"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. This means, of course, you'd better like the sound of your DAC or analog rig, because that is basically what you are hearing on the other side of the border crossing."
"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 LA4's main frontal attraction is ... the capacitive touch screen."
"The screen uses graphics that are easily recognized from the listening chair."
"Less often used options that are not duplicated on the remote must be accessed from the touch screen."
"Audio options like channel balance and input gain boost / cut are controlled directly from the screen, as are other setup options, like input naming, and screen dimming."
"All features are easy to understand and simple to adjust, but just in case, there is a help button too!"
"I liked the option to adjust individual input gain by boosting or cutting the dB output up to 10 dB. It allowed me to match input levels between my digital, and analog sources."
"I've found that stepped volume controls often fail to offer enough steps to ensure sufficient control, especially at lower volumes. The LA4's fully-balanced relay gain control takes care of that by providing two hundred and fifty six (!) steps in 0.5 dB increments. That makes dialing in the perfect volume level a breeze."
"One of things I look for when reviewing any component, is how well it reproduces music at lower volumes."
"The LA4 scales downward beautifully, maintaining a nice sonic balance."
"No matter the volume, the LA4 delivers a cavernously wide stage, startling dynamics, soaring treble, excellent timbre, and satisfyingly deep bass. It peels away the haze from each layer of music, unwinding musical information at a high level of detail and resolution, yet manages the magical-musical trick of never sounding sterile."
"In 2016, I reviewed Benchmark's AHB2 amplifier and DAC2 HGC digital to analog converter. Both are excellent, well priced, high fidelity components. The AHB2 was so good, I awarded it a Positive Feedback Writer's Choice award, so it seemed unconscionable to review the LA4 without its sidekick power-broker."
"The combination of the LA4 preamp and AHB2 amp serves up music with a transparently sunny disposition."
"The pair goes deep, with an effortless slam that belies their small size. The AHB2 is a very fast amp. The LA4 had no trouble providing a signal fast enough to show off the AHB2's speedy nature."
"The sound stage is excellent: depth, width, height, and the illusion of a performance space were fantastic. I really, really, really enjoyed the Benchmark duo's high level of detail, layering of instruments and voices, deep bass, and fast, furious dynamic swings."
"I really enjoy Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather's No Substitutions: Live in Osaka CD. This recording creates a nice feeling of being in a smoky, Japanese nightclub; cocktail glasses clinking amid the chatter and applause The LA4/AHB2 does an excellent job recreating the sense of being in the crowd, listening to these guitar masters. It also highlights differences between the duo's different guitar rigs, and playing styles."
"The Benchmark LA4 is an excellent preamp, an operationally solid spec-monster that also happens to sound great."
"A solid, high-quality audio component."
"Every change I made to my system—whether equipment or musical selections—could be heard."
- 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
The competition in the amplification category was very tight. There was a two-way tie for first place between two amplifiers that cost $30,000 a pair and $13,500 a pair.
The Benchmark AHB2 was just two points behind the leaders when the Stereophile reviewers cast their final votes. In all, there were 13 amplifiers that made Stereophile's select list of finalists. The Benchmark AHB2 was the least expensive amplifier on the list, yet it received top scores from the reviewers. The list included amplifiers with stratospheric prices. Six amplifiers were priced between $25,000 and $118,000 a pair!
At Benchmark we believe that a great audio system shouldn't set you back by the cost of a sports car.