Following. I have a wonderful SD dac that is loaded with detail but have pondered this same question. Was thinking of the Pontus II or the Sonnet Morpheus just to have a different flavor. Would plan on keeping both and retain the option of changing once in a while. The DAC3 you have is highly respected but I do understand your question.
I’ve the Dac3 HGC for several years as my primary ‘hub’, running Roon Roc on an intel nuc. Super flexible unit, (but u know this). Only unit I know of that has two additional analog rca inputs and the voltage to perform as its own preamp with myriad digital input features. Clean, clear, powerful sound. ESS chips hold their own and the unit is a workhorse. I’ve a Denafrips Athena/Hestia, Hyperion, but instead of purchasing a Pontus I went for the newly available SMSL VMV-D2 with the AKM 4499 dacs. About the same $$$. Would love to compare the two. The D2 is smooth, spacious and layered with great frequency extension. The mids are beautiful. Of course I’m using Roons upsampling features. DSD 512 w/smooth, minimum phase seems a current favorite. It’s a different animal than the Dac3 listening to Qobuz or other ssd stored local music. There is a lot of easily available functionality at one’s fingertips to suit one’s mood or musical priorities. Of course it’s all filtered and sampled so no R2R. The unit has the best Bluetooth receiver if that matters and a very nice remote. It works great with Roons dsp settings and goes way past what the Dac3 can do as far as custom processing of its input. It’s got an I2S which I’ve no current way of using. Overall the unit sounds more refined than the Dac3. The Dac3 outputs more voltage (and is configurable). The D2 doesn’t seem to have anything of that nature. The D2 uses 2 Noratel transformers and I believe a type of hybrid output stage, it’s warmer and probably a bit sweet, not as brutally honest as the Dac3. Well recorded music sounds beautiful. It’s a great dac, but so is the Benchmark, it just sounds a tad more one dimensional in comparison. Totally different feature sets yet both are quality products. Great remotes operate both & the Benchmark manual is in a league of its own. With Roon, the SMSL is super easy to try out dsp filters and such w/high sampling rates, so the differences are easy to hear, but you may have to decide what is best for your particular setup, or you can skip it all and stream from your device. I am really liking the new D2 and upsampling to DSD 512 is for me, a good thing. My trip to R2R land is gonna have to wait…
Just one other thing. Run direct the D2 has a more pleasant bottom end than the Dac3, it has a better foundation to match its warmth, or maybe because of it, it’s warmer. Pushing the Hyperion direct into some small floor standing Elacs, the DFR52’s really shows what the Andrew Jones design is capable of. What a great, modest priced, pairing. The kinda thing you can listen to for hours. Clear, taut, easy to follow base in a way the Dac3 never managed, very musical. Direct into a Mystere PA11 with 6L6’s and some 1sc ProAcs, listening to George Bensons Nat King Cole covers was just so nice, richly detailed, and again beautiful, but only hints at the bottom extension on tap thru the Hyperion, D2. Wish it had at least one rca input so I could hook up my turntable. It’s a pretty special dac, warm, oh so smooth and detailed. Musical as all ‘get out’, really sounding quite special through the small Elacs.
@regismc thanks for your reply!
sounds like you’re running your DACs as preamps?
if that’s the case then yes this isn’t Benchmark’s strength. I tried it and can confirm it’s just OK.
I run my DAC3 into Pass Labs XP-12 preamplifier via XLR. Much better.
audiophile1, that’s a very nice preamp you own. Looks as if with the two sets of balanced inputs you could easily do a direct comparison. I would guess you would be pleased by the Denafrips dacs. My understanding is that Venus brings a bit more refinement but the Pontus is the sweet spot. The warm, natural presentation, the Denafrips amps and preamps elicit is easily extrapolated to the huge, smooth and open soundstage that the R2R dacs seem know for. I mostly run thru the preamps because I enjoy vinyl too. It’s pretty easy to swap things around and hear the differences, dac direct just bringing into focus the units sound signature. Pontus requires a preamp, as you know. The Denafrips preamps are buffered unity gain class a active devices. The amps, like some of the Pass amps, has a relatively low input impedance. Why, I’m not sure? I do like utilizing the preamps into the Hyperion, though it seems happy either way. The pre just brings a bit more focus and body, Athena especially is open and spacious. It only has a single rca input though, with four balanced inputs, 2 balanced and a single rca output.
Lastnite I ended up biamping into the little 1sc both Hyperion and the Mystere. Probably the best, most sophisticated satisfying sound I can manage. Kinda crazy as I got something like 8 pairs of speakers around the house. Other than being of Chinese origin I don’t know how close the D2 comes to the Pontus sound wise. The D2 is a pretty big step away from the Dac3, so the Pontus must take such even further. The Denafrips gear seems to hold its value very well so risk would be minimal on the downside. The line has a very organic sound signature somewhat leaning towards the best of tubes and solid state combined, it has dimensionality and depth and satisfying mids. The little 80 watt Hyperion has easily driven everything I’ve hooked it up to, but most of my speakers are fairly modest in nature.
Thanks! Yes the XP-12 is awesome.
I don’t find the Benchmark DAC3 analytical at all. I find it full and dynamic sounding with just the right amount of detail. It replaced Bryston BDA-3 and I never looked back. Hope to audition a Denafrips DAC some day.
P.S. I love the analog inputs feature on DAC3 HGC.
That sounds like a very nice setup. Those Montis are electrostatic right? Always been impressed at how those type sound when I’ve heard ‘em, such clarity. I can see the Dac3 being a very good source for such. No idea what a R2R dac would do in such a setup though. Agree with those rca inputs on the HGC, that thing is loaded with features…