Benchmark AHB2 vs NAD M22 (Hypex) with Very High Sensitivity Speakers - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 83 Old 02-18-2015, 09:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Benchmark AHB2 vs NAD M22 (Hypex) with Very High Sensitivity Speakers

Ok lets get my desires and biases out of the way first:

1. I have made it no secret around here that I am high sensitivity speaker fan and I love the sound of my Avantgarde Trio Omega speakers with 109db sensitivity (among the highest out there).

2. I am well aware that pre-amp and amplifier gain structure can result in CRAZY amounts of hiss from the speakers if you don't setup things correctly.

3. I want NO hiss out of the amplifier and NO hiss out of a pre-amp circuitry in order to get baseline room as quiet as possible.

4. I want the NAD M22 Hypex to "win" because I just bought 3 other NAD M27's for surround duties and having a matching set looks pretty cool.

5. Benchmark's crazy good stats (even compared to Hypex modules) swayed me to go ahead and try it. The adjustable gain along with Speakon connectors were a plus. Finally an amplifier that is geared to audiophiles AND pros that also has a 12v trigger. Nice rack mount version that isn't more expensive and doesn't require extra kits of rack ears.

6. I figured both are nice for their highly efficient use of power. Both of these are better in this regard than the Pass Labs Class A amplifier I was using before

7. I won't go over the stats and details of the manufacturer pages here since you can pull that crap up yourself including all the stuff from the Hypex Ncore webpage.

8. All this stuff is hooked up using a crossover of 150hz due to the nature of my speakers and my massive subwoofers (on a Lab gruppen amp) that are doing their own job. Therefore I can't assess the "Bass response" of the amplifiers very well in this setup. Suffice it to say that the Lab Gruppen PLM is an epic beast.

9. This is all running music out of my Marantz 8801 pre-pro which has mediocre output noise performance which is apparently being "fixed" in the 8802. Yes, yes, I know I am crazy using a marantz with this setup... a DAC with gain would be a purist approach. I double duty this system for home theater ... and the marantz lacks a post-crossover digital output for an external dac to workout in this setup.

10. Keep in mind the noise in my room in the quiet of night is around 20db but essentially unmeasurable without VERY expensive stuff.


For starters, I wanted to actually blind A/B these things... unfortunately this was not easily possible due to the significantly different gain's on these amps. The Benchmark has a 22dbu gain and the NAD has a consumer level gain of 26db. With the NAD, I have to use a 20db XLR PAD between the preamp and the amp. The Pre-amp set my speaker levels to zero gain adjustment with the NAD using the speaker calibration. With the benchmark at 22dbu, I did not need an XLR pad and the Marantz set the gain at 7db+ for my main speakers.

Ok so here we go... I am going to stay as objective about my subjectivism as possible.

Noise floor: the Benchmark blows away ANYTHING. At 1m, with no source connected, I could hear no hiss from these speakers. Nothing, including the NAD or the Pass Labs product could do this. To say these speakers are noise magnifiers is the understatement of the year. My Crown XLS amps (with no preamp connected) have hiss so loud that they would unbearable in any usage. The "all amps sound the same" crowd can go F*** themself. As far as noise floor goes, the Benchmark can't be beat. I can hear the hiss with my ear within a foot of the tweeter... but at 14 feet away listening position, you hear nothing.

Just for the hell of it, I turned the benchmark's gain setting to 14dbu (louder)... this was SURE to worsen the hiss and make this totally rigged against the benchmark, right? First with the pre-amp off, I again literally had to be within 1 foot of the tweeter to hear hiss. With the Pre-pro on, I could now hear the subtle hiss of the Marantz 8801 more clearly.

I went back to the NAD just to be sure I wasn't delusional before... nope... the NAD even has a hum from the midrange driver that is audible at the sitting position. The Benchmark had zero midrange hum even with the ear to the speaker.

Ok so clear winner in the noise floor department, the Benchmark AHB2... best amp I have personally ever heard in this regard. The measurements and John Siau's predictions based on his calculations in his emails to be did not lie!

This does not mean the NAD is a bad choice... for the vast majority of folks whose speaker sensitivity likely does not exceed 100db, the NAD's hiss/noise floor is perfectly good. Most would need an ear to the tweeter to hear any hiss at all.

I am simply saying that for very high efficiency speakers, the AHB2's adjustable gain stage coupled with the baseline low noise floor creates a perfect blend that no other solid state amp has accomplished with large spherical horns.


Ok so how do they actually sound? The honest to God truth is that I don't think I can definitively tell the difference in any other characteristics. I listened to the same song for days before this amp came in so I could get a sense of the NAD M22 first.

Both have absolutely neutral sound with no discernible differences in overall characteristics for me. The primary difference being that the noise floor on the Benchmark is better and inaudible whereas the NAD is still audible during silent passages or between tracks. The benchmark is neither "harsh" nor "warm", descriptions used in amplifier aficionado parlance.

For users of high efficiency horns, The Benchmark is a seriously kick butt solid state product! This thing has a 30day return policy from the manufacturer website so I would strongly suggest getting one from there to check it out.

All things considered and their equivalent price... I would says the Benchmark is the best amp I have ever used. For my surround channels, the NAD M27 is a much better price point and perfect for my surrounds that are only 90db sensitivity.
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post #2 of 83 Old 02-18-2015, 11:44 PM
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Interesting, I run my 104dbspl mains off my avr and there's no audible hiss unless I put my head in the horn. Distortion measures below 0.0015%THD at 170WPC. Easy way for me to solve the noise floor in signal chain issue
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post #3 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 12:30 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by blazar View Post
I went back to the NAD just to be sure I wasn't delusional before... nope... the NAD even has a hum from the midrange driver that is audible at the sitting position. The Benchmark had zero midrange hum even with the ear to the speaker.
With NAD can you try to short inputs when comparing noise floor. I generally don't have any hum when my NCores are disconnected off the input, but NCores has extremely high input impedance and unconnected wire can pick up a lot of noise (in the form of hum primarily, I had it with disconnected wires attached). This is normally disappear when connected to low-impedance source - the pre-amp.
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post #4 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 12:34 AM
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All compromises. Incredible noise floor. Less than half the power of the NAD. Maybe two of them bridged would do the trick if they can maintain the noise floor in mono mode.

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post #5 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 12:38 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by notnyt View Post
Interesting, I run my 104dbspl mains off my avr and there's no audible hiss unless I put my head in the horn. Distortion measures below 0.0015%THD at 170WPC. Easy way for me to solve the noise floor in signal chain issue
Receivers are single pieces of gear, so, the gain structure inside is usually very well matched between dac/pre/amps. But then - put MV to 0dB and ensure nothing is muted in the AVR (by passing digital silence signal to it.... And if you have really silent room I am sure it will become audible. But anyway - I would like to know what AVR is yours... seems it has pretty good figures for an AVR.

0.0015% - is it for 1kHz, or for the whole audio range? 1kHz is often a poor representative of an audio distortion...

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post #6 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 02:29 AM
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nice review.


noise floor scales in importance with sensitivity. that is for sure.
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post #7 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 03:43 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IgorZep View Post
Receivers are single pieces of gear, so, the gain structure inside is usually very well matched between dac/pre/amps. But then - put MV to 0dB and ensure nothing is muted in the AVR (by passing digital silence signal to it.... And if you have really silent room I am sure it will become audible. But anyway - I would like to know what AVR is yours... seems it has pretty good figures for an AVR.

0.0015% - is it for 1kHz, or for the whole audio range? 1kHz is often a poor representative of an audio distortion...
I tested briefly and it seemed to be similar at 200hz and 10khz, but I haven't had time to do a full thorough benchtest on it yet. denon 5308. I have a treated room, and even turning it up, won't hear until head in waveguide. It's fed only digital signal as well which helps further.
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post #8 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 06:52 AM
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"I can hear the hiss with my ear within a foot of the tweeter... but at 14 feet away listening position, you hear nothing."


That is still a lot off noise.
With the noise floor specs from the benchmark you should not hear any noise. Even with 109 dB sensitivity.


With my volume control maxed out on my pre amp (the power amps have 26 dB gain 600W into 8 Ohm ) I can't hear any noise at all from the tweeters (92dB) from even a few millimeters.


Looks like the benchmark specs are a little optimistic (Also slightly skewed in favor due to the amps lower gain).


or


In your setup you pick up some noise.


To get an idea of how difficult noise spec measurement are:




Although it gets into noise spec measurement for opamps the bench mark noise specs are in that territory.
At the end there is a demonstration how measurements are done to give a good idea about the difficulties with noise pick up with these low noise levels.

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post #9 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 07:32 AM
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Originally Posted by notnyt View Post
Interesting, I run my 104dbspl mains off my avr and there's no audible hiss unless I put my head in the horn. Distortion measures below 0.0015%THD at 170WPC. Easy way for me to solve the noise floor in signal chain issue
That's the dirty little secret here: people with high-efficiency, passive-crossover speakers will usually get higher performance from a midline AVR than from a collection of separates.

But it takes balls to speakers priced like a BMW 5er off of a $1k AVR.

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post #10 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 07:34 AM
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That's the dirty little secret here: people with high-efficiency, passive-crossover speakers will usually get higher performance from a midline AVR than from a collection of separates.

But it takes balls to speakers priced like a BMW 5er off of a $1k AVR.
Well, 3.5k avr, and I'll be sad when I have to upgrade it since it was the last of the properly amped avrs
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post #11 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 08:49 AM
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Well, 3.5k avr, and I'll be sad when I have to upgrade it since it was the last of the properly amped avrs
Actually, for super-sensitive speakers, one could argue that the cheaper AVR's with chip-amps are actually a better choice. AB chip amps are almost always going to have better low-level linearity, just because the individual parts are better matched than discrete components can be. Crossover distortion is also lower in chip amps than in discrete amps. And amp current-limits are a complete nonissue with bass managed 100dB+/W/m speakers in a home audio system.

Remember Dr. Earl Geddes for a long time ran his HT off of a $300 or so Pioneer AVR. (Of course, audiophools being the deaf lemmings they are, that revelation led to a brief spike in used prices for that particular model of AVR...) Room correction or new formats (Atmos, etc.) are, however, good reasons to move up the ladder a bit.

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post #12 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 08:52 AM
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Actually, for that kind of efficiency, one could argue that the cheaper AVR's with chip-amps are actually a better choice. Chip amps are almost always going to have better low-level linearity, just because the individual parts are better matched than discrete components.

Remember Dr. Earl Geddes for a long time ran his HT off of a $300 or so Pioneer AVR. (Of course, audiophools being the deaf lemmings they are, that revelation led to a brief spike in used prices for that particular model of AVR...)
Good efficiency yes, but it's also powering 7 channels, so want that beefy toroid =]
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post #13 of 83 Old 02-19-2015, 09:04 AM
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Ok lets get my desires and biases out of the way first:..

All things considered and their equivalent price... I would says the Benchmark is the best amp I have ever used. For my surround channels, the NAD M27 is a much better price point and perfect for my surrounds that are only 90db sensitivity.
Thank you for the review, I long wanted to hear from someone that got the Benchmark.

Phenomenal speakers, btw. I have listened to the Duos, not the Trios. And I much respect the fact you deem a 3k amplifier good enough to connect to such high end speakers.

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post #14 of 83 Old 02-20-2015, 05:21 PM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
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Ok lets get my desires and biases out of the way first:..

All things considered and their equivalent price... I would says the Benchmark is the best amp I have ever used. For my surround channels, the NAD M27 is a much better price point and perfect for my surrounds that are only 90db sensitivity.
Thank you for the review, I long wanted to hear from someone that got the Benchmark.

Phenomenal speakers, btw. I have listened to the Duos, not the Trios. And I much respect the fact you deem a 3k amplifier good enough to connect to such high end speakers.
These new amps lately are very impressive... Now if only they would sell the speakers for 3k each...

I prefer a low price, I don't want to spend a penny more than "necessary". Unforunately danley horns would be a decorating disaster in my house... Otherwise i would have designed around them had I know about them at the time. Would have saved a lot of money perhaps.
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post #15 of 83 Old 02-24-2015, 08:25 PM - Thread Starter
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After some more comparison between the Benchmark AHB2 and my NAD M27's (different from the title of the thread), I would say the Benchmark is a slightly smoother with no sense of fatigue. I feel like I can turn up the volume higher without it getting uncomfortable. This is all in Audyssey Bypass L/R mode on the Marantz 8801 btw.

I feel like for music, a standard Audyssey curve sounds too rolled off on the top end for my tastes. I prefer bypassing Audyssey for main L/R no matter how many times I try it.

I would love to see some other more experienced folks' impressions on the Benchmark to see if I am just insane or what.

Unfortunately they don't have any plan at this moment to do the rack mount version in black. One option is to buy the black model and buy a custom cut Middle Atlantic Rack shelf/face plate. You would need to mail the unit to middle atlantic to get cutouts made for the faceplate since I am doubtful that it is in their database.

I am going to beg for a black custom faceplate for the rackmount version from Benchmark. ... I can only hope!

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post #16 of 83 Old 02-24-2015, 09:28 PM
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Interesting observation. Especially given the NADs higher power rating.

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post #17 of 83 Old 02-25-2015, 11:35 AM
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Well based on you folks candid opinions I have eliminated the Nad amps for consideration for my main speakers. I still may consider it for my height and surround speakers. It is now down to the new ATI signature amps and the Theta Dreadnaught 4.

I am glad I didn't pull the trigger on these when they first came out.
My tastes are more geared towards smooth and euphoric. Yes I happen to like a bit of smoothness. I don't want the saxophone to make me turn down my music.

The only detailed amp I have ever heard that wasn't euphoric sounding that I liked was the Krell Chorus. I could have almost lived with that amp. It was only on dsotm sacd when the clocks come in that I had to turn it down. And even then it was close.

I want an amp that is as detailed as can be without me ever reaching for the volume on loud passages. This of course with good quality recordings. Bad recordings are another story all together.

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post #18 of 83 Old 02-25-2015, 12:55 PM - Thread Starter
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I am finding the benchmark to be the best thing since sliced bread...

I would think the ati would be similar but better suited to higher peak wattage speakers that are likely also less efficient and less susceptible to noise floor issues.

For horns and other high sensitivity speakers, the benchmark measures better than the ATI slightly while also being more efficient. The benchmark is likely as good as it gets for solid state power for horns.
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post #19 of 83 Old 02-25-2015, 04:47 PM
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I think the Ati has 128db snr. Actually from what I have read it is actually conservatively rated at that 128db spec. That is pretty darn amazing for a class a/b amp.

And although my speakers are about 89db efficient with a low of about 6 ohms they could still use that extra headroom. I wouldn't be even coming close to maxing out any of these amps. I have two way stand mounted monitors.

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post #20 of 83 Old 02-25-2015, 06:27 PM - Thread Starter
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I think the Ati has 128db snr. Actually from what I have read it is actually conservatively rated at that 128db spec. That is pretty darn amazing for a class a/b amp.

And although my speakers are about 89db efficient with a low of about 6 ohms they could still use that extra headroom. I wouldn't be even coming close to maxing out any of these amps. I have two way stand mounted monitors.
Ati looks like a strong choice. Those things are huge and likely make some heat. They ought to be very similar to the hypex based products and aren't priced vastly different.

Keep in mind that the ATI's unweighted S/N is around 126 or lower. The a-weighted stat is less stringent.

Bridged mono, the benchmark is at 135db a-weighted s/n which is pretty darn good. It is 130db s/n unweighted in stereo which is nothing short of the best ever made.

At that point only your room noise floor and pre-amp/dac noise floor remains ... That is no matter which speakers you pair with it...

There are very few dacs in the world that actually beat the ahb2 in measurements... That is crazy for a power amp. The "feed forward" class AB/H design is impressive.

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post #21 of 83 Old 02-26-2015, 08:41 AM
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That thing does have impressive specs. It also seems as though it has all the qualities I like. It would just be to much money for me. I don't pay msrp on any of my gear. Except my Oppo gear.

JVC RS4810 projector Stewart Cima 115" 2.35 screen, ATI 523 and 528 amps
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post #22 of 83 Old 03-01-2015, 05:03 PM
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Hi Blazar,

Could you give your impression of the performance at low volume levels for both of these amps.

Thanks,
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post #23 of 83 Old 03-01-2015, 06:48 PM - Thread Starter
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Hi Blazar,

Could you give your impression of the performance at low volume levels for both of these amps.

Thanks,
Serge
Low volume performance is excellent on both these amps, however no speaker or amp can be blamed if you can't turn up the volume a bit. The extreme low noise floor of the amp certainly helps low volume resolution but some sounds will still simply be below the threshold of hearing unless you turn the system up a bit.

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post #24 of 83 Old 03-02-2015, 07:15 PM
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Low volume performance is excellent on both these amps, however no speaker or amp can be blamed if you can't turn up the volume a bit. The extreme low noise floor of the amp certainly helps low volume resolution but some sounds will still simply be below the threshold of hearing unless you turn the system up a bit.
Thanks Blazar. Your review was especially of interest to me as I have horns as well. Lowly Klipsch Forte II's, but 'horns is horns', right?

Thanks,
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post #25 of 83 Old 03-04-2015, 07:41 PM
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Quote:
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Low volume performance is excellent on both these amps, however no speaker or amp can be blamed if you can't turn up the volume a bit. The extreme low noise floor of the amp certainly helps low volume resolution but some sounds will still simply be below the threshold of hearing unless you turn the system up a bit.
well let the test begin.

albeit not for high sensitivity speakers.

in my setup the M22 and the AHB2 are leagues apart in power output, and since i still have the DAC2 set up at -20dB (i have to open it up to change jumpers to 0dB, but that's what Benchmark advises to do for best match) the volume levels are night and day.

visually i got to say the combo looks nice (matter of taste, don't expect agreement). the AHB2 is tiny, but feels definitely hefty enough and solid.

i am just superficially listening until i get a better sense and match things up, but as of now the AHB2 sounds a tad teeny bit wimpy compared to the M22's powerful delivery, especially down low. but we have at least 2 weeks to wait for any strong opinions and decisions. the encouraging news is that, off the bat, i go "oh this doesn't sound bad at all", which is *good* in my opinion. on occasion i have been known to go "shoot why did i even bother", because deep inside i am a skeptic, and i rather just listen to music than to *equipment*, if you get my drift, and i tend to adjust quickly to i can get past the electronics and into the music.
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post #26 of 83 Old 03-04-2015, 07:59 PM - Thread Starter
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Low volume performance is excellent on both these amps, however no speaker or amp can be blamed if you can't turn up the volume a bit. The extreme low noise floor of the amp certainly helps low volume resolution but some sounds will still simply be below the threshold of hearing unless you turn the system up a bit.
well let the test begin.

albeit not for high sensitivity speakers.

in my setup the M22 and the AHB2 are leagues apart in power output, and since i still have the DAC2 set up at -20dB (i have to open it up to change jumpers to 0dB, but that's what Benchmark advises to do for best match) the volume levels are night and day.

visually i got to say the combo looks nice (matter of taste, don't expect agreement). the AHB2 is tiny, but feels definitely hefty enough and solid.

i am just superficially listening until i get a better sense and match things up, but as of now the AHB2 sounds a tad wimpy compared to the M22's crisp delivery. but we have at least 2 weeks to wait for any strong opinions and decisions. the encouraging news is that, off the bat, i go "oh this doesn't sound bad at all", which is *good* in my opinion. on occasion i have been known to go "shoot why did i even bother", because deep inside i am a skeptic, and i rather just listen to music than to *equipment*, if you get my drift, and i tend to adjust quickly to i can get past the electronics and into the music.
I have had another week two get used to the benchmark and perhaps get myself burned-in.

I basically find nothing to dislike.

There are no "special characteristics" which I suppose means it is neutral.

The nad is almost certainly a bit brighter as the benchmark feels like I can turn up the volume as high as I want without fatigue.

Now does that mean that source material is naturally too bright (and therefore the nad is more accurate)? Who knows...

After some more time passes, I am going to use the nad m27 again for the mains and see if the differences are obvious between ncore and ahb2. Since both will permanently be in my system, its easy enough to go back and forth.

The nad m27 is doing great with all my surround speakers, with movie effects sounding very very transparent. I wish they also had adjustable gain switches on the back because in order to silence the marantz 8801's hiss, all my channels still needed -10db xlr pads.
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post #27 of 83 Old 03-04-2015, 09:53 PM
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as we speak, i have to work late on a presentation. my choice in such situations is most often Baroque, in this case the wonderful Bach Fugues album the the Emerson String Quartet. even though i was playing it as background music, on several occasions i have had to stop and pay attention. definitely a great amp. i am going to take a few weeks to decide which one i keep, it will be difficult to compare them truly fairy head to head given all the adjustments required to match them well volume wise. i'll just go by enjoyment and convenience.

in theory, the way i have things set up right now it should be worst case for the noise level - but there is absolutely no hiss at all. no noise if i turn up the DAC2 up all the way. zero. nada. just like the M22. i really will have to research the best setting. Benchmark says "amp’s sensitivity should be set to minimum gain and the DAC’s XLR jumpers to 0dB. This will offer the best SNR."

my setup is always only and pretty much exclusively about stereo for music. that's what i enjoy, that's what i optimize for, and the other entertainment has to live with that (i have a good sub that i keep turned off most of the time).

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post #28 of 83 Old 03-07-2015, 01:08 PM - Thread Starter
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I wish benchmark dacs with properly implemented digital attenuation were in my marantz 8801...

I wish there was a pure processor/video swither device that would output all digital signals to a multi-channel volume controllable dacs.

Most devices like the marantz 8801 are not bad but fall short of being great. The benchmark dac's fidelity in a pre-pro is ultimately what you approximate in a theta digital or trinnov device from what i understand.
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post #29 of 83 Old 03-07-2015, 08:03 PM
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me too!

ultimately i think the perfect solution is all around expertise that implement a matching dac, amp and crossover into active speakers. takes all this chasing and guesswork away. you hit it: matching components is the hard part in this.

PS: the shortcoming is that with very powerful class D power amps coming up many DAC-premaps are for the amp, even in-house. i don't think we are yet in an era of balanced components. i think the new class D generation requires extremely high SNR but lower gain preamp modules. the future is active speakers.

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post #30 of 83 Old 03-07-2015, 11:53 PM
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me too!

ultimately i think the perfect solution is all around expertise that implement a matching dac, amp and crossover into active speakers. takes all this chasing and guesswork away. you hit it: matching components is the hard part in this.

PS: the shortcoming is that with very powerful class D power amps coming up many DAC-premaps are for the amp, even in-house. i don't think we are yet in an era of balanced components. i think the new class D generation requires extremely high SNR but lower gain preamp modules. the future is active speakers.
Those are real nice until that plate amp fails. Better hope the manufacturer is still in business and you can get it fixed. Whole speaker becomes a paper weight. Just like plate amps in speakers with active subs. When the plate fails whole speaker is done.

NAD M15 /NAD M25 / PSB STRATUS GOLD / PSB STRATUS 6C /DENON AVR 3300/CARVER TFM 45/35 - ANTHEM MCA3 / NAD T163
IMAGE DYNAMICS / INFINITY RS3 / POLK MONITOR 10/ALTEC 501 / INTEGRA 50.3/PARADIGM DSP 3400 / GOLDENEAR AON3 / HK AVI 200

An Observer of many philosophies, a slave to none.
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