Benchmark DAC-1 stereo D/A converter

The Benchmark DAC-1 is a mastering-grade two-channel digital to analogue converter (DAC). True to the brand, it immediately set a benchmark for monitoring conversion on its release in the mid-2000s – famously serving Abbey Road’s main mastering suite.

What does the Benchmark DAC -1 sound like?

In a sense, the Benchmark DAC-1 doesn’t sound like anything. The end goal of a DAC is to disappear, playing back as invisibly as possible. But given that no DAC is perfect, they inevitably sound different to each other, and therefore could be said to have a sound of their own.

I find the Benchmark DAC-1 to sound authoritative and natural. Every other DAC I own has a slightly cloudy or washed-out quality to it. The kind of quality that makes people swear digital audio is inferior to vinyl. That includes my Prism Lyra 1, which is easily mastering grade in itself.

The Benchmark, on the other hand, just sounds like the music is right there in the room, right in front of you. The Prism might render a solo cello perfectly and beautifully, but with the Benchmark, you hear the scratch of the bow on the strings.

Why is the Benchmark DAC-1 useful?

Mastering is most often an art of making tiny moves that add up to a dramatic difference. To do that properly, you need to hear every single nuance. The Benchmark DAC-1 reveals every subtlety in a recording.

Why bother with a separate DAC when I have a perfectly good, and perfectly mastering grade audio interface as well? Because mastering is also about feel. And while I find the Prism plays back with astonishing clarity and grace, I just feel it more with the Benchmark.

History of the Benchmark DAC-1

The Benchmark DAC-1 may have been superseded (by the DAC-2). And there may have been many advances in audio conversion technology – it’s a far more crowded market now than it was when I bought my DAC-1. But the DAC-1 was arguably the first time a monitoring converter got it right. Everything since has been splitting hairs.

And having found a home in so many mastering rooms, the Benchmark DAC-1 still serves as a yardstick for others to measure against.

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