modest 8w Class A continuous rating has two 12v batteries that provide significant instant current.

I listen to CDs for their convenience and the wealth of music that I cannot get on vinyl. But I have found my listening experience lacking, until recently. All is referential and I believe that my current personal standard of reproduction is based on the best that I have sampled to date and that is my vinyl system. If I had never heard this good vinyl playback I guess I would not have been so frustrated with digital. But things are changing for me.

With the Terminator, my digital home reproduction has finally gone from something that just allows me to hear my favourite digitally recorded music to something that makes me stop, focus and listen. The Terminator involves me in the music and every now and then I get that magical moment when the emotion of a track overcomes me. And how does it do that? Information! Information has great significance for my listening experience. What does more accurate information actually mean to me? We euphemistically say that we “see” or “hear”. Do we? My sight is like a digital camera – I have sensors, my eyes transmit the stimuli they have picked up, to my brain which then tries to make sense of the stimuli using a database of previous experiences, and then comes to a conclusion and tells me what I am seeing. This was demonstrated to me by instances where I was not wearing my distance glasses. Once I was walking along a track in low morning light and I saw something on the ground at a reasonable distance such that I could not “see” exactly what that something was. It was darkish and long and lying on the track up ahead of me. This was a potentially hazardous situation so the brain started working quickly. From the raw incomplete data it had it concluded that it was either a snake or a dead tree branch. I observed that as I walked closer and closer the sensory-computing system was looping – the eye sensors were picking up more data and the brain was recomputing it and comparing it to its database and concluding “inconclusive” and the process happened again and again until finally it had enough data and concluded it was a dried tree branch blown onto the path by the wind. And I observed another aspect of this process “filling in the blanks”. I had lost my glasses and had to drive to a location. I wondered how I could do that and found that since I had driven that road so many times in the past, what I could not actually see the brain was part filling in from memory. But this was a strain, a lot of work. My ear system works similarly transmitting sound stimuli it has picked up to my brain to make sense of it from its database of experiences. So the more information my hi-fi information produces and the more accurate that information is, the more easily and quickly I “hear” the music and the more believable and enjoyable becomes my listening experience.

This is cliché but true, with the Terminator every and I mean every CD is revealing treasures I have not heard before and allowing me to understand the music better. And this is to such a degree that I can better appreciate and get more involved in the music. I can hear so so much more in many regards and this is over the total frequency spectrum. I can hear more of the leading edges of guitar plucks. I can hear so much more of the tone and the inner detail of instruments. I can follow individual instruments better in the mix giving me a better understanding of the piece being played. The flow, rhythm, variation of pace and sound pressure are much better rendered bringing pieces alive. I thought I knew “Chester & Lester” by Chet Atkins and Les Paul but there is now so much more being reproduced to enthrall me. There is so much more inner detail and texture of instruments and voices and there is more air around them. Saint-Germain-des-Prés “Revisité” is now soaked in ambience and the detail of the instruments and voices is now really something to hear. The Terminator’s reproduction of the midrange is particularly beautiful. Put on something like the excellently recorded “The Colonel & The Governor” by Tommy Emmanuel and Martin Taylor and you can melt with their guitar tones. There is no embellishment here, just the richness of the natural tone. Dynamics and bass are excellent. Steely Dan’s “Two Against Nature” is now wonderfully taut and dynamic, giving the music the foundation that this brilliant duo envisaged.

With a fine digital source the Terminator performs exceptionally well. The Jay Audio CDT-3 MK2 transport makes the Terminator sing beautifully. The Terminator allowed me to hear the significant improvement that the CDT-3 MK2 is over the already very good MK1. The Terminator scaled up wonderfully. I use the i2s HDMI connection between the two which allows the bypassing of the S/PIDF in the Terminator. The cable is modest 1m Belden HDMI HDE001MB. I hope to try an Audioquest Diamond HDMI cable and hear if it makes a difference.

Let me take one aspect of the Terminator’s excellent performance to try and give you an example of what this DAC can do for me. I came home last night and put on “Accomplice One”, the latest CD by one of the greatest, Tommy Emmanuel. I was wasted after a particularly tough working day and normally with this frame of mind and depleted energy level I would find very fast and highly energetic tunes like track 4 and 5 with their frenetic string playing bordering on irritating. But not with the Terminator fed by the CDT-3 MK2. The rhythms were so well delineated and “pulsing”, and the string tones so beautifully harmonically fleshed out, that I was drawn in and engrossed.

Or take one of my all-time favourite CDs, Emilie-Claire Barlow’s “Like a Lover”. Ms Barlow’s voice is recorded close and “hot” making it very revealing but also bright sounding. And the bright recording of her voice in parts is telling of components that are not accurate and can make her voice sound harsh. Oh my, through the Terminator on a track like “The Things We Did Last Summer” the recording drips with detail, emotion and seduction. I felt like I was intimately and illegally close to this wonderful artist – the changes in tempo, intonation, modulation, sound pressure etc of her voice are beautifully revealed in outstanding detail and tone. And then there is the excellent texture and dynamics of the accompanying plucked upright bass.


My second CD system features Stax SR-009 headphones driven by a Stax SRM-007tII amp, upgraded with Mundorf silver-in-oil caps. For the first time, thanks to the Terminator and CDT-3 pairing, I have started to hear what the Stax SR-009 is capable of, even driven by the Stax SRM-007tII which arguably does not have sufficient current to drive the 009 to their full potential. Current in this regard should not be confused with volume - I do not play my SRM-007tII much past 10 o’clock. I am for the first time appreciating listening to the 009 without feeling that they are being massively held back. I am awaiting a DIY T2 amp to replace the 007tII and look forward to this system scaling up.

I was so taken with the Terminator driven by the Jay’s Audio CDT-3 MK2 that I have bought two sets of both, one for each system, and sold my previous digital gear which included an Esoteric K-03x. The Terminator blew away the Esoteric’s DAC and the CDT-3 MK1 blew away the Esoteric’s transport. The Terminator is finely built, an ergonomically excellent functional design, comes with a 3 year warranty, and most importantly sounds excellent. And for me it is a bargain at its price. I wholeheartedly recommend it and the excellent Jay’s Audio CDT-3 MK2 for your consideration. And last but not least, the worldwide distributor, Alvin of Vinshine Audio provides service second to none. Thanks for reading. If you like photos this review also appears on head-fi, Dedicated Source Components.
752f5b8e 975d 463b a340 58161f440cb0bluewolf
Hi bluewolf, thanks for sharing your impression.  I just received Terminator DAC a few days ago and it is still breaking in.  Can you please share your experience on:

Break-in: how many hours required on top of factory 100 hours run before it sounds really good?

Power: do you leave your Terminator(s) on all the time?  There's only a standby button, there's no power on/off switch.  If you indeed have to power off your system, does it take long time before Terminator sounds good again?

Thanks.
Hi @anwar , I think that break-in is a little over rated. Yes, cartridges need say up to 50 hours and electronics maybe up to 50. I have not noticed in my experience equipment changing in sound past 100 hours. I do think though that equipment that has not been played for some time or if it has been moved, needs to settle a little. So I think you should be good to go with the factory 100 hours.

I leave my T in standby when not in use and I guess that is what the manufacturer wants us to do given that there is no on/off switch. With sufficient ventilation, my T is quite cool to the touch in standby mode so I would think that it should not have to much of an adverse effect on internal component life leaving it on.
That’s what Denafrips Ares does in a very small way, Denafrips are really good, you can’t go wrong it save me money to get the Yaggy for now.....or maybe save money for terminator....
"A Game Changer." Love it!

"A game changer.... Here is where I am coming from. I love music....With the Terminator, my digital home reproduction has finally gone from something that just allows me to hear my favourite digitally recorded music to something that makes me stop, focus and listen....with the Terminator every and I mean every CD is revealing treasures I have not heard before and allowing me to understand the music better.

@bluewolf Thank you for sharing such a personal, beautifully written and expressed, excellent review of the Terminator, Jay's Audio CDT-3 Mk2 and your system.

I was so taken with the Terminator driven by the Jay’s Audio CDT-3 MK2 that I have bought two sets of both, one for each system, and sold my previous digital gear which included an Esoteric K-03x.

The above ^^^^ is quite a statement!

Congratulations!
@david_ten

Hi David,

Thank you for your kind comments on my review and systems. I really appreciate your enthusiasm for the Terminator, and am glad to be able to share it and fully understand it. I also want to thank you for sharing your views on the Terminator. My main reason for writing the review of the CDT-3 and the Terminator is to give a little back to Audiogon since I believe these are outstanding components that others should consider. I have my analog front-end thanks to posts and help of people on Audiogon. And now I have the Terminator!

Thanks again!
@bluewolf  thanks for the great review. I've been looking for a great transport that I can actually afford, and this seems like it might be the one. I currently have an April Music CDT 100, but the Jay's sounds like it betters it, and not insignificantly.

I have a question about your customer power supply for your Lightspeed. Might I ask where you got it and what are the particulars? I have a Tortuga preamp and have been contemplating something to replace the wall wart. 

Again, great review!
Thanks @lordcloud for the kind words. This forum has given me a lot in my main interest, analog, and I am very happy that I can give something back. On the custom power supply, it really lifted the Lightspeed and cost me $1,800. Unfortunately, I do not even know who made it and I cannot get any more of them so I am afraid that I can not help on this. What is worth looking at though is the recommendation from @georgehifi4 which I am going to try:

"Thanks for your kind words on the Lightspeed, I noticed you have the dual mono version, good choice as you can perfectly centre the sound stage image regardless of speaker position or room abnormalities.
Battery is even better again for the Lightspeed, I recommend this Lithium-Ion rechargeable one, you can get up to 2 weeks listening in between a recharge, it has the blackest back ground (as if your system has switched off in between notes/tracks)"

https://www.ebay.com/itm/Portable-DC-12V-2In1-Rechargeable-8000Mah-Li-ion-Battery-Pack-US-EU-UK-Adap...

Hope this helps!
@bluewolf  I ordered the batter pack a few days ago for my Tortuga. I'm excited to get it and see if it helps. It's going to take forever for it to arrive unfortunately, but I'm optimistic about the potential gains in performance. Thanks for passing the info along!
I've recently added the Jay's Transport and Denafrips Terminator to my system and I'm very pleased! I would like to know peoples' thoughts on i2s vs the other choices and if you like i2s best which brand have you chosen? Thanks for the input!
Has the need to turn it off been resolved? That's a deal breaker for me
I have the Holo spring 2 KTE version and the Jays cdt mk.ll transport.
I have tried all of the inputs with the I2s as the best sounding. AES was close but the I2s let listen further in the music.
blue

not being in a position to afford the Jay's or the Terminator, I wonder, did you try the CDT3 MkII with a prior dac or the opposite?

I am using a Marantz HD CD 1 as a transport, plus the internal dac in my Audio Alchemy DDP-1 (dac/pre)

I would likely upgrade to the Jays CDT 2 Mk 2 as I leave my system on 24/7 and since the Rubidium clock runs hot, so, no bueno here