• WANTED: Happy members who like to discuss audio and other topics related to our interest. Desire to learn and share knowledge of science required as is 20 years of participation in forums (not all true). Come here to have fun, be ready to be teased and not take online life too seriously. We now measure and review equipment for free! Click here for details.

What do you Benchmark fans/users think?

stan21

Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2021
Messages
18
Likes
34
In this post I will address the one criticism I have about Benchmark products and I would love to hear what others think on this topic. Please note that the intent of this post is not to knock down the products but for us buyers and users to give valuable feedback to Benchmark so hopefully they listen and incorporate in future releases. These are audio components, so obviously the most important thing is how they sound. Nothing but high praises in that regard. Top notch sound. That’s why I use them. However there is one area of secondary importance where in my opinion Benchmark is not hitting the “benchmark” not even close and I sincerely wish that they would address this shortcoming, which i think is a serious opportunity that they should not neglect as in my opinion it would substantially boost their sales and make many more Benchmark owners very happy. It’s about their design, how the products look when put together and how useful the presented information is.

From a further improvement standpoint, the sound of the LA4/HPA4/AHB2 really sets the benchmark and is far ahead of the competition and human hearing that there is really no further practical sonic benefit possible. Even if SNR of 144db is achieved, perfect 24 bits, it won’t bring improvement to anyone’s audio life because no one can possibly hear the difference. OK, once the competition starts catching up, which is years away, I get it. I could easily see the DAC3 getting updated due to pressures from other companies using the latest ESS DACs with really good SNRs (like the one below) and to fully match the specs of the LA4/AHB2 for marketing purposes, but again, it’s only for specs. No real practical sonic improvement. I would go for better design than better specs at this stage to update my Benchmark components. I am sure Benchmark are loosing potential customers because of how they look or because they don’t have a full set of offerings and sufficient product line segmentation. There are some amazing looking components out there and Benchmark need to pay attention. So I wish Benchmark would step up their design game at this stage, which would bring more real world value and pleasure to users. Just like buying a car. The design can make or break a deal regardless of performance. It should not be neglected.

Just like @John_Siau at Benchmark strives for perfection and thinks about the performance of all the components holistically from an engineering stand point in terms of how they will sound together, creates performance calculations in Excel and 3D circuits models before the first prototype is put together I wish that whoever is responsible for the design would use the same approach and attention to detail when thinking about how these components would look together.

1626542058448.png

Let’s look at the DAC3 B, HPA4, AHB2 system in a stack. Also keep in mind that the DAC3 B was designed to complement the LA4/HPA4.

Let’s examine the visual aspects. I see nice big matching feet on the HPA4 and AHB2, but what happened to the feet of the DAC3 B, why no matching feet on the DAC3 B?! They are missing and the DAC3 B sits tightly on top of the HPA4. So, there is more space between the AHB2-HPA4 than there is between HPA4-DAC3 B. Also the DAC3 B is half the height, which is not proportional to the other 2 components. It looks like it belongs to a different family of products in terms of design and form factor. Think about anyone who has 2 AHB2s and wants to put them side by side and a DAC3 on top of one and an HPA4 on top of the other. Overall different heights, widths, styles, not a aesthetically pleasing look. Now let’s look at the sides. The DAC3 B has no heatsinks. The HPA4 has small heatsinks of one design and the AHB2 has large heatsinks of a different design. So all 3 have different overall widths. It looks awful to me. It looks like the heatsinks were added based on the engineering needs of each components without regard to design. Why not use the same design heatsinks on all of them or hide the different sized ones inside the bodies and make them the same overall width?! I would love to see the AHB2 heatsinks on DAC3 and HPA4. Makes them look buffed and matching in style. There are very limited stacking options that would look decent as is. Imagine the AHB2 on top sticking out on the sides as if for rain or sun protection.

The DAC3 B looks cleaner in design than the other DAC3s with some buttons and the volume knob gone and the bigger matching Benchmark imprint looks good, but the overall design is still busy with all those lights and extra buttons. I see columns of 2, 3, 2, and 4 lights not vertically well aligned. The HGC at least has 4, 4, 2, and 4 lights and are more symmetrical, better pattern. The lights theme is very different than the AHB2 lights theme, which are horizontal. To my eyes, the design looks dated reminiscent of the 90’s. The AHB2 looks much better and cleaner. Looks like it’s from the 00’s. The HPA4 is even more clean and modern, from the digital age with its display, which I applaud. It looks like from the 10’s. If Benchmark added a display to the HPA4, and the DAC3 B was a complementing component, why not add the same display to the DAC3 B, make it of the same overall size and make it look from the same era. They would look like matching components. Just a power button and a nice big display that shows bit rate, sample rate and input source. Talking about the power button - on the DAC3 B, the label is centered below the button, just like it is for any other button. The HPA4 has no power button label. Did Benchmark forget to label it or they thought it’s the only button, what else can it be?! They labeled everything else on the other components. Look at the AHB2. The label is below the button and to the right. Why is it offset like that, it matches no other label?! The AHB2 also has only one button, but Benchmark labeled it. 3 different components, 3 different label logics. I know this is a minor thing, but it doesn’t look optically good and it tells me how much thought was put into the visuals. The same for the red model imprint. DAC3 B has it on the top left in black/white depending on faceplate and only the B is in red. Isn’t the “3” part of the model. They go DAC1, DAC2, DAC3 so the number designates the model. Shouldn’t the 3 also be in red or how about all in red if AHB2 is all in red?! The HPA4 has it on the display all in white when it’s on but what about when the display is off?! No model designation on the faceplate. Again, no consistency amongst the components, no attention to detail. On the AHB2 it’s on the center left and it’s all in red. Why not label them all with the same logic, colors and location, say for example bellow the Benchmark logo and left aligned on the right. They would look so much more professional together if they had the same size and design, just like they sound. So many examples from other companies of beautifully designed components.

From a design perspective, there is no proportionality, no symmetry, no visual flow, no synergy. I feel like the designer never looked at them put together.

Look at the S.M.S.L. stack - DAC, pre-amp/headphone and amp costing less than $800. Look at the clean modern design, the synergy, the beauty. They look like they were designed to be together and compliment each other.

1626542058480.png


Now let’s discuss the usefulness of the information provided. I like the big display on the LA4/HPA4, but it’s not well thought out in my opinion. Nice boot up screen with the logo but then i see a permanent big lettered “HPA4”. If I buy the product and it sits in my home for years, I know it’s the HPA4. It’s static information that is a waste of screen real estate. Why not show me more useful information instead?! Look at how small the volume digits are. Then you have 2 volume bars side by side permanently. How many people would listen through headphones and speakers at the same time?! It makes the screen look cluttered. Why not at the push of the volume button switch between line bars and headphone bars and keep them bigger (like the LA4) or if enough people care, create a cycle between the 3 choices. I feel like the designer only looked at the display from an arms reach sitting at a desk and never sat in a sofa in an actual home setting where the display might be quite far, like 14ft in my case. I can’t see those tiny volume digits and they are much more important to me than the model name. The bars are nice but they show ballpark volume. They serve as a guide. With a 128 db volume range a difference of 6db would look almost indistinguishable on the bar but in reality it’s 4 times the power. Look at the large digits in the S.M.S.L stack, so easy to read from any distance. Their designer put more thought into it.

The same with all the lights on the DAC3. From 14ft there is no way i can see which input source is selected. Especially in low light situations. I just see a light and based on the relative position i try to guess when i turn it on. Same for bit rate and sample rate. A display with large bitrate, sample rate and input would be so much more valuable and pleasant to look at. It would give me better information.

Why not add a matching display to AHB2?! Make them all modern looking. There are so many good looking examples like the Oppo HA-1 with volume indicators/needles that show you how close you are to peak power, kind of like a McIntosh. Or use digits, bars, etc. In my case, i know i have reached the limits when it clips and mutes and the red lights go on and i have to restart it. I have no idea how much headroom i have. It’s always sudden, no warning.

Why not think about adding a network streamer with the same display and form factor, showing album art. So many beautiful offerings from other companies. Wouldn’t that be a beautiful stack with 4 components all visually matching with beautiful displays… Try to imagine such a stack. It would be an absolute visual delight. It would be extremely hard to resist buying such a combo and people would be willing to buy all components from Benchmark because of the visual synergy. I use Bluesound Vault as a streamer now but would prefer a matching Benchmark. Imagine a beautiful app that controls all devices, volume, input, and your music with album art, etc. I would definitely buy all 4 such components and would be super happy with both the looks and sound. It would be an absolute end-game system.

I wrote to Rory Rall about getting an LA4 with the same heatsinks as the AHB2 because i want it to match my AHB2, but he told me the heatsinks only come with the rackmount faceplate. I don’t want the rackmount faceplate so i asked him if i could order it with both the rackmount faceplate and the standard faceplate so I can use the heatsinks and the standard faceplate but he didn’t respond. He is usually very prompt. Maybe it’s because i expressed the same thoughts regarding the visual aspects, which he didn’t like, so he ignored me. Hopefully at least he shared internally so that such input would be considered and discussed. I honestly don’t understand why there is no such option. Is this visual mismatch only bothering me? I would have bought the LA4. I would also wait upgrading my DAC2 HGC because i am happy with the sound, and the only reason i would get it so for matching design and usability. The DAC3 B doesn’t cut it for me.

I know this was long, but let me know your thoughts.
 
Last edited:

Helicopter

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 13, 2020
Messages
2,363
Likes
3,225
Location
Michigan
You are not going to hear a difference in competently designed amps. Once you have reasonable SINAD, then power, aesthetics, and reliability are big differentiators. AHB2 SINAD is more for cachet than audibility...

you can send me the amps, and send the other stuff to @gene_stl ;)
 

johnhopfensperger

Member
Forum Donor
Joined
Jun 16, 2021
Messages
15
Likes
20
I had a the original Benchmark DAC. It wasn't shielded very well, and would pick up interference from my cell phone connecting to wifi. Goes to show how useless most reviews are, only testing products in a laboratory setting. (Now I listen to music on a Motu M2, and it sounds perfect. Simply a better-engineered product.)
 

RoA

Member
Joined
Jun 24, 2021
Messages
68
Likes
26
It looks a bit of a mess but could easily be be solved.

The heat fins on the amp are unavoidable but the other two components could at least be the same width and the feet the same height. Done.
 
OP
S

stan21

Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2021
Messages
18
Likes
34
It looks a bit of a mess but could easily be be solved.

The heat fins on the amp are unavoidable but the other two components could at least be the same width and the feet the same height. Done.
I referred to it as a visual mess in my email to Rory and to your point, i told him that those issues are largely cosmetic and can be easily fixed. There would be a very small cost for a very large visual benefit. It’s really a shame, for all the effort that John and the engineering team have put on the inside. They have put a Ferrari engine and transmission into a Fiat body, the quality of the materials not withstanding. The brushed aluminum looks really good, especially in black. Hopefully others have contacted them also.
 
Last edited:

Jim Matthews

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Forum Donor
Joined
Mar 25, 2021
Messages
854
Likes
955
Location
Taxachusetts
I had a the original Benchmark DAC. It wasn't shielded very well, and would pick up interference from my cell phone connecting to wifi. Goes to show how useless most reviews are, only testing products in a laboratory setting. (Now I listen to music on a Motu M2, and it sounds perfect. Simply a better-engineered product.)
The Benchmark DAC1 predates the IPhone by 4 years.

My original DAC1 works just fine, parked next to my WiFi 6 mesh router.

https://benchmarkmedia.com/pages/manuals
 

Andrew s

Member
Joined
May 9, 2021
Messages
52
Likes
64
I love the Benchmark aesthetic. Things of fuctional beauty.

I tried to induce rf into my DAC 2L and AHB2 using a phone next to the dac, the wifi hub in the same room, tablet and computer all running on the same mains circuit or wifi and never got a peep out of them. Just remembered, also streaming Netflix over mains ethernet again from the same ring main socket to the TV.

Style, looks etc. is in the eye/mind of the beholder.

Regards Andrew


PS I hate UV meters too distracting.
 

Marc v E

Active Member
Joined
Mar 9, 2021
Messages
153
Likes
195
@stan21 : I agree with you. Aluminium fascia are very hard to make pretty, though. When components don't match I usually buy them in black. (These are not mine btw)
proxy-image
 
OP
S

stan21

Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2021
Messages
18
Likes
34
@stan21 : I agree with you. Aluminium fascia are very hard to make pretty, though. When components don't match I usually buy them in black. (These are not mine btw)
proxy-image
I also have mine in black as i think the brushed aluminum looks better in black. Obviously this is an entirely personal and subjective preference. Having only a DAC3, which is tiny on top of the AHB2 is much more tolerable. But once the LA4/HPA4 is inserted, the stack’s poor visual planning starts to show. I guess it’s debatable which color would hide better the mismatch because with silver more attention is focused on the faceplates and at least the faceplates have the same width. With black, i think our eyes focus more on the overall dimension since the faceplates don’t standout. My issue is not with the material. It’s with the lack of consistency in design.
1626611174313.jpeg
 
OP
S

stan21

Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2021
Messages
18
Likes
34
I love the Benchmark aesthetic. Things of fuctional beauty.

I tried to induce rf into my DAC 2L and AHB2 using a phone next to the dac, the wifi hub in the same room, tablet and computer all running on the same mains circuit or wifi and never got a peep out of them. Just remembered, also streaming Netflix over mains ethernet again from the same ring main socket to the TV.

Style, looks etc. is in the eye/mind of the beholder.

Regards Andrew


PS I hate UV meters too distracting.
Good point about the UV meters. I love them but, I understand they are not everyone’s cup of tea. A good solution might be having several screen options, like for example in the Oppo HA-1. There could be a UV meters option, a digital bars option or have a blank/dark display for anyone who finds them distracting. At least you would have options covering the tastes of more people, plus it would give visual consistency amongst the components.
 
  • Like
Reactions: EJ3

Helicopter

Major Contributor
Forum Donor
Joined
Aug 13, 2020
Messages
2,363
Likes
3,225
Location
Michigan
If VU meters didn't fit my decor, I might have gone with a pair if Schiit Vidars with far better looks for 30% of the money, still transparent.

Agree black is easier to match, especially since the silver AHB2 has clashing black heat sinks... yuck!
 

jae

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Dec 2, 2019
Messages
531
Likes
544
I love the industrial aesthetic of these, and audio equipment in general. It makes it look durable, timeless, and like it has an objective purpose. Spartan and deliberate. This type of gear should really be rackmounted anyway.
 
Last edited:
OP
S

stan21

Member
Joined
Jun 30, 2021
Messages
18
Likes
34
I just would not stack things on my poweramp. Realy not a good place. Maybe benchmark just never thought that people come to the idear stacking things on the poweramp?
I agree with you in general. I’ve always kept my previous amps on top for better air circulation and heat dissipation. To be honest, it might be more of a preference in this case since the AHB2 doesn’t have the usual heating concerns. It runs very cool. Unfortunately, Benchmark doesn’t give us placement options. Putting the amp on top would look cartoonish. The components would have to be kept on a tv stand pretty far apart on different levels to be more ok visually.
 
Last edited:

jae

Addicted to Fun and Learning
Joined
Dec 2, 2019
Messages
531
Likes
544
The ABH2 design and power supply are highly efficient and the sonic benefits of using this in stereo mode are only really maximised at <~180W. It also has fairly low idle power wattage being class AB. I'm sure it has quite good thermal stability and it is also designed to be ran in mono offering almost double the power. If you need more power than that, you could look to good class D amplifiers like Purifi or hypex that function better at higher output levels, which will barely even get warm.

That being said I don't see why "stacking" should be much of an issue under normal stereo-use conditions. Thermal mass or surface area of the heatsink should be more of a concern as any significant amount of "airflow" is going to be creating orders of magnitude more ambient noise than the noise you will be reducing by using this performant amplifier in the first place. I could make the argument that stacking cooler equipment on top in ambient air might even improve performance and life of the product, but all of this is negligible.
 
Last edited:
Top Bottom