Finding a little warmth from Benchmark1 USB DAC

So I've always appreciated a relatively dry sound from my audio equipment, and abhored the sound that tubed equipment yields. I started the hobby when I was in high school by getting a pair of Dynaudio Contour 1.8 mk IIs, and wound up with a Krell 300il (identical to the 400xi)last year. I just finished off my "system" after buying a Benchmark 1 USB DAC, that I am connecting to an older iMac that has my music collection in a lossless format.

My issue is that while I adore the setup's overall resolution and pinpoint accuracy, it's producing a very lean sound that is a bit bright, and stark for my tastes. My favorite listening setup was a Levinson 383 integrated hooked up to Dynaudio Special 25s. The Dynaudios had spectacular resolution and neutrality, while the Levinson was able to give a substantial, slightly darker sound that was not overly rich (like tubes can be for me).

So my question is, with the way I've framed things above, are there suggestions for interconnects or equipment that will find that balance for me? I feel like my existing components have potential, but it's just too much of the analytical sound.

As an aside, I tried the Benchmark with my brother's S3 B&W 801s and Audio Research gear, and it wasn't bad at all.
For me, USB cables made an enormous difference with my Benchmark USB DAC. I first tried the supplied USB, then switched to a Kimber Kable ($40 slight improvement) and then went to the Locus Design Axis ($550).

The Axis has improved things by several orders of magnitude, particularly in the midrange (more liquid and yet more precise), bass (more oomph and very tight), and timbre (a bit more crisp). The area in which it hasn't helped as much is separation of instruments, which is why I'm upgrading to Locus' $1150 Nucleus USB.

Yes, I know that's a lot of cabling relative to the hardware. Yes, I ignore normal rules about applying x percentage of overall costs to cables and no more. But INMO, my gear has sounded it's best when I've had it pretty much fully loaded (I'm also using a Furutech power cord and Kimber Select KS-1036).

In any event, the result has thus far been so impressive that I far prefer this iTunes-based system to my living room big rig. I'm hoping the Nucleus makes the experience positively sublime.

YMMV (duh), but I hope this has helped somewhat.
If you are using a USB cable to link the Benchmark from your computer the USB cable is the problem. Spend $29 and get a one or two meter run of Belden Gold series USB cable. This will solve your problem. The Belden Gold series is one of the few USB cables that is correctly designed and implimented. I have tried the Kimber (better but still terrible sounding) and the Axis (better but over priced). The belden will do the job until some high priced alternative comes along.

Another option is to replace the standard power cord with the $99 Shunyata Venom cord. This also tame the Benchmark's brightness.
Hi Velociti,

I have a Benchmark DAC1 also, I think it's a remarkable sounding DAC and actually it's what lit a fire under me to get back into the hobby after many years of complacency with digital, however in my opinion, it is a bit on the cool, dry, and analytical side, therefore system matching is imperative.

The Krell also has great resolution and transparency, however it is also a bit cool and dry, so I think that these components are not complimenting each other very well.

I believe the reason that you like the Benchmark on your Brothers Audio Research Gear, is because his equipment is warmer sounding to begin with. I would probably recommend a used Bel Canto DAC3 which I think will be just the ticket for what you're looking for. It is a little warmer, and more musical than the Benchmark, while maintaining resolution and transparency. I know this makes sense, because that's what I did, and I was very happy with the improvements.

Funny that you like a dry/revealing sound yet you find the Benchmark too glaring and bright, that says something about that particular DAC. I owned a Benchmark USB DAC1 for close to a year and tried everything under the sun to tame it. I prefer a neutral/slightly warm sound though and I like tubes.

I agree with the two posts before mine in that USB cables can help quite a bit. A ridge street poiema may do the trick as it seems to have a smoother top end and tames some brightness (w/o spending $500-$1,000 for a USB cable). Power cords do a lot for this DAC as well (I eventually paired mine with a Shunyata Python Helix). The DAC is so revealing that it responds to just about any tweak you might try.

Another thing I tried that helped were Hi-Fi tuning fuses.

You may want to try the Bel Canto DAC3. I had one after the DAC1. It was still too bright/forward for my taste, but the DAC3 is a slight bit darker/polite in presentation in comparison to the DAC1. Though you'll need a USB converter as it doesn't upsample to the extent the DAC1 will.
My brother's gear is certainly a bit warmer and darker than my Krell integrated. If I had my way (and funding), I would have gotten a Levinson 383 and called it even. It's a sensational piece of equipment.

I do like a dry, revealing sound. The fact that I put together a system comprised of components that share these sonic characteristics was a bit shortsighted. With all the raving about the Benchmark, I figured its honesty would be okay with my Krell/Dynaudios. While it's certainly not painful, I'd just like to add some warmth and darkness to make the sound more approachable.

With my taking out loans and starting grad school in three weeks, I figured that dropping a grand on a DAC that I could hopefully use for a long time would be a solid investment, so I don't think upgrading to the Bel Canto DAC3 is a possibility at this point. The recommendations on USB and power cables are probably what I'll wind up doing on my limited budget. I'm just trying to inject the maximum amount of warmth for the fewest dollars, so I'm open to any other suggestions people have...

Thanks for the help thus far!
"I'm just trying to inject the maximum amount of warmth for the fewest dollars"

How about a blanket? (LOL)

Hey Velociti,

Yeah absolutely man, I hear ya, been there done that. I didn't realize that you bought it new. I think Benchmark also offers a 30day return policy, if that's an option. Maybe your Brother wants to buy it?

Without going too crazy then, you could probably get a warmer sound by changing speaker cables, interconnects, cords, or adding an inexpensive tubed preamp? But that could all add up to big bucks too?

Are you using a USB or digital connection?

Can anyone else recommend inexpensive warmer sounding cables?

Trying out a Lavry DA10 would likely be a decent consideration as well. I had an original DAC1 a few years back and I would characterize the Lavry as being more rich sounding while still being quite detailed and accurate as well. I definitely find the Lavry to have a bit more body without tipping too far into warm and fuzzy territory which seems to be what you are trying to avoid.
I actually bought it from another audiogon'er, so it's not new, though it's in epic shape.

I'm using it directly from my laptop via a USB connection with Shure SE530s and Grado 125s. I only got to spend about 3 hours listening to my actual setup since I've packed away everything to move.

Rich, I think speaker cables and cords are probably the way to go for me. I bought a pair of Audioquest King Cobra XLRs on ebay, so I'll find out how they alter the sound. Forgive my haphazard approach to all of this...being on a budget for the past decade with HS, college and now grad school has limited me in terms of buying the stuff I know that I like. Hopefully once I'm out of school and earning more I can approach this hobby properly!
Don't get me wrong, by the way. I love my headphones and equipment, all of which I've bought used, or gone gray market for, but I know that had I had the money, I would have purchased the Dynaudio Contour 3.0s rather than 1.8s, the Levinson 383 Integrated and likely the Krell 280cd. One of these days...
This goes against your anti-tube bias, but I suspect that adding an inexpensive but good quality one-tube line stage, such as this one from Antique Sound Labs for $345 (new), would be a more effective fix than changing interconnects, power cords, etc. And it would provide you with the flexibility to fine-tune the sound via tube rolling.

I have used this model in the past, and I found it to be essentially neutral in a system which otherwise leaned slightly in the rich, warm sounding direction.

If you decide to try it, be aware that it inverts polarity, so you would want to reverse the + and - connections to each of your speakers.

-- Al

No doubt, I love the Levinson gear too, very well balanced and musical.

What's your budget?

Not to push the "get another DAC issue," but it's good that you bought it used because then you could flip it if you want, without getting burned, there's a few Benchmark USB's here for $1000, just for comparison the used Bel Canto DAC3's are $1500 and there are 5 of them for sale right now. Maybe you could make an offer or a trade. I think that the Benchmark would probably go really well with a Tubed Amp, or even a Class D Amp. It could really spice up a darker system.

I know $500 is a lot right now as a student, but you could easily blow a couple hundred bucks on beer, wings, and cables, so just keep that in mind. You know that you could also possibly get the sound that you want from another $1000 DAC, it doesn't have to be the Bel Canto you know.

I'm really not that familiar with darker, inexpensive cables, so that's why I haven't suggested any.

my regular DAC1.... I replaced the nasty SMD c13 and c14 with black gates. They are bypassed by two smaller value caps. I remove the larger bypass caps (c109 and c110) , HOWEVER and this is important I found that the ceramic bypasses (c15 and c16 ) need to be left. Removing the ceramic bypass removed a lot of detail, and left things very midrangey (a common complaint if you read what others are doing mod wise)

After the mod, the dac is very dynamic and clean... but a bit more relaxed in the treble. Its a immense improvement, difference between night and day. It
Hi, read my thread about getting the best performance from DAC-1
Try a high end power cord on the Benchmark DAC. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.