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.
Benchmark is focused on building products that provide a transparent audio path. We lead the industry with our wide-bandwidth, low-noise, low-distortion designs. Independent measurements show that our products continue to define performance "benchmarks" for the professional audio industry. Many Hi-Fi enthusiasts have joined our loyal base of professional customers. Benchmark products are key components in many of the finest recording studios, but they are also found in many high-end home systems.
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 began in 1983 as the "Benchmark Sound Company", 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, and was incorporated as Benchmark Media Systems, March 5, 1985. Benchmark expanded into additional audio markets, and relocated to Allen's hometown, Syracuse, NY. To this day, all Benchmark products are designed, assembled and tested in our Syracuse facility.
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!
We have frequently used Steely Dan's Gaslighting Abbie from Two Against Nature in our listening tests. This is a spectacular CD recording with lots of dynamics and a low noise floor. Nevertheless, in a little over 5 minutes, this track has 559 intersample overs on the left track and 570 on the right track for a total of 1129. This means that there are about 3.7 intersample overs per second. The highest intersample over measures +0.8 dBFS. The track itself is not clipped, the 44.1 kHz sampling has simply captured peaks that exceed 0 dBFS. The following image shows the track with the intersample overs highlighted in red:
This track can be played cleanly by the Benchmark DAC2 and DAC3 converters. These converters accurately render the intersample peaks that were captured in the recording process. In contrast, conventional converters will clip the peaks. In this track the peaks coincide with hits to the snare drum. Converters that clip these peaks add a false brightness to the snare drum and alter its sound.
It has been a little over 7 years since ESS Technology introduced the revolutionary ES9018 audio D/A converter chip. This converter delivered a major improvement in audio conversion and, for 7 years, it has held its position as the highest performing audio D/A converter chip. But a new D/A chip has now claimed this top position. Curiously the successor did not come from a competing company; it came from ESS. On October 19, 2016, ESS Technology announced the all-new ES9028PRO 32-bit audio D/A converter. In our opinion, ESS is now two steps ahead of the competition!
This application note examines the differences between the ES9018 and the new ES9028PRO. It also compares the Benchmark DAC2 and DAC3 to demonstrate the performance improvements that can be achieved in a commercial product.
In Benchmark's listening room we recently demonstrated the importance of the first watt using two 100 watt stereo power amplifiers. One amplifier was a traditional class-AB amplifier, the other was Benchmark's AHB2 power amplifier with feed-forward error correction. Using a double-blind ABX test, we verified that there was a clearly audible difference when the amplifiers drove speakers at an output level of 0.01 watt.
"Balanced headphone amplifiers are better."
"If balanced line-level connections work well, balanced headphone outputs should also work well."
Benchmark does not offer balanced headphone outputs on any of its products. The reason for this is that a voltage-balanced interface serves no useful purpose when driving headphones. The truth is that a conventional single-ended headphone drive is technically superior to a balanced drive. This paper explains why single-ended headphone amplifiers are inherently more transparent than balanced headphone amplifiers.