W4S DAC2 vs Benchmark DAC1 my observation

The thread "Benchmark dac - why such diverging opinions?" inspired me to sell my Benchmark DAC1-HRD last week and give the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 a try... short story... I think the Benchmark is a better piece of equipment.... long story you may like the W4S DAC2 better.

I have a good bit of information to write and it will not all fit into this first post. I will post two parts as I go through the process. The first part will be comparing the toslink which is my preferred input and the second part I will get into details on the USB.

Please note I do not have a preamp and both units were used as a stand alone preamp.
I used both of these DACs in the same system same/set-up. The system is: Mac Mini> toshlink> DAC(both as the preamp and DAC)> W4S ST500 > Thiel CS2.4 speakers. I owned the Benchmark DAC1-HDR for about a 1 ½ years. The goal of changing DACs from the Benchmark to the W4S DAC2 was to darken my system a little. It worked but I lost a good bit of what the Benchmark does well in the process.

The following comments are all comparing the toslink input only on a mishmash of HD files and red-book lossless files:

Tonal Balance:
I guess I should start with tonal balance because this is what I wanted to change in the first place. I have been listening to a lot of hard rock (some would call it metal) and my Thiels/Benchmark combo have been wearing out my ears, but I throw in some audiophile stuff too. As a whole the W4S is a good bit darker and “thicker” throughout.

The highs on both are pretty detailed. The W4S has less sparkle but it is pretty close but the benchmark has more details. Tonally the W4S is a good bit darker, some may like this some may not.

The W4S lacks resolution in the mids compared to the Benchmark. With female vocals I could melt into the Benchmark and never think twice about it. On hard rock the Benchmark got a little glary while the W4S never steps over the musical side and does not seem to have inherent glare. So there is a trade off here, I feel the W4S needs to be played a good bit louder to find all the details in the voice that the Benchmark had in spades. But at the same time the W4S is a little more relaxed and hides the glare that is on my rock CDs.

I should say I really like my bass to be just right and I am hyper critical on the bass… The bass is better on the Benchmark. It goes deeper and hits harder. It has more control and less bloom. When I think about the benchmark’s bass words like clean, fast, extended, detailed, come to mind. The W4S bass is not bad but it is more round (think tube vs solid state here) it lacks the low-end extension and slam the benchmark had. It has more mid bass and less low bass than the benchmark… I am sad that I lost the 30hz-ish punch the Benchmark gave me.

Here the Benchmark wins by a landslide. I have read reviews where they use the W4S as just a DAC (bypassing the digital pre) and they claim the W4S has a wider stage BUT that is not what I am getting in my system. The Benchmark is much wider with it’s stage out much farther than my speakers and with the W4S the stage ifs firmly between my speakers. Maybe the issue is the digital pre of the W4S compared to the analog volume of the Benchmark but that is just a guess.

I asked my wife to come down and listen to the W4S. I did not tell her anything about how it sounded. Her first words were “it sound so small” followed but “ your system sounds muffled”… and I have to sadly agree….

Toslink summary:
All in all both are good units and I am being very critical. The W4S is a little more round in that it lacks the low-end bass slam and the ulta crisp highs of the Benchmark. I feel this pushes the vocals a little forward on the W4S. I feel both units are pretty detailed, they may be equally detailed but the more forward highs of the Benchmark make the details more apparent.

At the end of the day I feel the Benchmark is more true to the source and the W4S sound has a little more “tuning” toward the designers tastes. I stand by my comment in the thread that got all this started for me. Those that do not like the Benchmark can’t handle the truth.

I did achieve the slight tonal coloration I was looking for in my system, rolling of the upper mids and highs a bit. I am still on the fence about whether the trade off in bass slam and soundstage was worth it. I will move my speakers around a little bit later and see if I can get some of my soundstage back (less toe in and maybe a wider stance).

As a side note, I think a lot of what type of sound you like comes from listening volume. The balance and detail of the Benchmark is great for anything south of 80db but as I push the volume it becomes hard/bright with a hint of midrange glare. Where the W4S is a little dull (less bass slam, highs don’t snap) at low volume and comes to life at the 80db and up levels.

I will post on the USB later in the week. I still need to install the driver and move my equipment around to make room for the DAC2.
As another guy who's replaced his Benchmark with a Wyred, I am subscribed and appreciative of your observations. I agree with almost all of them, and I'm still happy I made the switch. :-)
Try using USB and see if your results are the same...
James, thanks for the very informative and well-written thread. I have the Benchmark DAC1 HDR and had 2 earlier versions also. Your results mirror my results exactly with several other dacs, though I haven't yet tried the Wyred 4S. I came to the conclusion that the Benchmark was the best overall and am very happy to keep it, esp. since I also use it as a preamp (including the analog input) and as a headphone amp.
I've never tried Wyred 4S but have Benchmark DAC1 for a while. It can be bright, being neutral sounding, with certain speakers as it was with my previous Paradigm studio/60 that had metal dome tweeter. With Hyperion HPS-938 it is just perfect - never bright and very detailed with amazing midrange. I also agree with James63 assessment of the bass. It is fast, tight and extended.
Well it is good to see at least some people feel the same way about the benchmark as I do. I really like the Benchmark in a lot of ways. My system has alway had GREAT bass and I attributed it to the speakers and amp, but now that the Benchmark is gone I realize how much it contributed to the quality of bass I was getting.


It sounds like you kept the W4S long term. Did it grow on you over time or did you like it right out of the gate? Are you thinking of upgrading it down the road or are you happy for now? I guess I am asking how is your long term satisfaction?

I plan to keep this unit a few months and see if it grows on me. It has made a much bigger change to my system than I thought it would and I may just be having culture shock.
I liked the W4S right off the bat, and I'll keep it for a long time. You're right about everything you observed -- and my ears are just happier to hear the Wyred. I can't handle the truth, obviously, so it's blissful ignorance for this listener!
"I can`t handle the truth"
Cymbop I don`t by that, your ears told you the truth.I don`t except this notion that lean, crisp,bright sound with tight and very dampened bass is accurate. Unamplified music does`nt sound that way( but I understand people like what they like). The W4S obviously sounded more natural to you and you response and choice makes that clear. Enjoy.
Best Regards,
Oops, meant buy not "by". Wish this site allowed for editing.
Part #2, USB comparisons.
In this post I will compare the toslink input of the W4S DAC to the USB input of the W4S DAC2. I have both hooked up to my Mac Mini and can switch in about 3 seconds. From my seat I change the mac's MIDI settings so it will be a direct A/B comparison.

I will later compare the USB input of the W4S DAC2 to the USB input of the Benchmark DAC1-HDR. My opinion on the Benchmarks USB will be from memory as I sold the unit last week.

All comparison were done on the same system as listed above with the supplied stock USB cables.

W4S's Toslink vs USB:

First off I would like to say the W4S usb section is the best USB DAC I have used. With that being said it still falls short compared to the toslink input. The difference is not as big as I have experienced with other DACs but it still holds true (IMO) that the USB inputs are not ready for prime time.

Tonal Balance:

The tonal balance of the W4S toslink input and USB input are the same or at least very close. There is fractional hint more bass with the USB (see bass comments). Both inputs have a round bass and are pretty balanced with just a little shelving down of the treble.


The highs are much better over the toslink input. There is a lot more decay of notes over the toslink that are completely lost over the USB. This helps give the soundstage more depth (see below for more details) and a sense of more detail. The highs are all around more refined over the toslink. They are a little crunchy over the USB when directly compared to the toslink. On the USB the highs nap and cymbals hit hard but the decay is cut short. The USB has less natural highs IMO and I hate to say it but a little "mid fi" compared to the toslink. I should note that if you did not have the toslink for direct comparison the highs of the USB would sound fine...


The mids are really about the same and it would be splitting hairs to say they are much different. The voices do come across a little different but the difference is more related to soundstage than tonal balance or detail.


The bass of the toslink and USB due differ just a little bit. The USB has a little better leading edge transients and a little more bass extension. This give a sense of more power and a little more bass punch. The tonal balance seems to be about the same though. The toslink's bass is a little more round and does not start or stop as fast. It may have more decay but it is hard to say when it gets down that low on my system.


The difference in soundstage is not huge but it is consistent. The toslink has consistently deeper soundstage, however the width seemed the same to me (in my room anyway). The soundstage effected the voices too. They seem a little more flushed out over the toslink and a little flatter in tone and space over the USB. The better decay of the highs over the toslink added to the soundstage and really gave a sense of space.

Benchmark USB vs W4S USB:

Here the W4S is the easy winner. I REALLY like the Benchmark when using the toslink input but over the USB it is another animal. The benchmark is bright and forward over the USB. The highs lack decay and the mids have some glare. All these things improve when the toslink is used on the Benchmark, and it becomes refined and balanced. I would not buy the Benchmark if I was going to use the USB input.

The W4S's USB is acceptable but if you are using the USB input on your DAC with either of these units you are holding your system back. I would guess this is true for most DACs. The W4S is my fourth USB DAC and the best by far but still does not sound as good as other types of inputs. If I had to have a USB DAC the W4S would be the one I would want to own.
Hi James - very nice writeup.

I have both a W4S - primarily used in my headphone system - and a Benchmark DAC1 USB currently used in my main system, which tends to the bright side. Last weekend I swapped the W4S into my main rig, and found it very appealing (this via USB, against the Benchmark's USB). It had a similar amount of detail, and a nice even balance, but a bit more of a natural sounding vibe to me - voices were a bit more earthy, highs present but not piercing, that kind of thing.

I couldn't leave the W4S there unfortunately - WAF and all that. I think it is an awesome DAC but man, it is rather fugly! ;)

As an aside, I'm going to try out a Wavelength Brick in the big rig - see how that goes.
Have had both. Still have the Wyred.
Benchmark has the enate ability to even make a tube rig sound bright?

I hear what you are saying. If you are sensitive to bright gear you will most likely hate the benchmark. I think the brightness is it's one major flaw.

As for the Wyred 4 Sound DAC2 it is growing on me and I have improved the sound will some set up changes. First I toed out my speakers about 15 degrees and that really helped get the soundstage back to where it should be. I also changed interconnects between the DAC and amp which really helped out the bass impact (maybe break-in too?). The leading edge bass impact now sounds very similar to the Benchmark (maybe 95% of the benchmarks). I also removed the grills on my speakers (I keep them on most of the time) which made the highs just a touch more detailed.

I will give it a few months before I decide if I am going to keep the DAC2 longterm but all in all it sound a good bit better than it did the first few days I had it.

I missed your comment before.

I agree with your comment comparing the W4S USB to the Benchmarks USB input:

"It had a similar amount of detail, and a nice even balance, but a bit more of a natural sounding vibe to me - voices were a bit more earthy, highs present but not piercing, that kind of thing."

I think you will fined the same changes if you try the toslink input on the Benchmark. It may not be as extreme as the changes in DACs but I it will defiantly change the sound for the better.

It is too bad the W4S is so ugly but the price is right... Some thing like Bel Cantos look a lot better but I doubt they sound all that different and they cost a lot more. I have never heard the Wavelength Brick but I would like to hear your comments once you get a change to demo it.
Hi James - I did have the Benchmark wired via TOSLINK at one point, but it was a while ago, and my system has changed around since. Originally I had been running it from the output of an Airport Express, which I thought was pretty bad relative to running it direct from my laptop via USB. BUT I never tried running it directly into my laptop via TOSLINK - I honesty never even though of it!

Nowadays I don't use the laptop at all, but use dedicated Mac Minis (2 - one in my living room speaker setup and another in my bedroom headphone rig), both direct via USB.

One of these days I'll dig out my TOSLINK cables and swap around a bit.

How many hours do you have on your W4S? I found mine needed a good amount to open up - I'm probably at around 150-175 hours and it has become very pleasant to listen to.

I should have the Brick in a week or so!
As a side note, I think a lot of what type of sound you like comes from listening volume. The balance and detail of the Benchmark is great for anything south of 80db but as I push the volume it becomes hard/bright with a hint of midrange glare. Where the W4S is a little dull (less bass slam, highs don’t snap) at low volume and comes to life at the 80db and up levels.

James, another good observation. Remember the Loud button on your 1990s mid-fi receiver? It was intended to to enhance low-volume listening by slightly boosting both the low and high ends of the spectrum. It's clear that the Benchmark excels on ~30 Hz extension as well as the very high end -- and its sonic signature may, in effect, be like a Loud button (relative to the rich-and-meaty mid excellence of the Wyred.)

I have never tried an airport express so I can not comment. I only have about 60 hours on my DAC2 but I have not heard much of a change in the sound yet, I am however getting more accustom to its sound.

Please post some comments after you hear "The Brick".


Tonight I defiantly like the softer highs of the Wyred 4 Sound. My wife went out to a Backstreet Boys concert so I am at home listening much louder than my typical volume (just cause I can..) and my ears would have given up long ago on the Benchmark.

As I listen to my DAC2 I like it better and better but I really do not think it is any better than the benchmark, just a little different. I do not think the Benchmark has the best synergy with the Thiel line however. Thiels can get a little hard anyway so they do not need a hard front-end.
I recently added a Benchmark DAC1 to my system with Wyred STP-SE preamp, Wyred amp, PS Audio PPP and Legacy Focus SE speakers. My other digital source component is a Denon 3800 BDCI player.

My observations are improved focus to sound - greater delineation of voices and instruments, increased airiness and ambiance, increased precision to bass, deeper soundstage. Basically, everything top-to-bottom is more resolved. When I go back and listen to the Denon, it sounds a little thicker with softer edges to individual sounds. Here's a thought: sharp edges are represented as high frequency content (Fourier analysis tells us this). Perhaps one cannot have superior resolution without what may be perceived as "brightness" relatively speaking.
Also, I haven't experienced anything that I would describe as "glare" to the Benchmark sound. I'm not sure what configuration others are using, but I have found that setting the internal jumpers to 0dB attenuation and using balanced outputs to give a superior and purer sound quality compared to the other default settings.