Component Reviews

Bryston 9BSST2 Five-Channel Power Amplifier

Tested more rolled-off and mellow than a similarly-priced Krell 5-channel amp.

Published on January 21, 2010

Bryston 9BSST2 Five-Channel Power Amplifier
Bryston 9BSST2 Five-Channel Power Amplifier

Bryston 9BSST2 Five-Channel Power Amplifier
SRP: $6695

Bryston (U.S.)
79 Coventry St., Suite 5
Newport, Vermont 05855
802-334-1201 (voice)
802-334-6658 (fax)
http://bryston.com/9bsst_m.html



Basic Description

Modular 3,4,5 channel amplifier with 140 WPC into 8 ohms (200 WPC into 4 ohms) utilizing the newest Bryston circuitry with removable channels for service or expansion; silver or black finish; 19 or 17 inch faceplate; balanced or unbalanced connections with compatibility of RCA, XLR or 1/4” TRS type connector; 5-way binding posts; input sensitivity/gain adjustment (17, 23, 29dB corresponding to 1,2,4 Volt settings); level trim; 12V trigger; polarity reversal; 19 x 5.25 x 19 inch (rack-mount); 17 x 5.25 x 17.5 inch (shelf-mount); 72 pounds; 20-year transferable warranty.

Associated Equipment

Musical Fidelity A5.5 CD Player, Krell S-1000 Preamplifier/Processor, Krell S-1500 Amplifier (for comparison), Bowers and Wilkins 803D, HTM4, SCMS speakers, Pioneer Elite DV-59AVi DVD player, Audioquest cabling.

Setup/Description

The good thing about amplifiers is that there isn’t much to do when it comes to setup.  My sample had already been in the lap of another reviewer, so I didn’t even have to worry about break-in.  I left the unit on throughout most of the testing, but didn’t really notice much (if any) difference between an hour warmup or five minutes.

This new series from Bryston emphasizes improved mechanical design including improved power supply transformer, new power switch and chassis, improved soft-start circuits and balanced input stage and boards.  Part count has been reduced and components and circuit are improved with lowering distortion as the primary goal.  All circuitry is discrete (no ICs) and components are mounted to glass epoxy boards.  The units are hand assembled and each product is burned-in for 100 hours (another reason not to worry about burning-in the product after a purchase).

Bryston claims extremely low distortion specs and the supplied measurement sheet (for all channels) include measurements at 20, 200, 2K and 20KHz.  Distortion ranges from a low .00103% to .00488%  (at rated power).  IM (Intermodular Distortion) ranges from .00135% to .00337%.  Measured output power at clipping is 157 Watts.  Noise level from from 20-20KHz comes in at -116 dB from both balanced and unbalanced inputs.

I started with balanced cables to see if there were much in the way of sonic differences between that and single-ended cables, but there wasn’t.  I did comparisons in both two-channel and multichannel configurations.

Sound – Two-Channel Music

Luckily, I had access to a Krell amplifier ($6500 for five channels) that was very close in price to the Bryston.  I generally like to compare products to put their performance in perspective, but rarely do I have something so close from which to compare.

Initially I started with a pair of balanced cables from preamp to amp.  Listening began with “Hang on to Your Love” by Sade from Best of Sade.  The Bryston had a big sound, clean vocals, guitar was very present and bass was punchy with good rhythm.  There was a slight softness on top with a deadened sound on drums and some blending of images.  The Krell sounded more extended on both top and bottom.  The bass wasn’t as punchy but went lower.  There was more detail and layering and the sound seemed more liquid.  Pace was not as noticeable, but impact was improved due to the quality of the bass.

I shifted gears and put on “Catch The Wind” from Donovan’s Storyteller.  The Krell made this recording sound delicate and tuneful with excellent detail and brought out the beauty of the performance.  The Bryston had a completely different presentation.  The sound was mellow with low listener fatigue.  There was no haze or veil or lack of transparency so to speak (that you’ll often find with cheaper gear), but the sound seemed a bit dull by comparison and didn’t bring out as much of the sound of the record.

I was joined by two fellow audio enthusiasts to check my results (as I thought the Krell might just have an up-tilted treble and not really offer more resolution).  I put on the first track of the original Alfie Soundtrack by Sonny Rollins.  The Bryston sounded vibrant and big with no obvious additive coloration.  However, from the first minute my compatriots agreed that the Krell offered a better sense of space with greater clarity of images and improved (wider) soundstage.  Although one was caressing the chassis of the Bryston (as audiophiles tend to do with high-end gear—don’t laugh) before the listening, afterward he seemed a bit disappointed with the Bryston’s sound in comparison to the Krell and lost his enthusiasm for the piece.

On a different day I put on “Jump Ta This” from the Twinz Conversation.  Dynamics were good, noise was non-existent and I felt I could play the amp as loud as I wanted with compression or obvious distortion.  Bass extension was good, but not great and I still felt there was a little extra mid-bass punch than I would like.  I felt top air and high frequency extension was missing a tad and there could have better separation between images—a more three dimensional sound.

Lastly, I put on “Cherub Rock” from Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream.  Again my issues with this amp were its ability to resolve a three dimensional space and illuminate the spatial cues in the recording—something that increases involvement and helps to create the illusion of hearing the music in an actual venue—recording studio or elsewhere.  The sound wasn’t polite, but did sound a bit toned down.  I expected this track to really sound raw and gritty, but it didn’t quite get there.  This was key and my biggest complaint about this amplifier: It never quite passed the boundary where the system disappears and immersion happens.

Sound – Multichannel Movies

After spending quite some time working on an A/V receiver review I was looking forward to getting my taste of what some higher-end separates could do.  As the Bryston is a multichannel amplifier design I figured that most people who buy it would be using it for the purpose of watching movies, television, sports, etc.  I used unbalanced cables for this portion of the audition.

I did a lot of listening with the opening sequence of V for Vendetta, chapters six through seven from Apocalypse Now (the helicopter sequence), the Diva scene from The Fifth Element and a few different chapters from Star Wars II Attack of the Clones.  I went from disc to disc and my impressions were similar to what I heard with music.  With the really loud film passages I felt I was overloading the amp (although the lights didn’t light up on the front) in a 4700 cubic foot room.  With these speakers and this size room I would consider a more powerful amplifier if high level playback is planned.  

The low distortion design of the Bryston was noteworthy when listening to the Diva sequence and the scene from Apocalypse Now.  Loud scenes are followed by quiet scenes and it really helped to punctuate the contrast of the cacophony with the serenity that was about to be disturbed.  The mellowing or lack of extreme top end was still evident and although the amp didn’t sound laid back it also didn’t reach out and grab you.

For a final listen I chose an old favorite of mine, chapter four from the DTS version of Waterworld.  Once this sequence gets going (the attack of the circular Atoll by the Smokers) there is virtually nonstop sound from every direction.  I ended up watching at least 15 minutes or more of the film and never felt distracted or heard anything problematic.  It was only by changing amplifiers that I realized there was more to get out of the soundtrack as presented by the Krell.  

Some would say the Krell is a brighter sound (and by comparison that is for sure), but no one could argue about the lack of some detail with the Bryston.  I used silver interconnect cables throughout (noted for their typical brightness), but the Bryston never really took on that quality.  For that reason it will be a good option for some systems that might be a little “hot” on the top end.

Conclusion

The more expensive the component, the more critical the review and the more the consumer tends to expect from their purchase.  I believe value plays a part in most people’s purchase although bragging rights, appearance and reputation cannot be forgotten.  Often in high-end magazines you come across a review of a component that costs tens of thousands of dollars and it really doesn’t offer anything in performance over much less expensive gear.  I think this is part of the reason there is such a polarization of enthusiasts and “audiophiles.”  In any case, I won’t pontificate more about this as this is a review of a particular product and not an article about the problems prevalent in high end reviews.

The Bryston offers solid build, a fantastic warranty and piece of mind knowing that a product will operate the same on day one as on day ten thousand and one.  It offers an unaffected sound that is non-fatiguing and flat.  On the top end I felt it was slightly mellow and lacking in ultimate air and resolution.  It would be perfect in a system that a user complains of being too bright.  It will tame this nicely and be a good match.  System matching is extremely important and should always be kept in mind.  Just because a component performs exemplary in one system doesn’t mean it will in another.  From my listening tests there was not a perfectly synergistic match and indeed I was able to find an amp that performed more to my liking (although that is only one part of the equation, albeit an important one) for roughly the same price.

Aside from the price there is nothing to prevent a recommendation of the 9B SST2.  I believe Bryston has achieved all their design goals and now it is just a matter of deciding whether it is the product that best suits all your purchase criteria and will appropriately match the system in which it goes.

Brian Bloom               




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