Audiophiles like smoothness. Audiophiles don’t like rough edges, bumps or dips in frequency response, falloff in off-axis listening, hot treble, or exaggerated bass. Linear playback without attention being drawn to any particular part of the bandwidth is the hallmark of well-designed components, and a well-curated sound system, one that works well together as far as I am concerned.
That’s what Benchmark Media had put together in Chicago for AXPONA this year in room 670 at the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel: a smooth, curated system. Utilizing the Martin Logan ESL 11A electrostatic loudspeakers (11-inch XStat™ electrostatic transducer, and two eight-inch PoweredForce Forward™ woofers being fed by 275-watt Class-D amplifiers, $10,500 USD) to showcase their AHB2 power amplifier ($2,995 USD), running here in bridged-mono mode and being directly driven by their DAC3 HGC DAC/headamp/preamp ($2,195 USD).
At 91dB efficiency, and four ohms nominal impedance, and powered bass units, the ESL 11A presents a unique challenge for amplifiers in the way the signal is handed off, since the bulk of the work is going into making sure those big curved ‘stat panels are being given not only the watts they need to perform best, but the current as well. Here the AHB2’s linear amplification design excels, as a pair running in bridged-mono delivers 480 watts into six Ohms, and 29A (peak) of current/channel.
This diminutive system was impressive in its control, linearity, and I’ll come back to it now: smoothness. Whether there was rock, jazz, classical, or even electronic playing while I was in the room, the Benchmark DAC/Pre/Power combo had a way with digital files that seemed to never put a foot wrong, and maintained a balance between resolution, dynamics, and believable acoustic warmth in instruments, and vocals.
This was another system that proves that you don’t need to spend tons of money, or have huge amps to get quality sound in a room of normal proportions. Living room proportions, or as I like to call it, real-world proportions. While hotel rooms at trade shows are often diminished by show goers, manufacturers, and journalists alike, they do present real-world room issues, and limitations that need to be overcome to deliver the best a system is capable of delivering, and that’s what Benchmark did here in room 670: Delivered a great-sounding experience.