Denafrips Terminator //// Schiit Yggdrasil
This comparison is both an evaluation of each DAC and a comparison between them.
The Schiit Yggdrasil is the A version with the Gen5 USB board upgrade. I plan to send it in for the analog B board upgrade, pending wide owner feedback on the benefits of the upgrade.
The Denafrips Terminator is current stock.
Draft Version: 3/5/2018
Evaluation Concluded 2/25/2018
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.
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.
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.
Credit: David @ https://www.blogger.com/profile/06877331503896046749