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Ten reasons to buy Benchmark DAC1

post #1 of 72
Thread Starter 
In a recent So-Cal meet, several head-fiers asked me how I came to the decision of buying Benchmark DAC1. After all, $975 is no small price for a little black box. After using it for a year, I still think DAC1 is a worthwhile investment in my audio system costing about $4k (including speakers). Here I have listed 10 reasons I can think of to justify spending almost $1k in today’s very competitive market of digital audio playback.

1. It sounds good.
It has received a lot of praise from the audio press (Stereophile, Soundstage, etc.), well-known audio professionals (Bob Katz, Doug Sax, etc., see Benchmark website), and quite a few knowledgeable head-fiers. I believe it has to sound at least as good as other DACs in its price range to be so widely recognized and recommended.

2. It cures “digititis.”
To my ears, digititis (common artifacts in digital playback that makes things bright, cold and edgy) is easily detectable when listening to violin’s treble notes. Violin, no matter how well recorded, inevitably sounds thin and sharp when the source exhibits digititis. My $1k Sony DVP-NS900V SACD/DVD player shows some digititis in redbook playback, but the problem is mostly solved by switching to SACD. Now with DAC1, Cayin HA-1A class A tube amp, and K1000, violin can sound smooth and clear on a good CD. Although K1000 is a bright headphone, I no longer suffer from digititis. I can’t say DAC1 completely eliminated digititis but to my ears it is no longer an issue in my system. As a result, I don’t care too much for SACD any more and at this point SACD playback is disabled on my system due to convenience issues. To be honest, the sonic advantage of $1k DAC1 over $1k Sony SACD/DVD player is very small. I probably can’t even distinguish them in ABX tests using unfamiliar music or headphones. However DAC1 sounds significantly more musical over long-term use mainly because it greatly reduces, if not eliminates, digititis.

3. It is rich in connectivity
AES/EBU, Toslink and coaxial for digital in. Balanced analog out via XLR. Unbalanced analog out via XLR (with adapters), RCA terminals, or two headphone jacks (with adapters).

4. It can act as a pre-amp
I detect no loss of sonic quality loss in pre-amp mode. Very convenient when the downstream amplifier has lots of voltage gain and prefers something like a 500 mV input.

5. It has two versatile headphone jacks.
The built-in amplifier (powering both jacks) is of decent quality and quite powerful. From what I have read on head-fi, it is probably on par with $200 SS amps. I personally feel a $300 Hornet outperforms it. The amp can drive K1000 to listenable levels, which means it is very powerful and its 0 ohm output impedance makes it suitable for all kinds of headphones regardless of impedance. Personally I like this jack a lot with Grado SR225 for rock music. DAC1 jack+SR225 sounds better than Gilmore V1+SR225 or DAC1 jack+RS-1. I guess its front jack is fast, clean and a bit edgy and synergizes well with SR-225 for rock. I just ordered an SR-225 from HeadRoom.

6. Its XLR-output is a better headphone amp.
I use XLR-to-RCA (modified) and RCA-to-mini adapters to use XLR as an amp for ordinary headphones. It is quite powerful and drives K501 with ease and authority, smoother than front jacks. Since XLR has 30 ohm output impedance, all high impedance cans (>120 ohms) should be usable. For headphones that can be driven in the balanced configuration, such as recabled Senn HD650, some head-fiers have reported excellent synergy

7. Its sound is tweakable.
I have only used unbalanced analog out on DAC1. There are five possible configurations: XLR-to-RCA fixed/variable, RCA fixed/variable and headphone jack-to-RCA (always variable). These five configurations all sound slightly different but none of them is inherently better. Using various downstream headphone/speaker amps driving K1000/K501/speakers, each of them has sounded best at one point or another. This is why I say I don’t detect any sonic degradation in pre-amp (variable mode). Another useful tweak is to lift the ground prong in the power cord, which to my ears improves the sound. See this thread for a possible explanation.

8. It has ultra-low jitter and great jitter rejection
From the datasheet and from experiments done by Bob Katz and Stereophile, DAC1’s internal jitter and jitter rejection is as good as it gets in today’s DAC market. I can’t guarantee that the transport totally can’t make a difference with DAC1, though I do not hear a difference. But it is safe to say DAC1’s sonic performance is minimally affected by the transport and a cheap DVD player between$100 and $200 should mostly suffice (good for the wallet). The datasheet is free for download from Benchmark website.

9. It has a solid build
Good CD players probably can last 10 years before the laser module fails. DAC1 is built for pro-audio and everyone seems to be impressed with its build quality. I would expect it to last probably 20 years. That’s like $50 a year for a great audio source—not bad at all.

10. It is based on a technology that will most likely last
Anything digital seems to be evolving very quickly. But it looks like transmitting PCM over S/PDIF is so standard that it will be around for at least another 20 years. I am worried about USB DACs because no one can guarantee future hardware/software compatibility. Soundcards are even worse. A $250 modified soundcard can probably last 5 years before hardware or software advances would make it unusable. That would be $50 a year, which is as expensive as DAC1 over the long run. DAC1 can decode 192/24 PCM, and it seems unlikely that consumer electronics would go beyond this PCM standard in the next 20 years. Sure, digital audio will keep improving in the decades to come. But history has shown that what sounds really good today will still sound really good 10 years from now, because human hearing does not evolve. Zanden DAC is a living example of this—these modern $10k DACs use old, 16-bit Philips DAC chips from 80’s. State-of-the-art DAC chips of 80’s can still produce state-of-the-art sound in 2005.

Last but not least (11th reason): The new silver version looks way cool
We are audiophile. We only care about the sound quality but not the appearance of our gears, right? Actually, NO. To me, music enjoyment is all about imagination. Cooler looking gear helps me get into the mood, too. Check out the silver version.
post #2 of 72
I want one.. but $$$ is hard to come by now.
post #3 of 72
12. It is transportable
Connect it to an Iriver DAP with digital out and you get a really enjoyable sound in the hotel room.
post #4 of 72
The DAC1 is said to be nearly jitter free I think. Another advantage?

Is it fussy over its choice of transports? If not, another advantage too.

post #5 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferbose
Personally I like this jack a lot with Grado SR225 for rock music. DAC1 jack+SR225 sounds better than Gilmore V1+SR225 or DAC1 jack+RS-1.
A DAC1 and the SR225 is my favorite combo for hardrock.
I own gear that's way more refined than that, but who cares about "refined" when it comes to headbanging.
post #6 of 72
Wow, I had no idea it came in silver.

It looks sexy.

This source rules in every way.

-Matt
post #7 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ferbose
Now with DAC1, Cayin HA-1A class A tube amp, and K1000, violin can sound smooth and clear on a good CD.
Tubes some were along the line really help the DAC-1 out. Gives the sound a bit more of a musical soul which it sometimes tends to lack.
post #8 of 72
I'll be disagreeing with this post. I was very dissapointed with my Dac1; the sound quality was barely any better than my stock Emu 0404 with no amp with my Senn HD 650's. Indeed, my $100 Headsave Classic offers a larger % increase in sound quality than the Dac1. The XLR mod is horrible; it takes away from the Senn signature. People who like it probably shouldnt be using Senn's in the first place. The two headphone outputs share the same power source, meaning volume is halved. Not to mention, it's a poor amp to begin with. It doesnt come close to producing bass with the power the Senn's are capable. As for tweaking... I expect a product for a grand to not require tweaking to sound good - such isnt the case.

Of course, this is all my opinion. But that's the point. Almost everyone here raves about the quality of the Dac1; I think it should be known that there are those of us who dont feel it's worth the price and everyone who lauds it is exaggerating. I hope this frees the encumberance a number of people feel after browsing this forum; you might just find you dropped nearly a grand on a product you'll be reselling within a month. Certainly buy used to make sure (negating the last point of color, for a while anyway) if you must.
post #9 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Distroyed
I'll be disagreeing with this post. I was very dissapointed with my Dac1; the sound quality was barely any better than my stock Emu 0404 with no amp with my Senn HD 650's. Indeed, my $100 Headsave Classic offers a larger % increase in sound quality than the Dac1. The XLR mod is horrible; it takes away from the Senn signature. People who like it probably shouldnt be using Senn's in the first place. The two headphone outputs share the same power source, meaning volume is halved. Not to mention, it's a poor amp to begin with. It doesnt come close to producing bass with the power the Senn's are capable. As for tweaking... I expect a product for a grand to not require tweaking to sound good - such isnt the case.

Of course, this is all my opinion. But that's the point. Almost everyone here raves about the quality of the Dac1; I think it should be known that there are those of us who dont feel it's worth the price and everyone who lauds it is exaggerating. I hope this frees the encumberance a number of people feel after browsing this forum; you might just find you dropped nearly a grand on a product you'll be reselling within a month. Certainly buy used to make sure (negating the last point of color, for a while anyway) if you must.
What exactly are your problems with the "sound quality" in comparing it to the E-MU0404?

I have difficulty believing that you do not hear an audible improvement from a Benchmark DAC-1 over an E-MU 0404. The difference is immense, IMO.

Also, which ~$1000 DAC's/CD players do you find to be a better buy? I really don't know what your experience is and I have difficulty taking you seriously unless you say cd player A is better or DAC B is better in this price range. If you think the source doesn't matter at all, then that puts things in perspective.

As for mods...people mod everything...Grados, Sennheisers, amps, cables, every single DAC and CD player on the market...regardless of the quality of the product. I think it's more a reflection of the audiophile community (i.e. susceptible to placebo and eager to believe) than any inherent shortcoming with the equipment itself.

-Matt
post #10 of 72
Its easy to say you dislike omething without arguing that the least bit. I'm indeed sure that the users reading your post will agree with your highly opinion which is not in the least backed up with any consistent information about the DAC's sound quality. IMO, your DAC has a problem, and you should work the warranty and send it back to Benchmark for a check up...
post #11 of 72
I think Distroyed is entitled to have his opinion and I don't think he's the only one finding the DAC1 disappointing. I know there are more people who don't like the benchmark as well as I know there are more people who think it's the best $1000 source out there. It's good to hear both sides.
post #12 of 72
Stating an opinion is one thing, not supporting that opinion with any examples or arguments is another. That post only bashes a good thread, nothing else...
post #13 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jashugan
Stating an opinion is one thing, not supporting that opinion with any examples or arguments is another. That post only bashes a good thread, nothing else...
FYI, by definition, opinion is a view or judgement on something that is not neccessarily based on facts or knowledge.
post #14 of 72
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jashugan
Stating an opinion is one thing, not supporting that opinion with any examples or arguments is another. That post only bashes a good thread, nothing else...
Keep in mind that many people state positive opinions without supporting them (with examples or arguments) as well.

Not to say that the OP didn't support his opinion, but just saying in general...

I think Distroyed already supported his opinion in his post.
post #15 of 72

Let's lower our voices a bit, please...

Everyone is entitled to his opinion. I think we can do without comments like "I have difficulty taking you seriously" or "(t)hat post only bashes a good thread, nothing else...", and the like.

The poster who disagrees with the positives expressed about the DAC 1 was clear to add the disclaimer that it's his opinion. However, IMHO it was a bit overly personalized (e.g. "everyone who lauds it is exaggerating" ).

At any rate, let's all play nicer...thanks.
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