I've tried the Benchmark twice now. Once about a year ago in the original form, and recently a brand new USB unit which I got directly from Benchmark. The first unit I tried belonged to a friend. I listened to it extensively in several systems and found it to have a high end that grated on me. Perhaps it was over-emphasized...perhaps distortion...I'm not sure. I tried in three very different systems and could not bear it. Overall I found it very clinical sounding. I had high hopes hearing that the newer USB version had somehow refined the sound. When I first got the new one those hopes remained in tact as it definitely sounded smoother and more musical than the previous version somehow (though I've read not that much has changed in it?). This was a different system I was listening in now. The soundstaging/imaging was fantastic, and the resolution was wonderful, both without making the sound as sterile as the former version I'd heard. BUT, even after 100-150 hours of burn-in I was still hearing what, for me, was a kind of stridency in the high end. Vocals sounded a bit grainy and shouty, really making the overall effect 'artificial' to my ears. I had two units for comparison, my Modwright 9000ES, and a Paradisea+ USB DAC. Both were much easier to listen to than the Benchmark. The Paradisea presented a far more natural, rounded sound that seemed much more realistic and engaging to me. What it gave up very slightly on resolution it made up for in spades in overall PRAT and presence. This of course is not a "high-end" DAC, but a real sleeper IMO. The Modwright unit gave a similar superior performance, leaning more towards its solid state output (not tube buffered as the Paradisea is) rendering the same kind of micro resolution as the Benchmark, but completely without any stridency in the highs, and far more balanced and enjoyable in that way. Soundstaging was on par with the Benchmark in the case of the Modwright, and perhaps a bit less so with the Paradisea. I was surprised that the best bass performance of the three was with the Paradisea. Again, perhaps not the comparison you were looking for, but an observation nonetheless. Needless to say, though others seem to like it very much, and though I found it to be fantastic at soundstaging, overall, the Benchmark is not for me. I ended up taking up Benchmark on their 30-day trial and, to their credit, was given an RMA without any questions. It was sent back and full refund issued immediately. The original Benchmark I compared in three different systems (two tubed systems and one SS system) was compared against a Wavelength Brick, and a Muse Model 2 plus DAC, and one other unit which I cannot recall as the third system was my friend's. That competition wasn't even close and that unit was thoroughly burned in. The highs made it consistently fatiguing for me to listen to. Again, just my .02 Lincolns...obviously very respected folks in the industry love this DAC...I just don't share that enthusiasm.
I will second Marco's experiences with the Benchmark - have also tried it twice (two years apart, two different systems) and have returned it both times, for the same reason - the strident and ultimately fatiguing high end.
I am currently demoing the PS Audio Dac III which appears to have all of the Benchmark's fine detail with none of the high end issues. In fact, just a week in, I am very impressed with this unit, and for under a grand!
In comparison with my older MSB Full Nelson and PS Audio DACs, the new PS Audio (and even the Benchmark) are in another league - the older DACs sound slow and veiled, and lack the transparency of the newer units.
Well thanks and I hope I get more of these responses, its a tricky call for sure. I had this non USB version once and the detail was good, but maybe not for the best. Ended up selling it off since it was not for me. I tried severl other newer dacs as well some with Anagram Tech involved and I still liked a few of the older dacs, to name a few, the Original Goldmund (which is still brutal in price compared to some of the newer stuff), Meridian 563 and the original Micromega DAC1 , one of my favourites, very musical and warm sounding with sufficient detail. So what do I now?
Hmmmmmm keep enjoying my music till something comes up that impresses me. Anyone made a comparison with the Musical Fidelity A3.24? curious cause this was actually not too bad a dac to my ears.
Timely post; just last night I compared my Benchmark USB from my office system to my Meitner DCC2 (USB into Empirical Audio Turbo-2 into DCC2). Granted, these DACs are priced in different categories, but the sounds were also in different categories. Frankly, the Benchmark sounded bad. Very dry, not much detail, low end frequency information was simply missing. I'll probably return it during the 30 day return period. If you're looking for a used DAC, I recommend a DCC2. I see one on the gon for $4K obo. Just for reference, I've also heard DACs from Esoteric, DCS, and MBL in my system in the past, and the Benchmark could not compete IMO, but perhaps they don't plan to at their price point.
Give a Monarchy M24, or NM24 a listen...I have one, and it's a nice sounding DAC. It replaced an old, but upgraded Counterpoint DAC that I liked a lot.
There are many good DACs available in the market. In my opinion, most of them uses same chips for their input controls to correct jitter and other anormallies...and more chips for their output stages. The other trend lack of consideration for good componet layouts in these DACs, again especially on the output stage that causes dry and not engaging sound, IMO.
I ran into April Music DA100 almost a year ago. It had an USB input which they implemented more than three years ago (unlike Benchmark's claim that they are the first) but the USB input wasn't the main reason why I bought one. It came to me with a recommendation from a record producer who had tried just about all DACs available in the market and decided the DA100 was his choice.
DA100 uses all discrete components and it is layed out beatifully. To my ears, DA100 is the best performing DAC after many that went through my system in recent years including the dCS to Benchmark.
The DA100 at $695 is built like $2000 DAC. This is the problem for April Music. High cost of manufacturing and dropping US Dollars that let them little or no margins to promot the DAC in US through a normal distribution channel. They are only selling via Internet directly.
Marco, I will let you try my DA100 next week while I am out of town. It will be good to hear your unbiased option on DA100.
I have owned many high end cdp, transport/dac combo's (wadia 860se w/GNSC statement mod, AAero, Meitner combo/ one box and seperates, Burmester 979/980, Resolution Opus 21 w/GNSC mod, to name some)...all excellent. I am living very happily with a PC based system run into a benchmark dac 1 with reflection audio mods. the mods run about $900 so they effectively double the price of the stock unit but the quality is superb. I have no connection with refelection but this is the route that worked for me.
I have more favorable feeling about the Benchmark than some of the comments above, which just underscores how much our individual preferences and systems vary. I think it's a terrific unit and, in answer to your original question, probably beats all older top-of-the-line DACs. Lots of time has passed and my system has changed a lot as well, but I would expect to prefer the Benchmark over several earlier units I had, including the Levinson No. 39, the Dodson 217 upgraded, and a heavily modified Sony SCD 777ES.
The treble on the Benchmark is definitely not from the Cardas school, but I don't feel it is incorrect. Last night, I compared mine to an Audio Note DAC1 Signature, which is a NOS, filterless, tube design. The AN is definitely sweeter and a bit softer on top, but what surprised me was that the two units sounded more alike than I would have expected.
My experience with the Benchmark matches Drubin's. I've owned one for more than a year and used it with solid state amplification from Sim Audio and tube amplification from AES/Cary. I've found it to be very transparent and neutral, never harsh or fatiguing at all. It has seemed to me to be a clean window into the rest of the system and the music.
I suggest you take Steve Nugent's "Spoiler" USB tubed DAC, clocked with his "Pacecar" into account and discussion here. As far as sound staging, width as well as depth, is concerned it has bettered in conjunction with a dedicated laptop both the DCS and the top of the line Zanden combo to these here ears. Not an easy feat. I believe Nugent also has mods for the Benchmark in his program. Should be interesting.
I replaced my musical fidelity tri-vista dac with a tube audio designs TADAC because I like the sound better. My guess is the Benchmark would loose out to the TADAC then.
Presumably the new DAC/USB/Pre model is what Benchmark would like to be assessed on. I've yet to see a detailed review. Can anyone provide one ?
Bought a Benchmark USB and got rid of it in a week, my old MSB Link sounded better and my Monarchy 18B smoked it except in the details department. Benchmark = complete abscence of texture and body to highlight upper mid lean and mean, digital at its best for the worst....
Since then, I have auditionned the Audio Aero Prima SE and Audiomat Maestro, loved both tremendously yet way too expensive for me. My pending purchase is either a Stello 220 or a Monarchy NM24, the latter seducing me lot and one cannot beat the choice of tube and SS output..if only it had balanced out like Stello...
Hi every one
A while back i had Donson 18 bits dac along with Spectral /MIT system/Meggis and i have heard a 100 and 1000 good reviews about Beachmark dac1 so i give it a try (used unit audiogon) after very patienced listening and compared to my Very musical Donson Dac Highly recommened (1mouth) it turn out to be very artificial and very fatigue and very thin sound , not my cup of tea,notthing personal to Benchmark'owner. Donson made in 1998 and Benchmark /2004 ,It's seem to me that Musicality does not have to do whit new technology (it might but not entirely) but good intention and the love of the music that make MR: Donson had made one of the best dac .To be percise just like The Donson dac is like( The band ) QUEENS, and Benchmark is sound more like QUEENS but without Fredie/May/Roger/????? sorry i forgot the durmmer's name. lastly
All and all is just the matter of opinion and taste ,but the most importance thing is enjoy the music while we can, that's why we're here
With all the responses I am surprised there hasn't been a mention of the Bel Canto DAC 3...any comments on the DAC3 compared to the Benchmark...or others?
The divergence of opinion here doesn't surprise me. The Benchmark has a
sepcific signature that will polarize opinions. Some will say "
transparent" others "clinical". This reminds me of the divide
on Quad ESLs and (particularly older) Merlin VSMs. All the products share a
certain "lean" quality in the mid-bass that I suspect is behind
much of the debate as to their merit.
IMHO, the Benchmark is great. In a system with Verity Parsifal Encores,a
QSonix transport and warmish tube electronics it sounds absolutely great and
to my ear far superior to the DAC/DAC sections that preceded it in my
However, with a ss amp (Odyssey mono) and the aforementioned VSMs,
things went a bit dry and analytical. In short, IMHO this is really system and
PS I switched out the Odysseys for TAD Hibachis as my ss "alternate" and the
Benchmark sounds much better via TAD/Merlin. OTOH the Benchmark/Merlin
combo is IMHO still better served by an all-tube chain.
I own a Benchmark, and as it measures better than
units far beyond its price. The sound too is "Crystal"
I suggest that many folks want their music to have a
certain "sound" that the Benchmark fails to deliver.
It plays what has been Mastered on the Disc period!
Just the "MUSIC" pure and without any "characteristics"
just clean Music.
Not every transport delivers the same result. Myself
I use a Sony XA7ES player with Audio Alchemy's Digital
Data Stream cables, with the largest power supply they made, bcn to Balanced XLR preamp. The power
cord for the Benchmark is a Transparent Super Power cord.
P.S. Audio Statement XLR cables for Dac1.
I use the green S.I.D(sound improvement disc) and the
sound is more like the finest of Analog with the Dynamics
of Digital. If hearing the "MUSIC" is Primary to You,
In this configuration, my recently checked ears tell me,
over and over, no matter the Disc...I am totally "blown"
away, the resolution this Dac gives when matched properly.
So I don't know what to tell You, except that when I
listen to my Benchmark, I have never been unhappy!
Sorry I meant BNC connection.To the Balanced XLR's.
Oh and as for Bass playback with the Benchmark:
My "torture" test C.D. Jean Guillou, "The Great Organ
Of Saint Eustache 16hz. Fundamental!
The "Warning" is no joke! If You know Dorian Recordings
then You know, what I am saying.
My dual 15" Velodynes along with the P.S. Audio GCA 500,
plus two more Power Amplifiers, insure that All low
frequencies are "Crystal" Clear, with both seismic depth,
and the speed of a .223 caliber, for quick, tight bass
in all recordings.
Love Your Music!!!