Jump to content
IGNORED

Benchmark DAC1 USB Review - Stereophile 2008


Recommended Posts

John Atkinson has a review of the Benchmark DAC1 USB in the January 2008 issue of Stereophile.

 

Does anyone have this DAC and can you post your thoughts?

 

I am seriously considering this DAC and can't wait to see the review and hear your opinions.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

As Benchmark is unfamiliar to me, I have not heard them. I do know that if you are looking for great digital to audio converters, you almost cannot go wrong with Apogee. The are designed for professional studio use and from what I see of the prices between the two brands, you should do some more research. They have many other models, but Start here (http://www.apogeedigital.com/products/duet.php).

 

markr

"There are only two kinds of people: Those who understand binary and those who don't"

hear here

 

Link to comment

Last year, about this time, I started looking for a replacement for my bedroom CD player. First I tried an Archos AV500, but it wouldn't play my Windows Lossless files. I was pretty much at the end of the long process of copying all of my CDs to the computer.

 

I looked around for alternatives and discovered the "Network Music Player." Eventually bought a Squeezebox because it had a headphone amp built in. When I got it I really liked the convenience but the headphone amp was wimpy. So, I started looking for a replacement.

 

Now, you can really go nuts on headphone amps. Everything from $30 portables to $5k behemoths. I have good ears, so the trick was to find the device that gave me the best performance that I could hear, for the least expense. I looked at Headroom products but they're all modular. It's easy to get lost amid the options. I did at least learn about DACs there. I didn't know if the problem with the Squeezebox was its DAC process or the headphone amp so I got to thinking about a combination DAC-headphone amp. Somewhere along the line I found the Benchmark DAC1. Small, complete, well regarded. The only way to find out was to buy one, so I did.

 

I hooked it up and it was quite the revelation. I didn't expect the improvement in sound quality. Note that it's not night and day but the difference is clear: best music I've ever heard. I could get lost in the music.

 

When Benchmark announced the USB version I promptly bought one. Serial number 26. This went into the living room system, replacing the Sony ES-line pre-amp. The Mac Powerbook G4 music server connects through USB and the PC game machine connects through S/PDIF. Output is to the ES-line power amp and Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble speakers (first generation). All this stuff is old but the room sounds so bad that it's good enough. Plaster walls and celing, hardwood floor (what you can see of it underneath equipment of various kinds). For high-quality listening I just use headphones.

 

In short: After nearly a year, I like the Benchmark DAC1 in both flavors. I like the Benchmark people, too. Until the Head-Fi site blew up there was a long and involved thread there in which people discussed the DAC1 with one of its builders. It was 52 pages and still going when their RAID died. I believe that anyone with good ears will like the DAC1. I don't know if it's The Best, and don't much care. It's plenty good enough for me and I'm known for being picky.

 

The whole computer-based audio thing is great. I can simply enjoy music and forget about hardware.

 

There are lots of other happy users of DAC1s out there. Search the Internet for reviews and you'll find them. There are some not-so-happy users too, but no device pleases everyone.

 

Link to comment

Great experience you passed along to the site's readers.

 

I just took delivery of a DAC1 USB yesterday and I am amazed at what I am hearing (or not hearing) from it!

 

Your comment, "...I don't know if it's The Best, and don't much care. It's plenty good enough for me and I'm known for being picky..." Is probably the best thing I have heard in a while! If all of us audiophiles kept this in mind our listening enjoyment would increase exponentially!

 

Thanks again for sharing your experience!

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

For years I tried to stay on top of the audio heap. I'd read the reviews, listen to things, try to make up my mind. I bought stuff too. Good equipment. This didn't leave much room in the budget to buy music.

 

So, I decided to aim for about the 95th percentile in performance. CDs came along and were a huge change in convenience and consistency in sound. I also didn't have to transcribe them to tape to keep them from wearing out. I went nuts. Bought over 200 CDs in 1985, and for the first time was simply enjoying music. All I had was the CD player and a pair of half-decent headphones.

 

That pattern got somewhat disrupted when I started using the computer as a source. Due to some accidents and the Internet, I'm now probably at about the 98th percentile in sound quality. Maybe it's still 95th, and before I was at the 90th. I just know that the combination of a computer, Squeezebox and DAC1 is very neat. Great sound, great convenience.

 

Link to comment

I have often thought about using the money I spend on equipment to buy a whole bunch of music. In the end I think this would bring greater enjoyment. If I would have spent money on music instead of B&W Nautilus 802 speakers I would probably never get tired of my library!

 

By the way, does your system (computer, Squeezebox and DAC1) have a monitor attached? I am really interested in "headless" systems and I am wondering what people are using for a remote if they can physically see their library. To me a monitor just doesn't jive with a hi-end audio system. It would actually be great if I could be persuaded the other way though.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

My system is based on a Mac Powerbook with a 17" display. When I'm at the desk I use the display to play music (currently Thomas Tallis "Spem in Alium") and to run my Shoutcast broadcasts.

 

For the bedroom system, headless would work fine, which is why I've thought of buying a Mac Mini to use for a music server. I can navigate there just fine using the Squeezebox remote, but it's not ideal for heavy-duty listening. If there's a specific song you want it can take some time to drill down through the Artist, Album, Song hierarchy. Adding music would be a problem too, as I check all of the tags to weed out errors. I need to see that to prevent misassignment to "Compilation" and other things.

 

So, at the moment I'm completely frozen amid the options. The Powerbook works very hard to run everything and is over three years old. I need to replace it. With what? Headless? Full-on system that has room for all the hard disks? Small-form-factor PC? One of the tiny PCs I've seen described here? I'd better do something before this computer blows up.

 

On the subject of music... I've had my equipment phase and am done with that. My system is good enough, and I can indulge myself in music. In the old days I had fancy playback equipment and about 50 records. Now I have a system that won't arouse envy in any audiophile but there are 2,000 CDs to go with it. I can be selective about new CDs... or just go ahead and try them. Here's a tip for the cheap audiophile: buy them used on Amazon. You can get some great deals, even having to pay $3 shipping. I got Led Zeppelin's "Mothership" for $10.

 

Of course the key here is to detune your perceptions a little. A curious fact has come out of my sand sculpture experience. In "one-day-beach" sand sculpture such as I do, there is no time for perfection, especially in winter. When the sun sets you're done. Passersby come along and note all the faults in the sculpture: little chips where a shell came out, a place I forgot to polish. It's easy to get into that. I've had to teach myself to look beyond the faults to the sculpture itself. If you're listening to music with an ear on the faults--mistracking, clipping, lack of "air," or some such--you'll never be happy. The idea is to be lost in the music. Listen with your heart, not a microscope.

 

 

Link to comment

I am starting to look more into the application that control iTunes from remote Mac. These apps are perfect for headless systems as you just load the disc into the Mini / Tiny PC and run everything from another Mac. Very intriguing to me and I am really leaning this way with my own system. This provides tons of options such as a cheap remote to control iTunes, an expensive remote, and even using an wireless laptop next to you listening position to control the music. Very appealing to me.

 

"...If you're listening to music with an ear on the faults--mistracking, clipping, lack of "air," or some such--you'll never be happy. The idea is to be lost in the music. Listen with your heart, not a microscope..."

 

I must say LC you are right on!

 

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

Slimdevices is making a remote control called "Jive." So far it's a software development kit and prototype remote, but the idea is that it will have a display on it and talk to your Slimserver through Wi-Fi. So, you can put your computer anywhere and still control it. I'm keeping an eye on this.

 

Hard to find info on their Web site. It's only in the forum.

 

Link to comment

I'm especially impressed by the sand sculpture metaphor.

 

I've long since abandoned my crusade for the absolute sound, but I must admit that my hesitation to move full speed ahead into the computer audio arena is based on the fear of disappointment; specifically that an uneducated purchase would result in sound not meeting my standards.

 

The several responses that Chris has posted to my questions and comments assures me that I'm among friends who won't let me make those kinds of mistakes. Now it appears that Lord Chaos operates under the same values as I do: the music is the thing.

 

The Benchmark USB is looking more and more like one piece I'll try, but unless someone can provide me with a means of connecting it to a computer that will be more than 5 meters away I'll be forced to have those noisy hard drives in my listening room (and to hearing my wife complain about the clutter).

 

Link to comment

There are a few wireless USB products out there that will connect USB devices. This is an option, but not one that many people have tried. Have you thought any more about using a Squeezebox to bridge the gap between the computer and DAC / system?

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

I just ran across this info and link at the Empirical Audio site. It looks like you have some USB options for a long cable.

 

USB extensions

We recommend the Opticis at this time:

 

http://usb-shop.com/opticis.html

 

The Belkin Wireless USB Hub is available now as well as the WiRanger.

Both of these add significant jitter, so we recommend a Type 2 Pace-Car

if you plan to use either one.

 

Source http://www.empiricalaudio.com

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

My bedroom system is pretty much like what you're describing: computer in one room, sound in the other. I have a 50-foot cat-5 cable from the router to the Squeezebox, and then the DAC1 connected to the Squeezebox. From there I use headphones. Sound quality is all I want: I get lost in the music and don't want to turn it off. The DAC1 sorts out any jitter introduced.

 

The Squeezebox and DAC1 (you won't need USB) is considerably cheaper than the Transporter, and you get a free high-quality headphone amp built in. The Transporter doesn't have a headphone out.

 

One thing I highly recommend in your project is paying attention to the tags. Itunes gives you good control over this. For each CD you rip, check the tags and make sure they're consistent. Especially for multi-CD sets. You can have five discs, each with a different name. When your library gets big this kind of thing makes it hard to find things. Why Itunes? In my experience the database it uses (CDDB) is mostly accurate. AMG and the others aren't so good, especially for classical.

 

I'm so glad this forum allows editing. Typos...

 

Link to comment

I am pretty close to only recommending the DAC1 or DAC1 USB for this price range. I am so impressed with it as are you. From Steve's (from Empirical Audio) post it looks like he uses one as well (modified though). Not many people know more about digital audio than him. All of this, plus other opinions about this DAC make it the real leader in my opinion.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

With regard to the DAC 1, I sent the following email to a friend of mine who owns his own recording studio and was an ardent audiophile in a former life...

 

Bruce, I'm seriously thinking of tinkering with a computer-based music server. High on the list of USB DACs is the Benchmark 1. There is a lot of controversy over what you can use, and there are a few "audiophile" units costing many thousands that the lunatic fringe claims will sound indistinguishable from live music.

 

The Benchmark is the same one that you have with the USB capability added. The only fly in the ointment with this appears to be that there is a 15 foot maximum cable length between the DAC and computer.

 

His response...

 

Hey Steve,

 

The Benchmark is a good D/A and a great bargain, but, when compared to the best D/As available, it's just a bit on the thin side and has a tendency to sound a tad bright. On certain material it can be stunningly beautiful and it's probably better than converters built into most stand-alone CD players.

 

I replaced my Benchmark with the Lavry gold D/A, which unfortunately is in a different price range. The Lavry black D/A is about the same price as the Benchmark and I prefer it to the Benchmark. http://www.lavryengineering.com/index_html.html It's fuller and more natural sounding but may lack a little of the high end sheen of the Benchmark.. That sheen can be mesmerizing if not entirely accurate. Unfortunately the Lavry may not work for your purposes because it doesn't accept USB. You could probably use it if you got a card that outputs SPDIF or AESEBU.

 

Another contender in that price range is the Mytek but it doesn't accept USB either.

 

http://www.mytekdigital.com/products/stereo96dac.htm

 

 

Things are going pretty well here. Doing mostly mastering. Just found out a CD I mastered this year has been nominated for a Grammy. If you're interested in hearing some stuff I worked on for groups out of Los Angeles you can check out the links below. They're MP3s so don't expect the sound to be great and they're probably not your cup of tea musically but I thought you might get a kick out of 'em.

 

A later follow-up says:

 

Just to be clear, the Lavry "gold" is outrageously expensive but the "black" sounds great too and it's priced about the same as the Benchmark. If you decide you like the sound of the Lavry, you could just get a card for your computer that has SPDIF output. They're probably as cheap or cheaper than the USB to SPDIF converter. Also, I'm a bit suspicious of any translating device such as the USB to SPDIF converter. One of the important things that has a big impact on sound is a DAC's ability to reject or minimize jitter. It's a tricky and delicate thing to do and can be compromised by devices inserted into the chain. The USB SPDIF converter may be fine but you should check out the buzz about that issue.

 

Bruce

 

 

Link to comment

Hey SGB - That is some solid information from someone who probably knows what he is talking about. I looked at the Lavry units but ruled them out for lack o USB input. There also doesn't seem to be as much information out there about the Lavry units compared to the DAC1. This is a good post to have in the forums, thanks a ton for posting it!

 

 

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

"It's fuller and more natural sounding but may lack a little of the high end sheen of the Benchmark.. That sheen can be mesmerizing if not entirely accurate."

 

I'm very confused by this. The Lavry seems to lack something... but then the Benchmark fakes it up? He's trying to express something but I don't understand.

 

I've read reviews of the Benchmark DAC1 saying that it is overly analytic. Other reviews have said that the ones talking about being overly analytic are written by people more used to tube sound, whose warmth is itself a distortion.

 

I've never heard a Lavry. I bought the Benchmark because it was simple, and the reviews I read were overwhelminly positive. It's the only DAC I've used, other than those built into other equipment, such as a collection of CD players, DVD players and digital video equipment. I'm 55 years old so don't have the sharpest ears in the world. I'm also disinclined to pay thousands of dollars for a small increment of improvement.

 

Of the various $1K DACs out there, which is the best? I don't know. If I had a bunch of money I'd go buy one of each and test them, but other than satisfying my own curiosity the test wouldn't be of much use. There are so many subtle factors involved in turning recorded sound waves into music inside a person's head that no test will predict one individual's response. My guess is that anyone would be happy with any of the DACs at a particular price point. Is my Benchmark really a whole lot better than the $200 DACs available? I don't know. I came in through the back door.

 

All I can say is that the Benchmark DAC1 is the most musical piece of audio gear I've ever bought. One reason I bought it quickly was to avoid getting caught up in the ever-mounting confusion brought on by comparison reviews.

 

Link to comment

Hey L.C., this sure is a subjective hobby isn't it? I think the gold Lavry is way beyond the point of diminishing returns for me at least as an audiophile. The differences between the regular Lavry and the DAC1 are probably negligible for most audiophiles, but without hearing the Lavry this is just speculation.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

 

L.C., Bruce's subjective description meant to compare the sound of the Lavry to the Benchmark DO seem cryptic indeed, and allow me to be quick to add that to understand what words most audio critics choose often can be just as cryptic. Here are some examples: laid-back, forward, analytical, cool, warm, soft, sweet, dry, liquid, natural... I could go on. Perhaps the most confusing adjective to describe the sound of a component I've ever read belongs to J. Gordon Holt. Back in the mid-seventies he used the word, butterscotch, to describe the sound of Audio Research's very first transistorized amplifier, the D-100. I had no idea what he really meant until I brought one home for a personal audition.

 

It certainly helps to know what your critic means in instances like these, and there's no better way to do that than get to know him. And, as for my perception of Bruce's description, I have the benefit of having known him for nearly 30 years. Sometimes such exposures can lead to some pretty valuable learning experiences; just as often it enables you to recognize him/her as a kindred spirit who takes something away with him that's equally beneficial. In turn, Bruce has the advantage of knowing what is important to me when listening to recorded sound. He knows, for example, that I find a brighter sound more irritating than most other audiophiles do.

 

While I'll certainly agree with Chris that the $8900 price tag on the Lavry Gold is way past my level of diminishing returns, I tend to be suspect of most others' descriptions. That's why I mentioned in another thread that I allowed my audio magazine subscriptions to lapse about 25 years ago.

 

BTW my personal priorities regarding the sound of an audio component are imaging, focus, air and microdynamics. I once explained to another audiophile friend that I felt that subwoofers (a stereo pair) were crucial to an acceptable reproduction of the sound of a clarinet because nearly all standalone speaker systems cannot recreate them with enough dynamic clarity. I wouldn't expect any readers here to understand what I mean unless they had the chance to hear it for themselves.

 

Cheers,

Steve

 

Link to comment

Hey thanks for the extra information. It kind of puts it into perspective. You are definitely correct when you say knowing the reviewer, person who shares their opinion, or the piece of equipment makes all the difference.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

"I wouldn't expect any readers here to understand what I mean unless they had the chance to hear it for themselves."

 

That's pretty much it. The problem is that so many of these things I'll never get a chance to hear. The poor beginner, who suspects his Ipod isn't giving him what he wants, has even less to go on. It takes a long time to gain that experience.

 

I once heard a system put together by a friend: home-build subwoofer using decidedly non-high-end components, midrange and high frequency speakers scavenged from somewhere, the whole thing tri-amplified with Dynakit power amps and a PAS-3X preamp. It sounded wonderful, so I believe your comment about dynamics.

 

Link to comment

It does seem to be in the hearer's ears alone: Don't get me started on speakers now.... For me, Horns rule. (period)

If you can fold one into a corner, so much the better.

 

- Yes. I am aware of the measured "limitations" of horns. My ears do not seem to be able to do that measurement.

 

- Oops, aren't we off-topic in this thread?

 

markr

"There are only two kinds of people: Those who understand binary and those who don't"

hear here

 

Link to comment

I've had horns off & on over time and I do like them as well.

 

I read an interview with Chris Cornell (Soundgarden, Audioslave, solo) where he tested three speakers to see which one sounded most like his live performances. If I remember right he picked Klipsch with their trademark horn.

 

- Chris

Computer Audiophile | Turn Down The Silence

 

Founder of Audiophile Style

UPDATED: My Audio Systems -> https://audiophile.style/system

Link to comment

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now


×
×
  • Create New...