Benchmark dac - why such diverging opinions?


I'm puzzled.
Audiophile sites and magazines continue to rave about the benchmark dac (HDR, USB, pre,...). Perfect rendition, studio quality, unbeatable value,...

Yet criticism stacks up high on many blogs. Too harsh, not musical enough,...

Why such divergence? Does its popularity make it the one one loves to hate? Are magazines just biased in their reviews? Are audiophile bloggers not good judges of quality. Are those considering buying a dac at that price having sub-par components whose imperfections the benchmark dac amplifies, while those going higher end don't consider the dac adequate vs a berkeley or weiss? Where is the catch?

I ended up buying a w4s dac. I considered the benchmark yet never had the chance to audition it.
mizuno
The reviews which are done by 'professionals' very rarely if ever criticize or give a negative review of anything they review. That is why many of us do not put much if any stock in the reviews or the resulting listening comparisons. The most glowing reviews also seem to consistently come from the publications that accept advertising and receive their income from said advertisements. Can you put two and two together? It is a symbiotic relationship. Has been and will continue to be.

The same, unfortunately, can be said for many hobbies that have trade publications that do reviews of products.(autos, computers, home improvement tools, photography, etc). Everything gets 4 or 5 stars and we all know that is a bunch of crap!

Marketing and sales keeps everyone employed...its part of the business model IMO.
I also auditioned a Benchmark HDR at home several months ago. Like a lot of people, I found it too lean in the mid-bass, and while the treble was impressivly extended, I found I didn't really like the sounds that were revealed "way up there" (I believe in a live situation that extreme treble frequencies never make it to the ears. I remember a cartoon showing two audiophiles walking out of a concert and agreeing, "Not enough treble!".) I did like the exceptionally clean and bell-like midrange. Also the sound was very immediate and "quick". I really wanted to like it more because it's such a cool piece of gear, but it's not really how I want to hear the music.

Maybe it's an issue of "you can't handle the truth!" Maybe all the other equipment I like is plump in the mid-bass and rolled off on top. Quite possible given that I gravitate towards tube gear.
One proverb of audiophilia is you MUST listen for yourself. If you only go by a review, or someone elses opinion, then you are about 50/50 chance of not liking it.
I have done it myself on a DAC. So i am no exception. i returned an expensive DAC as it was no better than my old DAC, in my system.

Also, different folks have different priorities. Some want certain parts of the sound perfect, and will allow others to be not so great with no comment. and natually, those parts are different for different folks.
Some reviewers should bother to tell the reader thier bias.

Like my bias is the upper frequencies. they have to be perfect, clean, clear, great tone... all else is less important to me than that. So if it is good, with a really great top end, i love it. If the upper frequencies are not there, no matter how perfect the rest, it sucks IMO.
And i hate any sort of bloat in the lower frequencies..
Perhaps this helps you understand.
Different folks listen for different stuff. and listening for yourself is EVERYTHING.
Bar that, just buy used, try it, and pass it on if it is not for you..
It doesn't sound good. Very bright, harsh, and strindgent. There are very few positive comments I have heard about the Benchmark from people who have owned it. Especially if they have auditioned other DAC's, then it really gets thrown out with the dishwater.

If you had a very "warm" sounding system; high efficiency horns, tube pre and SET amp, the brightness might mellow that out, give you an even sound. Otherwise, it's just not a great DAC. I have never understood the positive reviews.
Any component with an audiophile audience will draw a wide range of responses. You can find critical commentary on just about anything (Wilson speakers, anyone?)

Why worry about it? Either your system does what you want it to do, or it doesn't.
Macdad-What does "strindgent" mean? I'm puzzled. Let me check The American Heritage Dictionary.
Very simple: Stereo magazines are commercial and being paid to advertise the product from the good side. The bad side is usually found on discusussions and blogs.
Lindisfarne, maybe you should check the Oxford Dictionary, it's usually more inclusive.
Like any decent/good component it will sound really good in some systems and leave something to be desired in others.

Plus different listeners like different things.

So, like any piece, the best you can discern from reviews and opinions is whether or not any certain piece sounds good sometimes and maybe why or sometimes bad and why.

Then you assess how it is likely to sound in your system and room based on your best analysis including value judgements, etc. Then you try it. If your analysis was good, it will likely sound good. Then you assess in your system, determine whetehr satisfied or not. if not, then you repeat the process a little smarter than when you started so better chance for good results next time.

That's basically how it works.

Generally, if you stick with well known products that have received multiple positive reviews, even if there are also some negative ones, the quality of the product will not be the issue, rather how good a job you did with your analysis and decision making process.

There are very few things in the world everyone agrees is good much less outstanding. There are some who do not find Cameron Diaz attractive even for example. SO "that's jsut the way it is. Some things will never change....".
06-20-11: Lindisfarne
Macdad-What does "strindgent" mean? I'm puzzled. Let me check The American Heritage Dictionary.

Professor Lindisfarne, I bet your pupil meant to use the word “stringent” and mistakenly typed a “d.” Of course, the word “strident” would be better used. Shall we go back through your threads and posts professor?

I believe that most of us understood what Mac meant….I know I did.

Doh!
With all "legendary" products you will get the extremists out, trying to prove to everyone that they have something far far far superior.

The DAC1 received near universal acclaim from pros and it got glowing reviews from many.

1) It measures beyond repute
2) Modestly priced (perhaps one of the first affordable "pro" quality DACs)
3) Golden Ears like Doug Sax liked it (Sheffield Labs)
4) Their asynchronous clock virtually eliminates the bug bear of all digital systems => jitter (and measurements prove it)

All the above makes it a target to try and shoot at.

Perhaps those who spent more are upset that something so modestly priced can be reputed to perform so well. Although some are no doubt genuine concerns from people who did not read the manual and ended up overdriving the inputs of their consumer preamp (would obviously sound terrible) with the much higher pro level audio outputs of the DAC1. Others may have such a room or such an eclectic setup that they need a very specific sounding DAC in order to compensate for peculiarities elsewhere in their room/setup.

Anyway, for whatever reason, it is nearly always like this with a product that becomes an iconic. Like with used Nikon lenses and used Toyota's, it is interesting to note how the DAC1 holds its price better than many other components. Meanwhile many of today's poster childs will be tomorrow's basement bargains. That should tell you something.
"If you had a very "warm" sounding system; high efficiency horns, tube pre and SET amp, the brightness might mellow"

None of the above and no brightness. Extended highs and very clean natural sibilants. Benchmark was purposely designed to sound neutral and not warm. Very low noise floor and strong jitter rejection makes Benchmark very resolving uncovering any shortcomings of the system.

Judging by some Audiogon opinions Benchmark is the worst audio component ever - being at the same time Stereophile "2004 Products of the year Editor's Choice" among many other awards. Amazing!
I bought one & love it. Why? It pumps out awesome sound quality when I play music from my PC laptop through Itunes, internet radio stations & my CD player (Sony SCD333es). It worked first time I plugged it in with no techno work involved. Truely, plug and play. In my system the depth of the mucsic, bass estension and treble are spot on. What other people think, go figure...
Oh yeah & I like the blue light too.
Have fun, John
Shardone, I actually bought one of these a few back due to some glowing reviews on here by many, including yourself. I have a question for you though; looking at your gear, pretty much anything would sound it's best running through that rig. Have you tried any of the newer DAC's to compare them to what you currently have?

1) Wyred DAC2
2) Bryton BDA-1
3) Eastern Electic Mini DAC
4) Berkeley Alpha
5) PS Audio Perfect Wave

I would be shocked it you didn't like any one of those better.

I hated mine, tried many afterward, maybe it just didn't match well with my gear, I had the problem with the AWESOME (all caps Linds-fart) McIntosh 501's. Great amp, sounded like crap with my gear. Went to a buddies system and lit up his B & W's like nothing ever has.

Fact is though, on A'gon it seems that most comments about the Benchmark DAC's have been negative.
I have it and I love it!
Fact is though, on A'gon it seems that most comments about the Benchmark DAC's have been negative.
Given the non-audiophile approved gear used in your typical recording studio, I'm surprised your average audiophile has more than two albums he considers acceptable for listening.

(...ducking for cover)
;-)
"Fact is though, on A'gon it seems that most comments about the Benchmark DAC's have been negative."

Perhaps because most of people seek very warm sounding gear. Let see what Benchmark's Technical Director John Siau said about it:

"We designed the DAC1 for maximum transparency. If you want to add warmth, you can't add it with a DAC1. Personally, I do not like what warm sounding equipment does to the sound of a piano. Warmth is wonderful on vocals, guitars and certain instruments, but it beats against the stretched overtones of a piano. The overtones in a piano occur at slightly higher than harmonic ratios, and these create beat notes with the exact integer ratios produced by electronic equipment (and speakers). Too much harmonic distortion will
make a piano sound out of tune."

That would suggest to me that warmth is not a virtue and more experienced listeners, including professional reviewers prefer neutral sound. It is also likely that rest of the equipment they use don't have many faults that Benchmark ruthlessly reveals.
I suspect it true that most who do not like Benchmark are seeking warmth in their digital for whatever reason.

I have a warm sounding tube DAC (mhdt Paradisea) in my second system with speakers that tend towards the transparent and analytical side and a similr more "analytical" sounding ss DAC (mhdt Constantine) in my main rig which needs no additional warmth otherwise.

Gotta get the mix of ingredients right and to personal taste in any system to sound good.....

What I have sounds really good, but I wouldn't mind hearing what the BEnchmark sounds like in my main rig. I was leaning towards the BEnchmark originally for a SS DAC but the mhdt came in at less than half the price and sounds fantastic and is hard to fault.
I was going to post about my experince with the Benchmark HDR, which I sent back and replaced with a W4S DAC-2. But Daverz wrote my post for me already, so I'll paste that:

I also auditioned a Benchmark HDR at home several months ago. Like a lot of people, I found it too lean in the mid-bass, and while the treble was impressivly extended, I found I didn't really like the sounds that were revealed "way up there" (I believe in a live situation that extreme treble frequencies never make it to the ears. I remember a cartoon showing two audiophiles walking out of a concert and agreeing, "Not enough treble!".) I did like the exceptionally clean and bell-like midrange. Also the sound was very immediate and "quick". I really wanted to like it more because it's such a cool piece of gear, but it's not really how I want to hear the music.

Maybe it's an issue of "you can't handle the truth!" Maybe all the other equipment I like is plump in the mid-bass and rolled off on top. Quite possible given that I gravitate towards tube gear.
"you can't handle the truth!"

That's very accurate observation. One person even expressed opinion that Benchmark is too resolving making each instrument sound independently while he got used to all instruments mushed together. My experience was similar. Sound was so clean that I thought some instruments must be missing. Now I enjoy clarity of Benchmark and can see why it became a benchmark in audio.
Apropos of perhaps not much, but tracks these days are mixed with all sorts of divergent goals in mind, and often done for the genuine lowest common denominator (ie, mixed to sound good on a car system with a percentage of the speakers blown, downsampled to AAC, at 60 miles per hour with the windows down). But when the mixing goal is absolute fidelity -- and it often is not, but when it is -- this is frequently done with the most etched, unforgiving, resolving, analytical gear achievable, on the express theory that if one can make something sound listenable on that type of setup, it will sound good on anything. (And, inversely, the type of system that many things will very much NOT sound good on...). That is the extreme that I understand really good professional gear to be designed towards -- and by all accounts, an extreme that the Benchmark excells at. In other words, no-compromise professional gear is designed to be a tool, a magnifying glass if you will to reveal and accentuate every last flaw. Home reproduction gear, very frequently, is designed with different -- not mutually exclusive by a long shot -- but certainly very different priorities.

Putting aside whether "truth" is subjective or objective or whatever, that particular flavor of "truth" in home audio reproduction is simply not something that all folks, playing most software, will want to live with on a day to day basis. Hell, wouldn't eat chocolate every day, either. But, if that's what you want, you'll by all accounts love the Benchmark. If it's not what you want, you may not like it one little bit. Whether or not this adds up to an accurate verdict on Benchmark, however, is perhaps beside the point. As I understand it, the Benchmark is professional gear designed with that goal in mind -- and the fact that it has developed a huge following and achieved real success in the non-professional market says about all you need to know regarding whether it's a viable design goal. It obviously is. Whether it's the piece of gear for you or not, or could find a happy home within your particular system firing ideosyncratically in your particular room, however, that one is up to you and no one else. Or, at any rate, my theory at the moment (and, incidentally, what drove me to consider other DACs when it came down to the one I wanted to live with).
Excellent comments above. Yes, the DAC1 is clean, fast, pristine, dynamic, with powerful bass, but it may be too "clean" esp. in the mid bass, for those who like some richness. I haven't found it harsh or bright at all. It takes excellent ancillary equipment (esp. the transport and digital cable) and some time to appreciate the above virtues v. other dacs.

However, it also should be noted that many negative comments are simply the result of a vocal minority, i.e, a few individuals, literally only a handful, of naysayers who for some strange reason post negative comments about the DAC1 over and over again, while the majority of owners - the thousands and thousands who love the Benchmark, both pro and audiophile alike, do not participate and are silent. This gives an unfortunate erroneous negative view of the DAC1

For example, on this forum there's Macdadtexas, who, while otherwise lucid, has posted dozens of negative comments about the DAC1. As an example, see his comments above on this very thread.

Then, on Audioasylum, there's four or so posters who almost obsessively post negative comments dozens of times, often together. If someone says something positive about the DAC1, they join in together to disparage the DAC1 and often the poster himself. These individuals, none of whom state what equipment they have, mainly consist of posters named Regor Ladan, carcass123 (I think that's the name), mbxlc, and maybe one other. Carcass123 in one post admits he "heard the DAC1 once" - I guess that makes him an expert - and from this one listening draws the conclusion that the DAC is a "bad" dac, which he can state a dozen times. Nonsense.

Fact is, the Benchmark DAC1 is an outstanding dac that, imo, fully warrants the praise it has received, notwithstanding the handful of naysayers.

I would be shocked it you didn't like any one of those better.

I am quite sure I would appreciate them all. They all have a great reputation but I am sufficiently happy with the DAC1 that I have no urge to change. I think there is a stage you reach where things begin to be only a bit different but not necessarily a lot better and the DAC1 is sufficient for me. I don't doubt that by trying ten different DAC's or spending five times as much that I might find one that is slightly more suited to my tastes but the difference will not be material enough to me to be worth the money or time. To be honest I found the difference between the DAC1 and stock Sony CD player to be audible but not huge...nothing even remotely approaching the difference I hear between one room and another or one speaker and another.
I'm puzzled ...

Mizuno (Threads | Answers | This Thread)

Very simple ... same reason there are more than one flavor of ice cream.
Shadorne, I'm with you, my feelings exactly. Plus, while all these posts address only the dac aspects of the DAC1, let's also remember that the DAC1 is much more, i.e., it's also a preamp and headphone amp all in one chassis,which the other dacs are not. Plus, I have the HDR version so it's also a preamp for an analog source (not just digital) and it has a remote.

I would also suggest, as another poster has mentioned in prior posts, that the DAC1 responds strongly to various improvements in ancillary equipment (which to me indicates its inherent quality), including upgrades in transport, power cable and fuses. I'm using a Mark Levinson transport, Shunyata Python Helix power cords and HiFi tuning fuses, with transport and DAC plugged into a Shunyata Hydra 8 power conditioner. All produced improvements.
Frankly out of the box I didnt care much for the Benchmark. Only after plugging it straight into the wall, changing power cords, ic, fuse, vibration and then addressing server issues (asio settings, power supply) did this DAC start to really sound good.
What is with Mr. English teacher, Lindisfarne?
Post removed 
there are differences in opinions in politics, musical performance, choice of movies, acting, food, art and literature.

let someone take a survey regarding favorite components by type , and you will see the diversity of choices.
Mrtennis,

Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion.

Oscar Wilde
hi kjanki:

what is the connotation of the quote you have cited ?

i suspect that oscar wilde was engaging in banter and such a statement should not be taken seriously.
I am so clever that sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying. Also Wilde. Along with, Whenever people agree with me I always feel I must be wrong. Capiche?
"what is the connotation of the quote you have cited ?"

Diversity of opinions is good.
hi kijanki:

thank you for your reasonable response. discussing differences in opinion can be entertaining and enlightening, as it can open the mind to different ways of thinking.
System synergy is key (and personal preferance) - the whole chain..I have a Benchmark and it sounds great, a bit shy of the Berkeley, which says alot.
I now have in my system the Benchmark dac 1 usb and the Minimax dac and in my experience, there's not that much difference. I've found that adding the empirical audio offramp 3 as being the most significant gear I've had in my mac based music server.
Once had a friend try to show off his Benchmark DAC in my system. Considering how similar both our systems are, except the speakers, he was shocked at how different it sounded. We tried different settings. Nothing about the design should be finicky and one test shouldn't be conclusive but what else can I assume?
"Maybe it's an issue of "you can't handle the truth!"

I have to agree with the earlier post. I have had the DAC1-HDR in my system for over a year now and still like it's clean dynamic sound.
someone's rapture may be another's rupture.

or, someone's idea of great sound may be another's idea of terrible sound.
Is this the sort of device that could switches for filters so you could select "neutral" and "warm" - so you could have the truth and ad some warm maple syrup when called for.
For me, the big question is : "Is it musical?" Does it get my toes tapping or head bobbing? If not, then it won't do, no matter how clean or neutral it is. Is it like live music? - because live music is most certainly musical.
"Musical" is just another way of saying "I like it", isn't it? Even "it sounds like live music" is totally subjective; everyone takes away something different from the experience of live music.

One thing that's only been touched on briefly so far that may effect opinions about the Benchmark is that it is "pro" gear. I don't think this effected my own opinion; I respect the hard-nosed engineering ethic of much pro gear. But some people crinkle their nose at gear from any company with a pro reputation.

By the way, I did try the DAC1 with the different output level settings (a feature I wish more gear had).
Did you prefer the higher or lower gain settings? Any reason for higher than 2v for amps with 1v sensitivity?
Interesting thing about pro gear - it's not only used by musicians but also to record and process a very high percentage of all music released.

Many audiophiles are still in search of tone controls (preconfigured to their taste) as long as they don't have to admit that's what they're really after.
Guys, It's designed for pro audio so it needs careful adjustments to sound good in home HiFi!! look at my thread at:
http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?ddgtl&1292529269&read&keyw&zzbenchmark

And learn how to get the best out of the DAC-1, if you use the DAC-1 straight out of the box, it does sound a little sterile, but if you use it properly, the sound is neutral and balanced! Not warm but not sterile either.

A mellow-sounding DAC is always easier to please, but use your common sense here: if a DAC can win numerous awards including both Stereophile and The Absolute Sound, it has to have more merits than shortcomings! It's designed for pro audio so it needs careful adjustments to sound good in home HiFi!!
Yingtonggao - I found most vivid and detailed sound at 0dB jumper position. It is the same finding as in the following review:

http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue26/benchmark_dac1.htm

I use volume control directly driving power amp from XLR outputs but according to Benchmark signal path with or without volume control is identical. The only issue, I suspect, might be quality of the volume pot itself.
Kijanki, I agree the volume pot is not really high-end, adding a preamp that can take 10 volt fixed output helps.

After owning various versions of Benchmark DAC-1 for 9 years, I have moved on, including MF Trivista Dodson 218 Cary 306/200 and Audia CD One. Even though there are better DACs for more money, I keep coming back and listening to DAC-1, and often amazed by its clean, neutral sound. It won't please everybody, it's not the best for some music, and it's not the best overall, but what is? I am not selling my DAC-1 even with much more expensive (and yes, better) DACs at home. This DAC has quality, reliability, tweakability, functionality and neutrality all in one little box, Bravo!
Added the Audiophilleo 2 to the Benchmark setup and this took the sound to another level. Worth every penny.