Benchmark, Bryston and Berkeley Labs DAC for a PC audio system

default -- Wed, 02/25/2009 - 07:09

I am trying to build an all digital music system. As a first step I have been studying my options for a stand-alone DAC's and I have narrowed my options down to three. Auditioning will be either a difficult or an unavailable option. However, I am starting with a clean slate so I have no other components to match to. Since my system will be only digital, I am really looking to forgo the pre-amp which will only serve the volume control function for my purpose.

The qualities I like are clarity, articulation, ability to render musical passages well delineated without being mashed into an audio mess. Detail is welcome if it is not unnaturally emphasized as I find that sometimes distracting. Most importantly I like the listening experience to be musical, engaging and non-fatiguing. I have had some experience with a couple of  quite expensive audio systems that ranged from listening to a sound that was annoying and devoid of beauty to listening to what sounded like a faultless presentation which I just could not find myself drawn to. Surprisingly, I still remember my first experience with a good music system as being one of the best. No exotic components were involved. Only T+A transmission line standmount speakers (around USD 2000) driven by Cambridge Audio components. That big smile and that foot tapping the floor came naturally and involuntarily.  Glancing at the slyly smiling salesman who had steered me away from listening to mid-priced B&W speakers that were getting good reviews at the time,  I thought he was used to seeing that reaction. The sound was totally engaging, entertaining, and beautiful. Unfortunately, I listened to this system in a different country and there are no T+A distributors where I live, so I can not repeat the auditioning. Cambridge Audio amps are, however, on my audition list.
So here are my three choices.

1- The Benchmark DAC USB or USB/Pre
Pros: Supposedly very good sound. Unmatched package at the price. The only DAC that allows USB input up to 24bit/96 khz. TAS product of the year. Stereophile calls the built-in headphone amplifier outstanding. It pleased many reviewers. Company strikes me as transparent about the product and its measured performance.
Cons: Reviews emphasize the value for money and the dead quiet background. Other than the tremendous value for money, I am not sure where on the sonic scale it compares to other products in the $1500 to $4000 price bracket. This DAC opened the door to great reasonably priced DACs a few years ago but ever since DACs have been getting better and cheaper each year.
 
2- Bryston BdA-1 ($2000)
Pros: Company says the DAC sounds the same as the BCD-1. TAS review gives the BCD-1 the rare comment that "It gets the music just right" and gave it a PoY award. There is no shortage of favorable reviews about it.
Cons: No volume control (big minus for me). USB input is limited to 16 bit and low freq.
 
3- Berkeley Labs Alpha DAC
Pros: The rave review by Robert Harley about the Alpha DAC performance with everything from CD-quality signal to high res. makes me wonder if (while the price is outside the outer stretches of my budget for a DAC) it could be an investment against quick obsolescence. DAC also has volume control.
Cons: No direct PC input of any type. Price. I will have to import it from the U.S. (same case with the Benchmark DAC) so a mistake will be costly
 
My question is: What do I lose sonically by picking the Benchmark over the Bryston? and what do I lose sonically by picking the Bryston or the Benchmark over the Berkley DAC?
 
I also need some help on how to ascertain that the DAC can feed a particular amplifier without distortion. What specs to look for? How can I judge if the Bryston for example can feed an amplifier through a passive volume attenuator (do not know if any high quality options are available for these as well)? Do power amplifiers require large current levels from the device feeding it? I am good with mathematical formulas by the way.
Thanks and Best regards,
Hesham

 

Robert Harley -- Wed, 04/01/2009 - 12:01

The high-res files don't need HDCD encoding, but they put the flag in so that it's possible to verify the data integrity on playback by seeing if the HDCD flag inserted in the LSB survives intact. There are lots of points in the path that can corrupt the data, as ScottB points out. In a PC-based server, it's usually a software problem. There's nothing wrong with the HRx files or the Alpha DAC.
 
It's reassuring to see the HDCD LED illuminate and to know that what's being decoded is bit-for-bit perfect copy of the original high-res file.

Wes (not verified) -- Thu, 04/02/2009 - 23:28

Hesham and Robert-
     I have not heard the Berkley DAC, but from what I have read, it should be fantastic.  I also agree with you on the Lynx cards, if i could open up that iMac and pop one in, I would!  I guess my point is that, given a set budget, if you can afford the Berkley wihtout it limiting your amp, speaker, or cable  choices, then maybe it is the right choice for you (I would give it a listen first, and maybe even consider the Wavelength products as they are incredible).  If chosing the Berkley does hamper your choices for the rest of your system, I would go with either of the other choices and spend the money on better equipment there.  Remember, DAC's specializing in computer files have only been around for a few years, and judging from this years CES, there will be a lot more to choose from within the next year.  I would spend less now and let the market absorb and weed out the pack when the new ones are released.  By that time you will still have a killer setup ready for an easy swap if it turns out some company comes out with a DAC that is groundbreaking.
 
-Wes

mj37 (not verified) -- Fri, 04/03/2009 - 07:33

Hesham,
I don't want to offend anybody, but remember that some of the people you're talking to are people who are swayed by, and indeed are in the business of promoting, "Veblen goods" (look it up on Wikipedia if you don't know the term).
I'm surprised that no one has sprung to the defense of the Benchmark as having greatly more mindshare and a proven strong resale record, but that might explain that.
High end audio is the only field where people shop as if they have to be happy forever with products they are sure to replace in a year and a half. 
Mike

Steven Stone -- Fri, 04/03/2009 - 11:31

 Hello Mike,
 
This is a GREAT quote:
 
"High end audio is the only field where people shop as if they have to be happy forever with products they are sure to replace in a year and a half." 
 
May I steal it sometime?
 
 

Steven Stone
Contributor to The Absolute Sound, EnjoytheMusic.com, Vintage Guitar Magazine, and other fine publications

mj37 (not verified) -- Fri, 04/03/2009 - 16:44

Steven,
Sure, you may quote me. My name is Mike Johnston. (I'm "The Online Photographer," at www.theonlinephotographer.com, but you don't have to mention that.)
 
Mike J.

ScottB (not verified) -- Fri, 04/03/2009 - 19:02

 A quick update on the issues I reported with the Weiss AFI1 above. Daniel Weiss - who is always very responsive and helpful - sent me a link to their recently updated driver on the Weiss website. I'm happy to report that this updated driver fixes almost all of the issues I was having! Automatic sample rate detection now works very reliably from track to track, and the HDCD bit flag is now recognized in 24/96 Reference Recordings files from HDTracks.com - but not yet, curiously enough, in the 24/176.4 HRx files. I'm quite confident that Daniel will track this down - in his words, the AFI1 is transparent to 24 bit at all sample rates. I have my theories as to what might be happening, but won't speculate here.
 
In any case, the AFI1 is now clearly my preferred interface. I'll post again when Weiss resolves the mysterious HDCD bit flag issue.
 
 

ted_b (not verified) -- Sat, 04/04/2009 - 10:41

Scott,
Yes, Daniel Weiss is very responsive.  he has been great during my trials and tribulations on getting the firwire drivers to work in my Vista setup (Weiss Minerva/DAC2 dac).
Two questions:
1) Did you ever audition or hear the Weiss DACs (Minerva/DAC2 or medea)?  if so, what did you think?
2) Do you have any analog sources?  if so, what do you use to digitize to send to AlphaDAC so it can be your preamp (digital only).  I demo'd the alphaDAC and aside from liking the sonics, loved it's flexibility as a pre, but I have analog sources too.  they are not hi enough priority to spend another $5K on a decent a/d converter.
Thanks
Ted

ScottB (not verified) -- Sat, 04/04/2009 - 11:21

 Ted,
 
I've never heard the Minerva, DAC2, or Medea. The only reviewer I know of who has reviewed both  Minerva and AlphaDAC is Chris Connaker, of Computer Audiophile. He liked them both a lot, but he personally preferred the AlphaDAC. His observations are here:
 
http://www.computeraudiophile.com/Berkeley-Audio-Design-Alpha-DAC-Review
 
I have no analog sources any more - turntable and LPs were sold 15 years ago. If I did need A/D conversion and switching, I'd probably put my old Meridian 568 into the system, assuming that the resulting quality was not highest priority. If you're using a music server, I would think there is almost certainly a way to route the signal from a cheap A/D converter on a soundcard to the output of the Weiss, or to it's own digital output. If you're not using a server, a quick Google search didn't turn up any inexpensive external A/D converters, but they must be out there somewhere ...

ScottB (not verified) -- Sat, 04/04/2009 - 11:33

 Here's a real cheap solution for A/D:
 
http://www.nextag.com/Gefen-Analog-to-Digial-619714102/prices-html?nxtg=e6f0a1c0522-08C63A69053F75E0
 
 

ted_b (not verified) -- Sat, 04/04/2009 - 18:23

Scott,
Thanks.  As posted earlier, Chris and I have chatted a few times about the Weiss and Berkeley DACs.  I was wondering if you'd heard them, too.  Anyway, that is a cheap A/D solution (maybe too cheap...:)    ).  I'd love to find something that handles my analog stuff with some care, mainly the front l/r of my hirez SACD/DVD-A surround music, and Blu-Ray stuff.  Selling my stereo pre i could subsidize this entire purchase and then some, easily.

ScottB (not verified) -- Sun, 04/05/2009 - 14:36

 Ted,
 
If you want to get SACD/DVD-A into your AlphaDAC, I'd recommend using a modified player which outputs these formats as hi-res PCM. There is a company, www.switch-box.com, which provides S/PDIF output boards for players which internally convert SACD to 24/88.2 PCM, like the Oppos. I'm using an Oppo 980 so modified, and it works very well for both SACD and DVD-A. The only thing is, you have to find an electronics tech who's savvy enough to install the board.
 
Another company, www.custom-ht.com, has announced that they will be modifying the forthcoming Oppo BDP-83 universal player with a better clock and this output board. Finally, there is a Swiss company, DVD upgrades, which makes a more advanced board that does its own DSD to PCM conversion, at 24/88.2 or 24/176.4, and can therefore be installed in a wider range of players. You can order a new player complete with this mod from them:
 
https://www.dvdupgrades.ch/digital_audio.html
 
I used one of their modified players before I got the Oppo.

ted_b (not verified) -- Sun, 04/05/2009 - 17:42

Scott,
Not sure how this helps.  First off, we've already gone around this a page ago (Shawn Fogg's board, etc.)  As stated then, and now, I'm speaking about multichannel.  Unless you are advocating using 3 synch'd up Berkeley's I don't see Shawn's nice board option being a solution for my front l/r of my multichannel SACD and DVD-A issues.  Yes, it solves 2 channel but that's not my primary issue here.  Same goes for DVDupgrades; folks like John Kotches have used Peter's Swiss board for some time, but he uses a Meridian as his pre/pro and sends 2 channel through it as well......
I'm just trying to solve the issue of having other analog, like what comes through my HT bypass, be converted in order to jettison a stereo preamp.  I'd have to have a Meridian process the center, subs and surrounds and then send the fronts to the Berkeley.  God knows what the timing and phase issues involved would be, even with an external clock.  Maybe?  Dunno...maybe a Meridian (G98, 861) would send the fronts out digitally?  Anyway, seems a kludge.  Maybe I'm missing something here.  And then there's Blu-Ray...Meridian and Lexicon (the only processors able to accept Sahwn's mch board output,a side from three identical stereo dacs in synch) don;t currently decode HBR codecs.  I suppose this is where custom-ht comes in, but this is a huge shift...I already own a BD player, a pre/pro, etc. 

ScottB (not verified) -- Sun, 04/05/2009 - 18:11

 Got it, sorry about that, too many issues going on in one thread ... I don't really have any bright ideas for you. I suppose there is the Manley Skipjack, a high-quality line-level passive analog switcher, which you could use to switch L/R outputs from the processor and Berkeley. But the Skipjack only supports unbalanced connections, and effectively just replaces the stereo preamp in your system (although it would likely be more transparent than an active stereo pre).
 
Anybody else out there know of a reasonably priced, good quality ADC? Pro audio gear, maybe?

ted_b (not verified) -- Sun, 04/05/2009 - 19:18

Or..to follow your lead, what about this:
*Replace my pre/pro with a Meridian G68 or 861
*get the digitized Oppo universal (Blu Ray, SACD, DVD-A) with the 3-4 SPDIF output board installed
*send one of the custom digital outs (front l/r) to the Berkeley, the others to the Meridian.  Would something like a Weiss AFI1 help synch this up (although it's non-firewire options are not SP/DIF)?  Would I need something/anything to synch up the surround info?
Scott, I have a passive pre, the wonderful and now defunct Bent TAP TVC (with S&B windings), and tried it in the loop.  The combo of the Bent and the Berkeley were boring.  The AlphaDAC sounds great by itself or into my Modwright LS 36.5 pre.
 

ted_b (not verified) -- Sun, 04/05/2009 - 20:54

Nevermind, silly idea...and a huge thread hijack.  Sorry.  Anyway, the Meridian digital outs are fixed (cuz they assume volume at the speaker end, etc.).  A variable gain analog input  into an A/D wouln't work either, probably.  Oh well....it's a pre for me, either way (Minerva or AlphDAC). 

Suteetat -- Mon, 04/06/2009 - 04:03

Scott, have you tried connecting your mod Oppo to Lynx digital input and record it in 24/88? How is the quality in comparison to striahgt DSD playback?
This seems like an interesting way of ripping DSD to high rez PCM especially may be the Swiss option which would convert DSD to 24/196 and has AES/EBU output option.
 
 

ScottB (not verified) -- Mon, 04/06/2009 - 10:05

 I haven't tried that. But I know people who have, successfully. I have about 200 SACDs, and I haven't yet wrapped my mind around the idea of ripping them all at 1X speed :)
 
Kal Rubinson, when he reviewed the Oppo, actually felt he slightly preferred the sound of the 24/88.2 PCM conversion of the Oppo over the straight DSD stream, when using the Oppo as a digital transport over HDMI. But that might be because DSD can be more sensitive to jitter, and most HDMI implementations have a lot of jitter.

ted_b (not verified) -- Mon, 04/06/2009 - 10:51

I did too, but remember there is one more variable there, the DSD decoder in the Onkyo/Integra pre/pro that Kal and I used.  When using HDMI 1.3 the DSD decoding  decision is: in the Oppo or the pre/pro.  I don't thnk the DSD chip in the Integra is anything decent, or maybe not tweaked well enough since few use it.  it could be that jitter, too, is an issue.  All i know is that I like the PCM sound better in the Oppo.  In my Modwright modded Denon 3910 DSD direct is wayyy better.
Now, moving forward, the Oppo Blu Ray will allow for it's own DSD decoding (sending DSD to analog outs, etc.) unlike the 980, so there is more flexibility.  However, of course if you are using the AlphaDAC and the Shawn board the only option is 24/88.2.
 
Ted

Suteetat -- Mon, 04/06/2009 - 16:56

I forgot about 1x speed recording and probably also means one track at a time to preserve the track structure too... ouch
Generally, when I compared Linn SACD to its 24/88 download counterpart, I felt that SACD is still better significantly (both
played through the same DA converter) but hoping that 24/192 would be much closer.

ScottB (not verified) -- Mon, 04/06/2009 - 19:42

 I'll try my DVD-upgrades modified Pioneer into the AlphaDAC, which will output 24/176.4, and see how it compares on the same recordings to the Oppo.
 
DSD to hi-res PCM conversion is effectively lossless from a mathematical standpoint, if you ignore the ultrasonic frequency ringing associated with the necessary stop-band filters at format conversion and D/A conversion. DSD has less theoretical resolution (S/N ratio) than hi-res PCM - much less in the upper octaves - but is almost immune to filter-generated artifacts due to the very high sampling rate. So, in some respects, you're getting the worst of both hi-res digital worlds by converting SACD to PCM. Nonetheless, many quite good SACD players were implemented using DSD/PCM conversion ahead of a PCM D/A converter.

Suteetat -- Thu, 04/23/2009 - 03:15

Scott, just wondering if there is any follow up on Weiss and 24/176 files/HRx issue?
 
Thanks
 
 

ScottB (not verified) -- Thu, 04/23/2009 - 09:40

 Not yet, I'll check back with Daniel ...

manisandher (not verified) -- Mon, 06/01/2009 - 16:32

I'm using an AFI1 with a Pacific Microsonics Model Two. The AFI1 passes 16/44.1, 24/88.2 and 24/176.4 HDCD-encoded files perfectly to the Model Two. (For 176.4/192KHz sample rates, I have to switch the AFI1 into dual-wire mode.)
Mani.

Suteetat -- Wed, 05/06/2009 - 04:56

I finally got a hold of a Berkeley DAC and although it has only been 24 hours, so far I am very impressed and hope that it will continue to
improve over the next few weeks.
Even straight out of the box, the mid range was so smooth, even more so than my well broken in Esoteric D-05. I think my ear has been adjusted to digital grunge since buying my first CD player in the mid-late 1980's (no turntable has yet entered my living room but that may change soon!), my first thought was that this is too smooth and way too civilized :) May be a bit darkish as I missed  a bit of sparkle that I am so used to with D-05, low level detail is better than D-05 but currently, I hear better instrument separation and more body for vocal part with Esoteric. Hopefully this will imrove as Berkeley has more time to burn in. 
If I have any real complain, I think that output level for Berkeley will be  too low to use without preamp especially in classical recording with some systems.  I am using ASR Emitter II Exclusive and Usher BE-20 which is quite efficient. With Esoteric, volume control was generally around mid 40's to 50. Initially with Berkeley, I set ASR volume to 51 where the line stage is supposed to have no attenuation or boosting of incoming signal at all, Berkely was ok playing pop/rock but volume is too low for many classical recording at full volume on Berkeley. I need to turn volume sometimes almost to 60 on ASR.  I am using RCA interconnect throughout my system. Beside that, Esoteric blue display, blue light matches ASR blue display, LED and Synergistic Resarch cable blue LED so much better than Berkely purple/green light and orange number :)  Oh well.....nothing is perfect, I suppose.
 

Robert Harley -- Fri, 05/08/2009 - 14:30

Does the ASR have balanced inputs? If so, you can get 6dB more gain. Also, it's best to use the Berkeley toward the upper-end of the volume scale. This is true of any variable-output digital source that attenuates the signal in the digital domain.

Sam -- Sat, 05/09/2009 - 04:14

Does that mean that to best utalize the Berkeley Alpha DAC is to have an Amplifier with Balanced Inputs?  The volume being too low is dependent on the Amplifier selected or based on RCA Vs. XLR inputs?  I am considering a new amplifier to use with the Berkeley Alpha DAC.......any suggestions or things to watch out for and avoid? Will I need a pre-amplifier to deal with volume control issues being brought up by some?

ScottB (not verified) -- Fri, 05/08/2009 - 17:12

 I've been using balanced connections with the AlphaDAC, at first on McIntosh MC501s, now on Spectral 360 series 2. The Macshave  low gain on the balanced input - only 20db - but I never actually ran out of gain. I often used volume settings on the Macs in the mid 50s - resulting in peak output levels of 200-400 watts and quite realistic orchestral sound levels through Magico V3s. I once pushed the volume control all the way to 60, on the DePriest/Helsinki Shostakovich 11th (Delos).
 
The Spectrals seem to have a bit more gain, although that may just be due to the greater sense of dynamic life they seem to have.
 
 

Suteetat -- Fri, 05/08/2009 - 18:44

I am debating a bit between RCA and XLR. Unfortunately I don't have the same cable in both RCA and XLR to try. Major benefit of RCA with ASR is that ASR has a direct input which is hard wired to volume control, bypassing input selector but it is on RCA only. Internally the unit is also single ended so XLR connector is converted to single end by the unit so I think RCA  is an ideal connector for ASR. Now I am comparing filter 1.16 and 1.24 since BADA recommend either filter for best performance but 1.24 has 6db more gain as far as I understand. I set BADA volume to between 55-58 most of the time wiht filter 1.16 and ASR volume between 48 (on most pop music) to 55 usually but a couple tracks I had to turn volume upto 60 (max on ASR)
 
PS when I went to pick up BADA at the dealer, I heard Magico V3 setup with Spectral electronics, I could not run out of the room fast enough for being afraid that I would love what I hear too much. My bank account definitely won't let me even think about V3 :(
 
 

Suteetat -- Mon, 05/11/2009 - 09:20

I have been using filter 1.24 for the last couple of days and the volume issue is pretty much solved. The gain on filter 1.24 is adequate for single end use, at least with ASR anyhow. I have not had much time to compare between filter 1.16 and 1.24 yet. At this stage, not quite a week yet since I got the Berkeley, there are many things that I like but it is not overwhelmingly better than Esoteric D-05. A couple of areas that D-05 still excells over Berkeley, whlie Berkeley seems to have deeper bass than Esoteric, it is not as quick nor as well control as Esoteric in my system. Esoteric just seems to have a bit more rhythmic drive. The voice and instruments also seem to have more body and have better outline and separations of instruments with Esoteric. Berkeley also sounds a tad darker still. However Berkeley's vocal music continue to impress me with it gorgeous timbre and smoothness and non fatiging sound, may be a touch softer and more mellow than Esoteric. For Berkeley's owners, in your opinon, how long does it take to properly burn in Berkeley? The unit is left on all the time and I get to play it may be an hour or two daily.

Robert Harley -- Tue, 05/12/2009 - 15:36

If the power amplifier's input stage is inherently single-ended, you should use single-ended connection. There's no reason to add another active stage to the signal path (a differential amplifier) by using balanced connection.
 
Yes, Magico V3s with Spectral electronics and the Berkeley DAC is quite special.

Suteetat -- Sat, 05/16/2009 - 10:16

Ever since I got the Berkeley unit, I have been having problem with HDCD light blinking on and off when playing HDCD encoded tracks or HRx.
As I said before, there were many qualities I like about BADA but there were also parts that I still found lacking in comparison to my Esoteric D-05. after extended period of listenng, sometimes I even wonder if I made a mistake in agreeing to buy BADA so quickly after my initial good impression mainly on its very smooth and liquid midrange.
After trying to figure out why HDCD light was blinking and went through a lot of checking and changing parameters on mediamonkey and lynx mixer, I eventually even reinstalled window XP and mediamonkey and Lynx driver etc to no avail. I even tried to go back to Lynx mixer version 1.3 that was recommended but that version did not seem to work with the new firmware on Lynx card (my card came with firmware version 23 and I updated it to the most recent version 25). After almost giving up on fixing the problem, my dealer suggested that I write to Berkeley directly. I got a reply back within 12 hours asking me to roll back the firmware to version 22 and uninstalled my  Lynx driver/mixer version 2 build 16 and reinstalled Lynx driver/mixer version 1.3 build 57g. Not only did the blinking HDCD problem went away, the sound through Berkeley is also significantly improved. What it did well before is even better, the sound remains liquid and smooth but somehow less artificial than before that was hard to explain. The voice is more full bodied, much better clarity, each individual instrument is much better defined and bass has better control and definition.
I don't know if Esoteric D-05 had less problem with my old Lynx software/firmware because I used its master clock output to Lynx clock input or not but with clock input from Esoteric, it sounded much better than Esoteric with PLL lock without clock input from Esoteric to Lynx. Also before my computer/lynx, I used to use Sonos with its digital output to D-05. The sound was actually better with my computer/lynx/esoteric clock input so I assume that Esoteric was not afftected by Lynx new software as much. But now I get to hear BADA as it supposes to be and I am glad I bought it. Whatever that Esoteric did so well, Berkeley could at least match and often surpass it.
I have no idea why the newer firmware and software from Lynx would not work properly with Berkeley though.
 

ScottB (not verified) -- Sat, 05/16/2009 - 15:22

 It is apparently conventional wisdom in parts of the pro-audio community that the Lynx cards work better with the legacy drivers and firmware. Why this should be so is not clear, and it seems to be somewhat system-dependent. I actually had no trouble with HDCD lock with either legacy or latest drivers/firmware, but I wasn't completely satisfied with the sound of the Lynx in my horizontal-case PC, as I noted above.

The_Inquirer (not verified) -- Tue, 06/02/2009 - 09:36

Suteetat,
You pose a great danger to me, as I also own a D-05 :) lol
Please convince me that the Berkeley is not better than the D-05. Can you share your final opinions on the sound of these units?
I was so happy till I read your last post. It is like a score in the last seconds of the game. How can a software version affect the sound that much? :-(
Thank you

Suteetat -- Tue, 06/02/2009 - 18:13

I think it really depends on your preference and what kind of music you listen to.
The biggest advantage for Berkeley is its incredible smoothness in the midrange. There is no hard edge
that I could hear on female vocal or piano music. Not that D-05 is rough or has significant hard edge but
Berkeley is just better in this aspect. However, while Berkeley bass seems a bit deeper and fatter, it is not
as fast as D-05. D-05 seems to have more snap, more driven that is a lot of fun to listen to in pop/rock.
Berkeley is still a touch darker but in all other areas, imaging, detail, resolution etc, there is not a big
difference between the two units.
I happen to listen mostly to vocal, piano, lots of opera so Berkeley fit my requirement better.
 
Also to get the best from D-05 with my computer/Lynx setup, I need to use D-05 as masterclock with its
clock putput to my Lynx card. One problem is that I don't have  a remote control from D-05 as I don't have
P-05, therefore when I change type of file that I play say from 16/44.1 to 24/96, I have to manually change to
clock output on D-05 to match the file being played as well. If the clock is set at 96kHz and I play 16/44 or 24/172,
the computer will automatcially upsample or downsample the file to match clock input.The result when upsampling
by the computer sometimes is good but not always so.
With Berkeley it is a bit more convenient as there is no clock to deal with :)
 
 
 

The_Inquirer (not verified) -- Fri, 09/25/2009 - 10:50

Suteetat,
I appreciate your feedback.
Have you had a chance to compared the balanced vs single-ended outputs on the D-05 and the Berkeley DAC?
Owners of either of these DACS, please chime in with your observations.
Thank you.
 

Romy (not verified) -- Mon, 10/26/2009 - 00:00

**** I got a reply back within 12 hours asking me to roll back the firmware to version 22 and uninstalled my  Lynx driver/mixer version 2 build 16 and reinstalled Lynx driver/mixer version 1.3 build 57g. Not only did the blinking HDCD problem went away, the sound through Berkeley is also significantly improved. What it did well before is even better, the sound remains liquid and smooth but somehow less artificial than before that was hard to explain. The voice is more full bodied, much better clarity, each individual instrument is much better defined and bass has better control and definition.
 
Suteetat,
 
Your HDCD light blinking with 2.0 firmware, so the mine on Pacific 2, still I did detect that the blinking light has any impact to sound at 24 bit. People tend to feel that HDCD mode beneficial at 24 bit and higher sampling rates that it activates the HDCD-specific post-decoding filters that it “helps with imaging” but my experience suggest that it fantasy. I also do not want my light is blinking but I do admit that I do not recognize any practical impact of the blinking. I do to a degree agree that older Lynx driver sound better but it depends in what mode of operation it is, what software you use to play the files, what clock you use and how your DAC reads the stream.
 
Romy The Cat

Robert Harley -- Mon, 05/18/2009 - 13:30

As I posted on another thread, the HDCD light on the Alpha DAC's front panel is invaluable in determining if the datastream has been corrupted at any point between the A/D converter/HDCD encoder and your Alpha DAC. There are so many stages that can change the data in a way that degrades the sound without completely destroying it.
 
Glad you're finally getting the most out of the Alpha DAC. Thanks for the update. It's also good to hear that Berkeley is so responsive to customer questions.

mj37 (not verified) -- Thu, 05/21/2009 - 10:34

I wanted to add one more wrinkle to this discussion...I was in the same boat as Hesham, trying to figure out what USB (or Firewire) DAC to get, and I found myself in the grip of a syndrome there really should be a name for: I had done too much reading of reviews and too little listening for myself. (For me, reading multiple reviews tends to confuse, listening tends to clarify.) I figured I just needed a baseline of a product to get to know, at which point I could begin auditioning other products to see how they compare.
 
I ended up almost on impulse buying a Musical Fidelity X-CAN V8P headphone amp. Very strangely, Musical Fidelity almost seems to want to hide the fact that there's a DAC inside the V8P. All they say on their website is "USB input. Allows direct input from your computer." I had to call Audio Advisor to confirm there actually was a DAC in the unit. Why MF would conceal the fact that there's a DAC in its headphone amp seems a mystery, considering it's the hottest product category in all of audio at the moment. You know what they say: oh well.
 
Anyway, I'm currently using the V8P as a simple preamp...with a USB connection from the computer, and a line in from the phono preamp. And I don't even own a pair of headphones! Output is to a KT-66 tube amp and my speakers.
 
The DAC in the unit sounds very good to me...I am going to get used to it for a few months and then audition the Benchmark and the Lavry in comparison. By then I'll have a baseline and be better able to get a handle on things for myself.
 
The main advantage of the V8P is that it costs only $499. And it has that line in so you can use it as a preamp. Unfortunately it *doesn't* have a digital input.
 
I suppose this might not help anyone (people will forgive anything in an audio component except inexpensiveness) but I thought I'd mention it.
 
Mike
 

Dasign (not verified) -- Sat, 05/23/2009 - 07:02

I was in the market to purchase an affordable DAC which would be connected to the Toslink output of my Denon DVD-2900 player. I have been reading the rave reviews of the Benchmark DAC1 Pre at the time in TAS magazine and thought that would do the trick.
The first problem I had, was that I was still stuck with my Marantz SR-6300 home theater receiver as a preamp, feeding a Krell FPB-200  connected to a pair of Apogee Duetta Signature. The second problem was,  that I would be missing a remote control on the DAC1 Pre. I decided to wait and I was greatfull to see that Benchmark decided to manufacture a DAC1 HDR which now includes same DAC circuitry of DAC1 + preamp section + a remote controlled motorized Alps volume adjustment. For listening to music, I will connect the Denon Toslink output directly to the Benchmark/Krell/Apogee and for home theater I would connect the Denon digital output to the Marantz/Benchmark analog input/Krell/Apogee.
I ordered and just received my Benchmark DAC1 HDR two days ago. I installed it just before going to work and did a brief 15 minutes preliminary listening session. I was amazed by the amount of details I was missing on my best CDs but at the same time, the Benchmark sounded a little lean and dry on the start. I decided to go to work and let the unit warm up.
I came back from work and gave it a second listen. Believe me, this Benchmark  DAC1 HDR will get every bit of information back in the audio chain. It was now extremely neutral, detailled, very dynamic and dead quiet. It will demonstrate how bad some recordings are and will shine on the best recorded ones. On high frequency content, the Benchmark reproduction is very good and get rid of sonic grainy texture probably associated with jitter. The only drawback is that the unit does not have a home theater pass-thru and decided to give Benchmark a call on this. The gentlemen who answered was extremely polite and knowledgeable suggested that when listening to my home theater, I should always put the Benchmark volume control on the 12'o clock position and recalibrate my home theater receiver with white noise. By doing this, you get the best dynamics from the DAC1 HDR and now can use the volume control from the Marantz receiver to adjust sound level on film content instead of fiddling with 2 volume controls to adjust proper balance between front and back speakers.
I am totally satisfied with my purchase and can only strongly recommend this Benchmark device to any one on a budget for a DAC/preamp. It made a huge sonic improvement on my system.

Kuro (not verified) -- Tue, 05/26/2009 - 01:03

Hi Hesham,
I have a few observations and my personal experience to share with you.
 
1. Your title implies that you're using a PC as digital audio source.  I see that some people are building HTPC for high-end audio and this will not get you there.  The PC's power supply is full of noise due to the use of SMPS (Switching Mode Power Supply).  This will kill the sound stage and tonal harmonics.  You cannot compare this to a high-end piece of equipment using highly regulated LPS (Linear Power Supply).  I'm currently using the Logitech Transporter.  It is using linear power supply and Walt-Jung Super Regulators for power supply regulation.
 
2. I've the Benchmark DAC1 USB.  It is good, but not that good.  Perhaps I should say it is good for the price.  It is extremely sensitive to AC line noise.  I tried 6 different power cords and got 6 different sound of out it.  This is due to the different noise conduction characteristc in the power cords themselves.  In order to minimize noise in AC, you need an AC regeneration device, such as the PS Audio Power Plant Premiere (PPP).  With PPP, you can eliminated noise from AC and it makes expensive power cords and cheap cords sounding nearly the same. This is because there is simply no noise for the power cord to conduct!
 
3. The Bechmark DAC1 has a good design, but built on cheap components.  It is using cheap 7805 type voltage regulators and these are not very resistance to noise in the full audio band.  They should have used LM317 type regulators or Walt-Jung Super Regulators.  Also, the output stage is loaded with bypass caps.  In fact, 3 surface mount caps per audio channel.  These cause time smearing.  I had to replaced these caps with just one single cap (Auri).  This improved the sound tremendously, in terms of air and clarity.  Ideally, Benchmark should just tune out the DC offset and not using a cap in the output all together.  Again, if you have PPP installed, the effect of the cheap regulators and bypass caps become less of an issue.
 
4. Even if you find the perfect DAC, you still need to worry about the power amp.  Unless a high-end amp is employed, you just do not have the current drive capacbility to realise the DAC has to offer.  What I do is to kill 2 birds with one stone.  I have a TacT S2150 power amp.  It uses PCM to PWM conversion, thus eliminating the DAC all together.  It is a 100% digital system, no analog is involved.  The S2150 maintains full bit accuracy even when volume is turned down.  It simply varies the output voltage rail to control the volume, while using the full bits from your source without scaling it down for volume control.  And finally, the S2150 offers 50A current drive capability and it can drive even the most difficult speakers.
 
5. Last and not least, do you realize that room acoustics play a big part in sound?  You can get the perfect DAC, amp, speakers and still cannot sound good due to room anomalies.  This is even a bigger source of sonic problem, way before the sonic quality of the DAC, powr supply noise and jitter!
 
 

Matias (not verified) -- Wed, 06/17/2009 - 21:26

 I have a Benchmark DAC1 USB and agree with you on the power cords and filters observation. It is very sensitive to noise, which I translate to having a bad rejection or inside filter for it... But still I don't want to mod my DAC1.

denjo (not verified) -- Fri, 06/12/2009 - 05:24

 How does the Berkeley compare with the LFD DAC3 ( 20-bit chip)?

Robert Harley -- Mon, 06/22/2009 - 13:59

I have no experience with the LFD DAC3.

Sam -- Mon, 07/27/2009 - 23:38

Robert,
On the Berkeley does using the 1.24 filter instead of 1.16 filter for regular CD sound degrade the CD level sound?  i.e If one uses the 1.24 filter to get more volume (since using RCA interconnects between BADA and Power amp) does that not work best with CD resolution sound? isn't the 1.24 for Higher resolution stuff?

Econpasha (not verified) -- Sun, 10/18/2009 - 13:51

Hello Robert:
Have been enjoying your comments about the Berkeley DAC.  Have learned that the standard Lynx cable is not good enough for high-end audio (as mine fits that category).  I will be using a brand new Mac Pro in front of the Berkeley and feed my Audio Research preamp/power amp combination.
Any help with a Lynx cable recommendation would be appreciated.
Erol

Angry Engineer (not verified) -- Sat, 08/15/2009 - 01:37

To all those that say analog is "distorted" ... um, how do you go from analog to digital and get rid of that "distortion."  Sounds to me like you have never heard a good analog system, or even a good digital one for that matter.  Digital ADDS distortion.  Period.  There is almost no audible "distortion" in a quality analog system, that only happens when you push your levels too high and "distort" the medium.  You are thinking of cassette tapes, not reel-to-reel tapes.  Analog will always sound better than digital, its simply much more detailed...why do you think converters keep getting "better and better."  They are simply representing analog signals more closely.  In order to A/B things you actually have to hear them side by side, and TEST them, not just listen and then say, "oh that one sounds better."  There is a reason that people want better converters, and that reason is simple.  CONFIDENCE.  They want to know that the sound they are working with in the real world is as close to the sound on disk as possible, this way there are no suprises later on.  If you have speakers, and they are not designed to be LINEAR in dynamic range and impulse response time throughout the frequency spectrum then there is NO POINT IN GETTING BETTER CONVERTERS.  YOU CAN'T HEAR HOW BAD YOUR CONVERTER IS IF YOU ARE USING "MUSICAL" SPEAKERS.   We are not called ENGINEERS because any moron with a fat wallet can do our job.  Unless you have the intelligence to BUILD ELECTRONICS, then you probably can't do any SERIOUS work with them.  Real electronics are pretty much LABORATORY TOOLS.  They are used to MEASURE sound, and represent it MATHEMATICALLY.  A waveform is pretty much the CULMINATION of ALL MATHEMATICS.  If you suck at MATH, you suck at AUDIO.  PERIOD.  If you are not an TRAINED PROFESSIONAL engineer, don't spend more than $1000 on a listening system, the differences WON'T MATTER TO YOU!  If you don't know Calculus, YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT AUDIO (or anything in the modern world for that matter).  Peace.

Sam -- Sat, 08/15/2009 - 12:18

Someone is proud of what they do for a living and how smart they are. So if you are not an Engineer and cant sort out calculus you know nothing about audio and better yet just give up living since a moron has no right to anything (given that a moron is anyone who is not an engineer).  Sounds like a Doctor talking..lol There is no such thing as agnry professionals, its angry people.....and no matter what they were doing or achieved in life they would still be angry which equals unhappy in life.  Have a good life man. lol!!!!!

jack d ii -- Fri, 09/25/2009 - 12:02

If  being used in recording and mastering studios is a criteria (and I think it would be) Lavry Engineering's list of them is really impressive.

 Jack D II

toffen@hovefest... -- Sun, 11/15/2009 - 06:53

Hi!
I hope you are well.
I am sorry if I interrupt here. I am also looking at various options regarding streaming music from my laptop via my Burmester 061 cd players DAC to my Burmester 032 amp. And since I am not a computer guy, I am a little confused.
My idea is to use the firewire output of my HP / Compaq 8510w via a Focusrite Saffire Pro24 to my Burmester 061 cd player DAC. However, I could ofcourse buy a Weiss Vesta interface, but it is costly (approx. USD 3,000 in Norway). Another route is to build a dedicated computer with a Lynx card. However, would it be possible to connect the Lynx card directly into the 061 DAC. It has SPDIF RCA input and TosLink inputs. What do you reccommend?
Cheeers and thanks, Toffen, Norway

toffen@hovefest... -- Sun, 11/15/2009 - 06:52

Hi!
I hope you are well.
I am sorry if I interrupt here. I am also looking at various options regarding streaming music from my laptop via my Burmester 061 cd players DAC to my Burmester 032 amp. And since I am not a computer guy, I am a little confused.
My idea is to use the firewire output of my HP / Compaq 8510w via a Focusrite Saffire Pro24 to my Burmester 061 cd player DAC. However, I could ofcourse buy a Weiss Vesta interface, but it is costly (approx. USD 3,000 in Norway). Another route is to build a dedicated computer with a Lynx card. However, would it be possible to connect the Lynx card directly into the 061 DAC. It has SPDIF RCA input and TosLink inputs. What do you reccommend?
Cheeers and thanks, Toffen, Norway

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