"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
"Benchmark describes its product as a 'reference Stereo Headphone Amplifier and Reference Line Amplifier with Relay Gain and Input Control', which should give you some idea of what's going on here, but only hints at the fact that this is actually two completely separate products packed into one relatively compact unit."
"The headphone section is powered by a power amp from THX, employing the same AAA (Achromatic Audio Amplifier) technology first used by the company in its AHB2."
"Benchmark's line amplifier uses relays for input selection, gain control and muting while four independent 256-step attenuators ... feed the the headphone ... and preamp outputs."
"As PM notes in his Lab Report, this design gives the HPA4 not only outstanding performance, but also rather impressive - to say the least - signal delivery."
"All of a track or two should do the trick, as whether with revealing headphones ... or used as a preamp, the HPA4 simply drops jaws with the sheer impact, openness and vivacity of the way it plays music."
"It was one of those real 'performer in the room' experiences and I was instantly transported back to the time I spent monitoring the recording as it was being made ..."
- Andrew Everard, Hi-Fi News, November 2018
"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."
DAC3 HGC - Class A+ Recommended Component - Fall 2018 - Digital Processors
'Class A+' is Stereophile's highest classification for digital processors. Stereophile defines Class A and the digital processor 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. With Super Audio CD, DVD-Audio, and Hi-Rez PCM and DSD files now available, we have created a new Class, A+, for the best performance in those digital categories."
DAC3 HGC - "A maestro of any musical genre."
"The DAC3 HGC has a servo-driven, knurled volume control. Raising or lowering the volume via the remote control physically moves the volume control on the DAC3. When you move the volume control by hand, you can’t help but love its smooth, precise motion."
Unboxing the DAC3 is an audio geek’s dream. You’re greeted by a spiral-bound, 8.5 x 11-inch color user manual. New users would do well to review its contents.
"Benchmark’s infrared remote control stands apart from the crowd. Its hefty, die-cast aluminum design puts it in sharp contrast to most of today’s remotes."
"The Benchmark DAC3’s DAC, headphone, and preamp functions are outstanding. I tested the preamp section with two of the company’s AHB2 power amplifiers with the amps set to bridged mono. I paired a set of of RBH Sound’s top-of-the-line Signature SV-1212NR Reference speakers with the amps; served content via an Oppo UDP-205 universal disc player, Roon Media server, and Tidal; and used Focal Clear, Oppo PM-2, and Beyerdynamic Amiron Home headphones in my listening tests."
"Jazz, hip-hop, classical, or rock, the Benchmark DAC3 proved a maestro of any musical genre, consistently demonstrating tremendous balance, refinement, neutrality, and most of all, command."
- Theo Nicolakis, Tech Hive
HPA4 - "One of the most transparent audio products I have ever heard at any price"
"Marvelously open and clean"
"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."
"The HPA4 is sonically neutral, distortion free and deeply dynamic."
"The rotary relay gain control features 256 steps in 0.5 dB increments."
"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."
"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."
"To say I am impressed with Benchmark HPA4 would be an understatement."
"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
DAC3 HGC - "I was immediately impressed by the sound"
"The separation of sounds, that see-through quality, and the air around individual instruments and voices is what distinguishes the difference between simply good high-end digital components and excellent sounding high-end digital components."
"It is this sense of space that I more often than not notice first. And I noticed this trait immediately with the Benchmark Media DAC3 HGC."
"The Benchmark Media DAC3 HGC is a fantastic digital-to-analog converter that comes with a fantastic headphone amplifier with two outputs, and can also double as a fantastic preamplifier. Its asking price is more than reasonable for such a versatile component, with a sound quality that can be compared to units costing much more."
DAC3 DX - "Open, smooth detailed sound with that recording studio accuracy that I am used to from Benchmark."
"I cannot say enough about the DAC3-DX’s sonic character of transparency and accuracy."
"My DSD DSF rip (of the often played) Warren Bernhardt - So Real SACD sounded incredible through the MartinLogans using this DAC. The audible cymbal splash sheen detail is like hearing the cymbal in the front of your listening room."
"Same with the Steinway piano tone. Upper register notes are so live sounding. The “air” and “space” around and between the instruments is simply stunning when played on the best gear."
"On numerous hi-res tracks, the opinion was the same: sonic excellence!"
"The DAC3-DX most certainly gets an EAN Stellar Sound Award, and should be closely looked at by pros and audiophiles alike."
2017 EAN Product of the Year
- John Gatski, Everything Audio Network
AHB2 - "Best Stereo Amplifier of 2017"
"Masterfully detailed and transparent with spot-on tonality and some serious punch." - Ben Shyman, Home Theater Review
DAC3 HGC - "At the top of its class ... highly recommended."
"I’m immediately struck by the way the depth presented by the current model immerses you in the recording."
"Having put the DAC3 through its paces with a wide range of tube and solid state amplifiers for The Audiophile Apartment, as the core of a high performance, yet highly compact system, the DAC3 is a charmer, indeed."
"The three-dimensionality is the best I’ve achieved on my reference system."
"This is a special digital product indeed."
"Since the introduction of the original DAC1, Benchmark has set the industry on its ear..."
"We gave the original DAC1 our first Exceptional Value award in issue 3, and the current DAC3 HGC is an equally good value, earning this award again in 2017."
- Marck Marcantonio, Tone Audio
AHB2 - Stereophile Class-A Recommended Component
"The AHB2 makes use of THX Corporation's Achromatic Audio Amplifier (AAA) technology, in which a low-power feed-forward amplifier drives a low-bias class-AB output section, the latter energized by a system of class-H power-supply rails that deliver power in response to demand—resulting in an extremely efficient amplifier capable of robust power output."
"In his listening tests, KR discovered "much more apparent low-level detail in already-familiar recordings"—a characteristic he credited to the Benchmark's evident noiselessness—and a tonal balance that "sounded more 'right' than any of [the other amps on hand].""
"In measuring the AHB2 and attempting to confirm its specified very high signal/noise ratio, JA observed nonlinearities in his testing equipment that "haven't affected the measured performance of other amplifiers I've tested, but they were detectable with the AHB2's very low intrinsic distortion and noise." His conclusion: "an extraordinary amplifier.""
"KR's last word: "bargain.""
DAC2 HGC - Stereophile A+ Recommended Component
"Although similar in appearance to previous Benchmark models ... , the new DAC2 HGC uses four 32-bit ESS Sabre DACs, run in balanced configuration, for a significantly lower noise floor; has a new Hybrid Gain Control (HGC) for volume attenuation, which combines active analog gain control and passive low-impedance attenuators in the analog realm with a 32-bit digital DSP gain control for digital signals; and provides front-panel displays for both sample rate and word length."
"It had a pleasantly forward sound, with smooth highs, a solid bottom end, and excellent image separation, said EL."
"JI noted the DAC2's good scale and sense of ambient space."
DAC2 - Stereophile Class-A Recommended - Headphone Amplifier
"Although similar in appearance to previous Benchmark models, with a front-panel volume control and two ¼" headphone jacks."
"The new DAC2 HGC uses four 32-bit ESS Sabre DACs, run in balanced configuration, for a significantly lower noise floor; has a new Hybrid Gain Control (HGC) for volume attenuation, which combines active analog gain control and passive low-impedance attenuators in the analog realm with a 32-bit digital DSP gain control for digital signals."
"It had a pleasantly forward sound, with smooth highs, a solid bottom end, and excellent image separation, said EL."
AHB2 - "It's phenomenal! Gobs of power, detail, finesse and control."
"Benchmark has been around for a long time. In fact, they are one of the early Audiophile pioneers of USB DACs ... I had always thought of them as more of a digital conversion company, and not an amplifier company—until the AHB2 came about."
"A PF colleague of mine (Steven Lefkowicz) said... Dude, you HAVE to try the Benchmark in your system (which at the time was going through a gamut of speaker changes as part of a myriad of reviews being done for PF) to which I replied, wow, they have an amp?"
"I was immediately taken aback with the level of detail given to this unit. Just one glance at the back plate will tell you that this is a well-engineered piece of equipment. Fully Balanced = Check. Speakon Outputs = Check. Bridging Support = Check. Input Sensitivity Adjustment = Check. 12v Trigger support = Check."
"So, how does it sound, after all of that? Well, this thing is no slouch. It's phenomenal! Gobs of power, detail, finesse and control."
- Peter Davey, Positive Feedback
DAC3 - "Produced definitions of clarity that pushed away inner walls"
"My system felt like a dominant force when I introduced the Benchmark DAC3 HGC to the middle shelf of my rack. With the implementation of the latest ESS9028PRO chip from Sabre, Benchmark’s own team of experts, tweaking the accompanied circuitry and the feature rich design offered in this petite package, a genetically modified version of the already popular DAC2 is born."
- Dan Worth, Hifi Pig
AHB2 - "Stereophile Amplification Component of the Year" - 2016 Finalist"
The AHB2 was one of only 11 finalists in Stereophile's "Amplification Component of the Year" category. The finalists included 6 power amplifiers, 2 preamplifiers, 2 integrated amplifiers, and 1 headphone amplifier. This elite selection of amplification products included power amplifiers ranging in price from $2,995 (Benchmark AHB2) to $52,000 a pair (Vandersteen M7-HPA).
At $52,000 the Vandersteen includes a chassis milled from a solid billet of aluminum, liquid cooling and a vibration dampening suspension. It is an impressive example of mechanical engineering and industrial design.
At $2,995, the Benchmark AHB2 delivers the quietest, cleanest power available at any price.
The AHB2 proves that top-quality audio can be affordable.
DAC3 HGC - "More space, Increased Precision"
The Benchmark DAC3 is the first product to ship with the new ESS Technology ES9028PRO D/A converter chip.
"Via headphones I definitely could hear more space around the instruments and an increased precision in transients — like cymbals and upper-register piano notes."
"In terms of new functions, the DAC3 switches a lot faster between inputs, and gone is that audibly phasy transition when you initially switch between two digital sources."
- John Gatski, Publisher, Everything Audio Network
AHB2 - "It could well be the last amp you'll ever own. Yes, it is that good."
"Benchmark Media Systems Pro-centric products tout exceptional specifications, and their AHB2 amplifier--developed in tandem with engineers from THX and using their patented HX Achromatic™ Audio Amplifier technology—uses some rather unusual patented designs to get to those remarkable spec numbers."
DAC2 - "The Benchmark AHB2 is a very good amp, and the DAC2 is a very good DAC—it's no wonder that they have been slathered in near-universal praise."
"These two partners in musical misbehavior sound great together and cost less--with Benchmark cables included—than my Pass XA 30.8 amp alone. To be sure, my reference Pass is a fantastic amplifier, but the AHB2 has its own charms that I found played to my own listening biases."
"Yep. Good stuff, those BM boys."
- Gary L Beard, Positive-Feedback
ADC1 USB - Stereophile "A-Rated Recommended Component", 2016
"Housed in the same small case as Benchmark's DACs, the ADC1 is a 24-bit USB A/D converter with a Texas Instruments TAS1020B USB chip and a 128x-oversampling, delta-sigma AKM 5394 A/D converter chip."
"The Benchmark produced a natural, coherent overall sound, with clean high frequencies and weighty, extended lows, said JA, who also noted superb measured performance."