The AH! brand new can cost you upwards of $1200. If your deck will serve as a good transport the Benchmark can be a good addition. Another option is to get an Audio Mirror D1 DAC for $500 (you can try it out first, just ask Vlad he is reasonable). You might be able to get the AH! on a home trial as well, then compare the two. The only thing you're at risk for is paying return shipping. Lastly, a very good used transport should run you around $500, combined with the Audio Mirror that is less than the top of the line AH!
You have lots of options. Have fun listening to them before you decide.
My system: Von Schweikert VR-1, Creek 5350SE and Tjoeb 4000 with the upsampler board. I listened to the stock 4000 for awhile and really liked it. I then installed the upsampler and liked it more. I almost wished I had bought the PrimaLuna, but I am a fan of SS like the Creek. I have not heard the Benchmark. I highly recommend the 4000 even without the the upsampler board. It will match very well with your system. Good luck and enjoy!
The primaluna and Tjoeb are made by the same people so if you are happy with the luna....
I have the fuly upgraded 4000 with Amperex NOS tubes for about 2.5 years now. Thing works fine still and sounds great. Only issue is that the RCA's are too close togetehr for fat interconnect cables and I thing my interconnects have caused one of them to become intermitant when wiggled. Not a big deal if I don't wiggle ;-)
I own the Benchmark DAC1 but have never heard the Noej Tjoeb 4000. However, from what I understand the 4000 sound to be, the two would be very different in sonic character. The DAC1 is a VERY detailed, clean, crisp source leaning on the bright side. The tubed 4000 I understand to be warmer, smoother and more laid back. Someone who's heard the 4000 can correct me, but I think it comes down to what kind of sound you prefer.
I think Insominac99 has pretty well captured what I understand the differences to be. I have not heard the DacI, but have read many posts which suggest that it is wonderful Dac for those who value clarity, detail and unveiled top end. I own the Super Tjoeb with upsampler (along with Prima Prologue I) and the combo is very musical, with a sweet midrange and top end sparkle. I listen mainly to jazz, acoustical & bossa, and the system plays this music with marvelous timbre and immediacy. Probably not the ideal system for steady dose of large-scale orchastra or rock though.
I own both the Tjoeb with upsampler and the Benchmark Dac1. They are both excellent products. I currently run the Benchmark directly into my Bel Canto digital amp. The Tjoeb gives a nice warm, smooth sound to things. If you have an all solid state system that may tend to be on the bright, analytical side, the Tjoeb may be an absolute lifesaver. It will make the music sound like music. The Benchmark offers a bit more resoution, clarity and slam, but will not warm up your system. I was a little dissapointed in the Benchmark at first (music a little dry) until I used a balanced XLR connection--the music really came alive then. As I said, I now use the Banchmark in my system.
By the way, the Tjoeb is fine without the upsampler. The upsampler changes the sound for sure but is it better--I'm not sure.
There are others to consider; I owned the Ah! 4000 with upsampler for a while. Nice, but not extravagant sound. Moved to the Rega Apollo, totally outclassed the Ah! in every respect. No comparison. The Apollo is both very detailed AND analogue sounding.
There were issues with soldering initially on some Apollo units, but I understand from the Rega dealers that all Apollo units now are perfect operationally.
At price point of $1k, the Apollo is EXTREMELY difficult to beat for sound. Have not heard the Benchmark, but would love to hear them A/B.
Rega in a couple months will come out with the Saturn here in the U.S. It will be an improvement over the Apollo. They are gunning for competing with the $5-6k competitors; price will be about $2,400
The Apollo is so good that you could buy unheard, simply going off of reviews, etc. and be confident that you are at the point of the best sound quality available at that price. Some very good reviews of it on audioreview.com
Since you have tube electronics you'd probably prefer the tubed source. The DAC 1 is a pro piece of gear designed for monitoring -- it's going to be true to the signal.
DAC1 will be on the bright, forward side of things. It may make you not want to listen to some CDs as it is very picky and will not forgive a badly recorded cd and will let it all through. And a lot of CDs are recorded just bad. The DAC1 is what it is, a monitoring tool. I completely agree with that assesment made by Bob Reynolds. If you want smoother sound, a bit more liquid mids and highs with deeper bass and no loss of resolution, then you should consider Bel Canto DAC2. I had both the Benchmark and Bel Canto dacs in my system for comparison and kept Bel Canto. I felt that Benchmark lacked musicality. It was just simply digital sounding, way too digital, as a matter of fact.
Haven't heard the Tjoeb, can't saying anything about that one.
Clio, allow me to disagree with you on the AM dac level of performance. I do say that it sounds pretty good for a $500 dac, but that's about it. I wouldn't put it in the same league as Bel Canto DAC2. I can see though where I can prefer the AM dac over Benchmark, simply because it doesn't sound as digital in comparison. But there are better choices out there than Audio Mirror.
I was driving the Bel Canto DAC2 with a $60 Philips DVD player and it sounded great via both the coax and optical outputs.
Consider a Lavry DA-10. It's a relatively new DAC. Do some research.
Speaking of Bel Canto DAC's, Bel Canto is just now releasing the DAC3 which will also have a digital high-end volume control so you can eliminate your preamp completely if it suits you. The info is available at belcantodesign.com