The Benchmark DAC2 HGC
With Benchmark's high-value DAC1 D/A headphone amplifier getting a little long in the toothour original review was in July 2003it was good to hear the new DAC2 HGC ($1995) at Axpona. The DAC2 uses an asynchronous USB2.0 interface, will decode DSD files, has five digital inputs, two single-ended analog inputs, balanced and singled-ended analog outputs, two headphone outputs, and features a hybrid analog/32-bit digital volume control that preserves resolution. Analog signals are never digitized; digital signals never pass through an analog potentiometer; yet both analog and digital volume are controlled with a single knob.
The DAC HGC was being demmed with a MacBook Pro running Amarra as source, feeding a Studio Electric EA5 hybrid amplifier ($2495) and the retro-styled Studio Electric Monitors ($2495/pair in standard finish; $2850/pair in retro mahogany), which are the top speakers in my photo. (The floorstanding speakers were not being played when I was in the room but cost $5500/pair.) This room was the second I encountered at AXPONA playing classic dub recordings from the 1970sthe sound was surprisingly convincing despite the speakers' small size. (Traditionally, dub demands refrigerator-sized bass bins.)