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Benchmark DAC 3 Review

Andrewjvt

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Jun 18, 2014
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Guys - I just finished a real long indepth review and somehow clicked off the website trying to load pictures.

I really cant be arsed to do it again so ill post the pictures instead and if i get more time, Ill redo the write up.
 

insider9

Well-known member
Sep 20, 2016
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Such a shame as the website design isn't very helpful when it comes to this. It could happen and many time did happen to many of us.

So in short how does it compare to other DACs you've owned? What are you most impressed with? What could be better? Simple one word answers will suffice.
 

Andrewjvt

New member
Jun 18, 2014
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Benchmark DAC3 HGC

Ive been running this dac/pre amp now for a few weeks so heres a review.

First up - its small as you can see in the photos - but its quality made with 6mm front aluminum face plate. Every thing clicks in solid - its not a looker to show off with though -if thats your thing.

Rear inputs/Outputs

Outputs: 2 x full balanced XLR outputs - these can be set with jumper gain settings to 0db(default) -10db and -20db. I have it set to -10db (benchmark recommend set so the main listening volume is between 11 and 3 o'clock on the dial)

2sets x RCA L an R Outputs - non configurable

Inputs

7 stereo inputs = 2 analog rca L&R and 5 digital

2 x Optical

2 x coaxial

1 x usb (without driver PCM up to 24bit 96khz, 192khz with driver)

Benchmark claim that all digital inputs are equal performance and will sound identical recieving same data -

Front

on the front is 2 headphone jacks, volume dial and digital format indicators - these are great because you can see the resolution being played through your speakers as sometime software can change it without you knowing. this way you are sure what resolution is playing.

lights indicating 16 only (measured input word length 16bit)

16 and 24 (measured input word length 17 - 23bit)

24 (24 bit)

both off - less than 16 bits

also indicates dsd rate and 44, 48, 88, 96, 176, 192khz.

the lights also indicate which input is selected.

How does it sound?

I cant answer you as it does not have a sound of its own - it just does its job and does it well.

very low cross talk and jitter make this dac deliver details - better than my hegel h360 (and that was good) but here you get more - not in an unnatural overly bright cheap trick but because of the low noise floor imo.

I can get more musical presentation no doubt even on cheap jbllsr305 they its sounds stunning - tonal balance perfect. dynamics are stand out. once ive hooked up to more expensive monitors i'll get into more details on the sounds.

Headphones - are very good and im set on the lowest gain setting and it drives my beyerdynamic 600 ohm headphones without effort. Im new to quality headphones but they are great to analyze recordings. If you like to follow certain instruments -there is no better way.

The owners manual is the best ive ever had from any manufactuer - its more of a textbook from college

has loads of decent picture and tips - brillant manual

Value for money:

its expensive - if you looking for a quality preamp/dac its a good buy but if you want cheaper option look at oppo sonica or mdac plus - i dont think there will be much difference(if you can tell anyway)

heres some features you might

Here are some features of the dac (disclaimer - marketing or real you decide)

Dac3 technologies:

4:1 Parallel Conversion Structure
The conversion system in the DAC3 achieves a 6 dB signal to noise improvement through the use of 4:1 summing. The ES9028PRO D/A is an 8-channel 32-bit converter. In the DAC3, four channels are summed in the analog domain to form each of the two output channels.
The 4:1 summing also improves the THD. The non-linearities in individual conversion channels are averaged across the four summed channels and incoherent nonlinearities are attenuated by 6 dB.

Harmonic Compensation
The ES9028PRO has two distortion compensation systems that independently remove most of the 2nd and 3rd harmonic distortion in the D/A converter. Benchmark's ultra-clean analog output stages allow these systems to be fully leveraged in the DAC3.

High-Headroom Digital and Analog Processing
The DAC3 has generous amounts of analog and digital headroom. The analog clip point is above 29 dBu. The digital clip point is 27.5 dBu. When operating at a typical -20 dB at +4 dBu studio calibration, the DAC3 has 3.5 dB of digital headroom above 0 dBFS. This digital headroom prevents the clipping of intersample overs.
No Clipping of Intersample Overs
The DAC3 is one of very few D/A converters that can accurately reproduce intersample overs without clipping. Intersample peaks can reach +3.01 dBFS and commonly occur many times per second in most 44.1 kHz and 48 kHz recordings. When recordings are ripped using lossy compression systems (such as MP3), additional intersample overs are often created. Most converters (including the DAC1) produce bursts of distortion at every occurrence of an intersample over. In contrast, the DAC2 and DAC3 converters cleanly reproduce all intersample overs.
Low-Noise Power Supplies
The DAC3 uses high-efficiency low-noise power supplies. Each critical subsystem also has at least one dedicated low-noise regulator. The high-efficiency supplies deliver the substantial power required by the lowimpedance circuits, the headphone amplifier, and the output line drivers. A power switch is included. The standby power consumption is less than 0.5 W when the unit is off.
Low Magnetic Emissions
The magnetic components in the DAC3 power supplies operate at over 800 kHz. This allows the use of very small magnetic components that emit correspondingly small magnetic fields. This virtually eliminates all traces of line-frequency components in the output spectrum of the DAC3. This also means that the DAC3 can be placed in close proximity to any audio component without causing interference with the other component

UltraLock3™ Clock System
UltraLock3™ provides the outstanding jitter attenuation of Benchmark's UltraLock2™ system while providing virtually instantaneous (6 ms) lock times.
Dual-Mode USB Input
The DAC3 has a USB input that can be operated in two modes; driverless USB Audio 1.1, and a high sample rate USB Audio 2.0. Both use asynchronous clocking to eliminate the USB interface as a source of clock jitter.
Note: To provide full backward and forward compatibility, the DAC3 uses the DAC2 USB drivers. This prevents the need to install two different sets of drivers. Please note that the DAC3 USB input will be identified as "Benchmark DAC2" in your computer control panels. This is intentional.
Asynchronous USB Audio 2.0
The USB Audio 2.0 interface supports DSD and 192 kHz, 24-bit PCM. No drivers are required for Apple operating systems. Drivers are provided for Windows operating systems at: BenchmarkMedia.com/drivers
Native Asynchronous USB 1.1
The DAC3 has a driverless USB Audio 1.1 mode that supports 96 kHz, 24-bit PCM with all operating systems. This mode provides a quick and easy connection to a wide variety of computers and tablets without installing a driver.
HGC™ Hybrid Gain Control
HGC™ is Benchmark’s unique hybrid gain control that combines analog and digital gain control into a single volume control knob.
The HGC™ system uses an active analog gain control for analog inputs and a 32-bit dithered volume control for digital inputs. Both types of inputs leverage the low-impedance passive analog attenuation system at the XLR outputs.

The dual-domain HGC™ system combines the high dynamic range of Benchmark’s HDR™ analog control (used in the DAC1 HDR) with the low distortion and accuracy of a digital control. HGC™ outperforms traditional analog or digital volume controls, including the twostage DAC1 HDR™ system. Musical details are preserved over a very wide range of output levels. Analog inputs are controlled in the analog domain. Digital inputs are controlled in both domains.
The volume control is a servo-driven analog potentiometer. This control rotates in response to commands from the remote control while providing the convenience of manual adjustments with a physical knob.

Low-Impedance Passive Attenuators
Like the DAC1 and DAC2, the DAC3 includes low-impedance passive attenuators on the XLR outputs. These attenuators can be adjusted to optimize the interface with the power amplifier or powered monitors. This optimization places the volume control in its best operating range. This exclusive Benchmark feature can provide substantial improvements in the performance of the playback signal chain.
Native DSD Conversion
The DAC3 supports native DSD conversion. This feature was not available on the DAC1. DSD signals can be delivered to the USB or Coaxial inputs in DoP 1.1 format. The DSD signal is then routed directly to a bank of 1bit DSD D/A converters. Four balanced 1-bit converters are summed together for each balanced output.
 

Andrewjvt

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Jun 18, 2014
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Digital Pass-Through
The second coaxial input (D4) can be reconfigured as a digital output. When operating as an output, any selected digital input is passed through to D4 without any processing. Optical, coaxial, and USB inputs can be passed through to the D4 connector. This even includes special signals such as DoP, DTS, Dolby Digital, even when these signals cannot be decoded by the DAC3.
Polarity Control
Each digital input can be inverted, to correct polarity problems. Some listeners report that polarity is incorrect on some recordings, and that they enjoy an improved listening experience when this is corrected. To toggle, use the POLARITY button on the front panel or press and hold the ON button on the remote.
HT Mode
The HT mode sets the volume control to a calibrated level that is near its maximum setting. In HT mode the analog gain is set to 0 dB (unity gain). Likewise the digital attenuation is set to 0 dB (maximum output). The HT light is illuminated when the HT mode is active.
The HT mode is similar to the CALIBRATED switch setting on the DAC1 except that it is programmable per input. This flexibility allows seamless integration into home theater systems where the DAC3 handles the main left and right channels.
Bi-directional 12V Trigger
The 12 Volt trigger can be connected to other audio components so that an entire audio system can turn on and off in a sequenced fashion. The DAC3 trigger I/O can be connected to a preamplifier, power amplifier, or both. The DAC3 will pull the trigger I/O to 12 volts DC while the DAC3 is on. If the DAC3 is off and an external device pulls the trigger I/O to 12 volts, the DAC3 will turn on.

DAC3 vs. DAC2
The DAC3 builds upon Benchmark’s highly successful DAC2 product family. The DAC3 maintains the familiar DAC2 form factor, but adds the higher performance available from the new ES9028PRO D/A converter. The DAC3 offers the following improvements over the DAC2:
 Active 2nd Harmonic Compensation  Active 3rd Harmonic Compensation  Lower THD  Lower passband ripple  Improved frequency response  Increased Dynamic Range  Faster PLL lock times  Faster switching between inputs

Features
 HGC™ (Hybrid Gain Control) – combines motor-driven active analog potentiometers, 32-bit digital attenuators, and passive analog attenuators, to achieve state-of-the-art performance  Low-Impedance Passive Output Pads – 0, 10, and 20 dB – optimize output level to power amplifiers and other downstream devices to maximize system SNR (Page 27)

 SABRE PRO - 32-bit PCM D/A conversion system, four 32-bit D/A converters per channel

 SABRE PRO – Native DSD D/A conversion system, four 1-bit DSD D/A converters per channel  Benchmark UltraLock3™ Jitter Attenuation System – eliminates jitter-induced distortion

 High Headroom DSP - provides 3.5 dB of analog and digital headroom above 0 dBFS to completely eliminate the clipping of intersample peaks

 Multi-Mode Asynchronous USB Audio 2.0 – 24 bit/192 kHz, DSD (DoP 1.1)

 Driverless Asynchronous USB Audio 1.1 – 24-bit/96 kHz  Sample Rate Display – displays the measured sample rate, and format (PCM or DSD)

 Word Length Display – displays the measured word length

 HPA2™ reference-grade "0-Ohm" headphone power amplifier with dual high-current outputs (DAC3 HGC only) 

HPA2™ gain jumpers for customizing headphone output gain for headphone sensitivities (DAC3 HGC only) (Page 27)

 2 Headphone Output Jacks – one jack automatically mutes the main outputs (DAC3 HGC only), mute feature can be disabled (Page 27) 

2 Coaxial Digital Inputs – 24-bit/192 kHz PCM, DSD (DoP 1.1)  2 Optical Digital Inputs – 24-bit/96 kHz PCM  1 Coaxial Digital Output – digital pass through from USB, Coax, and optical inputs when function is enabled (Page 29)

 2 Stereo Analog Inputs – 2 pairs unbalanced (RCA)  3 Stereo Analog Outputs – 1 pair balanced (XLR), plus 2 pairs unbalanced (RCA)  IR Remote with metal housing provides control of all functions (optional on some models)  HT Bypass – places analog inputs in a unity-gain pass-through mode, sets digital inputs to a calibrated output level - all inputs can be individually programmed (Page 17)

 Polarity Switch – inverts the polarity of selected digital inputs  Mute – accessible from remote or front panel  Dim – Reduces output level by 20 dB, accessible from remote or front panel  Automatic De-Emphasis – automatically responds to consumer pre-emphasis bit (44.1, 48 kHz)  12V Trigger I/O – bi-directional 12V trigger can act as input, output, or both (Page 15)

 AUTO-ON Function - can be programmed to turn on when AC is applied (Page 14)  Power Switch – very low standby power , <0.5 W at 120 VAC  High-Efficiency Low-Noise Power Supplies – only 12-15 W, 88-264 VAC, 50-60 Hz  Meets FCC Class B and CE emissions requirements  Tested for immunity to radiated and conducted RF interference

copy and pasted from manual for info only
 

lpv

New member
Mar 14, 2013
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when I met Andrew last time I did have £85 Superlux HA3D with me ( copy of £600 Sound Devices amp). this is a headphone amp, in fact 3 headphone amps in one capable of 15V output able to drive 600 Ohms phones with easy and plenty of headroom, in robust aluminium housing, battery or mains powered.. of course we did compare this against benchmark, same song, same phones.. benchmark was receiving lossless from macbook and superlux AAC from iPhone.. of course we couldn't tell the difference between the two.. we'll test more in depth next time.
 

Vladimir

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Dec 26, 2013
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This DAC has high value for money for studios because it replaces rack equipment that would cost more money and yet the quality is retained. I've seen rack ADC/DAC components that don't do anything except ADC/DAC conversion in a chain that cost 3000eur s/h.

For audiophiles unless they run an active setup it is a huuuuge overkill. An $80 DAC will do this service just as good. However, with active setup some of the features really become usefull. When Andrew gets a pair of proper actives the Benchmark will really feel at home. I think it should be a keeper.
 

Andrewjvt

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Jun 18, 2014
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Vladimir said:
Never leave headphones or remote on top of metal casing gear like that.
was just to show how small it is for a photo- i dont put anything on top normally
 

Andrewjvt

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Jun 18, 2014
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Vladimir said:
This DAC has high value for money for studios because it replaces rack equipment that would cost more money and yet the quality is retained. I've seen rack ADC/DAC components that don't do anything except ADC/DAC conversion in a chain that cost 3000eur s/h.

For audiophiles unless they run an active setup it is a huuuuge overkill. An $80 DAC will do this service just as good. However, with active setup some of the features really become usefull. When Andrew gets a pair of proper actives the Benchmark will really feel at home. I think it should be a keeper.
its sounding fantastic with the jbls today

have not had it on for a few days and really sounded good
 

Vladimir

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Dec 26, 2013
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Andrewjvt said:
Vladimir said:
Never leave headphones or remote on top of metal casing gear like that.
was just to show how small it is for a photo- i dont put anything on top normally
NEVAH!

Makes my aspergers kick in just looking at it.
 

Vladimir

New member
Dec 26, 2013
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Andrewjvt said:
Vladimir said:
This DAC has high value for money for studios because it replaces rack equipment that would cost more money and yet the quality is retained. I've seen rack ADC/DAC components that don't do anything except ADC/DAC conversion in a chain that cost 3000eur s/h.

For audiophiles unless they run an active setup it is a huuuuge overkill. An $80 DAC will do this service just as good. However, with active setup some of the features really become usefull. When Andrew gets a pair of proper actives the Benchmark will really feel at home. I think it should be a keeper.
its sounding fantastic with the jbls today

have not had it on for a few days and really sounded good
Imagine the sound quality if they had real wallnut veneers.

I once ruined an iron to glue birds eye wallnut vinyl on some old KEF Codas (the ones with B139 bass driver). Oh the uglines....
 

Vladimir

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Dec 26, 2013
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lpv said:
at least there's no shame when you open the cabinets to look inside
True audiophiles don't open cabinets. They open brochures with graphics showing internals. What are we, savages?

 

lpv

New member
Mar 14, 2013
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personally I only open sexy components and examine in depth with a bottle of extra virgin oil
 

Pedro2

Well-known member
Nov 29, 2010
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Andrewjvt said:
Vladimir said:
This DAC has high value for money for studios because it replaces rack equipment that would cost more money and yet the quality is retained. I've seen rack ADC/DAC components that don't do anything except ADC/DAC conversion in a chain that cost 3000eur s/h.

For audiophiles unless they run an active setup it is a huuuuge overkill. An $80 DAC will do this service just as good. However, with active setup some of the features really become usefull. When Andrew gets a pair of proper actives the Benchmark will really feel at home. I think it should be a keeper.
its sounding fantastic with the jbls today

have not had it on for a few days and really sounded good
Have you replaced the ATCs with the JBL actives? Still not yet got round to hearing any actives from my 'listen to' list but hope to in the months ahead. Not sure where I can hear ATC scm20a as they don't tend to appear in the ATC consumer hi-fi retailers kit.
 

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