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Why Do You Own Benchmark Products?

MattHooper

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For Benchmark Owners: Why Did You Buy Benchmark Gear?

I'm asking because clearly Benchmark is a highly regarded company here, and plenty of ASR members own Benchmark amplification/DACs. We know they are top of the heap in terms of measured performance, outdoing plenty of the competition in terms of typical distortion measurements.

But there's also the issue of just how audible the advantages of Benchmark's engineering are in practice. As I remember, even Benchmark has acknowledge you'd have to be in somewhat atypical circumstances to realize audible benefits from, say, AHB2 amplifier vs another similarly spec'd competent design. They said that one reason for making the super transparent LA4 preamp was to finally allow the super low noise of the AHB2 to be realized. And then IIRC it's advised it might take using the balanced connections to get that benefit. Anyone, correct me if I'm wrong please, but the main point is that the benefits of the Benchmark engineering seems to be playing in that "overkill" point in some regards, since one can find cheaper amps that should be just as audibly transparent in any normal use-case.

So, with that pre-amble out of the way, to start things off I'll just give my reasoning for why I ended up owning some Benchmark products:

In my case - and I'm somewhat atypical here - I started out years ago with a second-hand Benchmark DAC 1. I wanted to move to using a music server instead of my Meridian 508.20 CD player and the Benchmark had great reviews, and measurements, and came from a company with a solid no-nonsense rep. When I got the Benchmark DAC 1 it did seem to sound slightly different from my Meridian 508.20 (which, if my previous blind-tests on the Meridian were sound, isn't a surprise since I was able to easily identify the Meridian's particular sound vs other CDPs/DACs in blind conditions). But whether it did in fact sound different, it sounded great and I simply took the signal as neutral, which is what I wanted. Digital for me is essentially a solved problem, so the DAC1 was all I needed for many years.

Later I wanted to try some different arrangements in my system and the Benchmark DAC 2L seemed to fit the bill. Was I going to hear any sonic difference with the new DAC design? I didn't know, but it wasn't a big selling point. The pre-amp section and greater flexibility over the DAC 1 was going to be helpful for me at that time. It was expensive, even 2nd-hand, but I just liked Benchmark's approach and was willing to pay.

On to the Benchmark LA4 Preamp that I picked up last November: I enjoy tube amplification but occasionally like trying out more neutral amplification (putting aside debates about that - I'm describing my thinking, not making claims anyone has to accept). I tried a Bryston 4B3 in place of my Conrad Johnson tube monoblocks, and I perceived some things I liked, others I didn't. What I did like was the finer more nuanced clarity and timbre in some aspects. But I still preferred the tubes. Then I thought, what if I instead get a little more neutrality in the system by using an SS preamp instead of my CJ tube preamp? So I bought the Benchmark LA4 to try out.

Now, for my purposed, the extraordinarily low distortion levels of the LA4 is overkill. For one thing, if I understand Benchmark correctly, given the distortion levels of my tube amps I'd never realize the full promise of the LA4 - at least in technical terms. (Which is why it's so often paired with the similarly low distortion AHB2 amps). And all I really needed was a SS preamp that was more neutral/lower in distortion than my tube preamp. That's a pretty low bar to pass, so I'm sure plenty of cheaper less heroic preamps would have done fine.

But...again...I was attracted to the Benchmark reputation/prowess and approach. There is a certain level of intellectual satisfaction and "pride of ownership" in using a preamp that is so well designed, and is among the best measuring consumer electronics I'm aware of. Plus, it had just the right features for my use (I could even run my tube pre-amp through the LA4 to use when I want).

So overall my reasons for choosing Benchmark products were a combination of their features which perfectly suited my needs, and I was willing to pay more for engineering that I knew to be among the best in the business, which has it's own type of satisfaction. And this thread arose in my mind after listening again last night to my digital server played in to my Benchmark DAC 2L sent to my LA4 on to my amps. The clarity and detail is pretty mind-boggling!

So back to you Benchmark owners, I'll just repeat the earlier questions: Why Did You Buy Benchmark Gear? Do you believe you are realizing the full benefits of those amps (or whatever) in your system? Do you believe you are hearing audible difference from other SS gear? Or does it scratchs the "measures great" itch in your brain in a satisfying way? Any other considerations?
 
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radix

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I had owned B&O for the past 25 years, but it was finally becoming untenable. Too much hum and transformer noise in a couple speakers and it was not economical to fix. So I wanted to go separates again (I had SAE before B&O). Given where I am in life, I figure this will be close to my last amplifier purchase. My choices were McIntosh (I've had a mac fantasy since the 70s, but have never owned them), Benchmark, or a Purifi, maybe hypex. The mcintosh were just too big, physically, and really it's the system integration and user experience of a mac stack that was the biggest attraction and I wasn't ready to get vendor lock-in again after B&O. So it was benchmark or purifi. I liked that benchmark has its own stack, if I wanted to go that way. It's also US-based and I had some great pre-sales interaction with them. I also felt that benchmark would keep some decent resale value over time, as opposed to various smaller purifi/hypex brands. And if I went with larger-name purifi/hypex brand, the cost difference to benchmark went away.

I also liked that they were only 2U racks, so I could monoblock in 4U. The amps are not too heavy or too deep, so form-factor-wise they were just right for the space I had at the time (I now have a larger space and could fit Mcintosh, but why bother now?).

So, in short, begin top-tier measurement and performance, combined with US-based company with great customer service basically did it for me. I knew that I wanted to mix and match components for a while to get that out of my system. And I don't need to worry about the benchmark amps. I know I'll be changing DACs and DSPs and streamers every so often, but I don't think I'll need to change the amps for a long long time.

The rest of my system is: SHD (streamer, preamp), CD/DVD player, Rega turntable w/ Rothwell preamp, and a DA-3000 to digitize some of the rarer vinyl I have. The Sofabaton remote is great and makes this system work together.
 

JeffS7444

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At the time, the Benchmark DAC2HGC's combination of headphone amp, analog input, basic preamplifier functionality in a 1U, half-rack form factor was very appealing! I don't recall RME's DSP-equipped products, or perfectionist-grade SMSL and Topping units being an option when I made my purchase.

Had already been following NWAVGUY's blog and had no expectations that I'd hear anything different from any other well-designed DAC. And indeed, Objective DAC and Benchmark DAC2 sound pretty much the same to me, but the latter has a lot more flexibility.

Initial impression of Benchmark as a finished product wasn't great: Earlier firmware versions contained quirks with the potential to damage speakers. And when updated firmware arrived, it came in the form of a pre-programmed IC @ $50 per version upgrade. Wasn't too keen on that policy either, but IMO if you have a Benchmark DAC2HGC, you really do want the latest firmware.

Were I to go shopping today, I might consider another Benchmark product, but the competition for top-performing DACs, power amplifiers and headphone amplifiers has really intensified in recent years, while brands like Topping have become comfortable and familiar.
 

blueone

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The DAC3L does not make any switching or turn-on/turn-off thumps or noises; it is completely electronically silent. It has a very precise remote volume control. It has a fully internal switching power supply; no cheap, ugly, and inconvenient wall wart. It has multiple analog outputs (one set single-ended, one set balanced) which allow separate lines to be run to subs (I use single-ended for this) and the L/R amps. It has a substantial feel to the entire assembly; there isn't anything cheap or junky about it. I expect the DAC3L to outlive me.
 

Anonamemouse

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I own the DAC3B and the LA4, feeding a Bryston 4B SST2 (which is dead silent apart from a short start-up hum).
The measurements are excellent, the sound is super detailed, it has all the inputs I need and they are built like a tank.
 
OP
MattHooper

MattHooper

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Thanks for the response. I've really enjoyed reading the reasoning behind the purchases.
 

Inner Space

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a) I like the gain architecture offered, with big volts coming out of the source;
b) I like the durability of the units and the fast response from the manufacturer if something needs fixing;
c) but most of all I recognize a strand of studio-engineer DNA that I grew to love during my career - some guys set themselves ridiculous challenges, and meet them. Yes, the numbers are largely academic at that level, but I love the fact that someone cares enough to deliver them.
 

Owl

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I bought the DAC3L to replaced the front end of my old integrated amp with scratchy controls. Later I bought the AHB2 amp due to the overall performance and reliability record. I believe this amp has been in production for about 7 years now. After purchasing two Topping products, one was defective right out of the box, and the other with heat related issues, I didn't want to waste anymore time. Also, being a U.S based company made shipping and communications easy.
 

SoundGuy

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Been using Benchmark since the DAC1 came out. When I find something so much audibly better than anything else I will continue to experiment and try everything else I can get my hands on but the killer product remains in my setup until displaced. So far the only thing to displace a Benchmark product has been newer upgraded Benchmark products. It was the same with ATC - the overall audible superiority over anything else was also quite obvious. I am the type of listener that can appreciate many colourful sounding products but careful evaluation leads me towards ruthlessly revealing neutral products rather than flattery.
 

supercargo

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After receiving and reviving some hand-me-down vintage speakers, I was in need of an amplifier. I was down the rabbit hole of Internet fora and audiophool nonsense at the time, and feeling a bit hopeless to justify any purchase, let alone how to even know where on the scale of “good” (enough) that purchase might fall. I was, somewhat arbitrarily, zeroing in on a Parasound amplifier in the same price range as the AHB2 (albeit with a much higher wattage spec). I had never heard of Benchmark.

Then I came across this site and it was a breath of fresh rationality. My original rationale for wanting so much wattage was the belief that I needed “headroom” to get the best performance at all times. Also, I like to listen at pretty high levels from time to time and am aware of the damage a clipping amplifier can do to a loudspeaker.

Of course, Amir’s AHB2 review is almost entirely positive, but I’m also aware that I likely could have satisfied my near term goals for less money. The clincher for me was “that the FPGA protection mode kicks in and essentially shots[sic] the amplifier down past the limit. You get absolutely distortion-less and noiseless performance until there is no more.”
Now I have a true reference amplifier which, of course, is a welcome addition to the system I’m using it in, but is also a suitable “champion” for any AB test I might want to perform on other equipment now and in the future.
 

roog

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Then I came across this site and it was a breath of fresh rationality.

oh how true, I find my visits to my previous forum haunts harder to handle by each visit, I swear even the sites where once I thought they made some sense have degenerated into a stream of like minded people who feel the need to wallow in extraordinary adjectives to describe some thing in nonsensical terms. I think that they are deluded.
 

gfinlays

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I started with one AHB2 to replace an ageing hybrid integrated (205W/8 ohm, 380W/4 ohm, 500W/2 ohm). AHB2 was super quiet, no hiss at any volume, super transparent - more detailed than the integrated (initially used the AHB2 with a Topping Dx7 Pro). Switched to a DAC3 (HGC, used from eBay) - analogue input allowed me to add a MiniDSP to apply the same REW correction used in Roon to the TV sound, and after changing the jumpers on the DAC3 around, I could drop the AHB2 to the lowest gain setting. Ooooh, even more transparency and detail. DAC3 has ridiculously good jitter performance regardless of input used and almost regardless of the amount of jitter on the input signal. Sold the Dx7 Pro (had another headphone amp), added another AHB2 (found occasionally at higher listening levels that I wanted a bit more headroom). 2 in mono quadruples power output, so I get extra HEADROOM! then added an HPA4 (slightly impulse purchase - confession, thought it was a DAC as well until I realised it wasn't :facepalm:, so had to keep the DAC3 HGC) HPA4 headphone amp is stunning, so my other headphone amp went.

HPA4 integrates seamlessly with the DAC3 HGC (set in calibrated mode) via the remote.

Sorry, I'm rambling. Back to the point - Benchmark stuff runs at a really high output voltage - as a consequence, SNR is ridiculously good. There's perhaps an argument to put the amps next to your speakers and run balanced XLR leads to the the amps. Or if for some particular reason, your DAC/preamp and power amps need to be 30 feet apart, run XLRs and be smugly reassured that all is well in the world. Measured performance is essentially perfect - noise and distortion are so far below audibility as to be irrelevant. The gear is totally transparent. Caveat - if you have coloured speakers which were OK with a previous coloured amp (audiophoolery system synergy and all that) they'll ruthlessly reveal the colouration which may not be a good thing....

A little story from a discussion on another forum about "noise" over ethernet. (My Roon endpoints are all RPis, [which are allegedly not without their issues into lesser DACs] DAC3 doesn't care about the RPi's alleged issues) Anyway, I recorded a -120dBFS pink noise signal in REW to play via Roon from the RPi to see if there was any audible "noise" from the speakers with a vanilla ethernet setup. With the HPA4 at +4 dB, there was a very faint hiss from the tweeter (ear almost touching the soft dome). Noise? or signal? Repeated with a -120 dBFS 1kHz square wave and at +4 dB on the HPA4, I could clearly hear a 1 kHz tone. A full Benchmark rig can pull a -120 dBFS test tone into audibility above the noise floor. Perhaps the most impressive test of audio gear I've ever witnessed.
 

Martini

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I ordered a second AHB2, just before their price increase went into effect. Mates with a DAC3b and LA4, truly love the system. I'm running DIRAC, which I sorely needed in this room, and think going mono provides a little headroom for the DIRAC corrections.
 

gfinlays

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Been using Benchmark since the DAC1 came out. When I find something so much audibly better than anything else I will continue to experiment and try everything else I can get my hands on but the killer product remains in my setup until displaced. So far the only thing to displace a Benchmark product has been newer upgraded Benchmark products. It was the same with ATC - the overall audible superiority over anything else was also quite obvious. I am the type of listener that can appreciate many colourful sounding products but careful evaluation leads me towards ruthlessly revealing neutral products rather than flattery.
Which ATCs are you running with your Benchmark gear?
 

anmpr1

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1) Peter Aczel.
2) Build quality is first rate.
3) Not overpriced in context. (How they sell items at their price point, made/assembled in NY USA, is something I'll never hope to understand.)
4) Full (and I mean full) documentation inside the box.
5) Form factor does not 'get in the way'.
6) If you telephone the company the person answering on their end is friendly and helpful.
7) John S. comes across as a really personable, knowledgeable, no nonsense, and down to earth guy.

For me I know it is the stop, and an end point in my gear related audio life. Looking back and over the course of too many years of audiofoolery, my two bookends are David Hafler era Dynaco, and Benchmark.
 

RayDunzl

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1) Peter Aczel.
2) Build quality is first rate.
3) Not overpriced in context. (How they sell items at their price point, made/assembled in NY USA, is something I'll never hope to understand.)
4) Full (and I mean full) documentation inside the box.
5) Form factor does not 'get in the way'.
6) If you telephone the company the person answering on their end is friendly and helpful.
7) John S. comes across as a really personable, knowledgeable, no nonsense, and down to earth guy.

For me I know it is the stop, and an end point in my gear related audio life. Looking back and over the course of too many years of audiofoolery, my two bookends are David Hafler era Dynaco, and Benchmark.

Yeah, something like the above post.

1668962507894.png

 

KellenVancouver

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AHB2, LA4, DAC3.
Subtle aesthetics? Check. Unobtrusive size? Check. Solid build? Check. Made in America? Check. Transparent? Check. Best in class? Check. Superior performance proven by Amir? Check. Superior customer service? Check (and not just in audio world; best customer service I have experienced from any company, anywhere, ever).
Expensive? For me, yes. Limit of my budget, but buy once cry once. Worth it? Yes.
The above subjective factors met my human needs. Amir's test results met my rational need. Amir's review was the tipping point in my decision-making process.

Bottom line after two years... Would I do it all again? Absolutely.
 
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