The Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier is named in honor of Benchmark's founder, Allen H. Burdick. Allen had a life-long passion for audio, and became one of the leading innovators in the pro-audio industry.
Allen's business ventures began in 1983 as "Benchmark Sound Company" where he operated from his garage in Dallas, Texas. He surrounded himself with a staff that shared his passion for achieving new audio performance "benchmarks". Benchmark's first product was a large mixing console for television and radio broadcast applications. In 1985, Allen changed the business name to Benchmark Media Systems, Inc., and relocated to a facility in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. By this time Benchmark was manufacturing the DA101 audio distribution amplifier for television studios. Allen's DA101 was a 40 W power amplifier card with astonishing specifications. It had a 160 kHz bandwidth, and a dynamic range of 130 dB. The DA101 was designed to distribute line-level audio through extensive distribution networks. Television networks often require many cascaded distribution amplifiers, and this places extraordinary demands on the performance of each individual amplifier. Allen's DA101 revolutionized audio distribution in the era of analog TV. Allen was a perfectionist and a prolific engineer.
Allen retired in 2006 due to health issues, but Benchmark continued to develop new products under the direction of John Siau. Allen's DA101 was never marketed as a power amplifier, but it became Benchmark's amplifier of choice for critical listening tests during the development of Benchmark's digital products. The recent development of the DAC2 converter family highlighted the need for a power amplifier that could match the performance of the converter, and Benchmark began an amplifier project that we code-named "PA2".
In many ways, Allen's DA101 helped define the performance goals of the PA2 project. Early prototypes were evaluated against the DA101. Benchmark's performance goals were achieved through the use of two new patented topologies from THX, the application of good engineering, and a high level of cooperation between the engineering groups at both companies. The result is an amplifier that Allen would have been proud to call a "Benchmark".
On September 27, 2013, the "PA2" was ready to go into production, but we still didn't have a final name for the new amplifier. The faceplates were machined and finished but needed to be printed with the product name. I began thinking about the technology in the amplifier and how this could be incorporated into the name. The amplifier delivered class-A performance, had class-H tracking rails, and a class-AB output stage. It then struck me that the letters A, H, and B were Allen H. Burdick's initials. The initials A.H.B. can be found on most early Benchmark schematics. Instantly it was clear to me that the new amplifier should be named after the man who inspired it! I announced the name to my staff, and we placed the order for the printing. Less than an hour later we got a phone call with the sad news that Allen had passed away.
In loving memory of Allen H. Burdick (June 29, 1942 - September 27, 2013).
- John Siau
At Benchmark, listening is the final exam that determines if a design passes from engineering to production. When all of the measurements show that a product is working flawlessly, we spend time listening for issues that may not have shown up on the test station. If we hear something, we go back and figure out how to measure what we heard. We then add this test to our arsenal of measurements.
Benchmark's listening room is equipped with a variety of signal sources, amplifiers and loudspeakers, including the selection of nearfield monitors shown in the photo. It is also equipped with ABX switch boxes that can be used to switch sources while the music is playing.
Benchmark's lab is equipped with Audio Precision test stations that include the top-of-the-line APx555 and the older AP2722 and AP2522. We don't just use these test stations for R&D - every product must pass a full set of tests on one of our Audio Precision test stations before it ships from our factory in Syracuse, NY.
Paul Seydor of The Absolute Sound interviews John Siau, VP and chief designer at Benchmark Media Systems. The interview accompanies Paul's review of the LA4 in the December, 2020 issue of TAS.
"At Benchmark, listening is the final exam that determines if a design passes from engineering to production. But since listening tests are never perfect, it’s essential we develop measurements for each artifact we identify in a listening test. An APx555 test set has far more resolution than human hearing, but it has no intelligence. We have to tell it exactly what to measure and how to measure it. When we hear something we cannot measure, we are not doing the right measurements. If we just listen, redesign, then repeat, we may arrive at a solution that just masks the artifact with another less-objectionable artifact. But if we focus on eliminating every artifact that we can measure, we can quickly converge on a solution that approaches sonic transparency. If we can measure an artifact, we don't try to determine if it’s low enough to be inaudible, we simply try to eliminate it."
- John Siau