|Benchmark DAC1 PRE D/A Converter - Preamplifier|
|Home Theater Preamplifiers AV Preamps|
|Written by Ken Taraszka, MD|
|Friday, 01 August 2008|
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Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Island) is a classic. I started off with “Funeral for a Friend,” which gave me an intense thrill. The keyboards were very lively and exciting without being bright, drums had excellent attack and bass remained powerful and clear. “This Song Has No Title” showed how clearly the DAC 1 can handle delicate piano and kept plenty of air around the notes. John’s voice was excellently portrayed and the transitions and attack were spot-on. The acoustic “Candle in the Wind” was powerful, with the staccato of Elton’s voice eerie and the subtle strumming of the guitar light and delicate. I ran this album through the DAC 1 PRE with my laptop via USB, and Teac Esoteric DV-50s connected both with coaxial digital and analog outputs. I must say the difference between my laptop and the digital output from the DV-50s was extremely close, so close I don’t think I can truly call a winner. Sometimes the bass seemed a bit better controlled and deeper using the DV-50s as a transport, sometimes not. I did find the midrange to have just a slight bit more smoothness this way, but it was a very subtle difference at best. I did notice a difference between the analog outputs of my DV-50s, especially with both FIR and RDOT filters on, which gave me a slightly more open sound with increased soundstage width and a little more weight to the individual instruments.
For something different, I chose Chris Botti’s Midnight Without You (PolyGram Records). The opening track, “The Steps of Positano,” gave me a great taste of how well the DAC 1 could handle sax, giving a great brassy sound, while the bass in the background remained solid. “The Way Home” kept me rapt in the sax, while the percussion came through with perfect balance. The musical pace and rhythm were dead on.
Having seen that the DAC 1 PRE was a solid performer, I decided to torture test it on some horrible material, so I went the Devo’s Greatest Hits (Warner Bros./WEA). This is clearly not the best-recorded album, but on the ‘80s classic “Whip It,” I was amazed by the amount of detail I heard. I hate to say this, as it’s thrown around so much, but I really did hear subtle background sounds I had no idea were in this song. The bass lines stayed sharp, while the vocals didn’t have the edge I have heard on this song with other systems. “Girl U Want” again impressed me with the distinction I was able to appreciate between the drums and bass that can get lost in lesser systems. “Freedom of Choice” had a huge soundstage and deep bass, while guitar licks jumped into the field. I found the smooth nature the DAC 1 PRE gave older and lesser recordings often had me playing them louder than I have in the past as they just sounded so good.
I went to a favorite test disc of mine, Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele (Atlantic/WEA), and immediately went to my favorite song, “Muhammad My Friend.” I was impressed at how well the DAC 1 PRE handled the piano, giving it great depth and weight, I switched to an MP3 version recorded at 192 kbps and there was clearly a decrease in the weight and smoothness of the piano, but it was still listenable, even on a system with this much detail. There were less dynamics and clarity, but the DAC 1 PRE did a great job smoothing out the upper end and keeping the music clear. When I compared this performance with how the song played on my Esoteric DV-50s, I found the DV-50s DACs were a little more dynamic and detailed and offered a wider soundstage, but the DV-50s cost almost four times as much as the DAC I PRE, and I would hope its DACs were a bit better. This said, when I used only the FIR filter on the DV-50s, the differences were significantly less.