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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

ImageBenchmark Media has hit the 25 year mark, and has been an established name in broadcasting, pro audio, and more recently, in the home audiophile market. Audio engineers swear by their reliable, compact, and great sounding gear that works well in a variety of listening environments. Their products have included microphone preamps, DAC's, headphone amplifiers, and many other essential tools used in critical professional applications such as recording and mastering studios.

Benchmark is based in Syracuse, New York, and their products are designed and built there.  Benchmark is committed to keeping it that way, unlike some of their competitors, who have gone offshore. They are known for customer service, employee and customer loyalty, as well as solid and fairly priced products. What sometimes gets overlooked is Benchmark's reputation for cutting edge technology.

Benchmark DAC1: An Evolution

For years, Benchmark was essentially a manufactuer of pro audio gear. I like to call their penetration of the home audio market a happy accident. Several of the well known domestic and U.K. high end audio publications got samples of the DAC1 and were quite exuberant about the price to performance ratio. Once some of the better known audio journalists had put their stamp of approval on the DAC1, the flood gates opened and a wave of positive reviews followed as well as robust sales. Today Benchmark products are available in high end audio salons and web only stores.

Benhmark Front

Benchmark was quick to capitalize on this new market and kept the DAC1 moving forward with several updated incarnations. The DAC1 USB followed the original DAC1.  As the name implies, it included a USB input to accommodate the growing use of computers as preferred digital source. Then came the DAC1 Pre, which was well reviewed as a very competent linestage with a highly engineered volume control. Was it a fantastic DAC with a preamp built in? Or an excellent preamp with an DAC on board? Probably both.  Or how about an excellent headphone amp? Yes, all the DAC1 models also include this feature. Even though the HDR is roughly half the size of most components, it is extremely well built with a solid feel to the connectors, knobs, and chassis. The aluminum faceplate is quite luxurious for a component under $2000.

Benchmark RemoteI received the latest incarnation of the DAC1, the DAC1 HDR, which retails for $1895. With this newest offering, Benchmark adds a remote control. It allows for input switching volume control, muting, and power on and off. On the analog side, the HDR offers one set of phono inputs and outputs, and one set of Nuetrik XLR outputs.  On the digital side, there are 5 inputs, one USB, one TOSlink, and three coaxial. It is interesting to note that other versions of the DAC1 offer a BNC connection as well. There is an IEC connector on the back for a detachable power cord.

To sum up the back panel, there is a small toggle switch for Output Level. This a vital area to pay attention to. On the Calibrated setting, the output is factory set to 2V max. However, by opening the unit, one can increase or decrease the output in 2db increments via a trimmer that requires a small screwdriver. It should be noted, that is very important NOT to have the toggle set to Calibrated if the HDR is going to be connected directly to a power amp. Amplifier and speaker damage will most likely occur. The other options are Variable, which allow the output to be controlled via the digital volume control knob on the front panel or the remote.  Another option is Mute, which does not affect the headphone output. Other options including defeating the headphone output and calibrating the headphone output level.


Benchmark claims the DAC1 family is packed with proprietary technology that puts it first in its class. I have no idea if it is first in its class, but the tech inside the DAC HDR is very interesting. The 52 page manual goes into vast detail regarding the advances, so I will only sum up the major points. First, AdvancedUSB Audio(tm) supports 96khz sampling rates and 24 bit word lengths and is plug and play with no software installation required. It is compatible with Windows 2000, XP, Vista, and Mac OS X.  Secondly, their HDR-VC(tm) (High Dynamic Range Volume Control) claims to sacrifice nothing sonically, which traditional volume controls do. It is based on a custom Alps motor driven potentiometer. Finally, Benchmark's ace in the hole is their 100% jitter proof UltraLock system (tm), which Benchmark claims makes all the digital inputs perform superbly.



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