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benchmark dac1 and presonus cs on test for an hour,my initial thoughts

post #1 of 145
Thread Starter 
i got a benchmark dac-1 on loan. i didn't think it would show up today but it came late. both the benchmark and presonus central station have hundreds of hours on them.

i a/b'd them 5 times and then just listened to each one for half an hour. i tried the benchmark with aes and spdif. as was reported to me a couple of days ago that made no real audible difference to the benchmark.

my conclusion:
the benchmark has me looking for a tube inside the central station.
the cs is like vinyl through tubes compared to the benchmark. my personal reference will remain the cs powering k701's at this point in time.

the benchmark is revealing,precise,accurate,unforgiving,edgy. digital.
i think if you read between all the posts here regarding these two units you will find that this is basically what has been said.
look at all the posts of the people that favor each unit and look at their sig systems. these are for two different types of listeners.

when it has been said that the benchmark is better that is only partially true i believe. the benchmark is technically superior. it is technically more expensive to design and build. it sells for twice the price of the cs.

i am feeling that the benchmark is an outstanding analytical tool for engineers.
that was it's original intent. it just so happened to catch on here.
as did the cs. the cs by it's very virtue of having a less expensive dac stage tends to be warm and fuzzy. how much money do some people pay for warm and fuzzy tubes and vinyl?

i do not see one as being sonically better than the other at this point. i think as far as the audiophile crowd goes they will appeal to two very different types of listeners. it depends on what your preferences are.

i think the dac-1 is a close approximation of the truth as it exists on the digital source feeding it. whereas the cs is a pleasingly colorful rendition of that truth.

i did not realise that the very reason i so love the cs is due to it's warm relaxed nature. the benchmark is much more crisp and faster. i may have originally reported in the cs thread that the cs was highly precise. i now see that much more precision can be had. this, at the cost of being hard,cold,edgy,fast and bright.

as many of you know the cs replaced one grace 902 at my work. it will not be unseated by the dac-1 at this point. indeed i am convinced you can hear more, more clearly with the dac-1. however, doing this 10 hours a day can become very fatiguing. the cs is not in the least.

to the highly critical analyst i could recommend the dac-1. to the casual enjoyment listener i'd say the cs is worth a listen.

one intresting experiment may be to run the cs through a tube buffer. of course this completely negates the very properties that the benchmarks proponents seem to find so desireable.

overall, this is not seemingly another glowing review of the cs and a putdown of the benchmark. as i said, they are two very different machines. neither is bad. they are both at the top of the heap. they are simply put, very different sounding.

(as always what i have said here is solely my opinion. my opinion is subjective to my ears. my opinion may change. ymmv!)

music_man
post #2 of 145
Thread Starter 
i threw in the lavry da10 for another hour. the presonus shares a lot more in common with the lavry than the benchmark. the benchmark is a lot better through genelecs(loudspeakers,monitors) than it is through the k701's. with the benchmark or the lavry i am going to say you need an external headamp. these units headamps are just not up to snuff for the price of the dac. they are just an add on. an afterthought. my original review was based on using headphones. through the genelecs the benchmark is sparkly,detailed and revealing. through headphones(k701's) this is fatiguing and overpowering. i don't know if that is the dac or headamp.

if you read through many posts here the presonus headamp has been said to be as good as everything from a sr-71 to a vhp2 to a ra-1. the benchmarks headamp has not garnered such praise for the most part. i didn't really see any mention of the quality of the lavry's headamp. i do not hear it to be that great.

the presonus is not as good as the lavry but offers a similar sound signature.
for headphone usage i was actually able to achieve a better sound(subjective) from the presonus than with the da10 or dac1 hooked up to a ra-1. the benchmark was sterile and dry. the da10 was flat without good bass extension and a pronounced midrange. i have no doubt that other amps would work better with these dacs.

the benchmark does not provide the type of sound i prefer. plenty of people concur with my findings. many people also love it. the lavry is nice but i feel it should sell for less money due to construction,qc. issues etc.

neither one has dethroned the presonus as of now for me. the lavry belongs to someone else at work. i don't know if i should give the benchmark more time to get acquainted with or return it in the afternoon. as i mentioned it could be good through the genelecs.

music_man
post #3 of 145
this makes me think the CS is a real bargain as a DAC.
do you the CS is a good match for a tube amp,or will things get too warm?and to what types of music would you recommend the CS as a DAC?
thanks.
Quote:
Originally Posted by music_man View Post
i threw in the lavry da10 for another hour. the presonus shares a lot more in common with the lavry than the benchmark. the benchmark is a lot better through genelecs(loudspeakers,monitors) than it is through the k701's. with the benchmark or the lavry i am going to say you need an external headamp. these units headamps are just not up to snuff for the price of the dac. they are just an add on. an afterthought. my original review was based on using headphones. through the genelecs the benchmark is sparkly,detailed and revealing. through headphones(k701's) this is fatiguing and overpowering. i don't know if that is the dac or headamp.

if you read through many posts here the presonus headamp has been said to be as good as everything from a sr-71 to a vhp2 to a ra-1. the benchmarks headamp has not garnered such praise for the most part. i didn't really see any mention of the quality of the lavry's headamp. i do not hear it to be that great.

the presonus is not as good as the lavry but offers a similar sound signature.
for headphone usage i was actually able to achieve a better sound(subjective) from the presonus than with the da10 or dac1 hooked up to a ra-1. the benchmark was sterile and dry. the da10 was flat without good bass extension and a pronounced midrange. i have no doubt that other amps would work better with these dacs.

the benchmark does not provide the type of sound i prefer. plenty of people concur with my findings. many people also love it. the lavry is nice but i feel it should sell for less money due to construction,qc. issues etc.

neither one has dethroned the presonus as of now for me. the lavry belongs to someone else at work. i don't know if i should give the benchmark more time to get acquainted with or return it in the afternoon. as i mentioned it could be good through the genelecs.

music_man
post #4 of 145
Thread Starter 
well i am testing something right now. the benchmark actually seems to get a lot better at hard rock,modern pop and rap. that is not what i listen to.

the cs and lavry are better at what i listen to. which is new jazz,old pop/rnb,classical(pops),easy listening.

with the benchmark i put on the new mims track(rap) and it just slammed. the amps and speakers in the studio can break my neck if i so wish. in contrast the cs was too heavy in the midrange and smeared the bass with the booming rap music. it didn't hit as hard. it is intresting that dacs make a big difference. christina aguilera which is sibilant and harsh was smoothed out by the benchmark. so it has it's strengths. just not with what i listen to.
dave grusin,gershwin or old prince cd's just sound much better to me on the cs. those types of music really come to life with warm equipment that also has good rhythm.

through the headphones the mims distorted on the cs. it did a little on the lavry and very little on the benchmark. this leads me to thinking that the benchmarks headamp does not have as much dynamic range. either that or it has much lower thd. i doubt that though. the k701's distort very easily anyhow.

if i were to guess if the cs was used with tubes it would get too fuzzy, nasal and droned. i could be wrong. i could try it soon and report back.

i don't want to come off as pushing people away from other products and into the cs. thats not what i wish to do at all. you should listen and choose what you like. the fact remains the cs is a bargain. i think that goes undisputed. even though it is far from the best headamp and dac available.
the dac is as good as any $500 dac and some people say up to $1,000. the headamp is as as good as most headamps up to about $350. what most people here overlook is the preamp. that would cost you $1,000 right there.
the whole thing is $500 or less. with power conditioning it really steps up to the plate with the $1,000 dacs most people think. change a few caps inside put some damping bluetak and heatsinks now it is really a power house.

i was comparing the benchmark and lavry to the stock cs at work. i think my personal modded unit on a ups would be miles ahead for the type of music i listen to. for my tastes at least.

music_man
post #5 of 145
I've been finding your comments about the CS very interesting. I've been interested in the CS for awhile now. The combination of it being a DAC and preamp AND offers nice headamps is quite a package. Since I have a pair of monitors as well as headamps, the preamp piece offers a nice bonus indeed.

I would be very interested in how the CS would work with a tube amp as well. I have a Darkvoice that I really like and curious how it would mate with the CS.

Thanks for this very informative thread!
post #6 of 145
I'm assuming you're not using a standalone headphone amplifier. If you have one, I'd be curious to find out how the DAC functionalities of the Benchmark and the CS differ to your ears. Thanks for a very well written comparison.
post #7 of 145
I managed to sample the DAC1 briefly at the recent NYC Meet using my Future Sonics EM3 directly from the DAC1's headphone jack. I found the combination to be incredible. I also found that every setup I tried the K701 with sounded agonizingly bright, so the 'phones may also be a factor. The K701 with the Benchmark would almost certainly be an ear-bleedingly bright combination. Honestly, I hated the K701, and I'm very glad I got to try them out. The Sennheiser HD650 was far more appealing to me.

This all makes me a little worried about my impending purchase of an Altoid tin Monica II NOS DAC. Since my EM3 seem to synergize well with more analytical sources like the Benchmark DAC1 and the Cowon A2 (the Micro DAC -> Tomahawk combo was quite nice as well), I'm concerned that the supposedly analog-sounding output of the Monica might not be the best match for my EM3. If nothing else I could use the Monica with my Beyerdynamic DT250-80 which, while a supposedly warm headphone, are quite bright compared to my EM3.

It does seem like DACs at that obnoxiously high price-point would be better served by matching them with good external amps, though, as you say.

-Packgrog, anxiously awaiting the mini Monica...
post #8 of 145
Thread Starter 
i did try the dac1 breifly with a grado ra-1 as i mentioned. the ra-1 is normally a good match for the k701 to me without getting carried away price wise. i personally feel that the headphone amp in the presonus cs is much better than the headamp in the dac1 and slightly better to the k701 than the ra-1. the ra-1 is better with grados in my experience but still a good match for the k701 sometimes depending on ones taste.

i will say that i am making a mountain out of a molehill in this comparison. the differences between any decent dac are in nuances. not leaps and bounds. in a quick a/b the dac1 and benchmark might not be distinguished from one another when level matched.

my preference is for the presonus with caveats(read on). most people would chose the dac1. i think a lot of that has to do with the hype that precedes it.

it boils down to this in a nutshell. the presonus is on the warm forgiving cadenced side. the benchmark is very analytical, clinical and revealing.
however, this is in a slight way. it is not earth shaking as words in print may make it seem.

the only area where i will say that the presonus is clearly better is in it's headphone amp(subjective to myself). please realise that with a $1,000 dac you should be thinking about a headphone amp anyways.

also something must be explained here(the caveat mentioned above). the presonus may be only $500 to the benchmarks $1,000. that is not the complete equation though! for the presonus to function at a level close to (or superior) to that of the benchmark it will require a $1,000+ source feeding already upsampled data to the central station. it will also require at least $300of power conditioning to function at this level. to make it even better the power supply caps could be replaced with better grade ones further increasing the price and voiding the warranty. now, look at the big picture. figure with the benchmark $1,000 for the dac1 and maybe $400 for a headamp. it works good with $250 dvd transports. i do not recommend $50 units because they are noisy and tend to fail. so that is $1650 to run the benchmark as a source. now, for the presonus. the central station is going for about $450 on discount now. a $1,000 cd or dvd transport is required to wring all you can out of it. then $350 for power conditioning. now add $200 for labor and parts to replace a few capacitors in the cs. grand total for the presonus=$2,000. the presonus just became a more expensive option than the benchmark! that is to make the central station actually surpass the benchmark,imo. just by itself the central station most will agree is behind the benchmark but close. that is $450-$500 period.

this is all because the central station cannot deal with jitter very well. part of why it's design is much less expensive than the dac1. the dac1 can handle loads of jitter with aplomb. hence it operating with skill, fed from a cheap transport or soundcard.

i have also now compared the apogee mini-dac. this is intresting. by itself i like it better than the benchmark and about the same as the revved up central station. it can be had for $650 or less. that may be the real bargain in all of this.

anyways, if you read many previous threads regarding all this you will find that most peoples findings that have commented on all of these issues tend to concur with my findings for the most part. i was simply more boisterous in my presentation of the facts. i mean no offense to anyone. these are simply opinions. they are not written in stone. really folks, the differences i have described are more subtle than i may have made them to appear.
at the end of the day. none of these dacs are clearly better than the other. they are different shades of gray. depending how you look at it, all of these units remain bargains at their respective price points.

music_man
post #9 of 145
interesting read
post #10 of 145
everything you said about the dac1 - its precise analytical sound - accords with what i read from numerous sources, here, and elsewhere and is the reason i purchased an apogee mini dac, which was said to have a warmer sound signature.
post #11 of 145
Thread Starter 
the apogee mini-dac has emerged as the clear winner here.

i think the benchmark is very good for imparting as little coloration as possible the dac1 would be good for use in the signal chain of a recording studio. i decided to keep it and use it for that purpose.

the presonus has a similar sound signature to the apogee. this led one reviewer at mix magazine to declare that he heard little difference. there is somewhat of a difference. the apogee sounds more pleasing to me and others than the presonus.

i do not know why many people want to listen to a clinical analytical sound in a home stereo. i enjoy coloration as do many others. i didn't originally but i now apreciate a warm relaxed sound. i now prefer the apogee and as soon as i can get one of my own i will bring it home to replace the presonus. intrestingly just about everyone is sold out of it since they lowered the price.

i'd like to point out that the best price it seems anyone will currently sell the presonus for is $450. most are asking $500. full compass has the mini-dac for $645.55. it is backordered there. i'd say for less than $200 difference the apogee is a better deal. unless you need a preamp. then the presonus is a way better deal.

i found the headphone amp on the dac1 to be it's only real downfall. with k701's i could not enjoy it. i primarily use the akg's these days. as far as a dac it is fine. understanding that it is very analytical and resolving. that does not mean it is flat. nothing is. it does have it's own sound. to me and many others the apogee has the more pleasing sound. the apogee may not be great in the signal chain. the apogee rosetta is different though. that is good in the signal chain. i do not recommend that for home listening either. it is simply to expensive for what it would offer the home user.

music_man
post #12 of 145
A Lavry / Mini-DAC comparison would be great. I've read some opinions that the Mini-DAC sounds "muddy" compared to the DA10.
post #13 of 145
Thread Starter 
i have decided that the central stations headphone amp is the best of the three. it has been compared to $300 and even $500 stand alone headamps favorably.

the apogee remains a slightly better dac for enjoyment listening. slightly cleaner and allows more detail while not being to dry or analytical.

i still do not prefer the dac1 for enjoyment listening. the dac1's headamp remains the least capable of the three imo.

so my opinion hasent actually changed. the presonus is the clear bargain here. throw in the preamp and honestly i do not even know how they sell it so cheap. if you are looking at a one box do everything i say this is it. in professional reviews that have compared these they say the dacs are close in quality. they simply have different sound signatures. the headphone amp in the cs excels beyond the other two.

music_man
post #14 of 145
Personally, I would like to send a big "Thank You!" to music_man for the honest, straight-forward and clearly written opinions presented in this thread. I've long thought about the CS and I am now convinced that it is just about the perfect DAC for me for my situation since I can make full use of it as a pre-amp as well. I'm also willing to do some of the mods to step it up a bit.

Your time and effort is much appreciated!
post #15 of 145
I appreciate the continued comments as well. I have very little experience with more expensive DACs, but the reviews make it pretty tough not go with a CS. I had 2 and only got rid of the 2nd one because I wanted to clean up my bedroom rig- now simply a squeezebox and an Opera. I have no way of volume matching, so it is difficult to compare the Opera DAC to the CS- the CS is definitely louder- but to me, the CS sounds cleaner and just generally better. For comparison, I think I slightly prefer the Opera DAC to the heralded Squeezebox DAC, but it is pretty close. I haven't really done extensive testing on this, just preference to my ears while messing around.
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