Be cautious about what the magazines report - if one believes what they report everything is close to the best and certainly much better than many much more expensive items!
Is the Benchmark in the same league as the DCS? I seriously doubt it, but it certainly helps to please the manufacturer when a reviewer claims that a product at 15% the cost competes favorably with some of the most highly regarded equipment in the world! I am sure it uses electricity just like the DCS and does convert digital signals to analog signals, which the DCS also does. Jeez - I guess they are almost identical!
Absolute Sound just lost most if not all their cred if this report is true.Did it ever have any?I don't know.I wonder who reviews magazines?Remember Payola in the 50's?Don't get me started......
Benchmark says their DAC design solves the jitter problem associated with all but the best vendor-integrated transport/DAC/clock systems out there, like DCS in a manner that is independent of transport used.
Absolute Sound seems to agree that they have done this and that it is revolutionary. The cost of entry is low enough to not be a barrier for many, compared to the high end CD playback options out there.
They also say the whole preamp package, including analog input, is very good and neutral sounding and competitive with other more expensive similar designs out there, at least SS. I would not expect a "tubelike" sound from these units at all from what I have read.
There are other positive reviews of the BEnchmark DAC1 pre that I need to read as well.
Does Benchmark really have enough clout to buy positive reviews like these in multiple publications? Wouldn't that tend to push away other high end vendors that might not compete well with something so different and innovative?
Is there really a Benchmark conspiracy at play here or have they maybe just come up with a better and more cost effective way of doing things?
It's won't cost much to find out, I suppose. Resale value on the BEnchmark stuff seems pretty good as well if it doesn't work out.
I own the Benchmark DAC1 USB (not the pre) and have been listening to it for about three months in a computer based system (Mac mini/Itunes/CD collection imported to hard drive-AIFF)and my opinion so far is that it compares favorably to my Linn Ikemi CDP. My main observation is that the presentation is just different, not really better or worse. The Benchmark seems to lack any character of it's own and perhaps that what impressed Robert Greene so much. I have read the review in The Absolute Sound and although I have never heard DCS gear, I do not believe that the Benchmark would compare as favorably as the review indicates.
My opinion is that in the context of your system the Benchmark DAC1 pre would be a very worthwhile addition and would allow you the option of trying the server route as you mention. So far I have thoroughly enjoyed the way I can access my music in this setup.
Benchmark offers a 30 day trial period, so you could try it out in your system which is always the best way to go.
I'm too looking into the DAC1-Pre.
The question is not whether the DAC is good but how good is the preamp section or the DAC1-Pre? Would I be better off with the DAC1 USB and a passive preamp...or some other configuration?
I really wish I could audition this gear.
I thought Benchmark had a 30 day.....theres no question its good as its been around now for many months.As usual,the question is"Is it synergistically in tune in my system?"Many say yes,I know I was 48 hrs from one and then I got pulled towards a Bel Canto at the last minute,but I digress....good luck,Bob
Synergy in the system to match the individual's taste is always the main key I've found.
Good to know there is a 30 day trial to find out.
I'm not sure if it would work better in my system as just a DAC or as a pre and DAC. I could try it both ways and see without much risk.
How are you going to hook up your TT? The Benchmark has three digital only inputs (or at least the model that I had did). You cannot bypass the Benchmark because you need a volume control.
You have a Musical Fidelity A3.2. Is that a preamp or an integrated?
I went from a Benchamrk DAC1 to a Musical Fidelity A3.24 DAC. I prefer the MF. A little more warm bass (not a huge difference). You can pick them up for $600 or less. You can run you server and CD player into it. Whichever fires first will be recognized by the 3.24 DAC.
The DAC1 pre has a single line level analog input in addition to multiple digital inputs, I believe. I would have to add a separate phono preamp also for my Denon DL103R low output MC cartridge. Suggestions for that anyone?
I also have a cassette tape deck and FM tuner that would be left out however, but I do not use these much these days and can probably manage somehow.
The MF A3CR in my system is a power amp only. I like it a lot. It has far surpassed my expectations when I acquired it for only about $600. It's sound is not unlike what you describe with the MF DAC. I'm thinking it may synergize well with the Benchmark. Won't know for sure though unless I try I suppose.
On real problem I might have with the Benchmark DAC1 pre is my dbx dynamic range processor, which is analog and has to have the line level signal fed in an out.
Not sure I'd want to part with the DBX. It brings lesser source material with compressed dynamic range, both analog and digital, back to life.
I might be able to put in series between the pre and power amp in lieu of a processor or tape loop in the pre, but I am not sure how well that would work.
My current Carver pre-amp has two tape loops and two pre-processor loops, so it can handle a lot of peripherals. That's a hard thing to find in a lot of the newer pre-amps out there. They seem to go more the keep it simple route in general.
Regarding some of the posts above, skepticism is fine but it's a shame when conspiracy theories have to surface, as well as opinions from those who've never actually heard a Benchmark DAC1!!! But they have their opinions a priori because the unit just "can't" sound that good.
I've actually heard one. In fact, I have two of them, soon to add a third (for headphone listening in my bedroom). I've done a lot of comparisons and I agree with the reviews, not only last month in TAS but also the rave review the month before in HiFi News (by Ken Kessler), and the earlier ones in the various publications around the world, both pro and consumer (check out the Benchmark website). I think it's a great unit and I've voted with my wallet. I took the chance to try one initially and am glad I did.
One thing I would mention: while differences in transports and digital cables may be minimized with the DAC1, the differences still remain, so the better the transport and cable, the better the sound, in my experience.
I also found that using the DAC1 direct to the amp was better than using the DAC1 connected to a passive preamp (I used a fine passive for the test, as Reference Line Preeminence One, Series II). What surprised me was that the
DAC1 beat the passive in detail and transparency, which is one area where the Reference Line passive should have excelled.
Thanks for the input.
What exactly is the difference between an active and passive pre-amp anyway?
The DAC1 pre is a pre-amp as well as a DAC. Is it active or passive or something else?
According to Benchmark jitter supression -3dB bandwidth is about 3Hz and supression reaches -100dB at 1kHz. They tested Benchmark DAC1 with 1000 feet of cable without audible difference in sound. I've never tried different cables myself - just put 1 foot long 75Ohm Canare RG11.
I tend to be a bits is bits kind of guy, but realize clock related timing issues could impact how a DAC applies those bits to generate the analogue waveform.
The BEnchmark approach seems to focus on isolating this process from potential timing issues introduced between transport and DAC, so for what its worth, it seems to make sense to me and I like it.
The test data provided seems to support the claims and I have not those test results challenged successfully to-date. So, on paper and based on reviews, the thing does seem like a winner to me even if its not going to be every ones cup of tea (what is?).
I do tend to like the sound of good tube based systems though and my current Carver SS preamp does a decent job of emulating that sound though, so I do fear the resulting sound might veer more towards the SS/detailed/analytical side with the Benchmark in place. Regardless, I'd have to hear the result to know for sure whether I like it or not.
Mapman - Benchmark DAC1 instead of dual PLL (phase lock loop) used in modern CD players to create stable clock for D/A converter locks to incoming clock using crude (but fast) single PLL and then reclocks data with separate high quality clock. This operation is performed at equivalent of 1 milion times oversampling (equivalent to 44GHz). Normaly this would not be possible but a lot (most) of samples are repeats. In order to place output samples to D/A converter in the right moment it performs statistical analysis of the clock's frequency to 5ps accurate and digital filtering of the signal. 24-bit 192kHz sigma delta D/A converter (extra bits come from averages obtained by digital filtering)is driven only at 100k to limit THD (higher at 192kHz). It is pretty sophisticated operation.
There are two schools in audio - to oversample or not to oversample, matter of personal preference. Non oversampling require good transport, expensive digital cables and in general are less flexible. Oversampling asynchronous reclocking brings benefit of jitter rejection. Jitter is basically noise but in the time domain. It converts to noise in the D/A converter. Jitter might also be created when converting old analog recordings to digital tapes using poor unstable clock, like it happened at the beginning of digital. Jitter caused by media/electronics/cables can be removed (reclocked data) but jitter already recorded stays forever. Many older recordings got wasted that way and the quality of the first CDs was "not the greatest" (to avoid profanities). I've heard (might be a rumor) that they digitized analog tapes that contained frequncy correction fo printing LP resulting in extremely bright sounding CDs.
Getting back to Benchmark: it allows me to use cheap transport - $70 Sony DVD player to connect HDTV with toslink and to get CD/DVD sound with coax. DVD players usualy have bad quality analog outputs but very good tracking and have inherently built in MP3 decoder. Some of them play DVD-Audio or SACD (converted to S/PDIF).
And they back it up with a 30 day no question's asked guarantee. Buy direct. Try it. If you're like me, you'll keep it. I have the USB version connected to my MacMini media server (1300 cds) in lossless digital format, along with a couple dozen vinyl records in 24/96 format.
It's easy to get all hung up on specs, I say try it.
BTW, mine is connected into a BAT VK-300xSE via balanced cables. MacMini feeds Dac1 via USB. DVD player feeds Dac1 via COAX.
Cjnolan - good advice: buy direct! I bought my DAC1 direct in spite of lower total price at Sweetwater (same price but free shipping). Buying direct gives better support and most likely newest revision. Buying used is a little bit risky since early Benchmarks DAC1 had some problems (thin sounding amps and very high output impedance on RCA outputs).
The Benchmark is a remarkable converter. Its sound is extraordinarily, achingly clear when used with equal or better-quality gear. It is a presentation that, completely personally, I find fascinating but more concerned with musical details and structure than with musical flow and emotion. Having compared it at a friend's house with my Apogee Mini-DAC, I can say that both have their qualities, and the Mini-DAC's are the ones I would choose to live with long term. This is not to say the Benchmark is a bad unit, no indeed. Far from it, it is quite remarkable and it may be exactly to your taste.
"Far from it, it is quite remarkable and it may be exactly to your taste."
This would be my only concern at this point.
The 30 day home trial would work to address this concern for me giving me a chance to find out for myself.
My gut feel is that I would want to give a device reputed to do things in an accurate and detailed manner a try first, especially if there is little financial risk.
Then if it doesn't float my boat, I know what directions I might go in from there, given that I've heard a variety of both tube and SS based systems that sound different but good, each of which has unique merits.
Also, I run 6 different pairs of speakers in my house concurrently. As long as my source is doing things well, I have some flexibility there regarding what speakers I use in various listening rooms to provide somewhat different flavors of listening without having to change core components in the system too often.
I think if you can try it out, that's the best way to go. I had the DAC1 in silver w/o usb connected to a music server with toslink and my denon 3910 with coax. I have Dali MS4 speakers which are ultr revealing, so the DAC 1 wasn't a good mix with them, since it's revealing to the point of being analytical. This was designed for mastering in studios so it's not going to romance the sound at all, which can be a good thing if your system has romance elsewhere. I sold mine and got the MHDT Havana DAC, which is a tube-based non-oversampling DAC, and I'm really happy with hit, but YMMV. No matter what, I would recommend getting a DAC that has USB, because I love my music server and it's nice having that flexibility; plus, as more people hop on the server wagon, it will help resale value to have that option. The Havana has DAC, there's also the Brick from wavelength, something new from Bryston, and of course the Benchmark. There are a number of others you can find as well. I'll be hearing the Bel Canto DAC3 this weekend, so I'll let you know how that sounds, but it's in a different price range.
To sum up, the benchmark is sonically neutral and very detailed, but with some systems this may be a bad thing. Listen for yourself and screw the reviews (even mine!)
I'm thinking the romance will come from my Ohm speakers in that they have a very natural presentation and are not inherently analytical. The omni design helps "diffuse" sound that might come across as to detailed, strident, or whatever on designs that provide a more directional or focused presentation.
Any comments or observations from anyone regarding matching a highly detailed and accurate DAC like the Benchmark with the Ohms or perhaps other similar design speaks?