Benchmark DAC3 - First impressions

Discussion in 'DACs' started by RichPA, Sep 26, 2018.

  1. RichPA

    RichPA Don't drive angry Staff Member Super Mod Subscriber

    Just put a Benchmark DAC3 L (same as the DAC3 HGC but without the headphone amp) in my system, replacing a DAC2. My first impression is that it's a substantial improvement, especially with respect to perceive transparency, soundstage depth, and bass tightness. That's after an hour of listening, more later.
    hoodie likes this.


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  2. awillia6

    awillia6 Super Member

    Any way to A/B the two DACs?
  3. Mamrak1

    Mamrak1 AK Subscriber Subscriber

    I owned the first version of the Benchmark DAC. I found the sound to be etched. Is there any of that going on on the 3rd version?
  4. RichPA

    RichPA Don't drive angry Staff Member Super Mod Subscriber

    Not in the way you'd really like. Given the signal flow of my system, it requires physically switching cables, and that pretty much ruins the A/B comparison. So we'll see how the impression holds up over time, and my wife's golden ears and total ruthlessness in offering opinions :/
    awillia6 likes this.
  5. RichPA

    RichPA Don't drive angry Staff Member Super Mod Subscriber

    No, not to my ears. I've now owned all 3 generations, and big improvement from the DAC1 to the DAC2 was eliminating the occasional forward edginess the DAC1 could produce. My upgrade path was Benchmark DAC1 > Bel Canto DAC3 VB > Bel Canto DAC3.5 VB > Benchmark DAC2 HGC > Benchmark DAC3 L
  6. PAGS

    PAGS AK Subscriber Subscriber

    North of Philly
    Nice, Rich!

    If I were to lay out serious bread on a DAC, Benchmark would be at the top of my list.


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  7. frankbooth

    frankbooth AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Quakertown PA
    Interested in your ongoing thoughts. I've been itching for an upgrade and was thinking about going to another manufacturer however I really enjoy my DAC 2.
  8. fredgarvin

    fredgarvin AK Subscriber Subscriber

    That seems to be the consensus. Are you using the preamp function?
  9. Hawkeye83

    Hawkeye83 Super Member

    East-Central Iowa
    I'm glad Rich upgraded, I got his Bel Canto. Quite happy with it. Would love to hear Benchmark stuff though. Also PS Audio. And...and...and...
  10. RichPA

    RichPA Don't drive angry Staff Member Super Mod Subscriber

    After several days of listening, I thought I'd come back and flesh out my observations. Compared to the DAC2, the DAC3 allows you to listen into complex arrangements more easily. On recording that allow it, the soundstage seems bigger and deeper. It is also easier to hear and appreciate the texture of vocals and instruments - I'm especially enjoying listening to the deep growl that both acoustic and electric bass can make, and the variety of tone achieved by different sax players. I spent quite a bit of time making sure I had levels matched, and the differences I hear held up to that.

    When trying to write about them, it's easy to exaggerate the differences between DACs - they're not like the difference between speakers, rooms, or recordings. In the grand scheme of things, the improvement I hear isn't huge, but it's important and worthwhile to me. This is not going back at the end of the 30-day trial period.
    Audiofreak71 and Vintagear like this.
  11. Yamaki

    Yamaki Not For Hire Subscriber

    Hillsboro, Oregon
    I'm glad the DAC3 is working out for you!


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  12. dshoaf

    dshoaf That high voltage buzz Subscriber

    RIP 1954-2018
    I've got DAC2's (2 of them, actually) and have set aside all my other preamps. I do appreciate RichPA's assessment of the DAC3's improvements, too.

    I'll likely stay put for now but I can also report that the DAC1 --> DAC2 upgrade was an excellent move. The original DAC1 was a major advancement for DAC's in general and I watched it take off like a rocket some 10+ years ago. The edginess reported by some mastering engineers may be there but it still shines above all the other lower-end (less than $1K) systems.

    With the DAC2 and DAC3 series, the fact that you can switch between analog input and digital inputs and the built-in preamp switches to a fully analog or digital signal chain was one of the things that tipped me to Benchmark gear.


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  13. Vintagear

    Vintagear AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Appreciate the sober write-up. I wholeheartedly agree with your second paragraph. I’ve had this DAC on my radar for a while. Been teetering between the Mytek Brooklyn but I’m almost sure the Benchmark will be my final choice.

    I think it will fit nicely into my current set-up.
  14. decooney

    decooney Active Member

    Pulled the trigger today on the new version DAC3 B unit in Black. Starts shipping Monday 10/22/18.

    I wanted the unit minus the headphone amp and minus the volume control. Looks real clean and simple too.

    Noticed this thread later today after I bought it. The overall feedback on any Benchmark unit, including the later DAC3 generation units seems promising. It was a bit reassuring to read everyone's comments so far. Should receive it in a week or so. Cant wait to give it a whirl.
    Vintagear and PAGS like this.
  15. johnlcnm

    johnlcnm Active Member

    Las Cruces, NM
    I have the DAC-1 HDR. I bought this unit in 2010. Still in use. Very well built, robust gear! This unit replaced an Audio Research SP9 and A.R. DAC-1. I am currently running three DACs. Crown ITEC 5000HD with the BSS London Sound Web internal DAC/DSP, Schitt Yggdrasil FET, and DAC-1. Contemplated the new Benchmark DAC-3, but went with the Schitt. Anyway, bottom line: Benchmark makes excellent gear.
  16. Vintagear

    Vintagear AK Subscriber Subscriber

    Yeah I saw that new “B” model today too. I might go that route myself. I’m going to try to make it over to the AES Show tomorrow, Benchmark has a booth.

    Let us know how you like it when you get it and I’m curious - what DAC you are currently using?


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  17. invaderzim

    invaderzim AK Subscriber Subscriber

    I wish more companies would offer this option. All of them go "oh, you want a better DAC? Well, here pay for a fancy headphone amp too"
  18. wallacefl

    wallacefl AK Subscriber Subscriber

    I have a Benchmark DAC 1 pre and and a DAC 2....the 1 is more hi-fi ...sort of like the loudness button is pushed ...the DAC 2 is very smooth and defined...I like the DAC 3 I heard and probably will downsize to one DAC but I could not tell much difference between 2vs.3 in a local test.
  19. Tom Bombadil

    Tom Bombadil AK Member Subscriber

    Madison, Wisconsin
    I believe one of the Stereophile reviewers compared the DAC 1 vs the DAC 3 in their system and said they heard no difference using redbook CDs. They really liked the whole DAC 3 package and gave it a great recommendation.
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2018
  20. RichPA

    RichPA Don't drive angry Staff Member Super Mod Subscriber

    I read that review, and have to disagree about the comparison. I have found the DAC3 to be a significant step up.

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