Bryston B1353 integrated amplifier

Out of the blue, a forever friend I hadn't spoken to in years called and asked me to join him at Riverside Church for a concert of William Basinski performing his renowned Disintegration Loops. Dedicated to the victims of 9/11, the work was completed as Basinski watched the airplanes crash into the World Trade Center from his Brooklyn rooftop.

The Riverside Church's Ambient Church presentation of Basinski's performance was scheduled for the evening of September 11, 2021—a Saturday. Saturday is my date night, which is sacred, so I was forced to decline.

Happily, though, my friend's call reconnected us as friends who talk about art. It also prompted me to revisit, via the miracle of streaming, the 63 minutes of emotional gravity that emanates from Basinski's disintegrating loops of magnetic recording tape (16/44.1 FLAC, Temporary Residence/Qobuz).

The inspiration for this multimedia elegy was Basinski's attempts to transfer some aging reel-to-reel tape loops to digital. Each time the brittle tape passed the recorder's playback head, more magnetized ferrite detached from its cellulose backing, leaving less and less of the original synthesizer tones behind. Intrigued, Basinski let these loops keep playing and recorded the "path to their demise" on a digital recorder. Later, he flooded these recordings with artificial reverb.

The art of Disintegration Loops lies in how Basinski's repeating loops of peeling tape modulate his imposed sea of reverb. To this listener, the physical tape loops appear (anthropomorphically) to be "playing" Basinski's artificial ocean of ethereal reverb as if it were a theremin. Performing as surrogate musicians, these disintegrating loops modulate the reverb into slowly morphing audio-frequency eddy currents. The hour-long composition presents the listener with dense volumes of expanding and contracting electronic energy that feels timeless and poignant.

These eddy currents of reverberant nuance are difficult to reproduce; common audio-system colorations obscure the subtle tone shifts and minute morphing energies of Disintegration Loops, rendering a potentially deep, religious listening experience boring or annoying.

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The day my friend called, I was about two weeks into my auditions of the Bryston B1353 integrated amplifier. After the call, I listened to Disintegration Loops the rest of the day and into the night. By sunset, I was certain that the neutral and dynamically nuanced Bryston amplifier was keeping a profound grip on this subtle program. What I was hearing was relaxed, fully realized, and well-controlled.

I believe that without the Bryston's easy-flowing, low-distortion grip, I would have missed most of what Basinski intended the listener to experience. The unforgettable quality of that day-long deep-listening experience affected everything I've written in this Bryston amplifier review, except the Description section and the price.

Description
The basic Bryston B1353 integrated costs $6695. For $750 more, you can have a DAC card installed. $1000 more turns the Aux 1 input into a moving magnet phono input. I opted for no phono or DAC options, because when I review an integrated, I prefer to focus on the character and capabilities of its pre and power sections. I've auditioned a lot of Bryston amplification at audio shows and felt they offered a unique and appealing sound—a house sound—that leaned a few degrees to the cool side of neutral. I wanted to examine that unique Bryston sound using familiar analog and digital sources.

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The B1353 is the only integrated amplifier Bryston makes. It combines their BP-173 preamplifier and 2.5B3 amplifier in one box. PR rep Micah Sheveloff of WIRC Media, which represents Bryston, told me in an email that "the power amplifier section is fully complimentary and operates in 'class-AB2'"; that's Bryston's particular implementation of class-AB.

Like other Bryston "cubed" products—the products with the superscripted 3 are called "cubed"—the B1353 utilizes a circuit Bryston calls the "Salomie circuit." I asked Micah for details. "The B135's class-AB2 amplifier features an input stage, a voltage amplification stage, and an output stage," Micah replied. "The Salomie circuit is a patented, superlinear, low-noise input buffer (only applied to input stage) jointly developed by Bryston and the late PhD engineer Dr. Ioan Alexandru Salomie. The circuit offers dramatically less distortion at the input stage, improved common-mode noise rejection, [improved] EMI/RFI noise rejection, and less than 500mW standby power consumption."

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The B1353's back panel places the right and left channel inputs and outputs on either side of the chassis centerline, which bisects the centrally located IEC socket. Groups of seven single-ended line inputs on either side of center are labeled Aux1/Phono, Aux2/SPDIF, CD, TV, Tuner, Video, then Record In and Power Amp In. There is a fixed, unity-gain Record Out and a switched, variable Preamp Out; the latter, together with Power Amp In, allows users to separate the B1353's preamplifier and amplifier functions. Pairs of three-way speaker-wire binding posts are positioned symmetrically on the outer edge of the back panel. Breaking the symmetry is an RS232 connector, which facilitates custom installs, and a 12V trigger, both positioned left of the central IEC connector.

The B1353's anti-bling front panel, which comes in 17" or 19" versions, features Bryston's signature soft-brushed gray or black aluminum faceplate, understated logo—and no display screen, which makes it more likely that the unit will outlive Bryston's extraordinary 20-year warranty period. Dead center, under the logo, are two buttons for adjusting balance in 1dB increments and two lights that indicate balance tilt to the left or right. Left of center is an IF Sensor, a 6.5mm headphone jack, and a row of seven buttons for input selection. Right of center is the analog volume control; to the right of that is the Mute button. Farther right is a tiny LED that flashes when the input signal is too hot for undistorted output. At far right is the Power On/Standby button.

The B1353 weighs a modest 26lb and measures 19" (or 17", depending on your choice of faceplates) wide by 4.5" high and 14.6" deep. It comes with a remote control.

Listening
The system I was using to play William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, as described in my intro, consisted of Roon's Nucleus+ server connected (via Ethernet) to the dCS Bartók DAC, on into the B1353, which powered my Falcon "Gold Badge" LS3/5a speakers. On that recording, the sound was tone-neutral, not cool (as in my Bryston auditions at shows), and well-focused. The chief pleasure that day was the way the Bryston amplifier refused to get between me and the Basinski ambient experience.

That made me want to leave the Bryston in the system and forget about it, which I did, until, after three weeks of Bryston-only listening, I decided to compare it to the similarly priced ($7250) Pass Labs INT-25 integrated, which I have long regarded as the most transparent, naturally dynamic solid state amplification I've used.

vs Pass Labs INT-25
I believe in what I call "comparison by contrast": I wanted to see which of these two integrated amplifiers would make the dCS Bartók DAC sound the most different from the Mola Mola Tambaqui DAC described in this issue's Gramophone Dreams. Experience has taught me: Line-level amplification that allows source components to sound the most different from each other is the least colored/most transparent, according to the J. Gordon Holt definition of transparency.

COMPANY INFO
Bryston Limited
677 Neal Dr.
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 6X7
Canada
(705) 742-5325
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
Long-time listener's picture

I'm interested in a certain question, so this is addressed either to Herb Reichert or to anyone who can answer it. Given that the Pass Labs amp that Herb likes for its vividness has generally higher distortion than this amp, especially in the highs, I would like to know what aspect or aspects of its performance would account for that extra vividness? Genuinely curious about this. I've found that good measurements in DACs tend to correlate with what I consider good sound, but it seems much harder to make that correlation in amps.

thethanimal's picture

Probably because the Pass is a push-pull Class A amp using FETs and no feedback, vs. the Bryston’s Class AB operation. If I follow Herb’s writing correctly, he seems to always prefer Class A and FETs because they result in the most transparent and vivid images, perhaps at the expense of some wallop and control on inefficient speakers. But I’m no electrical engineer.

Jonti's picture

I posted a reply here a couple of days ago, then edited it to correct a typo, upon which my post was "sent to the admins for approval" and promptly disappeared. Please could you approve my corrected spelling and reinstate the post? Or does my *speling* not make the grade for such a lofty publication? ;)

Ortofan's picture

... on more than one occasion.

Archimago's picture

Yup, same here over the years.

Make sure to do it in one shot - no editing. Otherwise it ends up in the Black Hole.

Long-time listener's picture

I see. I was looking only at distortion levels, and I wondered, does the high frequency distortion in the Pass (which seems quite high) maybe add a little extra crackle and crunch to the sound of the cellophane, making it more vivid? (Heh heh) But I see there's more to it than that.

thethanimal's picture

In the case of either amp, I thought at those levels of THD the amp’s distortion would be buried beneath the speaker’s own distortion and the acoustics of the room.

Jonti's picture

I was also listening to Disintegration Loops the other week ("dlp 1.1" in particular) after a friend recommended it to me. Said amigo also explained that Basinski had recorded the 1.1 loop from an easy listening radio station in the early 1980s, hence the basal sweetness and dim brass remnants floating in the background.

You suggest that colouration could obscure the subtle shifts in this music, potentially rendering it boring/annoying, but I believe that an infinitely greater factor here is the listener's state of mind! The key is being at peace with oneself and one's environment and the flow of time. Then and only then can we sit back and appreciate the sheer beauty of what is unspooling before us.

On a similar tip, I'd urge you to journey with Susumu Yokota's sublime "Sakura" album and any of Mike Cooper's densely atmospheric collages on the Room40 label, but specifically "New Kiribati" and "Rayon Hula" and "Tropical Gothic".

Herb Reichert's picture

You sound like a deep listener.

And your recommendations look really interesting. I will start with Sakura now.

peace and streaming,

hr

Jonti's picture

Thank you for the kind words. Enjoy the music.

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