"The 10th annual AXPONA was the largest yet with an expansive array of speakers, amplifiers and turntables on display across a staggering 197 listening rooms."
"Certain rooms featured systems most enthusiasts could probably afford at some point in their lives, and other rooms catered to the small well-heeled handful who are willing to spend extravagantly to obtain the best possible sound. That’s why I divided my top rooms into two categories: the best three “reality” rooms where the systems were more reasonably priced and the best three “dream” rooms where cost was no object."
"Benchmark teamed up with Martin Logan to drive a pair of their Impression ESL 11A electrostatic speakers with their AHB2 power amplifiers in a bridged-monoblock configuration. The source was an Aurender A10 streamer fed through their own DAC3 B and an LA4 preamp."
"The overall sonic signature of this room had a remarkable sense of ease and purity. Minute details such as a breathy initial saxophone note or a solo vocalist parting her lips and taking a breath before singing were easily discernible. At the same time, they presented all of the musical energy and rhythm contained within the source material."
"The effortless and free-flowing nature of the Martin Logans paired up nicely with the transparent AHB2 amplifiers."
"The tonality and realism of the instruments were spectacular. An alto saxophone sounded as if it was in the room with me, and the pitch and timbre of both male and female vocals were absolutely spot-on. It was clear that nothing in this system was getting in the way of the music."
"Their room had a remarkable degree of transparency that made every listener feel closer to the music."
- Drew Gagliano, TheAudioBeatnik.com
"This little unit will change the way you look and listen to amplifiers."
"My first taste of this remarkable new amplifier came earlier this year in April at Chicago's AXPONA where I discovered it driving a newly redesigned Studio Electric Pasadena loudspeaker, also bearing the Benchmark trademark. Now called the SMS1, the Pasadena's crossover had been reworked by Benchmark, upgraded with very low tolerance components, and the new look, more in line with the look of the rest of the Benchmark product line up, had been adopted."
"The subsequent sound in this room was one of the most musically engaging I encountered at this year's event, a remarkable result considering its modest overall system price of just over $7000, sans source."
- Greg Weaver, EnjoythMusic.com
Jim Austin wrote, "The DAC3 was all about depths, in several respects . . . I heard deeper into the music."
The concise conclusion to John Atkinson's Measurements sidebar: "All I can say is 'Wow!'"
In a Follow-Up, Jim Austin wrote of using the Benchmark processor with the same company's AHB2 power amp—a combination of high source output voltage and modest amplifier gain that he describes as "optimal for minimizing noise and distortion"—and reported hearing "richer and more interesting" reproduction of very subtle details.
- Stereophile Magazine
"Class A+" is Stereophile's highest award for Digital Processors
"Benchmark's LA4 is the widest-bandwidth, widest-dynamic-range, lowest-noise, lowest-distortion preamplifier I have encountered."
- John Atkinson, Stereophile
"The LA4 is probably the most transparent and revealing audio component I've ever used. It does not seem to leave any fingerprints on the sound."
- Kalman Rubinson, Stereophile
"Class A" is Stereophile's highest award for preamplifiers.