I have no experience with the Benchmark DAC. That being said, I am very happy with my 840c.
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Seems that you can't find anyone that has experience with both. I haven't heard the Benchmark, but had a Bel Canto DAC1 a couple of years ago and was not impressed.(even though I like Bel Canto in general) I have owned the 840 for about a year and find it to be excellent, more like a $2-3k player.
I believe that it actually has 2 of the Wolfson dac's, one for each channel.
I use it w/ a tube amp and it is transparent, detailed and musical. Not certain that it would mate as well w/ a SS amp that leans toward brightness. If you buy used, I would imagine that either the 840 or the Benchmark could be resold w/ no problem.
I had a Benchmark. I think it was clearer than the Cambridge (from memory), but not terribly dimensional, a bit cool, and lacking the soul of music, although, again, QUITE a bit of clarity to it. Robert E. Greene loves it, though. I never quite warmed up to it, although I heard what people liked about it. It didn't quite sound like real music, though...
I now have a (Cambridge) 840C and a Rega Apollo. Prefer the Cambridge, if only for 1) the highs are really, really good (they float, for one thing) and 2), more dimensional with enough low-level detail that each cut sounds different (some sound humid, some very clear, some dimensional, airy, bright), which generally means less "personality." Also, for the first time, I can actually hear sound coming from the floor on cds (some of 'em!)and "space" down there, too. Fairly tall soundstage as well, although, now that I think about it, the Rega gives very good height, too! It (840C) is slightly lightweight-sounding, but then, that depends on the electronics AND the interconnects/cables. On the Parasound JC 2, it sounds "lighter" (not leaner, just a touch more ethereal, as in, say, when someone would materialize on Star Trek, and you could still see thru them a little, before they were fully materialized) than it does on the Antique Sound Labs AQ 1003, or the Hurricanes, or even an Arcam FMJ 22 integrated. Of course, using Nordost Frey interconnects may also be contributing, since they're lighter in the bass/lower midrange (I believe Harley uses MIT, which is typically much richer in the bass/midrange than Nordost). I'll have a better idea of the "lightweight" sound when I Put in the Transparent MM2s next week, but nonetheless, the Cambridge is slightly more ethereal than say, the Rega, or the Arcams.
I most definitely like the Cambridge more than a Consonance Droplet 5.0 CD player I had a couple of years back. The Consonance was a bit "golden," sort of "fuzzy" sounding, warm in the bass (double bass and cello were NOT its thing) and just pleasant, but certainly less revealing on say, Mercury Living Presence CDs, which the sound changes from cut to cut. Cambridge is quite good, and clean without bleaching out tonal colors - something I dislike.
I just bought the Benchmark DAC to use with my Oppo DVD player. The advantage of this route is that in this day the DAC is becoming the heart of a system. It offers the flexability the try various transports, music servers, internet radio, etc.
If you read any pro recording websites the Benchmark and Lavry DACs are perfered in recording studios. A friend has compared it with a Sony XA777ES (Art Dudley's reference CD player) and it yielded better detail.
Like any new piece of gear it requires balancing it into your system.
Mjcmt - Another issue is being independent of transport. I already had Cambridge CD player that failed (laser) and almost decided to buy used Ayre CD player but bought Benchmark and cheap DVD player as a transport instead. Benchmark has 5 years warranty and my DVD player costs $69. In addition I enjoy flexibility of this solution, as you mentioned, listening to HDTV, DVD, MP3 and practically anything that stays within 24bit/192kHz. I could buy new CODE 20bit/96kHz recording (on DVD) and play it without any change. Oppo plays even more formats - so I heard.
I don't know how reliable Cambridge is now but A3i amplifier I had once failed because of faulty assembly (i fixed it myself). It is not important that it was made in China, in my opinion, but rather that quality control was poor (mistake was easy to notice).
I use the 840c and its external dac with my sonos system. I have been very pleased with the overall sound. I have changed everything in my system in the past year except the 840c and do not anticpate replacing. It also can be used with a DVD player t.v. etc.. as well. letting you take a "16-bit/44.1kHz CD data to 24-bit/384kHz data, through the use of a 32-bit Analog Devices Black Fin DSP (digital signal processor). This in turn feeds two 24-bit/384kHz DACs from the same company in dual differential formation."
It seems that the cheap DVD players are quite reliable.
I have read the cheap Sony DVD players are transports w/ good detail.
The Oppo's are very robust and their first and long discontinued 971 still performs. I have the discontinued 970 which had better audio at the time, before I bought a DAC.
If you watch movies as well the new 980 has excellent DVD picture (1080p), plus it is a universal player at $160. My experience is that Oppo's are very durable, and I have never heard of one failing.
More and more the high end mags are recommending cheap DVD players w/ near state of the art DACs (and for less than a Cambridge 840).
Cambridge has a link to a paper that discusses the merits of upsampling to 384kHz and why they choose to go that route rather than 192kHz.
http://www.cambridgeaudio.com/assets/documents/840Cwhitepaperwebedit.pdf I have heard great things about your Benchmark and am sure it provides a very nice sound. Hopefully, I can demo one in the future to hear what all the great reviews are talking about. Enjoy your system.
One advantage the 840 will have over a cheap DVD player as a transport is that the 840 has a better transport w/ better PS for the transport. I would keep it.
I didn't want to spend that kind of money and I wanted a stand alone pro DAC for it's flexability down the road. The other DAC option for me was the Lavry DA10, but honestly the Bencmark matched the faceplate of my amp exactly.
Oppo 970($150) + used Benchmark($700) gets me close and I can watch movies too, plus I can upgrade to BluRay player or an original Rega Planet transport if I want to. Win Win for me.
Beerad - I was not talking about upsampling but rather downloading rate to DAC. Benchmark is upsampling to equivalent of 1 million times oversampling (equivalent of 44GHz) making mathematical simplifications and taking statistical value of the clock accurate to 5ps. Then it goes thru filtering and is outputed to DAC only at 110KHz for lower THD instead of 192kHz the DAC and upsampler are capable of. It is not a flaw in design - it's conscious decision (read interview with Benchmark's engineer).
At this point it's difficult to say what is right. In general traditional DACs are suffering from accuracy of components and cannot go below 18 bits while sigma-delta type can go down to 24-bits but are loosing it in timing errors. Many people believe that traditional DACs without upsampling give better more organic sound. DCS uses RING DACs where resistor ladder components are shuffled randomly to minimize (after filtering) bit error and get better than 18 bits. No rights or wrongs - just sound that you prefere.
Did I understand ir right that you can connect other digital sources to your CD player - you used term "external DAC". It is very interesting feature - many people were asking about it on the forum.
Mjcmt - when you open your Benchmark check OP-amps manufacturer. If it's Philips than you can possibly change them to a little better (rounder) sounding Texas Instruments. TI symbol on the chip is often shown on the outline/map of Texas while Phillips has either words Phillips or letter "S" for Signetics (part of Phillips). Original amp was designed by Signetics and manufactured to about 2002 (early Benchmarks had them) when their factory burned down and they stopped making them. Texas Instr. bought license, redesigned die (larger) and got a little better sound. Newest DAC1-USB use LM4562 only in output stage to make lower output impedance on XLR outputs (0dB best, -20dB second best, -10dB bad). At the very beggining Benchmark made DAC1s with too high output impedance on RCA outputs.
Fruff1976 - sorry for rambling so much about Benchmark. For you buying newest version might be the safest choice if you decide to go that route. In addition they have free evaluation 30 day loaner program and 5 years warranty.
If you use XLR outputs get newer USB version for $300 more - it has better/stronger output drivers. Also try excellent Bel Canto DAC3 if you can spend $2500 (read on-line Stereophile review and comparison to Benchmark).
I use Benchmark also as a preamp since it has volume control (great simplification and savings on a pair of IC)
Kijanki, I was not refering to a design flaw in benchmarks product, but rather Cambridge. Yes, the 840C does have two inputs that allows you to take advantage of the DACs. The digital to analog conversion of my Sonos signal is all ran through my 840c. They have option for toslink or digital coaxial. Thanks
My DAC1 is the newest version with the Texas Instument opamps, the 30 ohm optical input, and improved pcbs.
I'm using DAC1 directly to a tube power amp w/ outstanding results. Some say cabling makes a difference but I use only what I had on hand(XLO-ER2 RG6 digital cable, Dynamic Design Platinum interconnects).
The DAC1 is a real shock when you use it. If you have never heard digital playback w/o digititus it is almost impossible to explain. The highs are so detailed, clear and pure it sounds smooth. Not coloration smoothness but lack of harshness smoothness. It's crazy!
The DAC1 does not emphesis one audio frequency or one type of instrument over another. They are all presented fairly and honestly. No coloration that highlights a certain type of music. You can choose what you want to listen to in a recording, it doesn't tell you to listen to this or listen to that. I know why pros like theis piece, it tells it like it is.
This DAC is an eye opener to digital playback. It reminds me of my Consonance CD120 Linear w/ non-oversampling DAC in digital playback, but with added pristine and accurate sound.
For an unfair comparison, my Oppo was crude, closed in, harsh, emphisising dynamics of percusion over sweetness. It was inaccurate and all over the place. I couln't get involved with the sound as a stand alone player but as a transport with the Benchmark DAC 1 doing the duties of convertiong digital to analogue I'm very satisfied now. Especially with the built in preamp/volume control of the Benchmark directly to a tube power amp.
Mjcmt - I also enjoy DAC1 as a preamp but connected to class D amp (Rowland 102). Amp is cleaner (less brassy) than my previous integrated SS but when I connected DAC1 first time I had impression that there are missing instruments on recordings I know very well. Everything is so clean and transparent that it takes time to get used to (learn to listen?). People often perceive sound with a little bit of distortion as more lively (like distorted guitar vs. clean guitar) and call DAC1's sound sterile or uninvolving. I think that sound is very dynamic with great bass control and great transparency/clarity.
Many people don't like well defined bass or even clean sound - they like sound they got used to and there is nothing wrong with it. I even found opinion that instruments should sound together (sound blob) and not separately.
I was a little bit concerned connecting non-forgiving (neutral) DAC to non-forgiving amp (class D) but Rowland while having bright speakers but Rowland tech guy explained that sybillants are more function of distortion than energy in high frequencies (and he was right).
I wondered what makes DAC1 so much better than my old Cambridge CD4SE - one of the better Cambridge CD players.
It could be jitter removal, good components, smart clean design (-140dB S/N) or all of the above.
I have seriously considered a class D amp. Some recommend the Nuforce. I will use my tube amp for a while more until a really get a feel for the combo, as I really don't want to sell it yet. I may wait until I can afford a D amp to add to my system, and store the tube amp for later (or use for the winter months and swap between the 2 amps)... Or until I get tired of it - which ever comes first.
Mjcmt - DAC1 with tube gear is a great combination according to many but I'm not in the "warm sound camp". Class D offers a lot for the money. My Rowland is very basic but there is a lot of great ones. Rowland Continuum integrated is very good bargain since it is equivalent of CAPRI preamp combined with high power Icepowers (1kW/4 ohm - I think) and power factor correction unit. Nuforce has mixed reviews - some people like it for its speed and clarity others prefere Icepower.