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.
HPA4- "One of the most transparent audio products I have ever heard at any price"
"Marvelously open and clean"
"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."
"The HPA4 is a co-design by Benchmark and THX, Ltd. using the THX Achromatic Audio Amplifier (AAA™) technology that was implemented in the Benchmark AHB2 amplifier 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."
"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."
"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."
"The HPA4 includes IR remote control and can be operated using the optional Benchmark remote. You can use it with Benchmark’s highly rated DAC3 converters, 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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
- John Gatski, Everything Audio Network
"My initial impression was simple: The LA4 preamp plays everything that is, and nothing that isn't...Neutrality in Audio... and that's really all this review needs to convey."
"The LA4 preamp may occupy neutral audio country, but it is a sweet piece of audio kit. I love its form-factor. I love its simple operation. And I love that it allows the sound of the signal to flow through to the downstream components."
"The LA4's specifications are unquestionably excellent. When using pro-level balanced interconnects, the LA4 manages a Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) greater than 135 dB, and Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) of -125 dB."
"The LA4 has a noise floor that is not just low, it's bats-strain-to-hear-it low."
"The Benchmark LA4 is an excellent preamp, an operationally solid spec-monster that also happens to sound great."
- Gary L Beard, Positive Feedback
"The headphone section, with its choice of 6.35 mm stereo or four-pin balanced XLR connectors ... really impresses with a smooth signal delivery."
"While on the one hand it can rock out when it needs to – its prodigious output means it can give as much power as your headphones can take – its sheer impact, openness and vivacity is jaw-dropping."
"An immaculate all-analogue design, the aptly named Benchmark is both technically and sonically as good as it gets."
- AV Tech Media Awards 2018/2019
Stereophile's editors chose 10 products to receive their top award, the "2018 Product of the Year - Editor's Choice Award". Two Benchmark products made this exclusive list - the AHB2 power amplifier and the DAC3 HGC D/A converter.
"I was impressed by this revolutionary stereo amplifier but it became an obsession when I mated three as monoblocks to a trio of Benchmark's DAC3s."
"The AHB2 is deadly silent, musically revealing, surprisingly compact, and quite powerful."
- Kalman Rubinson
"Benchmark has created a long line of DACs (several of which I've purchased) that present recordings with as little embellishment as is possible at their price points. The latest incarnation, the DAC3, is no exception, and excels at presenting the unvarnished truth, as the artist intended."
- Jon Iverson