April / May 2009
Bryston audio products are backed by some of the best warranties in the business. Twenty years on all their analog circuits, meaning every amplifier and preamplifier they make. I find it highly unusually, and very refreshing, to find a twenty-year warranty on audio products. As for their digital gear like the processor and the external DAC they come with a five year warranty and three years for their CD player. To me this makes a pretty strong statement about the company’s belief in the products they sell. Please check their website for complete details on all their warranties. In an effort to produce quality products rather than mass produced quantities, Bryston technicians are not pressured by quotas or schedules.
In fact they are offered flexible work hours and have the chance to share in the company’s success. The goal being to carefully produce quality products with a low return rate in an effort to create higher customer satisfaction. According to their website the technicians take between thirty and thirty-five hours to assemble just one amplifier (or preamplifier) so as you can see they are not putting these out in traditional assembly line fashion. The website goes into more details about company philosophies, and being a graduate with a B.A. in Psychology, I must admit that I like many of their ideas with regards to the treatment of employees. After all it is the employees that have a direct impact on the overall product delivered to you the consumer. You can read more details concerning this at their website located under the tab labeled Company where you then will find the sub tab Philosophy.
A Redesigned Product
Unfortunately I never did a formal review on the original 7B's, although I did almost purchase them. When I bought my Legacy Focus 20/20 speakers (weighing in at 180 lbs each) from my local dealer he told me to mate them with the Bryston 7B's. I did listen to that wonderful combination and the only thing holding me back at the time was that I was purchasing the Legacy speakers with Rosewood finish, which retailed for around $7000, and needed to wait a little before approaching my wife with the idea that we also needed a new amplifier. I can be pretty convincing but my "old" amplifier was still less than only one year old and I did not think even I could pull that one off.
I was right, as she had never seen the size of the Legacy's until I unloaded them from the truck and brought them into our home, which caused quite a stir for the rest of the evening. In the back of my mind though I have always wanted to own a pair of Bryston amplifiers. When the opportunity came for me to review the new 7B SST2 amplifiers I was like a kid the night before his birthday staying up late at night dreaming of playing with the presents he hoped to get the next day. Being that it was a long while ago and with different rooms and associated equipment I can not officially compare the two. However while the original 7B's sounding good enough that I wanted to purchase them, I do not remember being as impressed as I was with the newer version being reviewed today.
Features And Benefits
The binding posts on the back have the ability to accept spade lugs, banana plugs or stripped bare wire. I found them to be an excellent set of posts working easily and making proper contact with the cables. If you order the pro model you also get a level control that can attenuate the input signal level from 0dB through -14dB, mine was not the pro model. On my C-Series there was a line voltage status indicator light on the back which should constantly light up green (if it is blinking green there is a problem) when the back power control switch is set to on. Unless you are switching wires or using the amplifier for the first time and are setting it up you should always leave this switch set to on and use the power switch on the front for the amplifier on/off functioning.
Looking further we next see an external control voltage power-up switch labeled local and auto. This along with the accompanying outlet is to be set to local for use with the front panel SST Power switch or external if an external source is required to power-up the amplifier. I left it set to local. Lastly the back panel features the obligatory (at least at this price range) IEC connector. Here I decided to first listen with the supplied factory power cord which being 12 gauge was quite robust and worked fairly well. I am however a believer in using after market power cords to coax the most from your components and feel that they can up the performance level enough to justify their existence as long as the price range is keep in perspective with the product on hand. Having numerous power cords available to me I was able to experiment, finally deciding on some Audience e power cords at $674 each to use for the listening tests.
These power cords coupled with some Acoustic Revive XLR and RCA interconnects as well as their SPC-PA speaker cables comprised my review cable ensemble for the Bryston amplifiers. On the front panel (mine had the 19" rack mounted silver faceplate with handles versus the 17-inch faceplate without handles), is an LED light to indicate the various stages that monitor the following amplifier conditions.
During my review period I never was able to drive the amplifier into clipping nor did the LED display ever turn anything but red for off and green for on. As hard as I ran the amplifiers they did not even get hot to the touch. Looking now to the bottom of the faceplate located below the LED light is a power on/off switch labeled "SST" which is how the amplifiers are turned on when the master circuit breaker power switch on the back is left on. Each amplifier weights about fifty pounds which for me was quite easy to lift and move into place. Bryston amplifiers are all designed to be Mono in that each channel is separate with independent power supplies, sharing only chassis and power cord. Both my wife and I found the silver faceplate design version to be quite attractive in appearance which is always an added bonus. However, now came the crucial part of this evaluation, how did these impressive looking feature ridden amplifiers fit into the scheme of contributing to the improvement of the sound in my review system? To start out with, and for most of the review, I listened using the balanced outputs from amplifiers to preamplifier. My CD, though, did not have a balanced output and there I was forced to use unbalanced RCA cables.
The Listening Sessions
Moving along now to a CD I had long since abandoned, which was stored in a portion of my garage where old discs go to rest, I pulled out the original motion picture soundtrack to Sleepless in Seattle [EK 53764}. Now I will admit it, I loved this movie, so I bought the soundtrack. It really never did impress me all that much though when listening to it on my home rig. Not impressed that is until now. Let us start out with Louis Armstrong, the great Satchmo, singing "A kiss to Build a Dream On" where the opening piano notes and drums seem to set the tone of the song as they seemed to flow smoothly out of my speakers to rest gently upon my ears. Shortly afterwards you hear Mr. Armstrong with his uniquely distinctive voice, while a trombone plays quietly and clearly in the background. After a little while he naturally chimed in with his magnificent trumpet playing. Now I always find that vocals and horns are easily recognizable as to whether they are having correct timbre or not and I found the 7B SST2 amplifiers to do an excellent job of giving us a proper rendition of this performance.
Not to be outdone was Dr. John and Rickie Lee Jones with their interpretation of the song "Makin' Whoopee". Here the Bryston amplifiers created their magic once again on vocals as they gave me that intimate almost tube like sound. Now there was one thing I especially liked about these amplifiers, among a host of exceptional other qualities they possess, was their ability to sound incredible even at low volumes. Many tube amplifiers can do this but I find that some solid-state designs to need that little extra volume boost to sound better. Not these amplifiers though as they mesmerized me even at lower sound volume levels. Do not get me wrong with 600-watts of power they could fill your house to levels that please even the most die-hard rockers. Fortunately you do not need to play them loud to enjoy their sonic attributes. This makes for great late night listening sessions, which in my family I am famous for, when you do not want to disturb those that are resting peacefully.
I am not a headphone type of guy, in fact my preamplifier does not have a headphone jack, so for me the way these amplifiers sounded at a lower volume was an important feature. When I mentioned this to James Tanner at Bryston he emailed me explaining that the point of the Squared design was that "the first watt has to sound as good as the last watt". One last note about this disc is when listening to "When I Fall In Love" with Celine Dion and Olive Griffin, a fantastic song by the way, I heard a strange voice that quickly started and stopped. Moments later I heard it again and looked up to notice my older son talking to me. Perhaps it was a combination of being enveloped by the song and the review process but the singers sounded so "real". It gave the illusion of them being in the room, with me and my son, making it hard to differentiate between the two (live versus recorded). This is definitely a powerful statement in favor of these amplifiers. Those of you who are fans of Celine Dion will love the way the power of the Brystons can take her voice to high sound levels that will truly impress. At the same time, within that same song, they never failed to create that intimate magic of Olive Griffin's voice as he sang his part of the duet at softer levels. This disc will now stay in my main library for at least as long as the 7B SST Squared amplifiers are in the house.
XLR Versus RCA Cable Connections
The Sweet Sound Of Violins
Let us not also forget that being monoblock in design they can be put on the floor one behind each speaker thereby keeping speaker cables short and interconnects long if that is what you desire. As for the noise floor I must say we are talking pin drop quiet with these amplifiers and believe me I can be very picky when it comes to this. Looking at the spec sheet you can see that they are about as quiet as you could expect an amplifier to be as they are approaching and I quote from Mr. Tanner, "...the theoretical limit of the amplifying devices". Now at only $3995 each ( $7990 a pair), they felt bargain priced with their quality of construction, engineering designs, ample features, long warranty, attractive faceplate and ability to create a "you are there" type of musical experience at both low and high volume levels. These were amplifiers that if I had been told were $10,000 a pair, considering all they had to offer, I would have thought them still to be competitively priced. Our neighbors to the North, up in Canada, have indeed come up with a product worthy of our attention and I would think you should get hold of a pair now before they come to their senses price wise. The whole team up at Bryston should be happy as they did a great job all the way around with their new 7B SST C-Series Squared amplifiers.
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