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Thread: Caiman+Gator v Benchmark DAC1 - initial impressions

  1. #1
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: West Yorkshire

    Posts: 1,460
    I'm Stephen.

    Default Caiman+Gator v Benchmark DAC1 - initial impressions

    The Benchmark DAC1 is a stunning DAC for the money – some would say a true giant killer
    (http://www.6moons.com/audioreviews/benchmark/dac1.html)
    I have been using one with my Cyrus CD Xt se/PsXR for a goodly while and have been/continue to be amazed by it’s clarity, detail and bass control.

    I have also been a great fan of the Beresord DAC’s (see my review http://www.avreview.co.uk/review/rev...6/v/1/sp/#1361)

    – at the price point surely nothing to compare. The Caiman is a great improvement in all areas over the earlier TC-7510 IMHO and with the upgraded PSU is also a giant killer. But, to my ears lagged behind the Benchmark DAC1 in terms of detail and overall musicality and so I have been using it with my Wadia 170i (shortly to return from Audiocom having had a full work over and TeddyDock PSU) and my DVD player.

    Enter the GATOR board for the Caiman and the game has changed

    Stan sent me a GATOR a few days ago and even I had no problems swapping it in in 15 mins. Straight from cold I could tell this was a significant upgrade to the standard Caiman in terms of detail and dynamics. After 3 or 4 hours of playing/warming up it just got better in every way. The sound stage blooms and has better 3D presentation, PRaT is spot on (to my tastes) and I am definitely hearing more layers/detail. I now find myself preferring the Caiman+Gator to the Benchmark. I would hesitate to say one is “better” than the other but while accepting it’s all pretty subjective the Caiman+Gator has (nearly) all the qualities of the Benchmark but it “sounds more like vinyl” whereas the Benchmark has the “digital” sound. I guess what I mean is the music is fuller/warmer – not as “in your face” but again it’s very subjective.

    The only area to my ears that the Benchmark wins over is in bass extension. Deep piano chords (Einaudi’s Nightbook is a good example especially after seeing a live performance to compare) the Benchmark goes lower and reproduces deep harmonics better than the Caiman+Gator. However, I understand from a post by Stan that the addition of a couple of capacitors to the Gator board will take the bass down lower.

    At the end of the day in my system there is precious little to choose between the 2 DAC’s and I find myself preferring the Caiman+Gator over the Benchmark. The only significant difference is the price – by my calculations even with upgraded PSU you can buy 3 Caiman+Gators for every Benchmark DAC1 so if that’s not good value for money I don’t know what is.

    For what it’s worth I am using digital coax cables supplied by Mike Homar which are the best I have heard and an absolute steal at the price he charges.

    Steve
    Always a little further

  2. #2
    Join Date: Mar 2009

    Location: Sheffield, UK

    Posts: 1,309
    I'm Dave.

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    Very interesting, thanks Steve.
    Have you done any other mods to your Caiman or is it stock other than the Gator board?
    Stereo System:
    Source: Win7 PC + hiFace EVO + TeddyEVO PSU - DAC: Beresford Bushmaster Mk II + DIY linear PSU - Amp: Icon Audio Stereo 20 SE - Speakers: Wharfedale Opus 3 - Cables: Mark Grant & Anticables - Misc: Belkin PF30 x4

    Surround System:
    Source: Panasonic DMP-BD80 Blu-Ray - Amp: Arcam AVR300 - Center Speaker: Wharfedale 10 CM - Rear Speakers: Eltax LR6.5 - Subs: Wharfedale SW250 x2

    In Progress:
    Lighter Note LDR attenuator

  3. #3
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: West Yorkshire

    Posts: 1,460
    I'm Stephen.

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    Thanks Dave,
    No - stock Gator board - used the opamp from the original pcb although just purchased an AD826 from Stan as I'm likely to use the headphones on the DAC more now.

    Having chatted with Stan my comments about it being a bit "bass light" compared to the Benchmark are almost certainly due to it still being new and needing some burn-in time.

    Had a cheeky thought though - having removed the "void if warranty removed" sticker on one of the case screws I suppose my warranty has been Gatored

    Regards
    Steve
    Always a little further

  4. #4
    Join Date: Mar 2009

    Location: Sheffield, UK

    Posts: 1,309
    I'm Dave.

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    I Steve, I meant have you done any other mods to your Caiman, not the Gator.
    I'm guessing that you haven't based on your comment about the waranty void sticker. If that's the case I bet a fully modded Caiman + Gator + linear PSU would probably blow the Benchmark out of the water.

    Hopefully the Gator will improve in the bass department as it burns in as Stan has suggensted.
    Stereo System:
    Source: Win7 PC + hiFace EVO + TeddyEVO PSU - DAC: Beresford Bushmaster Mk II + DIY linear PSU - Amp: Icon Audio Stereo 20 SE - Speakers: Wharfedale Opus 3 - Cables: Mark Grant & Anticables - Misc: Belkin PF30 x4

    Surround System:
    Source: Panasonic DMP-BD80 Blu-Ray - Amp: Arcam AVR300 - Center Speaker: Wharfedale 10 CM - Rear Speakers: Eltax LR6.5 - Subs: Wharfedale SW250 x2

    In Progress:
    Lighter Note LDR attenuator

  5. #5
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: West Yorkshire

    Posts: 1,460
    I'm Stephen.

    Default

    Ah I see.
    No, not done anything to the Caiman other than the Gator. I'm a great believer in high quality PSU's and have gone down that road with all the other kit (Origin Live, TimeStep, PSxR and latterly a TeddyDock for the Wadia 170i) - I've only got Stan's upgraded PSU which I presume is a switch mode unit - what is curent thinking on the "best" linear PSU for the Caiman?

    Steve
    Always a little further

  6. #6
    Join Date: Oct 2008

    Location: Aughton, Ormskirk

    Posts: 2,745
    I'm Jerry.

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    The other Caimen mods that Dave referred to are well worth considering. I have had many of the caps in mine replaced and fitted the Murata regulators. A 15v linear supply with Super Teddy regulator completes the picture.
    It does sound rather good ATM.
    The only thing thats worrying me is if Stans new dac will be compatible with my PSU. In other words, I would like Stan to make it 15v as standard!
    Jerry
    Hifi: IPL transmission line floorstanding speakers, Croft Series 7 power amp and a Standac. Squeezebox Touch
    Custom Hifi cables HA10SE headphone amplifier and Hifiman HE-400 headphones.
    AV system: LG 55B7, Denon AVR -x2300w receiver, Quad 12L (front) 11c Centre and 11L rear . Velodyne DD15 subwoofer.

  7. #7
    Join Date: Mar 2009

    Location: Sheffield, UK

    Posts: 1,309
    I'm Dave.

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    Quote Originally Posted by worrasf View Post
    Ah I see.
    No, not done anything to the Caiman other than the Gator. I'm a great believer in high quality PSU's and have gone down that road with all the other kit (Origin Live, TimeStep, PSxR and latterly a TeddyDock for the Wadia 170i) - I've only got Stan's upgraded PSU which I presume is a switch mode unit - what is curent thinking on the "best" linear PSU for the Caiman?

    Steve
    I think the SuperTeddyReg based supplies have come out as some of the best but I'm not sure if anyone has compared one of them against something like a Paul Hynes. Both Paul and Teddy make exceptionally good supplies but even something like a Maplin linear supply will probably provide better results than the standard smps. Saying that, upgrading the regulators to Murata or NewClassD versions makes a big difference when paired with a linear supply. The two mods just seem to compliment each other. I'd say the regs and linear supply will provide quite a big improvement. The other mods such as caps around the DAC chip usually produce a much smaller improvement.

    Tirna Electronics offer the mods at reasonable prices if you don't fancy it yourself.

    I can't wait to get my Gator fitted, I've just had too many other things on recently. My Caiman has the full set of mods done, including SupperTeddyReg supply, so Gator should push everything to the next level. Unfortunately when I did the passive mod I removed the pin headers that the Gator board sits in to make more space for big poly caps. Hence the reason I've not just dropped the Gator in. It'll take a bit more work in my case.

    I really like the sound I'm getting at the moment with the passive mod in place but I am missing a little punch and drive that the Gator should fill in with it's active circuitry.
    Stereo System:
    Source: Win7 PC + hiFace EVO + TeddyEVO PSU - DAC: Beresford Bushmaster Mk II + DIY linear PSU - Amp: Icon Audio Stereo 20 SE - Speakers: Wharfedale Opus 3 - Cables: Mark Grant & Anticables - Misc: Belkin PF30 x4

    Surround System:
    Source: Panasonic DMP-BD80 Blu-Ray - Amp: Arcam AVR300 - Center Speaker: Wharfedale 10 CM - Rear Speakers: Eltax LR6.5 - Subs: Wharfedale SW250 x2

    In Progress:
    Lighter Note LDR attenuator

  8. #8
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: West Yorkshire

    Posts: 1,460
    I'm Stephen.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Covenant View Post
    The other Caimen mods that Dave referred to are well worth considering. I have had many of the caps in mine replaced and fitted the Murata regulators. A 15v linear supply with Super Teddy regulator completes the picture.
    It does sound rather good ATM.
    The only thing thats worrying me is if Stans new dac will be compatible with my PSU. In other words, I would like Stan to make it 15v as standard!
    Revealing my thickness to one and all what's the nominal voltage of the Caiman? I ask because it may be that one of the Teddy PSU's will fiit the bill - I'm awaiting Mark Bartlett at Audiocom to return my Wadia 170i after a full upgrade and a TeddyDock PSU and so if one of the other Teddy PSU's is the right voltage I might get one at the same time.

    Steve
    Always a little further

  9. #9
    Join Date: Jul 2010

    Location: North Cambs UK, Earth, Sol, Orion - Cygnus arm of galaxy

    Posts: 11,188
    I'm MadeOfDeadGiantStarsThatExplodedEonsAgo.

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    15V DC input

    There are two internal regulators, one is 12V DC & the other 5V DC
    Bests, Mark



    "We must believe in free will. We have no choice" Isaac Bashevis Singer

  10. #10
    Join Date: Aug 2009

    Location: West Yorkshire

    Posts: 1,460
    I'm Stephen.

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    Thank you
    Always a little further

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