Benchmark DAC-1 USB. That is what I use with my Mac Mini and IMHO, I think it is the best in its class. It has a very powerful output stage with volume control. If you don't have analog source, it can be used as a preamp as well.
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Be careful dealing with Ultra Fi. I got one of their USB DACs on demo and the owner Larry Moore refused to return it for a refund as agreed, I tried to call and email with no response and was even told by his "brother" when I called that he was in South America for an indefinite amount of time and could not be reached.
Gordon of Wavelength on the other hand is a real great guy, helpful and makes a great and beautiful product. I owned the Cosecant and it sounds great.
A great non American product is the MHDT labs products. I have the Paradisea + and the Constantine DACs and they both offer world class performance at a cheap price.
Has anyone done a/b comparison of Wavelength/Apogee mini/Benchmark/Nixon dacs? Can anyone comment on sonic profile of these vs. my Musical Fidelity Trivista21 dac?
Seems like a few threads have characterized the Benchmark as on the drier/detailed side, the Nixon and other NOS dacs as more "analogish" with good PRAT and perhaps less resolution in exchange for more forgiveness. How would you characterize the Brick,Apogee and MDHTs relatively speaking? Cheers,
I did a head-to-head of the Apogee Mini-DAC and the Benchmark with a pal. Exact same system and music both times ( except see note below). We preferred the Apogee, you might not. It depends on your musical taste I think. The Benchmark has a sound others have called 'lean'. That's probably translatable into a frequency response chart but I think of it as in lean muscles--the sound was so detailed and focused it was like following the contours of a ripped bodybuilder's leg, arm, torso etc. compared with seeing the whole form. The Apogee OTOH didn't draw attention to detail but didn't seem to be missing any either. Instead the sound was about harmonics, clarity and following the flow of the whole.
It's not that I wasn't impressed by the Benchmark--I was very impressed. I wouldn't have missed hearing it but in the end I preferred to live with the Apogee. Oh, there was one surprise. That was the HF performance of the Benchmark. It was a bit hashy and poorly defined, cymbals white not metallic, that kind of thing. That may have been been because of setup -- the BM was running without a preamp, straight into the GamuT power amp, while the Apogee went through the ( GamuT ) preamp.
Has anyone done a/b comparison of Wavelength/Apogee mini/Benchmark/Nixon dacs?
Hey Spencer - I did a head-to-head comparing the older versions of both the Benchmark and the Wavelength Brick. I don't know as it would apply though because both have significantly changed - Benchmark went to adding USB and I think refined come circuitry. Wavelength implemented asynchronous USB and also changed some internals. Generally, and FWIW, I've tried both versions of the Benchmark and have not liked either one in several different systems. I could not get stridency in the highs to go away and found both samples cold and sterile sounding. I liked the Brick a lot, but it was definitely not the last word in resolution, but much more engaging and easy to listen to than either Benchmark. I really did want to like the Benchmark as I'd heard so many respected reviewers speaking so highly of it, but alas, I would not use it myself. To be fair, I have heard a few systems at various shows that used a Benchmark, where I thought it sounded quite good. Go figure.
Zippy - Per our previous correspondence, definitely check out Red Wine's Isabelina DAC as well.
I'd heartily agree with Ejlif's nod to MHDT as a great bargain and excellent products. The Havana is their current top of the line, while the new Paradisea is now called the Paradisea 3 (being in its 3rd version). I recently had the opportunity to compare listen to the Havana at a friends place and it sounded great in his system and bettered a Northstar DAC there. Zippy, knowing your stress on visual austerity I don't know if these DACs will qualify in that way, but the Havana is certainly closer in that regard, not to mention a marginally better DAC. As previously stated, these are not USA built, but come from Taiwan and are available exclusively through MHDT's eBay Store.
I have owned a TriVista fully modded by Parts Connexion, a Brick and a Cosecant Silver. They are all excellent. With the right SPDIF cable the TriVista certainly held its own and may have bettered the old (pre-asynch) Brick. I had sold the MF before I got the Brick as well as other system changes, so we are dealing with memory here.
I personally prefer the USB interface so that was the end of the TriVista for me. Also I did not like the up-sampling - this was the unit that convinced me I am a NOS guy
The Cosecant Silver was beyond either - I hated to part with it. And I agree with Drumsgreg, Gordon is a prince to deal with. He often posts in the PC Audio Forum on Asylum.