SEAS, 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 (link in references).
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)."
"Is the AHB2 suitable for laboratory use?"
In late 2016, SEAS contacted Benchmark about the possibility of using the AHB2 power amplifier in a laboratory environment. They needed an amplifier with exceptionally wide bandwidth, low noise, low output impedance, low distortion, and bulletproof overload protection.
The AHB2 offers a solution that is more than 15 dB quieter than other top-quality high-end amplifiers. Distortion is virtually non-existent, even when heavily loaded with low impedances. The -3 dB bandwidth extends from 0.1 Hz to 200 kHz with an exceptionally flat response. The extended bandwidth provides the precise phase response that their application requires. Last but not least, the FPGA-based protection system in the AHB2 provides the robust protection necessary in a laboratory environment.
One independent test lab had this to say about the AHB2:
"I measured less distortion and noise in the AHB2 than in any other of the many power amps I've measured over the years.”
-Bascom King, BHK Labs
AHB2 Overload Protection System
The protection system monitors:
Safe operating region
Power supply transistor temperatures
Power supply transformer temperatures
Output transistor temperatures
Short circuit detection
DC fault detection
AC fault detection
12V trigger input
Mono/Stereo switch position
Gain switch position
The protection system controls the following:
Audio enable/mute sequencing
Input gain relay sequencing
Mono/stereo relay sequencing
Power supply enable
12V Trigger output
Error display lamps
Key performance parameters of the AHB2
Less than 0.0003 % THD at full rated power, 20 Hz to 20 kHz
THD at 1 kHz, full rated power, stereo mode: < 0.00011%, 20 kHz LPF
THD at 1 kHz, full rated power, mono mode: < 0.00010%, 20 kHz LPF
Frequency response 0.1 Hz to 200 kHz +0/-3 dB
Maximum peak output current: 29 A, both channels driven
Very low magnetic emissions, may be stacked with other equipment
Very low out-of-band noise (the AHB2 is not a class-D amplifier)
No relays in output path
No relays in high-current paths
Unique features of the Benchmark AHB2
Linear class-AB amplifier with parallel class-A feed-forward amplifier
Patented THX AAA low-distortion topology.
Class-H tracking rails extend output power and voltage while maintaining high efficiency
Tightly regulated power supplies provide constant voltage to output stages under all load conditions. This provides predictable peak power and voltage at the outputs.
Switching power supply operating well above the audio band (above 500 kHz). The high frequency operation eliminates large line-frequency transformers that emit large magnetic fields. The high frequency design allows internal filtering that does not interfere with the audio bandwidth. The exceptionally low magnetic emissions allow a compact package without compromising the noise performance.
Advanced protection system with real-time monitoring of all system parameters including output distortion. If the amplifier is over driven, the protection system mutes the output before tweeter damage can occur.
The AHB2 is not a Class-D Amplifier
The audio path in the AHB2 is an entirely linear design. It uses a parallel structure that includes a class-AB amplifier and a class-A feed-forward correction amplifier. The class-AB amplifier operates inside of class-H tracking rails that are also fully linear. The tracking rails provide efficiency that approaches that of a class-D amplifier while entirely avoiding the noise and distortion produced by class-D designs.
The important difference between the AHB2 and class-D amplifiers is that the AHB2 does not produce switching noise. Class-D amplifiers are measured with brick-wall AES17 filters that ignore the switching noise above 20 kHz or 40 kHz. Tweeters can demodulate this ultrasonic noise and fold it into the audible band.
Class-D amplifier switching noise can create problems in a loudspeaker measurement system. More importantly, this ultrasonic noise may become audible when it is demodulated by the non-linearities that occur in all loudspeakers. This potential source of distortion may detract from our musical enjoyment. Class-D amplifiers are compact and cheap, but are not necessarily a good choice for a high-end Hi-Fi system.
Class-D amplifiers are not as clean as some specifications seem to imply. It is important to understand that AES17 distortion and SNR measurements use a brick-wall filter (shown at left) to ignore the noise produced by class-D amplifiers. This noise may make class-D amplifiers unsuitable for some measurement systems.
The AHB2 was designed to outperform all competing power amplifiers in terms of noise and distortion. It achieves these design goals and sets benchmarks in these key performance parameters. 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!
At the 2023 AXPONA show in Chicago, I had the opportunity to see and hear the Hill Plasmatronics tweeter. I also had the great pleasure of meeting Dr. Alan Hill, the physicist who invented this unique device.
The plasma driver has no moving parts and no diaphragm. Sound is emitted directly from the thermal expansion and contraction of an electrically sustained plasma. The plasma is generated within a stream of helium gas. In the demonstration, there was a large helium tank on the floor with a sufficient supply for several hours of listening.
While a tank of helium, tubing, high voltage power supplies, and the smell of smoke may not be appropriate for every living room, this was absolutely the best thing I experienced at the show!
If an audio system is composed of multiple components, we may have detailed specifications for each component, but we
will not know the performance of the combined system without doing some calculations. You may have questions such as
Will my audio system produce audible noise?
Will my audio system produce audible distortion?
How will my audio components work together as a system?
How loud will my audio system play?
Use Benchmark's online audio calculators to find answers!
For example, if we know the output power of an amplifier, as well as the sensitivity and impedance of our
loudspeakers, we can calculate the maximum sound pressure level that our system can produce.
This application note provides interactive examples that help to answer the questions listed above.