With the audio industry migrating to a variety of high-resolution audio formats, and recordings available in 24-bit PCM at sample rates of 96 kHz and 192 kHz, formats alone are not enough to gain entry to the world of high-resolution audio. Benchmark Media Systems is the company that actually states “High-Resolution Audio is a myth unless the entire playback system extends beyond the limitations of the CD format. The truth is that the CD format often pushes the limits of very good playback systems. Very few audio systems are capable of rendering the full capabilities of the CD format. Fewer yet are capable of rendering true high-resolution audio performance.”
And they add: “If a D/A converter, power amplifier, or loudspeaker is limited to CD performance, the entire system will be limited to CD performance. In such a system, the new high-resolution audio formats will fail to deliver any audible improvements.”
With this in mind, Benchmark is focused on building some of the highest-quality audio components available, and both audio professionals and audio enthusiasts have come to appreciate the outstanding performance of the company’s products. The introduction of the new DAC3 HGC D/A converter is an important step towards providing that essential bridge to true high-resolution playback, avoiding the pitfalls of internal D/A conversion, digital volume controls, and truly leveraging raw digital outputs.
Like the DAC2, Benchmark’s DAC3 D/A converter uses a motor-driven 32-bit digital volume control driving a 32-bit D/A conversion stage. This combination delivers true high-resolution audio performance over a wide range of volume settings. Also, the unique hybrid volume-control system delivers maximum performance from analog or digital inputs.
But the big difference will be heard because the DAC3 features the ESS Technologies’ new ES9028PRO converter chip and has lower THD and THD+N noise than Benchmark’s DAC2 converter, defining a new reference. In fact, four balanced 32-bit D/A converters are summed together to create each balanced analog output. This 4:1 summation provides a 6 dB noise reduction, and gives the DAC3 industry-leading performance. The DAC3 also employs an advanced high-headroom digital filter design, and a high-sample-rate (192kHz) asynchronous USB 2.0 audio interface, with inputs fully isolated from interface jitter by Benchmark’s new UltraLock3 jitter attenuation system.
Designed to be as uncolored and natural as possible, internal digital processing and conversion is 32-bits, and this processing includes 3.5 dB of headroom above 0 dBFS. This headroom prevents the DSP overloads that commonly occur in other D/A converters. The DAC3 maintains the familiar DAC2 form factor and feature set, but adds the higher performance available from the new ES9028PRO D/A converter, allowing improved frequency response, faster PLL lock times and faster switching between input signals.
Like the DAC2, the DAC3 converter displays Word Length and Sample Rate information, allows polarity control and direct DSD D/A conversion, and features a -20 dB DIM function, home theater bypass, and digital pass-through. All digital inputs on the DAC3 support native PCM or DSD conversion. The DAC3 conversion system seamlessly switches between native PCM and native DSD conversion. From any input, DSD is transported with bit accuracy over DoP 1.1. DSD and PCM are both natively converted to analog. There are no DSD to PCM or PCM to DSD conversions.
Like previous Benchmark converters the new DAC3 was designed to directly drive power amplifiers and speakers. Benchmark converters feature adjustable low-impedance passive attenuators at the XLR outputs that can be used to optimize the interface to the power amplifier (or powered monitor). This unique Benchmark feature optimizes the gain staging between the DAC and the power amplifier. When audio stages are properly matched, each component in the audio chain is able to operate at its optimum signal level, and the system performance is significantly improved.
Anyone interested in knowing more about Benchmark’s converters should start by reading the thorough review by Gary Galo for audioXpress, available online here. Like with the DAC2 iteration, the new DAC3 is available in the HGC version with built-in headphone amplifier and an L version without it. The DAC3 HGC is available for $2,195.00 USD and the DAC3 L for $1,895.00 USD, both available in Silver and Black finishes, with or without IR remote control.