Originally Posted by project86
I'm no fan of the Benchmark DAC 1 (too brittle for me), but their DAC 2 is very nice. And I also agree that the Exasound stuff is quite good as well (and under appreciated). Plenty of excellent stuff to choose from.
I've been using the Resonessence Labs Invicta Mirus, the Exogal Comet, and the NuPrime DAC-10H in about equal measure. Also the Parasound Zdac v2, which is a lot of bang for the buck. I like how V281 brings out the subtle differences among all these models.
I have a Benchmark DAC2 DX + V281 combo, and the level of detail and refined articulation is simply staggering. Especially with my HD800s.
Benchmark's DAC2 HGC series is an extremely priceworthy option for a state of the art D/A converter. The DAC2 series has almost unrivaled performance and comes with really solid features, several of which are unavailable with other DACs (such as their Hybrid Gain Control, 3,5 dB extra high headroom 32-bit DSP, etc.), and that clearly put it in a class of its own.
My only quibble with my DAC2 DX is that, although Benchmark lists "Low-Impedance Passive Output Attenuators" among its features, this is not quite the case. The 10dB attenuation has a 425 Ohm output impedance, and the 20 dB attenuation has a 135 Ohm output impedance. The otherwise great BYPASS mode for the DAC2's volume control, that can be locked using the output bus for the balanced outputs has a default +24 dB output, which is a little high for the V281's max +21 dB balanced input.
Fried suggested I use the DAC2 - in variable mode - with 20 dB attenuators to avoid hitting the + 24 dB, and to avoid the relatively high 425 Ohm output impedance of the DAC2's 10 dB attenuators, and use the V281's own gain adjustments to compensate. Fried also mentioned that the high output impedance could make the cables more prone to hiss and hum. I tried both attenuators and couldn't detect any hum or noise, so I went with the 10 dB attenuators, which keep the max output of the balanced outputs at +14 dB.
The balanced inputs of the V281 have a 10k Ohms input impedance, which makes the 425 Ohms output impedance of the DAC2 more than 20 times lower, and going by the rule of thumb 10:1 input/output ratio, I'm still well in the clear with the 10 dB attenuators 425 Ohms output impedance. I also think both components are well grounded and should reject any hum or hiss.
Fried also mentioned that the +24 dB output of the Benchmark in BYPASS mode won't by any means damage the circuitry of the V281, but that there can be distortion by maximum levels.
I am currently using the DAC2 in variable mode with the volume pot fully clockwise, and regulating volume with the V281. I have no issues whatsoever with distortion, and I have plenty of headroom for more quiet classical location recordings with little or no compression.
I definitely recommend Benchmark's DAC2 series, which also - with exception of the DAC2 L - feature Benchmak's excellent HPA2 0 Ohm headphone Amp. I can enjoy my HD800s directly from the headphone outputs of the Benchmark, but even more so from the V281. My LCD-Xs also sound fantastic directly from the DAC2, but better from the V281. The bass of my HD800s from the V281's headphone outputs is just astonishing and keeps surprising me. I almost have a feeling it extends more and more accurately than my LCD-Xs, lol.
Anyhow, I would highly recommend anyone the Benchmark DAC2 + V281 combination, it's just awesome!