Benchmark Dac3

I purchased the Benchmark DAC3 and hooked it up (with just the included Monoprice USB cable) to my MacBook Pro playing lossless files ripped from my CDs. Using the HT bypass to play through my Krell integrated amplifier into Audio Physic Virgo speakers (as well as listening through the headphone amp and HGC volume control driving Beyerdynamic DT 880s). With the panoply of input options I was able to do direct A/B comparisons between my Krell CD player and iTunes as well as between the digital and analog outputs of the CD player. I immediately discovered the balanced XLR connection making a huge difference in bringing out subtle details such as the breath of vocalists and the note decay of wind and string instruments.  Is this the case with all sources or just with this DAC?  If it is the case with all sources then I could never imagine purchasing a DAC (in an equivalent price range) which only provides RCA interconnections.  Is this more about the Benchmark DAC or the difference between balanced and single-ended operation?  Would you purchase a DAC without balanced XLR connections?
XLR is always better than cheap crap RCA. However if you are lucky and using limited equipment (more gear = higher probability of ground loops) and short runs then RCA can sound just as good. 

XLR is always better than cheap crap RCA. However if you are lucky and using limited equipment (more gear = higher probability of ground loops) and short runs then RCA can sound just as good. 

I have both DAC1 and DAC2 from Benchmark. Just curious have you compared DAC3 to predecessors - the trouble is that the DAC1 was already so good!!!!! Can't say I can hear an improvement myself!!!

Shadorne, this is my first Benchmark DAC so unfortunately I am unable to provide a comparison with predecessors.

Nonetheless, so far I am very happy with this well-designed and excellently-built little piece of equipment...and certainly glad I didn't fall prey to purchasing an alternative DAC in the same price range without balanced connections. 

I would love to compare the Benchmark 3 to the new Gustsard pro.


Seems like there is very little experience on Audiogon with this relatively new Benchmark DAC 3. I just ordered one. I have also a DAC 1 and DAC 2 and my expectations are just more of the same clear dynamic neutral sound with an even lower noise floor. Since these are engineered products to the highest scientifically measured standards, I will be very surprised if I can actually hear a difference between all three. Once the new DAC 3 arrives, I will make a quick comparison to ensure it is fully functional and then sell my other two Benchmark DACs.
Shadorne from what l've read my guess is you have the right expectations going in.   Keep us posted.   

I will comment but chances are my comment may be limited to whether it works or not. The measured performance of their DACs is to such high measured standards that they should sound alike or something is badly wrong.

Benchmark openly disagree with audio pseudoscience so most people here will not be interested in something that doesn’t have all the extra pseudoscience. And unlike Chord (which make great DACs) their product lacks high end aesthetics that telegraph I’m expensive visually.

For example, this is what Benchmark say this about cables,


If you are a hi-fi user, beware of the pseudo-scientific false claims of overpriced and underperforming hi-fi cables. Avoid these "hi-fi" cables and equip your system with the finest professional cables available. We offer our professional cables in lengths and types that are appropriate for home hi-fi systems. You will save money while getting the very best performance available."

Most readers here will stop at that and not waste time on a product built by engineers for engineers when in their minds everything and especially cables necessarily make a huge difference...

(((I will be very surprised if I can actually hear a difference between all three. Once the new DAC 3 arrives, I will make a quick comparison to ensure it is fully functional and then sell my other two Benchmark DACs.))
We had a nice comparison with the Ayre XLR Codex Dac vs Benchmark 2.
All 5 of the folks listening picked the Ayre
2 of the folks owned Benchmark Dacs.
If you can get one to listen to it may be worth your efforts.
before your return privilege w/ BM runs away.
We have shot this unit succesfully up to pretty much anything to 5k
Listen to any RCA recording like Heifetz playing at his best.
the unique filtering choices,discreet analog Double Diamond output stage is a freak show with performance.
Also read the review below and see at the end blog report which i agree with.
Best JohnnyR
Ok Benchmark DAC 3 arrived and I can hear an improvement over DAC 2. Ultra clear with lower noise floor or more black and slightly more dynamics.

I am happier with the DAC3 and it seems more like the revelation when I first heard the DAC1 to my ears.

So my two cents is buy a DAC 1 used cheap or spring for a new DAC 3 but avoid DAC 2 if you like details and clarity and dynamics. The DAC2 seems a little too polite or polished for my taste - so it may be the preferred option to some listeners.

My taste is towards live dynamic sound so again YMMV depending on your ears.
Compared Benchmark DAC2 vs Gustard X20 pro with Singer SU-1.

Really hard to hear any difference at all. Certainly not enough difference to worry about which makes the Gustard at less than half the price a good bargain.

Not had a chance so far to compare Gustard to DAC3 but given the DAC3 was significantly audibly better than the DAC2 the outcome of that shoot out should be in favour of the DAC 3, however cannot say for sure until they are side by side.

What one can say is the Gustard along with the necessary conditioning Singer SU-1 punches above its weight. Theoretically the Benchmark does not need conditioning given all the reviews proving outstanding jitter immunity but Gustard with the Singer is still a lot cheaper. 

A possible drawback of Gustard may be reliability but this could simply be teething issues on the early models. Certainly Benchmark has a well established reputation for reliability. Whether that track record is worth the significant extra cost is only something each individual can decide.
Can I get an opinion on which DAC is a "better", the Benchmark DAC3 or Schiit Yggdrasil? In my case, I am *not* interested in DSD, MQA or a head phone amp. Just interested in LPCM (all bit depths and sample rates). Better in this context means more "bit perfect" and sounds more analog. Note I currently use an Oppo UDP-205, which has a Sabre DAC chip even more up-to-date than the one used in the DAC3. At face value, should I expect similar sound (Oppo to DAC3)? Thanks in advance. 
I haven't heard either of these DACs but I also have the UDP205 and with the Modwright mods it is in another league.
Hi gdhal,

I just completed a shootout of three good dacs: Hegel HD-12, Exogal Comet Plus, and ModWright Elyse ($7K). The difference in the sound character of the three is dramatic. Every DAC I have heard has a pervasive and unique sound character. How someone could fail to discern the audible differences between DACs from different manufacturers is beyond me. I’ll just leave that thought there for your consideration in judging the quality of advice you receive.

My experience is that a great combination of preamp/amp/speaker will accurately reproduce the sound character of the source, yet careful matching of source to the foundation equipment can accentuate positive synergies and/or moderate imperfect tendencies of either or both with proper matching. To the contrary, placing a source component with a foundation system that strongly shares the same tendencies, however slight, toward brightness, forwardness, wooliness, or other undesirable sonic characteristics can make for a very unpleasant situation over time.

gdhal, what is the existing sound character of your system? What do you wish to accentuate and what do you wish it to do better? What do trustworthy owners and reviewers with systems of similar sound character to yours say is the sound character of those two dacs and what do they say that each does well and not as well? Which one’s unique sound character will best synergize with your system without accentuating undesirable tendencies of your existing system?

I realize these things are the nature of your question, but maybe the above thoughts can be clarify your journey somewhat.

@lancelock - I've pondered a Modwright update. My issues with doing so are (a) Oppo warranty is voided (b) I am without my Oppo for over a month and likely months (c) the top of line modification is around $2500, the cost of a new DAC (seperate component) in my budget price category (d) there is always a possibility of poor workmanship (unintentional) that causes the sound to be worse (e) the oppo is so outstanding for video, why "chance" anything with the audio? and (f) the Oppo overall (sound, video, features, etc.) is so good, I'm inclined to think "Why fix it if it ain't broke"?

@dlcockrum - good questions. I would characterise my system as "accurate" (i.e. no emphasis of any particular frequencies with respect to other frequencies, and a faitful reproduction of the source content). My DAC upgrade desires is only because I have an all digital system, so I'm merely chasing "perfection" (i.e. bit perfect conversion) in a technical/science regard so the result would be (presumably) that my system sounds just a bit *less* digital. In a sense, even a theoretical improvement and not necessarily heard (by me) could be welcome. Somewhat insane, perhaps :)

Honestly, my system (Oppo UDP-205 >> Musical Fidelity M6si >> Golden Ear Triton Reference) sounds great. There is an overall synergy between those components that even if just by happenstance produces remarkable results. It can (and has) wow those with much more expensive gear than I have and better/discerning hearing than I as well. Nevertheless, like many of us on the forum who have the good fortune to be able to afford monetarily this hobby and love music, the passion and desire for "better" - whatever that means - may never be completely satiated.

*it's an obsession but it's pleasing*
Frankly, gdhal, your concerns about ModWright mods to your 205 are unfounded. Turnaround time is a couple weeks, workmanship is first rate, and Dan stands behind his work. Dan’s mod designs promote slow aging of the tubes, so even that is of minimal concern.

If your main goal is to eliminate the digital sound character (more than likely also being completely SS is a contributor) of your system, there is likely no better solution as the tube output section and tube power supply included in the mod will get that done and replace it with a natural, sumptuous, and extremely involving sound that you may not have yet even imagined.

No matter how good my other digital front end is now or may get, my MW5400ES will remain my digital source of choice when I wish to simply experience music.

BTW, if you decide to stay with an external DAC approach, the MW Elyse I just spent time with as a loaner from a friend would be a top choice IMO. Among the best build quality of any component I have had in my system and the sound quality is surreal. Great deals to be found for mint used ones right now.


Thanks Dave. You're given me something (tubes) to consider. 

It ultimately depends on your setup and what works for your amp and speakers. I compared both the DAC2 and Gustard to Audioresearch DAC 8. In the end it was too hard to pick a winner. The sound was excellent from all sources - not possible to call a clear winner. Differences were not significant enough to worry about. If anything the Audioresearch seemed slightly more dynamic.

As for DAC3, all I can say is it works for my setup and is the best I have heard from digital. Blacks are very black and clarity of individual instruments is better than I have heard in the past - a huge step up from DAC2. I have not compared DAC3 with Gustard or Audioresearch but from my comments you can gather the DAC3 is significantly better versus DAC2.

Good luck in your search - I don’t think you can be disappointed with any of the latest DACs.

If that is true (ahem...) and all "recent" DACs sound pretty much the same, then buy the cheapest one.

Perhaps a hearing test is in order...

@dlcockrum / @shadorne 

I sincerely appreciate your candid feedback. At face value, Dave's point regarding digital sound being somewhat tied to solid state, which conceivably could be eliminated with tubes likely has validity. I'm biased toward the Schiit Yggdrasil, however, as it costs *less* than some of the other options and is R2R multibit, and is specifically oriented to LPCM. I'm reading so many positive things about multibit R2R versus delta sigma.

Here is something that will interest the group. I posed the question (Schiit vs DAC3) to a Benchmark sales rep. The following is his response. And I do give credit and value the fact that a Benchmark sales rep took the time to speak with me and respond in writing. 

"I’ve forwarded your email to engineering in hopes that they will comment. I can tell you that looking at the specs, the noise floor is higher on the Schiit model. With a low noise floor, as in the DAC3, low level details in the music and reverb tails don’t get lost. We want the SNR to be better than the maximum dynamic range of the music, which with 24 bit, while theory would be 144dB, reality is 122dB. Our SNR of the DAC3 is 128dB. The other thing that I notice not mentioned is inter-sample overs. This is a huge problem as most of the recordings we listen to are 16/44. Our DAC sounds detailed, yet smooth, transparent."

All recent DACs do not sound the same for sure, however, there are many very excellent sounding ones these days for not very much to the point where in many cases any quality device with a DAC is no longer likely to be the weakest link in the playback chain. Not so much the case just a few years back. DAC technology appears to have mostly matured in recent years I would say  and very good ones can be found even in very small devices like newer smart phones for example.  Bad news for "high end audio" unfortunately.

To your point, I'm told that the end resulting sound is much more than the DAC itself. Case in point, I mentioned to the Benchmark sales rep that the DAC3 has a "Sabre ES9028PRO" DAC while my Oppo UDP-205 has the more advanced "Sabre ES9038PRO" DAC. He immediately dismissed that as essentially being irrelevant and steered the conversation towards the rest of the electronics, citing how they (Benchmark) have implemented the DAC and are getting the most out of it given the rest of their circuitry.
I have no doubt both BEnchmark and Oppo make excellent sounding DAC products.

Chord DACs are interesting to compare to others like BEnchmark and Oppo in terms of technical approach.
If you trust measurements then Benchmark is outstanding compared to anything else.

If you trust ears then your taste is what matters and no amount of research can help as you need to audition....

That said, I am definitely hearing the lower noise floor with the DAC3 and it is truly remarkable to my ears. I honestly did not think I could hear the difference between a typical high end 110 db noise floor and the 128db of the DAC3 - so what I am hearing goes against my expectation bias.
Excellent advice from the Benchmark rep re: the greater importance of accompanying digital and analog circuitry, minimization of noise, robustness of power supply and quality of AC filtering, vibration damping, etc on sound quality than the relatively small specification differences between two great DAC chips, R2R, FPGA, etc. on a test bench.

I was so impressed with the DAC3 (function, form and fidelity) that I purchased Benchmark’s AHB2 power amplifier to drive my Audio Physic Virgo speakers with which I’ve never been happier.  Thank you Rory Rall.

Your advice to audition is an excellent one. Unfortunately, in my case, it is somewhat impractical. While manufacturers such as Schiit and Benchmark who sell direct may offer a return policy, that isn't the same type of audition as going to an audio boutique and having the sales rep throw on a handful of DACs. And returns in cases of manufacturers who sell direct are not "free". Still, I get your point and it is very valid. Nevertheless, to a large extent I do intend to buy without first listening. My decision will ultimately be made by public comments by those who have the products, public comments by those who otherwise have subject matter expertise, the product manufacturer specifications, manufacturer reputability, manufacturer "trial" or "evaluation" return policy, and any other do diligence I can perform.