For 2018, Everything Audio Network has selected just one product for the honor of "Product of the Year". That product is the Benchmark HPA4 headphone/line amplifier.
"One of the most transparent audio products I have ever heard at any price"
"Marvelously open and clean"
Relay-Controlled Volume and Input Selection
"This new custom designed, 256-step relay volume control HP amp/line stage is incredible in its transparency and ability to get out of the way when listening to accurate sources with accurate headphones. Just as impressive, the line stage delivers volume control that many an esoteric analog or digital preamp could only dream of."
THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier (AAA™) Technology
"TheHPA4is a co-design by Benchmark and THX, Ltd. using the THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier (AAA™) technology that was implemented in the BenchmarkAHB2amplifier a couple of years ago. According to Benchmark, the THX AAA™ reduces harmonic, intermodulation and crossover distortion by 20 to 40 dB to guarantee a realistic and fatigue-free listening experience."
The Benchmark AHB2 Power Amplifier Introduced the AAA™ Technology
"I cannot stress enough how the HPA4 just gets out of the way so you can listen to your music and the components in your chain. The HPA4 is sonically neutral, distortion free and deeply dynamic. At any level, it will let the music shine through with no added color."
More About the Volume Control
"The rotary relay gain control features 256 steps in 0.5 dB increments. The HPA4 includes four independent 256-step attenuators: two for the left and right headphone outputs, and two for the left and right line outputs."
Remote Control and System Integration
"The HPA4 includes IR remote control and can be operated using the optional Benchmark remote. You can use it with Benchmark’s highly ratedDAC3converters, as well as any other source with an analog output. When paired with a Benchmark DAC, a single remote control will operate both units."
"Besides the impressive performance, the HPA4 is Benchmark’s first product with a LCD touch screen that enables most functions of the unit. The screen provides access to advanced features such as balance control, input level offsets, input names, screen dimming, remote control, and function locking. Help screens explain the special functions. The HPA4 includes independent on-screen mute buttons for the headphone and line outputs. Both can also be muted with the volume knob or with the optional remote control."
Low-Level Listening Tests
"The key to a superior volume control is how it sounds when you turn it down ..."
"... you should be able to hear the gentle room reverb of drum cymbal or ringing piano note decay as you turn the volume down."
"The Benchmark HPA4 with its precision relay and ultra quiet amp section, sounds the same at reduced levels as it does when it is turned up."
" When I turned down level, I could still hear the exquisite, precise imaging of the brushed drum cymbals, the snare rim shots and the tasteful Steinway piano notes. I am talking about real musical accuracy, not some euphonic coloration definition of being musical. I am talking about the way music sounds live in a great room, dimensional and full. That is what I hear from the HPA4."
Headphone Listening Impressions
"For headphone listening, I had a long list of demo cans, including my AKG K702 Anniversary, Sennheiser HD-650, AKG K812, Oppo PM1 planar magnetic headphones and the Audeze LCD-XC... the HPA4 handled all of them with ease."
"The Benchmark HPA4 is one of the most transparent headphone amps I have ever heard — at any price. Just as impressive is the line stage, which delivers volume control that many an esoteric analog or digital preamp could only dream of."
Using the HPA4 as a Preamplifier
"The line output was routed to a Benchmark AHB2 amp and a pair of Martin Logan Impressions electrostatics.
"As a line-stage the HPA4 was quite adept ... I found myself relying on the HPA4, as well, for other product reviews because it is so transparent. From an accuracy standpoint, it sounds better than $20,000 preamps I have heard. And oh-so clean."
"To say I am impressed with Benchmark HPA4 would be an understatement. One of the best HP amps and line stages I ever have heard in terms of transparency and accuracy. The ultra-low distortion, its ability to drive any headphone, plenty of connections and the cool factor of the LCD screen menu selection: it is darn near perfect."
"Based on my impressions, the Benchmark HPA4 receives two Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Awards. One for its headphone amp and one for its line stage. Folks, it is that good."
LA4 - Receives Stereophile's Highest "Class A" Rating for Preamplifiers
"Benchmark's usual approach to design is to out-spec the competition, and so it is here. Like other Benchmark equipment he has tested, the affordable LA4 challenged the resolution of John Atkinson's test instruments, with'superb'channel separation,'extremely low noise, and virtually no power-supply-related spuriae.'"
"Benchmark's LA4 is the widest-bandwidth, widest-dynamic-range, lowest-noise, lowest-distortion preamplifier I have encountered."- John Atkinson
"In his listening room, Kalman Rubinson compared the LA4 to a cable—and couldn't hear any difference. He concludes,'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.'"
"The DAC3 B is a stripped- down, lower-priced version of the DAC3 HGC, which omits the headphone amplifier, balanced and unbalanced analog inputs, volume, mute, and polarity controls."- Stereophile
"The DAC3 was all about depths, in several respects...I heard deeper into the music."
"All I can say is Wow!"
- John Atkinson
"In a Follow-Up, JCA 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."