The Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier and HPA4 headphone amplifier both feature feed-forward error correction. This correction system is an important subset of the patented THX-AAA™ (Achromatic Audio Amplifier) technology. It is one of the systems that keeps these Benchmark amplifiers virtually distortion free when driving heavy loads. It is also the reason that these amplifiers can support 500 kHz bandwidths without risk of instability when driving reactive loads.
This paper explains the differences between feedback and feed-forward systems. As you read this paper, you will discover that you already understand the benefits of feed-forward correction because you use it instinctively to improve a feedback system commonly found in your automobile. If feed-forward correction can improve your driving experience, it may also improve your listening experience!
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.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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!
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.
This short 8-second video clip demonstrates some of the differences.
The following measurements and scope photos demonstrate the effectiveness of the feedforward system in the AHB2.
From the first Watt to the last Watt, the AHB2 shows no evidence of crossover distortion. In contrast, all conventional class-AB amplifiers have crossover-distortion artifacts.
Dick Olsher once said that "the first Watt is the most important Watt". We agree!
Most audio power amplifiers suffer from a defect known as "crossover distortion". This distortion is particularly troublesome at low output levels. At low power levels, the crossover distortion can rise to a high percentage of the output level and become the dominant source of distortion.
There are two distinct types of audio products. Some audio products are designed to be transparent while others are designed to provide a euphonic experience. These types are as different as a Porsche and a Cadillac.
There is not a right and wrong type of car. Likewise there is not a right and wrong type of audio product. The choice belongs to the user, but the user must be fully aware of the differences before they buy.
Benchmark DAC1 and DAC2 converters are equipped with Benchmark’s HPA2™ headphone power amplifier. This is a high-current design with very low output impedance (less than 0.1 Ohms). It is capable of driving a wide variety of headphones while achieving extraordinarily low distortion. The full rated performance of the DAC is achieved at the headphone jack while driving two sets of headphones. THD+N is less than 0.0003% under full load. The HPA2™ may be the quietest and cleanest headphone amplifier available.
The HPA2™ has jumpers that allow it to be matched to the sensitivity of your headphones. These jumpers can be used to optimize the system performance.
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"?
The performance of the AHB2 would not have been achievable without taking a radical approach to power amplification. In many ways, the AHB2 is a complete 180 degree departure from traditional high-end amplifier designs. There is nothing ordinary about the Benchmark AHB2!
Take a look inside this unique audio power amplifier!
It is easy to build a headphone amplifier that produces sound. It is an entirely different matter to produce an amplifier that is clear, clean, and enjoyable.
Headphone amplifiers need to provide enough voltage and current to achieve a suitable listening level. They must also be able to cleanly deliver the required output. Furthermore, they need to be able to control the transducers.
If these goals are not achieved, a good set of headphones can sound bad.
In my last post, "Audio that Goes to 11", I made the bold assertion that most of our audio recordings contain peaks that exceed the limits of our digital hardware. In this post I will show how this happens, and explain why this is a problem in PCM audio systems.
Do we throw out PCM and move to DSD?
It's on your iPhone, your Android and your computer. It's even on those CDs you put on a shelf somewhere. Audio that goes to 11. If 10 is the clip point of digital audio, you actually have digital recordings that go to 11. Nigel Tufnel of Spinal Tap was on to something in 1984 when he explained that his Marshal amps "go to 11".
But, it's not just Spinal Tap recordings that go to 11, every recording you own may also go to 11! How is this possible? If 10 is the clip point of digital audio, how can there possibly be an 11? And, if we use Nigel's logic; if 10 is good, why isn't 11 better?
The movement of headphone transducers must be well controlled in order to produce high-quality audio. It is easy to build a headphone amplifier that produces sound. It is an entirely different matter to produce an amplifier that is clear, clean, and enjoyable.
Headphone amplifiers need power and accuracy to achieve control. They also need to be protected from short circuits and overload conditions. The cheap, dirty, and common way to protect the amplifier is to add a series resistor between the amplifier and the headphone jack. This simple solution protects the amplifier from short circuits and overloads. Unfortunately, the resistor isolates the headphones from the amplifier, causing a loss of control. This ...
Recording Engineers and Audiophiles often distrust audio measurements and specifications. It is not uncommon to hear claims that a product measures poorly but sounds good. Occasionally we also hear claims that a product measures well but sounds bad.
This whitepaper documents significant differences between three headphone amplifiers that have nearly identical published specifications.