If Benchmark then get newer revision - first years had problems (thin sounding op-amps and high unbalanced output impedance).
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Try a couple different digital cables first. You should be able to hear a distinct difference between them, and this may resolve your issues. In fact, for the fun of it, take an IC and put it in acting as the digital cable. You will likely be surprised at the difference in sound. There's a lot of cables out there to try and with the right one you can hit the jackpot on sound. :)
It is a great sounding sounding piece of gear that upsamples and handles 24 bit material. It does everything very well and even offers fully differential balanced outs. There are people who prefer it to the Benchmark too- even one semi professional shootout if I recall.
I dont own it, but I had a friend go out of town for 2 weeks who let me use it and I was blown away by how good it sounded. Very resolving but also had a touch of warmth and sweetness. My first impression was "wow this thing sounds like really expensive digital". Their 640p phono unit is equally astounding IMO. These two products are game changers.
If you had a few thousand to spend than okay,- maybe you can justify but at the end of the day digital sources vary in sound by very small amounts when compared to analog pieces and especially speakers. If you dont like the sound of your system or feel something is lacking change your speakers. Your amp has enough juice for you to have many options.
I agree with Robr45. Sure, you can go blow a chunk of change on a much more expensive DAC, but where does that leave the rest of your system.
Before you jump off a cliff, ask yourself (and then tell us) what you think is missing, or what's there that you don't like in your system. Is it too harsh? Low end too boomy? Small sound stage?
People will aimlessly throw out DAC options, but at best those represent what they like, and at worst, what they sell and are trying to get you to buy. In the past I've sold off very expensive DACs, and replaced them with humbler units and gotten more enjoyable sound. Then I'll change another piece of equipment, and all of a sudden find things don't blend anymore. Go slow and make notes of your listening, then post your findings.
Elberoth2 - You can always find reviewer that likes one DAC more than other. Look what abouthifi.com said about it in very long detailed review of V-DAC
"As for the V-DACs status versus Benchmarks DAC 1, the latter clearly held its advantage in every critical domain, as in definition, pace and dynamic response, giving this comparison an academic character, perfectly justifiable by an 8x price leap."
According to Stereophile Bel Canto DAC3 is even better than Benchmark for much more money. There is, of course, issue of personal taste (some like upsampling, some like NOS) but there is some correlation between price and quality. Audio Note kit DAC comes in few versions where sound quality and price depends on components used.
As for V-DAC being better than DAC Magic or just everything being all the same - according to mentioned review V-DAC and DAC Magic sound completely different (soundstaging)
Read review: http://www.abouthifi.com/review.php?s=t2c
With the same due respect - it is only opinion. I read his opinion on the best class D amps where he gave them score of 1-2 on the scale of 1-10 while other magazines like Stereophile placed them in class A of recommended components. Problem also was that he, judging from his comments, believed that these amps are based on sampled system and therefore have limited resolution. He just simply did not make his homework. He also complained about switching noise while every linear power supply is in reality switching power supply (at 120Hz - difficult to filter) and some well known designers like Jeff Rowland use SMPS supplies in preamps (like Capri) to lower the noise (easy to filter).
DACs have very different architectures and sound different. NOS DACs like Valab or Audio Note will have different sound from oversampling DACs. Oversampling DACs will have different sound from upsampling DACs etc. People see 24bit/192kHz and call DAC upsampling to 24/192 while in reality it would be only the case of oversampling DACs (even ratios) . Upsampling DACs might be able to process 24bit/192kHz but it is unknown what they upsample to and what D/A converter receives. For instance - Benchmark DAC1 upsamples to some frequency (GHz) equivalent to about million times oversampling and then after filtering spits data to output DAC at 110kHz where THD distortions are lowest. All these decisions affect the sound. D/A converter IC used changes the sound and Sigma Delta sounds differently from traditional multi-bit D/A. Even different Sigma Deltas have particular sonic signatures. Voltage output D/A sounds different than current output D/A - especially when combined with transformer instead of I/V converter (Audio Note).
Nothing sounds the same - one Audiogoner, I know, disliked expensive Weiss Minerva a lot while keeping $200 Valab. The other audiogoner likes Audio Note kit DAC more than anything else.
Synergy is also very important. Don't buy Benchmark if you need warm DAC - it was designed purposely not to be warm, but if your system is already warm you might not find DACs as resolving as Benchmark that will also save you money on transport and digital cable (being jitter rejecting). Initially cheap DAC might cost more when you add all these things. It is a little more complex than opinion of one guy, even if it is your guru Martin Colloms.
I simply trust MC opinion more, since I've been following his reviews for the past 20 years.
I owned/heard many components he reviewed and most of the time his assesments reflected my impressions.
I also share his opinions on Class D amps - I have owned or had on extensive loans Tripath/ICEpower/Nuforce designs. I know that you are one of the biggest Class D designs proponents on Agon - I only wish you have a chance to hear in your system a SOTA solid state or tube design, 'cos that would give you a proper perspective.
Elberoth2 - My opinion on class D doesn't count because of my limited experience. I can only talk about technical aspects of it.
Class D is interesting subject since Martin Colloms described it as pretty much horrible while Jeff Rowland switched whole production to class D only.
Class D with Benchmark DAC1 is very unforgiving and some bright recordings were painful until I got Hyperion speakers and everything now sounds relaxed.
Elberoth - I'm not sure Benchmark is forward but my old speakers have aluminum dome tweeter that is a little hot. In any neutral system, I suspect, bright recordings might sound bad. My solution was to get slightly warm speakers while others use tube pre. AFAIK small amount of odd harmonics can be unbearable while the same amount of even harmonics sounds OK and doesn't distort sound too much.
Another issue is distortion. Slightest amount of distortion caused by either speaker (tweeter), crossover (capacitor) or amp amplifies brightness and causes harsh sibilants. Benchmark is extremely clean, Icepower is very clean and my new speakers have very clean (and fast) drivers (completely different design).
if you don't need the USB input, you might consider going with an 840C CD player. it has coax and fiber digital inputs so can be used as a standalone DAC. though by not a large margin, it seems roundly preferred over the DACMAGIC - it has double the upsampling and some other improvements that i can't remember right now. plus you get a sweet CDP to boot! they've been selling around the $1k mark used, so definitely within your budget.
the chips are the same, but i'm not sure they're used in the same configuration, and i know that the supporting electronics are not all identical (i.e. the upsampling chip at least). the 840C presumably has a slightly better PS, since it does have a toroid (the DACMagic has a wall-wart transformer which is probably EI) - i'm not convinced that this always makes a noticeable difference, but whatever. Face noticed a better soundstage with the DACMagic, which might be enough of an advantage over the dynamic and transparency differences to justify the $600 savings. IDK, i'll probably buy the 840C myself since i need a better transport AND a better DAC than my current Denon DCD-3000, which is still a very fine player at the end of the day.