My humble review of the Benchmark AHB2 and LH4

Discussion in 'Audio Hardware' started by Tone?, Jun 1, 2021.

  1. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hong Kong
    It's funny but tube amps to me run a wider gambit of sound - what I don't like about some tube amps is this midrange hump that overtime bothered me - my Audio Space Mini2SE had this sort of midrangy hump and I didn't really notice it until I had the LM 219IA. Then I went back to the Mini-2 and I could not listen to it. I sold it. You would assume the softer sound midrange emphasis would not be fatiguing as it wasn't bright but there you go. It was an EL34 amp. Plenty of people prefer the KT88 because it is generally more extended. Of course, this is one EL34 amp - the LM EL34 the 211ia didn't have this midrange hump to the same degree.

    The Pureaudio One is a SS amplifier that I like more than 95% of all-tube amplifiers I have ever heard (designed by Plinius engineers) and I am quite enjoying my class D amplifiers. The fact that your particular preamp is a tube or SE or SET doesn't mean it represents the entire technology. Note - I purchased a Rotel Preamp in head-to-head direct comparisons with ARC. Unfortunately, the fact that the Rotel could beat the ARC didn't really mean as much as I hoped so I wound up selling the Rotel a year later but still it does show you that you can't judge the technology because the one you happened to buy doesn't sound good. Consider that you may very well get much better preamp results replacing your Allnic with an Audio Note or Shindo, or Copeland or Line Magnetic or Cary, or VAC, or the other 5 dozen tube amp makers out there.
     
  2. Helom

    Helom Forum member

    Location:
    U.S.
    My experience is that SS sound does vary as much as that of tube gear, though admittedly, I haven’t experienced every type of either approach.

    Sure, I could possibly get better results with a different brand, but I don’t have any urge to stay with tube preamps, so why should I go through all that trouble? The LA4, for my tastes and system, was a substantial upgrade from a tube pre that last retailed for $7K, a tube pre that was substantially better than the two that preceded it (two that are widely regarded as excellent values). I now have a preamp that sounds more realistic in tone, imaging, decay, timing and texture, one that allows me to power up my system with a remote control….such a bizarre concept I know. :rolleyes:

    Anyhow, I don’t do this stuff for a living, so I only have so much time to buy and sell gear. And somewhat fortunately, I don’t live in Hong Kong, so there isn’t two dozen stereo boutiques within a stone's throw of my doorstep.

    P.S.
    Based on the amps I’ve owned and auditioned, I prefer KT120s to KT88s and EL34s. I currently run KT120s in my Cayin A88T, an amp that so happens to be an excellent match with the LA4. Soundstage, air, and dynamics are off-the-charts with that combo.
     
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2021
  3. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hong Kong
    Get off the train when you are satisfied. Save money and listen to music. Cayin currently has a pretty impressive integrated amplifier - better than their separates according to the dealer. It sure impressed me and on the visual side too - it has a neat cylinder LED that lights up for each input in different colours. Why not a bit of flash to go with the sound. Only 249 made.
     
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  4. Helom

    Helom Forum member

    Location:
    U.S.
    My A88T is one of Cayin’s early integrateds with the 16ohm taps and pretty well regarded in both off and online audio circles. It has always sounded great for me but recently fitting it with Kt120s took it to another level. I don’t have any itch to get another tube amp. I realize many are of the mind that great SS is not quite on the level of a great tube amp but I have serious doubts. I’m pretty well convinced now that noise floor is a significant factor in hearing all of music’s micro details. I think maybe you’d be a believer too if you were to live with the Benchmark gear in your personal system for a while. Though maybe absolute resolution is not a top priority for you as a listener. Which is understandable because some listeners find such resolution distracting.
     
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  5. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    Could taste in sound quality be driven by the way we perceive what we hear? What we tend to focus on and be sensitive too?
    My personal goal for sound quality is refinement above all else.
    I could live with other shortcomings if the sound was pristine and also could care less about amplifier class or topology.
    If the Benchmark gets me there compared to my current amplifier I am all in.
     
  6. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    Cool looking amp!
     
  7. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    Distortion is all additive and comes in different forms- some easier to tolerate than others. Speaker distortion tends to be more benign than amplified wave form distortion.
     
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  8. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hong Kong
    I think logically the noise rating or ability won't be the factor - plenty of SS amplifiers (probably most all of them) have a lower noise floor than SET and tube amplifiers - I've listened to pretty much every brand of SS amplifier since 1990 and really only a few have sounded any good to me - the fact that a SS amp has 10dB less noise than say a flagship Bryston (which has lower noise than a human can detect) probably won't make the sale - especially when Vinyl has far FAR higher noise that digital and often (though not always) thumps digital still - granted it takes a certain level of vinyl rig to do it justice. There may actually be other reasons the Benchmark amplifier sounds better than others but I doubt it will be due to that one spec. Low noise doesn't equate to greater resolution. It equates to having lower noise. Thus, you may have a system that is highly resolving to allow you to hear more of the event on the source disc but it has some noise (it may be giving you 95% of the event but is giving you 3% noise as well - over a system that is giving you 80% of the sonic presentation but giving you 0.5% noise. The former is giving you more with maybe some noise while the latter is pin-drop black background amazing but misses 15% of the music.

    Another example was the Various Dolby B, C and S noise reduction systems back in the day - they reduced noise and also took out some of the content. A lot of people spent large on decks to NOT use noise reduction - it got rid of hiss but it got rid of the music.

    That's why after long listening sessions back when I was a measurement first type and was sitting with big SS gear it had a lower noise floor but in comparisons to a SET amp (that I thought was a SS amp) this amp presented more information and differentiated recordings far more than all the SS amplifiers in the store had on hand that made everything sound rather artificial and lock step. They have lower noise but lower resolution and reminded me of Dolby Noise reduction.

    But the price is right - $3000 for a power amp is hardly outrageous these days. I was tempted to buy a Parasound JC5+ or JC1 monoblocks. Parasound's warranty in Hong Kong is crap - 1 year. So that kind of put me off because some companies sell different standards of products to different countries. And some products like Mark Levinson apparently are very difficult to get parts for when they need repairs so buying second-hand can be an issue.
     
    elvisizer likes this.
  9. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    Being sensitive to lack of refinement I have to agree. I have yet to hear a solid state amp that is as refined sounding as a quality tube amplifier- despite the differences in noise levels. It isn't about warmth or frequency imbalance or blurring of detail- it's about the fact that the sound seems closer to real.
    In fact the most refined solid state amplifiers I have heard are the ones blurring some detail.
     
  10. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hong Kong
    You can't route out your taste. Look two people can sit in front of the same exact stereo system at the same time at the same volume listening to the same music and draw different conclusions. For a start, you take the music being played. I like Jackson Browne so if they play Jackson Browne and I am in the mood to hear him then there is a greater chance that I will enjoy the system than if the guy sitting next to me plays Diana Krall, Hotel California, Keith Don't Go, or perhaps a classical piece I am just not in the mood to hear.

    Since we gravitate to different music then there is an equal shot we also gravitate to different aspects of the music. So when you listen to say a rock band are you focused on the bass player, drums or vocals the most? If you are a drum guy maybe your ear notices more the cymbals and how well that is portrayed where if I focus on the lyrics I want to be able to hear those lyrics so my brain is trying to kind of subdue the cymbal crash so I can hear the words. This you may notice that the cymbals are too splashy or they're excellent where I am not really paying them much heed because the vocal was excellent or maybe the vocal was poor so I have largely tuned out as to whatever the other strengths may be.

    On Audio Asylum there is a fellow Named Todd Kreiger who is particularly sensitive to the use of autotune so the poor fellow literally can't listen to 99% of all music that has been recorded in the last 20 years. It can bother me as well but for the most part it is relegated to pop and rock so my standards are already kind of low for this music which I always felt heavily relied on various effects so autotune to me is just another one of those effects. In other words, I have a vastly higher tolerance for Auto-Tune than he does because I want to be able to listen to new artists. I don't want to be stuck listening to just someone's new version of the Moonlight Sonata or someone's rendition of Take 5. I like to listen to musicians who are alive and under 30. Autotune is likely to be part of the equation to hopefully only a small degree.

    You know as well as anyone there are no guarantees based on forum discussions or reviews. You find people who hear it the same as you. I don't pay attention to reviews or forum posts wherein that person likes gear I don't like. We're not hearing it the same way so their advice is sort of placed on the bottom of the pile. Frankly, I think you more than most people I have seen on forums should shut out the advice and internet blabber and just go and listen to stuff - but I would say this - make sure the problem you're having is truly TRULY with the amplifier and is not something up or downstream. I have seen far too many people buying 10 amplifiers or sources and eventually find that it was the speaker that was the issues - even though they raved and raved about the speakers. Or maybe it was the source that was sounding dry or just limp (blah).
     
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  11. avanti1960

    avanti1960 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Chicago metro, USA
    I'm not a fan of autotune either- especially as popularized by some older Cher recordings - but I have to at least think I can distinguish between sounds and sound quality. I also like to believe that if I hear something that I can get someone else to hear it if I point it out. Unfortunately they often wish they hadn't heard it in the first place because now they can't get rid of it.
    Kind of like testing new cars for NVH. If the car has a wine in the drivetrain at cruising speed some will hear it, some will not. But once they do hear it, they can't get rid of it and are a lot less satisfied with their car.
    With the amplifier as the only variable the lack of refinement comes and goes.
    While I would love to do more listening- I was looking forward to AXPONA- hearing opinions from people with experience has value too. Not looking for guarantees, just looking for impressions and go from there.
     
    Tone? likes this.
  12. Richard Austen

    Richard Austen Forum Resident

    Location:
    Hong Kong
    Well, most audiophiles I know started out in audio with SS amplifiers - moved to tubes and then moved to SETs. I am in my late 40s and so everyone my age grew up with great measuring SS amplifiers. I would see some anti-tube posters on some forums and most of them would say they had an ST-70. So I went and auditioned one and it sounded bloody terrible. Noisy, lumpy yuck. If this was their tube amp standard bearer then I don't blame them. A Jolida or ASL for $1300 pounds that junky thing into the ground.

    My first real SET audition was against Bryston Separates, Classe Separates and I was baffled that I could hear MORE clarity with the SET amplifier in the vocal band - it was more open, cleaner - you could hear the edge of instruments and also the decay. With the SS I had to ask to have the volume turned UP because it was less clear so need more level to make things out better. But then the speakers compress and distort with more volume. My last audition with Bricasti and ATC was basically horrific. After getting over the cool factor of the slam and some fine soundstage and imaging it became so fatiguing and tiring that I had to keep asking to try different recordings - they had some $30,000 CD player but I basically gave up CD and asked the guy to play his Bricasti Digital which was no better. Sure I get some of my recordings were a little on the poor side of the spectrum but you have to be able to play the music you like and not just win bragging rights that you have technically the best amplifier. I could not play any of the discs I brought to that session - they would all need to be chucked. It may very well be the more accurate set-up but it would sit on the rack and would not be turned on because it ruins the music. But I guess I could go on the net and say - see it reveals how bad recordings are made. Or you know maybe the amp is just bright as hell.
     
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  13. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    San Francisco
    That’s why Flat is the best way to go.
    I always was a fan of flat when listening. No eq no nothing. Flat
    If the producer and mixing engineer wanted vocals or whatever to stand out they did and you will hear that as flat.

    However…….


    I will say that for some music I do want a slightly bigger sound.
    No, not for jazz or trios. That is easy to engineer and usually sounds big. The mixer won’t have much of an issue of bleed into frequencies from three people playing or four. Much less instruments and vocals overlapping in frequencies.

    what is extremely difficult to mix is classical music. There there are a sh#t ton of instruments overlapping in frequencies and it’s hard to make it sound good and usually is smaller sounding than the actual performance. Not to mention the venue size.
    For classical I find my Marantz DAC which has a very lush midrange makes classical sound a touch bigger and more layered.
    The benchmark DAC3 which is flat works best for jazz and trios. Those mixes are already big and lush.

    so far on my audio journey I’d rather have my DAC either color the sound slightly or have it totally flat instead of the amplifier and pre. I don’t want to have to ‘ mess’ with too many variables on if one colors the sound a certain way or the other. Amp and pre flat and source for a touch of color. So I’m not guessing in to what is coloring the sound of my system. And then they’re are speakers as well as a variable. The less colored variables to me the better. Easier to tweak.
    I don’t want my amplification to do anything else but ‘ amplify ‘ the signal it’s fed to drive my speakers. Keep distortion low as possible and be flat. Just amplify.

    but that’s me , and it might change down the line.
     
  14. chervokas

    chervokas Forum Resident

    My experience in the last year with modern inexpensive and relatively inexpensive super low noise, low distortion electronics has me thinking the same thing and looking at replacing all my tube gear with modern, very low noise, high resolution solid state stuff. It's remarkable how much some of this stuff just seems to get out of the way and let the music on the recording through. I'd love to try the Benchmark stuff. A tad pricy for my budget at the moment. It's been a bit of a psychological challenge for me -- still have so much ingrained audiophile reflexive tone color related stuff in my blood, but my ears so far have been telling me something that really challenges that stuff.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2021
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  15. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    San Francisco

    Yeah tell me about it. Four months ago I auditioned the AHB2 , was so good that I had to get it. Was running it with my rega as the pre. I wondered how much of a difference a good pre would make so I ordered the LA4 pre. Huge difference. So I had to buy that as well. $6k poorer. Geezus.

    But it was so good I have to keep it. Life is short

    lol
     
  16. elvisizer

    elvisizer Forum Resident

    Location:
    San Jose
    if a recording HAS to be eq'ed to sound acceptable imho that's a poor mix.
    it can't be both accurate and bright as hell unless that 'accuracy' is just a meaningless test that the amp is designed to game.
     
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  17. MaxBuck

    MaxBuck Forum Resident

    Location:
    La Quinta, CA
    Anyone listening to the AHB2 and noticing the sound as being too bright has been listening to music that has been recorded too bright.
     
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  18. Slack

    Slack Forum Resident

    I think a lot of these sound preferences can be distilled down to common terms used by recording engineers and mixers.Some people tend to prefer a wet sound and some a dry sound.In my experience most musicians will prefer a wet sound .Which you could also describe using an old fashioned term like "a nice tone'.
    There are also the Harmon Curves which confirm that most people do not like a flat sound .What they prefer is a slightly downhill frequency response with perhaps a small lift in the high treble.A variation on the smiley face frequency response.Harbeth has built speakers like that for years and been criticised for it by some but what they are providing is what most people prefer.
    We are people not machines.
     
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  19. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    San Francisco

    Yeah. What I was saying for flat is that I want my amp to be flat because the music wasn’t mixed flat at all. And besides my in room response from my speakers and everyone’s is hardly flat.
    Cheers
     
  20. Helom

    Helom Forum member

    Location:
    U.S.
    I think you meant to write “Harman Curve,” which actually applies to headphones and is intended to make them mimic what one would hear from flat-measuring speakers in a typical domestic listening environment. It’s simply a curve that compensates for the human ear’s much greater sensitivity in the middle and upper-middle frequencies.

    You are correct in that a slight downward sloping response has been found to produce the most favorable listening impression, but that response is what will naturally occur with perfectly flat-measuring speakers in a typical domestic space. The difference is the room reflections, or lack thereof in an anechoic chamber, not the inherent speaker response.

    You mention Harbeth in reference to a downward slope, but it is actually Harbeth who are aiming for flat measuring speakers (even more so than many Harman products) as evidenced by measurements posted in Stereophile and elsewhere. Look at Stereophile’s response graph of the 30.2s for an example. That same response will produce a slight downward slope on an “in-room” response graph.

    So, the Harman curve is NOT a preference for speakers voiced with a downward slope. Harman and Floyd Toole research concluded that a flat measuring speaker is what listeners prefer.
    The problem with said research is that it’s largely inconsequential for outliers in human ear response, it’s only significant and applicable to an average listener.

    My anecdotal experience is that older listeners tend to prefer, or are better able tolerate gear that measures brighter than flat. I personally prefer speakers that have a slight “A-curve,” which could be why my Spendors pair so well with the Benchmark gear. I have doubts I would prefer the Benchmark amps if I were using Focal or MA speakers.

    Where amplifiers are concerned, the Benchmark products produce an output that is ~99.999% the same as the input signal, so what you hear is whatever the recording and mastering engineers wanted you to hear, for better or worse. A “wet” recording will sound “wet,” and a “dry” recording will sound “dry.”

    Some listeners might be best served by inquiring as to what amplification the speaker designer utilizes or prefers. That’s probably a better way to go about system matching, even if unscientific.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2021
  21. MaxBuck

    MaxBuck Forum Resident

    Location:
    La Quinta, CA
    Excellent thought.
     
  22. Slack

    Slack Forum Resident

    Harbeth HL5Plus measurements from Stereophile
    [​IMG]
     
  23. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    San Francisco

    Pretty flat. You can’t really discern what is going on above 10khz
     
  24. Slack

    Slack Forum Resident

    No really.It has an obvious downhill response.Around 4db lift 50hz-300Hz.
     
  25. Tone?

    Tone? Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    San Francisco
    yeah man. It’s fine.
    Listen to it and if you like it you get it.

    most speakers are not ruler flat. Plus put it in your room and see what happens after.

    I would however like to try a pair of Revel speakers which are quite flat and see if I like them
     

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