"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
Alpha-Audio.net tested 10 DACs side-by-side. Only one received the "Alpha-Audio Approved" award. That DAC was the Benchmark DAC3.
"Are you looking for the best DAC (d/a converter) in the price range from 1500 euro to 2500 euro? That’s great! Because we’ve put ten beauties side by side. And we tested it live on camera for you."
"It was incredibly instructive to put so many converters side by side. We clearly hear differences - and the viewers could as well."
"One of the models we all agreed on is the benchmark DAC3. This is a delicious musical product. Virtually no coloring, nice stereo image and plenty of inputs."
DAC3 - Alpha-Audio Approved!
"Our final round of the best products from the finest brands of the last 20 years, covering products made from early 1999 to 2019."
"Benchmark is perhaps best known for its range of DACs, but the new HPA4 shows just what the brand can do with a take-no-prisoners headphone amplifier design."
"A real game-changer!"
Reviewed by Tom Martin
"Thanks to the special, discrete analog circuit/relay attenuator, this may be the most transparent line-stage preamplifier in the audiophile world."
"If you got a great-sounding source, the LA4 presents the audio in its original state — with gain or attenuation to the amplifier. I have never heard such low-level detail from a pre."
"The better the DAC, the better you hear it through a quality amp and speakers. It is quiet as a top-notch DAC, with S/N exceeding -135 dB and, feature-wise, it comes with unbalanced/balanced I/O and a really slick user interface."
"I use the four-input LA4 for audiophile A/B testing of DACs, monitoring my Hi-Res home recording/editing/mastering projects, as well as just listening how good my vast collection of 24 bit and DSD music sounds through an accurate amp and speakers."
"A steal at $2,500!"
- John Gatski, Everything Audio Network
"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
"I thought the HPA4 sounded as good as any headphone amp I’ve heard for dynamic headphones, and it might be the best of the lot ..."
"The HPA4 is exceptionally good at presenting a layered, dynamic, yet relaxed sound. You can hear these rich results on, for example, Eliza Gilkyson’s Hard Times in Babylon (Red House), where the instruments not only are clearly differentiated but also sound fully rendered, as live instruments do. You also can hear the overtones of each instrument as they decay, which makes them sound more real."
"... wish the review sample didn’t have to go back."
- Tom Martin, The Absolute Sound
"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.
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"
- John Gatski, Everything Audio Network
"The Benchmark DAC3 DX DAC is designed for recording and mastering studios, but it is a great product for consumer use as well. Its clean, low distortion analog output and flexible setup controls will bring the studio to your home audio system."
- John E. Johnson, Jr., Editor-in-Chief
"This contest produced another tie, and yet another contrast between two wildly different philosophies—economical, if not technical. As Jim Austin pointed out in his initial review, the DAC3 HGC D/A processor from Benchmark Media Systems—a company known for making pro-audio as well as domestic-audio gear—sells for less than the price of certain high-end interconnects. The dCS Vivaldi D/A processor sells for 16 times the Benchmark's price, and in our pages was first reviewed, by Michael Fremer, as part of a $114,996 dCS digital front end."
"Both DACs impressed their respective reviewers with magnificent sound—and in his measurements for both, John Atkinson offered the same one-word conclusion: "Wow!""
"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."