for years i tried to justify spending best part of £1000 on a benchmark dac1. seemed silly money for what i imagined would be a small upgrade. WRONG. i got it now, and wish i bought it years ago, i should have sold something (like my x girlfriend)!
i was using an audiofire4 and thought the sound was amazing, until getting the dac1, now the audiofire sounds like a cloth over the speakers in comparison. i can now HEAR everything!! its a revelation... if you are thinking about upgrading to a standalone high end dac, just do it, life is too short and your hearing does not last forever!!! if you love sound you owe it to yourself. if your room or speakers suck, get some sennheiser hd580 headphones or similar... sit back relax and do some serious listening
all those things are great, but the actual source of everything you hear that has been digitally recorded or generated is the DAC. you just can't make good engineering judgements without a good one... and you won't enjoy the sound of music so much either