Review: Bryston 14BSST² Power Amplifier

Posted on 17th December, 2015

Listening

Switching from another amplifier in my system, while cheaper and with less rated power, was an eye opener. My eldest daughter happened to be visiting me the evening that I was making changes to the system. All my children have grown up around music being played throughout the home, so they essentially have trained ears, even if they don’t realise it. As soon as I changed over to the Bryston, her immediate comment was “wow! that sounds a lot bigger”. And she was spot on. The sound of the soundstage grew to be well beyond the speaker positions, and also in height and depth. Whoever says that “all amplifiers sound the same” have obviously never heard a decent amplifier in a transparent sound system.

Puscifer “Momma Sed” is a track that I’ve heard often, but this time I noticed that the big strong powerful bass line has a subtle vibrato to it. Not only can the amp produce all the bass weight and depth that you would expect, but it’s also capable of delivering bass that has detail, tone and texture in surprising amounts. The Bryston is certainly not a one note wonder, the definition it is capable of delivering is staggering. All of that additional resolution and detail allows you to hear deeper into recordings and to increasingly discern tiny components of the performance. It certainly brought a smile to my face.

The balance of bass to midrange is easily heard in The Black Eyed Peas performing “Shut Up”. I listen to the track quite loudly and with the Bryston in place, there is a lack of dynamic compression, and the feeling of boundless energy and power, regardless of volume. The bass line is fast, solid, tuneful and deep and is in perfect harmony with the voices and the rest of the music. Occasionally I’ve heard this track with an overly ripe bottom end, bloated, slow or over-blown. The trick is not to have too much of anything that is out of proportion with the rest. Everyone loves bass, but too much is usually worse than having too little. In any case using a transparent DAC (for digital sources) with a flat frequency response will highlight where there is a problem with another part of the system.

For instance, listening to The Black Eyed Peas with a NAD M12 DAC gave a touch too much fullness to the bass, whereas an AVM Evolution SD 3.2 was more neutral and gave me back some detail in the bottom end. But the Benchmark Media DAC2 HGC was even better, with an entirely natural and realistic balance. The kick drum and snare (likely synthesised) had all the snap and punch that anyone could ask for and it was in perfect harmony with the bass, synthesisers and vocals. It had more than enough tight bass to allow you to feel it in the chest and through the floor, yet it never dominated. The Bryston itself was neutral enough for me to be able to clearly hear those differences with the respective DACs.   

Another “power” track that I enjoy is Gary Numan with the title track “Splinter” from his album “Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind)”. It is his twentieth studio album and I believe that he just gets better with age. The track exhibits incredible bass control, tight, full and fast. There is clear distinction between the snare and kick drum with a different texture attributable to each drum. The female vocal soars above the music and is ethereal, so nicely captured. There is just so much energy to the album and the Bryston amplifier never short changes the artistic intention as it fully propels music at almost any volume setting.

This feeling of oneness and unity only intensified as the Bryston amplifier was left running for days. I conducted an experiment regarding the way the amplifier sounded from being switched on ‘cold’, then after a day of listening, and finally how it sounded after being left on for a few days. There is certainly a difference which may be slight and indistinguishable to many, but to me, it is certainly real, discernible and repeatable.

The Bryston sounds good as soon as it’s switched on, but there is an improvement over the next hour or so. From there it very slowly becomes smoother and more tonally neutral with continual use. After about 3 days it really shows off what it is capable of. The treble is smoothed out, with strings, cymbals and voices sounding less aggressive and purer, as well as the bass timing, depth, weight and tonality significantly improving. The top to bottom balance is enhanced and it becomes totally fatigue free and more engaging. These improvements over time, raise the overall quality from just good, to sounding incredible, real and lifelike.

As the amplifier matures and becomes fully warmed, there is an amazing layering of background sounds, with each artist or instrument having its own space within the soundstage. This holographic detail is stunning when the rest of the system is optimised and especially when the cables are of a high enough quality. With the expensive Synergistic Audio cables there was real synergy, which gave me transparency and detail to a level that that I haven’t heard before in my own system. Very impressive indeed.

Listening to Nitin Sawhney “Letting Go” from the stunning “Beyond Skin” album, I was impressed with the way that the Bryston reproduced bass notes just like depth charges. The track contains notes that are effortlessly reproduced, ever so transparent, clean and very deep and extended. There is also a sensation that there is a huge wrap around sound stage, one that envelops the sides of the listening room, an incredible sensation and cleverly recorded.

Female vocals are also reproduced with finesse and sensitivity. Natalie Cole singing “What a Difference a Day Makes” from the “Stardust” album is a case in point. Her voice is reproduced cleanly and is very detailed, with clean articulation. Here is an amplifier that has so much brawn and power, yet it also treats voices with great subtlety and tact. It doesn’t need to be shoehorned into only playing loudly and with only wildly dynamic musical genres, as it handles the entire spectrum very well. If it was likened to a guy on a date, he would also bring flowers. It is a complete package.

But when you do ask it to play at well above average volume levels it does it without breaking into a sweat. I really like the Jimi Hendrix classic “Machine Gun” performed live at the Fillmore East, New York City. This is obviously quite an old recording; you can hear the noise reduction at work, cutting out tape hiss but also reverbs and natural decays. Still the music remains true to Jimi’s talent. His dynamic guitar cuts above everything else happening at the Fillmore and the track succeeds due to the speed, power and rawness of the playing, live in front of an adoring crowd. A powerful amplifier tends to convey the feel of live performances much, much better than a modest one, with an attempt at duplicating what it actually would have been like if you were really there at the performance. Somehow I can’t see Jimi and the Experience playing softly.

Conclusion

High-end, powerful amplifiers are addictive and seductive in the way that they allow you to listen to almost anything, at almost any volume and it just sounds incredible. So often during my time with the Bryston 14BSST² I wanted to call up an audio buddy and blurt out a “wow, you should hear this!” It made me stop and actually listen to the music with amazement, because it just sounded so right, so dynamic and life-like. Low powered amps by comparison are boring and lifeless and they don’t captivate the attention and imagination in the same manner.

Is 600W/channel too much? Never! So long as you are sensible with the volume control and understand the limitations of your loudspeakers and your own hearing. Even at low volume settings, it was always dynamic and highly detailed with an addictive integrated sound, always tuneful and sounding true and complete.

In case you’ve missed it, I love this amplifier! Our Canadian friends at Bryston have built a rugged pro-audio style and standard of amplifier with immense capabilities. It has more than adequate levels of power reserves as well as at the same time, being capable of real finesse, transparency, detail and an immense sound stage at all volume settings. It is not exactly cheap, but I do consider it to be good value, especially when you consider the build quality and the unheard of 20 year factory warranty. The Bryston 14BSST² is a winner on all counts and is heartily recommended.

Amplifier of the Year Contender 2015Without hesitation we brand the Bryston 14BSST² with an ‘Amplifier of the Year - (Over $10K RRP) Contender' stamp, the outcome to be announced later in 2016.

Bryston is distributed in Australia by Busisoft AV.

Pros

Sound and build quality, power reserves, huge dynamics and soundstage, 20 year warranty

Cons

Takes days to warm up and sounds best when left on constantly

Mark Gusew's avatar

Mark Gusew

Starting his first audio consultancy business in the early 80’s whilst also working professionally in the electronics industry, Mark now manages a boutique audio manufacturer.

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Posted in: Hi-Fi
Tags: bryston  busisoft  power amplifier 

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