depends on how you like your sound??? foward and bright vs. refined and vinyl like
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ML 36 doesn't support anything other than red book (i.e. no 24/96K hi res). Don't know if it is important to you.
Digital technology has been improving greatly over the past few years. I think for the price of an used ML 36, there are many excellent modern DACs which offer more features and better sounding.
I was and still am, for a change, impressed with stock Benchmark. A lot of reviewers were as well including 2004 Stereophile "Component Of The Year" award. Why then many people hear "forward and bright"? Possibly because Benchmark, according to their technical director John Siau, was purposely designed not to sound warm, since warm sound (enhanced even harmonics) does bad things to sound of instruments with more complex harmonic structure (like piano). Benchmark will do wonders with properly matched equipment.
06-09-11: KijankiGo for it if you are impress with it. How it sounds in your system and to you is the most important.
I never found stock to sound bright or forward. It was a little muffled, lacking detail and resolution.
I sold mine a while ago but definitely worth a try for the $$.
In his May 2004 follow-up to John Mark's July 2003 column on the Benchmark DAC1, John Atkinson stated "I find it surprisingly difficult to hear differences" to the Levinson 30.6 dac.
For what it's worth, I don't find the DAC1 bright or harsh. I've stated before that if you pop the top and set the jumpers to maximun output, pay attention to powercords and interconnects, use good power filtration if necessary, then you should get superb sound. XLR output is a bit better than the coaxial. Of course, your mileage may vary. But, to state that the Benchmark is hard, harsh, and/or bright is crazy. The unit is a runaway best seller, perhaps the biggest selling dac ever.
Probably overdriving the next device in the audio chain
It was a little muffled, lacking detail and resolution.
Many people had that experience. This Benchmark DAC1 is primarily a pro product and belts our a much higher output voltage (much higher signal levels) than layman/consumer audio systems. The reason for this is that pros need to deal with even greater dynamic range than consumers and use higher specification equipment (allows a greater dynamic range above the noise floor due to much stronger analog line level signal).
If it sounded bad and muffled then it was probably overdriving the next device in your audio chain. This would not occur all the time during soft notes but it would sure screw up transients with brief but louder peaks.
Benchmark actually modified their design in order to REDUCE the signal levels so that this does not happen to consumers. There are padding resistors inside the newer models and they set these at the factory so that the signal is reduced by approx 20 dB - so that it does not overdrive consumer gear. By removing the padding resistor you can get the full benefit and dynamic range of the Pro line level signal strength (but you need gear that is equally competent).
Shadorne, I think the opposite is true if it's overdriving the next device in the audio chain ... sound will be bright, edgy, hard ... It's just didn't sounded very good soft or loud.
In the PCX mod, Chris Johnson replaces/voices the whole analog output stage with much higher quality parts especially the op-amps. I don't chase the latest and greatest digital gear and was very happy with it for several years.
overdriving the next device in the audio chain ... sound will be bright, edgy, hard
No. What happens is that the signal completely saturates the input of the next stage. This usually causes instability as the amp oscillates in and out of complete saturation. Usually it sounds all muffled and blurred. The more the signal is saturated the more you get dropouts. Eventually total saturation of the input often produces no output at all as the device just sits on one of the power rails (flat lines).
Severely overdriving a device can also damage it permanently.
Anyway, I think that my explanation fits your observations. And let's face it, your observation do run counter to what almost everyone reports about the DAC1. (Never heard it called muffled. Too bright. Too clinical. Too harsh and other comments along these lines but never muffled.)
Perhaps your DAC1 was faulty?