"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."
Four Years Experience with the AHB2
"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 Allows the DAC to Run Wide Open
"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."
"The ADC1 USB is very natural sounding. What I put in, is what it captures. Should I wish to color a track, I can call upon other gear in my rack."
"In a mastering context, a neutral, flat-sounding converter is very desirable."
"Benchmark’s trademarked UltraLock clocking scheme delivers quality conversion even when slaved to a suboptimal external clock."
"The best standalone clock in the world becomes irrelevant if the receiving converter’s locking system botches the signal. Unfortunately, many manufacturers skimp on PLL synchronization. Thankfully, not Benchmark."
"You probably know Benchmark for its long-available ADC and DAC units. The ADC1 analog to digital converter has been used by recordists and mastering engineers for years."
Active vs. Passive Monitors
"Although many studios, particularly smaller at-home outfits, use active monitors (speakers with built-in power amps) ... almost no powered monitors include really super-quality power amps because of the compromises necessary to fit electronics into a speaker cabinet and meet a price point."
"While many of the active monitors get plenty "loud," they often sound un-dynamic and harsh, at least to my ears."
"I decided to look into modern alternatives to my circa-1980s Audio Design Associates (ADA) FET300 power amp."
"I thought it was the cat's ass and didn't even consider swapping it out, until I started reading descriptions and reviews of the Benchmark amp."
"As soon as I unplugged the ADA amp and swapped in the Benchmark, it was clear how nice it was to hear less fan noise. I cranked up the monitor volume all the way ... and confirmed there was zero hiss, hum, and other power line hash. I put my ear right to the speakers - still dead silent. The ADA is near-silent but not dead-silent."
"I then started listening to music and other audio - projects I recently completed plus favorite albums. I did this for several weeks, and I also took the Benchmark upstate and plugged it into my B&W 805 Diamond speakers there."
"In every case, I heard the amp as essentially transparent - a silent transmitter of musical energy."
I Purchased the System
"I liked the feature set on the DAC2 HGC enough to buy it for my big listening room, replacing the DAC1 HDR. I bought the AHB2 power amp for my studio and have started filling the piggy bank to buy one for the big listening room."
DAC2 HGC - "I would put the new Benchmark unit against any 2-channel D/A on the market"
"The original Benchmark DAC1 has been used to master many Grammy-winning and chart-topping records. It is hard to imagine that even better performance has been squeezed out of that box, but the DAC2 HGC does that."
"More than an updated faceplate on the original DAC1, the DAC2 HGC offers its own reference sound that will be welcome in the listening environments of both audio engineers and audiophiles."
"Personally, I would put the new Benchmark unit against any 2-channel D/A on the market."