I've been attending the annual Consumer Electronics Show for years, and usually come away with the impression that there are too many "me-too" products. I see a numbing similarity of approach of manufacturers within a chosen discipline: solid-state power amps in black and silver bristling with heatsinks, single-ended triode amps with their glow reflecting from bronze or wood panels, MCPU/DSP-centered devices with sleek, flat cases and intimidating remote controls, etc.
Yet another amp from Colorado! This is the third amp to come my way from that state (the others being the Spectrascan and the Rowland Research), and at this point, after living with it for a couple of months, I'm quite comfortable in declaring the Boulder 500 to be one helluvan amp.
To high-end audiophiles, the Boulder 500 amplifier and its less expensive derivative, the 500AE (Audiophile Edition), would not seem to be "high-end" designs. They are designed around op-amps (felt by many to be generally poor-sounding), they have scads of negative feedback (which is perhaps why op-amps sound bad), and they have only a moderately hefty power supply. Why, then, is Stereophile publishing a review of an op-amp–based power amplifier? Read on...
Boulder Amplifiers, named after the Colorado town where the company has resided since its founding 23 years ago, makes some of the most elegant-looking solid-state amps around. Chassis are anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum with rounded edges, machined and finished in-house. The two models reviewed here, the 810 line preamplifier and the 860 power amplifier, each have a sleek, compact build—stacked atop each other, the two stand just over a foot high—owing to extremely efficient packing of the circuitry inside. These are the company's "entry-level" electronics, but there's nothing cheap about them—the preamp retails for $6900, the amp for $8500—and for all their economical size, they look like luxury goods as well.
Talking to fellow audiophiles, I sometimes hear generalizations about power-amplifier design: "High-power amplifiers don't sound as good as low-power amplifiers." "Tube amps are more musical than solid-state amps." "Class-A circuit designs always sound better than class-AB." "Bridged amplifiers don't image precisely, throw deep soundstages, or have the transparency of non-bridged output stages." Etc.
It was a hot, humid, New York City evening in early August, and I was thankful to be sitting in the air-conditioned dark of Avery Fisher Hall, up in the Second Tier, for a Mostly Mozart concert. Listening to cello soloist Alisa Weilerstein in Osvaldo Golijov's hypnotic Azul, I was suddenly jolted by an explosive mix of primitive cello sonorities, accordion, and staccato riffs on ethnic percussion instruments. My thoughts turned to the importance in music of both power and delicacy, and of how Bryston Ltd.'s 28B-SST, a 1000W monoblock power amplifier, was designed to address both.
Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston Limited has been producing consumer and professional amplifiers since 1974 [see Robert Deutsch's interview elsewhere in this issue—Ed.]. Bryston amps are engineered to be physically and electrically rugged, to meet the stringent demands of professionals, many of whom leave their studio amplifiers turned on for years. While chassis had to be light instead of the audiophile massiveness found in some high-end consumer amplifiers, studio engineers and concert pros continued to favor Bryston amps, which easily passed the "steel toe" test. The 4B, for example, became a standard amplifier for recording engineers and touring musicians.
On January 1, 1990, Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston instituted a remarkable warranty program that covered each of their products for a full 20 years. This warranty includes all audio products ever manufactured and sold under the Bryston name. Besides covering parts and labor costs, the company will also pay shipping costs one way. This is all the more significant for their 4B NRB amplifier, which has been in production since 1976. The amp's $2k price, while not cheap, is at the lower end of what well-heeled audiophiles typically pay for amplifiers.
The Canadian audio industry has been mounting a challenge to other high-end manufacturers over the past few years. Ask any audiophile about Canadian audio manufacturers and chances are that he or she will have no trouble rattling off a string of respected names—Classé, Museatex, Sonic Frontiers, Mirage, PSB, Paradigm, Energy. And Bryston.
Hang around long enough, and your reward is often to be taken for granted or ignored. Canadian electronics manufacturer Bryston Ltd. has been around since the mid-1970s, and whileif coverage by Stereophile is any indicationthe company has hardly been ignored, it's often taken for granted.
Bright April Sunday sunshine beams through the bay window of my listening room. The light catches four loudspeakers on stands, two stacks of electronic equipment, a small video monitor, black cables strung behind furniture, and a pile of freshly opened DVDs. I sit in the center in a large, overstuffed chair covered in blue velvet, listening to an array of six loudspeakers and a TV monitor playing The Haunting's DTS soundtrack. The floor rumbles as the sounds of creaking timbers come up from below.
Lord Acton said, famously, that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. If there ever were an amplifier to test that maxim's applicability to audiophiles, it is surely the Chord SPM 14000 Ultimate Monoblock. Priced no less than $75,000/pair, the SPM 14000 is rated to produce power as do very few other amplifiers on the planet: it is very conservatively rated at 1kW into an 8 ohm load, 2kW into 4 ohms, and "will easily exceed" 2800W (give or take a few watts) into 2 ohms.
High-tech, compact, and lightweight, Chord's entry-level SPM 650 power amplifier ($4995) promises robust power output, low distortion and noise, flat and ultra-wideband frequency response, and bulletproof reliabilityall in what seems an impossibly small package measuring 16.4" wide by 3.4" high by 13.8" deep and weighing only 22 lbs.