Well, if you can afford it, that Bryston is one awesome product! I am not familiar with the Benchmark; the Parasound is also good, being a John Curl design. If it was my money, I would opt for one of those two.
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I owned the Parasound A21 for two years. For whatever reason, I never warmed up to it. It's good value for the money, but if you can stretch your budget there are better options out there. Of course, I'm mindful of the fact that it could have been a victim of synergy, or the lack thereof, with the rest of my system. But the good thing is that the resale on A21s is good. I sold it after two years without losing a dime.
I tested out the Benchmark and was somewhat disappointed by the sound, the hype was so good. Indeed it may have good bass, but lacked a precision to resolve high frequency detail, imagery and delicate subtleties that give the sense of air and space, and most important the subtle artistic feelings.
Ayre and Bryston would be better. Though both need good airflow around them.
Funnily enough I was using Harbeths in the amp test. The Benchmark sounded good in terms of amp / speaker pairing.
I have two A21’s powering A pair of Harbeth SHL5+ and although it sounds lovely, both bi amp and Bieber I feel the Ayre is a better match, only because of the bass extension with the ayre. I do have to turn one A21 down very slightly for the super tweeter though. But for the money you cannot go wrong with parasound
I am not familiar with Harbeths. But on some quick research, I think these are 6ohm speakers with 86dB sensitivity. If this is correct, long story short, you may be happiest with the AHB2s. They have a lot of features. You can run them as stereo amps or bridge them for mono use. They have adjustable gain and they have Neutrik NL4 connections. If you are interested in that Zu Audio makes nice speaker cables with NL4 terminations. These are quiet amps with low distortion. I own a pair of these and love them. I have also owned the Bryston 4B3s. They have more power. They can also be configured to run as bridged mono and are built like tanks with a 20 year warranty from date of manufacturing. It you needed or wanted the most power the Bryston is a good pick. But in an office with bookshelf speakers I think you will get the most clarity from the AHB2s with enough power and headroom for an office setup.
I have owned an A21 since January and only heard it through my Martin Logan speakers, so cannot compare to other amps/speakers as others here can. I can say that my amp does not run hot . . slightly warm only . . but I have it open to room air and would recommend that.
For that price range, Parasound has an updated model with more power, the A21+, which might be a better comparison to the other models you are looking at. Normally $3,000, I’ve seen the A21+ on sale recently for about $2,500.
I think the best sounding product between you options is the Ayre V5xe. I have bought equipment that was driven by that amp. It is built like a tank and Ayre gear sound incredible. It is best when in a fully balanced system but is tremendous in any scenario. This assumes the amp is in great shape. If the amp is not in great shape, I would lean toward Bryston.
I really appreciate all you friends' input and discussion. These are all great amps and that was why I could not make up my mind. The Arye V5xe is local so I will go pick it up for an audition with the Harbeths. This system is mostly put on low volume with classical music. But occasionally I turn the volume up and concentrate on the music for a while. I'd like to have good openness (airy), separation (resolving) and positions (imaging) of the different instruments, etc. Right now the Harbeths are connected to a couple of Music Fidelity M1's and a PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC (no Preamp).Happy Holidays!
I think it all depends upon whether you like a warm sound or a brighter sound and how they match with your speakers. I would certainly try to audition them if you can side by side or at least sit down for a couple of hours to hear what sound most pleasing. What will you like best when hearing them for two hours. This group should be a big help. You are lucky to have them. This is the right place to start. Ask them about what to be prepared to listen for.
it would help to know what preamp you will be using so we can recommend an amp with good synergy. your speakers are already on the warm side of neutral.
i have the Parasound new model a21+ and it sounds excellent driving my more neutral Harbeths with a tube preamp.
It does run a little warm but not room heating warm, however its size and power seem over doing it for an office.
if your preamp is neutral to slightly warm the Benchmark should be perfect provided your pre has balanced outputs.
For (nearfield) listening the ABH2 will be the best. And, the transparency will enhance the ’British roots’ of the Harbeths as pointed out above whilst keeping tight woofer control. Oh, be sure to get the inexpensive Benchmark Media cables especially if you are in a home office environment with I assume with computers and so on. Finally, it has the best volume control of the bunch - 0.5db increments. Makes a soundstage difference. BM has a 30 day money back trial and no-one sends them back.
Which preamp are you using? You can tailor the ABH2 to the source output. It runs cool and sounds like it is not there.