Bryston Middle T loudspeaker

Readers of Stereophile need no introduction to Bryston, a venerable Canadian electronics manufacturer known for the quality and reliability of its amplifiers and preamplifiers, and for its unique 20-year warranty. In the past few years, Bryston has ventured into digital audio with notable success, producing D/A converters, multichannel preamplifier-processors, and music-file players. While an evolution from analog into digital audio would seem logical, their most recent expansion, into loudspeakers, is more surprising. Apparently, James Tanner, Bryston's vice president, designed a speaker for his own use, and it turned out well enough that the company decided to put it into production.

Bryston probably got a taste for purveying speakers when the company was the North American distributor for the studio and domestic speaker models made by the British company PMC—and over the years, Bryston seems to have made wise choices of loudspeakers to partner their own products at audio shows.

Still, while speakers were far from Bryston's area of expertise, the company has again taken its usual conservative approach. They've partnered with established Canadian speaker maker Axiom, whose testing and production facilities have provided Bryston with a base from which to rapidly generate a broad line of models, and the new speakers themselves seem to employ no radical new technology.

Bryston's first loudspeaker, the Model T (for Tanner), is a large "statement" tower, offered in two versions, the standard Model T and the Model T Signature (featuring an outboard crossover), each at a very attractive price compared to physically similar speakers ($6495/pair and $9495/pair, respectively); both have been warmly received at audio shows. The T comprises a vertical array of three woofers, two midranges, and two tweeters, and, as I heard at one show, is capable of prodigious power as well as overall high sound quality. Given Bryston's deserved reputation for quality, I was immediately interested.

However, the task of picking a Bryston speaker to review was soon complicated by the launch of further T models and, soon after that, the smaller A models. My choice of the Middle T was primarily based on two criteria: its base price in wood veneer finish is $5400/pair, and it has only one midrange driver and one tweeter. My preference for this sort of driver configuration is based on the complexity of getting multiple drivers in those frequency ranges to provide broad, even dispersion on all axes. In addition, the Middle T stands a fraction under 40" tall, which places its tweeter very close to the usual height of my ears when I'm seated (though the optional outriggers elevate it another 2"). After a long wait, I finally received a pair of Middle Ts, which I set up in my Manhattan system.

First Impressions
My initial visual impression was mixed. Clearly, these were solidly built and cleanly executed speakers, and setting them up on their spikes went off without a hitch. I really appreciated the clean, unadorned cabinet design with the four drivers on the front and, at the back, two fluted ports near the top and, near the bottom, two sets of sturdy, multiway binding posts.

The 1.5"-thick front panel is significantly wider than the rear panel, and front and rear are joined not by curved or sharply angled side panels but by two panels on each side. The side panel toward the front is angled at 90° to the front panel, as in an ordinary box speaker, but about halfway back, a smaller panel is angled to connect it to the narrower rear panel. This construction serves to reduce the production of standing waves inside the enclosure and increase the overall rigidity. The latter is further ensured by the inclusion of multiple internal frames and cross-braces. Sure enough, at 81.4 lbs, the Middle T is quite heavy for a speaker measuring 39.4" high by 10.4" wide by 16.3" deep, and notably stiff.

On the other hand, I wasn't impressed with some of the Middle T's cosmetic features. First, the expensive, optional Red Rosewood veneer (add $1520/pair) was undoubtedly real wood, but the grain was too open and textured for my taste. In addition, the grain matching between the top and vertical panels seemed casual. So while the quality of the materials themselves was not in doubt, I would have preferred a more polished finish (though of course this will have no impact on the sound).

My second concern is for something that might have sonic consequences for some users. Bryston provides three separate grilles for each Middle T: one for the midrange and tweeter, and one for each woofer. Each grille is covered with sheer black fabric and is attached to the front panel with strong, hidden magnets. I found the grilles ungainly, and thought they detracted from the simplicity of the speaker's appearance. The frame for each panel is so sturdily and heavily constructed that I feared it might compromise the dispersion of soundwaves, especially from the midrange and tweeter. Indeed, that was the case, so I did all of my listening without the grilles. Still, the hidden magnets mean that, when the grilles are off, nothing mars the Middle T's clean lines.

Sound Quality
I rolled my B&W 800 Diamonds out of the way and replaced them with the Bryston Middle Ts, connected them to my system, began listening.

My initial impression of the Middle T's sound was of such integrity that it might have been generated by a single driver, even though that was belied by its dynamics and wide frequency range. Center fill and imaging were good, but were vastly improved with adjustments in the speaker positions. In this I used the DEQX PreMate D/A preamplifier-equalizer to take nearfield measurements to distinguish soundwaves directly radiated by the speakers from their reflections, both early and late, from the room walls and large objects. It revealed that increasing the toe-in angle from my usual 10–15° to almost 20° delayed a significant reflection from a large credenza that stands against the room's left wall. This not only improved the subsequent DEQX operations, it so improved central imaging that the Middle Ts seemed to entirely "disappear" into a wide, deep soundstage.

COMPANY INFO
Bryston Limited
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 7Y4
Canada
(705) 742-5325
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Allen Fant's picture

The Aerial is way over-priced.

william.meredith's picture

Made by Axiom, the K-Mart of Canadian speaker manufacturers.

funambulistic's picture

The first time I saw the Model T, I thought, "That's an M80 - dual tweeters and all!" The Middle T looks like a beefed up M60. I am sure, in working with Bryston, Axiom has developed a fine loudspeaker (I have not heard either Bryston model) but I cannot help but be reminded of when I bought into the Axiom hype when the M22 was the FOTM on another review site. Not bad for the price but always left me unfulfilled...

Stanley1's picture

I have a pair of Axiom M60s and they are wonderful sounding speakers. I have to admit it took longer than usual to break them in, but was well worth the wait. Such clarity and sweetness with plenty of thump. I also have Harbeth Compact 7ES3 speakers which I love. But make no mistake the Axiom speakers are every bit as good and even better for rock and roll.

william.meredith's picture

My findings with the Bryston Middle T are consistent with those of the reviewer. Bryston's lack of expertise with speakers is reflected in the Middle T's lack-luster performance. It just doesn't present music as accurately and realistically with the type of imaging and soundstaging that can be experienced with more established and proven brands.

corrective_unconscious's picture

I don't know who else Axiom has been OEM'ing drivers for over the years, but it now appears they're trying to go upmarket.

I suppose the drivers could be of fine quality. What strikes me is how utterly conventional the Bryston speakers appear to be in every way. They might be good values for all I know, but there's definitely a complete lack of any unique selling proposition or visible tech breakthrough.

CliffS's picture

Ever since Bryston was sold off, it never quite was the same company.

Partnering with Axiom is just a prime example of squeezing out as much profit in a box as possible. These Bryston speakers are using the exact same mediocre tweeter found in most Axiom speakes.

JA revealed the cabinets are poorly braced in his tests and Kal shows just how ridiculous the grilles are and the ugly shape of the cab.

These would be fine speakers at $2k/pair but cannot compete with speakers in its price class and this is what I found when hearing them at CES. Bryston priced these speakers like they've been pricing their amps, way too high! But this is high end audio so if you slap on a high price it must be good, right?

low2midhifi's picture

I'll give Stereophile and Bryston credit for an honest effort and honest review with this product.

This is a first effort for Bryston. While they went to a maker of less expensive speakers, they did avail themselves of some manufacturing and design resources that would have been a difficult and resource-draining endeavor to do internally. They may go on to better things. They may abandon the effort after this first product roll-out. Time will tell.

Their manufacturing partner, while a maker of less expensive speakers, certainly has some knowledge of what it takes to make a more expensive speaker (though perhaps less R&D and actual experience than companies that devote themselves to obtaining these hard-earned findings from years of research).

This is the reason why I find it interesting, though I am not the expert who did this review, of how a first try at making a speaker gained such favorable comparisons to the notes of past reviews of the products of some very experienced, even eminent, manufacturers' products.

It is all part of the mystery surrounding the speaker industry. There are some manufacturers whose products are the result of unquestioned devotion to acoustic research (in small letters) and materials science. The results, which I have had the opportunity to hear at product expos, "speak" for themselves. Some of these manufacturers allow some of this technology to trickle down to their lower priced models. These products often gain positive reviews, no doubt with some recognition of "you get what you pay for." Still, the value per dollar proposition is good.

Then, in an industry with what I think many would say are reasonably low barriers to entry, we get a fascinating, and frustrating at times, array of products. Some of these products are in, what I have written in these forums before, this $3,000 to $10,000 gray range. This range of products, and others are free to put their own limits on it, is where the price for value equation becomes fuzzy, particularly speakers.

Yes, a $5,000 speaker is better than $1,000 speaker. But is it 5x better? Above the $10,000 level, for those who can afford it, there are products of evident merits given the prices charged to the consumer.

I have stayed out of this "middle range" of products mainly for financial reasons. But had I the resources to afford products in this middle range, I would be asking questions about what I am getting.

There are some unquestionably great speaker products, with credible R&D and advanced materials science, in the products above this price range. There are some surprisingly great values in the $1,500 and below range; Stereophile has ably reviewed many of these products.

It is this $3,000 to $10,000 range, with better electronic and driver components perhaps, but in the same low-tech encasement of the lower-end products (perhaps better braced) that make me wonder what all the extra money is going towards.

One observation I'd make in defense of all speaker manufacturers to some extent is that any high initial profit mark-ups, particularly when inventory stocking is involved, are offset by the physical distribution and inventory carrying costs of bulky, damage-prone, and slow moving physical inventories (compared to other consumer goods). Currency exchange rates and less-than-container/truckload shipping also impact some manufacturers, again my guess.

My concern is how much of the customers' money can and should go to cover these costs. Sure it is the consumer's choice to do what he/she sees fit. But with other unrelenting expenses, it's going to be a choice that collides with many other expenses of life.

An interesting solution of one very established name in speakers, and in another case the very maker of the Bryston speaker reviewed in this article, is to sell directly to the consumer through internet/phone orders. This centralizes any inventory stocks, probably promotes more of a make-to-order manufacturing process, and reduces physical inventories. I'm sure the consumer gets some savings out of all of this.

I often go back to a late 2008 Stereophile interview with a leader in coalescing speaker technology with advanced materials. The remarks of this speaker manufacturer resonated greatly with me (and if I daresay, with the writer of the interview). It often motivates me to ask these questions.