Personally, I'd avoid the Benchmark - I had one and found it too harsh with my Krell 400xi and Dynaudio speakers. I used it with a Sonos and Airport Express.
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Good question! I picked up a used Cullen-modded ZP80 a couple months ago to play with while I decided on a more permanent DAC/streamer solution (I had been using a purpose-built headless PC into a Benchmark DAC1 USB). I'm still feeding the DAC1 with the Sonos via an Audioquest Hawkeye coax but I'm basically on the same search you are. That said, I don't find the Benchmark particularly "harsh" as some do with my Crimson SS amps/pre and Sonus Faber Cremona Auditors. Still, I'm looking for an "upgrade".
A number of the guys working at my semi-local dealer (PS Audio, Audio Research, Krell) use and are very pleased with the Sonos into the PS Audio Link iii.
I've been considering the PWD, Weiss Dac2, Audio Note Kits 3.1, Redwine Isabellina and others but can't seem to make up my mind.
The Sonos has a high level of jitter on the S/PDIF output. In light of that, you will probably want to select a dac that handles jitter well, whether through ASRC, reclocking, or whatever. Another option is to lower the Sonos' jitter by getting Cullen to mod it, as others have suggested.
Either way, I would consider minimizing the effects of jitter an important consideration in your decision.
I should add that I had the Cullen mod (now done by W4S) done to my ZP-90 and it made a noticeable difference. Was it worth the money? It's a lot, more than the Sonos itself, but I love the Sonos controlled via my iPad. I wish it were cheaper, but it definitely made a difference and if your Sonos is your primary source, I strongly recommend it after being a doubter for a while...difference was immediately noticeable.
I just scored a Dac Magic and I think it sounds amazing drivin by a Squeezebox Touch and an old Marantz CD changer's digital out (I use the groovy balanced outs into the preamp). I mean amazing...but since it's so cheap you maybe should get something more expensive so audio freaks don't scoff at you. I heard a friend's Sonos into a Wyred4sound DAC2 and it's nice and has that higher cost one wants in a component.
You are not going to make a purse out of a sows ear. The Sonos has relatively high jitter compared to the other alternatives. The jitter of the digital source is #1 importance. No DAC is going to fix this, although some upsampler DACs may improve it a little.
I would recommend to either replace the Sonos with Logitech Touch, reclock the Sonos with a good reclocker or get the Sonos modded to improve the jitter.
Then think about a good DAC.
If you've got $1k to spend, you should really make it a point to hear the Rega DAC. I like it far better than what's been mentioned. I've owned one since January and am done looking for upgrades for a very long time.
It does a great job with jitter. I run my Apple TV gen 1, cable box, and XBox as transports, and everything sounds great. The ATV/DAC combo sounds far better than my Rega Apollo (as a standalone CDP) ever did. Not even close. I didn't get the chance to connect my Apollo as a transport though.
I started with stock ZP90 into a Benchmark. Fell in love with the simplicity.
Upgraded Cullen modded upsampled Sonos to Benchmark. A nice bump in detail, but not sure if upsampling is their best option. Would like to have been able to compare this unit to a non-upsampling modded unit.
Moved to Empirical modded ZP90 to ultraclock re-clocker Pace-car to the Benchmark DAC-1. In my opinion from the road I've travelled above - Steve Nugent at Empirical is right. The holy grail seems to be to get jitter to a minimum and the brand of DAC becomes less a difference in the equation. Adding a battery power supply (the monolith) over the weekend drove this point home.
I do understand people complaining the Benchmark is 'analytica and cold'. I believe this is a jitter issue in the imput signal. Adding the reclocker to my system definately warmed the sound. It openned layers of sound that were hidden and now part of the entire presentation. The musical floor (silent, as well as quiet passages) is black, still and dead flat without hiss, hum or energy. Loud passages are big without edge.
My thought was a Berkeley Alpha might be my next component purchase. I'm thinking it is no longer necessary to change DACs.
I do wish I could try out high resolution files, but by not having that option has led me to push the envelop of red book CD sound. I am amazed how much information you can squeeze out of a file resolution we sometimes seem to take for granted.