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Is there a better DAC/Headphone amp than the benchmark DAC1 for $USD1000?

post #1 of 48
Thread Starter 

A friend is so impressed with my Sennheiser 800s he intends to buy a pair for himself.  However I'm perplexed about what to advise him on for his digital out of the CDP.

 

I have a Benchmark DAC1 myself but spent a mint on improving it with spectacular results but it is unlikely I can persuade my friend to spend much more than the $1000 mark.  He is not as obsessive as me about sound quality although appreciates it when he hears it so I would like to get him the best unit for the dollar.  BTW, like me, he is into classical music.

 

All suggestions gratefully received.

 

TIA

 

John

post #2 of 48

The beyerdynamic A1 can currently be had for $750 new. The reviews are excellent! It's on my personal 'to audition' list.

post #3 of 48

Benchmark DAC1 gets lots of praise around.  Personally, I'm not much of a fan, but that's just my opinion.

post #4 of 48
Thread Starter 

Thanks Drewjp but that does not have a DAC built in.

 

John

post #5 of 48
Thread Starter 

I see Newforce Icon HDP is very popular with many and I'm educating myself on the Violectric HPA 181 although I cannot find a source for it.

 

lot of interesting gear out there.

 

John

post #6 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tassie Devil View Post

I see Newforce Icon HDP is very popular with many and I'm educating myself on the Violectric HPA 181 although I cannot find a source for it.

 

lot of interesting gear out there.

 

John


I'd suggest something better than the nuforce for the HD800s

post #7 of 48

The Benchmark is very good IMO, but it is said to have a somewhat clinical sound and subjectivity reigns in this arena. For the same price the Wyred 4 Sound DAC-1 looks very interesting but there are many choices.

1270849406.jpg

post #8 of 48
Quote:
Originally Posted by Tassie Devil View Post

Thanks Drewjp but that does not have a DAC built in.

 

John


Oops...missed that part....sorry

post #9 of 48

I think he's looking for a DAC/Amp

 

I prefer the Lavry DA10 over the DAC1. I think the DAC1 is tremendously overrated. Or you could try the YBA for less money.

 

If I was forced to keep and use it I'd prefer the Nuforce HDP over the DAC1

post #10 of 48
The nuforce hdp is a bright and slightly forward sounding source. I could not envision it pairing well with the hd800.
post #11 of 48

A used Peachtree Nova ($~900-1000 off Audiogon) destroys the (stock, haven't heard modded) Benchmark DAC1 and Lavry DA10 on all fronts IMHO. Unless you like the excessively dry sound of the DAC1 or excessively laid back sound of the DA10 (both IMHOs).

 

 

But it has an integrated amplifier which your buddy might not need.. a nice bonus though.


Edited by 3X0 - 8/4/10 at 7:26pm
post #12 of 48

 

Other than the Nuforce HDP, not a lot of suggestions here that meet the original criteria - under $1000, DAC and Head Amp.

 

I have a Benchmark, but I don't think it's that great of a headamp -  but put in perspective - it's not bad either, just not comparable in anyway to what $1000 (or even $500) would buy you in a dedicated amp. The DAC1 is a pretty good DAC though - there are plenty of negative criticisms you will see in any thread where it is suggested regarding its sound character, but unlike the headamp section, the DAC section is actually quite good, but with caveats - only in comparison to more modern and equally or more expensive DACs (especially in balanced out mode), can you start applying terms like dry, analytical, etc. I also like that it does pretty well out of the average power outlet. Compared to some DACs with wallwarts, you don't need quite the same level of filtering and power isolation. It's also better than average in jitter rejection, but even that's just relative - it's not a magic bullet. I don't recommend feeding it horribly jittery digital out.


Another way to go would be to split $1000 between separate DAC and Amp. There would be any number of combinations you could choose that would probably be better for feeding the HD800 end to end than the DAC1, IMHO. If you're looking for a versatile, DAC with balanced outputs to use with other amplification, and one that can, in a pinch drive 'phones a lot better than a DAP or HT Receiver, then the DAC1 might still make sense, but only used, where it costs closer to $650, depending on quality and vintage.

 

Just my 2 cents.


Edited by sonance - 8/4/10 at 8:22pm
post #13 of 48
Thread Starter 


 

Quote:
Originally Posted by sonance View Post

 

Other than the Nuforce HDP, not a lot of suggestions here that meet the original criteria - under $1000, DAC and Head Amp.

 

I have a Benchmark, but I don't think it's that great of a headamp -  but put in perspective - it's not bad either, just not comparable in anyway to what $1000 (or even $500) would buy you in a dedicated amp. The DAC1 is a pretty good DAC though - there are plenty of negative criticisms you will see in any thread where it is suggested regarding its sound character, but unlike the headamp section, the DAC section is actually quite good, but with caveats - only in comparison to more modern and equally or more expensive DACs (especially in balanced out mode), can you start applying terms like dry, analytical, etc. I also like that it does pretty well out of the average power outlet. Compared to some DACs with wallwarts, you don't need quite the same level of filtering and power isolation. It's also better than average in jitter rejection, but even that's just relative - it's not a magic bullet. I don't recommend feeding it horribly jittery digital out.


Another way to go would be to split $1000 between separate DAC and Amp. There would be any number of combinations you could choose that would probably be better for feeding the HD800 end to end than the DAC1, IMHO. If you're looking for a versatile, DAC with balanced outputs to use with other amplification, and one that can, in a pinch drive 'phones a lot better than a DAP or HT Receiver, then the DAC1 might still make sense, but only used, where it costs closer to $650, depending on quality and vintage.

 

Just my 2 cents.

 

Damn - was replying to your post and it vanished!!!

 

Some good thoughts there thank you and maybe a separate DAC & headamp is a better approach.  However I'm trying to follow the KISS principle if I can as he is not great technologically.

 

One big advantage, to me, of the combo is that a no loss balanced digital line to where you sit is fairly easy to obtain regardless of length.  I've used that here with my very extensively & expensively modded Benchmark DAC1.  A bit OT but as an owner of a DAC1 you might be interested in the following:

 

Comments from Steve Nugent who modded my DAC1 about the stock DAC1:

The design of the DAC-1 has several good things about it and some bad ones. First the good things:

1) power supply is decent - transformer
2) Capacitor locations are reasonable
3) Current flow in the board for both power and signal is not bad due to the unbroken ground-plane
4) Chip selection for upsampler and DAC are good
5) high-quality board

Bad things:
1) layout is not optimum - some long traces
2) regulators locations are not optimum
3) too many op-amps - increases noise.
4) Input pulse transformer is grounded - can cause hum
5) uses dual op-amps - not as good as singles

Here is a list of the mods done by Steve - he no longer does this work (total cost, including the oroginal unit around $USD3700):

* Two bridge rectifiers replaced with HEXFRED's
* Replace regulated voltage filter caps
* Improve power delivery to DAC and upsampler chips
* Improve power delivery to 9 op-amps - Black Gates and HF caps
* Upgrade DAC filtering
* Replace all voltage regulators.
* Eliminate AC-coupling and tune-out DC offset
* Improve digital input coupling
* 9 dual op-amps are replaced with high-performance types
* The 50 Ohm BNC is replaced with isolated 75 ohm Canare BNC and pulse transformer is replaced with high-performance type that is isolated from ground to eliminate hum and ground-loop noise.
* Additional 2 op-amps are replaced with high-performance types and power delivery is improved to Headphone/Volume Control circuits.
* Superclock3 is modified for frequency, lowering jitter and matching the transmission-line. Replaces existing can-oscillator. About 10-15% improvement in focus and imaging.
* Change resistors to reduce LED brightness
* Burr-Brown OPA627's substituted for the 9 stock op-amps using Brown-Dog adapters. These lowered the noise floor and give a bit more dynamics to the performance but I did not have the 2 op-amps replaced with high-performance types and power delivery to improve the Headphone/Volume Control circuits

 

So pretty obviously there is a lot in the Benchmark to improve so that is why I'm trying to find something better for my friend, if it exists in that price range that is!

 

John

 

post #14 of 48

To say the truth, at least half of those "upgrades" are pretty meaningless and "audiophile" in nature.

 

Yes, replacing rectifiers with HEXFREDs is nice, but as this is solid-state, it's not overly important.

Filter caps : stock are Panasonic FK, which are damn good.  Anything above that line is mostly "audiophile" with no posted specs.

"Power Delivery" : not even sure what that means, probably a little PSU bypassing, this could be good or it could do virtually nothing, depends how stock is.

Dac Filtering : I'm guessing simple PSU bypassing, same as above

Voltage regulators : really depends on what the upgrade is, could be virtually meaningless if it's already a decent regulator or it could mean the world depending on how serious you get.

AC-coupling : this is a HUGE topic, I can't get into it without really knowing the original and modified circuits.

Digital input coupling : I'm guessing pulse transformer upgrade - depends on what's in there and what it's replaced by, can't imagine a huge deal.

Opamps : while OPA627 are super expensive, there are much better chips, especially when considering their job - I/V, buffering, headphone driver, etc.

Superclock3 : no comment, I know nothing of this.

post #15 of 48

as previously suggested...

I was checking this one out.

Nova hybrid integrated amplifier/USB DAC

http://www.musicdirect.com/product/84249

hope it's an option. I know it retails for 1200 but I figured they could be found for less or used elsewhere.


Edited by hjteq - 8/4/10 at 9:58pm
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