The Benchmark is for real and a legend already. Better requires a lot more money, like the Marantz CD player at the level of the SA11, used for about 1500.
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I loved the MHDT Labs Havana, great all around sound, very smooth, and I have the Bel Canto DAC3 now and it is VERY dynamic. I highly recommend either of those over the others I have tried in the last year or so, and there have been many!!
PS - I have not had it in my system, but recently heard the Bryston in another system, and it was stellar as well.
I have not heard the Paradisea, sorry. I bought the Havana, the next up in the line, on recommendation and was never dissapointed. The Bel Canto is more dynamic than the Havana was, but I am not sure it was necessiarily better. Havana was a bit warmer, but the did not extend to either the bass or upper end as well as the Bel Canto does.
I second Peter_s' opinion on the Benchmark vs. the MHDT DACs. The Benchmark is one of the most dynamic DACs in that price range. It is a little on the dry side, but in my tube system it is an excellent match. Get the USB or Pre version of the Benchmark - you have the added flexibility if you want to go for a PC based system down the road.
Another very dynamic DAC, I really liked is the John Wright modded Bitstream or Bidat.
I had the Benchmark before the Havana, and in my system (Maggies 3.6, Cary 500MB, Cary SLP98P F1) it sounded a bit bright. I think the Havana, and now the Bel Canto are better with my system, due to it's inherent tendancy to brightness. In a warmer system, maybe the Benchmark would be a better fit.
Once again though, I just heard the new Bryston in a friends system, and it really rocked out. I may be looking at that one soon, but he runs very efficient speakers with tubes, so much different than my rig. I may just steal his for a week to check it out.
To be honest, I so seldom listen to digital anymore through my system, I probably shouldn't bother.
Sorry to be the downer here, but I have heard the Benchmark on multiple occasions. It is good for the price (less than $1k), but compared to CD players or DACs costing just a little more I think it is outclassed. The idea that the Benchmark competes with things costing much more or is an elite DAC is nonsense. It is just not that good. Sorry, my opinions.
I heartily recommend the PS Audio Digital Link III. I cannot compare it to the others as I have not heard them. For the money, $995 or less, it is a bargain. It is slightly warm in presentation, is still dynamic and articulate, has 3 inputs-Toslink optical/RCA coax/USB. I love mine and have no desire to upgrade.