Bryston 14B-SST power amplifier Page 3

In fact, the Bryston 14B-SST seemed to have no character at all. It was a chameleon. Driving the Burmester B-99 speakers, the amplifier had reticent highs. With the Revel Ultima Salons, it was neutral and polite, without the snap and zip that the 7B-ST gives to percussion sounds. With the MartinLogan Prodigys, the big Bryston made the MLs' ForceForward woofers blossom and become forceful and taut, while expanding their dynamic range.

The 14B-SST's sonic character ranged from polite to powerful, but no simple profile emerged. In some instances, I loved what I heard; in others, I wasn't certain. Then I hooked up the Quad ESL-989s, which arrived near the end of my listening sessions.

The 14B-SST and ESL-989s made a wonderful combination. The amp brought out the electrostatics' bass response, opened up the midrange, and delivered some of the most translucent, effortless highs I've heard in a long time. My notes: "This is a bridged circuit? The sonics aren't supposed to be this lovely, distortionless, clear, and neutral." The bass was outstanding. Whether driving the Quads or a purely dynamic system, the 14B-SST rendered fast, solid bass notes with great pitch definition. This was evident playing Stravinsky's Firebird Suite (tracks 3, 5, 7) and The Rite of Spring (tracks 21-24) from Eiji Oue's recording with Minnesota Orchestra (Reference RR-70CD). The bass whack at the end of track 7 shook the room before it shut off one of the Quads for 30 seconds, and forced me to back off the volume.

With the Burmester B-99s or the Revel Salons, the 14B-SST enabled the reproduction of sustained, solid organ-pedal chords during John Rutter's The Lord is My Light and My Salvation (Reference RR-57CD). The staccato plucked bass and deep synthesizer in "Something's Wrong," from the My Cousin Vinny soundtrack (Varèse Sarabande VSD-5364), was as good as I've heard with any amplifier. Terry Dorsey's "Ascent," from Time Warp (Telarc CD-80106), shook the room with synthesizer pulses. Pitch changes in deep-bass synthesizer passages were abundantly clear in "Behind the Veil," from Jeff Beck's Beck's Guitar Shop (Epic EK 44313).

Driving the Revel Salons, the 14B-SST provided solid, massive deep bass that was rich and expansive. Bass lines were easily resolved, with precise pitch definition and articulation. Deep organ-pedal notes from Jean Guillou's transcription of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (Dorian DOR-90117) shook my room and produced bass room lock. The Bryston re-created a sense of space and depth appropriate to each recording venue. Double-bassist Glen Moore's plucked notes on "The Silence of a Candle," from Oregon's Beyond Words (Chesky JD130), had distinct tonal steps, and were taut and well-damped.

The Bryston's midrange had no discernible character of its own, only the character of the recording. This was heard on a range of recordings. Paul Simon's voice on "Trailways Bus" (Songs from the Capeman, Warner Bros. 46814-2) remained clear and free of muddiness even at high volumes. The ESL-989/14B-SST combo conveyed the lovely harmony of Richard and Linda Thompson's voices on "Dimming of the Day" (Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, DMZ/Columbia CK 86534). This song has one the sweetest, saddest, most beguilingly beautiful melodies I've heard—a tribute to the singers' talents and to the Bryston, which could be sweet when driving a full-range electrostatic loudspeaker.

The amplifier captured the brassiness of trumpets without creating an irritating edginess. On lesser systems, the trumpets from Oue's Rite of Spring recording are irritating and nasty. Played through the Quad ESL-989s and the 14B-SST, those trumpets had an attention-grabbing brassiness that was hot and passionate, with just the right amount of raw texture this work demands.

The 14B-SST's imaging was first-rate, equaled only by that of the huge Krell FPB-600C, another dual-mono solid-state design. During the instrumental finish of Richard Thompson's "Why Must I Plead" (Rumor and Sigh, Capitol CDP 7 95713 2), the acoustic guitar's image fell well outside the right-channel ESL-989. Soundstage depth and width captured the intimacy and relaxed atmosphere of the Green Mill nightclub where Patricia Barber recorded Companion (Premonition/Blue Note 5 22963 2). José Carreras singing Ariel Ramirez's Misa Criolla (Philips 420 955-2), with a huge chorus and drum, was spacious and eerie, hinting at the solitude and desolation of the Mexican plateau.

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