DAC3 Review and Test Report - Gary Galo, Audioxpress

DAC3 HGC"Benchmark has taken an already remarkable product and moved it to the next level"

ES9028PRO replaces the ES9018

"Benchmark Media Systems, Inc.’s DAC series of high-performance digital-to-analog converters (DACs) have earned the respect of audio enthusiasts and professional users alike for their state-of-the-art performance, including exceptional audio transparency and vanishingly-low levels of noise and distortion. Now Benchmark has made its DAC3 even better with the upgrade to ESS Technology’s new ES9028PRO DAC chip."

"The heart of Benchmark’s DAC2 is ESS Technology’s ES9018 digital-to-analog converter chip, widely recognized in the industry as one of the best DAC chips and, until now, the best in the view of Benchmark’s Vice President and Director of Engineering John Siau."

"ESS’s Sabre ES9018 DAC chip is now seven years old, and Benchmark began working with the new Sabre ES9028PRO after ESS announced its new chip last October. Measurements and listening tests convinced Benchmark of the new chip’s superiority."

"The ES9028PRO has a 64-pin footprint, and is pin-compatible with the ES9018, enabling Benchmark to drop it into the same PC board used in the DAC2. This makes the DAC3 a cost-effective upgrade. Siau notes that the DAC3 is like a DAC2 on steroids. In addition to the new ESS chip, the software and the analog gain structure are different from those in the DAC2."

The ES9028PRO offers four key areas of improvement over the ES9018

  • Total harmonic distortion (THD) compensation
  • Improved oversampling filters
  • Improved phase-locked loop (PLL)
  • Improved power supply distribution

"Benchmark considers the THD compensation to be the most significant improvement."

"The 32-bit digital processing in the ES9028PRO not only compensates for harmonic distortion at the chip’s own analog outputs, but it can also be adjusted to compensate for distortion in the post-DAC analog circuitry. The second and third harmonic distortion components can also be independently nulled."

THD Compensation

"This graph shows the DAC3’s second harmonic distortion with the ES9028PRO DAC chip’s THD compensation disabled (black) and enabled (red). The THD compensation yields a significant reduction in distortion in the critical midrange, where the ear is most sensitive."

Improved PLL

"ESS has improved the PLL in the ES9028PRO, giving the new chip faster lock times than the ES9018. Benchmark has used this to good advantage, changing the timing in the UltraLock2 system used in the DAC2 to create UltraLock3 for the DAC3s. Jitter attenuation in the two systems is virtually identical and exceeds the performance of the PLL in the ESS DAC chips."

"With the ES9028PRO, the DAC3 muting time is reduced to around 6 mS."

Listening

"Since last year, my reference DAC has been the DAC2 HGC, so making comparisons  between the two was very easy. The DAC’s balanced outputs feed a pair of Benchmark AHB2 power amplifiers, one for each channel."

"The DAC3 HGC retains all the virtues of its predecessor, including its remarkable transparency and a seemingly non-existent noise floor. There’s also a sense of effortlessness and a complete lack of strain even on the most complex musical scores. But, the most obvious areas of improvement are in the reproduction of inner detail and soundstage delineation."

"The DAC3 HGC ensures Benchmark Media’s continued leadership in high-resolution digital audio, and I highly recommend DAC3 HGC.

- Gary Galo, AudioXpress

Download the full review and bench report (PDF) → 

 




Benchmark Media Systems
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