Benchmark LA4 preamp and AHB2 power amplifier review

13

Comments

  • jdjohn
    jdjohn Posts: 1,935
    I like the small footprint. Is that shelf standard rack width? Cool that both fit on the same shelf.
    "This may not matter to you, but it does to me for various reasons, many of them illogical or irrational, but the vinyl hobby is not really logical or rational..." - member on Vinyl Engine
    "Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to." - Cicero, in Gladiator
    Regarding collectibles: "It's not who gets it. It's who gets stuck with it." - Jimmy Fallon
  • VR3
    VR3 Posts: 24,420
    Congrats!
    - Not Tom

    "No, that's silly talk. Dude, you can't possibly be this audio dumb so quit the act." - Doro
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    jdjohn wrote: »
    I like the small footprint. Is that shelf standard rack width? Cool that both fit on the same shelf.

    The shelf is 23" wide.
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    SIHAB wrote: »
    Does the LA4 really do nothing at all to the sound?

    It does do something to the sound, it controls the volume.
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    The LA4 & AHB2 combo sounds perfect. I love it.
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    Because neither component imparts any of its own sonic character, the XLR interconnect cable between the preamp and amp becomes even more noticeable.

    I've tried two different XLR pairs so far, and it was effortless to hear the difference between them. Each had a very different presentation.

    I look forward to trying different 0.5m XLR cables here, to determine what sounds "best" to my ears.
  • Mike Reeter
    Mike Reeter Posts: 4,069
    Talk about Personal Touch B)
    SDA SRS 2.3TL's/SDA SRS 3.1TL's/SDA CRS+4.1TL's and some other stuff
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    The best way to describe the sound would be that it simply lets me hear more. I can now fully appreciate my source components, because I know that their S/N ratio isn't being limited by the preamp or amplifier.

    Both my Vega G1 and SA-KI Ruby are sounding absolutely fantastic today.

    Not sure what else to say, other than I love this Benchmark AHB2 and LA4 pairing. I wish all of my fellow audiophiles could hear its performance in their own systems.
  • audioluvr
    audioluvr Posts: 3,247
    Clipdat wrote: »
    I wish all of my fellow audiophiles could hear its performance in their own systems.

    I'll PM you my shipping address 🤪
    Cambridge Audio 851N Streamer/DAC
    Belles 21A Pre modded with Mundorf Supreme caps
    B&K M200 Sonata monoblocks refreshed and upgraded
    Belles 350A Reference modded with Mundorf Supreme caps
    Polk SDA 1C's modded
    Wireworld Silver Eclipse IC's and speaker cables


    There is about a 5% genetic difference between apes and men …but that difference is the difference between throwing your own poo when you are annoyed …and Einstein, Shakespeare and Miss January.

    by Dr. Sardonicus
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    I was thinking it would be cool if there was an official Benchmark-sponsored forum demo program with the AHB2 and LA4 pairing.

    Like we've had in the past with the MIT speaker & interconnect cables, Backert Labs preamp, Polk Legend L200 speakers, etc.
  • invalid
    invalid Posts: 529
    I would need to demo 2 of them with my 80db sensitivity speakers.
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    edited December 2020
    I had to put a hat on my LA4 if I wanted to be able to play vinyl:

    psa41l5cq124.jpg

    It's the Channel Islands Audio PEQ-1 MKII phono preamp. I'm using the Ortofon OM-30 cartridge which has a recommended capacitance of 200-500pf. I can set the PEQ-1 to either 100pf, 270pf, or 370pf or capacitance.

    I tried it with it set to 100pf and the high frequencies seemed a little muffled/laid back/rolled off. I then switched it to 270pf and the highs were back and crisp, without sounding bright. I might try the 370pf setting later just to see what it sounds like, but for now will likely stick with 270pf. Here's how it's set currently:

    hb32mhgnq6bk.png

    All-things-phono-expert Jody @jdjohn what say you?

    So, I'm not currently using the optional AC-15 upgraded linear power supply that I have which goes along with this, just the standard wall-wart style adapter that was included. I already didn't want to have to stack the phono pre itself like this, but I literally don't have any other way/room to make it work.

    I checked the manual for the LA4 and it states the following: "The LA4does not emit strong magnetic fields and for this reason, it will not create interference with audio devices that are placed above or below the LA4."

    In the manual for the AHB2, it states: "The AHB2 is magnetically shielded, and will not interfere with sensitive equipment mounted above or below theAHB2."

    But for some reason I'm still hesitant to put the AC-15 power supply on top of it, knowing that it has a toroidal transformer inside.

    Was actually considering one of these because I could actually put it under my turntable thanks to how thin it is, and then I wouldn't have to have anything stacked on either the amp or the preamp: https://www.musicdirect.com/phono-preamps/iFi-Micro-iPhono-3-MMMC-Phono-Preamplifier-Black-Label-Edition

    iPhone-3-BL-iPower-X.jpg
  • jdjohn
    jdjohn Posts: 1,935
    Clipdat wrote: »
    All-things-phono-expert Jody @jdjohn what say you?
    Haha...I would say experiment, and whatever sounds best to your ear. The OM-30 is a very fine cartridge. It's akin to cables, and tuning to your preference. You are fortunate to have multiple settings for experimentation.

    My personal inquisition is: How does the LA4 compare to the DAC3/HGC? The latter does have two analog inputs. The LA4 clearly has a larger footprint, but no incorporated DAC, so I'm curious about comparisons between the two units.
    "This may not matter to you, but it does to me for various reasons, many of them illogical or irrational, but the vinyl hobby is not really logical or rational..." - member on Vinyl Engine
    "Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to." - Cicero, in Gladiator
    Regarding collectibles: "It's not who gets it. It's who gets stuck with it." - Jimmy Fallon
  • Clipdat wrote: »
    I had to put a hat on my LA4 if I wanted to be able to play vinyl:

    psa41l5cq124.jpg

    It's the Channel Islands Audio PEQ-1 MKII phono preamp. I'm using the Ortofon OM-30 cartridge which has a recommended capacitance of 200-500pf. I can set the PEQ-1 to either 100pf, 270pf, or 370pf or capacitance.

    I tried it with it set to 100pf and the high frequencies seemed a little muffled/laid back/rolled off. I then switched it to 270pf and the highs were back and crisp, without sounding bright. I might try the 370pf setting later just to see what it sounds like, but for now will likely stick with 270pf. Here's how it's set currently:

    hb32mhgnq6bk.png

    All-things-phono-expert Jody @jdjohn what say you?

    So, I'm not currently using the optional AC-15 upgraded linear power supply that I have which goes along with this, just the standard wall-wart style adapter that was included. I already didn't want to have to stack the phono pre itself like this, but I literally don't have any other way/room to make it work.

    I checked the manual for the LA4 and it states the following: "The LA4does not emit strong magnetic fields and for this reason, it will not create interference with audio devices that are placed above or below the LA4."

    In the manual for the AHB2, it states: "The AHB2 is magnetically shielded, and will not interfere with sensitive equipment mounted above or below theAHB2."

    But for some reason I'm still hesitant to put the AC-15 power supply on top of it, knowing that it has a toroidal transformer inside.

    Was actually considering one of these because I could actually put it under my turntable thanks to how thin it is, and then I wouldn't have to have anything stacked on either the amp or the preamp: https://www.musicdirect.com/phono-preamps/iFi-Micro-iPhono-3-MMMC-Phono-Preamplifier-Black-Label-Edition

    iPhone-3-BL-iPower-X.jpg

    I had the iphono 2 a few years ago. Great sound for the money, but they have a documented history of power failures after a year or two. I don't think the 3 has been out long enough to be time tested yet, but it was frequent enough that I was relieved I moved on before having an issue. I'd be hesitant with the 3 because of that.
    Analog: MoFi MasterTracker > MoFi UltraDeck > Sutherland 20/20
    Digital: Cambridge CXC / Streaming > Cambridge CXN v2
    MastersounD Dueventi > Rosso Fiorentino Certaldo or Arcam rHead > Hifiman HE4XX
    Discogs
  • jdjohn
    jdjohn Posts: 1,935
    Clipdat wrote: »
    Was actually considering one of these because I could actually put it under my turntable thanks to how thin it is, and then I wouldn't have to have anything stacked on either the amp or the preamp: https://www.musicdirect.com/phono-preamps/iFi-Micro-iPhono-3-MMMC-Phono-Preamplifier-Black-Label-Edition

    iPhone-3-BL-iPower-X.jpg
    That is not a sound reason for selecting a phono preamp.
    "This may not matter to you, but it does to me for various reasons, many of them illogical or irrational, but the vinyl hobby is not really logical or rational..." - member on Vinyl Engine
    "Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to." - Cicero, in Gladiator
    Regarding collectibles: "It's not who gets it. It's who gets stuck with it." - Jimmy Fallon
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    I agree that normally something's physical size alone shouldn't be the determining factor, but the iFi is really one of the only options unless I want to stack one on top of my pre or amp. There's not too many thin phono preamps that are also "good".
    jdjohn wrote: »
    My personal inquisition is: How does the LA4 compare to the DAC3/HGC? The latter does have two analog inputs. The LA4 clearly has a larger footprint, but no incorporated DAC, so I'm curious about comparisons between the two units.

    You'd have to ask Benchmark to be sure, but I think I recall reading somewhere that the LA4 is superior in several ways. I'm sure Rory at Benchmark would be happy to expand on what makes the preamp section of the LA4 different than that of the DAC3 HGC. I can give you his email address if you'd like.
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    I had the iphono 2 a few years ago. Great sound for the money, but they have a documented history of power failures after a year or two. I don't think the 3 has been out long enough to be time tested yet, but it was frequent enough that I was relieved I moved on before having an issue. I'd be hesitant with the 3 because of that.

    Was it the plug in power adapter that failed, or the power supply section inside the unit itself?
  • Clipdat wrote: »
    I had the iphono 2 a few years ago. Great sound for the money, but they have a documented history of power failures after a year or two. I don't think the 3 has been out long enough to be time tested yet, but it was frequent enough that I was relieved I moved on before having an issue. I'd be hesitant with the 3 because of that.

    Was it the plug in power adapter that failed, or the power supply section inside the unit itself?

    Something inside the unit, can’t remember the exact details. I believe the most comprehensive thread is over on the Hoffman forums, but it was discussed on a few sites.
    Analog: MoFi MasterTracker > MoFi UltraDeck > Sutherland 20/20
    Digital: Cambridge CXC / Streaming > Cambridge CXN v2
    MastersounD Dueventi > Rosso Fiorentino Certaldo or Arcam rHead > Hifiman HE4XX
    Discogs
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    Well hopefully they fixed it with the latest version! I don't like that all of iFi's products only have a 1 year warranty. Just seems chintzy.
  • BlueBirdMusic
    BlueBirdMusic Registered User Posts: 1,460
    s3pzwzabxpga.png

    Happy to see your review on the Benchmark site. I really like your writing style.

    I want a DAC3/HGC - been reading about them for a few months. Jody I didn't know you had one until today.
    If the telephone doesn't ring ......... it's me
    Harry / Marietta Georgia
  • jdjohn
    jdjohn Posts: 1,935
    Harry, the DAC3/HGC is not much to look at, but man it sounds good. I really like the incorporated DAC, and the headphone outputs are also an important feature for me personally.
    "This may not matter to you, but it does to me for various reasons, many of them illogical or irrational, but the vinyl hobby is not really logical or rational..." - member on Vinyl Engine
    "Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to." - Cicero, in Gladiator
    Regarding collectibles: "It's not who gets it. It's who gets stuck with it." - Jimmy Fallon
  • Clipdat
    Clipdat Posts: 9,536
    edited January 8
    Clipdat wrote: »
    Because neither component imparts any of its own sonic character, the XLR interconnect cable between the preamp and amp becomes even more noticeable.

    I've tried two different XLR pairs so far, and it was effortless to hear the difference between them. Each had a very different presentation.

    I look forward to trying different 0.5m XLR cables here, to determine what sounds "best" to my ears.

    Since I greatly preferred the AQ Red River XLRs between my LA4 and AHB2, I decided to order the AQ Yukon XLRs to try for this connection.

    I ordered both a 0.5m pair and 1m pair so I can try them between preamp and amp, as well as with G1 to preamp.

    Differences between Red River and Yukon:

    Red River:

    Solid Perfect-Surface Copper (PSC) Conductors
    Nitrogen-Injected Hard-Cell Foam Insulation
    Metal-Layer Noise-Dissipation System (NDS)
    Triple-Balanced Geometry
    Cold-Welded Gold-Plated Plugs

    Yukon:
    Solid Perfect-Surface Copper+ (PSC+) Conductors
    Polyethylene Air-Tube Insulation
    Carbon-Based 3-Layer Noise-Dissipation System (NDS)
    Triple-Balanced Geometry
    Cold-Welded Hanging-Silver Directly Over Pure Purple Copper Plugs

    Main differences appear to be quality of the copper conductors, dialectic material, and connector metal plating.
  • Milito
    Milito Posts: 1,195

    I got some AudioQuest Mackenzie XLR's I run from my DAC1 to my Music Hall a70.2 integrated amplifier last month.

    Solid Perfect-Surface Copper+ (PSC+) Conductors
    Nitrogen-Injected Hard-Cell Foam Insulation
    Carbon-Based 3-Layer Noise-Dissipation System (NDS)
    Triple-Balanced Geometry
    Cold-Welded Hanging-Silver Directly Over Pure Purple Copper Plugs

    I was running Big Sur RCA's before I got these. They aren't fully broken in yet, but they opened up the highs compared to the Big Sur cables and just an overall better more open sound.
    Yamaha RX-A2070, Music Hall A70.2 integrated amp, Benchmark Dac1, Bluesound NODE 2i, HSU VTF-2 MK5, LSiM705, LSiM704, Douglas Connection Alpha 12AWG OCC Speaker Cables, Douglas Connection Alpha Analog Interconnect Cables, Audioquest Interconnects and Digital Cables, Douglas Connection Alpha 11 OCC Custom Power Cable, Cullen Gold and Crossover Series Power Cables, Signal Power Cable, Furman PL-8C 15 Power Conditioner, Fluance RT85, Parasound Zphono USB Phono Preamp, Sony 65" 900F, Sony UBP-X700, Fios.
  • SIHAB
    SIHAB Posts: 2,137
    Clipdat wrote: »
    SIHAB wrote: »
    Does the LA4 really do nothing at all to the sound?

    It does do something to the sound, it controls the volume.

    This actually answers my question. Thanks.
    I'll stay focused on a phono pre.

  • Mike Reeter
    Mike Reeter Posts: 4,069
    Clipdat wrote: »
    At this point I'm sure I just sound like a raving lunatic who's talking to himself, but I am beyond thrilled with the performance of the Benchmark LA4 and AHB2 combo.

    It feels incredible to know that for my personal tastes, these two components tick all my boxes. I have found my reference. I will never sell them.

    Their detail retrieval is simply stunning. They let me hear everything. Having a power amplifier with a better S/N ratio than many preamps and DACs is the key.

    I am continually astounded by the uncanny sensation of being able to hear every single sound contained within my favorite music. It is a luxury which I do not take for granted.

    Happy for you Drew, I knew when you first reviewed this combo, they would be in your future. Congrats on reaching Nirvana B)

    SDA SRS 2.3TL's/SDA SRS 3.1TL's/SDA CRS+4.1TL's and some other stuff
  • JayCee
    JayCee Posts: 1,159
    Clipdat wrote: »
    I will never sell them.
    I never use the word "never". Unless I'm pointing out that someone else used it or that I said I'd never say never. I never liked the word never. Wait, never mind.

    Pretty awesome that it's such a great combo.
    Speakers: Polk1.2tl's (Uber Mods) Pre/Amp/DAC: PS Audio BHK Signature & 250, DirectStream Cables/IC's: MIT S1Bi-Wire/S1 Balanced +Avel Lindberg 1000VA "Dreadnought" Power Conditioner: PS Audio P15 Power Plant Power Cords: Core Power Technologies Gold, DH Labs Power Plus DIY w/Neotech NC-P301 & P311ends Streamer: Roon ROCK on wifi'd NUC & Uptone EtherREGEN⟿Ω☯☥☮⟿🔊♩♪♫♬♩♪♫♬♩♪♫♬
  • marvda1
    marvda1 Posts: 4,305
    You can donate the Norma to me and I'll put it away as a backup :D
    Amplifiers: Norma IPA 140, MasterSound Compact 845, Ayre v6xe, Consonance Cyber 800
    Preamp: deHavilland Ultraverve 3
    Transport/Dac: L.K.S MH-DA004, Cayin Venus cd-100i, Musical Paradise mp-d2 mkI,
    Musical Paradise mp-d2 mkIII
    Speakers: Rosso Fiorentino Volterra II
    Speaker Cables: Organic Audio Organic Reference 2
    Cerious Technologies Graphene Extreme
    Interconnects: Argento Organic Reference 2, Argento Organic 2, Gabriel Gold Reckoning
    Power Cables by: Argento Organic Reference, Cullen Cables, 6sons Audio, Swiss Cables

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