Benchmark Media Systems has been pioneering the affordable DAC segment for almost a decade now, so it's kinda fun to not only watch them evolve to meet demands from the high-end of their market, but also expand to provide an end-to-end kind of solution. Which is what they were showing here -- an end-to-end solution. A compelling one, at that.
Anchoring the system on display was the $1,795 DAC2L, which is essentially their top-tier converter, the DAC2 HGC, minus the headphone amplifier outputs. And yes, there is native DSD support on this unit!
New to me was the $2,995 AHB2, a stereo amplifier. Shipping this summer, the amp is an unusual design. Leveraging THX patents, the Class H approach is said to show the best facets of Class A sound quality and Class A/B power delivery & performance, and bypass many of the challenges with Class D. The amp claims a dynamic range of 130dB (weighted), an impressive number. The AHB2 will be good for 100wpc into 8Ω, 170wpc into 4 and when used as a bridged mono, look for 340wpc into 8Ω.
Also new to me were the SMS-1 stand-mount loudspeakers. At $2,495/pair, these dense little speakers are good for 44Hz-22kHz at 88dB at 6Ω. An “acoustic suspension loudspeaker” design, Benchmark is pretty upfront about its power requirements for best bass performance. Feed them plenty of red meat.
The striking metal grille is attached via posts, so can be removed. Played here, the sound quality was well-suited to the room setup, and I heard impressively powerful music, with plenty of low-end grunt. This was a popular room, so serious listening wasn’t really in the cards, but everything I did hear and see made me very interested.
Benchmark has come a long way in a short time. It’s really cool to see them take this step. Very impressive.