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On various albums by Tori Amos the microphone was apparently placed very close to her lips. Lesser gear can render that a bit hissy. Superior gear shows that it’s not really hissy - or better, it is resolved as merely a secondary aspect of a greater event. To overstate for emphasis, with the B.M.C. I really did have the impression of knowing where the singer’s upper and lower lip were. The Benchmark DAC I drafted for context painted these side effects subjectively louder, more into the foreground and as such coarser. The B.M.C. avoided any such ‘foregroundiness’. Accidental effects were properly enfolded into their origins to feel finer and in the positive sense of the word less obvious though for all that very transparent and microdynamically astute. In short, I felt that it sounded more natural particularly because it was so finely resolved. This wasn’t about tonal colors (lighter, darker, shinier, matte) but textures. Those were clearly exposed or to remain with the visual, it became clear what the tone colors were painted ‘on’. A projection screen at five meters might appear uniform but stepping closer reveals a material structure. To simply let these structures through rather than magnify them by coarse enlargement was a core competency of this machine. A really fine thing in the best sense of the word then.

But the motto ‘put away your Duplo bricks’ didn’t merely apply to individual sounds. The same very finely grained approach held true for the soundstage. Compared to the Benchmark, the B.M.C. painted its sounds less broad and flat. It drew them smaller, more precise and clearly more sculpted. This also impacted the sense of space in general. There was more room and calm between individual sounds. It felt organized and transparent and the layout of the musicians was far more easily appreciated. While enjoyable with a small ensemble like a Jazz trio, it became far more important with crammed masses because things then were less compacted and compromised.

Though I know denser stuff than Nicolas Jaar’s Space is only noise album, I dove easier and deeper into his artificially generated sound spheres when the B.M.C. handled the digits. Ocean surf, piano flickers, faraway children’s laughter, vinyl crackle, itinerant vocals, fat slow-motion beats… all this wasn’t dumped in front of my feet as one heap of sound from a wheel barrow but had a very open, clear and liquid quality. Very inviting. But this was merely one reason why this type of soundstaging could become quite addictive. The other aspect I understood when I compared the DAC1 to my Luxman player. That too is endowed with special soundstage chops to paint it sculpted, precise and transparent with perhaps a small lead in the depth perspective. But the Japanese also staged more distanced where the B.M.C. placed it more upfront. That’s a matter of taste but by tendency contributed to my thinking the German more involving and gripping.

Tonally things were essentially neutral, with perhaps a very minor recess in the upper bass/lower mid transition depending on what I compared it to. A Benchmark DAC1 USB here plays it clearly more opulent whilst simultaneously less accurate and more woolly in the bass. A North Star USB dac32 sounds equally linear but just a bit slimmer in the midband. The B.M.C. was closer the latter than the Benchmark. If one used the Luxman as reference, the tester would feel wirier and lighter in the vocal range. The Japanese also develops more shove in the upper bass but doesn’t exhibit the B.M.C.’s  nearly radical resolution in the sub bass. In the very highest treble I also thought the DAC1 a mite shinier.

So it’s clearly not a beautician. Mediocre recordings sound exactly like themselves. If they add sparseness and hardness there’ll be little joy. I ran Everlast’s "Black Jesus". While the opening acoustic guitar had wonderful speed, the voice was less wonderful and the electric guitars veritably sliced and diced at least at the levels I had. That’s how it goes with linear gear. But quality recordings pay back with significantly more. To conclude this section, I won’t analyse each frequency band as what’s relevant here has been said already. Across the board resolution was high, textures were rich, finely feathered out and microdynamics were alive. I should repeat that the lower ranges were exceptionally dry and articulate, with true bite and hardness into the lowest reaches. On quality this bass belonged to the very best I’ve yet heard from digital sources even if I could have stood a bit more pressurization.

So far so good. Two more things though. If you fork over a few grand for a converter with six digital inputs, I’d consider the extra €300 for the preamp module with its 2 x RCA and 1 x XLR inputs mandatory especially since without a B.M.C. amp it’s the only way to control volume. True, the variable analog output is symmetrical but a properly matched interconnect (pin 1 ground, pin 2 signal, pin 3 open) could easily accommodate unbalanced loads. Relative to this modest surcharge the preamp functionality was absurdly good sonically. True, it’s not available without the DAC but even calculated in such backwards fashion the results are terrific. Compared to my Octave preamp for example this bass had better grip and definition. Whilst the picture from the midrange on up turned a bit—fluidity, magnification power, air and microdynamics with the hybrid preamp operated on a slightly more elevated niveau—below that fulcrum the B.M.C might actually be the preferred alternative particularly for those who dine on a lot of rhythmically driven fare or where the rest of the chain would appreciate a low-down assist. In the end the preamp board option is a no-brainer as our friends in the colonies would put it.