Bryston 9B-THX five-channel power amplifier Page 3

The ground trembles with its force
Following a steady stream of massive two-channel audiophile amplifiers, the relatively compact Bryston 9B-THX spelled relief for this reviewer. During my auditioning, I placed it atop a Mark Levinson No.334 stereo power amplifier. Rated at approximately the same power, the Levinson was 1.6 times as expensive, almost 1.5 times as heavy, just as deep, twice as tall, and yet had three fewer channels! For someone used to doing the audiophile amplifier-lift—deep breath, bend at the knees, lift straight up to protect the back—moving the 9B-THX's 75 lbs around was downright easy.

It might be compact, but the 9B-THX packs plenty of punch—my notes on first hearing the Bryston through the Dynaudio Evidence Master speakers I reviewed last May testify to its speed and power. Like the 4B-ST and the 3B-ST I wrote about several years ago, the 9B-THX's strength is in the power region of the audio spectrum: the midbass and bass. The 9B-THX delivers fast, powerful, well-defined midbass, and low bass with depth, extension, and solidity. It combines snap and slam, allowing the listener to perceive both the low-frequency energy and the tightness and definition of the leading edge of the bass pulse. Playing back two-channel audio through the Evidence towers, it excelled in its focused imaging, absence of midrange grain, and extended, transparent highs.

As a multichannel amplifier, the 9B-THX was superb. DVD recordings of live concerts benefited from its speed, punch, slam, and rhythmic drive. For half the listening test, I set the Lexicon to treat the Mirage front- and rear-channel speakers as "Large" (ie, driven full-range). After 45 minutes of Godzilla's thunderous footfalls and the pounding techno beat of Run Lola Run, the Bryston's internal heatsinks were quite hot. But the sound remained open, transparent, clean, and revealing of detail, as made evident by concert DVDs. The opening drum beat of the Eagles' Hotel California (DTS DVD 99121) made my room shudder. Similarly, the extremely deep bass-guitar chords dominated the opening of Sheryl Crow's Am I Getting Through concert DVD (DTS DVD 99121).

The multichannel experience placed me in the center of the action. The surround activity in Chapter 12 of Godzilla made the front-to-back action—as when the dinosaur approaches from the front channels, passes over the hero, and leaves via the rear loudspeakers—completely convincing. A similar front-back fly-by gripped me as the attack helicopters chased Godzilla through the streets of New York.

After several hours of listening, I pushed the 9B-THX until the front panel's LEDs occasionally flashed red. While the sound exhibited the expected compression, refusing to get louder, it didn't become brittle, analytic, hard, or distorted.

The midrange was excellent. The pace'n'rhythm of Run Lola Run's throbbing techno score became an integral part of the movie, its brush strokes on synthesized drums driving Franka Potente's tireless running. I heard the individual notes from the several guitars in Hotel California more clearly and distinctly than ever before; they refused to be homogenized by the conga drums in the selection's opening.

To hear subtle amplifier differences, it was necessary to replace the front Mirage speakers with 250-lb Revel Salons, driving them alternately with the Mark Levinson No.334 or with two 9B-THX channels. This revealed differences in the uppermost ranges. While the Bryston 9B-THX sounded clean, fast, and very dynamic, it was not as transparent as the much more expensive No.334 driving these exquisite $15,000/pair loudspeakers. The Levinson was also more defined and etched playing the guitar accompaniment to Roy Orbison's "Pretty Woman" on DTS's Demo Disc IV.

My listening revealed the Bryston 9B-THX to be not only a surprisingly powerful amplifier with strong dynamics, but also the equal of more expensive solid-state amplifiers in its ability to deliver powerful midbass, wide dynamic contrasts, and involving vocal reproduction.

Bryston's 9B-THX is a beefy, rugged, reliable home-theater amplifier whose 20-year warranty and midpoint price make it a real value. It's powerful, built to last, and appears to be very easy to service. Sonically, it resembles the other ST Brystons, particularly the 3B-ST's midbass punch and solidity, and equals top two-channel audiophile amplifiers like the Bryston 4B-ST and 7B-ST. While these two-channel stereo amplifiers have slight edges in transparency, high-end openness, and soundstage depth, they can't deliver the Bryston 9B-THX's ultra-clean power to five separate loudspeakers. Such pristine power makes it a perfect choice for someone who wants to have a home-theater system, yet have a basic amplifier for multichannel music-only recordings.

So sit forward and join the action: Put on a DVD and enter the new world of multichannel home-theater sound. The 9B-THX five-channel amplifier took me there on that bright spring day in April. It could take you there, too.

30 Coventry Street
Newport, VT 05855
(802) 334-1201