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Benchmark Media Systems LA4 Line Amplifier and DAC3 B DAC

Benchmark Media Systems got started in Garland, Texas, in the garage of Allen H. Burdick, who in 1983 developed a mixing console for television and radio broadcasting. This proved so successful that two years later he incorporated and relocated the company to its present location, a factory in his hometown of Syracuse, New York. By then he had invented an audio-distribution amplifier, also for radio and television broadcasting. Called the DA101 and boasting extraordinary specifications and performance, including bandwidth out to 150kHz and dynamic range greater than 120dB, it is said to have revolutionized audio distribution in the era of analog television. In 2007 Burdick retired for health reasons, and John Siau, a gifted engineer who’d been with the company for ten years and had already designed products, took over the reins.

In the early aughts, Siau authored the DAC1, a digital-to-analog converter, initially for the professional market, where Benchmark electronics have long enjoyed high esteem and wide use. It soon caught the attention of some audio reviewers and through them that of high-end audio consumers. Before long, riding a crest of stellar reviews and brisk sales, a new star was born. So at least goes the story. In fact, Siau told me, the idea for the DAC1 from its inception was that it would serve both the professional and the home-audio markets. Almost the whole first run, some fifty units, went to industry professionals (mostly mastering engineers), which unearthed a technical issue. The studio-level outputs were too hot for the balanced inputs on most consumer electronics, so switchable passive attenuators were fitted to all subsequent units. Owing to the combination of state-of-the-art performance, reviews to die for, and sane pricing, the strategy worked. With a beachhead thus firmly established in the consumer sector, this became and remains the pattern for all Benchmark’s subsequent products. With sales as robust as ever in the professional sphere (it’s a good bet more than half of commercial CDs and other digital media have been and are now at some point monitored with Benchmark DACs), the company finds itself in the enviable position of being in an almost constant state of slight back order, which means that practically every one of its most popular products is in effect pre-sold (rather like bicycles in this time of pandemic).

I first heard about Benchmark Media Systems from my close friend and TAS colleague Robert E. Greene, who reviewed the DAC1 in 2009 (Issue 183), found it a “revelation,” suggested that it heralded “the beginning of a new era in audio, in which the regeneration of the recorded signal has become a solved problem,” and purchased the review sample.  Inasmuch as REG is not given to hyperbole—when it comes to words like “revelation,” not only does he typically eschew them, he actively objects when they are commonly, not to say far too liberally, applied—I arranged to evaluate a DAC1 for myself. My responses tallying pretty closely with his, buying it was a no-brainer. Since then I’ve reviewed the DAC1 HDR (the original DAC1 with additional inputs and line-level preamp functions [Issue 204]) and the AHB2 power amplifier (Issue 262). I also purchased the latter and it has remained my reference to this day, as does the DAC1, though it’s discontinued, superseded by the DAC2 (also discontinued and of which I have no experience) and now by the DAC3 B under consideration here.

Meanwhile, Benchmark introduced a superb suite of analog and digital interconnects and speaker cables, than which there are no better built or confidence-inspiring wire-based products in my experience (even the stock IEC power cords are excellent and feature a locking arrangement that keeps them securely fastened at the component end). And just last year the company brought out its first wholly separate linestage. I‘d forgotten that in my review ten years ago of the DAC1 HRG I remarked that I’d stand in line for a Benchmark preamplifier with more inputs, functions, and features. That turned out to be more prescient than I knew, as the preamp was, no surprise, out of stock owing to high demand. Was I disappointed? I’ll anticipate my conclusions to the extent of saying that with the exception of a missing stereo/mono switch, not hardly.

Before properly introducing the preamp, however, it is worth the while to recall that the ABH2 amplifier is a genuinely innovative design, even, if you will, revelatory, and it set new standards in having by a wide margin the lowest noise and distortion and the widest bandwidth of any amplifier on the market then or now (possibly any audio amplifier ever made for commercial use, including Class A designs). In all the journals and websites where such things are reliably tested and measured, the AHB2’s noise and distortion come hair-splittingly close to, meet, or exceed the measuring capabilities of much test equipment. It also set new standards in the areas of tonal neutrality and sonic transparency, though here its margin of superiority is rather narrower inasmuch as most competently or better engineered contemporary solid-state amplifiers are very neutral and transparent. Still, in my personal experience over some fifty years as an audiophile, the AHB2’s performance has never been surpassed or quite equaled in these respects.

DAC3B

This is hardly accidental. Siau states his priorities forthrightly on the Benchmark website: “When you see the Benchmark name on an audio product you can be assured that the product has been designed to be sonically neutral and transparent [boldface in the original]. If you are looking for audio products that will change or enhance the sound of your music, you have come to the wrong place. If you are looking to add a warm veil of even-harmonic distortion, you have also come to the wrong place. On the other hand, if you are looking for accurate, clean, and transparent audio equipment, you will enjoy Benchmark products.” Don’t all audio manufacturers make the same or similar claims? Many do, but quite a number, notably (but hardly exclusively) in the more esoteric reaches of the high end, make no pretense toward accuracy. On the contrary, as forthrightly as Siau declares his priorities, so they declare theirs for built-in tonal flavors or personalities, catering to specific tastes for reproduction that is warm, cool, crisp, smooth, punchy, forgiving, analytical, a bit soft, or so sharply delineated as to sound almost etched. The late Harry Pearson, TAS’s founder, used to invoke the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang, dualisms of antithetical yet complementary characteristics, to describe differences in electronics, e.g., warm, dark, feminine, cool, bright, masculine (tubes vis-à-vis transistors), a metaphor I still find useful.

Benchmark brooks none of this. The instruction manuals, downloadable for free from the company website, contain the most comprehensive, indeed exhaustive set of specifications that I am aware of in audio products, a virtual dock brief of test results, graphs, and other data that document every specification, not to mention full technical descriptions of features, circuits, and functions set forth without hype or extravagant claims (or at least none that aren’t backed up with hard data). It reminds me of the early days of audio when the promotional literature from the great pioneering manufacturers such as Acoustic Research, McIntosh, Quad, and Hafler eschewed bombastic hype in favor of information about why their products were designed as they were and how they worked. (You can banish any concerns about reliability, inasmuch as all Benchmark products are built for 24/7 professional use over decades.)

Yet despite the high regard in which Benchmark equipment is widely held, those stellar reviews, and the rather extraordinary number of reviewers who’ve bought their review samples, there is a small contingent of audiophiles who remain suspicious of all those vanishingly low noise figures (some of which approach the level of Johnson Noise, i.e., the residual thermal noise of the electrons in any electronic conductor); and their brows really furrow in the face of all those distortion figures with multiple zeroes to the right of the decimal point before an integer appears (e.g., for the amplifier: <0.0003 % THD+N at full rated power, 20Hz–20kHz; for the preamplifier: THD <-125 , 0.00006% [!]). Siau addresses these concerns and more in an interview printed on our website. Meanwhile, the company puts its policies where its mouth is, to wit, every Benchmark product purchased factory-direct may be auditioned for thirty days in the buyer’s home and returned if you’re not satisfied with it.

LA4 Line Amplifier
Benchmark prefers to call the LA4 a line amplifier (which may be the more correct term because that is what preamplifiers in fact do: amplify the signal) and offers it in two versions: linestage only, retailing for $2499, and the identical linestage with an onboard headphone amplifier, called the HPA4, retailing for $2999 (glowingly reviewed in that capacity by Tom Martin in Issue 293 and an Editors’ Choice Award). A remote handset, optional for $100, is available but not required for full operation of either model. Quite a lot of innovative thinking, sophisticated engineering, and truly astounding performance has gone into what is, like all Benchmark products, a remarkably compact footprint (about that of a trade paperback only narrower and deeper), redolent of “lifestyle” components, but with professional-grade parts, build, longevity, and reliability chasms away from the disposable vibe one often gets from lifestyle products. Its small size notwithstanding, the LA4 packs in a surprising amount of connectivity and functionality, including an LED touchscreen that allows volume setting to be clearly visible from across the room. This includes input selection (four in total, two RCA, two XLR), balance, mute, independent level adjustment for each input, renaming the inputs, disabling unused ones, adjusting display brightness, and—a novel feature I’ve not encountered before—the ability to lock the screen to block  access to advanced features, thus preventing anyone else (inquisitive children, audiophile friends) from altering your settings. Volume is controlled by the only knob (which has a lovely silken movement), on/off by the one button, both functions, along with a few others (input selection, mute, plus the operations of any Benchmark DAC), duplicated on the handset. Outputs are singled-ended (a pair of RCA jacks) and fully balanced (a pair of XLR jacks, plus a single XLR mono sum), while the entire signal path is 100% analog. A pair of 12-volt trigger ports are compatible with most standard such ports on other equipment and will communicate bidirectionally with other Benchmark products. About the only reservations I’d register are the lack of a stereo/mono switch already mentioned and not duplicating the balance function on the handset (balance is always more efficiently adjusted from the listening chair).

I am not going to describe the circuitry of the LA4 in detail because it would essentially involve repeating what you can read in far greater detail in the manual. Speaking of the which, if you buy this or any Benchmark product, it’s worth taking the time to read the instructions carefully. While the basic functions and connectivity are self-evident, the manual will tell you how to take full advantage of the several convenience features and realize optimal performance, particularly as regards getting the full measure of the ultra-low noise levels. For example, the balanced inputs and outputs of the LA4 and all other Benchmark electronics will support the very high +28dBu signal levels of professional equipment. Consumer-grade balanced circuits, however, are often 10dB lower; if your CD player or DAC is one of these, a tip in the manual recommends boosting the appropriate XLR input by 10dB (the single-ended inputs are already boosted by 15dB, with further adjustment possible).

LA4_Back

Suffice it to say that, as with every Benchmark product I’ve used or reviewed, everything works smoothly, precisely, flawlessly. I must single out for special mention the volume control. While the whole unit is completely relay controlled, with a total of forty “precision relays switching high-precision metal-film resistors,” each channel has its own gain control with 256 steps in 0.5dB increments. An accelerator facilitates rapid movement up and down the range while preserving the 0.5 steps, while exact channel-to-channel balance is maintained regardless of changes in level (if you’ve altered the balance to favor one channel, the imbalance is preserved through any level changes until you alter it again). The volume control is designed to generate a light “ticking” or “clicking” sound when used, which I liked. For one thing, it sounds cool; for another, the steps are so fine that without it you might not know you’ve made a change. By far, without question this is the best volume control I have ever encountered, capable of finer resolution of level increments than any in my experience (hard to imagine a set of conditions in audio usage where finer gradations would be required).

The LA4 has been widely tested with results that tell the same story as those from the AHB2 power amplifier, i.e., the measurements merely confirm the manufacturer’s claims except in those instances where the limits of the test gear are reached before this or that specification can be precisely verified, almost every tester reporting that the unit beats, often handily, any other ever tested in its product category, regardless of price. But as I mentioned in my review of the AHB2, I sometimes wonder if there isn’t a bit of brinkmanship in all this. Like the late A. J. Conti with his Basis turntables and tonearms, Siau is obsessed with making his products as perfect as the current state of the art allows and pushing that state when it doesn’t. In this he has been singularly successful. The actual significance, however, that is, the audibility of the superiority, is a matter of debate in some quarters. If a noise is already substantially below the threshold of audibility, is anything to be gained by pushing it down even further?

Siau provides compelling answers to this and related questions in the online interview at tas.com. One big reason he designed the AHB2, I suspect, is that he wanted an amplifier he judged worthy of his DACs, following which he designed a preamp worthy of the amp: “The LA4 and HPA4 may be the only preamplifiers or line amplifiers that exceed the signal-to-noise ratio of the ultra-quiet AHB2,” he writes on the Benchmark website. “This means that the LA4 will extract the full performance of the AHB2. In contrast, other preamplifiers limit the system noise performance because they cannot match the SNR [signal-to-noise ratio] performance of the AHB2.” He also states that the best SNR is realized only through balanced interconnects, hence the absence of RCA inputs on the AHB2. It perhaps goes without saying that with the LA4 and the ABH2 in tandem, the volume flat out, my ear right next to either tweeter of my Harbeth Monitor 40.2 Anniversary loudspeakers, I hear nothing—nada, nyet, rien, zip. But truth in reporting requires I report the same result with my McIntosh C52 preamp in place of the LA4, provided the C52’s XLR outputs are used and the sensitivity switch on the back of the AHB4 is properly matched (22dBu, the lowest position, same as for the LA4). (This came as no surprise. While the C52’s noise and distortion figures do not equal the LA4’s, they are absolutely superb by every reasonable standard.)

So much for noise, or lack thereof. What of distortion or other artifacts, tonal or otherwise? Well, here comes the controversial part: I find myself in the same conundrum as when I reviewed the ABH2. Once more I have literally nothing to write about. There’s a complete absence of any sort of artifacts or noise; on very clean recordings, the presentation is uncanny in its purity. Obviously, the LA4 isn’t “perfect” because we know nothing is, but after several months of listening I simply can’t find any sonic characteristics or signature of a positive nature to match any adjectives I can dig up. By “positive,” I mean the usual suspects like warm, cool, smooth, harsh, liquid, dry, etc. To put it another way, I can neither hear nor identify any sort of consistent tonal colorations that appear to originate from the LA4 itself and that are superimposed upon the presentation of any and all sources.

The one exception—I write this with the greatest hesitation, not to say trepidation—may be a slight, indeed, virtually subliminal deepening or blackening of the background against which the music emerges owing to the unprecedentedly low noise floor of these electronics. My reluctance to say this owes to the fact that I believe the perception to be psychologically based, conditioned by my knowledge of the noise and distortion numbers. The noise floor is already so far below the background ambient level of a still day in a rural environment, let alone the neighborhood of Los Angeles where I live, as to be inaudible even if it were higher.  (The effect of psychology upon what we hear or think we hear when auditioning equipment is not, I believe, given anywhere near the attention and study it warrants.)

Otherwise, attempting to put my impressions into words winds up describing what seems to me the sound of any particular program from any particular source, whether it be vinyl (pickups from Shure and Ortofon, recording playing setups from Basis, SME, and Alexia, and Parasound’s JC3+ phonostage); compact disc and SACD (through the Marantz Ruby KI-SA); digital downloads and streaming (from Qobuz and Tidal through an Aurender A10, an NAD 50.2, and a Bluesound Node 2i [reviewed in the previous issue], the latter two paired with Benchmark’s DAC3 B). If the source is drenched in saturated textures and instrumental colors like Strauss’ Don Quixote by James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra (DG), then saturated textures are what you hear. If the source is bright up top and lacking in warmth, like virtually all the Szell recordings on Epic and Columbia, then brightness and lack of warmth are what you hear. If a source captures a voice with that wonderful impression of dimensionality and tactile presence, as you hear on Groove Note’s Jacintha recordings or the Anonymous Four on Gloryland (Harmonia Mundi USA, SACD) or Alison Krauss on “Down to the River and Pray” (Capitol, Qobuz), that is how they appear in room, assuming the rest of your system is up to it. When I played my longstanding reference, the Bernstein Carmen (DG), I wanted a flesh-and-blood theatrical experience, throbbing with high passions and powerful drama, that transported me to the opera house, with a holistic soundstage of lifelike vividness and genuinely breathtaking dynamic range, and that is what I got.

Of course, a perfectly legitimate objection to make at this point is how do I know? I don’t have the original source material at my disposal and, anyway, how can one determine in the absence of a wholly objective reference that this set of electronics is better than that set or another or some other still? In fact, one can’t, except that after decades of listening to lots of audio gear and live music, one develops a feel for most of the usual colorations (unless, of course, one is a cotton-eared idiot—I suspect most of us in the trade have been called worse at one time or another). When everything sounds warm and comfy or cool and bright or soft and restrained, when even multi-miked, closely recorded ensembles have “depth,” when things become relentlessly aggressive or merely allow the ears to lie back in an easy chair (to steal a metaphor from Charles Ives), one knows that something isn’t right, even if one happens to like those distortions that present themselves as enhancements.

But there is a way to set up something that is equivalent to an objective reference. Half a century ago Peter Walker demonstrated how transparent his Model 303 amplifier was by daisy-chaining fifteen of them in one channel between the output of the preamplifier (Quad’s Model 33) and the loudspeaker (the original Quad ESL), while the remaining channel was run straight into the other loudspeaker. In rigorously conducted listening trials, no one could repeatedly with any consistency distinguish the cascaded from the un-cascaded channel. So, using the XLR ports, I inserted the LA4 into one channel between my McIntosh C52 and the Benchmark AHB2, while the other channel of the C52 ran straight into the amp. (Balanced interconnects were by Benchmark, though the same results obtained with those by Kimber or AudioQuest.) It is important to emphasize here that the left channel signal passed through the active circuitry of the C52 and the LA4, including through the latter’s volume control and gain stage, before reaching the amplifier, while the right channel went directly from the C52 to the power amplifier. Using mono sources or switching the C52 to mono mode, I dialed in the volume on the LA4 until the two channels were so close in level I could not distinguish them by ear, even with pure 1kHz test tones. (Given the fine resolution of the LA4’s volume control, this was relatively easy.) Then I started listening.

It was impossible to tell the two channels apart, and when I transposed them, the results were the same. Music, voices, instruments, solo, ensemble, classical, jazz, pop, rock, folk, world music, nonmusical sounds, test tones, NPR reporters, television shows, movies, you name it—no matter what I played, it was as if the LA4 were not in the signal path. The only condition under which its presence was noticed was if I altered its level, in which case the change in level vis-a-vis the other channel was easily audible, but the transparency as such remained unaltered and absolute. Once the levels were restored to balanced, it was again impossible to tell that the LA4 was in the signal path.

I shouldn’t want what I’m saying here to be misunderstood: I have no wish to suggest that Benchmark’s is the only preamplifier transparent enough to survive a test like this. Perhaps not all that many would, but certainly any number of competently or better engineered ones would do as well or nearly so. As for improving upon it, well, I suppose it’ll happen someday, though it’s hard to imagine how something that is already sonically invisible can be “more” invisible. But if it were to be equaled, let alone surpassed, one thing it would surely have to possess is comparable bandwidth. The bandwidth of the LA4 goes out to beyond 500kHz at the top end, while its low-end -3dB point is 0.01Hz.

Reduced bandwidth at the bottom causes phase shift that results in mid- and upper-bass that are warmer, softer, and even a bit more expansive than is strictly accurate, hence the sometime impression that there is more bass. But next time some guru “informs” you that a good solid-state component is thin in the bass, ask what he’s comparing it to and see if you can chase up the specifications. I’ll wager the -3dB point of the fatter one is relatively high (around 10–15Hz), that of the “thin” one pretty low, say, 5Hz or below. (This is one reason why, despite their virtues, tube amplifiers are incapable of truly accurate, well-timed bass response.) Bass through the LA4 driving the ABH2 is outstandingly clean and clear, with superlative definition, articulation, and registration of timbre. Kei Koito’s Bach: Organ Masterworks Vol. II (Claves) displays this to a fare-thee-well, as does M&K’s The Power and the Glory (of an organ from the First Congregational Church here in Los Angeles, which I’ve heard live). A longstanding favorite of mine is Beethoven’s Op. 131 quartet performed with the full complement of the Vienna Philharmonic strings under Leonard Bernstein. When the double basses reinforce the cello parts, the increased weight is obvious on any decent system, but not with the concomitant improvements in clarity, rendition of texture, and articulation of the deeper instruments that are revealed here. I don’t want to overstate this. The superiority over units with less extended bandwidth is not huge—for many, I doubt it’d be deal breaking—but it is there to be heard with critical listening.

Other benefits of little or no phase shift relate to those elusive matters that fall under the general heading of timing, togetherness, and connectedness, not to mention imaging and soundstaging. “The bass arrives on time,” Siau says, “not later.” But with a bandwidth that sails on up beyond half a million Hertz, that obtains throughout the whole audible spectrum: everything arrives on time and together, and when it isn’t together, it’s because that’s how the musicians are playing. Phase linearity is one of those aspects of audio reproduction that remains somewhat contentious because it’s often difficult to describe its actual effect unless it’s seriously awry. (See Siau’s interview for more on this.) For myself I find there is a difficult-to-define impression of greater coherence and precision not just of timing but of overall system stability—that paradoxical feeling of absolute grip and relaxation—that go beyond imaging and soundstaging.   

Go to Variation 1 in Bach’s Goldberg Variations as arranged for string orchestra and continuo by Dmitry Sitkovetsky in his recording with the NES Chamber Symphony (Nonesuch). At first this might not seem very demanding, but it’s Bach at his most animated and contrapuntal. How forcibly you feel the syncopated rhythms, the accents on the second beat, how readily you can track the rhythms as they are handed off to the various string choirs, with fill by the harpsichord—all this tells you much about a component’s composure, resolution, and togetherness. A different kind of string ensemble is to be heard on the Bluegrass album The David Grisman Quintet (Kaleidoscope), consisting of two mandolins, a guitar, a violin, and a double bass. Again, it might not appear demanding, but keeping all that picking, plucking, and strumming unraveled yet easy to zero in on one instrument or another, not to mention the deployment of the five instruments in the acoustical space, requires the kind of precise control that plays right into the Benchmark’s strengths. Meanwhile, the performances come alive with all but peerless wholeness, integrality, and presence.

You will notice I haven’t said a word about detail. This is deliberate. It is a non-issue. With noise and distortion at the sub-subterranean levels of the LA4, the AHB2, and the DAC3 B, what could possibly remain that would eat, mask, or fail to retrieve even the lowest-levels of recorded information?

DAC3 B
I’ve spent the lion’s share of this report on the LA4 because it’s a wholly new product, while Benchmark DACs have been a known commodity for over a decade and a half. Like previous ones, the 3 is available in two versions. The HGC, for “Hybrid Gain Control,” has a volume function, analog inputs, mute and polarity switches, and headphone amplifier, all of which means it can serve as a minimalist linestage preamplifier. The B (for “basic”) eliminates those features. Both versions have two coaxial, two optical, and one USB input that can operate as USB Audio 1.1 or USB Audio 1.2. If you have the LA4 or any other good linestage that you like and are looking to buy a Benchmark DAC, unless you need the headphone amplifier, I see no reason to buy the HGC over the B, as their digital circuitry and functionality are identical, and you save $500.

Since for substantial portions of the review period I used the DAC3 B in tandem with the LA4, comment on its “sound,” or lack thereof, is in effect folded into what I’ve said so far. In the areas of tonal neutrality and transparency, the B sounds like every other Benchmark I’ve heard, which is to say neutral and transparent. But the DAC3 also has new conversion processing, which is said to make for a 3.5dB increase in headroom above 0dBFS, in turn preventing the DSP intersampling overloads “that commonly occur in other D/A converters.” This increase in headroom, plus lower noise and distortion figures than previous Benchmark DACs had, is said to result in subtly improved sound. I will have to do a follow up report because I need more time to investigate this.

Until then, the Benchmark website has a detailed description of the DAC3, its circuitry, processing, and features, with bullet-point comparisons to the DAC1 and DAC2. The main talking points are these:

• Benchmark’s primary commitment remains to PCM digital. Siau believes that DSD offers no advantage over properly implemented 96/24. As for MQA, like some other manufacturers (McIntosh, Linn, Schiit, Marantz), Siau considers both the lossiness and the distortion of the format inferior to 96/24, preferring his DACs convert the full unmodified original files as faithfully as possible. As regards DSD, with hybrid SACDs, the Red Book layer routed through the DAC3 sounded closer to the SACD layer than I’m used to hearing, and sometimes they were so difficult to distinguish I gave up trying.

• For the first time, however, Siau has included DSD conversion, at DSD64 DoP, which is the conversion rate for commercial SACDs. The DAC3 still will not handle 128, 256, and 512. I don’t have a lot of DSD64 files, but those I do were replayed excellently, certainly comparable to the equivalent SACDs as played through the Marantz.

• The DAC3 offers improved performance from MP3 sources, as Siau’s remarks in the online interview. I agree it makes MP3 more “tolerable,” but not so much as to entice me in a hurry to renew my Spotify subscription.

• The DAC3 now uses ESS Technologies ES9028PRO converter.

If you already own a Benchmark DAC and wonder if the upgrade is worth it, take advantage of the company’s 30-day trial and listen for yourself. If you’re in the market for a new DAC and don’t care about MQA, have minimal or zero commitment to DSD, and your source material is primarily CDs and Red Book and hi-res downloads and streaming, the HGC version together with the AHB2 power amplifier will provide state-of-the-art conversion from digital files with some of the lowest noise and lowest distortion technologically possible.

Conclusion
When I told a friend I was reviewing Benchmark’s new LA4 preamplifier and its latest DAC, he said, “Damn good company, damn good products—but they take all the fun out of it.” I sounded this idea, somewhat obliquely and from a different perspective, four years ago in my review of the AHB2 power amp, where I wrote that I wasn’t sure I could in good conscience recommend it to a certain kind of audiophile. This is because it is “only” a “precision instrument designed to perform the precisely defined task of reproducing music and sound accurately, which it does essentially to perfection,” a statement that also applies to these two new products. There are no tonal anomalies you can enthuse.

Specs & Pricing

LA4 Line Amplifier
Inputs: Two pairs single-end RCA, two pairs balanced XLR
Outputs: One pair singled-end RCA, one pair balanced XLR, one mono sum balanced XLR
THD: <-125dB (0.00006%)
S/N: >135dB, unweighted, 20–20kHz
S/N: >137dB, A-weighted
Frequency response: -0.003dB, 10Hz; -0.001dB at 20kHz; –3dB, bandwidth exceeds 0.01Hz to 500kHz
Output impedance: 60 ohms
Output noise: <1.9uV at unity gain, 20Hz–20kHz
Maximum input and output voltage: 20Vrms (+28dBu)
Dimensions: 8.65″ x 3.88″ x 8.33″
Weight: 8.0 lbs.
j $2499 (optional remote handset adds $100)

DAC3 B D-to-A Converter
Inputs: Two coaxial, two optical, one USB for USB Audio 1.1 (96kHz) or USB Audio 1.2 (192kHz or DSD64 as DoP 1.1)
Outputs: One pair RCA, one pair balanced, digital pass through
Sample rates:  24-bit D/A up to 192kHz; 1-bit DSD at 2.8224 sample rate
THD+N: 1kHz at OdBSF, -113dBFS, 0.00022%
Frequency response: -0.015dB, 20–20kHz
Dimensions: 8.5″ x 1.725″ x 9.33″
Weight: 3 lbs.
Price: $1699

BENCHMARK MEDIA SYSTEMS, INC
benchmarkmedia.com
800-262-4675

Tags: BENCHMARK DAC LINE AMPLIFIER

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