Some love for the Benchmark HPA4/LA4

Making this thread to show my love for this amazing preamp. Yea, all the use usual descriptions apply. Yadda yadda it is great.

It is 1:15 AM  in the morning and my kid and wife are asleep. I am not cranking it but listening at very very low volume (I have great headphones available but it sounds amazing on the speakers right now).  It is the preamp that is doing the great sound at low volume. I won't get into details., but damn this is something special. I am on my 4 or 5th scotch but do let that cloud your perception of what I am saying. I knows what I am talking about.

You guys going direct to amp from DAC. Put this into the circuit (for $2500) and tell me it is not better.
What are you using for amp/source/dpeakers?

what other preamps did you compare against, if any?
My gear is linked on Virtual Systems.

Preamps I owned and demoed.

Bryston BP20
Benchmark DAC3 HGC

*Luxman c900u
*Hegel P30
*Mark Levinson 526
*D'agistino something
*T+A P3100 HV
*SimAudio 740P 
* Bryston BP17 Cubed

* I demoed these at stores in the last 24 months 

I figured out I do not want any flavor to the sound from a preamp. I also want complete silence from the preamp (deep space silence) with an incredible volume control and inputs for my sources. That is what the HPA4/LA4 gives.

My current AHB2 amp also has no flavor but in the future, now that I have new speakers, I am looking to add something like the Luxman m900u or the CODA #8 or #16 to pair with the HPA4. I will rotate 2 amps with the HPA4 to waste my time.

I would love to hear folks who have tried this pre-amp and compared it to others as I have. 
Most of those preamps I heard were excellent. However, I came to feel that I do not want the preamp to add anything to the sound, especially noise. The amp and speakers can do that.
This thread is getting zero traction.  Too bad, I wish it would.  There must be folks out there that like Benchmark???

Trying to help by bumping this up again...

yy, which do you think is the higher performer, to extent such a comparison is even possible -- ahb2 or la4?  Which one is more of a giant killer I guess?  
That is an easy one for me. I have been blabbing on A’gon about which component I think is the real giant killer. It is the LA4 without a doubt. I say this because I think the LA4 can be used in all scenarios I have personally encountered. I do not mess around with tube amps so I have no clue about compatibility there.

If your preamp has some noise, and all the preamps I listed above do have some noise. My personal feeling is that the LA4 would be my preference in all of those systems. The unit does not look that nice so I can understand people not being interested in it. However, if you are looking for total silence from a preamp then this is the unit to try out.

I guess the question to ask yourself is, what do you want your preamp to do? As I said earlier, what I want from a preamp is a great volume control (how is it al low volume), multiple inputs for my 4 sources, and silence in the circuitry to not alter the sound in audible way. That is the HPA4/LA4.

The HPA4 also made me want to spend close to $3K more to buy an incredible headphone (Meze Empy), which I I love. I used to hate headphones and only bought the HPA4 instead of the LA4 because of reviews stating it was one of the best headphone amps in the world (for $500 more than the LA4). So I am listening to more music today at all hours of the day with the HPA4. That is a good thing.

The AHB2 is good or great depending on what you want from your amp. I can see 50% here liking it and 50% not. However, my perception of what a preamp should do makes me think most people would like it. Maybe my perceptions of a preamps role are not shared by others, I don’t know. I live in an audiophile desert, except for A’gon.

I have some new speakers now (Thiel CS3.7) and I am looking to get a second amp in the future with a warmer sound signature (with a caveat). The Luxman m900u (which I love) or the CODA #8 or #16 which I need to demo. The AHB2 is very good with these 2 Ohm speakers but it may not be great. The AHB2 was great with easier to drive speakers (KEF LS50) and I cannot use the AHB2 in mono for these new speakers based what I hear is feedback from Benchmark themselves.

Before I get a second amp (the caveat), I am working with a sound engineer to apply Digital Room Correction to my room (for DAC streaming only not analog sources). Going to be starting that project today with the microphone I just got. It will be done using Convolution file(s) running on my ROON Server.
I recently replaced an old Audio Research preamp with a Benchmark LA 4. It started when I connected my dac directly to my power amp and liked what I heard.  I began looking for a preamp that would accomplish the same thing but provide additional inputs, preferably balanced .  I read rave reviews of the LA 4 in both Stereophile and Absolute Sound.  I decided to order the LA4 from Music Direct since they allow a 60 day trial. I’ve been listening for several weeks now and concur with a yyz.  Great preamp at a bargain price.  Absolute Sound is promising a full review any time now since they have only published a brief summary. Also, it’s available in two configurations, the “shoebox “ shape it generally comes in and a rack mount shape which is longer and lower but exactly the same inside.  
I’ve not seen or heard one yet but definitely a product of interest to me.

Currently running Audio Research sp16 preamp in one system and a Bel Canto c5i integrated in another. Noise is not an issue in either case.
I have the HPA4 and love it. I’ve bought many high end preamps over the years. Most of the big names and I spent well over $20K on a couple of them but I’m convinced that the HPA4 is the best I’ve ever heard.

I’m running a full Benchmark system with Revel speakers at the moment. The DAC3B is a reference in recording studios for a reason. I enjoy it’s neutral reproduction. The HPA4 is like a straight wire into the ABH2 amp. I ran a single ABH2 for a few weeks. It is an outstanding amp but I bought a second one and a pair in mono takes the sound to a new level.

If I want color I have that option in speaker and amps that I can switch in and out. I haven’t been doing that since I bought the Benchmark system because it’s just that good.

Nice.  Love the HPA4. What headphones are you using with the HPA4?

In my situation John Siau (the Benchmark designer) has indicated speakers like my recently purchased Thiel CS3.7 don't work with mono AHB2 but they do with a single AHB2. I am running with a single AHB2. I am keeping it but I also want to get an amp with more power in the 2 Ohm region for the CS3.7's.

yyz, I have always followed your posts, and am surprised you wound up purchasing Thiel CS3.7s ( not judging, if you enjoy them ). I go dac direct ( through a top model Luminous Audio passive unit ), and my system needs zero additional gain, and has plenty of it. I was part of an organized cable shootout several months ago, and the equipment used was all Benchmark. What I came away with, and many others concurred with my findings, was the total neutrality of the Benchmark color of any kind, no editorializing of any kind, just what was on the recordings. Enjoy, be well and stay safe. Always, MrD.
@yyzsantabarbara I have Sennheiser HD800s and Focal Utopia HPs. Two very different HPs and they both sound great with the HPA4.

I'm curious what about the Thiels creates a problem for the ABH2 running in mono ?

What I came away with, and many others concurred with my findings, was the total neutrality of the Benchmark color of any kind, no editorializing of any kind, just what was on the recordings
That's why they're a reference in music and TV production studios. It's a great way to listen. I change out my Revels to PMC studio monitors for some of the work I do. If I want a warm and engaging movie sound I pull in a pair of Vandersteens. Having a neutral DAC/Pre/Power system really allows you to hear what each speaker's sound.
@mrdecibel I always ways wanted to buy a Thiel CS3.7 from a decade ago. However moving to Santa Barbara into a small beach apartment and then having a baby 4 years ago pushed audio to the backburner. Now that I am "settled" somewhat I have the opportunity to buy some speakers for my office system. My 3 favorite speakers are the KEF Blade, Yamaha NS5000, and Thiel CS3.7.  I also like Vivid .

My acoustically treated home office is small, see my virtual system page, and the Thiel is the speaker with the least amount of bass of the 3, which is good for my room. I was reluctant to purchase Thiel because they are out of business. However, with the help of the long running Thiel thread on Audiogon I learned that there is actually some support in terms of service for old Thiel's. The used unit I bought also had some new OEM drivers put in so it become more attractive.

I am liking the sound of the CS3.7 so far not loving it yet. It could be the lack of amp power. I hope to start the process of applying DRC to my room tonight.  So my Thiel system is evolving. I want it to sound like what I demoed a decade ago. My room could also be a little dead (not sure yet) though I think it is the amp.
@glissando My reference to the Thiel CS3.7 + 2 AHB2's in mono comment came from this post. The poster is Tom Thiel, brother of the speaker designer, Jim Thiel. I also believe Tom was one of the 3 founders of Thiel Audio.

I was going to get the Focal Utopia but the dealer I bought the HPA4 (also a Focal dealer) told me to try the Meze Empy first. He said it was a great match with the HPA4. I have been told that the Meze is a little darker than many other top quality HPs so it works well with the HPA4. I had to get an after-market cable to get more details out of the sound, a WyWire Platinum XLR.

One of the things I love about this Benchmark stack is that I am loving more music. Old music that I may not have liked as much I love now, such as the first 6 Van Halen records. I grew up with the group so I have heard this stuff a lot before, but now with this gear I love it. Lot of old music has been like a new discovery.

My last big speaker before these Thiel CS3.7's was the first iteration of the Revel Salons (the R2D2 speaker). You must have the Salon2's. My understanding is that Revel has now discontinued the Salons. A real shame if that is true.
Agreed. Usually mono operation increases current capacity into low loads. Curious what's going on with the benchmark that's different.
Well, this is a timely thread for me as I currently have the Benchmark stack with their AHB2 and DAC3L. I am on the fence about the LA4 as I wanted to minimize boxes and cables. I got the DAC3L in order to have hardware volume control but now I have read in multiple places about how adding the preamp actually makes it sound better. I was totally happy with my Benchmark duo and was in the "no preamp" camp but I am afraid I might have to make it a trio. It never ends.

UPDATE:  Just ordered :O
I’m interested in how dac3 HDC sounds different  with and without the separate Benchmark pre. 
@adurerca I ran direct to amp for years. I should have added a preamp earlier. Hope you have the same experience. Please do report back....
@cal3713 I will be back in about a week once I get the LA4 setup.  I tried using software volume control for the longest time but it was not convenient and dangerous if you made a bad slip of the finger to full volume.  Having the DAC3L volume control was such a welcomed relief but I still want to get the best sound possible.
I owned DAC1 years ago (kind of hated it)

AHBB2 (sold it)
AGHB2 (bought again but this time with DAC3B and HPA4)

For me the main difference was in the volume. The HPA4 sounds great at every volume level. I listen at low volumes late at night (at least before I bought headphones) and the HPA4 was so much better than the DAC3 HGC volume. I felt I was missing part of music at low volume with the HGC. With the HPA4, I feel I can hear everything, just at a lower volume level.
Good morning, I received my LA4 yesterday and have been using it for all of one day. I think I am back in th preamp camp. But I am also a full Benchmark stack guy now so I think there is a large amount of system synergy taking place.

With the LA4 in the path there is DEFINITELY a new level of volume control. Compared to the DAC3, it is worlds better with very precise and subtle adjustments in .5 decibel increments. What enticed me to get the LA4 was the low volume listening claims since my wife is always telling me to lower the stereo volume. I am not audio technical and will never claim to be but here is how I would explain what I am hearing.

At lower volumes, there is more control in the music, it is"fuller" and not as muffled. It is really surprising and enjoyable. My average listening level is about 40 decibels. Having this device in my signal path has definitely not degraded sound which was always my fear of extra boxes, cables and power cords. My fear was unfounded.  I don't like or need heavy bass response but my setup gives me just enough to say "wow, nice bass".

The touchscreen functionality is pretty cool too, not as polished as Salesforce or Office 365 but it works. As for aesthetics, it is not eye candy or audio jewelry but it is built well and has some heft to it, weighing more than the DAC3. The volume knob feels precise and solid when you rotate it but much less resistance than the DAC3 volume knob. I also used the 12V triggering which is a nice convenience.

I used Van Damme cables from pre to amp and Belden 1800F from DAC to pre so a dissimilar chain but I hope with the "professional" balanced circuitry that Benchmark is always touting, my cabling does not have a noticeable effect. In summary, if you have a Benchmark duo and an extra $2500, you will be very happy with the LA4. I still have 29 days on the trial period but there is no question, I am keeping it for sure. My Benchmark stack totals $7,500 which is a relative bargain in this hobby.
With regards to cabling, I bought the Benchmark StarQuad for my DAC-2-Pre (1 foot) and Pre-2-Amp (15 or 25 feet). It sounded very good and I was thinking I should consider it for my other 3 sources too, even though the 24+ dBu StarQuad signal carrying ability would not be beneficial my commercial (non-pro) gear. I am not technical but just assuming this based on what I have read.

I also had a 12 foot Audience AU24 XLR cable from a decade ago that I decided to upgrade to AU24 SE. That 12 foot XLR AU24 became 4-6 XLR and RCA cables (I forgot exact conversion #'s). You can get 2 RCA's from a single XLR.

I replaced the StarQuad from the DAC3 to HPA4 path and I thought there was a slight bit more clarity in the sound. So out when the StarQuad from DAC to pre and I also added the Audience 24SE to my 3 other sources. I kept the very long StarQuad to the amp. Cost was a consideration there but I also liked what I heard. Maybe ignorance is bliss in this case.

I will be doing something soon to have a non-all Benchmark system.  My new speakers are too demanding for a single AHB2 and I cannot use 2 AHB2's in mono for this speaker (Benchmark concurs). So I will be ordering a new CODA #8 with regular speaker connections and also the same speaker connection as the AHB2 (SpeakOn). This is a custom order.

I am using the SpeakOn on the AHB2 to my speakers and I like the sound and convenience. Especially when I will keep the AHB2 (for some music) and the CODA for most music in my system. It will be easy to flip amps with the SpeakOn. I will be able to see for myself how the HPA4/LA4 sounds with a non-Benchmark piece. The CODA is going to be the noisiest piece in the chain. The CODA #16 is quieter and maybe a better match but it is more expensive and more importantly likely too warm for my room. With the Benchmark gear I am always trying to match it with super quiet gear.
Also in regards to the cables, I had the same experience when I took out the Canare StarQuad and swapped in the Van Damme (prior to the LA4). I was trying to convince myself there was not a sound change but the details really did pop out more.
All I can say is that I have a Benchmark ADC 1 and it is a great little piece made like a swiss watch. Because they do mostly commercial stuff their pricing is down to earth. Great value, great equipment. 
Thanks for sharing that recent interview.  Pretty interesting information and something that resonates is the comment in regards to Benchmark's use of switching power supplies and how in there opinion, they do not understand the audiophile fixation with linear power supplies.

I am really loving my LA4, been listening all weekend, I did not realize how much I missing with the digital volume control of the DAC3.
I think the HGC is some sort of hybrid volume control but nevertheless te LA4 volume is  killer.

In Dec that Absolute Sound review will likely be a rave. It will be interesting to see what happens after that since the LA4 is relatively so low cost.

The Benchmark HPA4 preamplifier, the AHB2 power amplifier, and the DAC3 B. I liked them so much that I purchased them for my reference system. Nuff said!
Are LA4 and HPA4 identical in the preamp function, the only difference being HPA4 adds headphone amp? Or other there other differences?

Edit:  nevermind.  Found the answer on benchmark site that yes, they are identical other than the headphone outputs.
yyzsantabarbara - Totally agree about the performance of Benchmark.  I have the AHB2 and DAC3L and will be adding the LA4.  But in reading all of your posts, what I really wanted to know was what brand of Scotch were you drinking?
Not sure when which photo you are referring to but at the moment in my office I have an empty bottle of Johnnie Walker Double Black (not bad) and a few drops of Oban left in the bottle. Believe it or not, when I went for my last physical (age 53) my doctor told be to drink more scotch. It does wonders for me so he said drink more.

BTW - I sold my HPA4 last week and I am now using a Topping pre90 preamp. It sounds like the HPA4 minus the great headphone amp and the volume dial on the HPA4 is nicer. However, the Topping pre90 cost $599 and actually seems to measure better than the HPA4.

The HPA4/Topping pre90 are my second preamps so I decided to recoup my cash and get the Topping pre90. My main preamp is the CODA 07x.

I should add that the Topping pre90 is as bare bones as it gets. It just takes source inputs and adds volume to it. No balance adjustment, muting, and the interface is pretty crap. However, none of that matters in my use case. The HPA4 is a much more fuller feature set and sounds the same (to me) as the Topping pre90.

Has anyone out there compared the LA4 to a good LDR based preamp such as a Tortuga?  My priorities are transparency and a black background.  The Tortuga does well on this - just wondering if the LA4 May equal it in those areas while offering the benefits of an active preamp.  Thanks for any comments.

I have compared my LA4 (sold my HPA4) to the Topping pre90, which has better measurements than the LA4/HPA4. It was super quiet so the blackest of black backgrounds. However, it really only worked perfectly with my AHB2 and a Parasound A21+. I was going to sell this $700 wonder but decided not to since it works so good with the AHB2 monos I have in my living room. One thing that I noticed is that my KEF KC63 sub sounds better via the Topping pre90 than the Benchmark LA4. Not sure why that is, but this LS50 + KC63 system is a stop gap system until I can get some floorstanders without using a sub. I plan to keep the Topping pre90 in the living room long term.

I have also compared my LA4 with my CODA 07x preamp and they sit side-by-side in my office. I have setup the 2 preamps to be able to play my sources by just changing the XLR cable going into my CODA #8 amp. The reason I use both preamps is because the CODA 07x, while awesome, is not as detailed and quiet as the LA4. I love both preamps and alternate.

I will post some photos of this setup since I am now DONE setting up this system.

Thanks for the comment.  We seem to. Eon the same threads as I have also been active in the  Musetec 005 DAC thread.  After some research, I am thinking about trying a low cost experiment to place a Topping preamp in front of my Decware 2 watt SET amp.  I am happy with the Tortuga but am curious to see if I can get an added benefit from using an active preamp.  

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I went from a Tortuga to the HPA4 1 year ago. Yes, the Tortuga is a great passive, but the HPA4 has better dynamics and detail. It also costs over 4 times the price, so keep that in mind.