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Review of the Dac1 Pre?

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I won one of these at CES and I am just simply amazed at the sound quality.


I am using a Claro Plus (based on a CMI8788) in a bit perfect config using Media Monkey and foobar2000.


I would love to see one of these reviewed and see how they compare to other DACs on the market.


Thanks all for a truly wonderful site, made of truly wonderful and passionate people!


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I've had one for ~2 months now and am also extremely impressed and happy with the SQ. I'm only a newbie digital audiophile and no expert at reviewing stuff like this but have been a musician for nearly 30 yrs and know what I like. I've got it feeding a pair of Parasound JC-1 mono's and the low noise floor of the system is remarkable....with the vol turned way up high the system is dead quiet with no music playing and between tracks.




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  • 2 weeks later...

I have now had mine for about 2 weeks and it just keeps getting more and more impressive. The sound quality is amazing. I finally got to hear an Alphadac and I brought my pre with me (it's so small it wasn't hard to do!) and with not knowing which was which the people in the room couldn't really tell one from the other in a blind A-B-A test!


The Alpha has a better display to be sure but sonically...well, WOW!


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Actually we did a few different sources. I brought over my RR HRx disks, by friend had some iPOD files and I also brought a copy of the HDCD of Little Hatch's "Rock with me baby".


Since the Pre doesn't do internal HDCD decoding and the Alpha did we used Media player with the pre and used WMP with the tickbox for 24bit checked.


The HDCD was better on the alpha but not by much everything else was very much on par.


Chris I would very much value your opinion on this subject, btw what do you mean "You don't consider them competing products"?


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Hi Honeybadger - Thanks for the info.


When you played the HRx material did the HDCD indicator on the Alpha DAC illuminate? What interface was connected to the Alpha and the Pre (AES, Optical, USB etc...)? Also, using different configurations for different hardware such as WMP w/ 24 bit box checked etc... is not what I would do. I am very skeptical about WMP and what the 24 bit box actually does. I would have used MediaMonkey for everything. I would have made sure all the material was output to the DACs bit perfect by first testing for the HDCD indicator. Then I would have sent the exact same signal to each DAC without changing anything in the software config. I'm not suggesting you did anything wrong, just that I would have gone about this differently.


I don't consider the two competing products as they have vastly different feature sets and controls. Both are very good components for the money, but I think the Alpha DAC wins hands down in a head to head sonic comparison. It's the best DAC I've ever listened to connected to a music server, with the exception of the Pacific Microsonics Model Two which is no longer available but designed by the same people. The Benchmark has to be one of the most successful products around and for very good reason. But, I need a remote control to change volume and inputs and need the ability for AES/EBU input at 24/192 resolution. The Pre just doesn't meet my specific needs in this category.


Please note that both Benchmark and Berkeley Audio Design are paying advertisers and supporters of Computer Audiophile. I don't take the comparison between these two products lightly. In order to maintain my integrity I have to be 100% honest on this one. Not all writers believe in this method of operating. If any part of my comparison was unclear or misleading please let me know so I can dispel any nonsense before it even starts.







Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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Wow Chris, I hope you are not really as defensive as I am reading your reply.


Well, we weren't trying to do a psycho comparison as much as a few friends got together and compared one's Alphadac vs. a wonderful DAC I won at CES and were surprised how close they were.


No, I don't think the HDCD indicator came on when playing the 192k WAV files and both DACs input was through coax out from C-media 8788 card I brought from the purpose.


We did try Media Monkey, Winamp and 2k foo2k with KS plug-ins in the later two players. Since the Alpha did light up with HDCD it didn't seem like a fair comparison so I used the suggestion with the Benchmark FAQ and used WMP at full volume.


Perhaps the clarity of either DAC and let's be honest, any dac beats pretty much any other source is going to impress as much as any filet mignon is going to impress someone who's been on Big Macs for their lives..


In the end, just as I said I am more and more impressed by my little DAC that could and am just having fun...


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Hi Honeybadger - Ah the wonders of text based conversations! I wasn't trying to be defensive at all. I really have nothing to be defensive about. I was just trying to let you know what I would have done to consider the listening session a true representation of each DAC. It doesn't matter to me which one people think is better, but I think everyone would want to start with a good clean audio signal etc... No worries :~)


Also, I just wanted to make it clear about the fact both manufacturers are advertisers adn that did not sway my opinion in any way.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well Chris, I loaded up the latest MediaMonkey, installed the high-end WAV input plug-in and the bit perfect output plug-in and on my coax out to my DAC, you are right, it is the best sound I have gotten on 174k WAV files, I still prefer HDCDs on WMP at max volume. Also Winamp with the Wav and Kernel streaming output plug-in sound wonderful too (also it has a better skin for plasma screens from a HTPC) but for sonic quality for MP3s, Flacs and other lossless sound files, Your recommendation for MM is right on the money.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I've got mine for 3 days now and I have to say it is as flexible as a swiss knife. I have it connected to my mac by USB (will be using optical out once I get my optical cable), the RCA out is connected to my Audioengine A2s (just got it few days ago too, very nice and small speakers), and the headphone out to the HD650. It's so great in its flexibility!


However, I found the sound coming out of the DAC1 to be somewhat too clean and clear that it's almost a bit harsh/bright? I'm still new to this audiophile stuff, so I'm not sure if I am using the right terms. The sounds is sometimes sharp (not sure how to describe it) and sometimes my ears hurt a little bit, well, not exactly hurting, but more like stressed, would that be ear fatigue? So, I was wondering if it will get better or is the DAC1 just not for me?


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Hi hh83917 - Welcome to Computer Audiophile. You have the makings of a really good sounding system. In fact I reviewed that exact same setup for Tone Audio Magazine. The DAC1 Pre is an incredibly flexible unit as you mentioned. Every component I review is played through the DAC1 Pre for some of the review period.


Your comments about the sound being harsh or to bright are kind of hard to discuss, but at least I understand what you're getting at. What's bright to you may be dull to someone else if you know what I mean. I do have a guess though. Some people switching to a component like the DAC1 Pre are used to sources that are less refined and less transparent, and may even have audible levels of jitter that effect the sound. A less refined component can lead to a really "nice" sound but not a sound that is transparent and true to the music. Thus, when a person switches to the DAC1 Pre and hears a very clean signal they may hear more than they are used to. A particular recording may be harsh or bright and the DAC1 Pre is going to pass the harshness right on to the listener. The DAC1 Pre doesn't have that "HiFi" sound to it that makes everything sound "good." i suggest listening to a very good recording to see if you hear harshness or to much clarity etc... My guess is that it will disappear. This may be totally incorrect as everyone's ears and expectations are different. Let me know what you think after some additional listening or if you don't think this is the case at all. No worries.


Founder of Audiophile Style | My Audio Systems AudiophileStyleStickerWhite2.0.png AudiophileStyleStickerWhite7.1.4.png

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Chris's comments and listening is a personal thing is right on the money.


I am on a pre-amp called a Kisto from a Scottish company called Line. In a pure analog setup using balanced the Dac1-pre is very natural and neutral.


It could be that the dynamic range is larger than your speakers and what you are hearing as harshness or sharpness is really cutoff that hz ranges below or above your speakers are being cut off.


When you say sharp do you mean like sybilance, Harsh "T"s and hissy "S"s?


Could be also software, how did you get the source material, did you rip it yourself.


What software have you tried for playback. Media Monkey has been excellent to me. Winamp and Foobar2k have also been excellent.


post in here or email me if you like and I'll try to help you get good sound.


You are starting with a very good DAC and it should perform very well for you!




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Chris, thank you for the warm welcome. So you are the one that wrote that article (great article BTW)? I've read it before I made my purchase and it is indeed an incredible little device! Yes, I've only been using it for few days and loved it's flexibility. I can basically hook everything up to it with a nice an clean setup.


However, listening to the DAC1 for over 30 min, I had to take the headphone off or pause the music because it kind of stresses my ears. It almost hurt a little inside my ears, well, not exactly hurts, but maybe my ears are tired. The DAC1 brings out every little detail in the music, and so clean and clear, but a bit sharp on my ears (I listen to Jazz and classical, a little rock and pop sometimes).


Like you said, I may not be used to this "clean" sound due to listening to bad dacs from the computer/ipod. I was wondering when the DAC1 and HD650s "break-in" more, will it get better? I've ordered some XLR cables for the HD650 because some said it sounds better, but they're not here yet. I really like the DAC1 Pre and the flexibility it provides and I would have to see it going back.


I just want to add that I tried the Apogee Duet few weeks ago and really like the sound of it. I returned it because the lack of flexibility and the dependent on a computer (it also make my Macbook Pro CPUs runs hot some times). I did considered the Mini-Dac, but I went for the DAC1 because it will work so well with my setup. But the Apogee Duet didn't hurt my ears for long hour listening with the Grado SR-80 (didn't have the HD650s at that time and I don't think the Duet can drive the HD650 anyways).


So, I hope everything will turn out right after a week or two or I might have to figure something out. Return and get the Apogee Mini-DAC? Will that drive the HD650s right? Or is it possible that my ears eventually be "trained" to listen to the DAC1?


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Honeybadger, thank you for replying as well. I use a Mac, so it's iTunes that I'm running my music off of. The files were all apple lossless, and I believe I have all the setting on the computers done right. The iTunes enhancements were all off, volume at max, and Audio MIDI setting is set to 96000/24bit like everyone and the Benchmark Wiki have recommended. So I don't think it's the computer considering I am a somewhat computer/gadget savvy person.


I'm new to the speakers and these audio terms, but is willing to learn more about them. I am hooking them up to the Audioengine A2s. I can read the specification, but don't really understand much of it. So, I don't know if it works well with the DAC1. But, they sounded great to me, very clean, clear, and detailed. On the term "harsh", I don't mean the Ts and Ss. I don't really know how to explain it. It's more like listening to a high pitch noise for a while and feel your inner ears hurting. I love the clarity, but for some reason I can't listen to it continuously. Does that mean I am just not used to it yet, the DAC1 is not burn in yet, or should I go have my ears checked (no, honestly)?


I am extremely glad to start with this super device, and it's performing too well!


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If you're looking for a good review of the Benchmark that puts a LOT of things in perspective, I recommend this one:




I like the first couple of paragraphs quite a bit :):


"Standalone digital-to-analog converters make sense only if they are significantly better than the DACs built into typical integrated players. This one is. It is made by professionals for professionals, for reference-quality playback in studio control rooms and mastering rooms, although it is perfectly suitable for audiophile use. What it clearly does not aspire to is audiophile bragging rights based on price and tweako/weirdo features. The cloud-cuckoo-land high-end DACs at ten times and fifteen times the Benchmark’s price are no better and in most cases not as good. Their owners may delude themselves with fantasies of ineffable sonic superiority, but in reality the only fact-based brag they are entitled to is that they paid more than the poor peasants with Benchmark DAC1’s.


Why can I confidently make that statement? Because I measured the DAC1 up and down and sideways with the Audio Precision SYS-2722, possibly the most sensitive and accurate audio-test instrument in the world, and found it to be as nearly perfect as a digital-to-analog converter can get at the present state of the art. Totally perfect 24-bit converters, with the theoretical noise floor of –146.24 dBFS and a perfect monotonicity “staircase” waveform at the ten lowest LSBs, do not yet exist, at any price, and probably never will. Still, the DAC1 yielded the best measurement figures that I have ever obtained out of a digital processor on my test bench, nor have I ever seen better measurements on other units in other publications. Of course, those who believe that the best-sounding electronic components are not the ones that measure best will pooh-pooh the Benchmark. At this point I’m too old to get upset by these audio cultists, any more than I am by the advocates of crystal power or creationism. The fact is that Benchmark designed the DAC1 on the Audio Precision, as witnessed by the 15 AP graphs in the instruction manual; the whole design is obviously measurement-driven. That the audible performance tracks the measurable performance is a given."


...bear in mind, though, that this review is from 2005, and digital technology being what digital technology is, it is possible, even likely, that the performance of the DAC1 has been exceeded by even more cost-effective products.


YMMV, etc.




I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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I don't know a thing about Peter Aczel, or The Audio Critic, but the OP asked about reviews of the DAC1, I did a quick search, and came across one that used both measurement and ears...a good thing in my view. And, I must confess, I got a bit of a kick out of the point of view. Is he somehow connected to Benchmark?




I confess. I\'m an audiophool.

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... seems to me, in the context of many audio

publications that accept paid advertisements.


The thing I find unique about his point of view

is that he often points out the obvious, and often times

the audio-phool ridiculous, and backs it up with measurements.

Other's might feel otherwise. We all get to decide for ourselves.




It would be only fair to read the many many reviews available

on his site, before making too hard a judgment,

or to imply that his opinions are somehow colored -- any more

than any audio publication that accepts industry advertisements

to maintain their viability -- just because in the '80s he was half

owner in a speaker company. This is just common sense.

He lauds speakers not of his making, after all.

And who else would publish "The 10 Biggest Lies in Audio"?

Bless his heart.




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Chris said:


No, not connected to Benchmark at all. He has such a unique point of view I decided to read more about him and found some rather disheartening info that causes me to second guess his opinions.




I don't think that this chaps opinions need be considered if the DAC1 measures as it should do, and it seems to.


When a DAC Manufacturer selects the DAC chips that he is going to use (Benchmark use Analogue Devices who are one of a group of World Leaders in the field) they will come with comprehensive instructions on how to use them and the MEASUREMENTS that will result if you do it right. That really is the end of the story. However if you wanted to nit pick, you could point out that all DACs run at high speed, typically 33 mHz and that this makes them a radio transmitter and means that layout is absolutely crucial if this RF isn't going to get where it shouldn't and feed into power amps. A small amount always will and it does affect some power amplifiers. In other words Hi Fi Amps are happy in the 20-20 kHz region but not not necessarily if they have to cope with 33 mHz! Distortion can rise significantly


The present situation therefore is that all DACs far exceed 16 Bit because they are 24 Bit devices and all are remarkably similar in specification and virtually all produce small amounts of RF. This means that correctly implemented, they are extremely hard to tell apart, but that they may react to imperfect amplifiers.


IMO DAC reviews are hard to justify for these reasons and because there is much more noise and distortion in the rest of a typical hi fi system that will mask any problems.




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