A New 'Benchmark' in DAC Technology and performance
Benchmark's DAC1 family of D/A converters has been a best-selling two-channel reference-quality system that is in daily use at many of the finest recording studios and mastering rooms. DAC1 converters are also enjoyed by thousands of audiophiles. Now Benchmark raises the bar with a new reference product, the DAC2 HGC. Its performance level exceeds the measurement limits of today's state-of-the art test equipment. Discover the 'analog sound' of the DAC2 HGC.
"Refined Smoothness Make It Much Closer to Live Music"
"As we've come to expect from Benchmark, the DAC2 HGC is a well constructed, meticulously engineered and fine sounding product in a compact form and at a thoroughly competitive price," reports Keith Howard in Hi-fi News, July 2013. "The excellent headphone amplifier is icing on already rich cake."
"Although the Benchmark DAC2 HGC does not look that different from the old DAC1 series, its performance and feature set is so much more advanced," raves John Gatski in his October 24, 2012 review for Everything Audio Network. "A boost in playback resolution and refined smoothness make it much closer to live music, and the addition of DSD compatibility opens up more possibilities in the world of high-res computer music."
Outperforms the DAC1 in Every Respect
The DAC2 HGC digital to analog converter, stereo system preamplifier, and headphone amplifier outperforms the DAC1 in every respect. It has lower noise, lower distortion, improved accuracy, outstanding musical detail, precise stereo imaging, an advanced digital filter design, and a new high-sample-rate Asynchronous USB Audio interface.
All DAC2 HGC inputs are fully isolated from interface jitter by Benchmark's new UltraLock2 jitter attenuation system. Internal digital processing and conversion is 32-bit and includes 3.5 dB of headroom above 0 dBFS. Four balanced 32-bit D/A converter are summed together for each balanced output.
Hybrid Gain Control
The initials 'HGC' stand for Benchmark's unique Hybrid Gain Control system, which combines active analog gain control, passive low-impedance attenuators, a 32-bit digital gain control, and a servo-driven volume control. All inputs are controlled by the rotary volume control. This volume control moves in response to commands from the remote control. Analog inputs are never converted to digital, and digital inputs never pass through an analog potentiometer.
Digital inputs are precisely controlled in the 32-bit DSP system. The DSP system preserves precise L/R balance and precise stereo imaging, while avoiding any source of noise and distortion.
Benchmark's unique passive output attenuators provide distortion-free gain reduction without reducing the dynamic range of the converter. The attenuators optimize the gain staging between the DAC2 HGC and the power amplifier. This optimization is absolutely essential for maximizing the dynamic range of the entire playback system. Much of the success of the DAC1 converters can be attributed to the passive output attenuators. Musical details can be obscured by system noise whenever a preamplifier and power amplifier are improperly matched. The HGC system will make full use of your power amplifier's dynamic range, allowing you to experience new details in your favorite recordings.
Native DSD Conversion
All digital inputs on the DAC2 HGC support native DSD conversion. DoP 1.0 is automatically detected on all digital inputs, and the system seamlessly switches to native DSD conversion. DoP 1.0 is supported by many media players, and DSD downloads are now available from several sources.
UltraLock2 Jitter Attenuation System
UltraLock2 is an improved version of the UltraLock system used in Benchmark's DAC1 and ADC1 product families. DSP processing is 32-bits, DSP headroom is 3.5 dB, sample rate is 211 kHz, and jitter-induced distortion and noise is at least 140 dB below the level of the music - well below the threshold of hearing. Benchmark's UltraLock2 system eliminates all audible jitter artifacts.
High Headroom DSP with 3.5 dB 'Excess' Digital Headroom
All of the digital processing in the DAC2 HGC is designed to handle signals as high as +3.5 dBFS. Most digital systems clip signals that exceed 0 dBFS. The 0 dBFS limitation seems reasonable, as 0 dBFS is the highest sinusoidal signal level that can be represented in a digital system. However, a detailed investigation of the mathematics of PCM digital systems will reveal that inter-sample peaks may reach levels slightly higher than +3 dBFS while individual samples never exceed 0 dBFS. These inter-sample overs are common in commercial releases, and are of no consequence in a PCM system until they reach an interpolation process.
But, for a variety of reasons, virtually all audio D/A converters use an interpolation process. The interpolation process is absolutely necessary to achieve 24-bit state-of-the art conversion performance. Unfortunately, inter-sample overs cause clipping in most interpolators. This clipping produces distortion products that are non-harmonic and non-musical. According to Benchmark, these broadband distortion products often add a harshness or false high-frequency sparkle to digital reproduction. The DAC2 HGC avoids these problems by maintaining at least 3.5 dB of headroom in the entire conversion system.
Multi-Mode Asynchronous USB System
Benchmark's USB system supports USB Audio 2.0, DSD, and USB Audio 1.1. It is frequency agile and will follow sample rate changes initiated by the computer and/or the media playback software. In all modes, the USB communications are asynchronous in order to eliminate unnecessary sources of jitter.
The DAC2 HGC has a low-jitter master clock which controls the transfer of audio data from the computer to the USB sub-system. The computer asynchronously transfers audio data to a buffer in the DAC2 HGC. The contents of the buffer are then asynchronously transferred to the D/A conversion sub-system. This second asynchronous transfer eliminates any traces of jitter that accumulate as the data is transferred between the USB and conversion subsystems. No traces of jitter-induced distortion are measurable to our measurement limits (better than -150 dBFS). This truly represents the state-of-the art.
Enjoy the convenience of computer playback without compromise. The Asynchronous USB system supports USB Audio 2.0 for high-resolution 192kHz, and DSD playback. No drivers are required for MAC operating systems. An easy-to-install driver adds 192 kHz and DSD capabilities to Windows operating systems.
An asynchronous, driverless USB Audio 1.1 mode supports sample rates up to 96 kHz. This USB mode can be selected from the front panel or from the remote control. The driverless USB Audio 1.1 mode allows quick plug-and-play connections to Windows, MAC, iOS, and Linux operating systems without installing drivers. Just plug in the USB, and the DAC2 HGC becomes an available audio device.
The USB subsystem remains active when the DAC2 HGC is powered down. This prevents interruptions to the computer playback operations and eliminates the need to reconfigure the computer every time the converter is turned on.
Quad 32-bit Balanced Conversion System
Four balanced 32-bit D/A converters deliver audio to Benchmark's low-impedance current-to-voltage converters. The 4:1 redundancy reduces noise and distortion to levels that set new benchmarks. The conversion system at the core of the DAC2 HGC is as good as it gets. The analog circuits that follow the D/A converter are carefully designed. Benchmark has leveraged its long history of building high-end analog audio equipment in order to create an outstanding output stage.
Diagnostic Tools - Sample-Rate and Word-Length Indicators
Ever wonder why that 192 kHz 24-bit download on your computer just doesn't sound right? Your media player may be down-sampling to 44.1 kHz and/or truncating to 16-bits. Many media players apply poor-quality sample rate conversion and truncation. Fortunately, these problems can be eliminated with the selection a good frequency-agile media player. The sample-rate and word-length displays on the DAC2 HGC confirm the proper operation of your media player.
You may encounter recordings with inverted polarity. The DAC2 HGC includes a polarity switch to correct the problem.
Home Theater Bypass
The DAC2 HGC can be integrated into a home theater system. Typically, the DAC 2 HGC drives the left and right power amplifiers, and an analog feed from the home theater system is connected to either of the analog inputs on the DAC2 HGC. A programmable Home Theater Bypass function sets the pass-through gain to unity when the surround system is active. The DAC2 HGC includes an indicator light that is illuminated when bypass is active.
Digital Pass Through
The second coaxial input can be reconfigured as a digital output. In output mode, any selected digital input (including USB) will pass through to the coaxial output. The digital pass through is bit-transparent and even supports DSD (DoP 1.0). Dolby Digital and DTS formats can be passed through to a surround processor.
Bi-Directional 12 Volt Trigger
Benchmark re-invents the 12 volt trigger. The trigger connection on the DAC2 HGC can be used as an input or output or both, and it is compatible with any common 12 volt trigger input or output. The trigger can be used to turn a power amplifier on or off automatically. The DAC2 will also respond to a 12 volt trigger and follow the actions of another audio component.
The power switch can place the DAC2 HGC in standby or full shut down. In full shut down, the unit will still respond to the trigger input and the IR remote control. Power consumption is less than 0.5 W in full shut down.
Low Power Consumption
The DAC2 uses high-efficiency low noise power supplies and may be operated from any standard international voltage without adjustment. Power consumption is 12 watts, typical.
Distributed Power Regulation
To achieve the lowest possible noise, the DAC2 HGC uses distributed power supply regulation. Each critical subsystem has at least one dedicated low-noise voltage regulator.
"As we've come to expect from Benchmark, the DAC2 HGC is a well constructed, meticulously engineered and fine sounding product in a compact form and at a thoroughly competitive price. In terms of sound quality it moves the game on from the successful DAC1 series, and keeps pace with the times by adding 24/192 and DSD replay via USB. The excellent headphone amplifier is icing on already rich cake."
- Keith Howard, Hi-fi News, July 2013
"Although the Benchmark DAC2 HGC does not look that different from the old DAC1 series, its performance and feature set is so much more advanced. A boost in playback resolution and refined smoothness make it much closer to live music, and the addition of DSD compatibility opens up more possibilities in the world of high-res computer music.
"Whether you are in the DSD or PCM camp, or just need some clean analog gain, it does not matter with the Benchmark DAC2 HGC; it will play it or pass it on through with stellar results. Without hesitation, the DAC2 gets an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award, and a permanent place in my reference review system."
- John Gatski, Everything Audio Network, October 24, 2012