I have owned them both and the Bel Canto is an order of magnitude superior in playback than the Benchmark (all in my opinion of course). The BC exudes a fluid sound character that is extended and dynamic while the Benchmade, although dynamic and clear, sounds bleached to the point of stridency.
The Bel Canto and, the MF Trivista 21 are two very good relatively low cost dacs. Many people have reported very good results from the Benchmark and, with the right equipment it probably sounds very good. But, I didn't like it.
I can second a positive vote for the DAC 2 as I own it; I can't vouch for Nealhood's opinions on the Benchmark, although in all the threads I have read at Headfi that discuss it people that enjoy it either like what seems to me to be somewhat lifeless and cold (but very "detailed") music or balance it out with a tube stage somewhere.
I also had both DACs in my system. I think they are both excellent DACs equaling those sold for 10 times more just few years back.
The Benchmark sure had more features than you can shake a stick at sub $1k unit price. I used its preamp capability exclusively and enjoyed its clear sound. The Bel Canto DAC2 is more of a brick with almost no control or flexibility but I ended up using it in my system as the main source for CDs. It would be difficult to match the DAC2's sonic virtues when playing the Red Book CDs. I get the widest sound stage and yet very focused imaging at the same time. To my ears, the Benchmark had just as wide sound stage but tad shy on firm imaging which puzzled me for the longest time. With its accurate reproduction of CD source, I just couldn't figure out how it could sound different... Thus, I sold the Benchmark and the Bel Canto is still playing in my setup. Believe me, I'd like to buy a Benchmark DAC1 again someday. It still amazes me that it had not been inflicted with the usual highend audio depreciation-selling close to its new price where as the BC DAC2 is going for close 1/2 of its new price...
Gixerman, I have auditioned both and decided on the Bel Canto 2. I readily agree with the opinion that they both add to a system only that the Bel Canto added more in musicality, sound stage and air between instruments. My system is Rotel RCD-1072 which Bel Canto said is more than an adequate transport, CJ PV-L II, Classe CA-150's as monoblocks and Aerial 8's, interconnects are Cardas and Speaker cables are Synergistic. This system sounds great and can be improved with the advent of the new Bel Canto DAC which is due anytime and other components as the wife permits. Steve
The latest Benchmark version is significantly better. I think you should audition it again.
You can order the Benchmark from Audio Advisor and take it for a 30 day test drive (they may even sell the bel canto). That way you can hear it in your system, which is the only way to know.
I compared the 2 dacs in my system for several days.
I kept the Bel Canto DAC2 and shipped the Benchmark back. DAC2 is so much more fluid sounding. Full sounding midrange, very smooth highs and solid lows. Stage is way deeper that the Benchmark. I noticed one thing when listening to Benchmark is that it tends to initially impress you with its resolution, which turns into digital headache about 20 minutes later. Thin sounding dac compared to Bel Canto. bel Canto has all the detail but in much more liquid presentation.
I came to conclusion that the Benchmark is exactly what it is - a tool for recording studio engineer. I doubt its application in a high-end system.
As far as the ergonomics and features, yes, the Benchmark wins over the Bel Canto. But Bel Canto is just superior sounding dac. Get a very good digital coax cable and you'll have a killer digital front end, even with a dvd player as a transport.
The Bel Canto is the more musical DAC here. The Benchmark is very analytical and thin sounding in my opinion. Everything John Atkinson recommends sounds this way if you take a look at his recommended component history. I think his Class A rating is a bit over zealous.
There is a reason you see so many of them hit the classifieds weekly and are advertised as only a couple of months old. They can sound very fatiguing which is definitely not what this hobby is all about..
Anyway, I don't think you could go wrong with a Bel Canto DAC-2, A Musical Fidelity Trivista 21, or an Electrocompaniet ECD-1 used here on Audiogon. But the best way is to audition, audition, audition in your own system with your music..
BTW:(I own an Electrocompaniet ECD-1 and love it)
How do I know the version, does it say on the back or is there software upgrade
Change the power cable on the benchmark and everything changes. I can not empirically (personally) comment on a comparison between the Bel Canto and the Benchmark so maybe this post is not really helpful. However a change in my power cord (Shunyata Diamond Back) to a Harmonic Tech Fantasy 10 power cord absolutely changed the sonic signiture of the Benchmark from one of thin-ness to one of full bodied roundness. Hey I don't get it...but it happened.
Isn't this hobby fun!
It's called the ole placebo effect.I participate(from time to time) in collecting data on control vs real vs placebo.We see this kind of thing all the time.The mind is a powerful tool and people are just sooo convinved by things they perceive but it is simply not based in reality.
You,I and everyone else rely and insist on these methods in every other area(Ie. prescription drugs etc).Yet audiophiles reject this very same validation techniques when it comes to audio.Audiophiles are a very strange lot.
I owned the Bel DAC2 and now own the Benchmark. The Benchmark is far superior to the DAC2; I don't know what you people are hearing.
Contraire to comment the DAC2 images better -- I found the DAC2 to bunch images together. Two guitars were as one guitar. I do use tube preamps with the Benchmark. I will admit I was not enamoured with the Benchmark run straight in the power amp. It did sound thinner and drier. Maybe it mates with only tube preamps, which it does very well and is a first class performer with clarity, detail, separation and a liveness that is musical in a defined way, not in a lush way.
I'll go with Kevziek on this as I run a Tube Preamp and find it mates very well the Benchmark. But I did find it was a little on the cold side and had a bit of a hard edge to it running straight to the Power Amp. Mine is 9 months old and has all the revsions. Unless they have been tweaking it again!