This is a solid suggestion. This will make a great computer based desktop system.
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This is typical studio equipment. So you will hear the music as intended by the mastering engineer. Some mastering engineers (like Doug Sax) use tubes so the sound of vocals is already sweetened and the drums may have more weight/punch from the added compression.
However, if you like to sweeten things even more with your own tubes then you may find the sound to be thinner, more neutral and with less warmth than what you are used to.
I have the HD-650's and had the Benchmark DAC. I also used the DAC-1 with my Krell KAV-400xi/Dynaudio Contour S3.4 speaker setup. FYI, Head-Fi.org has a ton of info about the headphone pairing with this DAC and others.
What I can tell you about my experience is that I didn't care for the sound. To me, it was harsh, analytical, forward and cold. My opinion applies both to the speaker setup and the DAC-1 directly driving the HD-650s. Sources I used were Sonos ZP-90, Apple Airport Express and my MacBook Pro digital out - admittedly not the greatest "transports" but I always used lossless files. I went to an Electrocompaniet EMC-1UP CD Player and wow, what a difference - warmer, definitely, but a much more realistic and enjoyable experience. I sold that and went to the ECD-1 DAC, which is basically the digital section of the EMC-1UP, and it still sounds great, but lacks the smallest bit of extra magic as compared the single-box CD player - probably attributable to jitter from the Sonos, cabling, god-knows-what - but it's still much better to my ears and in my system than the DAC1 ever was.
I use the Benchmark DAC 1 with headphones and the results are superb, IMO - great transparency and dynamics, crystal clear and not bright or etched. I'm using it with a transport, not a server, and in this set-up a good transport and fine digital cable make all the difference.
With a server, I assume you'll use the USB input on the Benchmark, and all the reviews say the Benchmark has an excellent implementation of the USB - better, e.g., than the Bryston dac and some others.
(NOTE: I meant to title this thread "Anyone tried the Benchmark "Complete System" but the last part somehow got cut off.)
Thanks everyone for your replies so far. Sounds like the Benchmark system is for people who like clarity and neutrality in their sound reproduction. Rhmmmm's review gives me some pause, though. Since I'm coming from an integrated tube amp I'm worried that I will have the same overall impression of thinness. Then again I've never had a good solid-state set-up, so it's possible that the increased clarity and definition will be a new kind of revelation for me. I will never know unless I take the plunge and try it for myself.
The other system I am looking at is the Cary Xciter DAC and integrated tube amp, but after I add a pair of decent bookshelf speakers and the HD650s I would be well over my price limit. For simplicity and affordability the Benchmark system looks to be my best option at the moment. But, I've been know to flip-flop on these sort of decisions. Keep the recommendations coming, please!
You can always try out the Benchmark. The upside is that it has decent resale value and you won't lose much, especially if you buy used to begin with. If you like it, that's great because they are not super expensive.
I've had a few headphones in the same category as the HD650's, such as the Sony MDR-CD3000 and SA5000, the AKG K701 and some Beyerdynamics. The 650's remain my favorite so far, just make sure you burn them in for a LONG time as they did not sound that great out-of-the-box. In fact, I almost returned them in the beginning. I don't want to try the HD800's because I'd probably have to pick up a pair if I do, so I'm content in my ignorant bliss.
Enough people seem to love the HD650s that I'm willing to bet that I will like them, too, especially since I have never owned a high-end pair of headphones.
I believe Benchmark offers a 30 day trial period, so as long as I can burn the equipment in well at the outset I should have more than ample time to figure out if it's for me, or if I need to keep saving my pennies for a Cary rig.
I have a Benchmark Dac1 (non-usb) with the HD 650's. I primarilly use the Benchmark with my Squeezebox. The Benchmark, in my system, on very good recordings, sounds very, very good. It is not thin, bright or analytical. I also have an Esoteric X03SE, which has caused me months of pondering a new DAC because the $950 benchmrk does not sound as good to me as the $8,500 Esoteric, BUT, I must say, the Benchmark has no business sounding as good as it does for the money it costs. I did upgrade the fuse, have great interconnects and power cord, which, I believe, makes a difference because I have never felt it thin, bright or analytical, as quite a few posters have. I do believe that is just the revealing nature of the DAC. It does sound great with the headphones as well-very well, actually. Very realistic soundstage, dynamic, lots and lots of detail.
Thanks for the positive review, Cerrot. I have pretty much decided to give this system a go. If it's not for me I can always return it and go with a tube set-up of some kind. I envision keeping the HD650s regardless. I put my CD player up for sale in the classifieds today and will likely put my tube amp and speakers up tonight. I hate to see my old system go, but I have not been able to listen to it properly in several years and recently had to box it up because my former listening room is now a play room for my 2 year old daughter. The Benchmark/Dynaudio/HD650 rig will at least give me the opportunity to listen to my music collection again.
Cerrot - Yes, it is revealing and very natural sounding (that is also unforgiving on some recordings). Benchmark's technical director John Siau did not want Benchmark to sound warm since it screws up more complex harmonic structures like piano's.
Benchmark, at the very beginning had opinion of thin sounding because it had different op-amps. Not really different but made by Phillips vs. newer ones made by Texas Instr. Phillips/Signetics factory burned down around 2001 and they sold NE5532 license to Texas Instruments. TI redesigned die making it larger and fuller sounding. You can recognize TI amps by logo that is outline of Texas map. Another problem of early DAC1s was very high output impedance on unbalanced outputs.
New Benchmarks USB and Pre use LM4562 in output stages making balanced output impedance lower, especially at -10dB where it was on the high side (audible).