1982 brought us the CD and "Perfect Sound Forever". On a top-quality playback system, the CD can sound stunning. Nevertheless, we have come to understand that the 16-bit, 44.1 kHz, CD format is somewhat less than perfect. For this reason, the recording industry is migrating to a variety of high-resolution audio formats. Recordings are now available in 24-bit PCM at sample rates of 96 kHz and 192 kHz. These recordings promise performance that extends well beyond the limitations of the CD, but formats alone are not enough to gain entry to the world of high-resolution audio.
High-Resolution Audio is a myth unless the entire playback system extends beyond the limitations of the CD format. The truth is that the CD format often pushes the limits of very good playback systems. Very few audio systems are capable of rendering the full capabilities of the CD format. Fewer yet are capable of rendering true high-resolution audio performance.
If a D/A converter, power amplifier, or loudspeaker is limited to CD performance, the entire system will be limited to CD performance. In such a system, the new high-resolution audio formats will fail to deliver any audible improvements.
Benchmark is focused on building some of the highest-quality audio components available. Audio professionals and home audiophiles have come to appreciate the outstanding performance of our products. Benchmark's products will allow you to experience the full capabilities of the new high-resolution recordings while discovering previously overlooked details in your favorite CDs.
We live in an analog world. The D/A converter, or "DAC", is the essential bridge between digital storage and analog playback. Today, virtually every audio device has a built-in DAC. CD players, DVD players, computers, HDTVs, cable boxes, and even smartphones, have built-in D/A converters. But there is a problem - these internal D/A converters are rarely capable of delivering high-resolution audio.
The entire audio system in a consumer audio device is normally built for a budget of about $5. These internal converters may boast that they support 24-bits and 192 kHz, but in most cases, they cannot even do justice to the CD format. Internal converters typically provide the equivalent of 14-bit performance. The remaining 10 bits serve marketing purposes.
In contrast, the Benchmark DAC2 external D/A converter delivers the full performance of today's best 24-bit high-resolution recordings.
Most audio products now have digital outputs. These outputs bypass the internal D/A converters and deliver raw uncorrupted digital data, losslessly preserving all of the details captured in the recording. These raw digital outputs can be connected to an external D/A converter. The resulting performance improvement is often huge.
Any practical audio system will need a volume control. These days, most audio devices use digital volume controls. These controls place significant demands on the quality of a D/A converter. An internal D/A converter that starts with the equivalent of 14-bit performance, may only deliver 12-bit performance at typical volume-control settings. In contrast, the Benchmark DAC2 D/A converter delivers true high-resolution audio performance over a wide range of volume settings. The DAC2 includes the input selection and output buffering functions of a traditional HiFi "preamplifier" and is designed to directly drive power amplifiers.
The DAC2 D/A converter can only be fully appreciated when the entire audio chain is capable of similar performance. Audio amplifiers are a weak link in most audio systems. The amplifier often adds significant noise and distortion. It is difficult to cleanly deliver the power and current required by loudspeakers. For this reason, D/A converters have outpaced the development of power amplifiers. Benchmark set out to solve this problem and create an amplifier that matches the performance of the DAC2.
The AHB2 uses THX-patented AAA™ technology to virtually eliminate all forms of distortion. We also focused on frequency response, output noise, drive current, damping factor, and reliability. The result is an amplifier that stands head and shoulders above the competition. No amplifier has lower noise or lower distortion than the AHB2. Experience delicate musical details that are usually lost in a veil of noise and distortion.
Benchmark developed the SMS1 monitors with a focus on achieving low distortion, accurate matching, and a wide frequency range. The quality components and unique crossover design, contribute to the outstanding vocal clarity, natural sound, and excellent musicality of the SMS1 loudspeakers.
All Benchmark products are designed and manufactured in the USA. Every product is individually assembled and tested in our state-of-the-art facility in Syracuse, NY. Every unit must meet rigid standards before leaving our plant. Benchmark products are now shipped to virtually every country in the world.
Benchmark Media Systems, Inc. began as a small operation working out of a garage in Garland, Texas. Our founder, Allen H. Burdick, began by building very high-performance audio equipment to meet the specialized needs of television broadcast facilities. The company quickly grew, expanded into additional audio markets, and relocated to Syracuse, NY. To this day, Benchmark remains focused on building products that set performance "benchmarks" for the entire industry.
We are confident that you will appreciate the audio performance and build-quality of our products. Our goal is to build top-quality products that you will enjoy for years to come. All Benchmark products are robustly engineered to last a lifetime, and are backed by our Extended 5-Year Warranty (USA sales - registration required for warranty extension).
Our Technical Support and Engineering teams will work with you to attain the highest level of performance from whichever Benchmark product you decide to purchase. Feel free to call us at any time with your questions. We are here to provide expert advice. Also, feel free to contact us with suggestions and comments. Feedback from our customers is always appreciated.
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Please fee free to call our toll-free line with questions regarding the use and operation of our products. We are here to provide expert help, before and after the sale! Please don't hesitate to call.
Many Benchmark products include our HPA2™ headphone power amplifier. Unlike most headphone amplifiers, the HPA2™ is designed to behave like a small but very clean power amplifier. What makes the HPA2™ different, and what do we mean when we say that the HPA2™ is a "power amplifier"?
Consumer products are usually packed with features but they often fall short when it comes to audio quality. These products deliver a level of performance that is acceptable to most consumers, and they do so at very affordable prices. Nevertheless there is often a large performance difference between consumer and professional audio products.
One of our customers, Jeff Switzer, owns a Marantz AV8801 pre-pro and he took a look inside to see how it was built. His detailed analysis shows how consumer product cost constraints limit audio performance. Please understand that we don't want to single out Marantz. The construction of the AV8801 is similar to most other consumer audio products, and it may even be better than most. These products are designed to deliver many features at a very low cost. Audio performance is not a primary goal of most consumer products, and this becomes clear as Jeff walks us through the signal path of the Marantz AV8801 and AV8802. Jeff opened the hood on his pre-pro, searched the internet for schematics photos, and data sheets and then sent us his analysis without our solicitation. His analysis was so good that I thought it deserved to be published in our application notes. Jeff graciously agreed to grant permission.
Jeff's teardown analysis is a bit technical, but I know that some of our readers will appreciate the detail. For the rest of our readers, let me summarize by saying that there are real differences between consumer products and high-end professional audio products.
John Siau, Benchmark Media Systems, Inc.
Blu-ray disks often contain high-resolution audio formats. Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD are two Blu-ray audio encoding formats that support lossless high-resolution audio. These systems support up to 8 channels of 24-bit, 96kHz audio, or up to 6 channels of 24-bit 192 kHz audio.
Blu-ray disks may seem like an ideal solution for the distribution of high-resolution audio, but there are problems. It is not easy to gain access to the high-resolution audio stored on these disks.
Our solution was to set up a PC-based music (and video) server. We used a Blu-ray equipped PC running Windows 7 and the JRiver MediaCenter software.
This application note provides a guide for setting up a music server that can play the lossless high-resolution audio tracks found on DVD and Blu-ray disks.
Digital recordings are now available in a variety of sample rates. The CD uses a 44.1 kHz sample rate, but high-resolution audio recordings are now available in sample rates of 96 kHz and 192 kHz. What are the advantages of higher sample rates? How high a sample rate do we really need?
Digital audio systems take instantaneous snapshots or "samples" of an analog audio signal and then store each of these samples as numeric values. The digital samples can be stored and transmitted without any loss of quality, but these samples must be used to reconstruct an analog signal before we can listen to the audio. The sample rate places very specific limitations ...