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captainj 5th November 2013 08:50 AM

Benchmark DAC2 HGC
Several years ago I bought a Benchmark Dac1 to replace the built in converters of my RME Multiface II interface. This was a revelation for me as the difference was more than just subtle.

To my surprise, all of those words that audiophiles & engineers use to describe sound (depth, detail, focus, realism, etc) were even better with the Dac2 when compared to the Dac1. Yet the Dac2 doesn’t sound “clinical” (as I have heard some describe the Dac1). I also had a Cambridge Audio DacMagic Plus loaned to me which was on hand along with my Dac1 when I was debating whether to purchase the Dac2. Again, the Dac2 just sounded better in every way when compared to the Cambridge Audio Dac. This is no surprise as the Dac2 is 3X the price, but it was proof that returns were not completely diminished by spending more. (For the record, I think the Cambridge Audio Dac is great sounding, especially at that price point).

The Dac2 packs a lot of features into a half rack size unit. A USB input to connect directly to your computer, 4 digital inputs & 2 analog inputs (if you are using it as a preamp). 3 sets of outputs (1 balanced & 2 unbalanced) + a great headphone amp with 2 jacks. The sample rate and bit depth LED’s are very handy. There’s a polarity inversion switch, mute/dim functions…and the list goes on…

All of the features do come at a price though. Accessing many of the features requires digging into the manual (something I’d rather not to have to do!). There are 5 buttons on the faceplate, so in order to access certain functions/features, you will need to hold down a button for a few seconds instead of pressing it normally. I much prefer dedicated buttons that serve only 1 function but I understand this is necessary due to space limitations on a unit with a deep feature set. You can use the Dac2 as a preamp or in “fixed” output mode (HT mode as Benchmark refers to it). When you switch to HT mode, the motorized volume knob turns to the 3 o’clock position (almost maximum). Unfortunately, the headphone jacks become unusable in that mode since they will also be playing at full volume (to be fair, you can switch out of HT mode easily, but it is a pain nonetheless).

Despite these minor gripes, I ended up keeping the Dac2 HGC because it sounds so good and that outweighed any of the design issues I had with it (I’ve sold my Dac1 since). I really didn’t want to love the sound of this dac because I was quite content with my Dac1 and am trying not to spend any more $$ on gear!
The Dac2 HGC inspired me to just listen to music for hours on end and get lost in sonic bliss - that is a testament to its quality.