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Benchmark DAC1 HDR Converter - Preamplifier Review Print E-mail
Wednesday, 12 May 2010
Article Index
Benchmark DAC1 HDR Converter - Preamplifier Review
Listening Session
Conclusion and Interview


Benchmark’s reputation and fast rise into the home audiophile market is justly deserved in my opinion.  Benchmark has responded to the demands of the marketplace, adding features to the DAC1 and maintaining a high standard of quality. I was very impressed with the HDR as a preamp, a USB DAC, and of course, as a DAC. I did not use the HDR as headphone amplifier, as I am not a huge headphone listener, but several other reviewers have raved about it in that capacity.

If accuracy, neutrality, and a very detailed sound is what you seek from your digital music collection, the Benchmark delivers in spades. If you like warmed over, lush, or retro sounding source components, you may want to look elsewhere.  I can conclude by telling you if I was building another system from scratch, it would more than likely include the DAC1 HDR to serve both as linestage and DAC for a music server and transport.  I don’t believe you can do better if you are looking for a made in the USA DAC and preamplifier for $1895.  Buying a separate DAC and remote controlled preamp will without a doubt set you back more, and in my opinion, with no benefit of added performance.  The small footprint, five digital inputs, and even balanced outputs make this an extremely versatile product. 

Benchmark Insides

Q&A with John Siau, of Benchmark Media:

Was breaking into the home audiophile market a bit of a surprise for Benchmark Media?
The original DAC1 primarily targeted professional applications. It was only available with rack ears, it had no S/PDIF inputs, no USB, and no remote control.  What it did have is excellent jitter attenuation, an analog volume control, an outstanding headphone amplifier, and the ability to directly interface to power amplifiers or powered speakers.  An entire audiophile system can consist of a transport, a DAC1, and powered speakers.  The performance of this minimalist system can be astonishing.
From the beginning, we recognized that the DAC1 would have a significant impact on the audiophile community, but we also recognized that we would need to add features to fully meet the needs of some home applications.  Each feature has been added without altering the performance, and without compromising the professional build and durability of the unit.
AVRev: The DAC1 HDR is beautifully made, but also seems rugged for such a small component. Was it designed to take a beating?
In a professional environment, the DAC1 is a tool.  Tools that break are useless.  Professionals need to be able to transport equipment between studios and venues without fear of equipment failures.  In the home, I would like to think that the DAC1 is sort of like the granite countertops we put in our kitchens -  beautiful, durable, and very functional.  Personally I derive much more enjoyment from good music than from good countertops, but there is something to be said for good food.
AVRev: Where do you see digital audio going in the next few years? Is the end of physical media near?  Will consumers be buying their music online in lossless quality?
DVD audio has died, and the CD is terminally ill.  The last survivor will be the LP.  Virtually all music purchases will be electronic in the very near future.  The days of the corner record store are probably over.

Special thanks to Rory Hall of Benchmark

Reviewer's Associated Equipment System 1:
  • CD Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X, Marantz SA-11S2
  • Preamp: Audio Research SP16
  • Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
  • Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Acoustic Zen (AC)/Transparent (AC)/Element Cable
  • Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands.

Reviewers Associated Equipment 2:

  • CD Player: Marantz 5003
  • Music Server: Squeezebox 3
  • DAC:CIA VDA-2 with XPS
  • Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
  • Amplifier: Revox A722, Belles Soloist 5
  • Speaker: Spendor S5e, Spendor S5R
  • Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio(AC), Pangea Audio, RS Cables, Element Cables. 
  • Accessories: Atacama Stands

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