"There are many things that come into play when putting together a hi-fi system, one of which is synergy."
"After the arrival of the Benchmark Media Systems AHB2, I immediately thought of the matching HPA4 that colleagues Jaap and Yung were very pleased with."
"The key question, of course, was whether the HPA4 would really provide an audible improvement."
"Well you bet! The synergy between preamp and power amplifier is nothing short of magical, not to mention the DAC3 B that I got from importer Helios for the occasion."
"Not only a few curtains disappear, the whole window is gone."
- Geoffrey Vanhouwaert, Alpha-Audio
"The Benchmark AHB2 is a very fine sounding, easy to live with, zero-maintenance power amplifier that has enough power for most systems. If more power is needed, two amplifiers configured for mono can provide it. The decision to purchase the review sample and make the Benchmark AHB2 a new, long term reference took over a month of listening and comparisons."
"The outstanding musicality of the Benchmark AHB2 takes some time to convince the listener of its wholly musical presentation. This subtle excellence assures long term satisfaction."
-10 Audio, Perfect 10 Award
"Prior to reviewing these Benchmark components, I had heard the company’s products powering some of my favorite-sounding rooms at several audio shows. Based on what I’d heard at these shows, I was eager to hear how this equipment could perform in my own listening room."
"Listening to the Benchmark gear in my own room, I felt an immediate and gratifying emotional connection to the music I was hearing."
"The LA4 and AHB2 tear down so many of the usual walls that come between the listener and the music."
"If you value transparency and accuracy, the LA4 and AHB2 will perform beyond your highest expectations."
- Drew Gagliano, The Audio Beatnik
"With DAC, preamplifier and power amplifier, Benchmark knows how to build a bridge between the professional sector and home hi-fi. Very beautiful."
"If you value transparent, precise sound, but at the same time want a certain level of comfort and at least a little elegance, you are in good hands with the Americans."
"The DAC3, HPA4 and AHB2 are all characterized by their wonderfully transparent sound and their high degree of precision. At the same time, sufficient amenities are offered to offer adequate comfort. A successful mix."
"I ended up visiting this room more than any other room at the show. I couldn’t help myself; I had to keep coming back for more!"
- Drew Gagliano, TheAudioBeatnik.com
"The HPA4 combined with the Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier ranks as the quietest rig I've heard (or not heard). Even with the gain up to full with no signal, there is no hiss, hum, or buzz, even when I placed my ears within a in inch of the drivers on 89 dB sensitive loudspeakers."
"As a headphone amplifier, the HPA4 was first rate. Whether it was my most power-hungry headphones, which currently are the new Abyss Diana Phi, or my most sensitive IERs, such as the Empire Ears Phantoms, there was no added noise or lack of adequate gain."
"The Benchmark HPA4 exhibits virtually no noise, whether employed as a stereo preamp or headphone amplifier, and his highly transparent, with no audible colorations."
"If you are looking for a preamplifier/headphone amplifier that you can live with happily for a long time, you should consider the Benchmark HPA4 at the top of your must-audition list."
- Steven Stone, HomeTheaterReview.com
"The AHB2 easily outperforms the DIY Hypex NC400 I had tested before which used to be the best amp I had tested."
"THD+N versus output level looks far cleaner than anything I have tested before."
"Intermodulation distortion versus power level shows the same story of clean power."
Signal to Noise Ratio:
(unweighted, 22.5 kHz BW)
Ch1: 130.286 dB
Ch2: 130.180 dB
-0.3 dB at 20 kHz
-3 dB down at 200 kHz!!
"Since this is not a switching amplifier, there is no filter there allowing the bandwidth to go to 200 kHz and beyond."
Stereo Power into 4 Ohms:
"We have 185 watts of power at incredibly low distortion of 0.00016%, besting the company specifications."
Bridged Mono Power into 4 Ohms:
"500 watts into 4 ohm! Stunning 0.00026% distortion at 500 watts!!"
"It goes without saying that the Benchmark AHB2 breaks new ground ... gets my strongest recommendation."
- Amir Majidimehr, AudioScienceReview.com
"The AHB2 power amps ... are fantastic."
"I use them as mono blocks due to my power hungry speakers."
"I hear clarity, precision and an openness in the treble that I haven't heard in my speakers before."
"The HPA4 line and headphone preamp and the power amps are made for each other..."
- Ulrike Schwarz, Anderson Audio NY
"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
"Aleksandar Radisavljevic used this American amplifier as his reference during R&D of the Raal Requisite SR1a earfield monitors(tm)."
"He's tried ... Bryston, Pass, Krell, McIntosh, Classe and more ... to him and on his own recordings, the AHB2 still sounds the most like live music."
"With Product of the Year 2014-2017 awards from various high-profile publications, our Benchmark amplifier has been comprehensively covered many many moons ago - on standard loudspeakers. But nobody yet thought to review it on headphones."
- Srajan Ebaen, 6Moons.com
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.
"In my September 2018 column, I wrote of my discovery of miniDSP's U-DIO8, which converts multichannel data fed to its USB port to eight S/PDIF or AES-EBU outputs at resolutions of up to 24-bit/192kHz. Armed with a U-DIO8, you can use three or four of your choice of stereo DAC."
"I went commando with the DAC3s directly connected to the three AHB2s. All three DAC3s were set to Home Theater Bypass, and I used JRiver Media Center's volume control."
"For the first time I can recall, I heard no noise from my system, even with an ear flush against a tweeter."
"I know that we audiophiles can obsess about small changes and make them seem more important than they actually are, but that's what this hobby is about: Eliminating as many audible flaws as possible, however tiny. In this case, the effect was striking at first listen, and endured through everything I played, even tracks that had troubled me before."
- Kal Rubinson, Stereophile
"RMAF 2018 was really good, with significant numbers of attendees, and more new-product introductions than I remembered ever seeing there."
"Led by engineer John Siau and based in Syracuse, New York, Benchmark Media Systems has built a sterling reputation for making compact, well-engineered, moderately priced electronics that challenge the state of the art, both on the test bench and in the listening room."
"What I took notice of were the specifications: total harmonic distortion of less than 0.00006%, and a signal/noise ratio exceeding 135dB from 20Hz to 20kHz."
"If those claims are true, and there’s no reason to believe they aren’t -- Benchmark gear has always performed as specified on the test bench -- the LA4 should be about as transparent-sounding a line-stage as you can find at any price."
- Doug Schneider, SoundStage! Hi-Fi
"John Atkinson's measurements corroborated Benchmark's claim that the DAC3 is capable of "at least" 21-bit performance ..."
"Benchmark created an amplifier that more than matched the DAC3's dynamic range: the AHB2. Bridged to mono, the AHB2 has a claimed A-weighted dynamic range of 135dB ... it now sits in Class A of Stereophile's 'Recommended Components.'"
"With the DAC3 HGC and the AHB2, Benchmark seems to have achieved the lowest-noise, lowest-distortion system of source and amplification on the planet. The signals this combo sends to loudspeakers should be cleaner—truer to the source—than any other audio components can achieve."
"This article is unusual in that my goal was not to take the measure of a particular component but to determine whether Benchmark's entire low-noise system could resolve musical detail that a more typical audiophile system, with noise and distortion levels that are low but not as low, could not."
"The comparison system consisted of PS Audio DirectStream DAC and BHK Signature preamp and, variously, PS Audio BHK 300 and Pass Laboratories XA60.8 monoblocks."
"Through the Benchmark amps those quiet sounds were richer and more interesting. There seemed to be more going on in those quiet moments. It's harder to describe than it was to hear."
"Over the course of several days, I went back and forth between the Benchmark amplifiers and heard it every time. The difference didn't go away."
- Jim Austin, Stereophile
AHB2 - Class A Recommended Component - Fall 2018 - Power Amps
'Class A' is Stereophile's highest classification for recommended components. Very few components receive this elite classification. Stereophile defines 'Class A' as follows:
"Best attainable sound for a component of its kind, almost without practical considerations; "the least musical compromise." A Class A system is one for which you don't have to make a leap of faith to believe that you're hearing the real thing."
The Benchmark Media AHB2 showed the highest level of audio performance in all metrics. Despite being a half-rack-sized compact product, it provided a constant voltage across a wide range of loads. In stereo mode, it performed well into a 1Ω impedance load at phase angles of 0, ± 30, and even ± 60 degrees which is a very harsh operating environment. The amplifier is ideally suited low-impedance and phase-shifted loudspeakers, which are commonly referred to as "hard-to-drive speakers."
In SNR and THD measurements are very impressive, exceeding some of the measurement limits of the best measurement equipment available. The stereo-mode output of 100 W into 8Ω and 400 W into 2Ω is more than sufficient output under most conditions. If you need more power, you can use the bridged-mono mode.
- Oh Hyeonil, Studio51
AHB2 - "Tightness, accuracy and punch"
"The most identifiable positive trait (there are many) of the AHB2, and that is low end control. Tightness, accuracy and punch."
"The AHB2 has power in spades, especially with two units running in mono mode."
"A single amp in stereo will suffice for most normal situations, and was in full control of all sonic responsibilities with every pair of loudspeakers we threw at it."
"The low end tightness and thrust is just where it should be, and pass though information is the name of the game."
"The sound of the amplifier is true to source and one that takes many queues from the production world of balance and monitoring."
"... will rock the house (or sooth the baby to sleep)."
HPA4 - "The best sounding headphone amp I've heard"
"For the first time in my audio life I can pin my ear to each speaker driver and hear absolutely no sound coming from the speakers in a quiet room with the system volume control at any position from minimum to maximum with no source material playing."
"I find that lowering the background noise paints the music on as black a canvas as possible and thus seems to bring out realistic low-level detail in recordings."
"The Benchmark HPA4 is the best sounding line amplifier I've yet heard. It's innovative approach to controlling system volume/SPL results in what for me is a uniquely transparent-to-source experience."
"It is also the best sounding headphone amp I've heard, both for very-insensitive, hard-to-drive phones and those sensitive enough to easily be used directly from a smart phone."
"The HPA4 truly stands apart in terms of measured and subjectively low background noise and distortion when driving either loudspeakers or headphones."
- tmallin, moderator of Tom's Corner, whatsbestforum.com
"A well-curated sound system"
"That’s what Benchmark Media had put together in Chicago for AXPONA this year in room 670 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel: a smooth, curated system... to showcase their AHB2 power amplifier, running here in bridged-mono mode and being directly driven by their DAC3 HGC DAC/headamp/preamp. "
"The ESL 11A presents a unique challenge for amplifiers... making sure those big curved ‘stat panels are being given not only the watts they need to perform best, but the current as well. Here the AHB2’s linear amplification design excels, as a pair running in bridged-mono delivers 480 watts into six Ohms, and 29 A (peak) of current/channel."
"Whether there was rock, jazz, classical, or even electronic playing while I was in the room, the Benchmark DAC/Pre/Power combo had a way with digital files that seemed to never put a foot wrong, and maintained a balance between resolution, dynamics, and believable acoustic warmth in instruments, and vocals."