Best DAC that has a balance control

default -- Sat, 01/03/2009 - 08:17

 I would appreciate suggestions for a digital-to-analog converter that has a balance control.
My system is quite simple. I have a digital source, two monaural amps and two speakers. To feed my digital source to each of my amps I am currently using the Benchmark DAC1. That sounds great, but to really get the proper sound stage I need a balance control and the Benchmark does not have one.
I would prefer not to buy a Preamp. In essence, my digital-to-analog converter functions as my preamp. 
Suggestions are welcome.
Here is a link to my setup:

Robert Harley -- Sat, 01/03/2009 - 11:15

The Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC (reviewed in the January issue of TAS) is the only DAC I know of with a balance control.

Steven Stone -- Sat, 01/03/2009 - 11:28

As Robert said, very few DACS have a balance control.
I solve the problem by often using an Accuphase P-300 power amplifier, which has volume controls for each channel that I use to adjust channel balance on occasion. Many power amplifiers have this option. The Boulder 500 did, as well as several other Accuphase amplifiers. 

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

Henry Domke (not verified) -- Sat, 01/03/2009 - 12:33

 Robert - thanks for pointing out the review in the January issue of TAS. I've just turned to page 86 and will read about the Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC after lunch. 
Steven - the amps I am using (two Classé CA-M400 monoblock amplifiers) do not have any volume adjustments. 
A related question: 
Am I correct to be avoiding a preamp? There is no way it would enhance the sound, right? I do not need a preamp to juggle various sources.

Robert Harley -- Sat, 01/03/2009 - 23:34

You need a preamp with the Alpha DAC only if you have analog sources. The Alpha DAC is designed to drive cables and a power amplifier. In fact, it sounds best in this mode. You can avoid buying a preamp if you have up to four digital sources and no analog sources.
Even the best preamps take the Alpha DAC's resolution down a notch, particularly with high-res sources.

Henry Domke (not verified) -- Sun, 01/04/2009 - 21:05

Thanks. I have no analog sources, so no preamp is needed.
I read your review in TAS of the $5,000 Berkeley Audio Alpha DAC. I'm sure it is excellent, but it is very expensive; especially if all I'm looking for is a balance control.
That made me wonder about possible ways to adjust the balance and keep my Benchmark DAC1 for now. 
1. Is there any way to achieve balance control with my current software? (I'm using iTunes)
2. Could the calibration potentiometers  on the Benchmark DAC1 be used? I found them on p. 7 of the owners manual. "They are accessible through the rear panel using a small screwdriver. The calibration potentiometers are 10-turn trimmers and are accessible through the rear panel using a small screwdriver. These trimmers provide a 2 dB per rotation adjustment"
Here is a link to the owner's manual:
Thanks again,

davo -- Sun, 01/04/2009 - 15:28

I don't tend to get involved in forums bhut when its someone as influential as yourself I can't help myself.
I also realize its completely unfair to assume that the Editor of a audio magazine will know the exact functionality of every product out there but just so you know all dCS DACs and Players have this capability.
Also, although the Berkley Audio DAC handles 176 and 192 kS/s it does this on single wire AES. The Berkely DAC doesn’t have any wordclock in or out, I believe and siingle wire AES/SPDIF @ 176.4k is very tight in terms of jitter if you’re relying on the SPDIF for the DAC clock…
Bits may be bits but timing is critical and clocking is a critical part of the playback chain and one that only dCS and Esoteric (I believe) address through the use of wordclock in and out


Steven Stone -- Mon, 01/05/2009 - 11:33

 You could use the potentiometers to adjust balance, but that is/was not their intended purpose.
They are for calibration based on a set test tone. If you begin to use them as a balance control you will inevitably un-calibrate them and if you use them on a regular basis probably break them (they are intended for only occasional use).

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

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