PS Audio BHK versus Benchmark

Hi Fellow Audiophiles,

I have a full PS Audio BHK system, BHK Pre, BHK 300 amps, DirectStream DAC, and a P15 power regenerator.  I have very much enjoyed the PS gear and the service from PS Audio.  However, that itch for something new is kicking in and I am thoroughly intrigued by the technology, engineering, and rave reviews of the Benchmark electronics.

Has anyone ever compared the two systems or any individual pieces, such as the DACs?


Normal person: So what do you like to do?
Me: Listen to music
Normal person: Oh cool, I like music too
Me: NO!  You do not understand!
Ag insider logo xs@2xaudionutjeff
benchmark has a leaner brighter sound than psa bhk d-stream

if you feel your current system sounds a touch dark or slow, not quite enough detail, then it may be a good move

otherwise, it would be a lateral move with an unwelcome tonality shift at best
The Benchmark gear is a much different sound than what you currently own. It is likely the quietest stack of gear you will hear anywhere, this makes a huge difference to me (maybe not to others). I have a all Benchmark stack, including their StarQuad XLR between the preamp and amp. What I would suggest to you is to get the Benchmark LA4 and AHB2 to your house for a 30 day home trial (nothing to lose). You did not mention what speakers you have but you may need 2 AHB2’s. Talk with Rory Rail at Benchmark and he will help you out. Ask him about the XLR connections too. My sources all use Audience AU24 SE XLR and RCA to the HPA4 preamp (same as LA4 + headphone).

The DAC3B is OK. I got it because I wanted to hear an all-BM stack and it was only $1580. However, the rumor is that this DAC is a little congested with a small soundstage. It does sound tonally great with the HPA4 I have.

I bought a Matrix Audio Mini-i Pro 3 DAC yesterday and will try it out, replacing the DAC3B. I bought the Matrix for a headphone only bedroom system but it should be an interesting comparison with the DAC3. I will keep the better DAC with the Benchmark system. I am eventually looking to get a $5K-ish DAC to go into the Benchmark system. Looking at things like AudioByte Vox, Rockna Wavelight, Halo May Level3.

I personally do not think the Benchmark gear needs much burn in. The designer says none is needed and I agree with that. I have owned a few BM pieces over the years (including the same item 2x). I say this because the 30 day trial will get you hearing the best out of this gear almost immediately.
Thank you both for the insight.  My main speakers are MBL 111f which are terrific, but pretty hungry.  I would probably need two amps.  I’m also dabbling in mods and DIY.  I have a speaker rig that I use in different configurations.  It’s open baffle with a wonderful Voxativ full range driver plus different woofer options.  It doesn’t need much power, but a pair of nice light AHB amps would be really good for bi-amping.  
I’m with you on the Benchmark DAC, I’ve heard it described as sterile.  I am really intrigued by the amps though.  If those amps are really that neutral, then it is really the sound of the source and speakers that you’re listening to.  I could see saving the money on amps by going with the Benchmarks and putting the difference into a next level DAC (I have a really good vinyl system).  
Yyz, interesting DAC suggestions, what speakers are you using?  Thanks for the 30 day trial recommendation, I was thinking about that too.  I’ll give Rory a call next week.  
Benchmark amps are known to struggle with some power and current hungry speakers, and running two will actually make that worse, not better, because it halves the impedance seen.

You definitely want to call them and ask, and when you do know the impedance (nominal and minimum) and sensitivity ratings of your speakers.

Suffice it to say there are many speakers that BHK 300’s will power easily that AHB2 will shut down on and be unable to. 

Whether yours are one of those, I don’t know. Your trial period would reveal, but call them first to avoid wasting time. They know their amp’s limitations, so much so that each time I’ve called with interest in AHB2 they make sure to ask what speakers I’ll be using 
Thanks Kren, I was not aware of that.  I check in the negative column because I tend to change and experiment with different speakers.  
Here's the kicker. The BHK may a hard sell due to the fact so many people got HUGE discounts before PSA went direct. The last I checked, quite a few for sale and I'm not certain they are actually selling for the cheaper used prices. I believe that was one of the main reasons PSA went direct. Their resale value was alike a GM car....worse than normal. 

However, you do have a wonderful system made with top quality components. I have a BHK pre and the only upgrade I am thinking of is a McIntosh c2700. Yes...I did get the BHK super cheap brand new 
Indeed, concerned about that.  Interestingly, my BHK Pre replaced a McIntosh C2200.  C2700 is a nice piece, lots more flexibility than the BHK.  This is a crazy hobby!
@audionutjeff I would not personally call the DAC3B sterile sounding but someone coming from a more tube like presentation likely would. I like the DAC3B, but I think I can do better at around 2x plus cost.

The speakers I now own, but are in my garage being completely refurbished, is the Thiel CS 3.7. This speaker plays in the 2 - 3 Ohm range for most of the audioband and should not match well with 2 AHB2s. However, I have done a lot of research on this, including talking with John Siau, Rory Rail, Tom Thiel, and a lot of A'gon posters. I am going to go ahead and get 1 more AHB2 to try out on a 30 day home trial. My single AHB2 actually is not bad in my small room, but I get the feeling more power even at lower volume many be better. That is why I want to test it out. At the moment my KEF LS50 is back in the system.

I also found out that Benchmark cannot publish the spec on the AHB2 in mono form at 2 Ohm. This is because the tests require a constant signal for 30 minutes, which the mono AHB2 cannot do (stereo version can). They said that this is not a realistic musical situation and 2 AHB2s will be fine in my situation. They also said the mon AHB2 can even go down to 1 Ohm. I will find out, but will do so much later since this is a much lower audio priority issue.

There is another amp that likely sounds very much like the AHB2 that I am also considering. It is the new amps based on the Purifi modules. New more powerful modules are expected in the near future. These will have 1000+ watts at 2 Ohm. Perfect for my speakers and also super silent like the AHB2. They are Class D but I think from all accounts sounds very much like the AHB2.

BTW - I think the LA4/HPA4 are the best pieces that Benchmark sells. Just an incredible preamp.
You have a great system. Take a break. If you are not happy with the sound it's likely the room.