Wouldn’t it’s nice for those who might purchase a reference-quality headphone amp, DAC, and preamp multi function small footprint? Nicely, you’ll be able to. Look no additional than Benchmark’s excellent DAC3 HGC, which follows within the footsteps of the corporate’s acclaimed DAC2 and DAC1.
The DAC3 HGC has two units of analog RCA inputs and 5 stereo digital inputs (two Toslink optical, two coax digital, and one USB Sort B). When you plan to make use of the Benchmark DAC3 HGC with USB-C geared up computer systems (like I did), you’ll be able to choose up a USB-C to USB Sort B cable on-line. When you intend to play hi-res music information higher than 24-bit/96kHz, the USB or coax digital inputs are really useful.
The entrance of the unit sports activities two 1/Four-inch headphone outputs, able to driving two pairs of headphones concurrently. The headphone outputs are pushed by Benchmark’s HPA2 headphone amplifier. Benchmark claims the HPA2 amp has an output impedance near zero ohms, delivering a excessive damping issue to keep up management over a headphone’s transducers.
Every headphone output performs a barely completely different perform on the DAC3 HGC. Plugging a headphone into the left output mutes the DAC3’s analog outputs, enabling you to immediately swap from listening to audio system to headphones. Plug your cans into the best jack and all outputs stay dwell, so linked audio system and headphones will play on the identical time.
You possibly can disable the auto-mute function of the left headphone output by adjusting the DAC3 HGC’s inner jumpers. Talking of jumpers, you’ll be able to even modify the HPA2’s achieve, which can lower the default output by both 10db or 20db. Benchmark gives this management so you’ll be able to fine-tune the DAC3’s efficiency to your headphone’s impedance.
I ought to be aware that along with the DAC3 HGC, the corporate sells the DAC3 L and DAC3 DX. All DAC3 fashions supply an identical audio efficiency, the distinction lies in every mannequin’s inputs and outputs. The DAC3 L, for instance, has no headphone amplifier—it’s only a DAC and preamp. The DAC3 DX, in the meantime, provides an XLR AES digital enter whereas dropping the 2 analog stereo RCA inputs discovered on the HGC and L fashions.
DAC energy beneath the hood
The DAC3 HGC sports activities the most recent ESS Expertise ES9028PRO 32-bit D/A converter chip, which performs all of the unit’s digital-to-analog conversion. The chip is geared toward audiophile and recording-studio gear. Among the many ES9028PRO’s advantages over earlier—era ESS chips are lively 2nd and third harmonic compensation, decrease THD+N (whole harmonic distortion and noise), decrease passband ripple, improved frequency response, and sooner PLL (phase-locked loop) lock instances.
The Benchmark DAC3 is constructed to function the center of your hi-res and common disc assortment. There’s native assist for each main hi-res lossless codec, together with FLAC, ALAC, and DSD. When you’re a purist, you’ll be completely happy to notice that each DSD and PCM are transformed natively to analog. Benchmark says that DSD is transported with bit accuracy over DoP 1.1. There’s no conversion of DSD to PCM, or PCM to DSD previous to the analog stage. The DAC3, nevertheless, received’t decode MQA tracks.
The DAC3 HGC is decidedly old-fashioned in terms of informing you of what’s it as much as. When you’re even remotely aware of the DAC1 or DAC2 fashions, you’ll be aware that the DAC3 hasn’t undergone any important beauty facelift over its predecessors. There’s no show display screen wherever on the unit. Darkish or glowing blue and pink LEDs on the brushed-aluminum entrance panel let you know all the pieces you must find out about which enter is lively, whether or not the incoming sign is PCM or DSD, and the bit and pattern fee of the incoming sign. Sadly, you’ll have to be near the gadget to learn the labels subsequent to these LEDs.
If a sampling frequency exceeds 48kHz, the DAC3 doesn’t have an easy technique to present it. As a substitute, as you’ll be able to see within the photograph under, the DAC3 makes use of LED indicators with 2x and 4x labels on its entrance panel—you must do the multiplication in your head. Decoding a 24-bit/96kHz audio file, for instance, will mild up the 24, 48, and x2 indicators. It’s awkward to explain, however easy to make use of when you perceive it.
The DAC3 HGC has a servo-driven, knurled quantity management. Elevating or decreasing the quantity by way of the distant management bodily strikes the quantity management on the DAC3. While you transfer the quantity management by hand, you’ll be able to’t assist however love its easy, exact movement. A small pink dot on the quantity management exhibits you the quantity’s present place. It will have been good if the quantity dial had an illuminated mild (or a front-panel show), so you may see the quantity degree from a distance.
Talking of quantity, the DAC3 has two mute settings, each of which may be activated by way of the hand held IR distant. Mute absolutely silences the quantity, whereas DIM attenuates the quantity by -20dB. The DIM function is sweet if you wish to decrease the quantity immediately to listen to one thing with out lacking any of this system you’re listening to.
Uncovering hidden options
Unboxing the DAC3 is an audio geek’s dream. You’re greeted by a spiral-bound, eight.5 x 11-inch colour person guide. New customers would do nicely to evaluation its contents. When you don’t learn it, you may get downgraded efficiency—the unit’s default USB 1.1 configuration is a good instance (as famous under). Skilled customers ought to preserve it as a reference.
There are hidden options you received’t find out about until you learn the guide. The DAC3 HGC has a house theater bypass function, for instance, which makes it simple to include into surround-sound installations; coax digital enter D4 may be reconfigured for digital pass-through; and the onboard, bi-directional 12v set off can be utilized as a grasp, a slave, or disabled altogether. The checklist of doable tweaks goes on and on.
The guide additionally exhibits you find out how to fine-tune most of the DAC3’s settings, both with the distant management or by shifting jumpers on the unit’s circuit board. To modify the DAC3 from its default driverless USB 1.1 (with an higher restrict of 24-bit/96kHz) to USB 2.zero (with bandwidth enough for as much as 24-bit/192kHz and DSD), for instance, you maintain down the USB button on the distant for 3 seconds. Headphone amplifier achieve and digital passthrough capabilities are achieved by setting jumpers. As you’ll be able to most likely inform, the Benchmark DAC3’s design places you in full management of its operational parameters.
Premium construct high quality in a small footprint
The Benchmark DAC3 HGC seems like a premium product as you maintain it. It feels dense and strong for its small measurement. The rear digital and analog inputs and outputs are gold plated to restrict oxidation.
You’ll discover a pair of balanced (XLR) outputs and two pairs of feminine unbalanced (RCA) stereo outputs. The XLR outputs are set to ship skilled studio ranges. When you plan to make use of an influence amplifier to drive audio system with the DAC3, you may must allow the DAC3’s 10dB or 20dB pads by setting the suitable jumper. I used Benchmark’s AHB2 energy amplifiers with the DAC3, so no additional jumper settings have been required. As soon as once more, the in-depth person guide does a superb job explaining all this.
Solidly constructed distant management
Benchmark’s infrared distant management stands aside from the gang. Its hefty, die-cast aluminum design places it in sharp distinction to most of as we speak’s remotes. The buttons themselves protrude barely from a single, skinny steel sheet gracing the distant’s face. Lettering is massive and easy-to-read even at a distance. The distant, sadly, lacks any backlighting for low-light conditions.
The DAC3’s IR enter is clearly seen on the entrance panel. I affixed a Niles Audio IR emitter to the unit’s faceplate and despatched instructions to the DAC3 by way of my IP-to-IR community management system.
The Benchmark DAC3’s DAC, headphone, and preamp capabilities are excellent. I examined the preamp part with two of the corporate’s AHB2 energy amplifiers with the amps set to bridged mono. I paired a set of of RBH Sound’s top-of-the-line Signature SV-1212NR Reference audio system with the amps; served content material by way of an Oppo UDP-205 common disc participant, Roon Media server, and Tidal; and used Focal Clear, Oppo PM-2, and Beyerdynamic Amiron Home headphones in my listening assessments.
Jazz, hip-hop, classical, or rock, the Benchmark DAC3 proved a maestro of any musical style, persistently demonstrating large steadiness, refinement, neutrality, and most of all, command. If the recording has it, the Benchmark is able to rendering dynamic bass that by no means loses management, resolves fantastic musical particulars with out erring towards being brilliant, and shows a stupendous midrange neutrality that doesn’t cross over to turning into analytical. These traits have been all on show taking part in the hi-res variations of Pink Floyd’s classics Want You Have been Right here and Darkish Facet of the Moon. Every of the alarm clocks on “Time” throughout the monitor’s opening stood firmly in house and time. The bass notes that are available on the track’s 00:59 second mark burst out and pale with management and refinement.
The DAC3’s dynamics are superlative. Listening to the refrain of Mozart’s Requiem was like experiencing a efficiency from the balcony in a live performance corridor. In my notes I underscored the best way that the DAC3 balanced each dynamics and delicacy.
Taking part in Dido’s “No Freedom” by way of Tidal from the album, The Lady Who Acquired Away, I famous the Benchmark’s capability to create a deep, large, and layered sound stage that I usually don’t equate with this track. Dido’s wealthy vocals have been rendered with acceptable physique and element. On the DSD64 model of Steely Dan’s Gaucho, sax traces have been pure, easy, and by no means brittle. As soon as once more, the sound stage was deep, large, and detailed.
I turned to the hi-res model of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On.” Plant’s vocals have been rendered with precision and timbral accuracy, and Jimmy Web page’s riffs exhibited the utmost refinement.
Lastly, the DAC3’s transparency and management introduced out every headphone’s power, weak point, and character with brutal honesty.
Webster’s defines “benchmark” as “any normal or reference by which others may be measured or judged.” I am unable to consider a greater description of Benchmark’s DAC3 HGC, however there is a steep price ticket hooked up to that superlative efficiency.
The DAC3 HGC is undeniably geared towards the discerning music lover or audio engineer who values peak efficiency. When you’re obsessed with music, have the funds, and aren’t searching for bells and whistles, you’ll be able to’t go incorrect with Benchmark’s DAC3 HGC. Pair it with the best headphones and also you’ll have many days and nights of sonic bliss.