Reach out to yysantabarbara for info and detail on the Benchmark DAC. He has a lot of experience with their products.
IT’s a very good DAC. One of the best on paper and has received considerable accolades. Tech savvy people tend to love it. How it will sound will largely be a matter of system synergy but most find the DAC 2 and 3 to be a good fit in most any good system whereas some found DAC1 to be a tad fatiguing in some cases. Probably my next DAC when time comes. No mysteries with Benchmark. Their products are all very well documented, no nonsense, and easy to assess compared to many where all you have is limited word of mouth and marketing hype. It's a no-brainer as a go to DAC whenever in doubt.
Happy to chime in! I'm currently a very happy owner/user of a Benchmark 3BDAC and an Audiolab 6000 CD Transport. (I stream through an Auralic Aries G1). I find everyday that it sounds true and fantastic. You will hear more differences between recordings than the equipment that is playing it back. Be aware this DAC is pro gear. Abbey Road still has 30 or more DAC 1's I'm told. I WILL say for streaming with ethernet connection, do yourself a big favor and add a Network Acoustics ENO filter. And, Benchmark told me and I'm here to confirm it....connection between the DAC and the Audiolab will sound the same whether it's Toslink or SPDIF.
I love Benchmark products. I have LA4 | AHB2 | DAC3B and owned many older DACs from then. Last night I did an apples-to-apples comparison with my DAC3B and my new Musetec 005. I was just listening to Nina Simone. I used ROON Group streaming with the gain on the CODA 07x preamp matched for both DACs. I used 2 almost identical Sonore OpticalRendu's to do the Group stream. Both DACs are ESS based chips.
I will cut to the chase and say that the Musetec at $3300 is much better than the $1700 DAC3B. The Musetec does everything better than the DAC3B. More bass, thicker or denser sound, and better top end but with a bit of softness to it. For example, on Nina Simone's SINNERMAN the percussion on the start of the track was so much better on the 005.
I have had a few DACs come into my system; I always kept the DAC3B around because it was like comfort food for me. However, I am now thinking of moving my DAC3B to another room along with 1 of my Sonore OpticalRendu streamers because so far, ALL music seems to be better on the 005 vs the DAC3B. In the past I preferred hard rock on the DAC3B, mainly how electric guitars sounded on it. The 005 is now the king for all music.
The DAC2 and DAC3 sound the same to me. the DAC3 HGC and DAC2 HGC were not great at low level volume when used as a preamp. Adding the incredible LA4 or HPA4 solves that issue. I have never tried the Musetec 005 direct to amp. I have only used it with a CODA 07x preamp and Benchmark LA4 preamp.
The Mustec maybe still available for the $2969 sale price and also 30-day home trial. Benchmark also has a 30-day home trial so there is a way to test them out before buying.
BTW - if you have a budget of under $2K I would buy the Topping D90SE which measure exactly like the DAC3B, is also an ESS chip, and costs $900. I also have this DAC and it is just like the DAC3B. Though if I were to sell 1 of these DACs it would be the Topping since I think Benchmark products are rock solid and will last a long time
BTW2 - The Gustard X26 Pro was the DAC I sold to get the Musetec 005 (I needed the funds). I can also recommend the Gustard. It is a slightly warmer ESS DAC. It does have more filter options to tailor the sound. An excellent DAC for $1500 (or $1250 on sale). I preferred the clarity of the DAC3B a bit more over the warmth of the Gustard..
As with any audio component it is a matter of taste and how the component meshes with one's audio system (Synergy). Some listeners find these DACs ideal and the epitome of neutrality. Others who've heard/owned them find their sonic character is analytical, clinical and sterile. So it will depend purely on your individual preference and how you hear and interpret reproduced music.
Thanks all. Based on your input and my sound preferences, I think the Benchmark may fit the bill. When I listen to systems descibed by others as "warm" or "analog like", they tend to sound dull and somewhat muddled to me. Build quality and warranty is also important to me as this will be my last DAC purchase for the foreseeable future.
@gnoworyta Why are you interested in the DAC3L instead of the DAC3B if you have a PS Audio preamp? All of the DAC3 models sound the same. The DAC3B would be cheaper and not have the redundant volume control for your use case.
Congratulations! I (obviously) think you have made a great choice. I should tell you a few other things. I know you were looking to upgrade your speakers from an earlier post. I have the Vandersteen Treos CT you were considering. I also run my signal through a new Audible Illusions 3B tube pre- amp and then to a Parasound A23+ solid state amp. All wires are Audioquest. I also listen to a great deal of Americana, acoustic jazz and classical. I was in the music business for over 30 years and have played guitar for over 50 years. My wife and I love Shawn Colvin. I own a Martin Custom Shop 0000-28 similar to Shawn's. I was just listening to her Live CD again the other night after a long layoff. The entire album was breathtaking! I know what that guitar sounds like in person. That is why I am telling you all this. I'm sure you don't need to know this, but I realized in this discussion, like most discussions on the internet, you have no idea about the background or experience of the people posting replies to your questions. The Benchmark is built like a tank...because it has to perform in recording studios for hours on end with no breakdowns. Also, the most important engineering is not the dac chip... it's the input (jitter control) and the output stage. This is a pro piece of gear, period. It's not etched, sterile or whatever...the recordings are that. This is not a "flavor" control...it has been designed and built to do a job for us and it does that, EVERYDAY, with no editorial opinions. Now, that may not be what people are looking for...great! There are plenty of options out there. Please feel comfortable with your decision and check out Sara Jaroz....I'm sure you already have. ("Bury Me In Bones" is pretty great too! and "Twist Of Fate")
One additional point I will make on the DAC3. I am a huge fan and will never sell it but this comment is a bit negative.
I worked with a very established audio vendor/musician on a digital streaming project this year. He has been involved with building recording studios and has a great ear. He has the DAC3L in his work area at his shop. So, he knows the DAC well.
He is not a huge fan of the DAC3 because he says it is a bit too bright for him. Now he thinks it sounds bright not because it is that way on top but because it is lacking some low end so the top end seems more pronounced. I disagreed with him when he came over to my place and heard my DAC3B. However, today after hearing the Musetec 005 I can see where someone could say the DAC3B lacks some low end. The Musetec seems to have more on the bottom.
Saying all that, I really never get tired of hearing the DAC3B. It fits my tastes rather well. I think I will move it from my Musetec 005 system and pair it with my warmish KRELL integrated because the DAC3B is a bit better than the internal DAC in the KRELL.
Depending on the listener involved and the system in question you can uncover flaws in any audio component. You cannot escape from the subjectivity of audio and listening to reproduced music. I wrote earlier in this thread that some find the Benchmark ideally neutral and uncolored and some find them analytical/clinical. Neither is wrong as it is just a reflection of perspective. You can do this with any brand of audio products. It is not exclusive to Benchmark. When all is said and done, buy what sounds best to you.
If you have a ps audio preamp, why wouldn’t you go for the ps audio DS jr or DS sr dac? These dacs are far superior to the benchmarks in sq, Ethernet and i2s capability, and fpga based. I had the DS jr for a couple of years and then went to the DS sr with the bridge II card. Don’t use usb with or without the so called tweaks to try to make usb decent sounding, and go with a dac that allows you to put your music server (pc/Mac, 3rd party) in a separate room and use Ethernet (with or without fiber if your network is noisy).
The DS jr will get you 70% of the quality of the DS sr for about $2200 used or find a used DS sr for around $3500 used
DoubleYY...credit to you for looking for a good synergy fit for your DAC 3B. That’s exactly what we all should be striving to do, right? Funny after my first post, I was listening to an Igor Markevich recording of the the Tchaikovsky 5th on the new box set of his Phillips recordings. Wow! the strings were strident and hard to enjoy. Great overall performance through. This is why I’ve been so focused on the quality of re-issues lately. I don’t expect the Benchmark to fix this problem. It may trace back to the original digital transfer/mastering. EMI (and Sony to a lesser degree) do a really good job of addressing these remastering issues. I also want to clarify that I only provided the biographical and system information to give our OP some context for evaluating my opinions. I only post on these questions when I think I have some direct user experience of what the OP is looking for. I know you are, quite rightly, thought of as the Benchmark maven on this site for your personal experience and enthusiasm for the brand. I know that you appreciate what they do. I can say, especially after listening to some Brad Mehldau and Sarah Jarosz tonight after the Markevich is... I will need to change my listening position on a case by case basis.....not my DAC......and fortunately, I can do that. Keep on listening!
Have a look at the ASR review and measurements of the PS Audio DS DAC (linked below). FWIW, it ranks #10 from the bottom of 117 DACs reviewed. The Benchmark DAC3 ranks #11 from the top. Not that ASR is necessarily the last word in measurements, or that they measure the qualities that matter to YOU. The PS Audio products do get a lot of raves from owners. Personally, I like having ethernet as well as USB inputs.
Stereophile rates BOTH the Benchmark DAC3 HGC and the PS Audio DS as "A+" components. The PS Audio product is much more expensive (but used models have been widely available in the past).
@gnoworyta for what it’s worth I had come to the same conclusion as you that the benchmark dac looked very interesting, I was considering it against the topping D90 and the chord cutest and the RMEADI2 dac. I had not heard any of them and was going by reviews and comments. In the end I opted for the Rme ADI 2 because it seem to have the greatest versatility and I am happy to report the sound quality is all that I hoped. It has the advantage that it comes in about $700 below your budget cap. Like the benchmark it is also made by a company that caters primarily to studio audio but tailored for the home market. I am currently having it serves as both dac and preamp Sending a balanced signal into a pair of Nelson Pass designed ACA mono blocks and KEF LS 50s. I honestly can’t imagine the sound getting a whole lot better.
The RME and Benchmark DAC3s are pretty similar (as is the Topping D90SE). My friend on the streaming project I mentioned above ended up with 3 new RME DACs instead of Benchmark DACs. Now those DACs may not have been broken in because they were brand new. There were some technical glitches on 1 of the DACs that I had to work around, but for the most part it was a similar sounding to the Benchmark DAC3.
Robert TN my system consists of the following/ Tekton DI speakers, SVS sb 4000 sub, Peachtree AMP 500, Benchmark LA-4 preamp and DAC 3B, Audio lab 6000cdt. I stream Amazon HD music trough a Windows based computer, USB , into my DAC 3, along with CD's. I listen to only Rock and Roll music quite loudly, near 100spl level. Since adding the LA-4 and DAC 3, I can't begin to explain how much of an improvement I've heard. Not a 5 or 10% improvement, But maybe 50%. I can't get over the improved dynamics, clarity, openness!!!! Voices!!!! I feel like I bought a brand new system. Rory, at Benchmark sold me on the combo preamp and DAC. He said a vast improvement over just the DAC, All I can say is, I'm VERY Impressed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!! by the way, Benchmark is in NEW YORK, 30 day free trial period, 5 year warranty, and have been in business for many years. Rory will answer any questions you have, sound, hook up, etc. Can't say enough good things. Robert TN