Bricasti Design M28 monoblock power amplifier Page 2

Early in the review period, a friend of my wife's visited from out of town, accompanied by her music-writer husband, who is definitely not an audiophile. In fact, he was hesitant about visiting at all, fearing I'd subject him to "audiophile" records. Happily, I had all of the recordings he asked to hear, some of it obscure. He came away from the experience thinking that one could be an audiophile and a music lover. He seemed to enjoy the Fremer Hi-Fi Show, but after a while, though he'd said nothing, I could tell he was less than happy with a few things we played. Then he requested the title track of Television's Marquee Moon (LP, Elektra 7E-1098).

This bright, shimmering, electric-guitar–drenched tune has a sound that should bite—it's all about the high-pitched top of the fretboard. Richard Lloyd's reggae-like rhythm guitar should sear with sharp edges, and Tom Verlaine's leads should be wiry and crystalline. (The two switch roles on this track, which adds another layer of interest.) The cymbal crashes should crunch, shattering the air. The sound should be as severe and unflattering as Robert Mapplethorpe's cover photo. (Television turned down a contract with Island Records, reputedly because a demo produced by Brian Eno was too bright; they wanted something with greater atmosphere. If that demo was even brighter than this, I'd love to hear it!)

None of this is accidental: Lloyd himself essentially produced the album, which was recorded at Phil Ramone's A&R Studios, engineered by Andy Johns (who's credited as producer), and mastered at Sterling Sound by Greg Calbi and Lee Hulko. It's a great record—even if, when I opened for Television doing standup at Boston's Paradise Club, they were snotty and unfriendly.

But that afternoon, as I played it for our guest, "Marquee Moon" sounded soft and limp. The recording doesn't contain much bass, but bassist Fred Smith's lines should be clean, crisp, and well defined. They weren't, and I heard. My music-critic guest heard it. Still, he was silent.

"That's just not rocking, is it?" I said. I substituted the darTZeels and played the song again.

This non-audiophile said, "Tom and Richard, thank you!"

After Break-In
I've found that breaking in an audio component can usually convert a thin, bright, edgy sound into smoother textures, more nuanced transients, and deeper soundstages. When I gave the Bricastis a chance to break in by leaving them on with the Meridian Music Server set to Swim throughout the week of CES, they tightened up on top, bottom, and in between. The upper octaves greatly opened up, producing air and shimmer where appropriate, where previously there'd been little.

By the time I'd returned from CES 2015, the Bricasti M28s were broken in: the top end had fully opened up, the bottom had tightened, and the overall sound was considerably more transparent. And the positive aspects of the amps' sound that had been obvious from the start—a wide, especially deep and expansive soundstage, and an absence of grain and unnatural etch—had survived breaking in.

I went back to that Television song. The guitar transients were sharper, the top end more extended and searing. But the M28's sound was still more smooth and sweet than fast and tight.

The M28 shared the Soulution 710's "overall refinement" but not its "startling transient cleanness." Some of the M28's refinement comes from slightly soft as opposed to razor-sharp transients. The 710's transients were fast, clean, and, when appropriate, sharp. The M28's transients were consistently somewhat blunted, though pleasingly smooth.

The Electric Recording Company recently reissued an extremely rare and valuable LP of husband and wife Leonid Kogan and Elizaveta Gilels performing sonatas for two violins by Leclair, Telemann, and Ysaÿe (LP, UK Columbia/ERC SAX 2531). A 1964 original pressing sold for $3803 on eBay, according to, so ERC's asking price of ú300 ($450) is reasonable for a reissue meticulously mastered from the original analog tape using a restored all-tube cutting system, packaged to look and feel like the original edition, and limited to 300 copies. The flat-profile pressing from Record Industry, in the Netherlands, is perfect: not a single pop or click, and "black" backgrounds.

The M28's sonic character perfectly complemented this recording, producing natural attacks, and rich, full-bodied sustain that created physical, three-dimensional images of the two violins, their textures and tonality intact. I think that the Soulution 710, whose sound has a bit less meat on its bones, would somewhat gloss over the textures that the M28 got just right. Even a diehard tube lover would be impressed.


As he or she would be with how the M28s reproduced the rich massed strings and soaring horns in the final movement of Mahler's Symphony 9 in another superb ERC reissue, this one of Sir John Barbirolli conducting the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, originally issued in 1964 on HMV (2 LPs, EMI/ERC ASDS 596/7). ERC's edition will set you back some $850—but on the used market, clean originals can go for much more. And no digitization can compare with or even approach the analog version's sonic and emotional majesty.

Here, the Berlin Philharmonic is heard from somewhat closer than Deutsche Grammophon's usual distant perspective. This one might get you swooning even through a boom box; through the M28s, the depth and expanse of the soundstage were generous, the tone of massed strings lush, lustrous, and full-bodied. The violins were sweet, with a gliding sheen and no harsh or edgy overlay, and the bigger strings had a visceral growl and fullness that the Bricastis couldn't possibly have expressed before being fully broken in.

In "C Jam Blues" (better known as "Duke's Place"), from a reissue of Duke Ellington's Blues in Orbit (2 45rpm LPs, Columbia CS 8241/ORG 120), Ray Nance takes a steely-sounding solo on violin that should cut through sharply, and Paul Gonzalves's tenor-sax solo should sound reedy—but the M28 somewhat smoothed over the sound of both. The cymbal shimmer and sharp rim-shot cracks from drummer Sam Woodyard weren't as sharply rendered as they can be. The M28s did best here by making audible, deep in the reverb, the furthermost recesses of Columbia's 30th Street Studios.

One of my benchmark recordings is a reissue of Tony Bennett's At Carnegie Hall (2 LPs, Columbia/Analogue Productions AAPP 823). The M28s effectively conveyed the size of the hall, but not all of the air around Bennett's voice. The voice itself, however, was well fleshed out and smooth sounding.

The M28's strongest suit was its reproduction of the midrange—voices were particularly well rendered. It had been a long time since I'd played Eva Cassidy's Songbird (LP, Blix Street/S&P 501), and I'd remembered it as having a somewhat bright overlay, behind which lurked some obvious processing. Through the M28s it sounded rich and natural. When I went back to my reference darTZeel amps, I could hear more of the reverb behind Cassidy's voice, but the voice itself sounded equally natural.

Given the M28's claimed frequency response, you'd expect full extension at the frequency extremes, and that's what I heard—but not necessarily what I described about the Soulution 710's sound: "very tight . . . bass that revealed transient details that more sluggish amps cover under a pleasing warmth." Though the M28's bottom end went deep, it wasn't as fast or as well articulated as some others. Still, it was pleasingly warm, and produced "the visceral whomp" I'd found lacking in the 710.

I compared the M28 with the now-discontinued Soulution 710 because I found them to have polar-opposite sonic personalities, despite their somewhat similar specs. Both are wideband, but one, the Soulution, is fast, tight, punchy, and superdetailed, while the other the Bricasti, is somewhat slower, less tightly sprung, less punchy, and perhaps less detailed, particularly in terms of transient response. As a result, the Soulution 710 was more exciting and transparent, but its sound was less fully fleshed out in the midrange—some would call it skeletal. The Bricasti M28's sound was somewhat slower and less exciting, but more harmonically generous and more fully fleshed out in the midrange. Depending on your preference, you could say that one is more about "hi-fi," the other more about "music"—but I think that would be to simplify a complex set of variables. And how you might react to the sound of either would also depend on your tastes and your system.

Before shutting down the M28s and packing them up, I played The New Standard one last time. I found that the Bricastis' bottom-end control and articulation had considerably improved with further break-in—Bobby Previte's kick drum was now more than mere "bass," and Steve Swallow's e-bass plucks were far better delineated. Cymbal shimmer was also greatly improved, and the upper octaves of Jamie Saft's piano contained more of the metallic ring of the strings mixed in with the woody resonance of the instrument's case. In other words, rhythm'n'pacing had greatly improved.

Overall, though, I still found the M28's overall sound, though fully extended on bottom, to be only moderately well-articulated compared to my far more expensive reference monoblocks, the darTZeel NHB-458s (or to what I recall of the Soulution 710's sound). However, the M28 was faultlessly rich and smooth in the critical midrange, where most of the music lives. On top, it was sweet and less than fully open, but insufficiently fast and precise for my taste.

Bricasti Designs' M28 is a powerful, beautifully built amplifier. Its sound is surely the result of deliberate design choices—from top to bottom, it spoke with one voice. Given its design pedigree, I'm sure it will produce impressive measurements on JA's test bench. But I need more metal, where and when it's called for. The Bricasti M28s might have provided the perfect match for my older reference speakers, the Wilson Audio MAXX 3s, whose sound had more metal on top. That's hi-fi for you.

Bricasti Design, Ltd.
2 Shaker Road
Building J100
Shirley, MA 01464
(978) 425-5199

c1ferrari's picture

on some fora -- it's been reported that Stereophile panned the M28...that is not my inference after reading the review proper.

iosiP's picture

...or did the Bricasti sound just like the old crop of Mark Levinson gear?
Where did I hear the slightly subdued treble, the overall dark sound and the longish and somewhat less controlled bass? Well in older ML designs, of course!
While some may love it and some may like to go back to it, I certainly prefer the sound of the new ML gear... so sorry for ML (the man) but enthusiastic about ML (the company).

bpw's picture

The print magazine has the manufacturer's response, which is interesting and relevant although not included above. Since it has been posted on some audio forum websites it's probably fair to post a link to it.

John Atkinson's picture
bpw wrote:
The print magazine has the manufacturer's response, which is interesting and relevant although not included above.

I have added it to this Web reprint.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

bpw's picture

Thank you, John.

It's even handed and honorable of you to do so.

dmusoke's picture

Though I've never heard or listened to the M28, I have to agree with the manufacturer's response and logic. The M28 has much lower distortion and precise reproduction of high frequency signals like the 10kHz square wave. Michael's reference system has much higher distortion and slower in its electrical transient response so maybe that's what he's used to and prefers obviously. Nothing wrong with that but to slam the M28 as of "hi-fi" quality based on its measured performance is definitely wrong.

RaimondAudio's picture

".....darTZeel NHB-18NS preamplifier, I didn't feel the M28s' performance would be in any way compromised...." . Maybe you listening the darTZeel character(distortions), not the M28's.

MrForty's picture

Is the bass softness character caused by the transformer coupled balanced preamp? I reckon transformer coupled balance has rather narrow bandwidth that may cause compatibility issue. It is not a good idea to use transformer coupled balance preamp for evaluating downstream equipment, particular the downstream balance is designed around typical electronic based balance circuit.

bengal_finch's picture

Matching of components is very important and so do the cables as well. i am a Bricasti M1 user for last two years and Sim 650D with 820S is my another DAC, transport is MBL1621A. i always prefer 650D for detail but the comparatively with higher noise floored M1 is very involving with rock based music. sometimes its made me paranoid which one to play, yes it sometime destroying my pleasure of listening when it comes in terms of choosing DAC. NOW .. very recently i ordered MBL6010D with 5011 pree trade in. so i force to use my old Restek Concence pree, and Bricasti playing like a topnotch compare with sim 650D with it. So i simply demand using M28 with some other pree and setup and ofcorse with different speaker and please don't pick Dynaaudio. its hard to except M28 is slow player. but it could be, yet its too early to comment.