Benchmark DAC1 auditions out there? latest model

I just purchased the latest DAC1 and I think that the sound is absolutely superb for the money. I had auditioned the previous version and thought it too was superb. The newer one to my ears sounds a bit more airey in the treble. The same great bass is there, the same huge stage and delicate treble without the digital glare so common in sub 1K products is all there. I find that the Cardas Golden Reference power cord pushes the package foreward more than one might suspect a power cord can do. What auditions have others compared the DAC1 to and what were your impressons? Jallen
hi - i'm in UK, planning on buying one - can i ask what the serial number is of the DAC1 you've just bought?/ any other way of telling whether a unit is the latest (improved) offering from Benchmark ? (stocks may be slower-moving in england) - any advice appreciated

thanks in advance
You can call or e-mail Benchmark who should be able to ID the piece and which version it is.
I have compared the dcs Elgar/Purcell, Jolida JD-100 and the Benchmark at the same time.

The Benchmark is open, lively and dynamic. It is immediate sounding but, it can be a bit strident or bleached in some respects through the midrange and treble areas which tends to rob it of that old fashion analog life. I could also say that it exhibits more of a two-dimensional soundstage that other dacs/players that I have owned or auditioned but, considering my subjective preferences this does not become a disadvantage. But, this is not being said to diminish the Benchmark because it is actually a very good dac - probably excellent for the money.

The Jolida is rhythmically very musical sounding. Notes seem to have just a touch more body than with the Benchmark and burst through with life (especially in the upper bass through midrange)- not so much the treble though. It is also quick and immediate sounding, and slightly rolled off in the extreme treble area. It is reasonably dynamic though a bit less control in the bottom registers than the Benchmark or dcs dacs. Most of all, I would call it emminently enjoyable because is is easy to listen to.

The dcs rig provids a beautifully three dimensional soundstage where music and notes just suddenly appear from nowhere in space and hold their position perfectly. Notes and voices start, evolve and decay in free space. The dcs is very dynamic, has excellent extension at both ends (good bass wieght), and has excellent resolve without sounding etched or bleached. A very nice live sounding system commensurate with it's cost.

All are good dacs/players, each with a set of strengths and weaknesses, and no losers.
I agree with Nealhood's comments on the downsides of the Benchmark. I got quite excited about the Benchmark till I heard the pro audio guys raving about how the Lavry Blue was superior. I tried one and they were right. It is all XLR connectors and has no volume control or headphone jack. But if that doesn't worry you then the extra dollars gets you a much classier DAC in my opinion.
Try also the Apogee Mini DAC.
According to different reviewers ,here in Holland, the Apogee is better than the Benchmark .
The Apogee brings more emotion/life in the music.
The Apogee is a bit softer than the Benchmark and a bit less resolving, but many do find it more musical. To my ear the Benchmark has an engaging quality to it because it has been cunningly voiced, but that voicing can be a bit brash and thin in some systems. I believe it is let down by the 'el cheapo' analogue output devices used - common or garden 5534s.
I have to agree that the DAC1 is a bit stark and analytical. Fed from a Meridian transport it has more detail than my Quad CDP but the Quad is more enjoyable. You can try and tame the sound a bit with a tubed preamp. Good value for the money though considering the detail it extracts.
I found it to be about the best stock DAC I have ever heard in terms of the high-frequency extension and dynamics. They definitely got this part right. However, I found an imbalance of these HF dynamics with the mid and bass dynamics. The bass extension and dynamics were not comparable to my other reference DAC's. I believe this is partly caused by the fact that virtually every part in the unit is surface-mounted.
Very strange. Here we have one of the most well-ragarded dacs ever, especially for the price, and here we have 7 out of 7 responses that, while acknowledging certain positives, on balance convey a strong negative impression. This is in marked contrast to every other forum that has at least a 95% positive evaluation, as well as rave reviews by every professional reviewer and publication that has reviewed the unit. As an owner of a Benchmarkd DAC1 for 3 months, I strongly agree with the latter group and am amazed at the unit, especially for the price.

What can account for the difference? Firstly, there seems to be developing a small backlash against the DAC1, by those who resent its success or possibly fear repurcussions on more conventional manufacturers. But, putting that aside, there could be several other reasons:

1. Comparable comparisons-- Using a $15,000 to $32,000 dcs for comparison is not exactly a fair test. Or, an $8,000 Lavry. But the Benchmark comes very close anyway. But, the Apogee or Jolida are not even in contention, IMO.

2. Effect of lack of jitter -- Jitter can muck up the bass and midrange, making other dacs seem fuller when what you are hearing is distortion. The DAC1 is so clean that other units may seem smoother, or more "analog" or "musical", especially on more poorly-recorded cd's. But, once you get used to no jitter or distortion, you can't go back to one of the other dacs. The lack of jitter can also make the unit sound "thinner" at first. again this is distortion. And, bad recording can sound that way since the unit tells the "truth", but good recordings sound superb.

3. "Bleached, 2 dimensional,lack of dynamics, bass extension" -- No explanation, except for "2" above,since this is at variance with the rest of the world. Almost unanimously, I and other reviewers say just the opposite -- dynamic, deep and powerful bass, wide soundstage. All I can say is try listening for an extended period with a good recording.
Steve at Empirical Audio is working on a Mod that will rectify the shortcomings in the DAC1. Should be interesting.

I have to agree. I just recieved my benchmark dac-1 and it sounds astonishingly good. It was a demo unit with less than twenty hours on it. I purchased it from a pro-audio internet retailer. I'm using the Ridge Street Audio top digital cable that Robert installed a BNC connector on for use with the benchmark.

As far as negative comments in this thread concerning this product, I'm at a loss. Perhaps the units weren't allowed proper break-in. This unit has tremendous "presence" and incredible coherence (balance, organic rightness) to its sound. Dimensional AND immidiate with far less edge and bite than I've heard from far more expensive "class A" rated digital. Like the overrated, expensive new Marantz one box players.
I think there are people here motivated by the prospect of selling mods. So it becomes advantageous for them to downplay the incredible achievement that the benchmark represents. Last year I had the opportunity to listen to the "flagship" dac (a modded perpetual technology) of a very well known modder on this forum, and I can tell you from memory his unit sounded like high resolution DIGITAL compared to the absolutely beautiful sound that is pouring out of my speakers right now. This was not meant to be a flame but when professionals all around the world all agree on the sound quality of a unit (regardless of price) and a handful here decrying negatives that are not present in the listening of everyone else (At least none that I've spoken to) a flag goes up. So far I hear nothing that is "a bit strident or bleached". I hear weighty, three dimensional purity at the edge of the most satisfying sound I've heard. I am using extremely neutral cables and and power cord. It's possible that the cabling some here are using in association with the dac-1 is more "revealing" than they are honestly natural and balanced. BTW, One of the systems here are the formidable, original Todao Horn system hand tweeked to perfection that is 105db efficient. No product can hide from the resolution and detail these speakers uncover. One more BTW, If anyone is in the Santa Barbara area and would like to hear audio history at its best e-mail me. These are easily on par or better than the now famous Klangfilm pair that pop up at the shows on occasion.

Again, Benchmark dac-1 GOOOOOOD!!!
I also must express my surprise at some of the negative comments, even though I understand that we all hear differently and have our own expectations of what constitutes good sound.

I bought a Benchmark two years ago and auditioned 12 different DACs (from $2000 to $8000) during that time before upgrading(?) to an Audiomeca Enkianthus X. In my set-up, the Benchmark was only (slightly) surpassed by the Audiomeca. The Benchmark is, without doubt in these quarters, one of the absolute steals in audio.

I listen to mostly classical music, if that is of any significance to you.

Best regards.
If you have never heard a world-class DAC, then you will likely be enamored with the Benchmark. It's all a matter of point of reference. I have spent years perfecting DAC designs and so my standards are very high. The Benchmark does have excellent high-frequency dynamics, extension and focus. Most stock DAC's do not deliver this. In fact it is usually just the opposite. The midrange and bass is decent, but the highs are just not accurate.

I was hoping when I received the first Benchmark, that it would be DC-coupled, but alas, there is a capacitor coupler consisting of a SMT electrolytic and a SMT ceramic cap. I was able to tune-out the DC offset and eliminate this however.

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Not exactly. Are you saying that John Atkinson, John Marks, et al, have never heard a high end dac? Or that many of the posters on this forum haven't either?. On the contrary, John Atkinson specifically mentions comparisons with Mark Levinson 30.6, Theta Generation VIII, Wadia 27x, Musical Fidelity TriVista. And the Benchmark receives high marks, even in the company of such esteemed equipment. And there was never a mention of the negatives discussed above.
I'm certainly not saying this. I'm just saying that John has never heard my reference DAC's. I spoke to him about this once. I've heard many of the "esteemed equipment" that you mention. Very nice, but all of them could benefit from mods IMO (and not necessarily mine). Here's why:

Steve N.
Empirical Audio
Steve, I just read your article. Very well written. One thing I'm having a hard time believing though, is that the designers of high-end DACs don't know this stuff. The Benchmark is definitely designed to a price point, so I can see how it could be improved. But the Meitners, dCSes, Wadias, etc. of the world don't have that restriction on their high-end gear. Are you saying the designers of high-end DACs don't know what they're doing? If you were to market a cost-no-object DAC you designed from scratch would it benefit from mods?
Are you saying the designers of high-end DACs don't know what they're doing?

No, some of them are very competent circuit designers. What you must understand is that there are some very difficult areas of design, such as power delivery, grounding and shielding, wire technology, ESD and EMI. In these areas there are very few experts, even in big industry. I'm talking IBM and Intel. How can you expect designers in small audio companies to know this stuff?

If you were to market a cost-no-object DAC you designed from scratch would it benefit from mods?

Probably if someone identified a higher performing part, it would benefit from replacing that part - a capacitor or op-amp for instance. Also, I am an expert in the esoteric areas that I mentioned above and in the article. I have not spent 30 years designing discrete analog circuits. You dont have to throw a stone far to find one better than me. John Curl certainly can do a better job of designing an amp than me. Even in op-amp design I'm no expert. Industry experts have seen more circuits and solutions than me. For instance, how to do the I/V conversion from the DAC. I only know what I have seen. I'm no expert on this.

Back on track. To answer your initial question, the latest version is the one with a stepped volume control. Been out about a year. There is also a version with less output impedence upon request from the factory for passive folks. There is a mod that Steven at Resolution Audio does that bypasses one of the coupling caps and some wiring by jumping them with Bybees at the output. This is even better than the lower impedence change from the factory because you are losing a couple of stages and gaining the incredible benefits of the Bybees right at the outputs.
That was probably more than you needed to know but maybe helpful to some others.
"I'm just saying that John has never heard my reference DAC's."

I was hesitant to give my response to this comment as I'm not after an argument. But facts are facts. And the fact is that last year at this time I had the opportunity to listen to this "reference" dac for a couple of weeks in my home and was impressed only with its dynamics and a fairly high degree of articulation but in regard to the higher endeaver of caputuring the soul and life of the music it was NOT the last word in musicality. I had a gentleman in response to my earlier comment in this thread e-mail me his impressions after he had this modder mod his electocomp ECD-1 dac. He stated that the modders goal of retrieving all the detail with a balanced presentation actually ended up being less than musically involving. These are the facts and I ended up using none of his digital mods. His analog mods may be terrific but there it is a special blend of tech and art-form indeed to create musical magic out of bits.
I think people looking in the close to $1000 or even $2000 range should not be put off by some of these negative sounding comments regarding the Benchmark. Some glowing reviews including the one in Stereophile may make it sound like it is the best DAC in the universe, bar none, in every system, which of course, is impossible IMO. (I'm not saying the reviewers said that, you may just come away with the impression that they did after reading a glowing review.)

The bottom line is every system component designer makes choices (I hesitate to call them compromises) based on the sliding scale between accuracy and "musicality", desired price point, output levels and many other things. This also means that something can sound better or worse in your system than it did in a reviewers not just because of "sound" issues but for reasons of level or electrical compatibility, or choice of transport or even type of music. Then we have the downstream to consider - perhaps your speakers + room won't benefit from the most revealing front end even if revealing does not mean etched or negatively anayltical.

You could just get stuck in an endless research loop looking for something that everyone loves and even then it may not be the best match for your system. I find that there is nothing here (unless incredibly obscure) that is universally loved by everyone, if you search hard enought, and for good reason.
By all means consider the right components and narrow the field of competitors then pick the likely candidates and *try them in your system*. Try your best to make each work but don't be surprised if you end up with what you thought would be your number 2 choice or #3, 4, etc.
I think the thing to remember about the Benchmark is that Atkinson compared it to the Arcam FMJ 33, which is, according to all who've heard it, quite lovely. If the Benchmark is in the company of the Arcam, it's quite, quite good, especially since JA used a recording he himself made to compare the two players and found them equally good. Does more need to be said than that the person engineering a cd found the processor to sound as he recorded it?! I mean, wouldn't you exepct that he WOULD have a good idea of how accurate the sound --and musicality -- is?
As one of the 'negative' guys - I think the Benchmark is a great value, but when I hear people (not necessarily here either) say it blew away an AA Capitole, a Levinson, a DCS - it is time to say 'rubbish'. What you mean is you preferred it, or it worked better in your system. It is remarkable that it does that at such a price, but be careful with the hype. The Benchmark is very very good but is not perfect. I came very close to buying one, but when I found that the pros generally had a higher regard for the Lavry Blue I tried that and found it had all of the performance I enjoyed in the Benchmark but with a more natural presentation, one that I think (but do not claim) most audiophiles would prefer. But the Lavry costs a few hundred more (not the $8000 claimed by DNS) and has fewer features. Whether it is preferred by you is up to you.

DNS is right that the negative comments are a backlash - to the sometimes unbridled BS about an excellent product that like everything else is not quite perfect and not necessarily to all tastes.

But to make you guys with Benchmark's happy (and set the record straight) - I agree you have a great DAC at a ludicrous bargain price. Why do you have to believe that mild criticism of your DAC has to be deluded or dishonest?

To those that don't yet have one - I don't agree the Apogee is in quite the same league, but the Lavry Blue definitely is and I think most audiophiles would prefer its more natural music-making. But we are talking 'flavors' here, and about a few hundred more dollars for a small and subtle (but for me important) difference. If you have a leaning towards wanting an up-front, ever-so-slightly brash but never harsh, presentation and you want volume control and/or headphone output, then just buy the Benchmark.
Redkiwi, the price of the Lavry DA2002 is $8,500, as per the 10/04 Stereophile List of Recommended Components.
And that is not the Lavry Blue, also called the 4496. The Lavry Blue costs around 1200 for a stereo DAC, but can be expanded to six channels of DAC for around 800 per 2 channels.

I'm curious about something. I agree generally with your assesment of the limitations of the benchmark (when going through the volume control). But did you audition the benchmark set in the "calibrated" position? We found that the sound became bigger, smoother, clearer, more layered, with tighter, stronger bass. Actually, better in every way when swicthed from "variable" (volume control in) to "calibrated" (volume control out). The funny thing is that the output level drops slighlty when switched to "calibrated". At first you might think that the signal is going through another stage, but I believe the output level drops slightly because you are bypassing another gain stage that helps push the signal through the volume control. In "calibrated" position the signal is less degraded and the sound much more convincingly realistic...without ANY digital edge.

BTW, I considered the Lavry blue but it is strictly "balanced"...which is fine. Set up properly the Benchmark is the REAL deal.

I did most of my listening to the Benchmark without using the volume control and with the calibrated volume set low and using the balanced connections.

The Benchmark is the real deal indeed. All I am wanting to do is tame the hype a bit and suggest there are a couple of others to listen to at about this price range before you buy, that are also incredible value for money. The Lavry Blue is one of those, with a different presentation, which may or may not be to your preference.

Why do you want to tame the hype? Its not hype if the statements are true. (Properly set up) this dac is a stones throw (with a good arm) from the most realistic sounding dacs out there. I know of a gentleman who has sold his DCS set-up @ nearly $20k and has had a few bybees added to a few locations inside the dac-1 and he says it is 95% of his (former) DCS. A friend who is a major audio manufacturer and I agree that there are only a couple of areas where the dac-1 falls slightly short of the very best he has ever heard... In overall smoothness and expansiveness. I have spent time with the Forsell turntable and several $10k + dacs. The Benchmark deserves every bit of high praise it is getting. The Benchmark did not sound refined or engaging for a few weeks. But between break-in and allowing it to have the same level of cables as you would put with the best in the world this dac-1 is all the things I've heard and more. Including smoothness and a you are there expansiveness. Even though these two areas fall slightly short of the very best I've heard. And as far the ack dac comparisons there is no way a broken-in, properly set-up benchmark wouldn't sound MUCH better. Just a side-note... I didn't buy my benchmark dac-1 because of the high praise. I bought it because an industry friend that I trust said that it sounded nearly as good as his Audiomeca dac at 7 times the price... before the benchmark was fully broken-in! With my dac-1 there is no "up-front" presentation or "ever so slightly brash" sound whatsoever. It has one of the most out the box sounds I've heard. Tremendous layering and depth. I've had mine for a couple of months and it has astonished everyone who has heard it.
I don't think the dac-1 is hyped. I think its at least as good as the reports and with the addition of a few bybees in the right locations its easily one, if not THE best dac value ever. The Lavry Blue becomes irrelevent because how many people are going to completely change there equipment (to balanced) for a dac. So much for value.
Hi, I have a Benchmark DAC1 and a pair of Bybees at hand. I have pretty soldering skills so what are the best places to add this Bybees?
By the way I´m absolutely shocked with the sound quality of this Dack and I´m pretty familiar with some of the very best DACs and players out there (Lindemann, Meridian, Audio Synthesis, Dcs, Mark Levinson among others)

Thanks in advance.
After_hours, I agree with your assessment totally, as per my posts above. I would love to know what transport you are using. I'm thinking of an upgrade from my lower-priced Sony SACD/DVD player. Any suggestions?

Also, I'm wondering if maybe some of the other posters have possible transport issues (even though the DAC1 should minimize differences between transports). Your experience with transports would be most helpful. Thanks.

The mod is done by a gentleman who manufactures his own electronics... not Empirical, and consist of 6 or 7 bybees and some rewiring, bypassing and parts improvements. But 70% of the improvement he says comes from the bybees alone. As the dac has all surface mounted parts it is not recommended that you attempt too much. There is one area that you can easily (with some skill) place a bybee in that is one of the most important spots for bybees in regard to dacs, right at the digital input. The reason it's easy to install is that the input isn't mounted directly to the board. There is actually a wire (the only one in the dac) that goes down to the board that you can cut and install a bybee in the middle of. The other locations include power supply and output but this requires some serious understanding of the circuit.
I am planning to send my dac to him to have several of these mods done. But since you've got a bybee and some skill, place it at he digital input and let know. Be careful, I doubt the warranty will be honored if its apparent you've been in there mucking about. I know there are different bybee devices and there is a specific one he likes at that location but I'm not sure what it is. No doubt though that any of them would yield some improvement.

What dvdp are you using now as a transport?

Irregardless of what the Benchmark lit. says, it is as dependent on a good transport as any dac. Also, as with any dac it also needs the best digital cable you can afford. I love the POIEMA!! stuff from Ridge Street Audio cables. It needs time to settle in but it is VERY transparant. The transport that I like is a Wadia something from the early nineties out of a friends studio. But my S7700 that we hard-wired a nice power cord onto sounds nearly as good.
I'm presently using a $200 Sony DVD NS500V and a Kimber Illuninations D-60 digital cable.. The overall sound with this transport and cable sounds excellent but I have no comparison with any other transport (except an ancient HK cdp which was atrocious). I have to think that a better transport would improve things further. Interesting that a Sony DVD player (unmodified I guess?) sounds almost as good as a Wadia. The 7700 does have a great reputation and maybe thats the one I should get. I'm also tempted by some of the older cd only transports, like, e.g. Thetas, that show up on Audiogon and the dilemma is whether to go with a DVD player like the 7700 or one of the older cd only players. Any thoughts? Thanks.
An S7700 that's working properly is at the entry level of truely high-end transports. The digital output on your 500v isn't in the same league at all. My suggestion would be to find an S7700 with as little use as possible as they can develop laser pick-up problems if used enough. If you can find a good one the improvement will be significant.
I just went back and auditioned the pro DACs on hand. Lavry Blue hands down winner over the Mytek Stereo96, which maintained a small lead over the Benchmark.

Preference for the Benchmark would have to be based on slightly lower price, more features (volume control, inputs/outputs, headphone jacks), or a desire for a more 'smoothed over' sound. The Mytek might be termed clinical but has greater detail and resolution than the Benchmark, and the Lavry Blue was an 'oh my god' difference in detail, nuance and refinement over both. The Benchmark sure is good, but at least try the Lavry or Mytek if the features are not an issue. The Lavry beats the Benchmark by more than I remembered.

I am not dissing your Benchmarks - just pointing out there is healthy competition around this price range. By the way the Mytek has SPDIF input and volume control on the front if that is an issue for you.

Search the pro audio forums for people that have compared the Lavry Blue to the Benchmark. None are convincing on their own but I am yet to find one where the Lavry was not preferred over the Benchmark by a decent margin. Whether it is worth the extra money is up to you, but they are somewhere in the same ball-park.

Here is one quote as an example:

'I have both in my mastering console. The Benchmark is a great sounding DAC, and when you consider the money, it's even better. However, when you spend 75% more for a Lavry Blue, you hope that money is buying you something, and in the case of Lavry Blue, it is. It's a bit more open and seems to let you see the details a bit more clearly. It also just tends to have more impact when level matched next to the DAC-1. This is not to insult the Benchmark as it is a fine product at an excellent price, but the Lavry does have the advantage. If you really want to hear something cool, listen to the Lavry Gold DAC924. That thing will blow your socks off! (and maybe cause trouble when your significant other sees the bill...)

Jay Frigoletto

Of course he is right that the Lavry costs more, but his price relativities are slightly off. I believe I paid USD1200 for mine, but the latest listed price I saw was USD1340.
Hi guys,I just posted a response in another discussion about the benchmark and I dare post it here too.I am a guy that was just hoping for the same thing-world class Dac,affordable and good sounding,I have 100 reprints of the Stereophile and Soundstage reviews and I have crammed every word and tried to figure out what it meant.The last thing I did was make it happen and I persuaded a friend who works in a mastering lab to help me,so he brought a well burned in sample of latest generation so we can listen to it.It really is a great DAC,beautifilly detailed and with rock solid imaging,you hear things that you never heard but it does not have that magic spark that makes you want to listen all night and forget about everything.And this is with a TUBE preamp and TUBE power amp(yes we did try it with its own preamp and in calibrated mode and yes it is much better).it is deffinately a dac that allows you to hear what people here from the mighty bucks DACs,but it is simply a mastering tool,created to bring out everything possible so you can see what you have done with the recording and I am sorry,I wanted it to be my thing but it is not and I am really unhappy because it starts all over again and I have to find the right CD player again.One thing about the guys like me who spend a lot of time reading magazines-it helps,but don't blame the people there for being too polite in there criticism-the difference between the DAC1 and the ML DAC that JA was talking about is real,he is 100% right but he did not tell you that it is not THAT subtle,it is quite big and there is no free lunch,sorry. I do believe that mods help,I do not know the guy Steve from Empirical and I did not like the way he promotes his mods in every post but I give him credit for the things he wrote about the sound of the Benchmark.I spoke with someone at CES and he said taht they are working on an audiophile version of the DAC1,I cant wait to hear it.I f anyone feels offended by what I wrote here,please feel free to send me an e-mail at