Upgrade from Benchmark Dac?

The Benchmark USB DAC is the first piece of digital gear that I've bought and been happy with. I still prefer analog but listening to 50,000+ wav files randomly is pretty sweet.

I've had an Audio Research DAC 3 as well as a CD1 which I thought sounded like crap. I have ARC electronics and love them but their digital offerings left me cold. On the value for money scale the Benchmark gets my highest rating although my local hifi emporiums claim the PS Audio or Bryston is better.

Anything out there in the digital world that will blow me away like the Benchmark? I don't want to spend ten times the dough to get a debatable 10% more "sound".
Interesting question. I'm curious what the answer is.

I think I know what will sound different but not what represents a clear "upgrade".
The Stellavox ST-2 is IMHO a clear upgrade from the Benchmark.

I did a head-to-head with a pal, same transport and cable, DAC the only variable. Cymbals less starchy, more metallic = greatly increased detail in the highs. More air and space, better image.
At the risk of being flamed, have you played with power cords/conditioners with your Benchmark? I've found mine to be very sensitive to such treatments. Are you running it balanced or single ended. USB? From what I have read, I doubt if the PS Audio is enough better to make the switch and the Bryston doesn't have a volume control. The Berkley seems interesting, but pricey(5k) for something soon to be outdated... I too am interested in a switch.

Tobias- What was the input for your comparison of the Stellavox vs Benchmark? I'd love to hear more of your comparison of the two...
IMHO, if you need USB input and 24/96 decoding, at this price, the Benchmark is as good as you can get.
If you are doing USB and only USB, then you might consider one of the Wavelength USB DACs or the forthcoming Ayre USB DAC.

Another approach would be to add an Empirical Audio Offramp (converts USB at up to 24/96 to SPDIF, AES/EBU and I2S), then you are free to get any DAC. I think the Bryston BDA-1 is absolutely killer at $2,000. It has USB, but only for 16/44. I have not heard the Benchmark in a long time, but the Bryston handily surpasses the Lavry DA-10, which many prefer to the Benchmark. Again, though, this is via SPDIF, not USB. [Disclaimer: I'm using Empirical Audio into Bryston.]
I just got The Benchmark a couple of weeks ago. 4est is right above...Dac's will continue to come down in price as the technology changes. My Mcintosh CD was great, but the Dac is several years old now...I'll upgrade the Dac in a couple of years or so. The technology in the Berkely will filter down to less expensive pieces in the future.
I agree with 4est 1000% on interconnects and Power Cables on the Benchmark. Aso power conditioner and isolation. I know spending $3,000 on cables and PC may seem silly on a $950 dac but it really makes the Benchmark perform way better that out of the box. I am truly amazed by it.
The power cord alone! Will greatly change the sound

of the Benchmark. A cheap generic power cord will deliver,

that "metallic" sound, I know because I tried it.

I tried 5 different High End power cords, and each one had

it's own sonic signature.

Mine sounds awesome, and I when I listen, upgrading,

is the LAST thing on my mind.

You have to fiddle with it, to realize it's Best Sound.

Once you do, IMHO, the Benchmark is ALL the music I need.

Different is not always better. Just different.

We All hear different, so get what makes you forget about


The Benchmark is not for everyone, some people do not want

to hear the extreme detail that the Dac-1 presents.

But if you want to hear music, as it was recorded, the

Dac-1 will deliver every iota of the Recording. But it

takes time to find the best power cord for You, and the

rest of the connections are equally fussy, but well worth

it, once you get that Synergy between each component. Like

a metamorphosis occurs.The goosebump effect.

Love Your Music!

I have a Benchmark DAC that I had modified. Bybee devices, new caps, and some of the wiring was changed. Benchmark liked the wiring adjustments so much that it incorporated some of them in its newer designs. It sounds much more musical now. I used Steven Balliet of Reflection audio. I am also now set to roll out my computer playback.

I concur as I have at least 3x the cost of the DAC 1 on it's power. What are you using?

Do you know how the reflection audio mods compare to the parts connexion mods?


What power cord are you using?
No names on these PC's.Being the cable skeptic I'd like to hear some names.Biggest bang for lest buck given match with this unit?
Chazzbo, I am using a JPS Digital.
I have at least 3x the cost of the DAC 1 on it's power
Doesn't that strike you as a bit...ah...wacko?
" I have at least 3x the cost of the DAC 1 on it's power"

"Doesn't that strike you as a bit...ah...wacko?"

Overkill, maybe. Maybe not. I could see it if power was very dirty to start with and the PC device resolves it. Still, there might be a less expensive PC solution that does it. I don't know one way or the other.

But, it doesn't necessarily surprise me that the Benchmark requires clean power to work its resolving magic to the max.

Well of course it's...ah..wacko! That's what this hobby is all about. I didn't plan it that way, it is just how it worked out. I had a Running Springs Haley with a Cardas(mongoose) cord. I wanted to sell it and tried installing a bybee (go ahead and laugh) signature power conditioner and ended up with them in series. Both make a difference, but work on different aspects of the sound. Over the weekend I installed a loaner Bybee super cord and I am really tempted to keep one in but it is pricey. As my original post stated, I am looking for a replacement for this combo. Frankly I was embarrassed to post it for fear of a comment such as yours...
By the way, the power is not very "dirty", but as Mapman said, it is very resolving and the AC stuff has really made a somewhat sterile DAC very liquid on my Soundlabs.
Cerrot, Do you think spending $3,000 on cables and PC on a $950 DAC will out perform a $4,000 DAC?
Anything out there in the digital world that will blow me away like the Benchmark? I don't want to spend ten times the dough to get a debatable 10% more "sound".

I suspect a lot depends on you.

If you are skeptical (as your thread suggests) then it might be hard to get even a 10% improvement.

However if you are ready to stump up the dollars for something rare and truly high-end then you may find it quite easy to convince yourself that you have a 100% improvement.

After all what is 10% ? What is 100% ?

Human nature...more dollars has a big influence on "expectations" moreover the cosmetics and build on something ten times as expensive will be extremely impressive compared to the sadly austere functional DAC1 (even though it has an unnecessarily expensive faceplate).

Powercord is the Shunyata Python Vx Helix (into Shunyta Hydra w/20amp Python PC) on Symposium sveltshelf; IC's are Tara Labs The One.

Sidssp, I don't know if it sounds better than a $4,000 DAC as I haven't heard one in my system. I do have an Esoteric X03SE CD Player, which was $8,000 (+ Python Vx Helix Vx and Tara Balanced The One PC & IC) and the Esoteric does sound much better, but the Benchmark sounds awesome and, for now, am happy with it. The benchmark (hooked to squeezebx) is just for the convenience, casual listening. When I want my mind blown, it's The Esoteric or Vinyl. I am VERY happy with the Benchmark and am quite amazed when I put a playlist together while reading and can't read as I am too involved with the listening. If it were my main source, I'd probably upgrade the Benchmark to the Berkley, or get an Esoteric D03.

I am enjoying the Benchmark way too much for $950 - and, if I did get a $4,000 dac, I would still use $3,000 worth of cables, and, I would be surprised if it would sound as good as the Esoteric.
I now use the PS Audio XStream Plus SC power cord(Blue)to

the Benchmark.

Which is plugged into a PS Audio Duet with a PS Audio

XStream Statement(Red) SC to the wall.

Audio Alchemy Data Stream Transmitter/Receiver Digital

Connections with the largest A.A. Power Transformer. Then

I use the B.N.C. inputs and output via. XLR Balanced

with PS Audio XStream Audio XLR's.

Oh, and just another tip from old Pops,they(Benchmark)

say take the cheapest transport, and you are set.


But how about using a rock solid killer transport, with

the Dac-1? Worthwhile? You bet Your last paycheck!

That is where the Sony XA7ES comes in. Instant Synergy!

The $7k Ayon CD-3 implements a Sony Transport,$25K Lindemann

822SACD Player uses a Sony Transport,as does the 800S at $15k.

There are many more, the point is, the Transport does

make a difference. Especially with the Benchmark Dac-1.

I have owned 2 Dac-1's so I am now very familiar with,

some of it's likes, and dislikes.
I owned the benchmark and went to the Marantz 8260, and gave up a bit more top end air and got more body and weight in the bass. Better will require the Marantz albeit, more expensive ones, like the SA15 or up one more which I think is the SA11...clearly better. I auditioned both for some time.... more bass, tighter, dynamic, rhythmic, more open on top, and just more authoritative. Jallen
Thanks for the suggestions!

I take clean power and proper cables for granted. I'm using the Benchmark in USB mode with balanced Cardas Hexlink 5C cables for the output...Cardas Quadlink power cord plugged into an Inouye conditioner which is plugged into a dedicated 20 amp circuit.

I never thought about it but I can imagine that power and cables would probably have a much greater impact on digital rather than on analog gear.

I am surprised there aren't more enthusiastic posts from owners of mega buck DACs.
"I owned the benchmark and went to the Marantz 8260, and gave up a bit more top end air and got more body and weight in the bass."

Changing tubes in the mhdt Paradisea can produce similar effects easily for minimal cost.
I never thought about it but I can imagine that power and cables would probably have a much greater impact on digital rather than on analog gear.

Clean power does seem to affect digital - well it has in my experience. I suspect switched mode power supplies can be a problem. However, before spending $3000, I'd suggest you experiment with say $100 monster power bar filter first and see if it makes an audible difference. FWIW the power supply in the DAC1 is linear (not switched mode like a DVD player) and it runs quite hot - like a hot mug of coffee to the touch. That and the signficant weight of the little box suggests that it probably has a decent power supply to begin with.

Another avenue to check is to ask a question on Head-Fi org to Elias Gwinn (Benchmark engineer). I expect he will tell you that the DAC1 is designed to work in studios with dirty power and should not need conditioning in all but very extreme cases.

Good Luck!
I use an inexpensive Monster Power bar filter as Shadorne described on my system. It is the only special power conditioning solution in play and seems to do the job quite well in my case. All digital sources and pre-amp are powered from it (not the power amp). The digital sound is clean, tight, detailed and focused. Not sure what more I would gain with anything else, though it would be interesting to experiment.
4est, this in some haste: associated gear identical for all trials. Transport : Sonic Frontiers, AC cord : Ensemble Powerflux, digital IC : Atlas Opus, analog IC : Audience Au24, pre/power : GamuT, speakers : Gradient Revolution.

Material was world jazz ( Hadouk Trio-Live à FiP ), classical ( Beethoven 6th-Haitink LSO, Boccherini quintet-Europa Galante, an aria I've forgotten the name of ) and rock ( the XRCD Brothers in Arms ).

The great advantage was to the Stellavox in the upper mids and highs. More air, less hash/starch/chalkiness. The big thing for me was cymbals sounding like metal. Clarity also was better across the entire range.
I have to agree that tweaking the benchmark makes a big difference. I have changed the usb cord, vibration/support, pc (blacksands) and dont forget the fuse. I think it sounds better straight from the wall than out of my lowly APC unit.

Certainly well worth the effort if you already own it. What will I upgrade to? That's a $50 question but I am eagerly awaiting the Ayre dac.