I’m curious as to the reasons other owners of Benchmark gear decided to choose it over other brands.
For me it was the spectacular measured performance (which satisfies my objectivist tendencies), the pro-audio heritage, lack of hyperbole and snake-oil (you won’t find any of the usual audiophile adjectives in their literature), no-nonsense engineering-based justification of how they do things, total transparency (the gear just gets out of the way and lets you hear the music), and the somewhat unassuming looks and diminutive form factor.
My reasoning was nearly the opposite. I chose Benchmark for more personal and emotional reasons.
I first heard a Benchmark product at the Capital Audio Fest several years ago. At the time, Benchmark was showing with Studio Electric monitors. I was memorized. Man, I loved that sound.
I also had the opportunity to meet the Director of Sales for Benchmark, Rory Rall (and Dave MacPherson from SE). Both were absolute gentlemen and obviously passionate about their products.
Further research revealed that Benchmark was located in Syracuse, N.Y., about a half hour from my house.
I bought the AHB to power the Studio Electric monitors. I love the Benchmark DACs, as well, but they don’t do MQA and that was a must for me at the time. (Rory and I have had that conversation).
I still see Rory at the shows and always visit the room to say hi. He is a remarkably nice man and someone I genuinely enjoy spending time with.
So, between being a great sounding piece of gear, supporting a locally owned business, and employing genuinely nice people, I chose Benchmark. And I would again for the same reasons.
My first Benchmark product was an AHB2 purchased to provide better amplification to the two front speakers of my 7.1 AV system for better 2 channel performance. Previously all speakers were amplified by a single Marantz multi-channel amp.
Some time later I re-designed my system to enable separation of AV from 2 channel (while using the same two front speakers for each application). I purchased a DAC3L and a second AHB2 in part due to my complete satisfaction with the previous AHB2. But also:
The functionality fit my use case (specifically with DAC3L, the capability of analog bypass).
The reported measurements are outstanding.
The size and limited heat generation of the amps fit my constraints (amps sit inside a cabinet).
Prior to purchasing I called Benchmark with some technical questions, a real person answered the phone and immediately connected me to a different real person who was able to answer all of my questions.
The cost compared to other solutions suggested by my dealer.
They provide a sensible return policy; purchasing prior to listening is not a gamble.
Your comments re. no magic are spot on and appeal to me.
John Siau’s application notes.
Edit: regarding cost, I was prepared to spend much more than what I actually spent. Based on my listening (obviously subjective) the Benchmark products, while not cheap, have performance that is competitive with anything else I’ve listened to regardless of price.
I first heard of them from Mark Waldrep’s book. When I read John Siau’s blog post comparing choosing audio components to choosing cars, I liked his design philosophy. I was in the market for a power amp anyway, so my decision was easy.
I’m thinking of getting rid of my Bryston BDA-3.14 and replacing it with a Benchmark DAC and a Pi bridge. I’m very disappointed with the total collapse of customer support at Bryston.
I haven’t yet. There’s nothing wrong with my Bryston, I’m just annoyed at how bad (non-existent) their customer support has become. I’ve toyed with the idea of replacing it with the DAC3, but I can’t really justify it financially.
What do you use as your Roon Bridge to your Benchmark DAC?
I use a RPi4B with a touchscreen running RoPieee connected to the DAC via USB.
Lots of high brow audiophiles look down on the RPi as a streamer. My RPis are PoE powered, and on my main (Benchmark) rig (DAC3HGC/HPA4/2 x AHB2s in bridged mono), I’ve pulled a -120dBFS 1 kHz test tone up to audible levels.
People who don’t understand this stuff get hung up on price tags. With a Benchmark DAC, you only need a basic streamer to deliver the USB data to it. The DAC is immune to jitter, noise and everything else that audiophools worry about.
Oh, trust me: I’m with you on that. I designed and wrote software for a living before I retired and I have experience with network administration – I know what good digital information transmission implies.
You have exactly the setup I think about. I haven’t considered the touchscreen though. Do you find it useful even with a tablet as a remote?
Edit/Add: Well, not Exactly the setup I have in mind. I just noticed you have two AHB2 amps. I only have one.
How do you use the HPA4? Do you have analog sources? I have none, so my thinking is more a plain RPi4/RoPieee to DAC to AHB2. At the moment, I connect my Bryston directly to the AHB2 and use Roon to control the Bryston’s output volume (the Bryston is Roon Ready).
The HPA4 takes the balanced output from the DAC3. I have a fair amount of room treatment and also a DSP room correction profile from REW imported into Roon as a convolution filter. I also have a MiniDSP which applies the same filter from the TV’s TOSlink to the HPA4 via RCA. So 2 analogue inputs, plus the headphone amp in the HPA4 is superb. Great for late night listening when herself is asleep.
2xAHB2s in bridged mono is probably overkill, but I had the money to spare and I’ve now got a ridiculous amount of dynamic headroom available.
I have a new speaker build under construction which will be better placed to exploit that headroom! More info to follow.
I’m using one of these to feed my DAC3. I can tell no difference between it and my NUC. And no difference between either and an Aurender device I had previously.
I’m also curious about the HPA4… however I have no need for the headphone amp and am not sure I could distinguish a difference between that and DAC3 directly to AHB2. Only difference I believe would be analog volume control in AHB2 vs digital in DAC3 (for digital sources). It sounds so good now I can’t imagine any difference would be profound.
My brain: You should get an LA4!
Also my brain: Why? It sounds great as it is.
My brain: But it could sound BETTER!
Also my brain: The only difference is the volume control, and I only care about digital.
My brain: But you listen a lot at low volumes which has the greatest chance of losing bits!
Also my brain: Stupid other brain…
The DAC3 is good for 21 bits of resolution. Least significant bit at 32 bit is 1/2048 the value of the least significant bit at 21 bit.
You need to be at 1/2048 of the volume setting before you lose any resolution. At -66 dB (1/2048) volume setting where music playback is little more than just audible, you still have full 21 bit resolution, which is still a couple or 3 of bits better than the absolute outer fringe of human hearing perception.
You’re never going to hear the difference in switching from the DAC3’s digital volume control to the high quality analogue control of the LA4.
Whether you really want the LA4 though is a whole notha thing!
Started with a DAC1. Moved up over the years, DAC2, then my current DAC3 HGC. Looking to replace my current integrated with a HBA2. Why Benchmark? Always delivers everything I ask of it and 100% reliable.
If you haven’t already, I’d recommend getting the remote too. It integrates the LA4 with the DAC really nicely and gives you a really big display graphic with the latest software update when changing volume level or source.