We often underate the importance of the DAC

I avoided mods to items for years, reasoning the manufacturer would produce the best possible product so mods were unnecessary.

Of course that overlooked that manufacturers make items to a price. So, in recent years I've had all players modded in this house and recently had upgrades to the Benchmark DAC 1.

Steve Nugent at Empirical Audio waved his magic wand over one unit and I was so pleased with the result I had a second unit done.

A few weeks ago Steve got in touch with news he had made an even greater breakthrough, so back went one of the DAC 1's for further changes. Well, Steve was not exaggerating. The resolution, the soundstage, the air and general musicality was a further leap forward. So of course, back went the other unit for the home office system here. CDs have never sounded so good.

So good in fact some CDs surpass some SACDs. Perhaps I should explain the main system audio chain:

Esoteric UX-1 Limited edition (replaced the Meridian 800 which is up for sale here) -> Steve Nugent modified Benchmark DAC 1 -> MacIntosh C200 preamp -> Halcro DM68 amps -> Sound Labs full range "Majestic" electrostatic speakers.

The home office set up is no slouch either:

Modded Denon 3000 CDP -> Steve Nugent modded Benchmark DAC 1 -> Plinius 8100 integrated amp -> modded 3 way speaker system

I suspect the recently acquired UX-1 needs modding to improve the SACD output (4 channels of which pass through a Meridian 861 processor). So that upgrade will be done shortly.

Bottom line is that many CDs which were previously "ho-hum" are now excellent. That underlines my header that we often underrate the importance of the DAC.

So guys & gals, if you want to hear how good CDs can really sound, get in touch with Steve at Empirical Audio. He can work magic with electronics, particularly with the (already good) Benchmark DAC 1.

I agree, having experience with a Northstar 192 DAC that I had for a year and then modded by Anthony Padilla at Maui Mods. The difference was worth the dough. I have heard great things about boith Steve at Empirical and Anthony at Maui
If you really want to hear how good redbook cd is, you have to try running a usb dac off a mac/pc that is set up correctly using a lossless file. You will never, I repeat never go back to using a transport- no matter how good you think it is...
4est, what transport do you use to transfer the cd to the hard drive?
Timrhu-As long as you use ripping software that does bit-perfect ripping to uncompressed WAV files, the hard drive copy will be exactly the same as the CD original. EAC and JRiver do bit-perfect ripping. Basically, IMHO, it doesn't matter which CD-ROM you use. Others may disagree, but in the end a bit-perfect copy is a bit-perfect copy.
I agree. Once you use a USB driven dac with a lossless format, you will not go back to a transport.

Agreed, computer front-end changed my audiophile life.