I went through the exercise of comparing these two and others recently. I think you'll find a lot of useful information discussing these two particular DACs if you search existing threads.
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Benchmark DAC1 tends to be precise - I believe the DAC1 pre is much teh same but I have not heard it. Benchmark claim that because of precise phase accuracy of their pro design you get a narrower and tight image that gravitates more to being between the speakers relative to other DAC's (which sound more open with broader and sometimes bigger than life soundstage). You also tend to more aware that the singer is singing into a microphone on vocals. Anoteh rdifference is a tendency to hear less thickness in the lower midrange - it comes across very clear leaning towards a "horn" type sound. All of this is described on line by countless listeners. Benchmark claim these effects are all due to superior accuracy and preicsion. You must judge yourself.
Many audiophiles prefer something a bit more laid back with less precision in order to be less aware that you are listening to a recording (warts and all).
I like the DAC1 but it fits well with my listening preferences. I am very much interested in the music and individual instruments - I have no worries that it sometimes sounds like a recording (which, after all it is)
"So the DAC1 and the DAC1 Pre sound similar enough so that any comparisons between the DAC1 and Bel Canto also applies to the DAC1 Pre?"
The original DAC1 uses NE5532 op-amps in input and output stages. The DAC1 USB uses the LM4562 in the output stages. The DAC1 Pre uses LM4562 throughout. It stands to reason that these differences might result in a different sound. I recently replaced my DAC1 with a DAC1 Pre and did a quick and admittedly unscientific A/B listening comparison before selling the DAC1. FWIW, I felt I could hear very subtle differences, but both sounded superb and really much more similar than different.
Does the Bel Canto lack analog inputs? From what I can tell, this seems to be the case (probably to avoid competing with Bel Canto's preamps). If that's the case, that's a bit of an issue for me. I currently have a tube pre-amp that I'm pretty happy with, but I also wanted my DAC to serve as an alternate more detailed preamp. My North Star Cd player lacks digital outputs (probably for a similar reason, i.e. north star producing a transport). Do you guys think it would be possible to find someone to modify the cd player to add digital outputs or the dac to add analogue inputs? Could I do this for a reasonable price or would I be better off buying a cheap transport too? My wallet is hurting as it is...
With a DAC only device like the Bel Canto, as a first step, if I were you, I would consider using a computer or laptop as the source to the DAC via USB interface.
Another inexpensive option,if you already have a computer that can function as a music server and a Wifi LAN in your home would be to get a Roku Soundbridge (under $200), connect that to the LAN and use the computer as the music server. Take a look at my system for an example of this.
Total cost for a suitable laptop, wireless router, and Roku SOundbridge as a source for the DAC would probably be under $1000 if starting from scratch. This can offer top notch sound and the computer/laptop can be utilized for other common tasks as well while you listen.
I'm mostly interested in analog inputs in the DAC's so I can have a passive preamp as an alternative to my tube preamp without spending more money. While I'm pretty happy with my Odyssey Candela tube pre, it doesn't sound quite as good for some genres such as classical. I actually found an explanation for how to add a digital out to a cd player: http://www.turboegt.com/Audio/Car%20Audio/Digital%20Outs/digital_outpu-f.htm although I'm not sure how reliable the instructions are because I have little technical knowledge..
As far as a music server goes, I only have one system so I just figured I'd connect my desktop to the DAC via USB. Is there a reason why I'd want a dedicated music server as opposed to a desktop?
The music server is a software program that can run in the background on a newer, faster desktop PC or laptop with sufficient disk storage as well. A beefier dedicated server computer is not necessarily required these days.
You can connect via USB or wireless LAN. USB requires close proximity for a physical wire connection. With LAN or wireless LAN, the music server device can be located anywhere in the house that the wireless router can reach.
I use Windows Media Player as the Music Server program. I use loss less .wav file format files ripped to a 300Gb disk on the Toshiba laptop running Vista OS.
In my case, the laptop has a wireless (WiFI) connection to a Linksys wireless router running my wireless network. The Roku Soundbridge connects similarly to the WiFi network and the laptop music server. The digital outputs from the Roku feed my DAC.
So I do not use a physical USB connection, from laptop to DAC, but that should work as well using WMP as the server program, I believe.
To enable it to work as a server using a device like the Roku as the remote controller, yes, there was a configuration parameter that had to be set (i'll check the name and get back on that) but it may be different to control WMP directly on the PC/laptop. You basically just need it to output to the USB port. Not sure if that involves special setup or not.
Maybe someone else who knows for sure could chirp in?
The "Windows Media Sharing" feature of Windows Media Player has to be enabled to allow other network devices, like the Roku or a Squeezebox, to share media files, including music files.
A DAC connected physically via USB does not communicate via a network, so I am pretty certain this would not apply in that case. See if you can find a USB DAC user guide available on-line somewhere. The user guide should indicate what if any special setup is needed for Windows, etc., if any. Most likely, a driver has to be installed and configured and that is it.
Here's an example:
Interestingly, this indicates that Vista is preffered for better sound quality than XP due to XP resident software that messes with the bits somehow. I can vouch that the sound quality on Vista using the networked media sharing approach is top notch. I suspect the same should be true for a USB DAC + driver as well.
Can anyone speak to the quality of the analog section of the BM Dac1 Pre? While 80% of my listening is digital from either a CDP or Squeezebox, I still love to spin vinyl. Benchmark has made it's name on its DAC, but just how good is the analog section of this unit? Is it an afterthought or is it the real deal?
Mapman and others,
Thanks for all the insights. I am trying to build a digital/itunes stored audiophile system. Some say this is an oxymoron but your comments are encouraging. Here is what I have so far as a start: Rotel amp, B&W CM7 speakers, Roku soundbridge plus an old preamp and old NAD CD Player. I need a new preamp and think I now understand the importance of DAC. So from the sounds of it Benchmark DAC1 may work well for both. I am storing both my old CDs on Itunes using the Apple lossless download plus downloading new music onto a seperate hard drive on my laptop. I could then connect the library to the Benchmark either directly via USB or wirelessly through the Roku which would hard connect to the Benchmark through the optical input. And, then onto the amp
Does this make sence? I am sure I have a number of weak links with this approach. Maybe?
-using the built-in cd drive on my computer to upload to itunes then on to the hard drive?
-Is lossless an okay format?
-on any of the download music which is in an ACC Protected format and only at 128 bits?
Then I have heard about the Wadia Itranport which supposedly takes the digital signal out of the ipod before going on to a seperate DAC. But the limitation here is even on 160 GB Ipod you are very limited on the number of lossless file songs you can save.
Dazed and confused
Sounds like a viable plan.
I'm actually using the Microsoft lossless format for many rips and it sounds essentially flawless to my ears. I'm sure without even hearing it that Apple lossless is at least as good or better based on the track records of Apple and MSFT.
I'd be particularly curious regarding any observations you could report comparing the wireless to USB approach and the resulting sound when you get to that point.
My gut feel is that USB may have more variability from device to device due to the more variable nature of the software interface (the USB driver used), but have never had an opportunity to explore the USB apporach. Wireless is just more convenient and I have just not heard anything yet with it to complain about soundwise.