Bryston B100-DA SST DAC/integrated amplifier Page 2
The B100-DA SST's chassis is slim, and smaller than that of the Bryston 4B-SST power amplifier, with which I compared it. My components are mounted on a long sidewall, the amplifiers situated out in the room behind my Quad ESL-989 electrostatic loudspeakers. I had to think about just where I would place the B100-DA: with the source equipment on the shelves, or with the amplifiers? The former required very long runs of speaker cable from the sidewall shelves to the speakers, the latter long runs of interconnect from the SACD player, CD player, and tuner—or a Manley Skipjack source switcher. I decided to put the B100-DA and Squeezebox on my equipment shelf and run long speaker cables to the Quads.
Despite the B100-DA's relatively small chassis, its speaker terminals are still large enough to make speaker-cable connections tight and fast. As on other Bryston products, the B100-DA's hollow posts can directly accept single banana plugs, even though they're also placed the requisite 19–25mm apart to meet EU regulations. The posts are also shrouded in plastic to keep fingers from directly contacting the metal. Slots in the shrouds accommodate spade lugs up to 5/16" thick.
After burning in the B100-DA SST by having it drive my Quad ESL-989s, I began feeding its DAC digital signals from my Krell KRC-28 CD player and the Slim Devices Squeezebox, which let me compare CD and wireless sources. Listening to "Too Rich for My Blood," from Patricia Barber's Café Blue (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 21810 2), I could detect no difference between the digital outputs of the Krell playing the CD and the Squeezebox playing the losslessly compressed file of the same track through the B100-DA's internal DAC—but both digital sources were decidedly better than the SB's internal DAC feeding an analog signal to the B100-DA. For the bulk of my listening, I listened only to streaming digital files fed to the B100-DA.
Through its own internal DAC, the B100-DA's bass response reminded me strongly of the Bryston 3B-ST's. I enjoyed the solidity of the sustained pedal chords from the Lay Family Concert Organ in John Rutter's "The Lord Is My Light and My Salvation" (CD, Reference RR-57CD), and the staccato plucked bass and deep synthesizer in "Something's Wrong," from Randy Edelman's score for the film My Cousin Vinny (CD, Varèse Sarabande VSD-5364). The synthesizer notes in Terry Dorsey's "Ascent," from Time Warp (CD, Telarc CD-80106), were well defined and went deep, and I could easily discern pitch changes in low-frequency synthesizer notes on "Behind the Veil," from Jeff Beck's Beck's Guitar Shop (CD, Epic EK 44313).
Besides reproducing deep bass, the B100-DA could create a sense of depth and space that seemed an accurate facsimile/re-creation of the recording venue. This was evident when I listened to Jean Guillou's transcription for pipe organ of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Dorian DOR-90117)—in Gnomus, the organ was reproduced with the airiness I associate with a cathedral. The B100-DA could also create more intimate ambiences, such as the one heard surrounding Glen Moore's plucked string bass in "The Silence of a Candle," from Oregon's Beyond Words (CD, Chesky JD130).
Playing the digital stream, the B100-DA's highly satisfying performance captured the different timpani pitches in Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, as performed by Eiji Oue conducting the Minnesota Orchestra (CD, Reference RR-70CD, tracks 21–24). The B100-DA tracked the pitch and dynamic contrasts heard on this excellent recording, coaxing surprisingly deep bass from the Quads. The Bryston's midrange reproduction was most impressive—the brassiness of trumpets, for example, was raw and involving without being annoying.
The B100-DA revealed the richness of Patricia Monheit's dark voice in her rendition of the 1941 torch song "Besame Mucho," from The Frank and Joe Show's 331/3 (Hyena SD 9320). This track was just as enthralling for its "seductive timbral voluptuousness," as John Marks described it in "The Fifth Element" in the April 2006 issue. The B100-DA also conveyed the beguiling sadness and sweetness of Richard and Linda Thompson harmonizing on "Dimming of the Day," from the soundtrack of Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (CD, DMZ/Columbia CK 86534). Paul Simon's voice remained clear and warm at high volumes as he sang "Trailways Bus," from Songs from The Capeman (CD, Warner Bros. 46814-2).
The B100-DA's highs were clean, open, effortless, grain-free, and extended. Paul Simon's vocal sibilants at the beginning of "Trailways Bus" didn't hiss, but were natural, not irritating. Billy Drummond's brushed ride cymbal in "The Mooche," from the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), had the characteristic buzz and shimmer of wire brushes, not the static-like hiss heard from lesser amplifiers.
The B100-DA's imaging was delightful. Patricia Barber's voice was holographic and riveting on "Too Rich for my Blood," the instruments behind her clearly separated and occupying their own spaces. In Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla (CD, Philips 420 955-2), tenor José Carreras was centered, surrounded by huge amounts of space that helped conjure up an empty, desolate ambience of solitude and desolation. Live recordings also benefited, as revealed by the intimacy and relaxed atmosphere of the Green Mill nightclub, where Patricia Barber recorded Companion (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2). The width of the Bryston's soundstaging was also impressive, as I heard when I played the instrumental finish of Richard Thompson's "Why Must I Plead," from Rumor and Sigh (CD, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2). The B100-DA was able to move the guitar's image well beyond the outer edge of my right-channel Quad ESL-989.
The dynamic range was very good to excellent. In "The Hand-Off," from James Horner's soundtrack score for Sneakers (CD, Columbia CK 53146), the piano scales exploded out of dead-black silence. And while not as dynamic-sounding as the Revel Salon speakers, my Quads when driven by the B100-DA captured the explosive rim shots, tom-tom beats, kick-drum notes, and audience callouts during the drum solo in "The Maker," from Emmylou Harris' Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM-25001-2).
I'm excited about Bryston's B100-DA SST integrated amplifier. Not only is it a rugged and reliable amplifier with a 20-year warranty, it's small, compact, and with the DAC option, it will integrate well with an audio system based on a centralized, wirelessly delivered music library. Whether playing music from a hard drive, or downloaded, or streamed from such services as Pandora.com or Rhapsody.com, the owner of a B100-DA will be able to tap an excellent sonic source.
Sonically, the B100-DA has much of the 4B-SST's character, with its bass definition and speed, openness of high frequencies, and soundstage width, lacking only the 4B-SST's deep-bass punch and greater macrodynamics.While it's easier to warm up to an amplifier with a seductively captivating midrange, such as the much more expensive VTL S-400 ($20,000/pair), the B100-DA is much more neutral and can also throw one of the deepest, broadest soundstages of any amplifier I've heard.
And for streaming digital sources, I'll take the B100-DA's tonal neutrality, conveniences, small size, easy installation, built-in DAC, and backlit remote. Combine all of those features with the B100-DA's bass definition, wide soundstaging, and open highs, and I can hear the music's subtlest details through my Quad ESL-989s. Like Bryston's own 14B-SST and 4B-SST, their little B100-DA SST integrated amplifier connects me to what I truly love in my music collection, and proves that multiple audio functions can work well in a small package.
Footnote 1: According to John Atkinson, though downloaded iTunes music files are protected by Apple's DRM software, the DRM is eliminated when the owner burns the files to a CD. I got the four MP4P music files (one for each movement) comprising Beethoven's Symphony 9 to play over a Slim Devices Squeezebox by first burning them to a blank CD, then ripping them back to my computer's hard drive.