I've had my fair chance at messing with all sorts of amplifier technologies, from Class A, to AB, D, even T—you name it, and each one carries their own sonic signature. To this day, I still have a soft spot for Class A/B designs, only due to their sonic signature and efficiency. Class A is king still in my book, but at the cost of efficiency and also carries a very heavy footprint (typically speaking). Class D/T are fun, small sizes and a huge punch—and they have come a long way!
A/B designs have started getting better sounding and more efficient—in both utility use and footprint. No slouch is the Benchmark AHB2, which reminds me of a Class D amp in efficiency and size, but carries the breadth of a A/B amp. Good things can come from small packages!
Benchmark has been around for a long time. In fact, they are one of the early Audiophile pioneers of USB DACs. They have evolved, just like many, from 20-bit, to 24-bit, to now DSD. I had always thought of them as more of a digital conversion company, and not an amplifier company—until the AHB2 came about. In fact they've been using them at the most recent audio shows and I think it's flown under the radar as most people are more focused on the digital offerings (conversion devices)—present company included. It wasn't until I started down a journey to down-size my audio system (because I lost my living room as it soon became the play area for my daughter) that I heard about the Benchmark amplifier. A PF colleague of mine (Steven Lefkowicz) said... Dude, you HAVE to try the Benchmark in your system (which at the time was going through a gamut of speaker changes as part of a myriad of reviews being done for PF) to which I replied, wow, they have an amp? I reached out to Rory of Benchmark and he was quite prompt in getting me a review unit.
So, the AHB2 showed up and I was immediately taken aback with the level of detail given to this unit. Just one glance at the back plate will tell you that this is a well-engineered piece of equipment. Fully Balanced = Check. Speakon Outputs = Check. Bridging Support = Check. Input Sensitivity Adjustment = Check. 12v Trigger support = Check. One thing I should mention is the lack of single ended inputs. I did end up making my own cables to connect this to my current preamp, which wasn't a huge deal, but it's worth mentioning. Most decent preamps have balanced out, so you're covered. But some don't… Benchmark does make adapters to make your life easier if you're in to that sort of thing.. and it works just fine with single ended gear.
The front panel is rather minimalist; a few LEDs to indicate the health of the amp and a power button. There is even a way to program the amp to turn on if it senses power so one can integrate it into a secondary power system if you wanted to (which then turns the power button into a mute circuit). Or, just leave it on all of the time. Even at LOUD levels, it does not get hot.
The specs on the amp are impressive as well, considering its footprint:
- 1kHz, <0.00013% THD+N
- 100 Watts per channel into 8 Ohms, both channels driven
- 130 Watts per channel into 6 Ohms, both channels driven
- 190 Watts per channel into 4 Ohms, both channels driven
- 240 Watts per channel into 3 Ohms, both channels driven
- 200 Watts Bridged Mono into 16 Ohms
- 380 Watts Bridged Mono into 8 Ohms
- 480 Watts Bridged Mono into 6 Ohms
I'm currently running it at a 4 Ohm stereo load, and the 190 Watts is going a long way! To be honest I haven't heard the amp clip yet, and I listen to music at cathartic levels sometimes (sorry, neighbors!). I believe these measurements to be on the conservative side… In fact I'll bet that the amp is doing much more than that, but I cannot prove it unfortunately.
So, how does it sound, after all of that? Well, this thing is no slouch. It's phenomenal! Gobs of power, detail, finesse and control. I have thrown so much music at this tiny little amp, that I just can't seem to beat it to submission. It just takes it in and gives it right back. The damping factor is really at play here. Damping factors are a description on how well the amp can control the speaker. Control is important! It minimizes distortion and heat, which causes a better musical listening experience. Tube-like in sound quality, but solid-state in power handling. Bone-rattling lows, sweet extended highs, and lovely mids... yes this is a real-life Maxell commercial happening here right in my listening room. For the price, you just can't beat it. If you have been looking for an all-in-one chassis stereo Class A/B amplifier that is reliable, energy efficient, and one of the best designs on the market, this is the ticket (it even comes in Black!). Most other offerings are at LEAST twice as expensive, and I can speak from experience that they don't sound half as good as this one. If I had the means, I'd keep this one as a perfect Swiss-army knife and never let it go. Hell, if you're feeling insecure about power, you can get two of them for cheaper than most Class A/B monoblocks out there, and have twice the power. Think no more, do it!
Retail: $2995 USD