Benchmark DAC2 HGC Digital to Analog Audio Converter

If you like a clean, transparent, yet smooth and detailed D/A converter for your home pro (or larger separate pro facility) or hobbyist studio, the DAC2-DX  should be on your short list of DACs to consider. And it now has the right amount of features, including AES/EBU digital input and dual buss routing. I cannot emphasize enough the DAC2’s sound quality.

If your only experience has been with the old DAC1 Series, you are in for a treat. The DAC2 blows it away in terms of listenability. Significantly smoother, especially with Pop music

Benchmark DAC2 HGC Overview

Few devices are consistently praised in the audiophile community. The Benchmark DAC1 is one of the chosen few. You’ll have a hard time finding someone with critical feedback about that device.

And, although personal preferences and arguments over value are rife, it really is the reference for a high-end DAC and headphone amplifier combination.

n October of 2012, Benchmark Media released its DAC2 HGC to weighty expectations. At $2000, it’s certainly not affordable (a DAC1 HDR, comparable in features, still goes for $1600).

Benchmark DAC2

But to Benchmark’s credit, aside from the headphone amplifier, which is the same HPA2 found on the DAC1, the DAC2 is an entirely new device.

It leverages what is one of the world’s highest-end DACs, the ESS ES9018, adding to it, among other things, custom jitter-reduction logic. It lives up to its Hybrid Gain Control name by implementing separate volume controls: digital for digital inputs; analog for analog inputs.

Benchmark Dac2 Hgc Design And Build

The front panel is a riot of LEDs. These indicate the input selected as well as the signal’s word length and sampling rate. We would have preferred a clearer, not to mention neater, display but the collection of LEDs does its job.

The DAC2’s overall build is good; though the simple bent-metal, folded chassis, and exposed bolts and screws give it a cottage-industry feel. There are none of the luxury aurae we’d hope for at the price.

You’ll also find a pair of 6.3mm headphone outputs, and for once we can’t really notice any degradation of performance when both outputs are in use.

Benchmark DAC2

It’s a sign that the headphone-amplifier section is well design and has plenty of drive. The left-side output includes a switch that mutes the analogue outputs on the rear panel, which is handy if you’re using the DAC2 as a preamp.

Benchmark DAC2 HGC Performance

This Benchmark is a fine performer. The first quality that grabs our attention is its tonal balance. It’s as even as we’ve heard from a DAC at this price, giving each part of the frequency spectrum just the right amount of emphasis.

This in turn helps to make voices and instruments more convincing, particularly when it’s allied to such a high levels of resolution.

If you’re the kind of listener that likes to analyse recordings, the Benchmark is for you. Rarely do we hear a recording laid bare this way; subtle instrumental strands are easy to follow and aren’t lost when the music gets complicated.

Benchmark DAC2

The positive repercussions of this are felt in most music, but most of all in material with wide-ranging dynamic extremes such as the Jaws OST from John Williams or Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

It’s a clean, precise presentation but avoids the clinical edge that often goes along with such an outlook.

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WHAT ARE THE PROS

WHAT ARE THE CONS

  • Sound could be more exciting
  • Not at its best working as a preamp
  • Against some tough (cheaper) competition

Partnering kit

A unit like this demands good quality sources – we use our reference Naim NDS/555PS streamer and Macbook.

The laptop is loaded with Pure Music software and packed with a range of material from 192kps files of Eminem’s Encore set right through to Beethoven’s Piano Concertos (Nos 3, 4, and 5) in 24-bit/192kHz.

Benchmark DAC2

Headphone choice is equally important. The bulk of the test involved AKG’s superb K812s and Grado’s PS500s, but we also spent a decent amount of time with B&W’s P7s and Audio Technica’s ATH-W1000X.

The DAC2 HGC was also tested in our main reference stereo system. This includes Bryston’s BP26/4B SST2 pre/power and ATC’s SCM50 speakers.

Frequently Asked Question

Does DAC really make a difference?

A better DAC more accurately performs the conversion. Whether an expensive DAC provides an audible quality difference is debatable/subjective, but it’s not likely to make a difference unless you specifically want a DAC that “colors”/distort the sound. A DAC is a Digital to Analog Converter

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