Tried the Benchmark recently , it was no match for my long term reference Levenson #360 . Levinson was much smoother and more detailed . Ive had it for many years without a problem . Works well with my computer too . I liked the Benchmark too , but its not in the same league .
I can't comment on the Benchmark, but you'll have to pull my Levinson 360s out of my cold dead hands, before I let that baby go...
It just does everything right.
The 360s is likely out of my budget range, So I would likely need to stick with a 360. Much difference?
Sophia Loren vs Lady Gaga
Very interesting... I've sworn never again to repair my No39 when it breaks, and replace it with a Benchmark. And you guys say it's not in the same league... hmmm. I just might have to try one on their 30-day trial offer and see for myself.
The Benchmark is better than alot of people think. It performs quite well with the proper power cord, line conditioner and IC's; as well as isolation and digital cable. It is incredibly resolving, projects a wide, believable soundstage and does a great job at retrieving those little nuances which create the emotional involvement most look for. Mine did well with the upgraded fuse (HiFi Tuning). I didn't realize how great the Benchmark was until I upgraded to the Berkeley Alpha Dac. While the Berkley is much more resolving and much better in many, many ways, it isn't better by as much as I thought. The little bugger really surprised me. It wasn't blown away by the Berkeley. The Becnhmark, in my opinion, was half as good, which, compared to the Berkeley, is pretty good. Give a warmed up, broken Benchmark with good IC/PC, etc a listen and I think you will be very surprised.
I'm listening to my Benchmark as I write this. I went with an MIT power cord, Kimber interconnects, and a Locus USB cable. The quality of the DAC1 took leaps forward when I had Chris Johnson of Parts Connexion modify it for around $500. So I'm still not in for the megabuck DAC prices, but I'm 3extremely pleased with what I'm hearing.
Thanks for all th input so far - please keep it comming :-)
May I ask what mods were done by Parts Connexion?
I ran a first gen Benchmark next to my Levinson 360s for about two weeks (borrowed it). On my system the Levinson took the brass ring ... I like the Benchmark and I will probably buy one just to play with. I might even invest in a mod or two but I don’t think it will ever match the Levinson. Of course looking at the retail price for the two units it should be obvious. I was running a Wadia 23 into both DACs for the Redbook CD test. I spent a couple days going back and forth and then switched to my PC's S/PDIF out. I just love the FLAC files fed into the Levinson upsampled to 96Khz. That being said; if and when the 360s dies I will need to do something. Repairing Levinson gear it simply insane and I won’t do it. That is what started my search for a suitable replacement DAC. The 360s is running great for now and I will do everything I can to keep it going, however I haven’t had the best luck with Levinson gear. I see the 36's and 36s DACs showing up every once in a while and the price is pretty manageable. I would be very interested in doing a side by side, if I can ever get my hands on one to test out. Stereophile did a review of the 360s that I read sometime back and as I recall stated the 360 sounded noticeably better than the 36 or 36s but my system is pretty modest so maybe not so much.
I'd like to say it was close but no so on my system ... the Levinson reigned supreme. It had added a level of clearity and removed the grain from my Redbook CDs. It gives my turntable a run for the money on the certain discs. I wouldnt describe it as "analog" but the best digital can offer, at least the best I can afford.
Your insights and experience is extremely helpful. I really like the prospect of a Levinson DAC but did have some of the concerns that you addressed in your post. I purchased a Levinson 380 pre because I used to own a 380s and really like that piece. I still have concerns with it due to the repair issues you spoke of and those concerns cause me to hesitate before purchasing any additional ML gear. I sold a Krell FPB600 due to the same concerns with that company. I had a much smaller item (not the 600) repaired by Krell and the cost was almost as much as the item in question was worth. The repair was VERY minor, I would cringe at the thought of making any repairs that could be more involved. The ML pre I have will hopefully be trouble free for a few years. It’s a shame the high end industry is taking such a turn, it’s not a way to stay health in this economy – or any other for that manner.
It seems you have a very nice system, I’ll bet you get a great deal of enjoyment from it. Mine is very much down scaled from what it used to be. I believe I can still piece together something that I enjoy anyway. I just need to be a lot more careful these days. (grin)
I’ve almost decided I need to steer away from the ML dacs, as much as I love them. Huge repair bill just don’t fit my budget these days. Expensive items that have become, in the case of repair, ‘throw away equipment’ can just ruin ones day. I have previously owned a 30.5. In my opinion it was the best to be had in its day and would probably still be competitive with almost anything out there today. Well those days are gone for me so I am in search of more reasonably priced items that still sound good.
All my best –
You hit the nail on the head ...
I paid nearly $2000 for a used No. 37 transport which was supposed to be in perfect shape. Within a year it was skipping ... I had a very competent local tech look at it and he did all he could but it needed a new laser assembly. I contacted an authorized Levinson repair facility … they wanted $700 up front and estimated $1000 or more. No way … I blew it off for $800.
My current amplifier is a ML 23.5 and I love it, I have yet to find an amp I like as well in the $2500-3000 range. I brought it to two techs to get the caps replaced and get it tuned up. The first one wouldn’t touch it and the second one informed me it would be very tricky. When it dies … I will have a difficuly decision to make. This is classic equipment and it’s too bad that Harmon is guarding the repair process by holding onto all the parts and the knowledge base to repair. I hear some of the Levinson circuitry is very complex and without the right repair info can be nearly impossible to fix. I know Harmon has to make a buck but it’s sad how much of this classic equipment is ending up in dumpsters. It doesn’t need to be that way; there are plenty of techs that can do the work. But I digress –
I am considering trying out an Audio Research DAC next … I really like their equipment and although I am expecting a much different sonic signature I have a feeling I will enjoy it. I am a bottom feeder when it comes to equipment. These are the kind of problems I will need to deal with when buying older used high end equipment. I have a couple of really good local techs and I have an affinity for older equipment. My system is fairly basic … the 360s and the Levinson 23.5 are the gems. I lucked into a Modwright pre which is a great combination with the 23.5 and I found an old Denon TT on craigslist in near mint condition. I was lucky enough to have beers with Jeff Dorgay (Tone Publications) a year or so ago and took the opportunity to pick his brain. He really is an expert on older gear and system synergy. I asked his advice on building a reasonable vinyl setup for my system. He suggested keeping the Denon and trying an Audio Research PH3 SE … I picked one up, retubed it and have never been happier. He also really liked the Benchmark DACs and that prompted me to give one a try. He convinced me to stick with my direction of buying older gear and keeping it repaired. In some cases it’s like having an old Corvette or Porsche. Everything is expensive to keep up but they are a snapshot of the past. Technology gear has horrible depreciation – which is good news for all of us. Since most of the source material I feed my DAC will be CD’s or FLAC files I don’t need anything that will handle hi def files. That opens the field up to purchase DACs from ARC, CJ, Music Fidelity, Krell, Wadia that when purchased new, sold for a fortune but now get blown off for a song. I think it’s the analog side of these DACs that make them so great. CD technology is what it is, as long as I stay away from Hi Def files these DAC’s are a real bargain.
Sorry to be so long winded folks but I felt like some of this info might be of value to some.
Sorry to hear about your 37, I know that had to be very annoying. I had a 23.5 as well, and bought a 333 when they were released. I didn’t have the opportunity to compare tem side by side but I suspect overall the 23.5b may have been a better amplifier.
I still am struggling with a Levinson DAC, who knows, I may give into the temptation anyway. They have no moving parts like a player/transport and may be easier to get service on than the amplifiers. Who knows? Maybe I’m just attempting to justify it to myself? I’m beginning to feel like the classic stuff, aside from digital possibly, may be the last of the true audiophile equipment. Manufacturing costs and potential market size is making it very difficult for such things anymore.
I would like to hear what you think of the AR stuff if you go that route, I had considered that as well but I have no experience with the line.
Right now my system is ‘more basic’ than yours.
I have an Aragon 8008bb amp, a ML 380 pre, and a Logitech Touch to steam with. My most pressing need right now is a better DAC. The Logitech is listenable and sounds okay but just isn’t the same quality as some of the better more expensive options. The Logitech errors on the side of ‘ missing’ rather than adding grunge or artificial detail. If something must be compromised then I would rather it be done in that manner.
It’s really great you were given the opportunity to speak with a person so knowledgeable. I like the FLAC files as well but I do listen to hi-res files on occasion. Hi-res (the ones that were actually recorded that way and not just up-sampled) sound amazing to me. From what I have heard 96/24 is fine, I really didn’t hear any improvement when going from 96 to 192 that I could reliably say made any real difference to me. I agree with you in regards to CD’s data rates. They are what they are. I don’t do analog any more I’m sorry to say, streaming is just so convenient and trouble free. I guess I’m one of those contributing to the demise of ‘real audio’ - analog sources.
The ML 360 does 96/24 so I want one! It makes no sense given repair costs and availability. What to do?
I’m in conflict!!! LOL
I actually liked the Benchmark – I may end up with that it makes the most sense but then again, the love of audio and fine equipment has little to do with what makes sense. I’’’ be making a decision soon ….
Thedautch - Thanks
I took a looks and it looks interesting. Generally I'm not too excited about mods' but this one may be worth investigating.
I went to the Partsconnexion web site. Replacing the output ICs in the Benchmark may have an audible effect (though I'm not sure why, since the Benchmark measures so well, analog-wise), but they lost me on this statement:
"The caps and resistors chosen in this mod simply have better tone and ambience characteristics, as well as being higher resolving. The wire and connectors we use allow for enhanced detail and more precise imaging."
Caps, resistors, and intra-box wires don't have "tone and ambience characteristics". This smells like BS. You'd also need modded and unmodded units side-by-side to even make a cursory decision about which one sounds better.
I'm still fascinated by the consistent conclusions that the ML units are such obvious winners.
I'm on your side with the mod's I would like to actually hear one as well. I find such claims interesting but then I've been surprised by weeks on occasion I'll admit.
I truly liked the Benchmarks (a USB and a Pre) that I’ve owned and will likely end up there again in the end. The Levinson’s were very nice sounding DAC’s but I’ve never compared them side by side to a Benchmark. Levinson of that vintage had some very nice sounding analog stages and that may account for the following they have. I personally also like the style and the almost ’industrial’ build of the Levinson’s of that vintage. That has nothing to do with SQ I know. I suspect the Benchmark may actually measure a little better than the Levinson of that vintage as all things digital have much improved. The Levinson’s were excellent in their time and probably would still not be all that embarrassed measurement wise.
Overall I suspect the Benchmark probably has a slight edge from a purely technical and measurement standpoint. The only question I may have, for whatever it may be worth, is the analog output section. Even then the Benchmark measures at least as well.
I know it's hardly scientific, but I was able to get my hands on a non-modded unit and A/B with my modded version. The modded piece outperformed somewhat, but admittedly no leaps and bounds. Primarily, the digital "edge" that many associate with the DAC1 was removed for a smoother, slightly more analogue-like sound. I felt it was worth $500, especially since some modders (won't name names) want about $2,500 to modify something that originally cost maybe half that.
I felt the cost and value of the Parts Connexion mod made it a valid purchase.
Thanks for the input Thedautch.
It's great to hear about what could be expected. There are many out there that spend a lot more than $500 for what some would consider small gains. It's the nature of the hobby (dare I say obsession). Chasing those small changes and improvements is part of what can make this stuff so fun.
Patrick, that's exactly right. It amounted to...I was personally willing to take the hit, and I enjoy the gear more as a result. At 5x the cost of those mods, I wouldn't have been willing to take the hit no matter how significant the improvements.
I' shopping right now. I hop to find a used DAC at a fair price. I've pretty much narrowed it down to the Benchmark or a Levinson. I would need to get the Levinson at a very good price so the odds are against me in that regard. With repairs on Levinson gear being what they are I need to consider the possibility that it is a throw away item in the case of a breakdown.
There aren't any Benchmarks out there right now that are priced right so I'm playing the waiting game. All I really need is a plain ol' DAC1 but I'll probably try for a USB, there seems to be a consensus that the analog section sound better for some reason.
I did consider a Wyred DAC but there’s not any third party lab test yet that I could find and it is rather new to the market. I may ultimately wish had had gone with the Wyred; time will tell.
The Benchmark measures so well It’s hard to imagine anything coming along that blows it out of the water in the near future, at least that’s my reasoning to justify my current mindset.
I’m still more than happy to hear from others about any recommendations or opinions that they wish to share and why my thought process is defective. (grin)
The new Absolute Sound has a review of the new Wyred DAC 2.
Thanks Dtc -
I tried absolutesound dot com and it's seems to be down right now.
I live is the sticks outside Austin so I'll make a trip there in a day or two and see if any of the bookstores carry the magazine. I'm looking forward to the read.
There ia guy on AA (rp1 something...do a search on pro audio you'll find him) that sold his Levinson after hearing and buying a Benchmmark.
Thanks Tbetley -
I must admit my ignorance now.
May I ask what is "AA"
I'm embarrassed now ....
I just cleaned and re-calibrated the #39's CD drawer again. It was making a squeak during open and closure. I think it's nearing time after 14 years to put that classic into the Robinson audio museum, alongside the mint Marantz 2110 tuner. I ordered a DAC1 USB, so I'll be doing some side-by-side testing between the Benchmark and the #39. I've tried other CD players in my system before, nothing has touched the Levinson. I also ordered an Emotiva ERC-2 as a transport. When they arrive the games will begin.
Went through the same issues with Madrigal regarding repairs for my ML #333 and #37. The worst thing was that all I needed was a simple recalibration for the transport, and ML had issued a technical bulletin earlier to all its dealers on how to recalibrate the transport mechanism, by pushing a few buttons on the front panel to initiate the process. Madrigal charged me that $1800 + shipping for the repair (they replaced the whole mechanism). A friend found the bulletin online and sent to me like a year afterwards.
I still have the #36, a Sonic Frontier SFD2 Mk II, and a Benchmark USB. House is under remodel, and all components are in storage. But will be putting the 3 against each other in the system in early spring. Original intent with the Benchmark USB was to introduce music server into the system now that I have all my CDs ripped to a home server.
After giving it some thought, I switched to the DAC1 HDR. I chose the USB initially because I wanted the balanced digital input, but then decided the muting functions and the better potentiometer were more important.
Speaking of important, Guitar Center is running a coupon special for $150 off purchases of $799 or more until 12/24, and remarkably this coupon is good on Benchmark products. I've been thinking of getting a DAC1 for a few years now, and I've never seen a discount anywhere. Period. Full MSRP is it, and the best you can do is free shipping. So if you are thinking about a Benchmark DAC my advice is to buy now.
Well, I got the DAC1 HDR hooked up. It sounds fully as good as the #39. No question. After three hours of listening at some pretty substantial volumes there is no fatigue at all. None. I feel like I could listen all night if, I didn't have to go to the office in the morning. The small size of the DAC1 is a little surprising the first time you see it. The #39, incidentally, turns off the digital link whenever a disc isn't playing, causing a bright blue LED to flash on the HDR anytime you press Stop. I could swear bass response is better on the HDR as a pre-amp than the #39 as a pre-amp, but maybe not.
It's nice having a volume knob again.
When the #39 gets really cold the drawer doesn't like opening. There's another adjustment I need to make. Then it's going in the museum when the new transport gets here.