Bryston 7B SST2 monoblock power amplifier Page 5

It seemed only fair to give a listen to a pair of 7B SST2s that included the new transformers and compare them with the original units. John Atkinson also was kind enough to schlep over a pair of Parasound's Halo JC 1 monoblocks, which are similarly priced.

Revisiting the Original 7B SST2s
It took but a few minutes to hear what I reported in the review: the soft attack, murky sustain, and mutable decay. I revisited the Beatles' cover of "Roll Over Beethoven" and some of the other tracks, and added a few new ones, including "We Can Talk," from an exceptionally fine-sounding SACD of the Band's Music from Big Pink (Capitol/Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab). Through the original pair of 7B SST2s, the voices were positively overstuffed. I stand by my original review.

The New 7B SST2s
The differences between the two pairs of amplifiers were immediately and strikingly apparent. The amps fitted with the new transformer produced more credibly focused images in three-dimensional space; sharper, more realistic transients; and greatly improved bass definition. The new pair's attack was more precise, their sustain and decay greatly clarified. The new pair also produced a clearer picture, with more compact and more appropriately sized images in place of the original's somewhat foggy blur. For instance, on "Roll Over Beethoven," the cymbals went from a gauzy shhsssh to a cleanly rendered sizzle that was both more detailed and better defined spatially.

Before substituting the Parasound amps, I concluded that the most apparent and obvious sonic signature shared by both pairs of Brystons was a rich midband that projected somewhat forward, and large, satisfyingly palpable images, particularly of voices—though imaging overall was still only moderately precise and soundstaging was still somewhat flat, with images rarely stepping forward of a line drawn between the speakers.

Through the new pair of Brystons the voices on the Band's "We Can Talk," for instance, were more appropriately sized, and Levon Helm's drums sounded snappier and more convincing—but I've heard greater snap and crackle and, especially, three-dimensional relief with other amplifiers. While the bass performance was now more credible, it was still on the soft side, particularly in terms of electric-bass attack. Overall transparency was only moderate, with instrumental decay still somewhat less than fully resolved.

Against the Parasound Halo JC 1s
The Parasounds couldn't have sounded more different. Their bass was deeper, tighter, and better controlled, yet not overdamped, so that textures were fully resolved, and rhythm'n'pacing were far more nimble. Image specificity was greater, and dimensionality was more fully expressed. Transients were faster and more effervescent while being free of artificial etch. Reverb was expressed as genuine depth where appropriate, dropping way down in level into the noise floor before dissipating. Images leapt from the speakers and floated more freely in a huge three-dimensional space—but most noticeable, and almost immediately, was the delicacy, resolution, and coherence of the reverb's decay.

Neither pair of Brystons matched the Parasounds' low-level resolution and microdynamic delicacy. With the much nimbler, more holographic-sounding Parasounds there was more musical information to consider and more musical pleasure to be had. Detractors might say the Halos' top end was brash, but I counter that that was the fault of the recordings, not the amps, which had a sweet top end despite all their resolution and transparency.

If I owned a pair of Bryston 7B SST2s, I'd make sure to find out whether they contained the old or new transformers. The improvement produced by the new transformers was significant.

Nonetheless, even the improved version, while sounding pleasant enough—and particularly rich in the midrange—couldn't get my Wilson Audio MAXX 3 speakers to live up to their sonic potential, despite having enough power to do so. It's not a matter of cost—the similarly priced Parasounds did so with ease.

But while the better of the two pairs of Bryston monoblocks always sounded pleasant, they rarely sounded exciting. The original pair elicited this conclusion: "I listened happily to the pair of them for a month, concentrating on the many things they did well. But their presentation was sort of like tofu: nourishing, but in need of spicing up to be truly tasty. Replacing the darTZeel NHB-18NS preamplifier with Musical Fidelity's all-tube Primo added needed texture and dimensionality. The Audio Valve Sunilda phono preamp added interest. Changes of cable produced useful results. But overall, the Brystons' presentation lacked the microdynamics I was used to from the Musical Fidelity Titan."

While the second pair of 7B SST2s was clearly an improvement over the first, that conclusion stands. In my experience, it is hard to beat a lot of good, clean power, and the Bryston 7B SST2 offers that, plus ultra-low distortion, in a superbly built, reliable package at a very reasonable price. But before buying a pair, listen to the competition.

Bryston Ltd.
P.O. Box 2170
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 7Y4, Canada
(705) 742-5325