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What do you Benchmark fans/users think?

MattHooper

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

I have some interest in the LA4 and, at least from looking at the photos, I find your critique of their use of the graphic touch screen space to be bang on. Excellent points all around!

(I really dislike bad design! I know the LA4 is actually a very thoroughly thought out device in terms of it's technical performance and flexibility, but the graphics are part of the ergonomics, and there seems some "fail" there).
 

KellenVancouver

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As a past/prior owner of the DAC1 HDR, DAC1 USB, two DAC2 D's, and a pair of AHB2's, I personally think the units look really nice together, either stacked or separately

As a past/prior owner of the DAC1 HDR, DAC1 USB, two DAC2 D's, and a pair of AHB2's, I personally think the units look really nice together, either stacked or separated. If you want "design," go buy an Apple DAC/AMP.
My thoughts exactly. I went with black AHB2/DAC3HGC/LA4 and never had any thought whatever about inferior looks... until Stan21 raised the question. Of course, how something looks is entirely subjective, and it may also be because I set them up side-by-side and not stacked that I haven't noticed any visual dissonance. Pretty sure there is also a psychological nuance at play here: the Benchmark line-up was chosen almost entirely based on performance (many thanks to Amir), which means the psychological motivator for me was function over form. Thus aesthetic considerations didn't (and don't) resonate with me as much as they may for others; which also means how they "look" is filtered through emotional satisfaction with the performance of Benchmark, and so they continue to "look" good even after reading Stan21's perspective. So while it was revealing to read what Stan21 wrote, and I see what he is saying, the Benchmarks are still aesthetically appealing, at least for me. If I had to make the same choice all over again I would make the exact same purchase, no hesitation.
 

xirtam2005

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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.

View attachment 141817
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.

View attachment 141816

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.

Well I have been waiting for years for Benchmark to add proper sub integration for a 2.1 system. I am open if they put it in a DAC4 or if they find it better served to have a fully analog crossover implemented in some variation of an HPA5. If anyone can do it while maintaining high SINAD, it is Benchmark.

I have a Paradigm Signature Sub 1 that I love - that sub has built in room correction/sub EQ. Right now I'm stuck using an Oppo 105 as DAC/preamp with crossover as I cannot find another decent high quality and high SINAD DAC/preamp that has a crossover.

That sub really adds so much to music. Low bass articulation is amazing. However not having a crossover would have the mains run full range, subjecting to boomy room nodes the Paradigm Sub 1 sub EQ (PBK/ARC) corrects for.

Reflecting on this, Oppo was an amazing company for what they did at the prices they did it, and I'm so sorry to see them gone. With 105/205 made it possible to have proper sub integration in a high fidelity 2.1 system.
 

naish

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For a few weeks I borrowed a Dac1 HDR from my dealer connected to my Purifi amp.
Really love the sound but cannot believe this dac is old and produces this sound. I think to buy it and look for a second hand dac3.
I was not familiar with the brand Benchmark but I am glad that I discovered it.
 

xirtam2005

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What do Benchmark DAC3 (or DAC2) owners think of using it as a headphone amp via USB input? My specific headphones are Planar Magnetic Headphones with an Nominal Impedance of 26 ohms. Would I be better to use DAC3 HGC as headphone amp or select something like RME ADI-2 DAC FS, given my specific headphones. I do not want to add any additional headphone amp equipment.
 

Habu

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Hello from France

As a longtime fan/user, my main concern regarding Benchmark products is the price increase for a State-of-the-Art All-In-One « Dac + Preamplifier + Headphone Amp »

Dac1 (Digital Preamplifier). : 1000 USD (~2004)
Dac1 Pre (Analog Digital USB Dac). : 1600 USD (~2008)
Dac1 HDR up to Dac3 HGC. : 1900 to 2200 USD (~2009 - 2022)
HPA4 plus Dac3 B. : 4800 USD (~2018 - 2022)

I was expecting instead, a Dac4 combining HPA4 and Dac3B in the same 2U case for less than 3000 $ (200% of Dac1 Pre), not 4800 $ (300% of Dac1 Pre) for a two cases’ stack of different height (1U and 2U).
When they initially released the AHB2, with just one the Dac2 (D, DX, L, or HGC) you had a complete system.

I had 1 Dac1 Pre, 2 Dac1 HDR, and still have 3 Dac2 HGC with 2 AHB2 (Also a backup pair of SMS1 speakers), but I think it is no more reasonable to buy HPA4 + Dac3B regarding all the products on the market (The excellent RME ADI-2 DAC already considered « expensive » is 4 times cheaper for exemple).
In Europe HPA4 cost 3400€ (3900 USD), and Dac3 B 1800€ (2060 USD)

So, Benchmark Media, please release a DAC4 (HPA4 DAC with display) no more expensive than your AHB2 !
I like your products and I want to be able to make another purchase in your line of product.

Take care

PS : This post has been edited.
 
Last edited:

EJ3

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Hello from France

I was expecting instead, a Dac4 combining HPA4 and Dac3B in the same case for around 3000 USD, not 4800 USD for a stack of cases. (When they released the AHB2, you could just add one product to it, the Dac2)

Take care
I started my audio journey due to friends in Austria. I was concieved in Charleston, SC (USA) but at 8 months pregnant my Austrian mother flew to Salzburg to be with her family (she is an only child, as am I) so the could see their grandson. While have made 9 trips back during my youth (staying from 3 weeks to 4 months at a time), I understand that some of the places are cramped for space. I also have close relatives in many European counties (as well as Asian countries [most of which I have also spent time in]). It also happens that the largest systems I have ever seen are in Austria, Germany & Italy. As to things in an all in one box, me personally: I will always be happier to pay for separate boxes because if a part of a combination box is down, then the system is down. I always have at least 2 of any item in my system. This is so that if something breaks down, I can just swap that component out. And either repair or have repaired the broken down part of my stereo at my leisure.
That is just me. I cannot say if separates may sound better or not. But that is just the way I am about things I like. I buy a duplicate. Because you never know when it will discontinued. And I don't like all in one things because when a part of it breaks, it causes a system wide problem. So I make space for separates and run them on Uninterruptable Power Supplies. So that even if the power is out, I still have light, the refrigerator still works & so does my music.
 

sprellemannen

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Benchmark: Made and supported by a great team of no BS folks in the USA (New York). I hate the idea of "throw away" electronics, these guys give you a great product with 5 yr warranty and will actually repair your equipment if it has a problem. They answer emails in a few hours and pick up the phone when you call. Hang out in the forums with no BS sales tactics and lots of technical info. Equipment built for function not looks.
Doesn't get much better than that, I'm Happy to support them and am seriously enjoying their equipment!
Benchmark is a great company.
 
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