Benchmark DAC3 with Naim

Hello,

Interested in this DAC specifically, and whether anyone has tried one with Naim. I have a 282/SC/300, all non-DR, and am looking for a replacement for my Ayre. I have tried a Naim DAC and didn’t think much of the sound which I found a bit woolly. This was without a PSU, however I really don’t wish to add another box and like the smaller footprint of the Benchmark. By all accounts it performs well, so am interested from those who’ve heard it with (or without) Naim, as well as any solid alternatives to try for around £2500 maximum. I prefer a neutral, transparent and fast sound and find Naim matches well with these characteristics in a DAC. Connection will be via USB from a MacMini.

Finally, although some may suggest a Naim streamer, I prefer the flexibility of a standalone DAC and I personally feel one can get better performance from a separate DAC that that which is available in the ND5/NDX. I know they’re wonderful units - just not for me.

Best, JJL

I recently tried a DAC3, Denafrips T2, and a Bryston BDA3.14 against my nDAC (with and without a non-Naim XPS). I still have the nDAC, finding it preferable to the others.

Not in a Naim system - I have Exposure 3010S2 pre and monos.

Thanks for that. What did you think of the Bryston? Did you use the steaming capabilities?

I know this doesn’t directly answer the question to the DAC3 specifically, but when I had the XS2 and a CD5XS in a second system quite some time ago, I used a Benchmark DAC1 for a long period. I remember really enjoying it in a Naim system.

On a side note, @Zenarcade, I’m actually really surprised the nDAC survived over the Denafrips T2. Interesting, and proves systems are all so different. I have had a friend’s Denafrips Pontus 2 in my system for almost a week, just to try for fun, and I cannot believe what an excellent DAC it is. I’ve heard it in his system a few times, but he has a much better and costlier one than mine. I am feeding the NDX2 to it, and now I can see what all of the R2R ladder fuss is all about.

I should do a review of it, because I was convinced Chord would be my next DAC/Upscaler in the future, but that idea is on pause. I had a Qutest and vied for the NDX2/XPS-DR combo. The Denafrips seems to retain a majority of the speed and uber-transparency of Chord but adds a touch of full-bodiedness and analog characteristic the Chord doesn’t really possess. The soundstage is also quite enveloping; it’s crazy good.

Apologies to the OP for the thread drift…

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I did nothing with the streaming capabilities. It sounded fine - it’s very good. I didn’t think it had the propulsiveness or authority of the nDAC/TXPS.

@jsawyer09 "I’m actually really surprised the nDAC survived over the Denafrips T2. "

Why?

It was just an assumption that was incorrect is all.
The T2(or Plus) is their ‘top’ DAC. As good as the Pontus 2 is, I surmised that T2 would be exponentially better in terms of performance. I preferred a Qutest by no small margin over what I’ve now heard of the nDAC. I’m now re-examining a higher-tier Chord digital setup in the future due to what I am hearing from the Denafrips.
None of this matters, obviously, as everyone hears and prefers differently. I was just surprised given what I said above. I knew nearly nothing about Denafrips until relatively recently. I know two people who own one model or another from their range; one said she preferred it over the Chord DAVE she had and the other had a couple of DACs that, like the DAVE, should’ve at least on paper (and due to cost, which I know doesn’t always tell the story) handily been better than a Denafrips. Again, ‘better’ is in the ear of the beholder.

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Well, I can’t say if the T2 is exponentially better than the Pontus 2, as I’ve never heard the Pontus 2. I’d been looking to see if there was a DAC better enough than the nDAC/XPS to be worth getting without reaching into dCS pricing territory.

All three of the DACs I tried were very good sounding - don’t get me wrong. And I’m sure some would prefer the T2 or the Benchmark DAC3 or the Bryston over the nDAC/XPS. I did not - the nDAC, for me, sounded more authoritative and gutsy - it put more body behind Leo Kottke’s acoustic guitar, for example, and it makes triangles sound more like what they do in real life (to me, at least). To say nothing of really getting the feel of Bill Berry or Chester Thompson really unloading on a big floor tom. Etc.

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Could you listen to Aqua Acoustics dac maybe? A lot of great reviews everywhere on this brand.

Not a thread drift! I was asking about DACs for Naim. I do like the Chord sound, but not enough to justify the cost of TT2, especially since I don’t use headphones. One wonders how much of the price is really justified…there’s a thick wedge of machined aluminium I’m not convinced is necessary. Would therefore be looking at the Benchmark 3B, I think, which is the DAC only model.

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See you’re using a tube pre with Naim which is interesting. Have been looking at the Prima Luna DAC100. Although slightly over budget the idea of a tube DAC intrigued me…but definitely one for a demo. I’m not sure it’d be the sound signature I’m after…but reviews are excellent. If that’s anything to go by.

Apparently Prima Luna products sound very good for the asking price. But not sure they are very reliable. A member here had a lot of problems with his pre. Returned it twice and finally sold it.
Made in China….

I’ve heard of Aqua but know very little, if anything, about them. I’m not certain anyone near me carries the brands, so listening would be tough. Italian, though. I only bring that up because it’s amazing where some of these outstanding designs are hailing from. The Aqua looks to have a nice feature set and build quality. That’s what’s striking about the Denafrips. The build is second-to-none, and the internals raise an eyebrow (separate linear power supply fitted in the bottom and separated/isolated from the main board)—weighs almost 20 lbs. Just an impressive bit of hardware, which is what the Aqua looks like, too.

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From a recent review I could read on Hifi Advice, the Aqua gives a more full bodied and organic presentation vs the Denafrips. But at similar level, the Denafrips is less expensive.

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I was thinking Hugo TT2 and Mscaler as an endgame set (at least for a few years kind of endgame), but like you I feel that’s one heck of an investment. As I mentioned, one friend has had this combo at one time and enjoyed it very much, but a Denafrips Venus, I think, with a DDC which I cannot remember (maybe the Hermes?) toppled it with ease in his system.
Anyway, the Benchmark is a great DAC builder. I think they got somewhat of a bad rap, IMO, being geared toward the ‘professional studio’ that produces a very clean, almost bleached character. I never felt that way, but Internet lore and all.

I dunno. I’ve been a Primaluna fan for some time. Their tube Integrateds are first-rate and quite clever engineering. They sound fantastic. Designed in The Netherlands, but made in China. They have quite a good reputation for customer service and dealer network.

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Interesting, indeed. That’s almost how I’d characterize the Denafrips: full-bodied and organic. I think this is an oversimplified description of how R2R DACs sound versus other designs. In oversampling ‘slow’ mode, as compared to the non-oversampling in the Pontus 2, it definitely is more clear, defined, smooth and ‘Chord’-like, but somehow manages to have a very organic or analog sound to it. In NOS, it is subtle, but notes seem more rounded and instruments in the soundstage are more in the mix versus being etched in their own space. It’ll be a preference thing to the listener. For me, without a doubt OS mode is the way to go.

I can’t really comment, as I didn’t heard any of them.
But Denafrips and Aqua can be easily added to Chord in the list of dacs to listen. Maybe Benchmark too.

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I’m little late to the party. I’m currently doing some research on DACs since I may be setting up another system soon. I haven’t heard about Denafrips before this but read great things about the Ares and Pontus 2 on another forum. It appears that the Denafrips have more fans than haters based on responses on the forum.

Interestingly, the Denafrips compare very favourably to the Chords (Qutest up to Dave) as few prefer the traits of the Denafrips over the Chord. Although the Pontus 2 is above my budget, I’ll keep an eye on it from now. By the way, may I ask what does R2R stand for?

One of the many good reviews of the Denafrips taken from another forum ;

As a diehard vinyl listener, I’ve actively avoided digital audio for the past 32 years until COVID struck this past year. With working at home for a year and a half now, the advantages of being able to change music without getting up became much more important than pre-COVID. So I built a front-end for listening to digital music both via local files and Qobuz streaming. As part of the process, I’ve listened to 8 DACs in the past year:

1. Audioquest Dragonfly Red - already owned, but plugged it into my streamer to see how it would fare in my home system
2. Rega DAC - loaned to me by a friend. Had it in my system for several days and then took it out.
3. Denafrips Ares II - loaned to me by a friend. Had it in my system for several months.
4. Simaudio Moon 280D - Listened at a dealer in comparison to the Qutest
5. Chord Qutest - Bought one. Had one in my system for several months. Sold it after I got the Pontus
6. Denafrips Pontus II - What I decided to keep.
7. Chord Hugo TT / MScaler - Listened at a dealer
8. Schiit Yggdrasil - Listened at a friend’s house

If you’re seeking a more analog and less digital sound, I can highly recommend the Pontus. FWIW, I was not at all impressed by the sound of the Hugo TT / MScaler. It was lacking in both pace and tonal color for my preferences. The Ares II was decent, but the Pontus is in a completely different league in terms of its sound quality improvement overs the Ares. The Ares has better tonal color and a more analog quality to its sound than the Qutest while the Qutest has better pace and timing than the Ares. The Pontus is better in pace/timing, ability to convey tonal colors, soundstage size than both the Ares and the Qutest. I thought the Pontus has more finesse than the Yggy. The Yggy was more forceful in how it conveyed rhythms.

Hi @ryder! R2R refers to resistive ladder networking, which consists of resistors of two values (the R /2R). It’s just a different architecture than the typical Sigma-Delta design. I’m not an expert in these matters, so will leave it at that.

I can tell you that the Denafrips in my system is somewhat mind-boggling to me, but in a good way rather than frustratingly so. I’ll be letting it go to be with its rightful owner at some point (he’s letting me keep it while he tests out others), but it has left quite an impression on me. He’s also got the Denafrips Hermes DDC (digital-to-digital converter) that he swears by as well. That comes with a caveat, though; he has told me the i2S connection with it will leave one speechless, especially for a computer system. Unfortunately for me, I have my doubts about what it would bring to my system because Naim streamers don’t output USB, which is where i2S really shines, I suppose; I’d have to use the SPDIF connection and have it converted to the i2S signal via any number of HDMI cables. I just don’t know that the juice would be worth the squeeze on that one, and an expensive proposition for just an extra ounce of ‘improvement’. This is all just my suspicions, of course, but it might be worth a listen just in case.

Regardless, the Denafrips DACs are the real deal. In the end it will be a preferential decision from the listener, as the presentation is quite different from Chord, but not a complete departure as one might find from other comparisons. Like I say, the Denafrips is very revealing and ‘fun’ like the Chord, but it has an uncanny analog sound to it at the same time. It’s quite a best of both worlds in many respects. I’ve never heard a Hugo TT2/MScaler combo or a DAVE, but my friend has owned them (he’s a Chord fanboy like myself) and moved them on for Denafrips, which I find incredulous if by no other reason than the insane price differential. That description you’ve added is spot-on from where I’m listening.

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Issue with Denafrips is sourcing/demo…not much out there