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Benchmark DAC-1

Benchmark DAC1 - Silver

4.75 4.75 out of 5, based on 1 Review

A surprising package of a classy D/A converter and a powerful and snappy-fast headphone amplifier

16th January 2012

Benchmark DAC1 - Silver by nandi

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 5 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.75
Benchmark DAC-1

Well, I've worked on several bits of equipment during my 16 years audio engineering career starting with analog tape, hard disk recorders like Akai DR16 and then computers. Various soundcards and converters brought music to my ears from Apogee through Creamware to Lynx and Prismsound. Few years ago I took a vacation from being involved in commercial music production and engineering after a riot of the musician within who couldn't find the time and the energy to focus on the most beloved and rewarding form of art to me: music. my music. After this point I reinvented myself passing from one side to the other side of the glass, becoming a full time musician with gigs and repertoire and all that stuff and making a living out of it. The interest for recording and producing records stayed vividly awake and this distance from the position of a full time engineer made me see and hear things more relaxed and, I presume, more objectively. I love electronics since childhood and recently I started DIY-ing simple recording gear as preamps and microphones. For me less is more in audio equipment and I like to keep my setup small and simple, minimal. This winter I sold to a local studio a pair of racked vintage EQs and they offered me as a part of the deal an Benchmark DAC-1. I accepted instinctively without even give it a listen. After a week of having it around, my interest grew and I finally managed to go out and buy an TOS-Link optical cable to connect it to my computer. Because I love portable setups I rely alot on headphones, nothing fancy, I use a pair of Samson SR850 32 ohms headphones. Burned in for two months these puppies sound balanced and pleasant. They are semi-open back, soundwise being part of the AKG family. They are unexpensive, paid for them about 47 bucks. I plugged the digital output of my laptop through the optical cable to DAC-1 and put my headphones on. Bam! Found myself immersed in a huge, punch-fast, detailed world of music. I recently used Prism Orpheus and that's a classy and pricey converter but didn't impressed me THIS much. This unexpected experience suddenly changed my schedule and I started re listening all my records and reopening old projects. The whole spectrum of music is so equally and detailed reproduced that I started to open multitrack projects and make small adjustments in minuscule increments. Next I started to switch between different plugins and enjoying the DIFFERENCES between them. I started comparing records and hearing new things. Next I connected my speakers. Music came through the speakers in a very enjoyable manner making the message of music easier to get, nothing exaggerated, nothing missing. Watching a DVD and listening the sound of it through this converter reminded me how important and delicious can a soundtrack be and made me connect emotionally with the story.
Last week I mixed a song in headphones only checking in mono from time to time and sent the file to Bill Roberts, a friend that runs a mastering room in Florida. He sent me back the mastered file and told me that I nailed it, he made adjustments within 1dB. I say this means something regarding the quality of this listening environment. To me it's like clear sky, no more clouds.
I've not tried yet the two headphone outputs in parallel but I appreciate the feature. Inputs-outputs configuration is simple, the way I like it. The more refined option of an auxiliary analog input was solved in more recent versions of this converter; check their website.
I am sure there are detailed technical reviews of this, technical papers on conversion, jitter, slew-rate, etcetera, but I like to stay on the musician side and to use this language of musical impressions instead of flipping numbers. I am not an audiophile as in the modern accept of the term; I just love playing, recording and listening to music.
I think this a winning combination between the quality of the converters and the headphone amp ability to reproduce that effortlessly and with such amount of power. With my 32ohms headphones I stay below 9 o'clock with the volume knob so this amp will drive with more than enough power higher impedance headphones.
For me this is a nice surprise and reopened my appetite for recording and mixing, suddenly becoming one of my desert island pieces of gear.

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