DAC choice advice - hard-drive based system

Putting together a system using network-attached USB hard drive (LaCie 500GB through a Linksys NSLU2), all music ripped lossless (FLAC), delivered over my 802.11g wireless net using a Squeezebox3.

In the general price range I'm considering, the Audiomirror, Perpetual Tech, Stello, and (it seems you can't *not* consider this) the Benchmark, all look interesting. I realize the Audiomirror takes a different approach as it's n/os.

I listen to a very wide variety of music.

Can you guys help me out with the pro's and con's of these options? I'm new to the DAC concept - am I missing anything I should be considering?

Also, what is the concept behind something like the Perpetual Tech P-1A? I don't really understand what it does (but have a general sense of the concept of oversampling). Is it just oversampling, similar to what's already built into the Benchmark for instance? How about the Audio Alchemy stuff, what's that do?

Thanks! Great forum, it's nice to have access to experts that don't mind speaking in language plain enough for us neophytes...
A couple areas I would steer you to are the Audio Note and Sakura System (47 Labs) web sites. There is some good information here on the non-os philosophy and why these designers consider it superior to upsampling. In the case of my DAC search (which ultimately led me to the Audio Mirror), it was important for me to understand these concepts and detrmine which I favored. My reasons for going the non-os route were simple, to me the music sounded more natural and was very close to analog. Now not all non-os DACs reproduce music equally, just as upsamplers don't, but if you want that analog sound from your digital playback you can't go wrong with brands like Audio Mirror, Audio Note, Audio Sector, and 47 Labs. If possible listen to one versus an upsampler. Then you will hear what I am saying.
Benchmark DAC-1 is probably the best value at this pricepoint (<$1K). It has the advantage of balanced outs as well - make sure to get a new one, not a used one. They have improved significantly over the past year.

The Perpetual P-3A can also sound as good as the Benchmark, but not without a lot of mods. the advantage of this one is that it has an I2S interface, which is a direct path to the DAC chip. With a USB to I2S converter, such as the Off-Ramp I2S, this is the simplest and best-sounding of the computer interfaces.
Audioengr - what can you tell us about changes to the Benchmark DAC. I called Benchmark several months ago, and they told me that as long as the DAC has the stepped attenuator there have been no significant changes added. I think the stepped attenuator came in more than a year ago, but am not sure.
DAC-1 changes:
1) added output buffer to SE outputs
2) lowered SE output impedance
3) added pot to balance L/R gain
4) added film SMT caps for coupling
5) changed regulators to cheapo plastic ones to eliminate plastic bushings
6) changed Op-amps from Philips to TI
7) stepped attenuator
8) changed LED resistors to reduce brightness

I think this is more than one change.
I strongly recommend you take advantage of as many 30 day trial periods as you can. I have been through 5 DAC's on my hard drive based system and auditioning has been fun and very informative. With Audio Advisor you could try the Benchmark and the Bel Canto which are both in your price range. I think Music Direct also allows 30 day trials as well.
>7) stepped attenuator

Is this on the front volume pot or the back screws? How much difference would this make?

A few years back, Benchmark offered a $50 update for older DAC-1's (non-upsampling ones?). I wonder if there is any update offer for newer DAC-1's.

I've listened to a few DACS in my system, both modded and unmodded:
1) Dodson 217
2) Benchmark DAC-1
3) Perpetual P-3A and P-1A
4) dAck! version 1 and 2
5) Bel Canto DAC2
6) Electrocompaniet ECD-1
7) Birdland Odeon-lite
8) Van Alstine
9) MSB Gold
10) AudioNote DAC4.1X
11) EAD DSP 7000
12) Meridian 566

The Benchmark is the best sounding of these either stock or modded. Dont waste your time. Just buy a new one.
Thanks guys.

At the moment I'm seriously considering the Benchmark, Audio Mirror, and Stello. They all seem to have good things said about them and the price range, used on the Benchmark and Stello and new on the Audio Mirror, are all in the general ballpark.

It's really hard to ignore the consistent profound praise the Benchmark gets, but I would have to wait until a used one comes up at a good price.
Audioengr wrote, referring to a list of DAC's he'd auditioned: "The Benchmark is the best sounding of these either stock or modded."

That is ONE opinion, of course.
I have to agree with Pardales comments on both accounts. Listen to as many of DACs as you can, and rememeber, each of us is just lending our opinion. You ultimately have to live with the choice.

I also have to say that I usually am impressed with whatever Audioengr has to say, but the last post was a bit over the top. There are some incredible DACs on that list and I have to wonder if he temporarily lost his mind when he says the Benchmark beats them all - stock no less (modded I'll give him the benefit of the doubt on).
Going by popular opinion, Benchmark DAC-1 is a "can't go wrong" choice at a given price point. Except that if you crave for warm sound, then don't bother.

It would be best to audition at least a short list of DACs, but if you have to gamble, the odds is very good on Benchmark DAC-1.
Sixstring - just dont buy an older Benchmark. It wont sound the same.
How does Musical Fidelity X-DAC V3 compare to Benchmark DAC-1 (same price range)? Does anyone have any experience?
sixstringslinger, what DAC did you end up with?

I went trough this post before realizing the Benchmark DAC-1 was suggested and emphasized by one person only. I hope you did not overlook other choices.

Am also on the market for are DAC
mr pancake- the scott nixon usbtd is a non- oversampled usb tube dac...i have the regular tube dac that he makes and am very happy with the results...the fella that recommended my tube dac to me ownes the usb version...he is a well versed stereohead and thoroughly enjoys it...they go for around $500.


ps: i mean planckscale :)
...seeing pancake from planckscale? You have eating disorder tendencies :)

That is a great suggestion. It may be what I have been looking for. Let me see how I can add the circuitry to my Aurum preamp.