From our archives:
Are we missing a trick here?
First – which “we”? you, or me? Actually, both of us I think. We might both be missing a trick here. Let’s see, shall we? My experiences with the Benchmark DAC have been positive and more importantly, very positive for all of my end users.
I've only had one small failure and this was immediately and without fuss exchanged for another new unit from the importers. In contrast to the way other importers behave, this is exemplary action. However, that's not the point of this particular posting. Benchmark equipment comes from a studio environment and makes no allowances for the sensitivities of audiophiles. By this I mean that it adds nothing or detracts anything from the original signal – as far as I or anyone else, or indeed the measurements, can tell. So for people who are used to a 'romantic' sound which might be characterised by vintage valves (for example) or the Scottish-style vinyl one-note bass for example, this unit superficially might appear to be harsh in reproduction, or possible over detailed. It's a question of taste of course and to some extent it may be a question of age.
“Getting on a bit in years”
I've noticed that most of my Benchmark DAC buyers are from middle aged right through to “getting on a bit in years” and therefore it is highly likely that their hearing, like mine, has suffered from too much exposure to excessively loud music over the years. Or put differently their top-end response has been impaired. Given the widespread level of satisfaction in the age group, it seems to me that when compared to other DACs with a 'romantic' bloom, the Benchmark is giving them precisely what they want to hear.
Thinking about this a bit further, given the ultra reliability of the product, the very candid approach to answering questions in the extensive interview that I conducted with Benchmark, where clearly they have nothing to hide and do not feel aggrieved when people ask them pertinent, or perhaps seemingly impertinent, questions about how they get the sound that they do, I come away very impressed.
“Potential hidden treasures”
Leading on from this I wonder what other hidden treasures are available in the studio world which have yet to make their way into the audiophile world?
Some of the characteristics of studio equipment are of course that they are built to last, the construction is economically tight, i.e. not too much wasted space inside the cases, rugged, highly reliable and with a back up service which demanding studio engineers would come to expect and done with good grace to audiophiles like you and me. The point being though that because the equipment is so reliable, the aftersales service is not generally required to be activated.
Anyway with all of this in mind I am now looking for objects, items if you like, which could migrate from the studio world. So far I have discovered two brands of headphones which will compliment both tonally and commercially my main brand, Grado. I'm not at this stage in a position to reveal who these two new potential suppliers are but I have them on loan or this weekend and I'm already enthusiastic about it because they appear to offer outstanding value for money – as you might expect from a studio environment.
But what if you can’t afford, or choose not to afford a Benchmark DAC?
Moving on, although Benchmark is, in a literal sense, the benchmark for DACs, at comparatively 'reasonable' prices, the fact is that not everyone can afford to choose to afford a Benchmark DAC. With this in mind I was very pleasantly surprised today to learn of a new studio DAC from the same people that make the headphones (which is going to be introduced probably with Stereonow as their only London outlet) which as far as one can tell from the specifications approaches the performance of Benchmark – but at a fraction of the price.
I had assumed that it was Benchmark technology trickling down to this studio company. In fact quite the reverse! It is this particular studio company's technology which has migrated up to, and is incorporated by, Benchmark. Watch this space . . .