DAC3 Review - Alan Sircom, Hi-Fi+

DAC3 HGC - "I am confident in saying the DAC3 has hit the Goldilocks spot in tonal balance ... it always sounded, just right."

"Benchmark Media Systems is one of the bastions of the new face of audio electronics. Benchmark was and is a pro audio brand at the forefront of the democratisation of the recording industry and audiophiles became interested in the product line toward the end of the last decade."

"Despite looking very similar to the DAC1 and DAC1 HDR, and virtually identical to the DAC2 HGC, the DAC3 HGC brings a lot of ‘new’ to the table.To recap, the original DAC1 was a fine 24-bit, 192kHz PCM converter with an excellent headphone amp, the DAC1 USB added 24/96 USB 1.1 input, the DAC1 PRE added a line-level input (at the expense of AES/EBU digital input), and the DAC1 HDR improved the circuit design, with special focus on the volume control. The DAC2 added native DSD processing and 192kHz compatible USB 2.0, with a range of variants that re-introduced the AES/EBU connection, removed the headphone amplifier, and finally added the company’s own Hybrid Gain Control. The DAC3 is the latest iteration of that Benchmark concept, once again revising the circuit to reflect the latest developments in digital design. It’s available in three variants today: the digital-only DX model (which includes an AES/EBU input), the L model (which removes the headphone amp but retains the analogue preamp) and the HGC model tested here, which features both the headphone amp and a line input in place of the pro-digital AES/EBU connector. All three are available in black or silver."

"The headline change to the DAC3 over the DAC2 is the use of the latest ESS Technologies digital converter chip, the ES9028Pro SABRE. Currently, the number of DACs that sport this state-of-the-art chipset could be counted on the fingers of one hand that had been involved in a fairly nasty industrial accident."

"In use, the Benchmark models have a reputation for being fuss-free, no-nonsense designs that just get on with playing music, and the DAC3 is no exception."

"What surprised me about the DAC3 was just how capable it was with a surprisingly catholic selection of music. It’s easy to point to a few audiophile recordings that sound great, in part because they sound great on anything, but this is more accommodating beyond the audiophile comfort zone. I’ve been playing Gang Signs & Prayers by Stormzy [#Merky Records, on TIDAL] and grime isn’t high on the playlists of audiophiles, but it seriously works through the Benchmark DAC3. It’s fresh, clean, and dynamic, never once making too much of a thing about the compression, exaggerating the top-end, or making it seem too diffuse or amusical."

"There’s an intrinsic sense of honesty to the sound. Stormzy’s fun but there isn’t much imaging involved, where ‘It’s Goodbye And So Long To You’ from Alison Krauss new Windy City album [Capitol, also on TIDAL] is atmospheric and expansive, with Krauss’ soprano soring high and pure, with an almost nostalgic acoustic bluegrass backing sitting a step or two behind and around her. Even moving to large scale orchestral, or transient-led electronica didn’t phase the DAC3 HGC, as it always sounded, just right… in the Goldilocks sense."

"If ever there were a reason to shout how we are living in a golden age for music lovers, it would be Benchmark DAC-shaped. The DAC3 HGC is the kind of DAC that not only pushes the technological envelope, but also does so without sacrificing the sonic performance, and doesn’t cost as much as a car in the process."

"Highly Recommended!"

 - Alan Sircom, Hi-Fi+

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Benchmark Media Systems
Benchmark Media Systems