- Application Notes
"The afternoon before the start of the show I ran into John Siau of Benchmark Media Systems. He says to me quietly, “make sure you stop in our room, we have a surprise!” With curiosity suitably piqued, Co-Editor Jim Clements and I paid a visit ..."
"The results were pretty astonishing. A stable, enveloping stereo image that was devoid of any distortion whatsoever."
- Carlo Lo Raso, Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity
"Sound was extremely well-integrated and controlled, and the bass memorable."
"The Note received signal through the introductory version of the company's Liquid Cables. Each cable contains 27,000 wires. The company's introductory Elephant memory player joined Benchmark Media's AHB2 power amps, DAC3 B D/A processor, and interconnects."
"With the aid of a forthcoming DEQX HDP4 processor that's due in the fall, the system sounded super on a 16/44.1 file of the famed rendition of Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, recorded by Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra for Reference Recordings."
- Jason Victor Serinus, Stereophile Magazine
"The product under review is a stripped-down version of the DAC3 HGC."
"While it uses the same complement of ES9028PRO DAC chips as the flagship HGC and retains the USB port, the B offers a fixed output level and omits the headphone amplifier, balanced and unbalanced analog inputs, volume, mute, and polarity controls, and the remote control."
"I never auditioned the DAC3 HGC in my own system, so when I got an opportunity to borrow a sample of the DAC3 B, I eagerly agreed."
"I had been using MBL's network-connected N31 CD player/DAC ($18,680 with Roon Ready module) before installing the DAC3 B."
"The MBL offers an excellent sense of drive and low-frequency impact, but when I replaced it with the Benchmark, both these aspects of the music seemed enhanced."
"Whether it was an orchestral bass drum or a kickdrum, electric bass guitar or acoustic double bass, the MoFi speakers seemed to acquire more low-frequency weight without losing definition."
"Highly recommended for Class A+ in Stereophile's Recommended Components."
- John Atkinson
"The Benchmark Hi-Fi Stack ..."
"Find a Better Hi-Fi Stack! Double-Dog-Dare you!"
- Ron, NewRecordDay.com
"Benchmark Media Systems is a well-regarded brand that is known for its high-quality DACs and ADCs that also find their way into professional studios."
"In 2014 they introduced the AHB2 power amplifier, using patented THX AAA amplifier technology, that brought previously unheard of low levels of distortion, and high SNR capability."
"Last year Benchmark released the LA4 preamplifier and the HPA4 headphone amplifier. Both components use an ultra-precision relay-based volume control and feature vanishingly low levels of distortion."
"The DAC3 B is an alternate version of the DAC3 DX that ... simply does away with the included volume control and headphone jacks which makes it ideal to use with the HPA4 or LA4."
"The Benchmark DAC3 B ... is a finely executed example of a modern ESS-based digital to analog converter."
"The Benchmark “stack” ... saw use with a wide variety of loudspeakers and other electronic equipment."
"Having the Benchmark stack here for an extended period also made me re-evaluate a few things about how and what I use to review equipment."
"I dare say that they produced as clean and noise-free a stereo playback chain as I have ever come across."
"The Benchmark Media Systems HPA4 preamplifier, AHB2 power amplifier, and DAC3 B are, individually, exceptionally transparent and well-designed audio devices."
"When used as a system the resulting synergy was even more revealing."
"I liked them so much that I purchased them for my reference system. Nuff said!"
- Carlo Lo Raso, Secrets of Home Theater and High Fidelity
"When the folks at Benchmark suggested a review of their HPA4 for Tape Op, my first reaction was, “Isn’t this aimed more at the audiophile market?” Benchmark’s Rory Rall replied that I should consider its use as a reference-grade monitor controller, with a world-class headphone amp built-in. He recommended I pair it with my Benchmark DAC3 B digital-analog converter and use it to drive my Benchmark AHB2 power amp."
"When I previously reviewed the Benchmark AHB2, I described it as being as close to a straight wire with gain as I’ve ever heard – “a silent transmitter of musical energy.” I stand by that description after four years of living and listening to it."
"The HPA4 is built on the idea of avoiding any sort of bit-stripping volume control in the digital realm. So a full-output DAC sends it line-level audio."
"The volume knob is a 256-step precision encoder, driving relays that engage resistors, in 0.5 dB steps."
"Allow me to rave about the HPA4’s built-in headphone amp. Designed using similar technology as the AHB2 and licensed from THX (Benchmark calls it the THX-888 Amplifier), this is the cleanest, quietest, most neutral headphone amp I’ve ever heard."
"The HPA4 has no trouble playing music dynamically and precisely through any headphones I own."
"I can’t think of anything else that will get you closer to the sound coming out of your sources."
"Combined with Benchmark’s DAC and power amp with excellent speakers and headphones plugged in, this is quite the monitoring chain."
"When playing music you love, it will fire all the pleasure synapses."
- Tom Fine, Tape Op
"Benchmark prefers to call the LA4 a line amplifier (which may be the more correct term because that is what preamplifiers in fact do: amplify the signal) and offers it in two versions: linestage only, and the identical linestage with an onboard headphone amplifier, called the HPA4."
"Before properly introducing the preamp, however, it is worth the while to recall that the AHB2 amplifier is a genuinely innovative design, even, if you will, revelatory, and it set new standards in having by a wide margin the lowest noise and distortion and the widest bandwidth of any amplifier on the market then or now."
"There’s a complete absence of any sort of artifacts or noise; on very clean recordings, the presentation is uncanny in its purity."
- Paul Seydor, The Absolute Sound
Jim Austin wrote, "The DAC3 was all about depths, in several respects . . . I heard deeper into the music."
The concise conclusion to John Atkinson's Measurements sidebar: "All I can say is 'Wow!'"
In a Follow-Up, Jim Austin wrote of using the Benchmark processor with the same company's AHB2 power amp—a combination of high source output voltage and modest amplifier gain that he describes as "optimal for minimizing noise and distortion"—and reported hearing "richer and more interesting" reproduction of very subtle details.
- Stereophile Magazine
"Class A+" is Stereophile's highest award for Digital Processors
"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
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!
"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."
"Today, is a very special day for me, since I believe I am hearing the best overall performance out of my headphones."
"The distance performance-wise between HPA4 and my second-best headphone amp is Night and Day!"
"This headphone amplifier and line pre-amplifier receives my highest recommendation and scores the highest rank in my book."
"It spoiled me so much, that for the past 3 days I’m waking up at 5 A.M. so I can listen, tap my feet and head-bang just a little bit more. I for one, started saving for one, I’m sorry but I can’t go back to regular amps."
"Without a doubt Benchmark HPA4 is an end-game, top of the line headphone amp – it’s The One to rule them All."
- Sandu Vitalie, SoundNews.net
"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
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 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!""
"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
"Speaking of reference gear, few names in high-end audio are so closely attached to the reference sound as Benchmark. Their fantastic HPA4 reference amplifier could be found at booths throughout the show. This year, Benchmark was introducing its new DAC3 B."
"I spent some time playing around with the Benchmark pieces, and they really have a high quality pro-audio-like build to them. They're the polar opposite of some of these more DIY-feeling boutique amps and DACs out there – Benchmark has a very professional level of finish on it."
"Benchmark Media Systems used RMAF 2018 to launch two new products that it was able to lump together into one neat little stack."
"On the top is the DAC3 B, which has the same basic circuitry as the company’s more expensive DACs, but deletes the volume control, polarity and mute buttons, and headphone amp found on those models."
"On the bottom is the LA4 linestage preamplifier..."
"The LA4 has two pairs each of single-ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR) inputs, and boasts some impressive specs: THD of less than 0.00006% and a signal-to-noise ratio exceeding 135 dB from 20 Hz to 20 kHz."
"Volume is controlled by dual 256-step attenuators that operate in 0.5 dB increments."