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Review and Measurements of Benchmark DAC3

Jun 25, 2020
OK, the DAC3 HGC that Benchmark was kind enough to send arrived today. So I put it on the bench and ran a few tests. I will be on the road tomorrow late morning so if you want to have anything else measured (hopefully not!), ask right away.

NOTE: all measurements are using balanced output unless noted, with -10 dB jumper applied as the original review.

Let's start with our Dashboard view:
View attachment 14207

Right away we see a 2 dB or so improvement in SINAD/reduction of distortion compared to the loaner unit I had from @dallasjustice.

Let's look at the contested Jitter measurements using Benchmark's own ASIO driver:
View attachment 14208

We see a substantial improvement in jitter sidebands. We went from -108 dB or so to -131 dB!

No, it had nothing to do with using ASIO4ALL:

View attachment 14210

As you see, it makes no difference which driver is used. Both generate the identical, much improved results.

For completeness, let's run through the rest of our tests:

View attachment 14211

We see a marked improvement in low frequency noise/distortion (in green/brown). Gone is also the varying channel response that I saw (in red) in the first unit I tested. This matches our dashboard view of better THD+N/SINAD.

Here is IMD vs level and comparison to some other devices I had tested later, specifically Oppo UDP-205:

View attachment 14213

The Benchmark DAC3 HGC (in red) has substantially lower noise than all the other DACs I have tested. It starts to saturate a bit at maximum level where it then runs into Oppo UDP-205. But otherwise beats it handily.

And here is the spectrum of 1 kHz distortion and noise (saved for future reference):
View attachment 14214

Distortion products are well under -120 dB, satisfying our even most conservative standard for audibility or better said, lack thereof.

Finally, linearity:
View attachment 14215

Using balanced output (which is used in all of the tests above), the DAC3 nails the performance here. There is something you don't see in these graphs which is how much my analyzer struggles to get stable set of measurements. With every DAC I have tested, it usually times out and picks the last value at lower amplitudes. Not so with Benchmark DAC3. The results instantly converge allowing the analyzer to run through all the values. There is exceptional engineering here to generate such stability and precision at such low amplitudes.

Alas, the small blemish on unbalanced output remains.

This second loaner unit of Benchmark DAC3 (HGC) finally lives up to the standard and reputation of Benchmark as a company. Measurements are exceptional with no faults found anywhere. OK, there is a setback in linearity for unbalanced output but otherwise, this is as good it gets guys.

It is a puzzler as to why the previous loaner did not generate as exceptional of results as this unit. I hope Benchmark works with the owner of the other unit and investigates.
Can an amplifier without adjustable gain use a 12 volt signal? Can a standard pre amp use that level? I was under the impression 4 volts was the level they are supposed to work with. It would be good to see the max volt output and a measurement at 4 volts.


Addicted to Fun and Learning
Jan 27, 2020
Suffolk Coastal, UK
My geriatric preamps can give 10V from their RCA outputs and when I turned the power amp gains right down and ran the preamp flat out, I got it to (admittedly soft) clip. If the Benchmark can more than double that, then 12V max wouldn't be an issue. I was informed that it's a good idea to put a goodly voltage down the interconnects to keep noise and so on down, but this may be a rats nest of preconceptions.
Sep 2, 2020
Now using -20 dB pads and I'm going to leave them be. I used the -10 dB pads for several months so I must've gotten used to that since everything sounds the same now, except maybe more "dynamic" even though that may well be placebo, volume pot is now set @ 12 'O clock. If disabling attenuation was as simple as flicking a switch at the back, I'd try the 0 dB setting one more time but now I'm finally done with this. The -20 dB setting has a lower output impedance than -10 anyway so that suits me also. And about the clicks mentioned earlier, they must be some sort of heat related phenomenon of the DAC cover plate, since relays would be extremely predictable in behaviour. Anyway, they are gone now.
Oct 6, 2020
Hi Amrin, what do you mean by the higher output level being useful for room EQ? What does higher output level even mean in this context?

Nov 11, 2020
Hi Amrin, what do you mean by the higher output level being useful for room EQ? What does higher output level even mean in this context?

I'm a beginner with this so hopefully I get this correct. When setting target EQ's you set a target decibel level. If you set it too high you are only eq'ing the peaks. If you set it low you might be able to end up with a better eq but your overall volume will be too low. Using the higher output is a way to add the volume back.

This video (at the 11:00 minute mark) addresses setting the target levels and discusses associated reduction in volume.
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