Base price $2,995
Bryston has long been known for bullet proof, reliable operation in recording studios running 24/7 with a powerful, clean neutral sound, and a price to please the pencil pushers. Each Bryston amp goes through what could only be termed a torture test at the factory, consisting of on and off running in for 100 hours at maximum volume levels. Not only does this greatly improve your chances of getting a perfect unit, it also means the amp will sound as good as it gets right out of the box without having to wait for weeks ‘til it’s burned in. After all that, Bryston is confident enough to include a 20-year warranty. If you owned a recording studio, that would appeal to you greatly. You don’t want Paul McCartney standing around while you try to find a replacement amp. Audiophiles caught on to this and started purchasing them for their homes. Fast forward to today and we have improvements in the subtleties of operation driven by consumer demand. It is called the SST series, a follow-up to the relatively successful ST series. Does the SST series deliver the goods or is it a cost reduced follow-up capitalizing on the Bryston name?
One example in this line is the B100 SST integrated amplifier. It boasts separate power supplies for the amplifier and preamp section as well as a third power supply for the optional internal DAC. The amplifier is underrated at 100wpc into 8 ohms. In the box was a hand written test report showing that this particular model achieved 130wpc into 8 ohms before clipping.
The materials are first rate, especially for its $2,995 base price. This integrated actually comes in four iterations:
B-100 Line level Integrated Amplifier
B-100P Integrated Amplifier with MM Phono Stage
B-100DA Integrated Amplifier with 4 Digital inputs
B-100P/DA Integrated Amplifier with MM Phono and 4 Digital Inputs
The volume knob and remote are from solid aluminum and exude quality. The remote is a heavy block of aluminum which could easily be confused with a murder weapon from the game Clue. Included in the base unit is a front-panel headphone jack.
The B100 SST was plugged directly into the wall per Bryston’s recommendation and that’s where it stayed.
The options cost $500 for the remote, $1,000 for the DAC, and $400 to $1,000 for the Phono stage. One can simultaneously have both the DAC and the phono stage options designated as model B100P/DA. The feature set comprised of volume, source select, and balance, is simple elegance and fully remote capable. The balance control nicely allows 1db increments for each push of the button. Ultra purists may scoff at the notion of a remote while folks at the other end of the spectrum may miss having tone controls – they are not present here. In the middle lay the folks who see everything they need and nothing they don’t.
My first exposure to the Bryston B100 SST was at my local dealer while looking for a replacement for my Goldmund SRI. I should note that the the object of this review is a piece of equipment that I now own.
Having two acceptable amplifiers, there was the possibility of getting a decent preamp instead of an integrated amplifier. I first compared the Bryston B100 SST to a VTL 2.5 tube preamp and Bryston 3B SST 150wpc amplifier. The VTL/3B combo was just a little more lively, robust, and had a better soundstage. The difference was small enough not to wax poetic for one over the other.
We then fed the preamp outputs of the Bryston into the same 3B SST. Now the difference was clear. The VTL 2.5 tube preamp sounded livelier in the treble than the preamp in the Bryston. The soundstage was a little more up-front as well. This may comes as news to some, but tubes don’t always sound warm and rolled off. I was digging the VTL but wondered about tube longevity and whether the up-front presentation would become annoying long term. Both of these preamps are really excellent in terms of dynamics, soundstage, and timbre. They both get the music across even thought they exhibit a different tonal balance. While sitting, pondering, and pontificating to my wife the virtues of the VTL… bam! I get hit in the head with a nerf football which then bounces off a lamp. I pictured this happening to the VTL and it was nixed from the choice list. Hey, it didn’t have remote source select anyway.
One more trip to the dealer. I listened to the Bryston with some of my favorite music and was impressed. Next up was a MacIntosh with the autoformers. I was prepared to be impressed given I have previously enjoyed a friend’s Mac system, though the price is nearly double that of the Bryston. The first impression of the Mac was BIG sound. The bottom end was full and more authoritative than the Bryston. I noticed some sibilance as if Mark Knopfler was explicitly working on his “S” sounds. After more listening, I found the Mac’s bottom end entertaining and engaging while its center image focused better than the Bryston, but it’s highs were not delicate or well delineated.
The "next" was a Mark Levinson integrated. It didn’t seem as neutral and transparent as the Bryston but it was fun to listen to. The Mark Levinson was certainly better looking but it was a bit colored on the bottom end or just a bit unclear in the midrange. The price was also twice the base price of the Bryston. There was really only one sticking point with the B100 - Its center image focus was wider than some of the other units even though the sense of space was large in all three directions. A fife and drum muster was just the thing to aid in the decision. As the bands paraded by, I um…focused on the focus. It was not small and concise, but very open and believable. The wallet was whipped out and the trigger pulled. The Bryston had found a new home.
I have noticed folks who have not heard the B100 SST talk about it in relation to the well known B60. Comparatively speaking, this is not the B60 ST's big brother, but rather its highly educated Olympic champion cousin. The B100 SST is deeper, stronger, and more articulate in the highs and much more dynamic overall. In addition, the B100 SST is certainly more liquid than the B60. They both have a clean sound which remains strong when pushed, but the B100 SST wades much further into the sea of refinement.
Sonically, this unit disappears. It is very detailed yet neutral. The highs are delicate, refined, and transparent. Triangles and cymbals sound very much like they should, provided the rest of the system is up to the task. The midrange is articulate without being forward. Tom Waits singing “Heart Attack and Vine” came through with concise intelligibility of his gruff, sometimes mumbling words; a true feat. His bluesy style and attitude comes through with full emotion. One doesn’t have to listen too closely to feel sorry for whoever had to clean the microphone after that take.
The B100 has a very fast attack on transients that makes listening that much more exciting. The beginning of Harry Connic Jr singing “We Are In Love”
comes on with powerful dynamics. The rest of the song comes off pretty well with a deep soundstage and controlled but full bass.
After seeing the Pops live on the fourth of July last year, I popped a recording of the Pops performing the same songs through the Bryston to see
if it could recreate the performance. It did a surprisingly good job, even getting a compliment from my wife. Much better than a nerf ball! – Publisher.
The sense of being there was very lifelike.
Diana Krall shows off the Bryston’s ability to delineate subtle detail. In many of her songs, the inflections in her voice fluctuate rhythmically
revealing more emotion and intimacy than I was used to hearing from her. It’s like an acoustic hologram of her singing just for me.
Dire Straits “Private Investigations” revealed sounds that came from beyond the speakers in a virtual panorama. Depth was nicely shown
when the bottle is broken in the background. The sense of air and space conveyed is excellent as is the soundstage and imaging.
The drums and guitars demonstrate dynamics well here. A hint of sibilance is present as well.
Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” was a nice surprise. Percussion came through with a sense of liveliness as if it
was not such an old recording. The rhythms motivated my young children to get up and dance.
One of them, in a bout of inspiration, asked; “Where are my drum sticks?”
I was lucky enough to have a Linn CD, some DVD players, a Pacific Valve modified DAC AM, and a Rega Apollo around to compare using the Bryston as a reference amplifier and preamp. Differences in resolution and soundstage between these units were quite apparent when feeding the signal into the Bryston. It had more detail and resolution than the old Goldmund SRI it replaced.
The Goldmund SRI (about $3,000) was produced in two different versions, both of which were in the house. The older one, circa 1998, and it’s replacement with the JOB circuit. The JOB circuit was developed by a small upstart company and was quickly noticed due to it’s extremely articulate sound. Its bandwidth goes up to 3Mhz translating to something that can reproduce the transients correctly which results in more believable sound.
The Goldmund with the JOB circuit had a rather lean sound but an extremely clean, open, and neutral midrange with fantastic highs. It was very accurate but I found the bass too lean to be seriously considered. The older Goldmund SRI had a big fat bottom end and a wide-open detailed soundstage, but its sibling with the JOB circuit outclassed the midrange transparency and highs. The Bryston B100 SST falls right between these in terms of sound. It has some of the strong bass of the old SRI and a transparent midrange and nice highs like the JOB based SRI.
I was able to audition the optional ($1,000) DAC that is available for the Bryston. While I did not have unlimited time with it, I found it to be a step up from my Pacific Valve modified DAC-AM. The main difference between the optional DAC and the DAC-AM was that the midrange just flowed better with the Bryston DAC. It was more upfront in the treble region as well. This could be a blessing or a curse depending on synergy with the rest of the system. My listening room is on the warm side so I liked the Bryston DAC a little better, but not 3x the price better.
I also took the opportunity to compare the Bryston/DAC combo with the latest Rega Apollo which retails for $995. I found the Bryston with the optional DAC to be very comparable to the Apollo, with the Bryston, perhaps exhibiting a somewhat more solid foundation in the low frequencies.
Given that they are both equally superb, it seems that the optional DAC for $1,000 might be a good value since it held its ground against the Apollo. Of course, this assumes you already have a transport to feed the Bryston’s DAC and a digital cable. The transports used in this review were an old Nakamichi CD player, a Marantz DV4300 DVD player, and a cheap Panasonic S25 DVD player. The cheap Panasonic actually worked surprisingly well as a transport and additionally supports DVD Audio disks which the Apollo does not.
By the way, the Bryston has TWO digital inputs facilitating the use of a second digital source such as a computer, Ipod or even wireless streaming. Each input is selectable via front panel or the remote. Food for thought.
One additional comparison was feeding the preamp outputs of the new Bryston into a Forte Model 5 specified at 100wpc. In comparison with a stock B100, this combination produced an interesting sound. It was close to the B100 but with a warmer presentation. The bass was more laid back and the upper midrange seemed more detailed even though the entire ensemble was decidedly less transparent. It was just as open sounding as before but with less air. When pushed hard, the Forte fell apart. This would have been a nice setup for background music but it could not rock as well as the Bryston nor could it delineate the details as well.
My unit came in an open box and there was no power cord to be found. Given that Bryston suggests that the sonic improvements with fancy power cords may not be worth the money, the stock power cord was a MUST TRY here. I contacted the salesman, James Tanner and he sent one the next day. He had no idea I was writing a review, so I was just another customer to him at the time. The power cord led to a mini blind shootout. A friend and veteran audiophile was over listening to the new acquisition. While he was taking a “pause for the cause”, I surreptitiously replaced the stock power cord with a cheap 18Gauge one and played the same song again when he returned. He was aghast. “What happened?” The imaging had gone to pieces and the sound turned both bright and boomy. Having mistakenly used this cord a few days earlier, I knew it would be bad. He was confused. “I replaced the power cord”. He did not believe until I put it back in.
A week or two later we had several folks set up to listen while somebody was in charge of changing out the power cords. This was a total of 4 people and only 3 of them were listening and note taking. I did say mini. There were only three contenders; the stock cord (a 14gauge 3 conductor Exito), a shielded Volex 17604, and an Audioquest NRG-2 which I had borrowed from a local dealer to try. Each of these cords had at least 100 hours on them. The one at the local dealer literally came off a setup they have hooked up and was heavily used.
The stock power cord wasn’t all that bad. Compared to the Volex, with its deep and dark sound nice highs but a laid back recessed midrange, the stocker was more open and lively with better imaging focus. The panelists easily detected the differences but they couldn’t keep their mouths shut. “The mud cord is back” I would hear. So much for science.
The difference between the Audioquest NRG-2 and the stock cord was much more narrow and fooled a couple of our panelists. It really was the real winner here however but it didn’t seem to be $150 better. The bass was deeper and tighter, the midrange was more detailed with better focus and delineation, and the highs were even nicer than with the Volex. The differences were subtle but I found that listening for the cymbals was where it clearly surpassed the others. I will likely purchase this cord.
With respect to Bryston’s 20 year warranty, there were several instances of brown-outs where the Bryston literally shut down to protect itself. That was great except for the fact that one needs to unplug it and plug it back in to get it out of protection mode. In another case we had a surge which tripped the Furman PST8-D power strip which the other components were plugged in to and the Bryston was just fine.
The Bryston B100 SST plainly delivers on performance. The only place where I think it falls short is in its looks, even though the materials are first rate. This is highly subjective of course, so you might really love it. To me, it is most impressive doing what it does best - making music.
In addition to music, the B100 SST would fit nicely in an HT setup not only due to the remote but the included pass-through mode for those so inclined.
The Bryston B100 SST sounds great if you are looking for an open, transparent sound with “just right” bass that keeps going when pushed. Compared to the other competing amps mentioned in this review, its $2,999 base price makes it a good value. The 20-year warranty is something to ponder as well. You’re in it for the long haul here.
This is the woman you marry.
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