Bryston B-60R integrated amplifier Page 2

For a home-theater setup, you could purchase the three-channel Bryston 5B-ST power amp for $2465, use it for the left, center, and right front speakers, and then use the power-amp section of the B-60 for your surround speakers. For an audio-only system, you could add a Bryston 2B-LP stereo amp for $850 and bi-amp a pair of speakers—assuming your speakers allow for bi-amping. Total cost: $2345. That's for a state-of-the-art line-stage and 60Wpc times two—something to think about before you spend over $2000 on someone else's integrated amplifier.

Many integrateds lack a headphone jack, forcing you to purchase a separate headphone amp for several hundred more. Not the B-60. Headphones are driven by the preamp section, which, according to Chris Russell, can deliver up to about 1W into most dynamic headphones—enough to drive my Grado RS-1s very dynamically indeed. I've never heard the Grados get it up better than they do with the B-60.

The B-60 could thus be the perfect choice for an apartment dweller—or someone who has small children and needs to listen through headphones late at night. I enjoyed my Grados so much with the Bryston that I often used the headphones even when I didn't have to.

The B-60 runs only slightly warm, so you can easily leave it on all the time for best sound. (By the way, break-in time was extremely fast—about 24 hours.) At idle, the B-60 consumes a scant 20-30W, according to Chris.

Let's get serious—how does the amp sound?

Damned good! Startlingly good, compared to most other integrated amps I've heard to date. The B-60 is...yes, let's consult the music critic's thesaurus. The sound is...unimpeachable. Next month I'll need a new adjective. (No problem—I'll read the record reviews in Stereophile.)

I did much of my listening with the Martin-Logan Aerius i—a match made in hi-fi heaven. I also used the Cabasse Farella 400, another excellent match. While the B-60 is a small amp—rated at 60Wpc into 8 ohms, 100Wpc into 4 ohms—it will probably drive all but the most power-piggy speakers in all but the largest rooms.

Still, even with efficient speakers, a bigger amp will give you bigger sound—as I found out when I tried a pair of 1000Wpc McIntosh MC1000 amps with my 92dB-sensitive Farella 400s. No contest. A thousand watts per channel sounds more powerful than 60Wpc.

But is the Bryston's wonderful sound the result of its being such a small amp? Ah...that's a question to ponder. Many people believe that the best-sounding solid-state amps are those that use only one pair of transistors per channel. You start paralleling pairs, and even the closest computer matching may not be quite so close.

How to describe the sound of the Bryston?

Neutral. Again, precisely the kind of thing many audiophiles find boring.

Not me. The Bryston wasn't boring. That's because its resolution was superb—of knockout quality. With most inexpensive integrateds, even if the sound is pleasant, there's usually a tendency of instruments to coalesce, to congeal—to sound like sonic mucilage.

Not the Bryston.

With a good recording, each instrumentalist was placed precisely in the soundstage, side to side, front to back—as it is with separate components typically costing hundreds if not thousands of dollars more. I could hear the recording environment—reverberations, the air in the hall. There's not only a lot of there there, there's a lot of here there:

The Bryston B-60 had a way of bringing the music forward, but not too far forward—certainly not throwing it in your face, but also not laying it back so much that the music seemed to be emerging from a tunnel.

High-end hi-fi is about this kind of transparency—about spatial resolution. It's about the quality of space—silences between notes, space between performers. It's also about breathing, sniffing, scuffing one's feet, even—I swear I've heard this in at least one recording—about farting.

"Stop that!" warned Marina, looking over my shoulder.

What's unusual—and, yes, startling—is to find this level of transparency in an integrated amp retailing for what seems to be an almost laughably affordable $1495. (Another reason some audiophiles won't like the B-60—too inexpensive.) The Bryston B-60 gives you more than a taste of the High End—it gives you the High End. It gets you almost within touching distance of the Holy Grail.

I heard no hardness or grain. The midrange was especially smooth and sweet, making it a pleasure for me to listen to chamber music. Treble was well-extended—certainly not rolled-off, as it is with some integrateds. But it wasn't exaggerated. Bass was richly delineated, tight and tuneful—unimpeachable. (Heh-heh.)

But the power limitation tells. There's just so much bass oomph you can get out of 60Wpc. At least I didn't get boom, excessive bloom...or bloat.

I fault most solid-state gear for being harmonically thin—"threadbare" is the word I like to use. The B-60 wasn't threadbare, but the sound was not so rich and lush, or so full-bodied, as it is with most tube amps—or as it is with a few solid-state integrateds, such as the Musical Fidelity A220.

In short, the Bryston B-60 is so outstanding, you should audition it before you buy any integrated—including integrateds selling for $500 to $1000. You may conclude that the Bryston is well worth the extra money, in terms of build quality—and, even more important, sound quality. You work too hard for your money to spend it on half-great hi-fi.

The B-60 is a great option, but not your only one. There's the Musical Fidelity A220—richer-sounding than the Bryston, but not so transparent. $500 less, though. Conrad-Johnson should have introduced the CAV-50 tubed integrated for $2495 by the time this column appears. Because the power-amp section derives from the superb MV-55 amplifier, this unit might well be superb. But it costs $1000 more than the Bryston; besides, it's tubed, and therefore not as maintenance-free. (With the Bryston, your only maintenance for the next 20 years will be electricity.)

The Bryston B-60 is a landmark product—a great North American integrated amp at a super price. Finally! I especially like it with the Martin-Logan Aerius i, where the speed of the amp complements the speed of the speakers, providing exceptionally clean, clear, crisp sound that still manages to avoid hardness, brittleness, or sterility.

Combine the Aerius i and the B-60 with a good CD source, like the Rotel RCD-990 or the Micro Mega Stage 5 or 6, and you, too, can have sound that compares with the very best there is at any price, in every aspect but that of scale. To put it another way, you can have truly great sound—just not gobs and gobs of it. Just as the Aerius i is a mini-Martin-Logan, but a Martin-Logan nonetheless, the Bryston B-60 is a mini-Bryston.

Bravo, Bryston! A landmark...a reference...a triumph...a steal!

677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario
Canada K9J 7Y4
(705) 742-5325