In his review of the Benchmark DAC1 last month, the audio critic goes through all the measurements, specs, etc., and concludes with:
Now, I understand that a DAC shouldn't have a sound, and the Benchmark measures perfectly flat so it's as neutral as possible. But why isn't it possible for a DAC to add some distortion to the sound (whether intentionally or because of a bad design) so that the DAC sounds more pleasing to the ear? If, for example, studies show that people like a little bit more in the lower region, or a little softening of the treble, and the DAC added those characteristics to the signal, wouldn't that DAC sound better than the Benchmark?
I am adding this paragraph strictly for the sake of my newer readers. The old regulars know exactly my position regarding the stupidity of ascribing a “character” to the sound of an utterly neutral signal path. Oohing and aahing over the vast improvement in soundstaging, front-to-back depth, bass delineation, or treble sweetness obtainable with this or that electronic component may sell high-end magazines but is totally unscientific and delusional. What the Benchmark DAC1 HDR adds to or subtracts from its input signal is borderline unmeasurable, so the sonic character of its output is obviously the sonic character of its input. It’s as simple as that. It has no sound of its own. Furthermore, its measurements could be 20 or 30 dB worse and it would still sound the same. I have convinced myself of that over and over again in double-blind listening comparisons of all sorts of electronic components at matched levels. The 100% purity of the DAC1 HDR is of benefit mainly in professional systems, where the integrity of the equipment chain needs to be verified and guaranteed. To audiophiles it’s a somewhat abstract luxury—but not an excessively costly one.