Benchmark AHB2 Stereo Power Amplifier Review

Intro

Contents

My interest with Benchmark started when I heard their HPA4 headphone amplifiers and their DAC3 at the recent shows. Regardless of headphone – I found the system’s dynamic strength and clarity extremely engaging. In fact, it made for some of the most memorable headphone listening experiences I’ve had.

These days I’ve been doing more 2-channel listening. And so Benchmark’s oh-so-popular AHB2 power amplifier came to mind. The AHB2 has already received numerous accolades and awards from all around the industry. Apparently, it also measured very well with the Audio Precision AP555.

The Story

A benchmark is a standard or point of measurement to which other things can be compared.

As our name implies, we are committed to excellence. Our award-winning products define the current state-of-the-art in terms of audio performance.

Benchmark products are designed and built by audio enthusiasts. We are musicians, audiophiles and audio professionals who are passionate about audio quality. We also are passionate about the durability and build quality of our products. Most of our products are designed, assembled, tested, and shipped worldwide from our headquarters in Syracuse, NY, USA, where we have been for over 30 years.

Benchmark has been in the game for around 37 years now. Passionate musicians, audiophiles, and audio professionals are what makes up the team. Introduced in 2014, the Benchmark AHB2 power amplifier is their second amplifier design (hence the “2”).

So where does the name “AHB” come from?

Benchmark’s founder, Allen H. Burdick

In November of 2012 we set the final specifications and code-named the project the “PA2” (Benchmark’s second power amplifier – Power Amp #2, or PA2).

On September 27, 2013, everything was ready, but we still didn’t have a name for the new amplifier. The faceplates were machined and finished but needed to be printed with the product name. I began thinking about the technology in the amplifier and how this could be incorporated into the name. The amplifier delivered class-A performance, had class-H tracking rails, and a class-AB output stage. It then struck me that the letters A, H, and B were Allen H. Burdick’s initials.

Instantly it was clear to me that the new amplifier should be named after the man who inspired it! At that moment, the PA2 became the AHB2. I announced the name to my staff, and we placed the order for the printing. Less than an hour later we got a phone call with the sad and shocking news that Allen had passed away. I am still stunned when I think about the coincidence of these two events.

– John Siau, March 17, 2016

Notable Features

  • Output power
    • 100 wpc @ 8 ohms, 380 Watts in bridged mono
    • 190 wpc @ 4 ohms, over 500 Watts in bridged mono
  • SNR > 132 dB A-weighted. Approximately equivalent to the noise performance of a perfect 22-bit digital system.
  • THX-patented feed-forward error correction system. Virtually eliminates all traces of distortion at all signal level and loading conditions. (THX AAA)
  • Two modes: Stereo and Bridged Mono (4 times the power into 8-ohms, 380 watts per channel)
  • Three sensitivity settings: 2, 4, and 9.8 Vrms
  • Twist-lock NL4 SpeakON connectors. Supposedly outperforms most speaker binding posts.
  • 2 x Bidirectional 12V trigger
  • No warm-up required.
  • Available in rack mount option.
  • Magnetically shielded
  • 1&2 OUT NL4 Jack provides access to channels 1 and 2. You would also be able to use this output in for a biamp configuration. If you’re using a NL2 plug, you’ll get access only to channel 1 (left). 2 OUT NL4 jack is only for channel 2 (right).
  • Auto power-down in 40 minutes. You could disable this by holding the power button for 7 seconds (while the unit is on).

Setup

  • A balanced connection is highly recommended. If you only have unbalanced connections from your preamp, Benchmark has an optional adapter you could use.
  • Depending on your preamp, make sure to set it to the proper sensitivity setting.
  • Cables
    • Iconoclast OFE speaker cables
    • Iconoclast UPOCC/OFE XLR interconnects
    • Snake River Audio Cottonmouth Signature power cord

Build

I have to say, aside from how powerful this amplifier is. I love how I could fit it on my desktop under my monitor. It even fits in my home theater console. It feels so good to have so much power in such a small package.

It’s also quiet and doesn’t generate any substantial amount of heat. The lights are also unobtrusive. The AHB2 is solid yet minimalistic.

Now, the size does have one (unsurprisingly) drawback – the connectors are closer together. Benchmark recommends using the NL4 jacks. However, if you’re planning to use spades (like I am), it starts to get a little tight with the XLR connections.

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Jay Luong

Mr. Audio Bacon himself. An open-minded electrical engineer and software developer by trade. I have an obsession with the enjoyment of all things media - specifically in the realm of music and film. So much heart and soul (and money) go into the creation of this artistry. My aim is to find out which products get me closer to what the musicians and directors intended.

View Comments

  • Great review Jay! When I auditioned my AHB2 with my (departed) B&W 803d3's and Chord Blu2+DAVE, I was delighted with the more intimate pieces, but wanted a bit more when it needed more. I ended up getting a second AHB, and things REALLY opened up when I was running them bridged as mono blocks.

    • I’d like to leave a couple of comments/thoughts regarding the review of the Benchmark amp:
      - your bias against the amp was given away when you referred to it as fitting on your monitor desk. It seems to send (at least to me) a subliminal viewpoint that this amp belongs with a monitor and computer and thus not to be taken seriously as a high end amp.
      - Comparing this amp with another (of your choice) is curious since you seemed not to favor the Benchmark yet sang it’s praise. Talk about having it both ways. Anyhow, that’s just my opinion.

  • I've been using the AHB2 for a couple years now. I think what you hear when using this amp is everything else in your system, not the amp itself. I think it is the most transparent and neutral amp I've heard because it introduces so little noise of its own. I didn't read any mention of its outstanding THD, SNR and THX specs but anyone interested in the amp can read that from their site, or call them directly. They have amazing customer service.

    • Thank you for your comment. I've been told by many that it's a dead neutral amp (even this past weekend at AXPONA).

      I've tried at least 6 different amps - and the AHB2 was relatively warmer. I don't think the First Watt J2 is completely neutral - but it sounded more neutral than the AHB2 to my ears. The AHB2 was closer to an F7 (which is much warmer than the J2). The STA200 and Vista Spark were on the brighter side. The TToby seems to somewhere in between. Which amplifiers have you compared and what cabling do you use?

      Also, what do you mean by transparency? According to my definition of transparency, the TToby undoubtedly has more of it. I may have to revisit the AHB2.

  • Nice review.

    I’ve borrowed the AHB2 in my system and listened to it in a friend's system.

    From my experience the AHB2 is not as airy or as direct as a First Watt J2 or a Spectral

    But I don't think it's warm either. I think it is quite neutral. It does not roll off highs ( it is not, which can be confirmed in the measurements) and can actually plays all music genres with equal aplomb. It is nicely detailed,soundstage stable with a quieter nature than any other power amp I have heard.

    Perhaps it's due to comparison to Chord or the combination to ATC that one might felt it is warm?The impedance match can have a decisive change on frequency response.

    The less airy or less direct nature could be due to the extremely low harmonic distortion (Nelson Pass wrote that some form of thd can increase directness or spatiality), as well use of THX technology (perhaps feedback or some loops which decreases transient responses ? I'm not a tech guy anyways). Antithesis of a SET 845 amp?

  • It is my feeling that, even though AHB2 is not superior to any other power amps or superior to any other in its price range (as the AP measurements or some devotees would declare),it is perhaps the most all-around power amp at its price range. (the equal aplomb into all music genres; the compact size; the low-hear; the adjustable gain......).

  • Hi Jay, you never really did a review on the STA-200, so I'm just gonna ask here: can you put in a few words to describe the sound signature between STA-200 vs AHB2 i.e. sound stage width & depth, warm/bright, detail retrieval, etc?
    I'm asking because I own the STA-200 and like it, and am thinking about the AHB2 as an upgrade option.

    • I could only speak from memory. The STA-200 was more energetic, detailed, and expansive while the AHB2 was warmer and denser. They sound very different.

  • I have the amp and I found using the speaker binding posts sounds warmer/softer vs the Twist-lock NL4 SpeakON connectors. Same speaker wire.

  • Please allow me to weigh in on a subject that was mentioned here regarding using cables to warm a system’s sound signature.
    I’ve been in pursuit of audio perfection for 40 years and have thousands invested in said pursuit only to realize that what I’m looking for is, well, nothing. I don’t want warm sound and I don’t want bright sound. I want the sound that is inherent in the recording.
    If it’s a bad recording I want to hear it that way... I don’t want my system correcting or changing anything.
    I believe this “philosophy “ has given me an enhanced appreciation of the better recordings!

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