Pros: Neutrality, Clarity, Resolution, Build like a rock, Handsome
Cons: Expensive, It doesn't make eggs
Anything I say in this review is what I think of the DAC and according to my taste as a audiophile, you should always be aware there's a degree of YMMV in any review. Also, I did most of this review using speakers but I will comment on how it sounds with the Beyer DT880 600 ohm edition.
I've experienced and purchased many pieces of equipment in my short audiophile career (less than a year) but I've never been so impressed by one that I felt like I need share my opinion with other people. I bought this DAC used from a user right here on Head-Fi for $900 USD who also bought it used. I'll try to use relatable and non technical terminology that you may not even know. So I'll let you know
What's In the Box:
The exactly same things the original owner received. The DAC, a power cable, a manual, and a coax to optical converter. If you don't care about any of this, just jump straight to the sound section. Before I begin, I'll need
A Little More Preamble:
I ripped out my printer USB cable, changed out the power setting (took me maybe 1 minute to figure out and another to perform the operation... awesome...), and plugged it in. I'm not going to go over all kinds of fancy features the DAC has that you probably won't read anyways and skip straight to the
The highs are extended as far as there is. It's ever-so-slightly bright. It is however, not sharp, not sibiliant, and not cringeworthy. It may have been when it was new or may be on certain setups but I found non of it. Other than that, there's not much to say (which is a great thing to be able to say about a DAC). On It Could Happen to You by Diana Krall, the cymbals sparkle and sizzle like I've never heard before, but If a track is piercing, the DAC will be as well.
The mids are lean, mean, and clean, which are the exact qualities I'm looking in my music. There is no coloration. If a song is warm, it'll show it. It's very clinical. If that's not your thing, go for the Rega DAC, it'll make everything sound like it's right in front of you. The resolution is very good. You don't miss a note in rhythm guitars during a solo in a song.
The lows, not much to say (again a good thing). It's nothing to brag about but it's quietly and eloquently excellent. It's still clean, not boomy, and just "there" enough that you never miss it on most songs. To all people who buy this DAC with the intention of listening to hip-hop with it (Get it?): Don't.
Stereo Imaging is excellent and mostly what makes this DAC so clinical. It is precise. In a typically rock song, you have your left/right guitars and a vocalist in a middle and with a natural presentation, the guitars emanate across the sound stage like how a real guitar would sound, but with the DAC-1, the guitar is trapped in the speaker. This isn't a problems on speaker because of the natural cross feed created by the fact that people have 2 ears (shocking!) but on headphones, it sounds extremely artificial. For me that's a great thing, for what I assume would be most people, not so much.
The presentation is fairly forward which isn't good if you have headphones love feeling like you're sitting in a music hall, you're outta luck. If you like Grados, it's not quite like the sound stage of Grados but it's a little better than the music hall. For me speakers, I love a music hall sound. So here is how I solved the problem (and I think you'll find this quiet quiet ingenious): I sat a little further away.
So what does the Benchmark DAC-1 USB Black with Mounting Rack (long title eh?) sound like in one word? Neat. It's neat. Everything is where it should be and how it should be as the recording dictates. It's nothing more. It's nothing less. Great sound signature for someone like me who loves their sound that way.
This is Head-Fi afterall, so it bequeaths me to comment on the
The Headphone Amp:
As far as sound signature goes, the HPA2 sounds exactly like the DAC.
It powered my Beyer DT880 600 ohm edition perfectly. But when you put a analytical headphone like the DT880 with the Benchmark DAC-1, it sounds grindingly clinical. Most would say it's not good synergy - I love it.
Overall, it sounds like a great SS amp (think $300 - 500 range SS headphone amp)
It's not that I'm lazy, there just isn't much to say here. That's it.
So is the Benchmark DAC-1 USB worth it's price tag? No. Its not that it under performs it's price tag. It sounds better than the DacMagic ($500), DacMagic Plus ($850), Rega DAC ($1100) and even sounds better than the Bryston BDA-1 ($1995) DAC to me. I just don't think any DAC is worth $1300. If I had stick a price tag on the DAC section alone - $800 (my personally limit for any DAC). If I had to price the HPA2, $300. If you can find one used, get it.
Like the review says below, it feels like a cast iron pan. It's fairly hefty, everything plate fits perfectly. It's quite handsome as well. It's got a simple look to it that I just admire so much.
It's awesome. The sound is recording, not performance. The headphone amp is great. The build quality is great. It's not cheap and as you've read above, it won't do your eggs sunny side up but other than that - Its awesome.