Best USB DAC with Grado Head phones

I am searching for a USB DAC for my computer / head phone rig. I don't care much about a DAC/AMP combo since I plan to buy a separate headphone amp. Using Grado's GS-1000, RS-2

I have narrowed down my search to three DACs:

Benchmark DAC 1 USB $1275

Bel Canto DAC3 $2495

Wavelength Cosecant USB DAC v3 $3500

The concern I have is that in both Stereophile reviews of the first two DACs, the USB performance was inferior to the input using S/PDIF and AES/EBU sources. There was no good explaination for this in the articles but may have been in part related to setting the iTunes preferences correctly. The Bel Canto seemed to have higher marks than the Benchmark DAC 1 USB but not by a differential of $1200. Furthermore, the 24/96 capable USB option is still not out yet.

Has anyone heard all three yet to compare????
Well, you might want to wait on the DAC1 Pre. Also check out I think the USB/Itunes debacle was pretty much related to the windows software settings. It's basically an overblown issue that won't go away. Benchmark has more detail on their website.

regards, David
Please considering adding April Music stello DA100 (USB) ($695) and DA100 Signature (USB + I2S input) ($895) to your list.

We demontrated DA100 Signature with HP100 headphone amp at T.H.E. Show with great success.


April Music USA
If you have a mac get an Apogee Duet, for $500 you wouldn't believe how it could compete with the above mentioned dacs.
Hello Dbk,

My name is Elias Gwinn...I'm an engineer from Benchmark. I can shed light on the topic of USB performance.

In all regards, the performance of the USB input is equivalent to the other digital inputs. This can be, and has been easily demonstrated with listening tests and/or test-bench measurements.

The Stereophile review that you referred to affirms this, but they also talked about a signal drop out below -60 dBFS. In John's review, he found that the DAC1 USB will mute when a single-tone sinewave (with TPDF dither) drops below -60 dBFS. This signal-mute is intentional - a mute function that prevents the typical 'clicks' and 'pops' from USB. It does not occur when music is being played.

The reason it occurred with this test tone, but would not happen with real music, is because it will only occur with a single-frequency sine tone (which is never the case with real music).

Also, almost no music is mastered with TPDF dither. Almost all music is mastered with 'noise-shaped dither', which will not activate the mute function.

Also, it only occurs below -60dBFS, which means the only sound that would ever be muted with that version of the DAC1 USB is the end of a fade-out of a single-tone sinewave dithered with TPDF!!

We have since adjusted the sensitivity of the mute function, such that even this unusual test-signal won't trigger the mute function.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask...