Here is a copy of the review I just posted in the "Reviews" section ...
For those of you who want to skip to the end, the Bel Canto DAC3 wins by a long shot ... at least in my subjective opinion. Not because it does any one thing significantly better than the Benchmark Media DAC1. But rather because, when taken as a whole, each aspect of the performance is just a little bit better thus taking the entire musical experience to the next level.
To begin with, I have great components set up in the worst possible space that forces me in to a near-field listening situation ... obviously not ideal. Nonetheless, it provides for a fairly amazing audio experience and actually allows me to hear certain nuances that I would not otherwise hear in a regular listening set-up. For those of you interested in a more thorough explanation of my set up with some pics, click here and prepare to chuckle: http://forum.audiogon.com/cgi-bin/fr.pl?vopin&1196304575&view
As for my subjective observations comparing the Bel Canto and Benchmark DACs, they are as follows. Also, note that I ran two USB cables simultaneously from my computer, one in to each DAC, so that I could perform a true A/B comparison ...
Highs - I found the Benchmark (BM) highs to be a bit rolled off in the higher frequencies. This was not the case for the Bel Canto (BC) where the highs extended fully throughout the frequency range. For example, on the Martin Taylor and Tuck Andress guitar solos that I listened to, the sound that their fingers made when sliding across the strings sounded much more open and realistic on the BC.
Bass - The BM and BC were fairly similar as far as the bass is concerned. However, the BC was just a bit warmer and more natural sounding than the BM. For example, on Jeanie Bryson's "Why Don't You Do Right?" the stand up Bass strumming sounded a tad warmer and ... well, I can only describe it as more "acoustic". Also, the amazing kick drum on Lenny Kravitz's "American Woman" seemed to resonate just a bit lower and longer using the BC ... not a lot, but just enough to where you notice a subtle difference.
Soundstage - HUGE ... both of the DACs present a great large soundstage. However, on Ray Charles' "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning" on Ray Sings, Basie Swings the sax and trumpets projected just a bit farther outside the speakers on the BC. Conversely, the soundstage with the BM appears to be a bit deeper to me. Accordingly, no winner here ... simply do you like your soundstage wider or deeper?
Imaging - Now this is interesting ... both DACs provide great, nicely focused imaging. However, the BC's image tended to follow the side to side movement of my head significantly more than the BM. For example, on Nora Jones' "Turn Me On" her voice is perfectly centered when my head was centered. But if I moved it left or right, the image followed my head significantly more with the BC. The sonic qualities didn't change, the imaging simply followed the movement of my head more ... weird. Nonetheless, the size of the imaged voice or instrument was always just a bit larger with the BC making it the winner in this aspect as well.
Separation - The BC was the clear winner here and this was very important to me. Some producers like to stack voices and instruments in the dead center of a recording instead of moving them a tad left or right. This is a mistake IMHO and can cause voices and instruments to get lost in the jumble. For example, on the Beatles' "Revolution" from the Love CD, John's voice seems to get lost in Ringo's drums on most every system that I have heard, including mine at home using the BM. However, with the BC in place, there is much better separation between the two and John's singing is heard much more clearly. This makes a HUGE difference in complex songs that have too many items mixed to center.
So, in conclusion, the differences in each aspect of the music were generally small when reviewed individually. However, when you add them up and they are experienced as a whole, the Bel Canto DAC3 is much more musical and provides for a more enjoyable listening experience.
And that is all I have to say about that ...
PS - My entire system is comprised of components that I purchased used on Audiogon over the past few months for less than $10k.