Best DAC


Hey Audiogon,

This is my first post here.  I've been doing quite a bit of research and am looking for a DAC for my system.

My laptop will be the source.  I already have an Audio Research pre-amp that I find to be the best for my listening preferences.  So, I really don't need the DAC to do anything besides convert... no pre-amp or headphone amp needed.

I would like the most neutral DAC possible, and am tempted to check out the Benchmark DAC1 USB or DAC2.  I also like the Bel Canto DAC2 for its simplicity.  I will probably be looking on the used market at anything under $1000.  Of course, the greater the value, the better.

Overall, I am looking for the most neutral DAC possible because I believe that my pre-amp, amp and speakers should be the components coloring the music.  I see people mentioning that the benchmarks are too "harsh" or "revealing" but I think that may be cleared up by the pre-amp.  We won't know until its in the system, but I want to make an educated purchase.

Any input is greatly appreciated.  Thank you
mr_sacrimoni
I would look into DACs which are noted as being source agnostic or into splitting your budget for components such as the Regen making the rounds which filter the line between PC & DAC.

Personally haven’t tried the above however I have compared an Ultrabook as source compared to a tweaked performance tower and found the portable machine highly restrictive to the performance of my DAC. Were it more than an expirament I’d have immediately traded in my DAC!

In an attempt to level the playing field I added the same OS tweaks/playback software to the ultrabook; unlike the full sized machine the sound remained consistent through all the tweaks I made.
Your best bet is to find a used ARC Dac3.  You already have an ARC preamp and I assume you like it (as you should).  Thus, an ARC DAC makes total sense and will be an optimal match.

I've had the Benchmark DACs (still have the DAC1 as a headphone amp and previously owned two DAC2 HGC), but you can do a lot better.  For the money, they aren't bad, but a used ARC DAC3 will be far better. 

Just because Stereophile says Benchmark is "Class A" doesn't mean you're getting a DAC with anywhere near the same performance of other DACs that are truly Class A.   Trust me...I have an $11k Lampizator DAC and also had a $3k Wadia DAC and both made the Benchmark seem like Class C.

That being said...you can't overlook the source.  A standard laptop will put a ceiling on your performance that is tough to get around.  As someone mentioned, you can get things like the Regen or iFi USB 3.0 to help, but you also need something with decent processing power to avoid other pitfalls in computer audio.

Personally, if it's possible to wait, I'd save up for the $2k used budget range.  You could get a used DAC3 and/or many other previously $3k DACs that have been superseded....plus some tweaks to your server.  In the long run, you'll save money and have something closer to true class A right off the bat.
Thanks for the input everybody. I currently have the SP-6 pre-amp if that makes a difference. I saw the ARC Dac3 but I wasn’t sure how that would connect to the computer.

Would the ARC Dac7 or Dac8 be a serious upgrade from the Dac3? I know the 7 and 8 are USB capable.

1,500 for the Dac7 doesn’t seem too far off budget if it would be worth it. But are there any better options when we approach that 1.5 to 2K price range?

Also, is the Regen a piece that I would definitely want to integrate into the system? I’ll be using my laptop for a while before I invest in a dedicated music server, but it has decent power.

Thanks again
With asynchronous USB DAC computer speed should have zero effect on the sound - since computer is sending data without timing. Faster computer might even have negative effect by creating more of ambient electrical noise.
subscribe.

mr_sacrimoni ,

the Regen is highly recommended between DAC and source if you're listening through USB audio. many forums I came across reported great improvements(regen) while I was researching for other traditional 2 channel DACs, although I don't know how Regen works. this thing make a average DAC sound much better.

just my 2 cents

Try IFI Micro IDSD if you are able...Its about $450. You will be pleasantly surprised me thinks.... Just keep an open mind and ears when you listen to it... You have to let it break in for at least 400 hours, then it really shows its full potential of state of the art sound, price be damned .... Don’t use preamp function thou for the best sonics....
How about to look Wyred 4 Sound Dac 2-se , it seems really good
You may want to look into the Bryston BDA-3 which just came out. It has all the inputs you would ever need, I have the BDA-1 and to my ears it sounds pretty   good. In fact I have the BDA-3 on order. It should  arrive the end of this month. I'm just moving up to the  latest. 
I'd stay clear of BelCanto.  I have a pair of BC amps and have had problems with them.  Called Bel Canto and left three VM's and sent numerous emails to arrange a fix - no response.  Went back to the dealer where I got them and the dealer dropped the BC line for ther same reason: they build but they don't support.
I second the vote on a Bryston DAC. My BDA-1 outclassed my Arcam FMJ23 player. And the  support from Bryston is outstanding!