Benchmark DAC3 robust playback independent of digital source/cabling


I upgraded from DAC 2 to DAC 3 recently.

The specs on the DAC 3 speak for themselves. I don’t know of anything that measures better.

The sound is as clear, detailed and as transparently neutral as it gets with exceptionally low noise floor (blacks are black). If anything it is a little forward in the mid range compared with most other DACs but despite the detail there is a nice analog smoothness to everything. The bass is noticeably articulate but that requires a high end speaker to be heard clearly. Very Important: You must use the DAC 3 XLR direct to your power amp and speakers in order to maximize the benefit of the performance of this DAC - passing through a preamp is not going to improve things and very likely will degrade SNR and performance.

Recently I was able to try a bunch of configurations to try to see if USB cabling or a digital bridge could make a difference. I have heard and confirmed that USB cabling, coax vs optical, and different sample rates and formats can and does affect audible performance of OTHER modern DACs. I suspect jitter is still the problem as well as sample rate conversion methodologies implemented in many DACs - even those with the latest and greatest DtoA chips - and these limitations result in audible differences with various digital cables and source sample rates.

I wanted to test the Benchmark DAC 3 to see if the sound could be audibly affected by changing cables or reclocking or sample rates. I compared Coax to Optical to USB at various sample rates - nothing nada - absolutely no difference in sound. I also tried a Singxer SU-1 on loan from a friend - the Singxer took USB from may MAC Mini and converted to Coax - again absolutely no audible difference. All this is despite the optical coming straight out of the Mac Mini output jack - probably quite jittery compared to the Mac Mini feeding digital USB to a Singxer SU-1 with a coaxial connection to the DAC. Nevertheless the DAC3 faithfully converts digital to analog flawlessly and identically no matter what digital signal is feeding it. (Provided the digital be it USB or optical or coax is bit perfect)

I was very surprised that a variety of Roon converted sample rates also sounded identical. I believe this is because the DAC3 upsamples to the GHz range (for picosecond timing adjustments all done digitally) on Benchmarks proprietary dedicated digital circuits prior to feeding the Sabre chip a digital down sampled (from GHz) 211KHz signal.

So there you have it. The Benchmark DAC 3 that I own reliably converts all forms of digital over a variety of cabling and does this perfectly and identically. Testing was through lengthy listening and A to B instant switching from one digital input to another (RoonServer running on my MAC Mini can deliver multiple digital feeds via different paths to practically any DAC)

It is the consensus here on audiogon that most DACs (as reported here in countless cable threads) undoubtedly require an expensive digital USB bridge to clean up a jittery signal or special cables (Coax, optical or a USB) and may sound best on a particular digital input vs another. A particular cable vs another.

Conclusion

The Benchmark DAC 3 I own does NOT REQUIRE anything at all to sound perfect with any digital input - a direct connection from my MAC Mini sounds as good and perfect as thousands of $ of cabling/bridging.

So if you are OK with the sound of the DAC 3 then my experience is this DAC is a worry and trouble free solution to a perfect listening experience every time with no band aids.













7ac929ee be73 4853 8000 abc8d06023d4Ag insider logo xs@2xshadorne
Thanks for the excellent writeup and inputs, Shadorne. I read through the technology section of Benchmark's description of the HGC version of the DAC3 (which appears to be identical to the technology writeup for the L version, but not for the DX version). I also looked at their lengthy technical writeup on the new converter chip they are using. It certainly sounds like an impressive design, that is innovative in several different ways that seem likely to have contributed to your findings.

Thanks again. Best regards,
-- Al
 
Very interesting. Thanks Shadorne. Based on technical merit, reputation,  and audition, I decided a while ago that my next DAC may well be Benchmark. Practically, on the grand scale of things, I have not found the 2 variables you tested with the Benchmark to be significant with other DACs I’ve used to date either. Just put pretty much any well made and properly functioning gear and digital wires in place and most should be good to go. All DACs will of course not sound exactly the same and be liked equally by all. There are also, of course, many other things to pay attention to that WILL have a huge impact on the sound.
shadorne: Kinda like when you wrote that you could hear no difference between the Benchmark DAC1 and DAC 2.

Dave
@dlcockrum

I did not do a careful comparison of the DAC1 when I got the DAC2 a few years ago - they were in two systems in different houses. A month or so ago, I compared all three side by side - new DAC3 vs DAC2 (2 yr old) vs DAC 1 (10 year old). In that comparison DAC2 and DAC3 were very close but I found the lower noise floor of the DAC3 made an audible sense of blackness that was surprisingly significant even though the presentation was very alike. As for DAC1 - it was totally smoked by both the DAC2 and DAC3 - the audible improvement in the clarity of the bass and upper treble was enormous in either of the newer DACs over the old DAC1. The difference made me suspect that after 10 years some of the caps in the old DAC1 were reaching the end of their life (DAC was on 100% of the time in my old setup). I have recapped electronics before so I am familiar with the change that fresh caps can bring to a 10 year old component and the DAC1 had linear power supply that ran very hot indeed - much hotter than the DAC2 or DAC3 switched Mode power supplies.

What I reported in the DAC3 review above was confirmed by the owner of the Singxer. Furthermore, as I have posted on other Audiogon threads, I have heard myself the benefits that a Singxer audio digital USB bridge can bring to certain DACs or setups.

Conclusion
Not all DACs are as robustly immune to cabling or digital sources as the Benchmark DAC3. Many DACs benefit from jitter treatment/reclocker or special cables. So I do not dispute what others have found with their own fixes for their DAC. I also might be incredibly lucky and the DAC3 and Mac Mini I happen to own are just naturally free from any degrading artifacts like jitter to begin with(somehow I doubt this).
I totally agree with Almarg and Mapman comments. I think many of the latest DACs sound fantastic and differences may be splitting hairs and largely down to personal taste. I would only say that if you happen to like the sound of the upsampling methodology and analog output circuitry of the DAC3 then you have what I suspect is a rather robust and worry free playback solution for a variety of digital formats, sources and cabling. 
Thanks Shadorne.   The ability to maintain high SQ over a variety of cables tells me  it is well-designed...

Now, I'd like you to buy a Phasure, an Ayre, and a few others and compare them all blind...
Maybe worth mentioning that there are low or no cost DAC tweaks I have found to be significantly effective in changing the sound for the better. Most have to do with physical and electrical isolation of the DAC and other noise sources. An effective shielded power cable is one and physical separation of devices from electrical noise sources another. I find this almost always can make a difference with low level components. Lower level phono devices in particular but also often line level DACs and preamps.
I've had the DAC3 HGC for a week now. Nice DAC for the price and does some things better than competitors. It's not a good fit for my system but in the right setup it could be magic. 
I’ve actually been more in teh market for a portable DAC more recently. One that can also hold up in a good home system as well.  Chord Mojo looks like a winner there. I wonder if BEnchmark would ever attempt a portable DAC that might rival their plug in pro gear.
@james_w514

I use it exclusively for two channel digital music and switch it to HT bypass when I want to watch a movie or play some vinyl through my Onkyo DSP. Definitely not ideal for vinyl - it would be nice if this DAC had a phono input but Vinyl is not a priority for me. If you can't use the DAC3 XLR outputs directly and have to pass to another preamp then part of the benefit of this device is lost.
IMO benchmark dacs are far from perfect, sorry. Every room we walked into at RMAF that had a benchmark dac, we walked out in less than a couple of minutes. Multiple of us. If somebody wants very detailed, almost piercing sound compared to other high quality dacs then this could be it. 
If you can't tell the difference between a very good USB cable or the crappy toslink from a mac, (I have used both in multiple  dacs), then that tells me that the benchmark dumbs down the USB port, you can't add to a capped toslink connection.
Post removed 
Two big ouches and agree with rbstehno that such a DAC could make other improvements hard to appreciate.

Dave 
I have compared it to other DACs enough to confirm that the assumption it is dumbed down is completely wrong. Whether you like the sound of it or not boils down to personal taste and there is no accounting for that - some may like it others may not.
shadorne,

Thought your view is that equipment that benefits from cables or other ancillary improvements is faulty. Read you post such at least 100 times. You probably wrote it again today on another thread.

The point of the two critical posts was not that your DAC is "dumbed down", simply that it is too unmusical to benefit from ancillary improvements as most others do.

Could it be that equipment that DOES NOT benefit from ancillary improvements is faulty?

Dave

Dave, 

The DAC3 is neutral and detailed with performance specs that are far are beyond anything else I am aware of. If that is what you mean by unmusical then musical would be a less accurate presentation but with warm laid back engaging desirable coloration. This musicality aspect of audio is a personal preference. What is musical to one may be mushy muck to another and vice versa.

Benchmark claim the DAC3 rejects jitter very effectively and my findings suggest this to be true. Therefore, unlike most other DACs, this device does not need ancillary devices to fix, correct or minimize errors in digital conversion to analog. Benchmark have gone to great effort to design a robust jitter rejection methodology - so it is hardly surprising if I confirmed it does what they say it does. Stereophile have confirmed also the outstanding performance of Benchmark devices as well.
shadorne,

We don’t listen to specs. What spec tells you that the DAC3 has an overly prominent upper midrange that you report hearing yourself? Instead, you pronounce it neutral because the spec says so despite what you hear.

I do not know whether the DAC3 or even my Exogal benefits from a jitter reduction device. I plan to take mine (ISO Regen) out this weekend after a week in the system and see. If it doesn’t, I guess that makes the Exogal and the DAC3 the only great DACs in the marketplace. LOL.

I could (do?) buy your reported experience with the your jitter device if only your credibility had not been shot by your legacy of tireless denial of other things that I know to have significant impact through extended listening. Listener bias works both ways.

Dave

Dave,

Good for you. Experiment and report back. I don't deny significant impacts. I recognize that audio reproduction is still extremely unreliable and frustrating in how poorly many devices are conceived and built. If it were even remotely reliable then a particular CD would sound quite similar on any device and people like Ed Meitner would not have built a career and reputation correcting errors that countless other designers had missed.
Shadorne, thank you for the review.  I still have original DAC1, but am very interested in upgrading (sound, remote control).  At first I was surprised by the unusual clarity of DAC1.  That's perhaps lack of jitter (jitter translates to noise).  I took me a while to get use to it.  Some people complained about it.  One person said that he can hear all instruments separately but would prefer together - more of a sound blob.   We're often trying to replicate what we got used to, right or wrong.  Also, what people often mistake for dynamics is added noise or distortion - like difference between clean Jazz guitar and distorted one.  Distorted will always sound more dynamic.

Original DAC1 had some problems (many revisions).  Also original Signetics NE5532 sounded a little thin.  After big fire that consumed Signetics factory Texas Inst. bough license and designed new larger die and chips started sounding fuller.  My DAC1 had TI amps.  I replaced them later with LM49860 (likely used in later versions) and it improved sound a bit.  It got a little fuller and slightly more "vivid".

Asynchronous USB, when done right, should not introduce any jitter, since D/A converter clock is completely separated from the computer clock.  For S/Pdif connection Benchmark has very high jitter rejection.  This remarkable jitter rejection is not only audible as extremely clean and detailed sound, but was also measured on many occasions (many reviews).

Some people will say Benchmark DAC is bright.  That was my experience with metal dome tweeters.  Benchmark doesn't add anything but doesn't muffle anything either.  Its transparency will ruthlessly reveal shortcomings of the system (good thing IMHO).  In addition it was purposely designed not to sound warm but just natural.  John Siau, Technical Director of Benchmark stated, that overly warm sound can make some instruments sound out of tune.  These instruments, like piano (or percussion) have harmonic structure more complex that just typical series of overtones.

Review is especially valuable to me coming from the earlier Benchmarks user.  Now, time to talk to my wife.
@kijanki 

The analog output stages affect the sound. Even if digital is perfectly accurately converted to analog there is still the analog character of the op amp or discrete circuits. So there are always some differences between devices. I can't help with that except to recommend an audition. 

If you like the kind of detail and superb accuracy that allows you to hear exactly how Steely Dan has been somewhat "airbrushed" or over-processed in sound then this type DAC is a good choice. Like a precise high resolution TV you start noticing CGI and digital transmission/compression effects more easily and for some that level of resolution can totally frustrate the enjoyment.


The analog output stages affect the sound. Even if digital is perfectly accurately converted to analog there is still the analog character of the op amp or discrete circuits. So there are always some differences between devices. I can't help with that except to recommend an audition.
I agree. TI opamp (OPA1612 family, I believe) sounded so much different when I initially tried it.  Some people would like it, I'm sure, but to me it was overly bassy and veiled.  It is incredible, that two different op-amps, that have the same amazing specifications can sound so much different. I like sound signature of Benchmark DAC1.  I would not even mind a little bit more top with my warm and "polite" sounding speakers and slightly dark sounding class D amp.

My wife said yes, but I have to read more.  I intend to use it for now for 16/44.1 S/Pdif (Airport Express) but would not mind options for the future. 

Getting older (read: lazier) I would love to have motorized volume control, but am a little bit concerned with volume control quality.  It has very good tracking but started showing static after few years of use.  I was able to spray "Fader lube" inside of the pot and static is gone.  



@kijanki 

DAC3 uses  4 National Semiconductor LME49860 op-amps - 2 each channel for balanced audio. If you like the sound of those op-amps then you should be good to go. 
There are many things that cause differences in tones heard. System integration approach and room acoustics being the common biggest factors. DAC design can be as well but not nearly to the same extent overall. Tube DACs probably more so at least based on my experiences.

Hearing a tonal abnormality in a system with a particular DAC in it in absolutely no way alone means its the DAC that is the cause. That is a totally moot argument. There could still well be two different sounds with two different DACs in the system for sure and one may well sound better, flatter whatever, but there are many factors that go into that.   Or in some cases the user may even prefer a certain distinct tonality merely due to personal preference.

Two systems put together well by the same person using two diferent DACs may very well end up sounding very similar ie what the owner was shooting for. That has been the case for me having used various DACs in multiple systems in my house concurrently now for several years. The only DAC I would say had a significant distinct tonality was a tube DAC and the tonality of that DAC changed drastically depending on tube used. Since I found teh tube I preferred sounded closest to its SS brother that I preferred I ended ditching the tube DAC and tweaking elsewhere as needed.
@shadorne 

That's important information, thank you.  

Al mentioned different technology in DX.  What is different?  I don't need analog inputs or headphone amp (since I have one) but they don't have one like that.  I would probably go for L version.

I might not have it in direct line for remote control.  Do you have remote control?  Is it sensitive or you have to point it straight at the DAC?

The DX is their studio version. It has digital XLR AES inputs as welll as the regular digital inputs and dispenses with any analog input. It has two stereo outputs not one.

The remote works well but you need to be within about 30 degrees of a straight line to the DAC (infra-red)
Thank you.  I think I will go with "L" version.
I have owned a DAC2L for 3 years. I certainly can easily hear the difference between any cables on the inputs or outputs. The better the cables the better the sound. I do run an Intona into the USB input and while it did improve most things musically its not the complete answer. I would suggest the DAC3 USB input is no different in this regard as its the same as the DAC2.

The biggest improvement is in fact the implementation of the new Sabre 9028 chip over the 9018. This is substantial and does goes a long way to removing the so called brightness.

I found the DAC2 had a brightness in playback of some material at larger volume levels. It does have finese and detail that’s addictive. It is after all a pro device used with master recordings.   

In saying all this I could not justify upgrading to the DAC3 for the cost. Perhaps the DAC4 with an upgraded USB input and 32/768 PCM input capability may make me reconsider. 


@shadorne 

I just placed order for DAC3 HGC.  Thanks.
While I never enjoyed the DAC1 due to its dry, bare bones sound, I ended up buying a DAC2DX after comparing it with several others: a PS Audio Perfectwave, a NuPrime 10H, an NAD and a Wyred4Sound. The Benchmark and the PS Audio sounded very similar, and the Benchmark had the right form factor and features for my bedroom system (Ayre V5xe and Harberh P3's). While this is not a super high end system, it's revealing enough. The Benchmark has never sounded shrill or harsh. It's a nice unit. I would like to hear the mkiii to see if there is a significant upgrade. Too bad one can't simply switch the DAC chips to upgrade the mkii. 
@kijanki   

Please report back your findings once you receive the DAC3. The nice thing about this DAC is you can A to B very easily between its USB, optical and Coax inputs. (Switching takes only a few milli-secs - so this DAC allows for proper A to B comparisons whereas other DACs take time to sync or produce spurious effects while they sync to a different source. I was only confident in my reported findings because I could A to B instantly. Relying on audio memory is NOT something I trust to discern small differences)
Yes, I will.  I don't have USB in proximity but will try to compare S/Pdif from Airport Express to coax from Blu Ray player playing the same music.
@shadorne 

I cannot easily try coax, since I have no source - all my sources are optical.  I tried glass vs plastic Toslink and cannot hear any difference. Same for the Blu Ray vs Airport Express playback.  It was not a surprise to me since it repeated my findings with DAC1.  It is possible that other people, that can hear difference with any cable, have better hearing - but it is also possible that they have system issues (ground loops, electrical noise etc.)

DAC3 in comparison with DAC1 has more resolution.  My wife, in her expert opinion ;) , said "It sounds cleaner".  Mid-bass warmth is gone and I can hear more energy in the upper midrange.  On one record sound of the trumpets is so loud and vivid it is scary.  I put so far about 20hrs of playing time and it is getting slightly smoother.  String tones (violin, guitar) are truer - perhaps a little forward on some recordings but it makes illusion of somebody playing in the room.  Sibilants are pronounced and extremely clean.  Trebles are little more extended.  I don't know what is causing this improvement.  Is it new ESS PRO D/A converter, that suppresses second and third harmonic, or is it lower noise floor - I don't know but it sounds incredible.  Also, polarity switch proved to me that my speakers, that are connected "woofer inverted" by factory default sound better in true absolute phase (inverted again in DAC3).  I was using absolute phase test recording.  The difference is subtle - a little of of the midrange warmth is gone and clarity improved.   I was expecting different bass sound, as one reviewer described in Stereophile article.  Fantastic product.  The only thing that worries me is that email, I sent to Benchmark service department two days ago, is still unanswered.  They either neglect customers, or have too much work.  In either case it is bad news.  My question was regarding trigger output that does not switch off my Rowland 102 power amp. Tip of the output cable shows +12 switching on and off, while shorting this tip to outer/collar pin on the cable plugged into power amp puts it into standby, but together it doesn't work.  Provided 1/8" plug to 1/8" plug is stereo while Rowland shows mono plug in the manual.  It is probably known issue and it doesn't make much difference to me now (amp is ON all the time anyway), but I would like to know for the future.  Can I plug mono cable to DAC3 (likely the same as DAC2) without damage?  Perhaps I should post this question on this forum.
@kijanki

Simply use a mono 1/8 TS cable for 12V trigger. The problem is your Rowland. I have a NAD power amplifier that won’t trigger with a stereo TRS 1/8 cable and I had to buy on eBay a mono 1/8 TS cable (not easy to find in stores). Not sure why there should be a contact problem - most likely Roland and NAD must use a stereo female receptical and wire the ring as the ground and leave the sleeve as floating. This means a stereo cable won’t pass the ground to other devices which use the sleeve as ground (sleeve ground is standard practice). No contact in the ground means open circuit and 12 v trigger won’t work.

https://benchmarkmedia.com/blogs/application_notes/155807879-benchmark-bi-directional-12-volt-trigge...
@kijanki

Good that you like the sound. I totally agree with what you are hearing vs DAC1. My shock was that I heard improvement over the DAC2. I think the bass is definitely cleaner but overall across the spectrum the entire noise floor is way lower and consequently there is an incredible amount of additional detail that is now audible vs DAC2 or DAC1. (YMMV - my speakers play extremely loudly yet still remain -70db in mid range 2nd and third harmonic which is like a microscope on details in recordings)

I think the new ESS chip has a lot do do with it. Benchmark already make very low noise market leading analog designs and the latest switched Mode power supply in DAC2, DAC3 and AHB2 amp has taken the noise floor lower and way beyond anything else on the market currently. However, I suspect the older ESS chip in the DAC2 was limiting the ability to hear the full extent of the analog performance.

I have heard the same ESS chip in the Gustard X20 Pro and it sounded great. I would definitely recommend this for those looking for a much cheaper option than the DAC3. (For myself the lower noise floor, jitter rejection methodology and proven reliability of Benchmark is worth the extra cost)
@shadorne 

I ordered 1/8" mono trigger cable.  Thank you.
@shadorne

Got cable - still doesn’t work. I suspect that Benchmark, is only high side switch while Rowland expects pulldown (open collector) since it pulls-up input to +12V.

It is most likely the same circuit as in DAC2 and maybe I will find the answer somewhere. No reply from Benchmark yet.
@shadorne

1. Were your tests of OTHER modern DACs blind?
2. Is your background in electric engineering?

@mmrkaic

Tests done with my setup were not blind as I did them alone. However I had my findings checked and confirmed by another audiophile.

I can hear subtle differences in most DACs but often so subtle on good quality DACs that I would not easily pass a blind test but often enough that I hear differences when switching A to B quickly.

The multiple digital inputs on the DAC3 and its ability to switch in milliseconds allowed what I would call conclusive results that proved to me that all digital inputs and digital cables sound the same with the Benchmark DAC3. This is to be expected as the manufacturer has devoted a huge amount of effort to designing a device with outstanding jitter free performance.

If I had heard differences I would have been disappointed and would have already replaced the DAC3. I demand that components perform reliably and to a high degree of accuracy or they are gone.

Listening was done on ATC EL150ASL speakers - the DAC XLR output went straight to the speakers. These speakers are neutral and have distortion levels on par with most electronics and the ability to play loud enough at extremely low distortion to place a "microscope" on sonic detail.
Shadorne, you were right - Rowland was the problem.  It required about 400 ohm or less to GND.  Such resistor would place load on Benchmark 12V output.  To stay on the safe side I placed tiny (SO4 package) optical relay in the cable and problem is gone.  
Am currently trialing a dac 3 and head to head against my Aqua La Voce S2, I will say it is a very very close race so far indeed! Anyone considering a dac 3 should definitely give it a listen.  (I also own a Schitt gungnir multibit and prefer the Aqua).

I got the DAC 3 to try because the stereophile review in the recent issue said he couldn’t hear any difference at all between the Benchmark and his 6 thousand dollar PS Audio Directstream with latest software no matter how hard he tried.
   I’ve always wanted to hear what all the fuss was about with the PS dac (darko says it beats my Aqua etc) so i figured if he heard zero difference after trying really hard, this would be a cheaper way to do so:)

Preliminarily i’m very impressed. (hey if this is what a PS directstream dac sounds like i’m impressed!)  Didn’t expect to like Benchmark products due to hearing about ‘brightness’ with dac 1 and my general distaste for “pure math” type design;) (i.e. if it sounds terrible to me but measures well  then you’re measuring the wrong damn thing:)
  But i have to say, it’s actually tonally close to the Aqua with maybe slightly more detail. Super black background. Very dynamic.  Detailed but not annoyingly so. Definitely not bright by any stretch.  Maybe in my system somewhat the opposite actually!  It’s preamp function is really excellent as well and it’s headphone amp definitely gives my pricey rig a very close run for its money!  Too close maybe. 
 In sum, not sure which dac i’ll keep and i thought sure I would as usual immediately prefer the Aqua.  I’m even considering keeping both. That’s high praise from me. The Dac 3 so far is no joke. At least, i’m not laughing now (especially cause i might have to part with 2K for it:( 
@abramsmatch   

I read of your struggles with the gungnir and finding different sound when using different digital inputs. In fact this digital cable input issue matches what I have read anecdotally here many times and even heard myself on other systems. It seems a common problem with jitter being the most likely culprit.

I would be interested if you can hear a difference on the DAC3 using different digital cables/USB/coax/toslink - switching sources is so fast it is easy to compare. As mentioned above, I could not hear a difference on any of the digital inputs of the DAC3 even when a USB bridge like the Singxer SU 1 was inserted in the chain.

Perhaps Jim Austin's finding that he could not hear a difference (DAC 3 vs PS Audio Directstream) is how it should be with Class A+ components designed rigorously for high fidelity. (rather than a euphonic tube approach which is engineered for a desired sound)

Hi there. Just for clarity- it’s true i definitely feel the usb input on the gungnir is not as good as with a good converter like the F-1 or PUC and the BNC or rca inputs! But Schitt seems to agree as they offer an upgraded usb input now:)

But on the Aqua, not only is the (older) usb input (also they offer an upgrade now) not as good as with a converter- the RCA and XLR inputs on the dac sound strikingly different! With the XLR input sounding more expansive and easeful whereas the rca input makes the Aqua sound to my ear more like the Gungnir multibit- accurate perhaps but not as expansive and sweeping and tonally ‘relaxed’.

Now with the Benchmark DAC 3 so far, i definitely think the USB input is closer to when i use a converter but i haven’t switched back and forth enough times yet to be sure. In a couple switches though i’ve been impressed it hasn’t seemed to lose top end detail or bass which is maybe what the schitt loses when using the ‘older’ version of the usb input.

No getting around it though- so far the DAC 3 really is superbly musical to me and not just a clinical or sterile piece of gear. My preference tends to lean toward the slightly ‘warm’ side of things also (just like my personality! :) I’ll try and update here as it goes.

Fyi the headphone amp i use with the Gungnir (i do prefer speakers though) is tubed and the Benchmark as a headphone amp/dac pairing is very close sonically to the schitt/tube amp combo - read: a touch a warmth maybe but no loss of detail or punch. Impressive. Honestly i really thought i’d stay away from Benchmark because of the ‘measurements are everything’ philosophy but that stereophile review swayed me to try it. So far glad i did! Now we’ll see which dac ‘wins’ if any:)
@abramsmatch

Nice clarification. I think I have said this before - there are only subtle differences between high quality DACs. I am willing to be honest enough to admit my tin ears would have trouble to identify blindly differences with any degree of reliability but with quick switching I can sense subtle things. Whichever you prefer will be right for you and any choice you make does not diminish the other DAC. Most modern DACs are exceedingly good compared to a decade ago.

To me the most striking audible difference about the Benchmark DAC3 is the crystal clarity or blackness - the musical minute details stand out NOT because of emphasis (there is nothing forced - the DAC sounds as relaxed as the best analog) but because the background or noise floor seems to be so much lower than anything else I have ever heard. This means minute low level timbral details are suddenly audible or revealed when in the past they were not.

I cannot emphasze enough the importance of listening to this DAC directly with XLR balanced into your power amp and how important it is to use the attenuator jumper pads to ensure the volume level remains between 11 and 3 at loud listening levels (to get the full benefit of the THD+N and SNR market leading specs)

Just another update to my findings about Benchmark DACs.

I recently tested a Schiit Eitr placed in between the Benchmark DAC 3 and the MAC Mini. On the DAC 3 I switched between two identical simultaneous digital inputs (courtesy of Roon) - one optical direct from Mac Mini and one Coax digital from the Schiit Eitr bridge.

The result is absolutely no audible difference in sound at all. Nill, nada, Zilch ...absolutely nothing. The Schiit did NOTHING for Benchmark.

Conclusion is that Schiit does absolutely nothing for a high quality jitter rejecting DAC like the Benchmark DAC 3.

Interestingly, with other DACs that were tested the Schiit Eitr made a HUGE DIFFERENCE!

Conclusion

1) The majority of DACs do a lousy job of rejecting incoming jitter whether it be USB or other inputs.
2) An audio bridge (like Eitr) and/or fancy cables are necessary band-aid fixes for the majority of DACs.
3) Benchmark and possibly a handful of other recent DACs are finally able to fully reject jitter and finally sound very like vinyl WITHOUT band-aids.




@shadorne Are u using the Benchmark AHB2 amp with the DAC3. I have this combo and the music sounds incredible through it. Music that I was not too enamored with has become more enjoyable with this combo. I think it is because of the clarity in the sound that gives me the impression the musicians are playing music for me in my room.I want to try this combo with some full range speakers that are in my future plans.

Only issue I have is that the volume control of the DAC3 does not have the granularity in steps that I would like. Though Benchmark now has a new "preamp" to place to place in between the DAC3 and the AHB2 amp with 256 volume steps.They say that this "preamp" is quieter than the AHB2 amp.
BTW - I recently moved my lower quality Sonare Ethernet-To-Usb bridge, SonicOrbiter SE, to the Benchmark system and compared it to the Sonare microRendu which was moved to the bedroom’s PeachTree Nova 150 system.

The PeachTree had a huge improvement in sound after the switch. While the Benchmark seems to sound the same. I have not done close testing but general impression is that the Benchmark was not effected as much by the lower quality Sonare product.

I had to switch this Sonare products between systems because of some audible sound problems that started to show up in the SonicOrbiter SE and the Peachtree.
I don’t have the AHB2. You can attenuate the volume in the DAC with the internal jumpers / this might help with the granularity of the volume.