Benchmark DAC3 First Impressions

Just been testing Benchmark DAC3 HGC. First impressions very positive - will write up a bit more after a few days.

@mike - how about a specific category for Benchmark products?

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Favourable first impressions continue. I bought the Benchmark DAC3 after much research. It offers everything I need - good DAC, 2 analog inputs that did not go through ADC/DAC conversion, designed to drive power amps directly (with ability to set output level so that volume control works in ideal part of its range).

Previously I was using Bluesound Node 2 connected directly to Hypex power amps. DAC 3 provides substantial improvements, particularly in terms of low-level detail - some instruments very low down in the mix now sound like real, identifiable instruments rather than just sounds. We had some friends around earlier this week. Their son has 4 CDs on Tidal. When we played one they said that they had heard him record (he uses a converted room in his house) and that it sounded just the same as that. Their comment was “we want one of those” (meaning the DAC 3 / Amp / Speaker combination).

Interestingly, using the Node 2 as a DAC with fixed volume set and sending the analog outputs through the Benchmark analog input sounded better than the Node 2 going directly to the power amps. I suspect that this is because the Node 2 digital volume control is being bypassed. Prior to getting the DAC3 I had tried a couple of good (well-reviewed anyway) preamps and found that they both lost a bit of detail compared to Node 2 going direct to power amps - so analog circuitry in DAC3 is better - and saves spending £1K on a preamp!

Unlike some DACs use of oversampling in Roon doesn’t seem to make any difference - so I have now switched off DSP and just let the DAC deal with whatever input it gets. Overall I’d say that the DAC3 is very good value for money. It doesn’t have MQA but that’s not high on my list of priorities.

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Mike, I recently came to the same conclusion on the DSP. I prefer the sound when sending direct to the DAC3.


Benchmark’s amplifier, the AHB2, is also worth taking a look at. I personally think that it’s a better amplifier than the DAC3 is a DAC, though it doesn’t pair well with all speakers. I think it’s a great match for my Dynaudio Contour 30s, but I thought it sounded so-so powering my Sonus Faber Amati Futuras. I also prefer it over the Hypex NC400 mono blocks powering just about anything.

Another thumbs-up for the AHB2. It has been absolutely great powering my Wilson Sophias. Before I bought it, I spent a lot of time comparing it with a Hypex nCore–based stereo amp (Merrill Taranis — NC500) and my old ICEpower -based amp in my system. The Merrill sounded good — and I could see how some might prefer it, because it adds a subtle “dramatic” coloration of its own — but the AHB2 is just completely transparent, with no signature of its own that I can perceive. It’s also built like a tank, is almost unbelievably compact, and weighs all of 12.5 lb.

Same experience - this DAC sounds great with native formats and there is nothing to gain from Roon upsampling or conversion. Benchmark DAC 3 is highly detailed and yet analog sounding - the black is so black. The specs suggest this is one of the best DACs available right now. Benchmark did a great job on total jitter rejection above 1 Hz and below 1 Hz it is inaudible anyway. Benchmark also have effectively eliminated any audible brick wall artifacts by modifying how the ESS 9028 chip is used and removing the filter options. Some may see this as a disadvantage however Benchmark have taken the purist approach to eliminate audible artifacts. This approach includes intersample overs - no clipping on this DAC like all others - this means you don’t need the Roon -3dB volume reduction like you do with nearly all other DACs.

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Hi all,
2years later… :wink:
I am looking for an advice as I am looking to move to Ahb2 and maybe the dac3.
I already own a Chord Qutest DAC. So I am thinking of the 2 following option:
Option 1: chord qutest + benchmark la4+ahb2
Option 2: benchmark DAC 3 + ahb2

Any valuable opinion would be welcome.

My System:
Source :Roon Nucleus and EERO Mesh Wi-fi, Qobuz
Amp: BenchmarkAHB2
Stream: Sonore Opticalmodule(Teddy Pardo 5v power supply) to Sonore OpticalRendu(Sonore 7v power supply)
DAC: Benchmark DAC 3 HGC
Speakers: B+W 802d3

I am really happy with it. It surprised me the Amp works but it handles the B+W speakers to my satisfaction. It all sounds smooth and natural to me. Benchmark has a pretty liberal return policy.