Unforgiving DAC or add Tube Preamp??

I have added a (Benchmark HGC 2 DAC) to run digital music to my Modwright KWA 150 SE.  At first I was impressed with the detail but much of my music sounds more harsh than what my ears are used to.  Apparently Benchmark DACS  are known to be unforgiving.  Should I look towards a different DAC or would adding a Tube Preamp be the best solution? Or change both? Recommendations welcomed!

Speakers : Dali Euphonia MS4
(#2) Rel 528 in stereo
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Absolutely.  Fatigue becomes the number one issue after a while.  
McIntosh C2600 with 12AX7 tubes should be just what the Doctor ordered. 

Alternatively, PS Audio DSD Sr DAC has superb detail with a 10th row style presentation rather than Benchmark’s front row presentation.
What about under 2 k on used market?
First, make sure you have played music for at least 72 hours through it.

It may not help, but at least give it the benefit of the doubt.

If you still don't like it, I highly recommend the Mytek Brooklyn which is never harsh, but doesn't fully open up until then.
The Ayre Codex running XLR will easily outperform the Benchmark
 with far better micro detail, precision, and overall musicality.
  we ran it up against far more costly dacs and this unit is a benchmark.
 Best JohnnyR
Actually there are many dac's that should outpeform the Benchmark, we had one traded in years ago and the  sound was okay, many commercial dac's are focused on neutrality so they can sounnd bland.

The other issue are you turning your dac off, digital should be left on 24/7 

Are there different filter settings?

How are you feeding the dac, good usb cable or cheapie, running a laptop or desktop or a dedicated server?

Are you using Roon or Jriver which can allow you to upsample or turn PCM into DSD which sounds smoother.

What cabling are you using? 

Did the sound go from good to worse did you change anything or is this just a realization that you don't like the sound.

We are digital experts we sell most of the best dacs on the market, from Mytek, Naim, Nad, Aqua, Nuprime, T+A,  and a few others. 

We would agree that the Benchmark should go, we will be getting a sample of the new Ifi DSD pro a $2500 dac that is getting rave reviews for its soundstaging and musicality. 

Herb Richart in Stereophile compared the Ifi DSD pro to dacs from $2k to $7k and felt the Ifi was amazingly good, and the Ifi uses minature tubes.

We will be comparing the Ifi DSD to the wonderful Mytek Brooklyn. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
A preamp tube will never remove the harshness even if you feel that at the beginning.
Get Chord Qutest if you want absolute SQ but it does not have volume controls and you need to control the volume from the PC. Or ifi DSD pro for it multi features.  
A couple DACs from the listings under $2K:
A bit esoteric but a highly regarded Japanese DAC:

Not to bombard you with Japanese DACs but this Reimyo is one I’ve wanted for years if you can bargain them down a few $100 its in your price range:

And Electrocompanient is known for warmer sounding SS gear this DAC is quite well reviewed and under your price range:
Good luck and happy listening!
Border Patrol DAC is the ultimate answer to your problem.
Jond why would the OP seek out dac’s that are nearly impossible to hear?

The Electro stuff is good but lacks many of the features people want and the Remiyo was very good but does not have the resolution of today’s more modern dacs we had one it was very good in 2008.

The Ifi DSD pro has both tubes and burr brown dac chips at $2500 including streaming and a heaphone jack seems like quite a bargain again we haven’t heard it but the reviews from six moons and stereophile pitt this little $2500 dac vs really expensive dacs and the OP can get a demo of the product it is currrent and can be demoed.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
@audiotroy One of the advantages buying used is essentially an "in-house audition" if you are smart and buy right you can listen at your leisure then resell and move on, I did it for years. And frankly resolution is overrated. There are plenty of older dacs that have fine resolution and excellent musicality. My current DAC an original Audio Note Dac-3 Signature was built in 1995 and sounds great.  Audiogon is at its heart a website for buying and selling used equipment I was offering the OP a few good looking used options from the listings.
What about a tube pre amp? Not a solution?
Can i ask that we back this up? First describe the system more fully. transport, preamp, amp, speakers, etc.
What material are you playing and complaining about? In my opinion there is great digital that i can only tell from analog by the absence of clicks and pops, and absolute crap digital that I can;t listen to. I cant listen to some of those in analog either to be honest.... An example of superb digital is "Ella and Louis" (Verve ~ 1960) Another is Pink Floyd’s "Wish you were here".

Next - before we suggest magic digital cables, let’s ask an important question - is this SPDIF? If so is it a proper 75 ohm cable? Not just a regular RCA?

Depending on the transport we could have a bunch of jitter. Improperly terminated cable (not 75 ohm) would ensure jitter and outright errors.

I don’t know the benchmark directly, but have heard that it’s kinda analytical. Not a fan overall. But apparently you liked it when you auditioned it, so i cant say for sure.

First, adding consonant harmonic distortion and rolling off the top (tubes) wont fix some of the digital harshness that can occur. That stuff is just non-harmonically related trash. So the tube preamp may soften it a bit, but is really not, IMO, an answer. You will wind up with tolerable mediocrity. not my goal.

So back up, and let’s first find the problem. Then, maybe we can fix it. Throwing a bunch id random ideas around is an expensive, ineffective solution.

If it comes down to a different DAC i would consider some oldies (Theta DSPro), The Chords, Schiit BiFrost or Gungdir multi-bits (,multi-bits tend to sound more laid back IMO). The Schiit BiFrost Multi i heard (out of the box) was fairly laid back.  Yet none of these is relaxing on screechy, badly mastered rock - mid 80s being about the worst.
As i have posted in other threads, jitter is a huge issue, and since SPDIF has the SOURCE as the mater clock, even a good DAC wont fix it unless they go to extreme lengths.  For example, i thinjhte Gen* was the first Theta to completely re-clock.


Jond boy are you wrong, we have consistantly found that newer dacs invariably outperform older ones and in many times the newer units are less expensive. 

The Remiyo dac was superb in its day it is very likely that a new Dac like the Ifi DSD would just blow it away in terms of all the performance traits like imaging, depth of sound field, clarity and musicality. 

Used to sell the Audio Note Dacs and they were impressively musical, howerver, when you hear really good digital you have both the musicallity and the resolution that makes music sound more realistic. 

Then you miss the ability to actually go into a store or order a few different pieces and then see which one of these products sounds good 

The used world means you are always chasing ghosts of what was good years ago, when newer value oriented dacs like Schitt, and Denefrips and IFI and T+A dacs would probably embarrass some very expensive dinosaur products. 

Caveat Emptor, If we could afford it a brand new car would always outperfom the older model, sure the older car is older and cheaper but is it as good of course not in everything the world evolves.

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
Audio Doctor I will live with my being wrong then. :) Your car analogy however is not a very apt one. Modern cars are in some ways built to a lower standard than older cars. One of the reasons I've stuck with my current car, a 2003 VW Passat, is for the way it was built. A very sophisticated suspension, a powerful and reliable engine and it just handles in a way new cars don't. But enough of that,  you have new Dacs to sell and as we know I am wrong. Cheers!
Sure Jond please believe that a 2003 VW Passat handles as well, gets as good fuel economy, has modern convenience features, and has better acceleration than a similar modern car.

Hey by your analogy an nice old muscle car is a better car then a Tesla, try to outrun an electric motor. 

Dave and Troy
Audio Doctor NJ
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A used  Ayon CD5s would include transport, dac and tubed preamp in one box and may fit the bill
Leave your DAC on for several days playing something on a loop to get it up to snuff. Then listen again and see if that doesn't help. Call the maker and see what they have to say. My Yggdrasil continued to improve past 200 hours and is remarkable now. Try tweeking with cables, careful research is your friend here if you desire to keep your new DAC. Changing cables may get the relief you are looking for. If all else fails....tubes are always good in my opinion.


The Apple TV is going to the Benchmark DAC however it is an optical cable not a spdif.  Some folks say going a BlueSound Node 2i over ATV will help.  Others say it makes no difference.
I use Dac ,for streaming ,of the Luxman sacd D-06, as preamp:Audio Note M5 (tube),combinated with Gamut D200. My best friend, use Dac,preamp,poweramp Ear 868.Beautiful !! We use as streamer:Logitech. Cables are here very important! 
I think Apple TV is 48KHz 16 bit. This means it must sample rate convert everything that is in an audio format (48KHz isn’t used for audio alone) and many think the conversion is poorly done. This is definitely the weak link in your setup.
Audio Note Kits. DAC 3.1. I am surprised AN has not been mentioned. Its crazy how good it sounds. I speak from experience as I have one and have gone through several 2500.00 Dig DAC's. I had it paired to a Bryston pre until I got the AN 3M line pre. The DAC was the biggest improvement made to my system. Even more than the AN tube pre.
I think the high sampling or low sampling is not the issue in other words bits so bits,in my own opinion the best digital format is 16bit 44.1khz cd standard but in other hand digital lossless w high bits high sampling is better sound because is lossless no high compress information or moving parts, compare 1cd album vs 1 digital lossless album and you can hear the results.
Try a LAB12 DAC1 SE. Upgrade it with a NOS 6922 tube (Telefunken, Philips or Siemens). 
My advice to you would be to use more than one dac. I’m sure the Benchmark is superb for good recordings. And there are a few out there. With Tidal it’s rather easy to find them. Use another dac, maybe one with tubes in the output stage, for all the trash recordings we also like to listen to. And, music is fatiguing (at louder levels). Why try to remove that? Why would you want a fine recording to sound mellow?

Using a good eq. you could also take down the 3-4 khz freq. a little. I believe the harshness is often found there.

Any thoughts on the Moon 280D with MiND2 streamer? I’m about to make an investment. 
Just discovered Colter Wall "Songs of the plains". Absolute reference acoustical recording. Deep double bass. 3D. 2018. Wouldn’t sound harsh on anything. They didn’t do recordings like this in the past.... Perfect for the Benchmark :-)
The Border Patrol DAC is the answer for listeners put off by digital harshness. To my ears it comes closer to analog than any others I have heard. You may have the ongoing debate in recent issues of Stereophile magazine. Opinions about Border Patrol VS. Benchmark are sharply divided, but those who don’t care for the Benchmark sound quality love the Border Patrol. It is limited to 24/96 if that is a concern for you. I use mine for playback of my ripped CD collection.
Have you heard the LAB12 DAC1 SE? That’s the most analog sounding DAC I’ve heard? But I have never had the chance to listen to Border Patrol DAC. Would have been interesting.
I ended up buying a Modwright LS 100 tube preamplifier.  This willl allow me to try out a  variety of stand alone DACs as currently I am dependent on the Benchmark as my preamplifier (no preamp) which limited my dac options.  
I should have it hooked up by end of weekend.  Hopefully the preamplifier tubes will have some sort of desirable effect. Maybe the clarity of the Benchmark Dac and Tubes of the Modwright pre will be a winning combination.  

I have been following your thread and thought I had responded some time back. Must not have push the post button. My thoughts much agreed with what you have decided. I also use a tube preamp with a Bryston DAC which some think leans to the analytical side, maybe not to the extent of the Benchmark, of this I am not sure. As you stated you can always search for a less analytical DAC if you choose. The tube pre most certainly take your system in the right direction IMHO.

Please get back to us after playing the pre.

Good to hear Mesch.  I will report back. 
I have added a Modwright Tube Preamp LS100 to pair with the Benchmark HGC 2 Dac and the unit has definitly sweetened the sound. In the meantime I have been shopping different Dacs.  As I am still in need of replacing the Apple TV (I am told weak link) and have come across the idea of replacing the Benchmark with the Auralic Altair.
The Altair has a built in streamer and is also a Dac.  The other option would be to keep the Benchmark and add a Bluesound Node 2i and skip the Altair.  Which would sound better is the question???