Endgame Vocal+ DAC Help: Terminator Plus 12th vs. Chord DAVE vs. Holo May vs. Weiss502.

tl;dr:  Read title. I like vocals with spacing, depth and atmosphere.  VOCALS. I have a small, shitty space - one side of an closed porch; very near-feild computer-setup. Consider myself a whore for detail.  Was surprised to find detail-praised DACs to be harsh (e.g., RME ADI). Want thick, dark/rich, vocal forward, no loss in detail.  Hate thin, harsh, and smeared/muddy sound. Julien Baker. Hold my hand and mentor me.

The atmospheric, depth of field, concentration stuff like this: https://youtu.be/rNEZlRgebwQ is something I love, but, without lyrics, I lack emotional engagement.

Setup (shitty near-field, no choice):

Audio Streaming Services or Youtube to
BeQuiet! PC Build - USB out to
Topping D90 MQA (to be replaced) 
to Better Cables XLR 
to Benchmark HPA4 
to Classe' SIGMA AMP 2  
to Wilson Audio Duette 2's

Headphones: Hifiman Arya


Ok, I always feel guilty asking for help; still, finding any advice otherwise is difficult. 

I'm looking to get an endgame DAC; I have the budget for about $20k worth of gear, if it's blow-me-away sort of stuff.  I've read and watched virtually every review (about 20 or so reads; about 20 or so youtube reviews, each). I can find on these (and other) DACs; so, I feel somewhat equipped with the general perceptions of each.

Still, I'm not sure how these will best suit my wants for a DAC.

Best I can tell, each of these DACs have their own camps of support, and each comes with some distinct, common-to-review, characteristics:

Chord DAVE: Bright, Atmospheric, Big, Depth, Mega Detail, Harsh on Femal Vocals at times, but other than that, I've read nothing but cum-stained reviews for this ugly thing.
Denafrips T+12: Smooth, Medium Dark, Juicy, Rich, Big, Atmospheric, Not as Vocal Forward, Changes the sound but in a good way*, Some say it backs off the lead vocals when other vocals are present.
Holo May: Smooth, 'Correct', Neutral, Big, Vocal more forwardish
Weiss502: Rich, Juicy, Studio Master Tape, Less Color

*I do not care if the DAC changes the music - most the artists I love seem to be TERRIBLE in the mixing/mastering dept.  Like TERRIBLE.  Why every artist doesn't listen to their masters on every level of dac-to-speaker combo with particular emphasis on the sort of setups/playback their target demo has absolutely boggles the mind.

I almost exclusively listen to slower, guitar/piano-based, female-vocal heavy music (e.g., Julien Baker - a lot of Julien Baker).  So, I'm looking to get a DAC best suited for that sort of music.

Essentially, making this (I know, youtube, but I love this recording) sound as good as possible is what I'm after: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlVp9W6LvTQ

That skinny vocal mic in the Tiny Desk concerts has a level of detail I love.

I'd like to preserve that sort of detail, but the vocals could be a touch warmer/fuller/juicier.


Here's a bit of background experience and taste-to-product preferences with which I am aware:

I have auditioned the iFiDSD Pro, have owned the Matrix X-Sabre I, the RME ADI-II, and currently use the Topping D90 mQa.  Of the 3 (but only after I gave the strange idea of burn-in a try), the Matrix was my favorite - I think because of the spaciousness of the sound.

I do not have experience with FPGA or R2R dacs.

I consider(ed?) myself a detail whore ever since hearing the Elton John (self-titled) album in SACD - some 20ish years ago - the vocal isolated parts were really, really pleasingly detailed.  This was played over a Marantz sr7007, the same year's Marantz SACD multi player, and with a Rotal 1075 AMP feeding BW 600 series floorstanders with bi-wired silver audio cable.

However, when listening to the RME ADI on my youtube favs, I found the whole thing absurdly detailed - but, fatiguing and harsh at times.  I realize some of this is source - youtube.  I keep referencing the RME ADI because, compared to the others, it was a detail winner, but, to my ears, was harsh and a tiny bit thin.

So, perhaps I am not the detail fiend I thought I was - I'm actually not sure. 

I can say that I love the sound of the microphone used in the PASTE Mag concerts - that crispness that seems to pick up significant detail gives me the right emotional connection.  Again, making this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LlVp9W6LvTQ - sound as good as I can is what I'm after.

End of the day, I think I am looking for the most engaging dac for vocals - I am definitely a vocals whore, and a sucker for good, sad lyrics. I HATE anything muddy, congested, or blurred, and, after a lot of paying attention, I seem to be sensitive to harshness and listening fatigue.  I realize detail and harshness/fatigue are often at odds.  I have extended my budget to the absurd to tackle this.

At any rate, after literal years of research, this is where I am.

Can you help?


If you buy used Dave and Mscaler and install Farad linear supply, then it will cost 20k$.


The vocal will sound very detailed within wide and deep soundstage.



I had enjoyed listening to Holo May KTE during Pacific Audiofest 2022.

It sounds gracious with nice details.


But it will fall short of Dave +( modifed by Farad lps) on details and overall dynamics.




I have nothing to do with above listing.


But the combo is available at reasonable price.

Also nice music server is essential to get maximum details and nice soundstage.


You may consider Aurender N20 in the future.


I had been happy with Aurender N30 for 3 months.


But I believe that N20 gives the best bang for the money since I had done home audiition of N20 before pulling the trigger for N30.



Please don’t drop big money on a dac when you are in a small square room. What about an end game headphone rig?


If you must play music in the room don't get a dac, get a soundtstage expander:



Check this review of the Chord Dave from a reputable reviewer who was gonna buy a Terminator until he heard this.  FYI this reviewer previously had a Matrix DAC  in his reference system so may have similar sonic tastes. 

The model being sold by @shkong78 above along with the Scaler may well be worth a look.  Best of luck. 

I have the exact system that @shkong78 just described. (mine is black with the big Chord stand for it which is nice in that it allows you to see the screen from your listening chair, but I didn’t pay $2500 for it). If you are stretching your budget you can put the power supply upgrade off. it is nice but the system sounds good without it.  OTOH, you used the term "endgame" and the Farad power supply puts you right there.  Absolutely.  But you can do it in stages.  

I will say that you also don’t need an M scaler until you get a good front end. If you are streaming wireless, mscaler will exacerbate your lost bits. It was the M-scaler that told me I needed to upgrade digital. It sat there unused because it sounded like crap with the poor digital going to it. M-scaler is a great test of your digital supply.

So to answer your question, I haven’t heard any of the others. I bought Dave based on how good a friend’s Qutest sounds and I wasn’t disappointed. But save some money to run good hardwired ethernet to a good streamer (I use innous Zenith Mk3). I also use an Etherregen switch, another $600.


Wow. Thank you all for your responses. Here again, it looks like DAVE takes the cake. 

I am deeply concerned about anything sounding harsh - as the way the RME ADI sounded just plain hurt after a song or two. And, well, I feel weird about knowing the detail was the nest I'd heard and still getting almost immediate fatigue - even with headphones.

I also know that the Duette IIs are known to have that brighter, clinical Wilson house sound and being in a small room with near field listening may make this even worse. 

That said, does anyone here have a DAVE and live in NYC or upstate NY? I live about 90 miles north of NYC. I want to hear this thing in my setup and would pay or do just about anything to have a night or two with it.

If anyone, ANYONE would be so kind as to rent it to me (and is within reasonable driving distance), I will come to you, give you whatever reassurance you need (even if financial), and bring it straight back. 

I know this is a BIG ask, but one never knows how willing another person may be to help. 

FWIW, I am a former college professor, then a research scientist, and now have worked at usps as a mailman and supervisor. I humbly, humbly as for your assistance - I'll do pretty much anything to make you feel at ease with my brief want to rent/borrow.

If anyone is willing to help, please let me know.

As for harsh, Dave addresses that.  I have never found Dave to be harsh but I have had other harsh DACs.  

Dave has a preamplifier mode  and if you operate in the lower section of the scale you will experience no harshness.

On the Qutest, Chord provides 3 voltage levels which addresses harshness.  

On the Dave, you and put it in preamp mode and turn it down to 50% or less and use the gain on your regular preamp--unless you are using Dave as your preamp.  I never turn it up over -30dB on my efficient system.

Dave does work very well in preamp mode and I do not use another preamp.


I thought the Goldensound review was done very well when discussing the Chord and Holo dacs. In the digital world it’s sometimes confusing since it changes very quickly and today's star may be an "also ran" in the near future. The Chord products are a little hard to find and audition. An audio friend of mine has gone through a bunch of dacs and is very picky. He has had dacs from 2k to 15k and he settled on the Holo May KTE. I don’t know if it’s his end dac but is happy for now.


The DAVE is good, but there are many others out there that are better. Please check out the Aries Cerat line of DACs. These are end-game products. I read an interesting thread in another forum that many have upgraded from DAVE to Aries Cerat, but no one moved from Aries Cerat to DAVE. Just my 2C.

Will try to help another Julien Baker fan. Have enjoyed her live many times. Check out Cassandra Jenkins as well if you haven't already.

With the favorable dollar, it's a nice chance to home audition a totaldac from France (risk free home trial, just cover shipping if you return it). It's far from the last word in detail or in recreating recording space, but if you value natural and engaging tone, density and texture, in particular with vocals, I'm not sure you can find a more engaging dac at the price point for vocals. Various price points available -- whatever model interests you, make sure to get the "live power" upgrade.

Below 10k, I also really like the Meitner MA3 -- higher resolution but gives up a bit in the categories the totaldac is strong in. You should be able to home audition this from dealers, look them up.

(I have personally owned/home demoed these dacs and others, I am not speculating based on reviews and user comments...do not buy based on reviews/comments if you can help it...those are just ways to figure out what you want to home audition) 

Based on my experience with DACs I would recommend you pick up a used Terminator (original, or even one of the smaller models) and see how it sounds in your system.  This $3-4k expense, which you can resell, will tell you if you like the Denafrips flavor.  If so, then either keep it or upgrade, and add a Aurender N20 using the SPDIF output to upsample.  This will give you the best world of smoothness and detail and substance/meat on the bone.  I currently own and like Weiss, but for what you describe I think the Denafrips might be a good match.  I have never heard any of the Chords in my system.  If you haven’t read it, the computer audiophile review of the terminator vs the TII is a really good summary of how these DACs sound and expounds on the benefit of upsampling with them.

You don’t want detail, you want a real/natural sound that does not have the digital harshness and listening fatigue.

You have to treat the source first before you can experience these DACs to their full potential. And by source I mean the power. Power from the wall, to the power distributor, and the grounding. And the cables connecting the digital transport or pc you use to the DAC. And then the isolation footers under the dac and transport.

All these things have an effect on the digital signal before it even gets to the dac. And only then you can hear what those expensive dacs are truly capable of.

I like vocals with spacing, depth and atmosphere.

​​​​The Holo May will give you that in spades.

I also have the Benchmark HPA4 and it makes a great combo with the May - whether listening via my Focal Utopia HPs or active ATC setup. 

Expansive sound with fine imaging and staging. Natural and realistic tone/timbre but not lacking in clarity, detail or focus.

Based on your preferences I would say dCS Bartok or Mola Mola Tambaqui should fit the bill.

For a lot less money, consider a Border Patrol DAC.  Never harsh, very musical and has flesh on the bone sound.  


for what you are seeking, i think chord dave or hugo tt2 with m scaler is the right answer

if they sound harsh, you have nasties to resolve at the network/streaming level

done right, they unearth all the detail there is to be had, with tremendous sense of space, with zero harshness (unless it is on the recording)

I have a Weiss 501 and am very happy with it. Tried PS Audio (dull narrow sound stage), McIntosh (digital glare), and Schiit (old system, fine but not inspiring).

The Weiss hits the mark for me in bring natural, decent (but not the widest) sound stage, but most importantly is a joy to listen to.


i would agree the weiss is very very close to the chord stack (i have kept both), imaging is very close, chord stack a touch deeper but weiss is no slouch in that department, tonality is identical to my ears

the weiss is just wonderful and a superior one box solution with streamer integrated and fantastic additional features such as room bass node compensation, it is amazing for what it brings to the table

@jjss49 Have you heard the T+A 200 DAC?  I’ve been reading some good things and very curious. 


i have not heard the t&a, sorry

there are still a good number of well reputed high end dacs that i have not yet experienced in my own system, though i have heard several of these in other setups, be it at hifi shows, at dealers, or in others’ homes

holo may, emm, totaldac, dcs, lampi, berkeley for instance

at this point, i am vastly slowing down my dac chase, so to speak, after trying some 40 of them in the past couple years -- i’ve found happiness with my chord stack, weiss and msb analog dac (along with some sweet oldies)... i feel i have a nice spectrum of presentations, technologies and capabilities covered

OP, for midrange vocals and musically and non-interest in hyper detail I suggest the Lampi Baltic3 tube DAC which performs way above its price point.  You can also do some tube rolling to further dial in to your tastes.

OP I purchased this as my endgame DAC. After very intensive search for an endgame DAC which I can afford, I believe it’s a sonic bargain competing with the very best. However, it’s rather pricy compared to the rest of your audio chain. You might be better served by upgrading your pre-amp with something like a Hegel H360/H390/H590/H600 integrated with the optional DAC card.

Welp, for those interested, I went in a rather totally different direction.  Originally, I bit the bullet and went the Denafrips Terminator II+ 12th.  Honestly, I wasn't impressed.  It sounded glassy, and the pushed back vocals just was a bit too much.  I tried everything - and I mean EVERYTHING.  All the settings, combinations of settings, different cables, different preamp, Denafrips top preamp, RCA, XLR, I2s - all of it.  I tried the new firmware (worse).  I tried USB.  I tried about 4 different sorts of cables for each input and output.  I tried a solid state amp.  I tried a tube amp.  I couldn't figure it out.  I tried different power sources.  I tried a power conditioner.  I tried fucking rewiring the electrical to a dedicated outlet (which mattered more than the rest, and was considerably cheaper than most everything).  I tried streaming from my computer, streaming from a Wiim, steaming with an iFi, streaming from a Sonos, streaming from an Aurender, streaming with downloaded FLAC, with CD, with WAV, with Audirvana on/off, Tidal, Qobuz, and Spotify.   Nothing.  I added that top-end schiit equalizer.  Garbage. I was totally at a loss. Devastated, I went back to my Topping D90MQA - which was fine, but just fine - better than the Terminator to my ears, but just fine. 

My partner took me to D.C. as a surprise, and, while she knows NOTHING about audio, chose a high-end audio store just outside of D.C., and, I remember getting out of the car with the biggest smile saying, "You're gonna make me spend some money, aren't you?!"  And, oh boy, money I did spend.  I wound up with a Synthesis A40 Virtus tube amp + DAC.  About $8k.  I listened to everything at the shop. . . for 2 damned days, and about 10 total hours.  Frankly, was BLOWN AWAY by Synthesis.  The dealer was pairing the amp + DAC I bought with a pair of tiny, TINY little bookshelf speakers (British, but I can't for the life of me recall the name, at the moment - ProAc, I think.  They were super tiny).  Something that was like 9" high and like 5" across.  I mean tiny.  And the (rather large) room was FILLED with sound I'd not heard in 20 years.  Thick, juicy, vocal forward, room filling, and no loss in detail.  Traded my Denafrips. Traded my Wilsenton. Traded my Classe' solid state. Got a Sonos (which is what the dealer used) and the Synthesis A40 Virtus, and couldn't be happier. 

It's been 5 or 6 months, and I'm happy enough that I've not even considered anything else.  I can finally, finally, FINALLY listen for as long as I want without an ounce of fatigue, and even bad recordings sound better than they should.  And the good stuff (stuff like Billie Eilish that, even though I don't normally care for that sortof music but it's just recorded so damned well) sounds absolutely tear-jerking.

I know, one wouldn't think an integrated chip DAC (especially in a tube amp) would even be a good idea let alone sound good, but I can't find anything that sounds better except a bigger Synthesis Amp.  It's wild, but, finally, I'm happy.

The setup is now super simple:


Cardas Clear SPIDF

Synthesis A40 Virtus

Wilson Duette II


Strange, I know.  It still doesn't make sense to me, either.  Some will say it's the Cardas Clear (as it was $750), but I can tell you, using a basic $150 USB coming from my computer sounds basically the same.  

Anyway, let the arguments and nay-saying ensue. :)

Don’t matter how you get there, just that you get there so CONGRATS!  I will say I’ve never heard anyone say the Terminator sounds “glassy,” but there it is.  Enjoy man, and Goodonya!   Love hearing stories like this as they’re few and far between. 

Congrats.  It doesn’t have to make sense.  It has to sound good to YOU.  What you may have been missing all along was tubes.

Thanks, all. 

I should say, despite the Denafrips not being for me,  Alvin at Vinshine was awesome. I have never experienced such kind and thorough customer service.

And, I think the guy who mentioned tubes being what I needed is correct. While I had a Wilsenton tube amp, it wasn't the best presentation, and, even then, it sounded better than the solid state.

Strangely, my previous set up was:

B&W 602s3

Classe Sigma AMP2

Topping D90MQA

The B&Ws were just fine with the solid state, but moving into the Wilson Duette 2s seemed to change that pretty dramatically. It also bears mentioning that my set up is VERY near-field as it is at a computer desk. Changing the tweeter tuning device in the separate crossover of the Duettes to something which dampened the highest of highs also made a much needed change. While the B&Ws never sounded harsh, the Wilsons were harsh until I discovered that adjustment.  

I also filled the metal cavities of my speaker stands with clay kitty litter - this also made a huge difference as it stopped some ringing of the stands that I couldn't place for a while.

So, while the Synthesis A40 made a world of difference, those other tweaks also really helped the sound, as well.

To anyone with hollow, metal speaker stands, go do yourself a favor - fill them! Some use lead shot, some use other stuff. Clay kitty litter I found to be super dead; so, I went with that. But really, for a MAJOR improvement, you can't do anything cheaper. Don't hesitate. Get a funnel, get a 50lb bag, and go nuts. It will, hereforward, be the first thing I do if ever I should find myself with another hollow speaker stand. 

Oh! And Blu-Tac for attaching speakers to stands. Seems weird, but if you cannot anchor them directly, the stuff works.


It’s nice to hear so many positive comments regarding customer service and Vineshine.  I’ve mentioned it myself several times here on A’gon but think it’s worth repeating.

Oh! And Blu-Tac for attaching speakers to stands. Seems weird, but if you cannot anchor them directly, the stuff works.

The latest thinking in regards to speakers appears to be not to solidify, or couple them to the floor/stands but de-couple them, and absorb internal cabinet vibrations. There are plenty of reviews on absorption and isolation products for speakers, some of the best I have read are from Townshend, and I know a few in here use them @carlsbad2 ? some of the more budget minded ones are from Gaia, which I have; a convincing video is below.

Oh and thanks for this thread! It was a good read :) 


Gaia demo