Benchmark DAC1 followup comments

default -- Tue, 09/15/2009 - 15:39

I was expecting to find someone already commenting on this but nothing...I own a first generation DAC1 factory updated. No USB, no preamp functions. I have had major differences in sound depending on the transport...(I am using old Audio Alchemy powered digital interconects)
 
This is my experience...I bought the thing as an upgrade to my old ADCOM CD player, once very well reviewed and running aroung $1350 before being discontinued. I had been very happy with the player and used it for years. As digital state of the art had changed a lot since I bought the ADCOM, I wanted an upgrade that would not bankrut me. The DAC1 was the path.
 
As the ADCOM did not have a digital out (amazingly stupid) I first tried an inexpensive Phillips DVD player into the DAC...Awful...the sound was worse than the DVD player alone and far worse than the ADCOM. OK, I next fished out a portable CD player with a digital out and had far better results. This 15 year old player used as a transport through the DAC produced sound at least as good as the old ADCOM and had a far more revealing sound...things like fingers tapping guitars were clear and not simply unidentifed thumps...Getting better. I bought a used ROTEL 1070 to use as a transport and that made a vast difference, far better sound than anything I had used for years produced.
 
I know nothing about electronices, but the explanation given by the manufacturer mirrored my experience with the different sources, a DVD player, a cheap and old CD player and a far better, but used  CD player used as a transport. I cannot say if this is the state of the art, but it is the best sound my modest system has ever produced. I would love to hear the DAC1 with the new PS Audio transport...

Robert Harley -- Wed, 09/16/2009 - 13:51

Thanks for sharing your experience with the Benchmark with different transports. It seems to confirm what Alan Taffel heard and reported.
 
I'll have a full report on the PS Audio transport in an upcoming issue.

Sam -- Wed, 09/16/2009 - 15:20

Robert, will you be posting your initial/early thoughts or impressions on ps audio transport? Also will u be testing the new esoteric as a transport as well? With music servers and several new DACs released recently, there is a strong interest in transports again. Surely looking forward to some transport reviews in TAS.

hoganbo -- Sat, 09/26/2009 - 21:34

I'd also love to know your  initial impressions of the PWT?
 

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Thu, 09/17/2009 - 00:27

I disagree somewhat with Alan Taffel in that I personally find the DAC1 to be a simply terrific contributor wherever I have pressed it into service around the house.  It works as a DAC, a preamp, a three way digital switcher and the headphone section kicked the pants off my existing preamp headphone out.  If you were looking for tube bloom just plug it into a tube preamp for gosh sakes. 
The sound of the unit is linear and very natural with an astonishing amount of clean sweet treble extension I am not used to hearing on CD or XM etc.  I have many other DACs around the home and studio and a couple that have slightly more dynamic punch and palpable "bloom" in a three dimensional way.  So I get where Alan is coming from.  But none are as smooth and extended as the Benchmark or for what it does none are more plain fun.  Not to beat a horse senseless but if you are using it in more than its minimalist configuration then by all means plug it into a nice fat tube preamp or the like.  It will then get bigger sounding.  What did you expect for the price?  A Ref three linestage?
Now about the CD transport question, yes I hear it.  With certain disc spinners the Benchmark will protest at the signal it has been fed.  A certain ancient Denon CD player sounds anemic through it.  A Sony DVD player, a cheapo, sounded wonderful.  XM and Sirius sound pretty damn swell for all the digital shortcomings of their broadcasts you would never guess they were not close to CD quality.  Hours and days of listening fun my friend.  Even XM has treble for gosh sakes.  I will go out on a limb here and say I guess it isn't the Benchmark but the source that can make it run into trouble.  Freedom from jitter is not the same as freedom from a stupid designed transport.  I am agreeing here with Benchmark when they claim freedom from jitter lets you hear even more differences between sources.  Isn't that all ways the way?
So my vote is that Benchmark has something seriously cool going on here.  The treble extension sounds to my studio ears as though Benchmark has designed something wonderful at any price.  And even with a pair of add on super tweeters (Townshend Audio) I do not detect any hash or distortion in the digital upper registers at last....  But beware if you run into treble nasties in the room itself.  Don't blame the Benchmark if you have to get rid of reflected treble glare and screech.  I broke down and put in some Sonex panels and bass traps upstairs and that alone took that set to a whole higher realm.  It wasn't the gear it was the room.  Too hard.  It was making everything sound thin and distorted as hell.
So that's my two cents.  I love the darn thing.  Hey it led me back to fixing the room which is all ways a good sign you have something truthful to work with. 

Sam -- Thu, 09/17/2009 - 01:07

Its all relative; What are the many other DAC's that you have around the house and in the studio? What are your associated components in the systems?  Of course the Benchmark would sound awsome compared to some cheap stuff but thats not what Allan Taffel is saying.  Allan said that he disagrees with NG that the Benchmark is a top shelf reference component (its not!). Allan also disagrees with NG saying that transport quality does not matter, infact it does matter with the benchmark.  Compared to Reference Quality products like BAD, BDA1, ARC DAC, Benchmark has lagged behind and I am sure that as Technology improves the new stuff will get better and better.  On its own and for the price I am sure the Benchmark is a great Bargain, but in the current DAC's available It does not hold up as a reference level DAC.

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Thu, 09/17/2009 - 14:03

Sam, whomever you may be, do you actually own the Bryston or the ARC DAC7?   On what hands on experience are you basing your opinion of the Benchmark DAC1 as "only sounding awesome compared to cheap stuff"?
Furthermore Alan (he spells it with one L) was taking issue with Robert E Greene who reviewed the Benchmark DAC1 over a year ago. REG has gone on to follow up with a test of the current model which includes an analog line level input.  He still likes the design enormously.   What does Neil Gader (NG) have to do with this dustup?  Why do you mention him?  Did you think NG wrote the test that REG wrote?  
I happen to enjoy REG a lot so please give him credit where credit is due.  I also own a lot of the same stuff REG uses for reference, by the way.  Funny he and I like a lot of the same stuff apparently.
I was comparing the Benchmark I have owned for over a year to a Marantz SA14 from three years ago.  I currently own Lucid, Apogee and Yamaha professional DACs from the recording side of the industry.  The Marantz was my initial foray into a reasonably priced CD source for under three grand.  The Benchmark is better.
 

Sam -- Thu, 09/17/2009 - 14:24

Rick, I'm sorry. My bad that I mixed the names up. Yes REG did the benchmark and NG did the xo5. NG also reviews lots of wires as well. Anyhow my point was not to piss you off but present a different view on the benchmark. I don't know "who ever may I be or you be", I didn't think some credentials were required to post an opinion here. No I don't own the BDA1 or the BCD 1 but spent quite a bit of time auditioning them. Great sounding products both. I do however own the BAD alpha DAC that RH and others have talked in detail and compared to other very high quality products. I was not amazed by the benchmark as I am with Berkeley. Just a view you don't have to accept it. Relax! There is better stuff out there than benchmark and there will be more as life and technology goes on. Cheers!

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Thu, 09/17/2009 - 15:54

Congratulation on your purchase of a $5000 Berkeley alpha DAC.  What do you mean you won't trade it for my $1000 Benchmark DAC1.  Are you nuts?

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Thu, 09/17/2009 - 17:36

I guess I most of all took issue with Alan saying that besides the Benchmark having jitter problems of a high magnitude (can't prove it by me) he also found the sound quality is outperformed by "too many" other DACs in its $1000 price range.  Really?  Like what?
I have heard louder more dynamic DACs for the same money but have never heard one try and open up the treble on CDs.  And the lack of treble on CD has been a real drag since day one if you ask me.  I have been waiting since 1990 for CD to be fun to listen to.  The Benchmark goes up there. With detail and without screech. And to me it sounds like the Benchmark is a breakthrough engineering product at the $1000 price point.  
That's all I am saying.  I am very glad for those that spend more and get more.  We are all pushing to advance this wonderful hobby each in his own way.

Sam -- Thu, 09/17/2009 - 18:28

I also think that the benchmark at $1k is very hard to beat! My only point was that it's clearly not at referance level(anymore). Digital playback is the only area in high end audio where quality keeps getting better and better and prices keep coming lower. The other components like amps, preamps, speakers, and specially cables have more than doubled in price compared to 10 years ago and quality not as hugely improved as in digital area. Also the race for more pretty cases and more expensive stuff is just plain out of hand and damages the hobby.

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Fri, 09/18/2009 - 10:56

Since apparently nobody else wants the mike here's one other thought for the day.  Perhaps there needs to be clarification between the use of "statement" products and "reference" products.  Sam you keep saying the DAC1 is no longer a reference product because there are better DACs out there now for more money and audio product changes continuously so anything a little old will no longer be a reference.
When I say reference I mean a product like the cheap little $1500 LS3/5 BBC mini monitor speakers which in a small room will "tell the truth" about what is on the recording media.  If one wants to go to the extreme  cost no object designs you may also find "reference" applies to the Magico Mini monitor loudspeaker for $20,000 or thereabouts. Note the LS3/5 has been in production in one form or another for over 20 years and is still a reference.
Other reference products would include the $250 Denon DL103 moving coil phono cartridge.  Compare that with a moving coil phono cartridge that is "spendy" and many consider the $5,700 Lyra Titan a reference.  Here the Denon has been in production as a reference since John F Kennedy was our President for gosh sakes.
And please notice that the latter product in both comparisons are not only reference products they are also "statement" products.  The best of its type the manufacturer can make price be damned.  And they cost a fortune.
So $1,5000 versus over $20,000.  Or $250 versus $5,700.  All reference products.  Interesting, no?
And so we come to DAC offerings considered as "reference" products.  Robert E Greene two years ago decided the cheap little $1000 Benchmark DAC1 is a reference product and uses it in his own testing in that capacity.  Another equipment reviewer calls the $79,996 DCS Scarlatti the best sounding CD playback he has heard.  It is a reference for sure.  Yes I know the Scarlatti is a package deal but you pay a little more you get a little more, lol.  Here the comparison is $1,000 to $79,996.  Wow.
So my question to all -and you too Sam is---do you think the Benchmark DAC1 is a "reference" product or not?  Forget about it being a price no object statement product, it is obviously not one.  And yes digital is evolving but perhaps not replacing references every week...
Opinions?
 
 
 
 
 
 

jim verdlini (not verified) -- Thu, 09/17/2009 - 12:11

It might not be a reference level DAC, but it is the best DAC I have ever heard and is by far better than what it replaced.

Ped (not verified) -- Sat, 09/19/2009 - 20:23

 I have been interested in getting a dac and I am very pleased by everyone's insights on the DAC1.  I am more interested in an audition than I was before- as my budget is rather modest to say the least.  Where I differ is in the use of the word reference. Which is to say that I believe by definition this does mean "state of the art". Quite frankly if a reviewer does not believe that a piece of equipment is worthy of reference status, such that all other similar equipment is compared to, than I don't believe this descriptor should not be used. I would would go as far as to say the review would be misleading as well.  However, I would also add , in the pursuit of the "absolute sound" context, that reference like the speakers we choose also is a subjective experience.

Mr Plus -- Sat, 09/19/2009 - 20:47

You raise an important point. My own take on this is that there are products that act as a reference point for the money, and a few that act as a reference point irrespective of financial considerations. I suppose technically you would call the latter a 'reference' and the former a 'benchmark', which would make the Benchmark a benchmark in most reviewers opinions and make the Benchmark a reference in the case of REG.
 
Let's just hope Benchmark's next product isn't called the 'Reference'...
 
The easiest way to get around this is to speak German. The compound noun is a very useful tool when reviewing equipment; that way things like "product that is very good in the mid-price category and sounds slightly better than it should but is not quite as good as the lower regions of the high-end" can be expressed in a single word. OK, it'll be a long word.
 

Alan Sircom
Editor, Hi-Fi Plus Magazine
London, England
editor [at] hifiplus [dot] com

jim verdlini (not verified) -- Sun, 09/20/2009 - 10:57

In my opinion, a 'reference' unit would be one of quality that the reviewer has in his system, has long experience with, and can use remove from the equation when reviewing other gear in is system...ie; he knows what it sounds like making changes in the sound the result of other changes in the system and not the reference item...(poorly said)...Long familiarity lets the reviewer better understand the changes he is hearing as a result of changing another item...
 
It is more an issue of familiarity than state of the art...that changes too quickly. If one was to do the quarterly trade out of a digital product to keep with the state of the aet, identifying other changes in ones system for a reveiw would be very difficult and problematic.
 
Going back to the DAC1....I find it prduces the best music my modest system has ever had....I also find it has vastly different sound when used with cheap DVD players. When used with CD players, the differences between sources is still notable but far less amongst gear of similiar price...In other words, the DVD players I have tried hurt the sound of my system. Cheap CD players are far better and CD players of similiar quality have sound I canot tell apart in my MODEST system. That leaves me of the opinon that the manufacturers comments in this months magazine could be spot on. The sound diferences are not due to the DAC but to the source...especial cheap DVD.

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 08:22

My take on "reference" products that are not state of the art---like the DAC1 in my opinion---is coming from the world of professional recording where I made my living.  Here's some further clarification for those that are interested though I do not claim my opinion or that of the professional people that make recordings counts one little tiny bit more than that of the newest greenest home consumer of gear who never made a recording in his life.
Let's pretend we all live in a world of television sets that come from the factory miscalibrated so that all caucasian people are "green" colored.  This is approximately what professional recording guys think of most of the public's stereo systems...  They are miscalibrated due to poor parts or terrible setup and therefore all the people look "green" on 99.9% of what sets the consumer has at home.
Now pretend you are a manufacturer and you make a $200 TV that is "correct" and people have flesh tones that look right .  And another company makes $200,000 TVs that are big glorious and oh yes, the fleshtones look right too.  Both TVs are considered "reference" quality compared to what the public has.  And even if hardly anybody out there can dig it,  if these sets are monitors for live TV broadcasts at least the picture looked correct when it left the studio.  Even if at home everybody has sets so screwed up they can't tell the signal was once correct at the professional level.
That is why a lot of professional folks say the cheap Benchmark DAC1 has correct "fleshtones" and is a reference product.  It is because we hear it saying what things out there in the real world actually sound like.  Its colors are "real."
So as not to drive you insane with this analogy let me just say that compared to most other DACs I have heard the Benchmark lets me hear the amazing differences in one recording to another.  It lets me hear that same tonal differences among professional microphones of different diaphragm sizes just as I hear them if they are used in a live music sound reinforcement situation. 
An AKG 414 sounds like an AKG 414 and a Shure SM58 sounds like a Shure SM58.  When I play back a certain test recording I have of a dozen different microphones speaking the same voice I hear clearly what each mike has as a sonic signature when the DAC1 does the decoding. 
Other DACs I have are so screwed up I can't hear much difference between one mike and another!  And believe me a $60 mike doesn't sound like a $2,000 mike!  And each has a definite signature, some are dry and chalky and some are rich and fruity sounding.
So for home use it is OK to use the word reference to mean anything you want.  And if you declare only the most expensive "best' products are worthy of being trusted I entirely understand why you personally would never own a CD player other than the $79,996 DCS Scarlatti. 
At your house you not only insist that the colors be correct you insist that everything be the finest most expensive in the world or it is not good enough for you.  Wow I totally respect that. 
I am just saying a professional can live with more than one product and feel satisfied he did it right at one budget or another.  The money matters but the correct fleshtones matter a whole lot more.
 

Ped (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 14:55

This is great point. However, I think, effectively this is the case for reviewers anyways.

Ped (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 14:52

I agree  benchmark for the Benchmark.  
I disagree on the German. I don't think  I would be alone in  saying German would be "uber" useless on this side of the pond.  In fact all reviews would render themselves useless in an instant.  Plus can you image all those language classes.  Although I must say what a model of efficiency! 
 

Mr Plus -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 15:57

Yes, my German is not exactly correct. I can order a beer and ask for directions to the hospital, after that I get lost. I've ordered deep fried hovercraft before. In a shoe shop.

Alan Sircom
Editor, Hi-Fi Plus Magazine
London, England
editor [at] hifiplus [dot] com

jim verdlini (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 10:31

Interesting take....

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 13:25

Thanks Jim.   Glad you didn't throw a tomato like the last time I broached a professional comment on another forum.  I found out that some high end guys don't like having their hobby limited by any standards like we have in pro.  But I can't help it, green fleshtones give me the creeps and if a project gets recorded all wrong we usually don't get paid on the pro side.  If a home stereo is all screwed up the customer can all ways claim he is being an "artist" and making it sound like he wants it to sound.  I am pretty glad I quit the high end a couple years ago over this very subject.
Anyway, any comments anybody?  Besides my new best friend, Jim?
 

Phil C. (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 14:02

 
Alan Taffel sure got my attention when he concluded in TAS Issue 196 that jitter negatively affects the Benchmark DAC’s CD playback despite his colleague Robert E. Greene’s contradictory assertion (Alan gets the call-it-like-you-hear-it award). But Benchmark’s John Siau replied it handles jitter just fine thank you, instead the problems Alan heard were likely caused by non-recoverable read errors from misbehaving transports.  It sounds like Alan could be on to something but for the wrong reason. Is this like trading a headache for an upset stomach? 
 
I suppose I wasn’t the only one who relied on REG’s statement in TAS about the Benchmark DAC:  “(does) not require or even benefit from any substantial investment in the transport.”  Ah, one less big expense on the road to audio nirvana, or so I thought. But now Benchmark tells us their DAC isn’t so CD transport neutral.
 
As a Benchmark DAC1 HDR owner, my takeaway is that for best sound use a CD transport that doesn’t have these read error problem.  Now my quest for such a transport begins, but I recall equipment reviews that measure and discuss jitter issues at great length, but read error measurements, not so much. 
   
 We can’t just leave things here.  Alan and REG, you guys are knee deep in this, so how about a follow up to put this read error business to the listening test.  Also, it would do a great service to clue us in on CD transports (and CD players with digital outputs) that mate well with this TAS award winning (PoY 08, GE 09, Editors’ Choice 09) DAC.  Maybe REG and John Siau can both be proven correct provided we can be directed to moderately priced transports without nasty read errors.

Sam -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 15:08

The selling point of the Benchmark was that It DOES NOT require an expensive transport to sound as great as it does (or appeard to be). What makes it more difficult is that for several years it kept getting awards after awards.  Now if people who have already purchased the Benchmark have to spend $3K to $5K on a transport to get the best out of it, whouldn't it have been better to just look into the $3K to $5K CD/SACD players to begin with? Thats why declaring Products like the Oppo, Benchmark, Oddysy etc.....requires careful testing with different things and to spend a little time with them before announcing them as "Reference". Some reviewers even before they get a brand in for testing start praising them, which doesn't make sense to me.  I cant imagine how many people must have bought these products on Knee jerk statements by reviewers. That $500 or $1000 could have been spent on a better component or wire upgrade. Its a bummer! (Another example of this exact thing can be seen on AVguide.com posts on AudioTekne cables.  Look through those blogs and you will know what I mean.  BTW don't go running to buy that cable, it can damage the equipment if you don't know the details on it.  i.e. from initial review it also seemed like a landmark reference product for about a year untill new info came.)

Phil C. (not verified) -- Sun, 10/11/2009 - 14:20

 
Sam, I agree that one of Benchmark DAC’s big selling points was it didn’t need an expensive transport to sound its best, but that’s not the only virtue.  The DAC Pre and HDR models have a quality volume control and lots of line-level inputs so some folks can get away with not even having to use a separate preamp. That means more $$$ for speakers and amp. Good deal. This little guy also has quality headphone amp, analog and 24/96 USB inputs, and remote control. Taken in its entirety, that’s a nice package for < $2K.  No-brainer that it has attracted reviewer awards.   But yes, being able to use an inexpensive transport is indeed frosting on the cake and then some.
  
Would it disappoint if this DAC could only reach full potential partnered to a $3-5K transport? You betcha, especially as it may not be the best time to buy a big ticket transport with computer based audio coming on strong.  But who says there are no inexpensive transports with acceptably low irrecoverable read errors, i.e. bit perfect, to mate with the Benchmark?   
 
 In REG’s defense, he did say to use a bit perfect transport with this DAC. Now it’s up to me to determine if my current transport fits that description and if not then I just need to find one that does. I’m hoping REG used some inexpensive transports when reviewing this DAC and I sure want to know which ones so I can try them. I did homework and reread REG’s Benchmark review in TAS Issue 183 hoping to learn which ones he used.  Curiously, his review is about the only one in the entire issue that doesn’t list associated equipment darn it.

Phil C. (not verified) -- Sun, 10/11/2009 - 14:20

 
Sam, I agree that one of Benchmark DAC’s big selling points was it didn’t need an expensive transport to sound its best, but that’s not the only virtue.  The DAC Pre and HDR models have a quality volume control and lots of line-level inputs so some folks can get away with not even having to use a separate preamp. That means more $$$ for speakers and amp. Good deal. This little guy also has quality headphone amp, analog and 24/96 USB inputs, and remote control. Taken in its entirety, that’s a nice package for < $2K.  No-brainer that it has attracted reviewer awards.   But yes, being able to use an inexpensive transport is indeed frosting on the cake and then some.
  
Would it disappoint if this DAC could only reach full potential partnered to a $3-5K transport? You betcha, especially as it may not be the best time to buy a big ticket transport with computer based audio coming on strong.  But who says there are no inexpensive transports with acceptably low irrecoverable read errors, i.e. bit perfect, to mate with the Benchmark?   
 
 In REG’s defense, he did say to use a bit perfect transport with this DAC. Now it’s up to me to determine if my current transport fits that description and if not then I just need to find one that does. I’m hoping REG used some inexpensive transports when reviewing this DAC and I sure want to know which ones so I can try them. I did homework and reread REG’s Benchmark review in TAS Issue 183 hoping to learn which ones he used.  Curiously, his review is about the only one in the entire issue that doesn’t list associated equipment darn it.

Phil C. (not verified) -- Sun, 10/11/2009 - 14:21

 
Sam, I agree that one of Benchmark DAC’s big selling points was it didn’t need an expensive transport to sound its best, but that’s not the only virtue.  The DAC Pre and HDR models have a quality volume control and lots of line-level inputs so some folks can get away with not even having to use a separate preamp. That means more $$$ for speakers and amp. Good deal. This little guy also has quality headphone amp, analog and 24/96 USB inputs, and remote control. Taken in its entirety, that’s a nice package for < $2K.  No-brainer that it has attracted reviewer awards.   But yes, being able to use an inexpensive transport is indeed frosting on the cake and then some.
  
Would it disappoint if this DAC could only reach full potential partnered to a $3-5K transport? You betcha, especially as it may not be the best time to buy a big ticket transport with computer based audio coming on strong.  But who says there are no inexpensive transports with acceptably low irrecoverable read errors, i.e. bit perfect, to mate with the Benchmark?   
 
 In REG’s defense, he did say to use a bit perfect transport with this DAC. Now it’s up to me to determine if my current transport fits that description and if not then I just need to find one that does. I’m hoping REG used some inexpensive transports when reviewing this DAC and I sure want to know which ones so I can try them. I did homework and reread REG’s Benchmark review in TAS Issue 183 hoping to learn which ones he used.  Curiously, his review is about the only one in the entire issue that doesn’t list associated equipment darn it.

jim verdlini (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 19:41

Sounds like the Stereophile Fremer kerfluffle over the Furtack vinyl demagnatizer....Perhaps the fellow is hearing something completely divorced from the stated cause by the manufacturer...

Sam -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 14:27

It does get tricky to describe whats reference and its not Black and White for me.  For me a reference is "the state of the art sound" available for a given product (or very near it). The reviewer should have enough experience with it in a standard system keeping many things consistant in the system while testing to get a fair comparison of other products.  Price does come into play to a certain extent and then it starts hitting into the diminishing returns catagory.  Yes the exotic items with out of this world prices may be the best, for example the Boulder or DCS players, but you could get near that sound for a lot less.  And a lot less is not $1000 unfortunately for most cases.  Its kind of like a bell shaped curve (an example is CM on one end of the curve and JV on the other).  Rick, as much as I may get tomatoes thrown at me for saying this, I think there is a minimum-Max range wise that people "Generally" end up spending to get into reference type products......these days that range for most components is between $4 or $5K to $10 or $12K roughly.  Like I said about the bell shaped curve thing.  in "General products below $4k have a tough time getting near state of art sounds and when you start hitting over $12 K.....you need to spend a LOT more to get Significant improvements.....if you follow what I mean. There are exceptions to the price ranges as well.  Its like you cannot have a (new)BMW 3 series type car for 20K.....Its very difficult to do that.....you have to come up to a price range competitive to it for a similar car.  Now the price may have been set in the market due to competition with similarly performing products or it also is more expensive to put in the higher quality parts and research that goes into it......i.e. it costs more to make it.  Other than price ranges....I think to get reference type of sound is also dependent HUGELY on how the entire system MATCHES different components and that makes it more difficult as well as exciting to come up with a system.  Amp and speaker match being the most important.  Here putting a super expensive component with another super expensive component will not necessarily yeild state of art sound, infact it may be a big loss.......... Like I said lots of Grey areas, but speaking individually of components reference status to me is comparison to the state of the art sound thats currently available in that catagory. And as much as it makes audiophiles upset that sound depends on the $$$$ spent is not true and its all about the sound and not the price....I think price does matter, research does matter, quality of parts does matter, system matching does matter, as well as competition in the market also matters, wheather we like it or not. (Also a side note: for many years CD sound was pretty much the same, you could insert any decent level CD player in any system and it would sound good/similar. BUT in this last year SIGNIFICANT Improvements have happend with products like Spectral, Berkeley, Bryston, ARC, and others.  THATS why the "reference is changing so quickly all of a sudden" because of some latest developments.  It will level off for a while....and then likely change again.  But many critics who are surprised that how come referense keeps changing over night......its changing because of recent improvements.  It's like switching from those Fat TV's that were everywhere 6 years ago and now, no where to be found, everystore has flat screens now 90%. I think like the HDTV/Flatscreens we are in that transition with Digital players as well, moving into High resolution audio downloads, hard disk music servers, much improved filters and digital players, lots of new DAC's, and that is the reason why so many changes happening all of a sudden IMHO. Had we seen this many music servers, High Rez stuff and DAC's appear all of a sudden at the same time in the last 20 years? No....its happening now as we enter the future of digital music.

Ped (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 15:08

You make a good illustration. However, I would also add subjectivity, system synergy and the listening room to the mix as well. There are a lot of variables in play here.  
 
 

jim verdlini (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 19:54

I still have the same problem I have always had with the 'parts do matter' argument as this is taken as gospel for every area of audio except computer based gear and then it magically does not matter...

Sam -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 23:32

In the recent issue of TAS 196 the Aesthetix Signature gear is reviewed and compared to previous versions by two different reviewers with reference level systems and years of experience/crediblity.  I believe the Janus and Rhea both use the same exact circuitry as the older versions(still available) but use much better/improved parts, infact (cost no object parts for the signature versions).  The sound difference reported is significant and audible. As for the computer based gear, the 2008 RMAF seminars also posted on AVguide.com concerning digital are pretty interesting.  The lecture with R.H. Also have an expert pannel from Sooloos, Wadia, Ref.Recording etc.  The engineer from Sooloos himself claims how delicate computer based gear is, "even back up drives fail" he states.  While Computer audio shows lots of potential and storage space for Hi rez stuff, its still far from where other audio equipment is at and thats a big negative even if sound is better.  Computers fail back and fourth, the software is still being developed for audio, and even though its showing signs of future incorporation into high end gear, the parts quality still matters. What kind of digital output card is used? what kind of digital output is available? Spdif vs AES/EBU? Virus scan/Tx. Software etc....  It's unfortunate how useful and helpful computers are and yet they can be so much of a pain with reliability issues.  As parts improve, reliability and sound quality will improve but the prices may go up as well.  If you are familiar with cheap computers you might be well aware of how frustrating they can get. Regardless of sound quality, if the $5K esoteric X05 was as reliable as as a $500 PC and was as much pain as a PC to maintain, most people would be beyond furious with it.  There is still a lot to be done with Computer based stuff. (The sound differences are because a disk on the fly is not being read by a lazer inducing jitter in Extraction/transportation of data, infact bit perfect copy is being played off of a hard disk.)  

Mr Plus -- Tue, 09/22/2009 - 02:50

Jim,
 
I think the 'parts do matter' argument applies equally to computer audio as it does elsewhere. Except for those who reject the 'parts do matter' argument.
 
There's a lot of potential for RFI and EMI pollution from a typical computer. That can potentially wreck both the performance of music generated from the computer source and undermine the sound of the system its connected to when the computer is powered up, even when the computer source is not playing.
 
We're starting to see a small but vocal backlash against computer-based audio in the UK, in part because we are years behind the US in acceptance of power-line conditioning. The tone of the backlash is remarkably similar, every time you see it:
 
"I tried computer audio. Didn't like it. Made my system sound bad." (followed by something to do with Red Book CD and "cold, dead hand")
"Did you try isolating the computer from the power feeding the rest of the system?"
"Why should I? All that power cord stuff is just 'foo'!"
"So, what was the computer doing to the system, to make the system sound bad?"
"Er.... I tried computer audio. Didn't like it."
 
OTOH, those who have been 'canny' (or 'lucky') with their computer audio selection (such as using a Squeezebox, a PC custom designed for the task, a laptop running off its batteries or - for some as yet inexplicable reason - a MacMini) fare much better and become converts.
 
I suspect we still have the training wheels on when it comes to properly implementing computer audio into audiophile systems.

Alan Sircom
Editor, Hi-Fi Plus Magazine
London, England
editor [at] hifiplus [dot] com

jim verdlini (not verified) -- Tue, 09/22/2009 - 11:50

Too many operating systems and software solutions, few standards, and cheap computer parts and construction tell me this aidio nirvanah is not quite ready for prime time...note the best units out there are again astoundingly expensive...when the computer based system is a $4-5K music only system that connects to the rest of the audio system with usual cables and is EASY as a CD to use and as reliable, then we will have a system that is for more than compter geeks who love to tweak....Till then I will play with CD based sound....

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 20:24

Again I disagree Sam.  I remember Meridian and California Audio Labs as having made improvements all along over the last 25  years.   The 504 and the Icon series were not expensive and were streets ahead in their days.  Recently Marantz has been getting noticed for great cheap players under four grand.  Sometimes way under four grand.  So CD 44.1 playback absolutely did not suddenly get better out of nowhere Sam.
44.1 low rez diigital has been improving for ages.  It has just gotten to the point where Benchmark made it possible to get a tremendous thrill for $1000 in 2009 dollars.  Get used to it.  It is like plasma TV.  Everything gets better and cheaper.  It doesn't have to cost $4000 to be any good anymore. 
Who else thinks the Benchmnark is a reference?  Anybody?  Yeah we have established it is a bit cheap.  And it needs system matching, so what else is new.  I will agree with the other comment that it might be nice for a followup test to see what transport issues work better than others.  I would be all ears as a Benchmark owner.  However It already works great with the inexpensive things I have plugged into it.

Sam -- Mon, 09/21/2009 - 23:47

Rick, Like I said I will get tomatoes thrown at for making that statement.  And you like me also have a full right to express your opinion.  I believe your definition of State of the art sound is different from mine, and there is absolutely no need to spend $4k for something to sound good.  Plenty of products sound great for much less.  The $4K statement was made in a different context.  As for the CD sound, NO one thinks that CD was just sitting on their butt for 25 years and all of a sudden we have a miracle.  Ofcouse improvements have been made over the years thats how we got here and Maridian has made huge contributions to CD over the years.  The improvements of the recent have been significant, with new filters, Jitter rejections, VRDS Transports etc.....to improve the CD sound significantly.  So No its not an overnight miracle and thats not what I meant.  I think it would be nice to get RH, AT, REG and others from TAS to jump in and make some comments and Suggestions on where to go from here......regarding the new DAC's and Transports etc....  I think an Audition by the person purchasing the product is still the best way to go, and if you are satisfied with whatever you buy thats all that matters.  The money thats is saved can be used in lots of other things in life! I am also curious to know what transports may work well with the Benchmark.

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Wed, 09/23/2009 - 13:37

Sam, love this game of table tennis.  In all the training in all the years I worked with Martin Logan, Krell and Sonus Faber I believed "we" had our share of decent statement and yes even state of the art products.   Thank you for pointing out that my low standards make it possible for me to not spend $4k on line level componetry because I am the type "satisfied with whatever I buy"   I never knew.  Yet this is obvious to you.  Was it my deodorant?
But getting back to the DAC1, it has been promoted by both major magazines (Sphile and TAS) as a reference, class A product  either by majority vote or in the case of TAS by featured articles from senior staff.  So it is fair to say that your arguments that it is not a reference and that it is not class A (and basically can't keep up) does seem to be in a decided minority.  Your logic is unassailable yet still you remain outside the mainstream.  A puzzle, no?
Frankly I don't care.  I am satisfied with whatever i buy and need the money leftover to spend on necessities like a fresh tin of tuna, some deodorant and bus fare into the big city so I can look at all the tall buildings and go "gosh-a-mickle, them's talllll suckers there!"  A-hyuck.
 
 

Sam -- Wed, 09/23/2009 - 14:58

Stereophile and TAS are not a word of GOD written in Stone.They themselves make changes to things as they find new things.  Thats why they are such great magazines, that they are willing to question things and test them again if needed.  For example, Initially in TAS Benchmark was not questioned, now they themselves are questioning it after testing it again. They are also comparing it with new products that have come out AFTER the benchmark.  Wadia 170i Transport was initially put in Class A stereophile, but on further testing they decided to move it to Class B.  Ayre CX7E player was initially in Class B then they switched it to Class A after further testing, Ayre c5xe was in A and now its in A+....... so they do make changes.  Stereophile also says that Benchmark Squeezed into Class A. Does that mean All Class A sound the same?  Within Class A there is quite a bit of range....Its not Black or White. Class A has the new Maridian 808i.2 as well as Benchmark, someone from Stereophile/TAS please tell me they don't sound close to each other?  Also you are a very angry man! You have a lot of experience and I respect that you worked with such high end companies, but to me it seems like you are hell bent on the Benchmark being the ultimate end all.  Have you testested/auditioned the new stuff recently? What were your thoughts on those? I think you don't read my posts carefully and respond quickly in frustration.  In my arguments I presented what I thought "generally" is the trend in "state of art sound" in my view.  Its not written in stone, there are exceptions, its just my opinion And I was not attacking you.  I wish R.H., A.T, REG, and all other experts who voted for the benchmark would come here and say that Benchmark is the ultimate machine that can trump anything and that would end the table tennis game. I am sorry if you took me wrong in my explainations, I didn't mean that you were cheap or couldn't afford things or your standards are low or that you survive on Tuna.....you brought those things up....In all of my posts I was strictly speaking about Audio components and variables as I saw them. I also wish that like the Benchmark someone would make a class A/ BMW type car for a fraction of the price...Id love to drive off in that with some tuna on the side.  I think we have off tracked on this post too much.  I will not be debating with you anyfurther.  Lets get some other people and experts involved to tell us more about the benchmark and the transports to use with it and if anyone has auditioned other stuff in comparison to the Benchmark What were their thoughts.  What are other peoples thoughts? (other than Rick Lee and I). I'll let you play the last shot. lol  

jim verdlini (not verified) -- Wed, 09/23/2009 - 18:54

But I still cannot get better sound for the buck.....not even close

USAudio -- Tue, 09/22/2009 - 00:18

As a SqueezeBox3 owner for several years now, listening to CD's seems so outdated anymore.  The convenience alone of having your collection at your fingertips is worth it, I'll never go back to swapping CD's in and out of a player or transport again.
CD's get scratched, dirty, deteriorate, etc. over time, resulting in inconsistent playback.  After purchasing a new CD, the first thing I do is rip it to iTunes on my Mac Mini in Apple Lossless, put it back in it's case and file it away, likely never to be opened again.  (Yes, I can't wait for hi-rez downloads to be widlely available!) 
Listening from a hard drive provides the same consistent experience everytime.  In my case the SqueezeBox3 feeding a quality external DAC (I have the affordable Lavry DA11) a bit-perfect stream provides an excellent listening experience.
Once you try it you'll likely never go back either.
FYI - Logitech will soon be releasing the SqueezeBox Touch which will support 24/96 streaming.

Tom Martin -- Mon, 09/28/2009 - 18:16

Just a few comments, mainly to help any readers of this dialog who may not be familiar with our coverage of the Benchmark.
 
1. Robert E. Greene reviewed the Benchmark DAC 1 Pre in TAS (Issue 183 or you can just click the link). Suffice it to say, REG gave the Benchmark a glowing review, in which he says very strong things like "To my mind, it is the beginning of a new era in audio, in which the regeneration of the recorded signal has become a solved problem." He expounds at length on the likelihood of improvements in the future, but suggests that they are likely to be small improvements.
 
2. TAS is not run like a totalitarian government or even a major corporation in which messages must tightly conform to the party line. We believe that a better approach is to have a variety of voices because that allows different experiences to be expressed. This approach also is essential to creating a dialog which moves our understanding forward (a.k.a. thought). Within that context, REGs view of the Benchmark a) got the attention of a lot of editors and b) raised some dissenting eyebrows.
 
3. While REG's review started the dialog very effectively, our consistently stated hope with all reviews is that they will serve as a starting point for investigation by the consumer, not a shopping list. As a further aid in this process, we publish an Editor's Choice issue each year. In that issue you will find products we recommend. You will find them grouped by price, with the idea that for a more expensive component to be listed it must pass the "try to show me better for less" test. That means that if we feel a $10k preamp is all-around bettered by a $5k preamp, then the $10k preamp shouldn't be on the list. Conversely, if you see a $10k preamp on the list, you can assume we believe it is better in some significant way than the $5k preamp (note: maybe not better in all ways, chief among those potentially being that the more expensive component may not be a better value).
 
4. Given REG's review, many of us chose to investigate the Benchmark. Some, like Alan and I, found what we would consider important sonic issues. Some, like PS and CM thought the Benchmark was extremely accurate.
 
5. That left us wondering whether the Benchmark is sensitive to the equipment with which it is partnered. Maybe Alan and I tried it with the wrong transports, or the wrong cables or??? I know I used 3 transports and basically got the same results each time. REG points out in his review (and it is discussed above and elsewhere) that the transport shouldn't matter audibly with the Benchmark as long as the transport is bit perfect. But, really, this sort of thing is hard to figure out and we should be careful about connecting technical explanations to sonic results.
 
6. There are a few other possibilities we should mention. REG, PS, CM, AT and I all used the Benchmark in different systems. Maybe some of the results we got is due to system transparency and/or system synergies. In a similar vein, maybe these 5 reviewers have different listening orientations and what seemed problematic to AT and me was a non issue for the others. My personal view is that this is a difficult case because the Benchmark has some stunningly good qualities and if one focuses on them one could miss its small (but important to some) problems. Engineering usually involves tradeoffs.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

Sam -- Mon, 09/28/2009 - 19:13

Well said. T.M. Thanks for your input. What 3 transports did you use to test the benchmark and what did they sound like compared to eachother and compared to state of art transports?

Tom Martin -- Mon, 09/28/2009 - 21:13

With the Benchmark I used the Esoteric DV-60, the EMM Labs, and a Panasonic DVD player. As I said, the basic sound character was the same. At the time, I wasn't trying to determine if transports sounded different, I was applying the Benchmark in different systems to try to see if system synergy was an issue. I wouldn't swear the transports sounded the same because there were plenty of other differences that I think swamped the transport difference.

CEO and Editorial Director, Nextscreen LLC

jack d ii -- Mon, 10/12/2009 - 22:21

I followed the same reasoning starting with a Musical Fidelity A308 cd player that I've had for years.  Why not use it as a transport and get a good dac?  After seeing Lavry Engineering mentioned on this forum out of curiosity I loked at their website.  After seeing the list of customers and being surprised at the cost of the basic dac I bought one.  $1,250. with interior jumpers put in place for 75 ohm rca connections and Neutric adapters.  Very reasonable.  And VERY good.  A big upgrade with a C-J CT 5 preamp, Marsh A400 amp and Dunlavy SC IV speakers.  Dan Lavry seems not to be particular about the quality of the deck as long as it's just decent.   Now I'm comfortable with listening to all those cds of music I love but couldn't listen to for very long.  The music has body, substance and so much more detail.

 Jack D II

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Mon, 01/04/2010 - 18:09

Sam OK so I just bought the Bryston BDA-1 to see if it was really that big a jump from the Benchmark.  The Bryston had class A topology which is usually a better deal for front end devices like preamps and line level music sources like DACs and what have you. Class A is usually more musical sounding as it does not "switch" and flatten the sound.  The Benchmark does not have class A.  And you would be right in that you usually don't get a class A circuit at the $1000 price point in a line device.  Class A is usually a pretty obvious improvement over AB circuits and usually cost an extra thousand to impliment as long as you are talking two volts line level output and not a power amp.
And anyway I was running out of inputs as I wanted to add digital HD FM radio (Sangean) and a Logitech Squeezebox Duet for internet radio.  Plus over Christmas I swapped in some extremely heavy amplification (five hundred watts RMS to each tweeter and woofer) to clear up the throats of my Harbeth monitors so I figured what the hell let's celebrate with a new perhaps better DAC.   I was gonna be happy if the Bryston was as good as the Benchmark with maybe a smidge more palpable "presence" like I get through my Lucid DACs in the studio.
Whoa.  Suddenly my digital is in a whole new league.  Where the Benchmark was clean and lean the Bryston is much more fleshed out and timbre is more lifelike.  When the hammer hits string on a Steinway piano you can practically "feel" the attack in a more lifelike way than before.  Cymbals shimmer and have more overtones than before.  Voices have more heft. 
But that's not the biggest improvement even though it is huge.  What's huge-er is how much better organized in space the Bryston is.  Where before I had left right and center I now have a completely unbroken wide angle panoramic view of the stage all at one time.  This is so obvious when something is recorded live on stage at Carnegie Hall and not recorded piecemeal in the studio.  There is a completely different effect when you hear the whole stage at once instead of just sections strung together in chunks of space.  OK maybe if you only listen to mechanical studio music and hip hop you won't give a damn but for live unamplified concerts it makes for a whole different  emotional connection when you can "see" into the stage like at a live concert.  The Benchmark has strong suits of being clean and has the ability to run as the preamp in a small system but the Bryston belongs in bigger better more expensive systems.  You were right.
You were right.  You were right.  You were right (repeat on chalkboard 500 times).  I have 'em both running side by side simultaneously and you were right!
The Bryston is now my recommended inexpensive big rig reference DAC.  Now that I know you can get a worthwhile improvement for only a grand more I am a believer.  Not sure I would have heard it before I beefed up my amplifiers but it is now as plain as the nose on your face.
By the way I apologise if I am suspicious of my fellow philes but I so rarely learn from anybody who has my own set of preferences for accurate lifelike palpable sound that lets you hear exactly what left the mastering room.  I would wish that we were having a "true" arguement where we both simply defend our positions to see if one side or the other can reveal something about the "truth."  What I now call the truth is that the Benchmark is for better or worse (at $1000) only half as good as the Bryston (at $2000).  I can't speak about your Alpha Dac at $5000 but I imagine it takes a seriously sensitive system to get back $3000 better improvement for the money.  God speed to you all.
I still love the Benchmark for my upstairs small LS3/5 system which is under ten thousand all total.  But for twenty grand systems on up you really oughta have at least the Bryston.  But just to throw one last tomato let me add I believe my little upstairs rig is still reference quality and that the Benchmark is a reference DAC.  But it makes sense on smaller scale setups more than in a big room rig.  And upstairs it simply fills the little room with great honest sound.  Period.  It just sounds smaller but honest.
I hope all the rest of you are taking notes on our little arguement.  Now let's hear from the rest of the class.
 

Sam -- Mon, 01/04/2010 - 22:23

Rick Lee, I am glad that you are enjoying the Bryston so much in your system.  I have been listening to High End systems for 20+ years and many times even now I go in and out of even the most expensive systems thinking "yea it was ok"......next.  But when these new digital products came out that I heard at dealers, shows, and some at home it was something else.  The Berkeley, even after 20 years of listening was simply Jaw Dropping!!! Like you said its all system dependent to get the best out of each component in a specific sector or catagory you need appropriate matching equipment to get the best out of them..... also like you said in a $20K plus system the Bryston DAC or Berkeley would be awsome.  The Benchmark is good in somewhat smaller systems.  And as good as benchmark is....they have been surrounded in some controversy about I don't know what they do to the signal to make it change the sound, the reviewers and critics talk about it everywhere.  I didn't pay much attention because I don't have one, didn't need/like one in my system.......so just didn't bother.  Happy listening and keep us posted of any new changes or discoveries as you break in the Bryston and do some more serious listening. As amazed you seem in your post, I was the same when I heard the Berkeley.

Sam -- Tue, 01/05/2010 - 23:04

on a side note regarding: "I can't speak about your Alpha Dac at $5000 but I imagine it takes a seriously sensitive system to get back $3000 better improvement for the money." Rick I have listened to Mark Levinsons, Esoterics, MBLs  , etc at length over the years...in digital...and this thing at 5K comes fairly close to whats available in state of the art digital.  Another way to look at it is that the Alpha essentially also has a preamplifer in it, meaning for someone starting up a new system its a stone cold bargin for example if you split it in two.  $2500 for a preamp budget and $2500 for a state of the art DAC budget. And like you said it deserves top notch associated equipment as well.   

Rick Lee (not verified) -- Thu, 01/07/2010 - 18:14

Sam this post is supposed to be about the Benchmark. And what does or does not make it a cost effective product of its class and nearby price points. My questioning of the merit of the Berkeley is not because it is less than the most brilliant choice ever to happen in the history of mankind. To the contrary it gets top reviews everywhere as one of the very best DACs currently available.
However I simply do not believe $5000 DACS and $1000-$2000 DACS are aimed at the same system builder in general. That (and a chance to rile you) was the only reason I even mentioned the Berk****. I promise never to mention it again except in the appropriate forum. Probably.

Sam -- Thu, 01/07/2010 - 18:23

If this post is just about the benchmark then why you posting about bryston****. You love to rile people. You my friend have graduated to become a true Jack*** audiophle. Now if you become an authorized dealer it would seal the deal unless you are already one. Lol. Best of luck with your discussions!

SundayNiagara -- Wed, 12/28/2011 - 09:21

Sam:  What about the VPI Classic?  Which will it be, 1, 2, or 3?

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