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.
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.
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.
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.