Bryston 7B SST2 monoblock power amplifier Page 2
Having never reviewed the 7B SSTor any Bryston amplifierin my system, I have no idea how much sonic improvement, if any, has been wrought by these changes. But I thought it was about time I reviewed a Bryston. And given that I own the Musical Fidelity Titana superbly measuring, 1kWpc, two-box amplifier that, at $35,000, costs more than four times as much as a pair of 7B SST2sI wanted to test the rigid certainty of the "rationalists" who believe that all amps that measure pretty much the same (the difference in power output aside) will sound pretty much the same.
The 7B SST2's rear panel has a single-ended RCA jack and a balanced XLR/¼" TRS connector, and a switch for selecting between them. An input-sensitivity switch selects between "1V" (29dB voltage gain into 8 ohms) and "2V" (23dB gain). There's a trigger facility for remote auto turn-on (useful in a home theater), and five-way speaker binding posts.
A front-panel LED monitors a variety of conditions, including clipping, though that never occurred. Green indicates normal operation, and that's how the amp ran all the time it was in my system: cool and normal, the way we like it.
Though the Bryston's rated power is lower than that of my reference, the Musical Fidelity Titan, with about 900W available into 4 ohms compared with the Titan's 1700W, it had no problem driving the Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX 3 speakers' nominal impedance of 4 ohms. The Bryston's tonal "character" was virtually unidentifiable, producing an impressive sense of top-to-bottom continuousness and smooth neutrality. The top end was neither bright nor rolled off, neither etched nor soft. The bottom end was neither lumpy nor noticeably thin, neither over- nor underdamped. The midrange was creamy-smooth, without metallic or hollow aftertastes. In other words, the 7B SST2's tonal balance was essentially seamless and fully extendedwhich is also how I'd describe the Titan's tonal balance. Tonally at least, the Bryston was impressively spot-on from top to bottom, and remained so whether played at very low levels or cranked up to louder than comfortable.
Tonally, nothing stuck out. But something was missing. Even though everything was there, there seemed to be little "there" there. But of course, when any new piece of gear is inserted in a system, there's always a period of adjustment. I kept listening.
Instruments and voices from familiar recordings seemed to sound as they should, so what was so different? For starters, the spatial and textural presentations. The Brystons consistently produced soundstages that extended considerably behind the plane described by the speaker baffles. But while images were cleanly layered within that depth, nothing advanced forward of that plane, and the image focus seemed relatively diffuse. Transients were rendered smoothly but not sharply.
The Brystons were in the system while I assessed a variety of moving-magnet phono preamps for "Analog Corner" by listening to a wonderful reissue of Billie Holiday's Music for Torching (mono LP, Clef/Verve/Speakers Corner MG C-669), recorded in late August 1955 (probably at Radio Recorders), a few days after Holiday's triumphant performance at the Hollywood Bowl. Here she's backed by a small combo consisting of trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison, Benny Carter on tenor sax, guitarist Barney Kessel, pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist John Simmons, and drummer Larry Bunker. It was clear that the Audio-Technica AT-PEQ3, while a great starter phono preamp for around $60, simply couldn't convey this recording's instrumental layering, and was smearing Holiday's sibilants. As I moved up the price ladder of MM phono preamps, the soundstage grew in depth and clarity, putting Holiday out in front of the other musicians (though still behind the speakers), the drums behind them, and Carter and Edison even farther back within the confines of the studio, whose rear walls were audibly evident. When I got to the Simaudio Moon LP5.3 phono preamp with outboard power supply, the improvements in focus, transient clarity, and depth were remarkableso the Brystons could certainly allow such differences to be heard.
Debate and switch
While the Musical Fidelity Titan and Bryston 7B SST2 are both solid-state amplifiers that are low in noise and distortion and high in power output, the two products could not have sounded less similar. When I switched to the MF Titan, there was a major transformation. On "I Get a Kick Out of You," Holiday's voice moved forward into the room with far superior, compacted, three-dimensional focus. A cowbell now floated more convincingly behind Edison's muted trumpet and against a "blacker" backdrop, and the texture of Kessel's comping had added traction. The break features a drum, piano, and sax solo that sounded tonally fine through either amp, but the textural and spatial differences were profound: with the Titan, instrumental textures were richer, image focus was better, and there was a greater sense of space, with a more focused picture overall.