Cheap Tweaks: highend-electronics Digital Terminator

October 01, 2013


I haven’t traveled far enough down the path to Audio Nirvana to have fully learned to distinguish the snake oil peddlers from the audiophile allies just yet, which leaves me skeptical of most tweaks that promise to take your listening experience to places not of this world. But, when The Spirited Uncle M swears by one, it’s best to take note.

The Music Maestro, The Great Oz of The Sound Lab has spoken; “It’s one of the best tweaks you can get for $20 that truly makes a difference. The digital terminator is the cat’s meow.”

highend-electronics claims that “Open, non-detachable and unused digital outputs and inputs (S/PDIF) on CD-Players, CD-Transports or DACs generate reflections. These reflections become overlayed as returning waves to the main signal. Unfortunately this produces digital diffusion and worsens the overall sound quality. A 75 Ohm resistor within an RCA phono plug for the termination of the unused digital output or input can avoid this problem. The result is a more accurate, cleaner and well-balanced sound. A shielded, top-quality Neutrik RCA phono plug with gold plated contacts and a Vishay precision metal-film resistor ensure the exact termination of your digital output. The RCA plug is compound-filled in order to avoid vibrations and cryogenically treated…. A big improvement in the sound for a small investment!”

That small investment is $19.90 (plus shipping and handling of course). Most tweaks that promise “a more accurate, cleaner and well-balanced sound” cost several hundred, if not several thousand dollars. Can a $20 investment really buy you a giant leap towards Audio Nirvana?

Before testing the digital terminator for myself I didn’t know much about it other than that it was put to use in The Sound Lab on individual pieces of gear costing several thousand dollars at their debut (think Musetex, Sonic Frontiers, Theta Digital, etc.). I had never been part of the A/B testing of the digital terminator in The Sound Lab, however, so when The Spirited Uncle M gave me one to test on the classic Rotel RCD-855 CD player in my first hi-fi setup, I took it without really knowing what to expect of it on my beginner audiophile stereo system. All he said was, “Wait until you hear the digital terminator; it should be a jaw dropping experience.”

Considering my first response to hearing the Rotel was, “Holy sh*t do I the hear music,” I found it hard to believe it could be bettered so easily. I already found it to be a great player with a warm, natural sound that was especially pleasing to my ears. I would have never classified it as noisy, or thought that the sound quality could have been compromised in any way; then I connected the digital terminator and everything changed.

A/B Testing highend-electronics' Digital Terminator

Using the song “Seven Hunters” off of Hidden Orchestra's Archipelago album as my test track (a 9:34 epic composition of jazz and electronica, with layers of field recordings, percussion, cello, electro-harp, sax, clarsach, and other loops building upon each other), I fired up the Rotel to give it a spin. Having been hooked on this song for the last month or so, hearing the results of the digital terminator was instant. It was as if a veil was lifted off of the signal. There was an immediate drop in low-level noise. Everything, from the low-end punch to the separation throughout the mids and highs, seemed more detailed, defined, tighter and emanated with ease. To state it simply, it just sounded “cleaner.”

Now some of you savvy Sound Apprentices are probably thinking, “Well, hell, that’s a 24-year-old CD player that cost only $399 when it came out, of course it can be improved.” Thanks again to The Spirited Uncle M’s acquisitions skills, I also had a much newer and highly-regarded Sony DVP-S9000ES to test the digital terminator on. How does this cheap tweak perform on a SACD/DVD player that sold for $1,500 back in 2001?

The results weren’t any less subtle. The Sony is already very detailed, but with the digital terminator connected there was a distinct improvement in the overall tonality. Again the sound became more focused, what felt like a natural warmth came into the signal, and again that edginess often heard in digital music seemed to fade into a crisp clarity.

So, can a $20 investment really buy you a giant leap towards Audio Nirvana? The skeptic stands corrected; the answer for me is, “yes.” The digital terminator is a cheap tweak that works. The difference can easily be heard in my A/B testing, and for such a small price, it’s a tweak worth trying (plus it’s TSUM-approved). It may be just what your hi-fi listening room needs to turn Audio Bliss into Audio Nirvana.

Have one? Going to try one? Just a placebo effect? Share your thoughts below.

***UPDATE***
I've caught a lot of flak for writing this post; some people even say I am being the snake oil peddler. Let me first say that this is solely my personal experience and I cannot guarantee that you would have the same results. I think that is pretty much a given with any audio tweak. Unfortunately, I do not have any testing tools to show sonic differences either. I don't blame you for doubting that this plug makes a difference. I also doubted it before trying it for myself. Whether I heard a difference because it actually works or because of an expectation bias or placebo effect I cannot say. Before buying one of these, here are some additional resources that you can review. highend-electronics' eBay profile has a lot of feedback; here's a review by Audiophilia; here's another short discussion on 75-ohm terminators on Audio Asylum. Someone mentioned to me that there are other 75-ohm terminators available from radio/electronics shops for far less money. I have no experience with them, so I won't comment, but that is another option to explore if you're interested in trying this kind of tweak.

Test System
Speakers: Axiom Audio M3v3
Speaker Cable: Gotham Cables 50040
Amplifier: NAD C 326BEE Stereo Integrated Amplifier
CD Player: Rotel RCD-855 and Sony DVP-S9000ES
Interconnects: WireWorld Equinox 3+ (RCA)

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11 comments

  1. I guess I would need to see proof that "reflections" even occur in the first place. I have never heard this claim before until your article.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey Jim,

      Thanks for the comment. It would be nice if highend-electronics provided some resources to back up their claim, but it doesn't seem they do. On another forum someone posted a link to this site that discusses electrical terminations, so there is some science behind the theory at least. http://www.ecircuitcenter.com/Circuits/tline1/tline1.htm

      That said, my assumption is that the benefit of this terminator will be highly dependent on the circuitry in your gear and its filtering abilities. For instance, if the boards controlling the digital out are entirely bypassed/disabled when unused, then I can't see how this would work.

      Like most audio tweaks, some people will hear the difference, others won't. Without a way to measure the effects of this, I can only go by what my own ears are hearing. Could it be placebo effect? Maybe, but like I said in my article, I didn't really have any expectations or know how it could change the sound. For now I am going to continue using it. In the Audiophilia review, I believe the reviewer said he noticed the change most when he actually removed it from his system after using it for a bit.

      It's too bad I don't have a bunch of these to share with readers to further the discussion.

      Delete
  2. This comment is for ALL you doubting Thomas so called Audiophiles who question a $20.00 reasonable tweak with a thirty day money back return policy. It is the cost of a Good case of beer. Your other option is to use a Cardas or Talos caps to cover the unused rca digital input and output jacks. Don't rely on someone elses opinions on this product because we all hear differently. Try it MIKEY, you'll like it. And if you don't like the results, get your money back and buy that case of beer and just listen to the freakin music. AUDIO MANIACS FOR THE GOOD OF MUSIC

    ReplyDelete
  3. Guys I wish this was all lies, but it's not! Not sure if it depends on the digital out circuit design. I found out about this by chance with some Musical Fidelity (UK brand) products. I noticed that every time my X-Ray V3 had its digital out connected to my Trivista 21 DAC, then the analogue output of the player had flatter response making the music clear and fluid, you could hear and make sense of the music without instruments covering other ones. When the cable was disconnected the sound had some extra base and the treble some glare. I thought that there must have been some sensor so that when the player was used as a transport to have a more neutral sound sent to the DAC! Imagine my surprise when I connected the digital audio out of my TriVista 21 DAC to my Denon AV receiver. The analogue sound of the DAC came out so balanced and fluid that I was lost for words! I though I had destroyed the DAC! Especially in 192KHz mode, all this extra bass disappeared, the music got rhythm, the treble got more air and space, i.e. not sounding thin. I don't know why it happens, but now I have all digital outs somehow connected to some digital ins!

    ReplyDelete
  4. If you have two digital outs (in my case XLR and RCA) will this little trick hurt or harm? My CL-10 is used only as a transport using the XLR out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You only want to use this on the single 75-ohm digital coax output. DO NOT use the digital terminator on the analog RCA outputs. Highend-electronics makes a similar product to use on analog outputs, but I haven't tried it. http://www.highend-electronics.com/20.html

      Delete
  5. I'm sorry, I screwed up with my first question. I had to type it twice and wrote it differently the second time. It made more sense the first time. I'm using the XLR. You are saying that capping the other coax (RCA) should not be done, correct. Thanks for your previous response by the way.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The back of your CL-10 should have 1 75-ohm digital coax out and an XLR out on the left side. In the middle of the unit, it has a standard analog L and R RCA out.

      Use the digital terminator ONLY in the single 75-ohm digital coax output. DO NOT use the digital terminator on the analog L/R RCA outputs... you need a different product for that, available from the previous link.

      Does that help?

      Delete
  6. You can buy RCA terminations at Home Depot for $1 a piece. Hi End Electronics should be ashamed for the products they're slinging. 90% of it is snake oil.

    ReplyDelete
  7. ....Or make your own for a small cash outlay.

    ReplyDelete
  8. ....Or make your own for a small cash outlay.

    ReplyDelete

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