Stereophile Reviewer Concludes the DS Sounds the Same as the Benchmark DAC3 HGC ...

Stereophile’s subjective reviews reached a new low in my opinion with the recent review of the Benchmark DAC3 HGC. The reviewer attempted to compare the Benchmark to the PS Audio DirectStream. He claimed that he, his nineteen-year-old musician son and an unidentified third person (“a friend and fellow audio reviewer”) could not hear any discernible differences between the two DACs.

The methodology used for the comparison included sending “the [analog] output of the DirectStream DAC into one of the DAC3’s analog inputs, [and] switching between this input and the [Benchmark’s] USB input coming directly from my server.”

The reviewer admits in parentheses that “[t]his approach gives a slight edge to the DAC3, because the DAC3’s analog inputs are unbalanced, and because the DirectStream’s output is passing through the DAC3’s preamp.”

Only a “slight” edge? Is he joking?

I imagine the Benchmark is a fine-sounding product and a good value. But Stereophile does a disservice to Benchmark, PS Audio and its readers by allowing reviewers to evaluate gear in such a shoddy manner. You can read the review here. (The reader comments are far more enlightening and entertaining than the review.)

Charles Hansen of Ayre has quite a rant about this over on the AudioAsylum: (and with more words: )

That just boggles the mind. If you can’t tell the difference between the Benchmark and the the DS, (independent of which you prefer) you’re not the sharpest knife in the drawer - or are doing something wrong, which they clearly are.

Is there a reason they couldn’t connect them both to an external preamp?? That seems like a better approach? But whatever.

Who knows. But it smacks of a visit to a buddy’s house where you “do a test” to compare some stuff, and you have a bunch of beers, and talk a lot while “listening” and swapping wires and so forth, and talk each other into what you want or expect to hear, and enjoy agreeing about it.itwasntme_gif


I read the linked review, he did run them both through a BHK preamp, part of the time. Running the DS through the Benchmark means both signals are going through the Benchmark’s analog output stage. If he could have reversed them, then the test might make some sense. I have read reviews where they did that with two preamps, to see if one was more transparent.

The other thing was he level matched by ear, using white noise.

Jeff - you’re not supposed to actually READ the review! We all have to conspire and collude and agree on each others’ opinions of someone else’s opinion who actually read the review! : )

I used to trust Stereophile, but the recent Benchmark review is quite the self-inflicted wound. And Stereophile’s mishandling of the fallout from the review is bordering on a dumpster fire.

How has Stereophile mishandled the reactions to the review?

The problem I had with the reactions was (at least in the first 100 or so I went through) there are seemingly next to no people who have actually heard both units, and they are just arguing about other stuff, and other people’s opinions.

I’m familiar with the Benchmark 1 and 2, as my brother owned them, but have not heard the 3. So I’m equally full of it, as far as that goes. It indeed would be surprising if they don’t sound different, unless the Benchmark 3 is doing something fundamentally different from the 2, or something similar to the DS (upsampling everything to DSD, etc.).

The reviewer seems to suggest there is less difference between the 2 and 3 than there was between the 1 and 2 (which I thought was noticable, and which he seems to suggest that Benchmark didn’t - though that’s not what they said - they just said the noise, etc. was not significantly different).

My experience with ESS DACs (many Oppo units, incl. the 105, HA-2 HP amp/dac, the Benchmarks, and various other DACs) is that they have something of a “house sound”, and that this is different from the DS DACs. I was a longtime ESS fan until I heard the DS. I still think they’re great chips (I believe Paul employs one in the GCD).

Elk said

How has Stereophile mishandled the reactions to the review?

In my opinion, with pompous comments like this, dismissive comments like this, and offensive comments like this.

I think Stereophile should fall on its sword, admit the Benchmark 3 review was a botched job, and pledge to try to do better in the future.


I, however, find John’s Atkinson’s comments reasonable and thoughtful - at least those you cited.

I hope Stereophile otherwise has forthrightly addressed the specific factual criticisms they must have received regarding how the review was conducted, at least as described here. Listening to one component through another, with which one is directly comparing the sound, is inappropriate at best.

I own a Dac2 and have heard the DS Snr, but not in the same system, so not a real comparison.

I was always a little surprised that Stereophile had rated the Dac2 A+, because in other DAC reviews, they have said the Dac2 lacked, it was color, or depth, or something in comparison to whatever DAC was being reviewed.

I like Charles Hanson, but in the last few months he is doing a lot of posting over at the Asylum. Mostly burning on MQA, but otherwise being very informative.

If someone can afford a Directstream, they might listen to a Dac3, but otherwise the price difference is wide enough, the most it will do is make owners of the last two versions of Benchmark feel good about their purchase.

When I heard the DS Snr, we were comparing it to an Audio Research Dac9, very different DACs, but while both were great, the differences were subtle. Of course that was a brief comparison. I am sure a few hours of listening would have revealed the more subtle differences.

Unless you are shopping for a DAC, that review will soon be forgotten. If no one had posted on it, I would have read it and forgot about it.

The differences between good DACs are subtle.

I have a Benchmark in my studio. It is wonderful. The analog inputs and volume control are very clean, but one should not review a competing product through them. This makes zero sense to me.

It is however and indication of the versatility of the Benchmark. It has a great headphone amplifier as well.

It is wonderful that the audiophile community has discovered so many professional products.