"In the past decade, Benchmark consumer products, especially its digital-to-analogue converters, have achieved acclaim for ultra-low distortion and clean sound. While the company is very strongly engineering-oriented, it maintains that listening tests are critical to product development."
"The HPA4 is exceptionally good at presenting a layered, dynamic yet relaxed sound."
"The instruments not only are clearly differentiated but also sound fully rendered, as live instruments do."
"I wish the review sample didn’t have to go back."
- Tom Martin
"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
"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
"My initial impression was simple: The LA4 preamp plays everything that is, and nothing that isn't...Neutrality in Audio... and that's really all this review needs to convey."
"The LA4 preamp may occupy neutral audio country, but it is a sweet piece of audio kit. I love its form-factor. I love its simple operation. And I love that it allows the sound of the signal to flow through to the downstream components."
"The LA4's specifications are unquestionably excellent. When using pro-level balanced interconnects, the LA4 manages a Signal to Noise Ratio (SNR) greater than 135 dB, and Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) of -125 dB."
"The LA4 has a noise floor that is not just low, it's bats-strain-to-hear-it low."
"The Benchmark LA4 is an excellent preamp, an operationally solid spec-monster that also happens to sound great."
- Gary L Beard, Positive Feedback
"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
"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!""
"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 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
"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."
"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