Balanced vs. Unbalanced - Analog Audio Interfaces

If you look at the back of any Benchmark product, you will find balanced XLR analog-audio connectors. As a convenience, we also provide unbalanced RCA connectors on many of our products. In all cases, the balanced interfaces will provide better performance.

We build our unbalanced interfaces to the same high standards as our balanced interfaces, but the laws of physics dictate that the balanced interfaces will provide better noise performance.

This application note explains the advantages of balanced interfaces.

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Benchmark has introduced a new analog-to-analog volume control circuit that features a 256-step relay-controlled attenuator and a 16-step relay-controlled boost amplifier. The volume control has a +15 dB to -122 dB range in 0.5 dB steps and is a key component in the HPA4 Headphone / Line Amplifier.

Our goal was to produce an analog-to-analog volume control with the highest achievable transparency. We wanted to be able to place this volume control in front of our AHB2 power amplifier or in front of our THX-888 headphone amplifier board without diminishing the performance of either device. Our volume control would need to have lower distortion and lower noise than either of these amplifiers. Given the extraordinary performance of these THX-AAA amplifiers, this would not be an easy task!

This application note discusses the engineering decisions that went into the development of this new analog volume control circuit. The end result is a fully buffered volume control with a signal-to-noise ratio that exceeds 135 dB. THD measures better than the -125 dB (0.00006%) limits of our test equipment.

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SEAS driver test system uses Benchmark AHB2

SEAS L16RNX driver in test stationSEAS, a well-known manufacturer of high-quality loudspeakers, selected the Benchmark AHB2 as a key component for use in testing loudspeakers. They created an innovative test system that measures loudspeaker motor strength and moving mass with higher accuracy than previous methods. This new measurement system was documented in the December 2017 Journal of the Audio Engineering Society.

According to the AES paper, the SEAS team selected the Benchmark AHB2 for the following reasons:

"A Benchmark AHB2 amplifier is used, which has excellent signal-to-noise ratio and bandwidth, low output impedance, and is suitable for laboratory use (with advanced overload protection)."

The AHB2 was designed to outperform all competing power amplifiers in terms of noise and distortion. The result is an amplifier with unrivaled transparency.

Our goal was to create the ultimate amplifier for the enjoyment of music. It is nice to know that the AHB2 is also being used to test new and improved loudspeakers!

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Interpreting THD Measurements - Think dB not Percent!

Distortion measurements (THD, THD+N and IMD) are traditionally expressed in terms of percent. But what do 1%, 0.1%, 0.01% or 0.001% mean in terms of loudness or audibility?

If you are like most people you just know that 0.001% is the best of the three numbers listed above. If you are a well-trained geek you will recognize that each added leading zero represents a 20 dB improvement. 0.01% is 20 dB lower than 0.1% and 40 dB lower than 1%. The well-trained geek will convert % to dB in order to give meaning to these numbers.

When THD is expressed in terms of dB, we can easily determine how loud the distortion will be in our playback system.

Will my audio electronics produce audible distortion?

Will the distortion produced by my audio electronics be inaudible?

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Calculating the Performance of an Amplifier / Speaker Combination - Example 2

In this application note we calculate the maximum output level and noise level produced by an amplifier/loudspeaker combination.

This application note can serve as an example for calculating the maximum sound pressure levels and noise output levels for any amplifier/speaker combination.

At the 143rd AES conference in NYC, we demonstrated two Benchmark AHB2 monoblock power amplifiers driving a pair of 4-Ohm PMC MB2S studio monitors.

We were extremely impressed by the unusually clean, distortion-free, output of these monitors. They fully compliment the distortion-free performance of the AHB2 to provide a system with outstanding clarity while delivering high sound pressure levels.

In this application note we will calculate the peak SPL produced by this system. We will also calculate the acoustic noise at a distance of 1 meter from each monitor. We will also discuss some of the unique design features of the MB2S monitors that contribute to their impressive performance.

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Speaker Sensitivity

Speaker sensitivity is a measure of how loud a speaker will play at a given input power or at a given input voltage. Sensitivity is normally measured with a 1 watt power input or a 2.83 Vrms voltage input.

There have been many different speaker designs over the years and there are vast differences in speaker sensitivity. The speakers below have sensitivities ranging from about 85 dB to 109 dB.

  • What are the power requirements?
  • What are the implications for system noise?
  • How loud will each play?
  • Do they require different amplifiers?

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Audio Myths - The Ultimate "Myth Buster" Video

Digital Show & Tell, Monty Montgomery, Xiph.org

Monty Montgomery takes us into the lab and uses a series of simple demonstrations to bust some very common myths about digital audio. Test your knowledge of digital audio. This video is fun to watch and easy to understand! Monty takes some difficult concepts and demonstrates them in a clear and simple manner.

Have doubts about Nyquist? Have a fear of stairsteps? Are you worried about ringing? Ever wonder what digital audio does to the timing of transients? This video is for you!

Myth - "Digital audio has stairsteps." 

Myth - "Increased bit depths reduce the stairsteps." 

Myth - "Analog tape has more resolution than digital audio." 

Myth - "Dither masks quantization noise." 

Myth - "Signals lower than one LSB cannot be reproduced." 

Myth - "Digital filters make square waves and impulses ring." 

Myth - "Digital systems cannot resolve timing between samples."

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Intersample Overs are a Common Occurrence in CD Recordings

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 each of the peaks highlighted in red. 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.

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ES9028PRO D/A Converter Chip - Block Diagram and Test Report


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. 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!

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Calculating the Performance of an Amplifier / Speaker Combination - Example 1

In this application note we calculate the maximum output level and noise level produced by an amplifier/loudspeaker combination. Use this example for calculating the performance of your system.

Our Test System - AHB2 Driving PMC IB2S Studio Monitors

At the 141st AES conference we demonstrated two Benchmark AHB2 monoblock power amplifiers driving a pair of 4-Ohm PMC IB2S studio monitors. These monitor are also available the PMC IB2SE hi-fi version.

In bridged mono, the AHB2 can deliver over 518 watts into each of these 4-Ohm speakers. This is a perfect match to PMC's 500 watt recommendation. The AHB2 easily provides the power, the output current, and the damping required by these low-impedance speakers.

"I am very impressed with the clarity and accuracy of these outstanding professional monitors. The Benchmark AHB2 and PMC IB2S are an absolutely killer combination!" - John Siau, VP, Benchmark Media Systems, Inc.

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