I've been lucky enough to have borrowed the DAC1 last friday and have been listening to it when i can. Had an audio [nut] friend come with some goodies, including a Densen B420XS, Primare CD31, Transparent IC's, 3 Coax and the DAC1. Listening possition is 3 meters away and the speakers are 5 meteres apart and toe in though fire either side of the head instead in front of an i wont waffle on about the CDP's in this post but will concentrate on the DAC1, coax cables and IC's.
First off we got the units warm for half hour as we had a chat and a beer but had some background tunes on at the time. We used the Primare as a transport using the reference coax. [Unfortunately he has taken it home and i dont rememeber what it was but on his return will find out and update this lenghly passage] Straight off the CD31/DAC1 combo outperformed the CD31 and for me it was a very mediocre sounding spinner, rather flat sounding and uninvolving. That character stayed as it was being used as a transport but the DAC1 added a darker background and slightly starper image, defo better.
We listened for one song with the CD31/DAC1 combo and soon moved on the the XS/DAC1. I found this spinner much more upfront than the CD31, it had pretty good PRaT and the music raced along. And again using it as a transport kept it it character but added the darkr background and sharper imaging the DAC1 had. It also added some space around the image and made it more pronounced. Vocals were right out in front, probs a meter away from me, drums were set right back behind the speakers, the feeling was beyond the back wall and guitars, bells, bassspaced around the vocal and infront of the drums, pretty good. We listened for of couple of hours hour different tunes and genres and it was all pretty stable.
After that we changed the Transparent IC's he bought along (£600) for the my Cardas GR's but befor doing so played James Blakes To Care [Like You]. The difference wasclear to hear the background dropped to jet black, top end started to sparkle and the bass now had definition. He liked the combo as i did, it added some solidity to the music and was a really enjoyble listen.
We then dropped in the MSB Platinum CD III Transport. This really brought the sound on, it kept its PRaT but added a huge dollop of refinement. The whippet like pace the XS had was replaced with something more mellow, smoother, refined. Vocals mellowed and sounded more natural, instruments sounded impressive, strings on guitars sounded less 'stealy', drums chilled out and really 'feeling' the brush work on cymbals. Now we're cooking! The image was pretty similar to the XS?DAC1 but the vocals came forward a fraction more with real definition and texture around instruments.
Since that night i've had the DAC1 in the system and had 2 other caox cables to play with, a Cambridge Audio and a DNM RESON. The DMN is like a aerial with no sheilding so could be prone to some RF pic up. TBH i find it detailed but rather brittle at the top so i've been listening to the Cambridge which is mellower but lacks 'real' detail and punch, i have no others so i'm stuck with them though i wouldn't use either. The Cambridge could be good in a very forward system but the other isn't much cop.
To sum it up then: The Benchmark DAC1 is a good DAC, maybe very good. It defo has a strong character of its own, it's detailed with black background, portrays a solid image and has good depth and width and the musicians are solid in their space. It does sound clean, and it lacks slight depth to the music, like something is slightly missing beyond the first string pluck or drum hit, i'm being picky though and for £800 new or better still £400 odd used i would have to consider it. Its totally transparen,t with cable changes easy to pick up and adding better depth and sharper imaging and darker backgrounds. It will take the character of a CDP but add some more, which is not a bad thing, at least you know what you will get.
I cant comment on a before and after with the MSB as i havent used it with any other DAC, so can olny tell you what i heard.
If i didnt recommend it, it would be sacrilege!