Benchmark LA4 Preamp?

I’m seriously considering buying this $2,500 solid-state preamp and looking for input from anyone who owns or has heard this preamp.  The LA4 is identical to their HPA4 unit just without the headphone amp.

From all the reviews and Benchmark’s site that I’ve read, this seems like an extremely low noise and neutral preamp that may be a very good match for my extremely low noise, neutral and high powered class D D-Sonic M3-600-M monoblock amps that I use to drive a pair of Magnepan 2.7QR 4 ohm speakers.
My main source for 2-ch music is a Lumin D2 dac/streamer for music files and Tidal streaming. For HT, I’ll be using a yet to be determined 4K Bluray player as I’m also transforming from an Oppo 105 1080p player and 1080p hdtv to 4K. The LA4 has caught my attention since it has dual balanced XLR inputs to accommodate the XLR outputs of the Lumin D2 and whatever new Bluray player I choose. I plan on ordering the optional remote for the LA4 which would allow easy selection between music or HT as well as being a low noise, low distortion and neutral conduit for both.

I really appreciate any input on the LA4, or even options for a high quality Bluray player with balanced outputs, that you’re able to offer.

I owned the Benchmark DAC3 and AHB2 so I know the sound well. The LA4 is supposed to be just like the AHB2, that is silent as space. With that in mind I was considering pairing the preamp with a warm sounding amp. Those plans are in the back burner because I am going to demo a speaker that would require me to use DSP for my room. If that demo goes pair shaped, I will likely go back to the LA4. Though I would likely get the headphone version since that headphone amp is getting raves reviews, I do not have any headphones but you never know.

In my situation, if the HPA4 becomes a candidate again (if I do not need DSP), I would contact Rory Rail at Benchmark and ask him for a 30 day free home trial.

If I had a warmish sounding speaker I would consider the LA4/HPA4 with a neutral sounding amp such as the AHB2. My frame of reference was the AHB2 with a KEF LS50 and also Audience 1+1 V3. Both were just slightly warm to offset the stark neutrality of the AHB2.

     Thanks for the input, yysantabarbara.
     I formerly used a VTL 2.5L tube preamp, with a set of 4 NOS Mullard tubes swapped in, with my very low noise and neutral class D monoblocks. This really allowed the sound characteristics of the VTL and NOS tubes to predominate the overall system sound that I really enjoyed for several years.
     But my system was a combo of music and HT; the VTL had HT/Passthru, I had a separate Parasound AV2500 preamp-processor for 5.1 surround duties and I wanted to streamline my whole system. So, I removed the VTL and the preamp-processor and used my versatile Oppo 105 as a preamp for music, a preamp-processor for 5.1 decoding with surround outputs connected directly to multiple amps as well as a dac and a music server with attached 2TB NAS.
      This system configuration, with audio discs and hi-res FLAC files played back through the Oppo 105, sounds much more neutral but I surprisingly discovered I enjoyed music played through a more accurate and neutral system at least equally as much as through my formerly tube flavored system.
     As a result, I’ve decided to make some major system changes for both music and HT. For music, I purchased a Lumin D2 DAC/Streamer and 18 TB Synology NAS, bought an Oppo 205 to be delivered next Friday and likely a Benchmark LA4 preamp.  I’m even considering buying a used pair of class D Merrill Audio Veritas monoblocks.
     My thinking is this combination of components will create a high quality music system that’s main characteristics will be accuracy, very low noise, very low distortion along with high dynamics. I’m expecting this type of system will provide a soundstage illusion that’s dense, solid and stable that’s perceived as 3 dimensional and natural. However, my main concern is that it may sound sterile if I don’t fully commit to achieving it by investing sufficiently in the research, planning and gear.
     For HT, I’m going to upgrade to a 4K 75" OLED hdtv that, along with the Oppo 205, makes me much more confident in creating a high quality HT system.

@noble100 Funny that I am thinking of going the opposite direction as you. Being on the "other side" for a while with the Benchmark gear I would recommend you try the AHB2 amp and the LA4 preamp on the 30 day FREE trial. That is a neutral combo and it was very good with my slightly warm KEF LS50. 

You may also want to try A'gon professional reviewer, @Dougles_Shroeoder,  method of connecting the AHB2. I wish I had tried this when I owned the AHB2, just for curiosity sake.

BTW - I have heard the Merrill amps that were $15K before the latest line came out. I think the AHB2 is still something to listen 1st, especially since it is a free home trial.
I'm hoping that there are more LA4 owners that will chime in with their impressions of how this unit sounds in their systems...and how it sounds in comparison to other preamps they have used.

As to the "Shroeder Method" cables...I'm guessing that some will try making their own....and the links to the already made cable that you can purchase are pretty darn expensive at what looks to be over $1k for a pair...

In researching the LA4, I’ve read many reviews pairing it or the HPA4 (which really is just an LA4 line stage preamp with a headphone amp) with the very low noise, distortion and neutral Benchmark ABH2 stereo amp that describes very good neutral overall system results.
I think yy’s suggestion that I try out the LA4 or HPA4 with the ABH2 amp together for a 30 day free in-home trial, before purchasing a used pair of Merrill Veritas class D monos for about $5K, is a good one.
Buying and using the HPA4, rather than the LA4, probably also makes more sense since it would likely be more valuable and sellable, having both preamp and headphone amp capabilities, on the used market just in case an ultra low noise, ultra low distortion and neutral system doesn’t match my admittedly high expectations.
However, I really like the small size, weight, cool running and high electrical efficiency qualities of the class D Merrill Veritas monoblocks. I currently use a pair of class D D-Sonic monoblocks that sound very good but I’ve always been very curious, based on the numerous excellent reviews I’ve read on the Veritas, just how good they’d perform in my system. I also like the fact that I can leave the class D amps on 24/7, always optimally warmed up and ready for music or HT. I don’t think leaving the much less efficient class AB ABH2 amp would be a good idea.
The HPA4 seems like an ideal solution for my system. It’s a high quality, low noise, low distortion and sonically neutral component that will allow me to conveniently select either music or HT playback, like a very high quality HT/Passthru switch. I like the fact that I can connect both the Lumin D2’s and the Oppo 205’s left and right channels into the preamp via their balanced XLR connections and match the input and output gain levels on all of them.
I also believe the much more sophisticated and precise volume control on the Benchmark preamp will easily better the what I consider the rather poor volume control performance of my current Parasound Halo P-6 preamp which I reluctantly needed to add once I added the Lumin D2 to my system.


     I’ve realized that I’m currently going through one of those stages, that I believe most of us go through periodically, during which even though our systems are performing very well we, nevertheless, get the urge to shake things up a bit and try something different in our systems just for the fun and excitement of it.

     I thought I had a good upgrade experiment all planned out that I’d enjoy by trying to optimize the low noise, low distortion and neutrality of my system and have some fun listening to determine if this resulted in an even more solid, stable, palpable and 3 dimensional soundstage illusion. The main X factor in this experiment being the insertion of the ultra low noise, distortion and neutral qualities of a Benchmark LA4 or HPA4 preamp in my system to replace my current Parasound Halo P6 preamp.

     After a few days of pondering my planned experiment and my desired results, an even more solid, stable, palpable and 3 dimensional soundstage illusion, I’m currently 2nd guessing my planned experiment and wondering if inserting a used Mark Levinson 326S preamp (for about double the price of the LA4 or HPA4 options) has a better chance of providing my overall system goals primarily for music playback. 

Here’s an older Stereophile review of the 326S:

Here’s an example of one in very good condition currently for sale:

Any thoughts?

@noble100  For what it's worth, I demoed the Magico A3 with the Mark Levinson $20K each separates, I think the preamp was the 326S (the latest top of the line in 2019). I inserted the AHB2 amp instead of the ML mono amps and the sound went down in quality. It seemed like the sound was brought back into the speaker. The ML amps pushed the sound away from the speakers. I attributed this to not enough power from a single AHB2. 

In terms of clarity and low noise. I did not notice that much of a difference with the complete ML stack vs having the AHB2 amp in the mix. Maybe the preamp's sound signature dominated the setup. The sound was not as clear as with my DAC3 + AHB2 at home. However, the ML sound was actually better for my ears.

You may want to investigate a used ML 585 integrated which is somewhat close to the sound of the ML separates and can be found today used for $5K - $6K. I was told the 585 is still better than the new 5000 series except for a slightly older DAC.

Not exactly what you asked but maybe interesting to you.
Hello yysantabarbara,

     Funny, I was at Audio Solutions here in Indy last Saturday with a friend listening to and comparing a used pair of blue Magico A3s and a used pair of Sonus Faber Stradivari, both in excellent condition.
     My friend owns an ML585 integrated and he and I both love its sound. But his wife wants him to replace his big Avantgarde Acoustic horns with something more normal looking for their mountain lodge home’s living room in Idaho and I tagged along to help him decide. He’d narrowed his search down to these two speakers and they both are very good.
     For the lengthy auditions, the shop was using their own ML 585 integrated demo amp along with a Lumin S1 DAC and hi-res files. We both agreed the Magico A3s were better performers than the Sonus Faber Stratavari in all categories except bass response and looks. We discussed possible solutions and he opted for the A3s and a pair of 12" REL subs.
     You continue to offer excellent advice, thanks. Extended listening to the ML 585 on both of these speakers convinced me that I really enjoy the excellent sonic character of the ML 585 integrated, too. These listening sessions are the main reason I decided to buy a used ML 326S preamp. I really want to add some of what I consider the general ML sonic characteristics to my system; an overall neutral, detailed and smooth sound with just a touch of bloom along with projecting a solid, stable, 3 dimensional and palpable soundstage that’s realistically and naturally wide and deep. I’m also very impressed with the silky smooth, detailed and extended ML treble response that I never perceived as harsh or bright.
     After hours of auditioning, I’m now completely certain I could happily live with the convenience and very high sound quality of the ML 585 in my system. However, I know I also highly value the added flexibility provided by using separates.
     Ironically, I’ve decided to take advantage of that flexibility while also hopefully obtaining at least a modicum of the excellent ML specific sonic attributes by making the following significant changes to my combo 2-ch music and HT system:system over the next month or so that I’ve already begun:

1. I purchased a 4K Oppo 205, at what I consider a reasonably premium price of $2,100, to replace my 1080p Oppo 105 universal A/V disc player.
2. I purchased a 4K LG 9C 75" OLED hdtv to replace my 1080p 65" Panasonic plasma.
3. I added a Lumin D2 dac/streamer, 20 TB SynologyNAS (currently loaded with 18 TB of music files) controlled by an iPad running a Lumin app.
4. Soon will be purchasing a used ML 326S preamp to replace my Parasound Halo P-6 preamp.
5. Soon will be purchasing a used pair of class D Merrill Veritas mono-blocks to replace my pair of class D D-Sonic mono-blocks.

Fairly significant changes to my combo system that I’m fairly confident will all be worth it by resulting in significant system performance gains.

I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing the results,

     My 1st choice remains the ML326S preamp due to the fact that I really enjoy the ML sound characteristics, it has all the functionality I'd like/need and I LOVE the small rather chunky metal remote (the same as the ML585 integrated amp comes with) that fits so perfectly in the palm of my hand.  
     However, I'm a bit concerned that I may not be able to find a pre-owned 326S in very good condition at the $5K price I planned (these new had a msrp of $10K), although I am willing to pay a reasonable premium just for that awesome remote.
     As a result, I've identified the Aesthetix Saturn Calypso preamp as a possible alternative option to the ML 326S.  I'd still likely be purchasing a pre-owned unit in very good condition but it's reassuring to know that the Calypso is still a current Aessthetix product that they continue to manufacture at their facility in California.  
     The Calypso's new msrp price is $4,500 but I've seen pre-owned units offered online for up to $2K less, so either are within my $5K budget.  My only current concern is whether, since the Calypso is a hybrid ss/tube design and uses 2 tubes per channel, it will provide the low noise, low distortion and highly detailed performance I'm desiring in order to create my goal of a soundstage illusion that is wide, deep, dense, solid, stable, 3 dimensional and natural.
      From the numerous reviews I've read on the Calypso, it seems like it's a very high quality performer.  But I was hoping others might chime in with their thoughts on the Calypso as a preamp option, especially if they've had personal experience utilizing a Calypso in their own system.

Tim, I have two friends with Calypso's and both (while sounding big and fun) have a pretty high noise floor, a hiss that sounds like white noise when the music is not playing. If you are used to a low noise floor like me, it might be a hard switch for you, I would not be able to get used to it. 

Hello chrissain,

     Yes, I also prefer the detail enhancing qualities of a low noise floor. Thanks for your input since a hiss would drive me crazy, too.
     Fortunately, I found a used Levinson 326S preamp for sale at a local high-end audio shop here in Indy in very good condition and at a reasonable price that’s within my budget.
     I just installed it in my system a few days ago and it’s excellent. Extremely low noise floor, neutral, accurate and very detailed overall without any trace of harshness or brightness. I’m thrilled with it and I’m really digging the sweet remote, too.

Have to say the ML 326S looks interesting. However, I could never use it, as my DACs all output much higher voltages than the 326S can handle unless I were to use the 0 dB gain setting. To me, at least, that seems a serious design flaw.

Currently waiting for the LA4 ordered from a local dealer, but word is that due to demand, I'll have to wait at least three weeks, maybe up to six as I'm not in the USA.

Whatever preamp one uses, I thought Benchmark's discussion of the benefits of balanced analogue connections was the most comprehensive piece on the subject I've yet seen.
Hello dr_joe,

     I was very close to ordering the Benchmark LA4. I think you’ll probably really enjoy it and I still think it’d work well in my system. About 6 months ago, when I was looking at preamps to replace my Parasound Halo P6, my goal was to try a very neutral and accurate preamp to go with my very neutral and accurate D-Sonic M3-600-M class D mono-block amps.
     But I happened to stop by a local audio/video shop here in Indy one Saturday and listened to the ML5805 integrated amp driving a pair of Magico and then a pair of Sonus Faber speakers on a customer demo. I really enjoyed the sonic qualities and extremely solid and stable imaging I heard that I mainly attributed to the Lumin D2 dac and ML integrated amp, which created the best sound stage illusion I’d ever experienced. The overall sound was very neutral, accurate and detailed but also had just a touch of euphonic sweetness that I really liked.
     This caused me to rethink my preferences and system goals. I thought I wanted absolute neutrality with nothing added or subtracted from the music. I reasoned that any euphonic sweetness should be the result of the music and not imparted by any playback equipment. I still believe in this concept in theory but felt that ML equipment was reproducing music in such a beautiful and natural manner, along with creating such an amazingly realistic 3D sound stage imaging, that I became concerned about whether the LA4, being extremely neutral in character, would be able to match the sound qualities I experienced through the ML gear.
     Long story somewhat short, I decided to buy a used ML 326S preamp for about $5K, knowing the ML 5805 integrated was basically a 326S preamp section combined with a ML class AB amp in a single integrated box, hoping to infuse my system with the same sonic qualities.
     Fortunately, this strategy worked like a charm and I’ve been enjoying music played back on my system more than ever. Just to play it safe, I also bought a new Lumin D2 dac/streamer along with the preowned 326S preamp from this dealer.

Best wishes,
Abery, just spent some time trying to find the Benchmark review you refer to, both online and in my hard copy magazines.  No luck. Would appreciate more information...issue number and page if possible.  Thanks. 
The new Absolute Sound with the Benchmark review just arrived. It’s a brief review with a full review promised in a future issue.  It’s one of the most positive reviews I’ve ever read anywhere ...even taking into account that most AS reviews are pretty positive.  
The Benchmark HPA4 (same as the LA4 + headphone amp) is the best audio piece I have ever owned. Just love it.

BTW - Does the new Absolute Sound have a review of the Yamaha NS5000? I do not see it online. For my System #2, I am going to be hooking up an all Benchmark system with the NS5000. AHB2 x 2 + HPA4 + DAC3B + Benchmark XLR + Benchmark speaker cable. Neutrality is what I want in this system. I just got the AHB2 (being shipped) and it is going to be great with the HPA4. Just need to buy the NS5000 now.
In the same Golden Ear Awards section as the Benchmark, AS has a short review of ihe Yamahs 5000 system. There’s also,a much longer review elsewhere in the issue. All very positive.  
A dealer told me that both AS and Stereophile submit their proposed reviews in draft to the manufacturers...who are often their advertisers...for pre publication feedback and allow them to veto negative reviews.  This may account for the lack of negative reviews. Unfortunately, it means that readers/consumers have no way of knowing whether a product which has no published review actually  received a  bad review  which was vetoed by the manufacturer or was never reviewed.  
Yes, I have heard similar about various entities.

The reason I was interested on the review was not to read about the sound quality. I have demoed them so I already know. I want to learn more about the road map for the NS line of speakers. Sometimes these reviews go into the business side of things. It is impossible to get any feedback from Yamaha as a consumer. Though a dealer is trying to get more info for me at the moment by contacting Yamaha themselves..
I've read numerous reviews in forums, etc that The HPA4 is quiet as a mouse and gets out of the way
With that silence you hear music that was obscured before.

The other night I wanted celebrate a big win by one of my sports teams. So I cranked up 2112 by RUSH because it was a Toronto team that won.

I am listening on headphones via the HPA4, my Meze Empy phones are not even supposed to be detail kings like the Focal Utopia, I start hearing echo in one track that never heard before and I knew this track for 40 years. This echo, purposefully added by the musicians, added a nice quality to the song. I am like where the heck did that echo come from. You feel like you are hearing all the music with this gear and I get so immersed into the music.
I'm using the HPA4 as preamp driving my active ATC SCM100 towers.
The best way to think of this pre is as a direct conduit that allows source selection and volume control.
This makes it the theoretical ideal preamp, but I think it's clear that not everyone wants this sort of truthfulness to source.
If you're looking for something to warm up or otherwise embellish/emphasise your sound in any way, then look elsewhere.  
I think the HPA4 is a great piece of equipment - especially when you consider that other companies that pursue this perfectionist ultra low distortion/noise approach charge far more. 
I have been using the LA-4 Line Amplifier since early this year. Simply put, it is "the sound of silence." I have a rather simple, but not an inexpensive system.

System: Aurender W20SE, Vivaldi DAC, Vivaldi Word Clock, Pass Labs XA-160 mono block amplifiers (soon to be replace with the MBL 9008A mono block amplifiers), MBL 101E MkII speakers and Tripoint NG ground system. Acoustic Zen Absolute Silver balanced interconnects and Absolute Silver speaker cables (dual pair bi-wiring for each channel). Audioquest Wild Digital balanced interconnects (dual-wire configuration). Shunyata Research Sigma word clock cables and Alpha power cords. Shunyata Research power conditioning for source components. Six dedicated 20 amp outlets.

When I purchase the dCs Vivaldi units, I was using the Pass Labs XP-30 preamplifier. When the XP-30 was compared to the Vivaldi digital volume control, I could clearly hear a slight haze (veiling) to music when played through the XP-30. So, out went the XP-30 to a new home and for a while I only used the Vivaldi volume control. However, I am not so much a fan of digital volume controls, and for bit was searching around for a preamplifier. Having a simple system, I really had no need for preamplifiers with numerous input/output options. What I really wanted was a simple, linear preamplifier with a killer volume control.

It was following a Stereophile review on the LA-4 that got me thinking this line amplifier might be worth pursuing (a 30 day money back guarantee from Benchmark made this an easy experiment). Well, I was not prepared for the purity and lack of editorialization on sound through the LA-4. There is lot invested in my front end and down stream. The LA-4 simply gets out of the way. It is the closest to a straight wire with gain I have heard.

The downside of the LA-4: I is ruthless revealing and some may find rather sterile. There are no added colorations (least that I can appreciate), so if recordings are poor, they will sound poor. It will also lay bare the capabilities of components up stream.

The LA-4 has done nothing to the alter the performance of the Vivaldi/Aurender front end combination. The "sound of silence" and very highly recommended. 
@nedkuehn You did what I am hoping to do with the HPA4. I was going to get the Mola Mola Makua at close to $20K but I kept reading that the LA4 is like a $20K preamp and also silent like the Makua. So I tried the HPA4 and I came to the same conclusion you did. I took it one step further by buying the AHB2 amp a few weeks ago and hope to get delivery next week. The plan was to get a Luxman m900u or Coda #16 to flavor the sound, but since the HPA4 was so good I wanted to give the AHB2 a try for 1/5th the cost. Even if I want that additional flavor with the amps I have a second system where the AHB2 can be used.

There are a few folks on Whats Best Forum having both a $20K preamps and the LA4, that are stating the same observations as you. They also have very expensive sources components and amps.
I feel that this a killer product that the Audiophile’s will ignore. Price is not the issue, performance is what is so important. I have a very expensive system, yet my ears tell me that this kit is one to beat. I am not in a race to the top, I what is the best regardless of price. I spent heavily on the DAC aspect as that will break or make the music. Long ago I was heavily invested in records. I find the platform flawed. Most new recordings on records are from digital masters. Some reviewers on these recordings indicate that the vinyl version is better than the digital versions. How can that be? There must be some degree alterations on the recordings that translates to vinyl that changes ones perception. I in the past to have found vinyl to have a certain homogeneity that is pleasing, yet not totally accurate. Ear candy, but not totally accurate. Digital I find a bit ruthless, yet not lacking with the right kit. I guess one needs to chose their on poison. I will not judge as each has their way to experience the brilliant world of music. 
Way off subject, but I find the MBL101E MKII speakers are so real to music. I have had a pile of speakers over the years, rather expensive dynamic and electrostatics, yet nothing has achieved a holistic experience to sound as these. I find most, if not all, dynamic speakers today to be dry and forward. Planar speakers are always quick, but a bit lacking due to backward room energy and sound pressure. I guess I have found my sweet spot with a true omnidirectional speaker. It simply sounds like real music. There is no precise imaging as a dynamic speaker. I have yet to attend a concert that had precise imaging. I find this to be an artifact of our current site of affairs. I had played in band and orchestra in years past, there is no laser imaging, the music should flow as as a gestalt of the group. Yea, a horn or other soloist will stand out, but the ensemble will play as one. Today’s goals are dissection rather exploration of the gestalt of the musical experience (wether jazz, orchestra, reggae, electronic, pop, rock, etc.) I listen to all (even at nearly 64y). 
@nedkuehn - Benchmark is selling the LA4 | HPA4 | AHB2 very well. I have made 3 orders in the last 4 months and they are always running out. I hope to get my amp this month after ordering it 3 weeks ago. I inquired with Rory Rail, sales guy at Benchmark, about it and he said sales are very strong. It is not just supply constraints. So audiophiles may skip the Benchmark gear but a lot of others are not.

I believe I heard your MBL speaker at a show and also the a few other omni speakers at various shows. Loved them. I had an Audience 1+1 V3 speaker, which is an omni, but never could get it right due to space constraints. However, I think I was also prejudiced about what the correct sound was, imagining, soundstage, etc... I should have remembered the speaker my dad had when I was a kid, the Allison 2. It put music out all over the room unlike most current speakers. Loved the music back then and never thought a second about imaging, soundstage, etc...
I should add, for those tempted,  that Music Direct allows a 60 day home trial (instead of the usual 30 days) and seems to have very good customer service.  
Music Direct rocks, 60 day is great, but I suspect that a 2 week break-in time will be enough to make a discussion. Just plug it into an outlet and turn it on to max volume and leave the LA-4 for a few weeks. All will be will well once in I the system afterwards. 
This is not a kit that will get sweeter with time. It is ruthless, yet so revealingly. If you what some editorializing on sound, this is not your device. I find that that a truthful line amplifier will balance the front and back end brilliantly. 
I have seen that folks are comparing the LA-4 to preamplifiers in the $20,000 range, I feel that this goes way beyond that point. 
If you have a simple system, this is your go to Line Amplifier. I have no investment or prior knowledge of Benchmark (other than prior reviews of their products). This is my first experience with the company. They simply have hit a home run on a great kit. For that, I am impressed.  
@fast I hated headphones since I thought they sounded awful and gave me fatigue. The HPA4 was reputed to be one of the best headphone amps in the world. So for $500 more than the LA4 I thought it would be a good idea to get the HPA4, just in case I go back to the dark side.

Now after 3 months of mostly headphone only listening I can say I was missing out by not paying attention to headphones for the past decade. Today, I use a Meze Empyprean headphone and it is incredible. Still not as great as a 2 channel but great in it’s own way. The HPA4 is an incredible value when you also consider the headphone aspect + the 2 channel. The beauty of the HPA4 is that you get a mini AHB2 inside the HPA4. You can definitely hear the silence.

Music Direct is also where I buy my next speaker, the Yamaha NS5000. It has been a pleasure dealing with them so far. The Benchmark gear will drive that speaker (using 2 AHB2's)
Going from the warm sound to no sound maybe something to see if you would like with a home trial first. What amps and source do you have?

You guys are making me very curious again about the Benchmark low distortion, low noise approach I was originally keen on trying out with one of their preamps. The approach of just getting out of the way and letting the music itself add any sweetening to the overall sound still makes a lot of intuitive sense to me. The results many of you are attaining with the Benchmark preamps just further validates my thinking.on the benefits of overall system neutrality.
I understand that my choice of the ML 326S preamp instead, which I perceive as basically very accurate and revealing but as adding just a touch of sweetness and palpability in general, may stop a few degrees short of absolute neutrality but I still continue to enjoy it very much.
Of course. without actually auditioning the Benchmark in my system I can’t be certain but I’m imagining I’m experiencing a similar level of neutrality with the ML. However, I’m thinking I’ll probably need to just try the Benchmark out to compare and know for sure which preamp I ultimately prefer.

After years of emails to Benchmark support with endless questions on the application of their DAC 3L with various amplifiers, and with excellent, patient responses from Rory Rall, I made the purchase about two months ago.  Over many years of having used excellent DACs from Cary Audio and McIntosh, the Benchmark is truly a stunner.  I am hearing an astounding increase in detail and clarity from recordings.  While I truly admire Benchmark's LA4 and AHB2 power amp and owning one (or two?) is still on my radar, I decided to pair the 3L with mono-blocked tube McIntosh MC275VI's. The combination has proven to be amazing and again I have to thank Benchmark with guidance on proper matching. While I have 45 years of experience with McIntosh, the quality, performance and support from Benchmark is second to none.
Agreed, they always respond to emails promptly and answer the phone!  When my amp failed shortly after receiving it they resolved it promptly with a replacement.  It took me about a year and it was totally unplanned but I eventually converted my entire system to their amp dac and pre one by one.
On the LA4 can XLR and RCA be used at the same time? Would like to try one but not really enough outputs for running 4 subs.
@flat4 Yes both XLR and RCA can be used at the same time. I'm about to list one for sale, feel free to PM me.
It looks like I blabbered a lot on this thread. So here is one more:

I have some incredible sound in my office now. It is a small room with a big Thiel CS3.7 speaker. The system is composed of the following:

1) Benchmark DAC3B (connected to XLR1 on HPA4)
2) Benchmark HPA4
3) Benchmark AHB2 x 2
4) Benchmark StarQuad XLR between all the gear listed above
5) Audience FrontRow speaker cable with SpeakON amp connections

I also have 3 other sources connected to the HPA4:
- XLR2: Sony SCD-1 SACD (no DSP used)
- RCA1: Magnum Dynalab 102 tuner (no DSP used)
- RCA2: AudioMirror Tubadour III SE DAC (shipped tomorrow, will use DSP)

I mentioned earlier in the 11-17-2019 post that if I were to get a big speaker and use DSP I would not be able to use a Benchmark preamp. That was a wrong statement. I discovered ROON Convolution files that allows the application of DSP before the ROON server sends the bits to the DAC. I had these Convolution files remotely created for me by a professional sound engineer (a real star at this). They run on my ROON server which sends the bits to my Benchmark DAC3B (or AMT3SE DAC) and then that outputs analog to the Benchmark preamp.

This is such a good sounding system now. The only change I will ever need to to this office system is recalibrate the Convolution files if I move to a new house.

I should add that I also added Fibre optical streaming via a few components to the DAC3B. With the highly resolving Benchmark stack it was so easy to hear the improvement over my old microRendu streamer. So good that I bought a second set of the same streaming gears for the AMT3SE that is on it’s way.
@yyzsantabarbara Make sure you give your AMT3 at least 50 hours of break in. Of all the components I’ve owned, the change in sound was the most dramatic for this one. For the first 20 hours, I thought I made a mistake and was ready to return it. Glad I persisted though. 
@arafiq  The AMT designer, Vlad, told me the same today. Minimum of 50 hours. However, I see others saying 100-150 for some caps that my unit has. This DAC will used mostly with the RAAL SR1a headphones and the CODA CSiB. I think it will be amazing.

The AMT will also get playtime with the Benchmark stack too. I was told I may not be able have the RCA and XLR DAC outputs connected at the same time with the AMT DAC. Unlike my Benchmark DAC3B which has no problem with RCA and XLR outputs connected at the same time to the CODA integrated and HPA4 preamp. Not a big deal to work around that though.
Hello yyzsantabarbara,

      And you claim you actually get work done in this so called office?  
     You lost me at Convolution files, it's the first I've heard mention of these.  Could you describe the concept and the audible benefits you perceive from using them?

Thanks Tammy for bringing this thread back.

@noble100 You are right that I am not getting much work done. That is OK for now since I am on a quiet period work wise. The music sounds so good now that I spend a lot of time being distracted by music instead of concentrating on work. First world problems.

Take a look at the photos of my awful room. I need to update these photos with the new gear I described in the prior post.

A big speaker in what looks like a totally inappropriate room. Today after doing the steps that are described in the links listed below, the sound I have is pure perfection.

Watch the 20 minute video described in this current A’gon thread. The presenter talks about ROON Convolution for headphones. I use it for 2 channel not headphones. My Meze Empy and RAAL SR1a headphones do not have Convolution settings in the extension described in the video. So I just use Convolution files for 2 channel speakers.

I have these Convolution files created by this guy.
A Sound Engineer and a real superstar at his craft. He did this work remotely from Canada after I gave him my room acoustic measurements.

The next link is a deep dive to the details of how the Convolution files were created . You need to follow the links I lay out in my posts.

Using Benchmark LA4 preamp driving 2 x Quad 909 power amps powering my Neat Motive 1 speakers. Overall sound is exceptional. Clean and relaxed. I used couple preamps before … Krell KRC-3 and Quad 99 … sound was great, but never exceptional. Now I have exceptional 😉👍.