Bryston 14B-SST power amplifier Page 4

The 14B-SST's treble was clear and extended. My beliefs about bridged circuits—which were already changing—had led to me to expect etched highs and zippy transients. Not so with the 14B-SST. It delivered effortless, grain-free, extended highs. Vocal sibilants, which could trouble the beginning of Paul Simon's "Trailways Bus," didn't hiss, but were natural without being too soft. Billy Drummond's opening brushwork on his ride cymbal in "The Mooche," from the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (Stereophile STPH013-2), had the characteristic buzz and shimmer of wire brushes and not—as it does through lesser amplifiers—of static.

Macrodynamics? Previously, through the Revel Salons in my large listening room, only the Krell FPB-600C and the Bryston 7B-STs could play full-volume percussion music without compression. The sternest test was the opening timbales solo in "Tito," from Arturo Sandoval's Hothouse (N2K 10023). Through the 7B-STs, the rim shots were explosive, like gunshots; through the 14B-SST, they lost some of the glaring, searing quality that made them exciting, but were more natural and realistic in size. Even so, I could easily hear the crescendo in the opening drum solo. The soundstage remained deep, wide, and rich, but the dynamic contrasts were less exaggerated. This naturalness benefited "The Hand-Off," from the Sneakers soundtrack (Columbia CK 53146), in which explosive piano scales erupt from dead-black silence.

With the 14B-SST, I could increase the power to the Burmester B-99s or Revel Salons until the soundstage stretched from wall to wall. This made listening to the drum solo in "The Maker," from Emmylou Harris' Spyboy (Eminent EM-25001-2), a mind-blowing experience. I had headroom to burn. Rim shots, tom-tom beats, and kick-drum notes were so dynamic and effortless that I felt I could have advanced the volume control even more.

The Bryston 14B-SST amplifier is a beefy, rugged, reliable amplifier whose 20-year warranty and $5500 price make it a real value. Its power and headroom are competitive with such great amplifiers as the $14,995, 600Wpc Electrocompaniet Nemo. The 14B-SST has the midbass punch and solidity, transparency, high-end openness, and soundstage depth of the 7B-ST, but it's smoother and less harsh on peaks. And, claims Chris Russell, it's built to last 50 years.

But the 14B-SST is one amplifier to listen to carefully before purchasing—on a first impression, you might prefer the sounds of other amplifiers. It's easier to warm up to an amplifier that accentuates midrange character, as does the Mark Levinson No.334, or that exaggerates sudden sharp transients, as does, sometimes, Bryston's own 7B-ST. I'd wager that some audiophiles will find the 14B-SST's predictable neutrality downright boring.

I'll take neutrality any day. Combined with its power, effortless dynamics, soundstaging, and open highs, the 14B-SST's impartiality allowed me to hear the most subtle details of the Burmester B-99s, the Revel Salons, and the Quad ESL-989s. The 14B-SST got out of the way of the music, and its unflappable neutrality shook my longstanding assumptions about bridged output circuits. Contrary to popular opinion, a well-engineered bridged output circuit might just be the ideal solid-state design for producing high power with low distortion.

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