DACs

Benchmark DAC1 USB

ARTICLE INDEX

The Icing on the Cake

The ultimate mind-blower came when I brought the DAC1 USB upstairs and connected it to my office computer. This system, consisting of an iMac5.1 equipped with a 2.16 GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo processor and Audio Engine 5 self-powered speakers, had never before played music through an outboard DAC.

benchmark-dac1-usb-figure-8.jpgAgain, set-up was as simple as can be. It took but a few minutes to plug in the DAC1 USB, adjust Audio Midi set-up, find optimal positioning for the volume controls, and start listening. Of course, to get the best sound possible out of the system, I used a Nordost Valhalla power cable on the DAC 1 USB. (I know. The power cable alone costs twice the price of the DAC1 USB). I also took advantage of Harmonic Tech Magic One interconnects and some ancient High-Wire speaker cable. Finally, I put Ganymede ball bearing supports under the DAC1 USB, and a Shakti stone on top.

As the ultimate tweak, I capped it all with a Las Vegas vintage plastic Elvis. To insure that the beautifully clear, detailed sound I was hearing was not a result of the DAC1 USB channeling the spirit of Elvis, I also auditioned the unit with Elvis on the other side of the room, his back turned to the proceedings. I could hear no difference in sound. If Elvis was still channeling, he must be affecting every component in the house in equal measure.

benchmark-dac1-usb-figure-9.jpgOkay. You've heard me gush aplenty already. Suffice it to say that the DAC1 USB produces such better sound than the iMac/iTunes built-in sound processor that comparisons are preposterous. Once I heard how good my new set-up sounded, I realized that I could never return the DAC1 USB to Benchmark. I bought the review sample.

Conclusions

The Benchmark DAC1 USB is far more than a lightweight, inexpensive DAC/preamp that performs remarkably well for the price. It is the real thing, a bona fide hi-end product capable of elevating a decidedly mediocre sounding system to a level that audiophiles can be proud of. Beautifully engineered, built to last, and incredibly easy to set-up and operate, the DAC1 USB is a must-audition, hard-to-resist product.

In my case, resistance was futile. Count me among the many satisfied Benchmark DAC1 USB owners.


JASON VICTOR SERINUS REFERENCE SYSTEM
Digital Front End
Theta Carmen II CD/DVD transport
Theta Gen VIII DAC/Preamp
Benchmark USB DAC-1 when Apple Titanium Powerbook is in use

Amplification
VTL 450W tube monoblock prototypes
Jadis DA-7 Luxe with GE 5751 Jan and Jan Philips 5814A tubes and cable from Pierre Gabriel

Loudspeakers
Talon Khorus X speakers MK. III (with latest upgrade and Bybee Quantum Noise Purifiers)
Eggleston Works The Nine (here for review)

Cabling
Nordost Valhalla single-ended and balanced interconnects
Nordost Valhalla balanced digital interconnects
Nordost Valhalla bi-wired speaker cable
Nordost Valhalla Power Cables
Elrod EPS-2 Signature power cables

Power
Nordost Thor Power Distribution System
ExactPower EP15A equipped with outlets from Sound Applications and other mods
IsoClean or other audiophile grade fuses in most components
Dedicated line for system

Analog
Clearaudio Emotion turntable with Satisfy arm
Benz MC-Gold phono cartridge
Classe 6 phono preamp

Accessories
Ganymede ball bearing supports
Michael Green brass Audiopoints
Audiophile grade fuses in all equipment.
Acoustic Resonators
Michael Green Deluxe Ultrarack, Basic Racks and Corner Tunes
Echo Buster and Corner Busters
Shakti stones on transport, DAC, amps, and circuit breaker
Four Shakti Hallographs
Bedini Quadra Beam and Dual Beam Ultraclarifiers, Audioprism CD Stoplight,
Marigo Signature 3-D Mat v2; Ayre demagnetizing CD.

Main System Room Dimensions
Our living room is 24.5' deep, 21.4' wide in the listening area. It's big enough to accommodate 16 members of the Bay Area Audiophile Society, positioned in four rows of four seats each. The distance from the front door to the end of the dining room is 37', with sound extending far to the left and right of the speakers thanks to an 8.33' wide archway opposite the right channel speaker. Ceilings are 9' high with heavy wooden crossbeams, each 17" in height. Heavy curtains cover windows behind the sound system. Floors are hardwood and carpet in front of the system, and hardwood elsewhere. Walls in the living room are a combination of plaster and wood, with a large granite fireplace in the rear. The dining room is all plaster. There is RoomTune and Echo buster treatment in corners, and either an Echo Buster or heavy tapestry at the two side wall first order reflection points.

Upstairs Second System:
Genesis I-60 Integrated amp
Von Schweikert VR-4jr. speakers
Proton 26" non-HD anything but flat decidedly undigital TV
Basic Pioneer DVD player
Assortment of WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5, Harmonic Tech Magic One, and Nordost Valhalla and Tyr cabling; Elrod EPS-2 Signature and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2 power cables

Computer System
Apple iMac G5
Benchmark DAC-1 USB
Audio Engine 5 self-powered speakers
Nordost Valhalla Power cabling
Harmonic Tech Magic One interconnect
High-Wire speaker cable
Ganymede Ball Bearing supports


Also on hand and sometimes used:
PS Audio P600 Power Plant power synthesizer with MultiWave II
Interconnects: WireWorld Gold Eclipse 5 and Gold Starlight 5 digital, Harmonic Tech Magic One, Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II balanced, and Nirvana BNC-terminated digital.
Power cables: Elrod EPS Signature 3 plus EPS 1, 2, and 3; WireWorld Silver Electra 5; PS Audio X-treme Statement; and AudioPrism SuperNatural S2.