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- Written by Howard Kneller Howard Kneller
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 01 October 2010 01 October 2010
No matter how many different types of components they make, some audio manufacturers are known for a single type of product. Krell, Halcro, and Boulder are best known for their power amplifiers -- and so is Bryston Ltd. I’ve found Bryston amps to be pretty killer. In fact, after reviewing their 9B SST2 five-channel amplifier for Home Theater & Sound (now SoundStage! Xperience), I bought the very similar and somewhat more powerful three-channel 6B SST2. However, any notion I might have had that Bryston just made good power amps was shattered when I heard the moderately priced yet high-performing BCD-1 CD player. Dollar for dollar, it can go against some of the best players out there. So much for that stereotype.
Based on these and other experiences with Bryston products, the arrival of their BP26 DA preamplifier ($2695 USD), with built-in digital-to-analog converter ($1295), matching MPS2 power supply ($1500), and BR-2 remote control ($350), for a total price of $5840, raised my hopes. My current preamp, a Nuforce P-9 ($3150 with no DAC option), bests many competitors at two to three times its price; the showdown looked to be interesting.
The front panel of the BP26 DA has three rotary knobs (Source, Volume, Balance), four toggle switches (Polarity/Invert, Mute/Normal, Tape/Source, DAC 1/DAC 2), a headphone jack, an LED that glows green during normal operation, and an infrared sensor for the BR-2 remote control.
On the rear panel are inputs and outputs. The input connectors number four pairs of RCAs, two switchable coaxial S/PDIFs, and two pairs of XLRs. Unlike some manufacturers, Bryston’s circuit design isn’t fully balanced in their preamps, which would require independent signal paths for the audio signal’s positive and negative sides throughout the design. Bryston believes that this would double the cost of the preamp’s circuitry without providing the benefit -- a reduction in common-mode noise -- typically associated with their use. The output connectors comprise one pair of XLRs and two pairs of parallel RCAs. The parallel connectors permit bi- or triamping of speakers, as well as the connection of a powered subwoofer.
Also on the rear panel is a stereo tape loop, which can be used to accommodate either a tape deck or, for home-theater or multichannel music, a surround processor. A socket for a six-pin power cable accepts the umbilicus for Bryston’s MPS2 power supply. Five of the pins power the preamp sections; the sixth powers the DAC.
Inside, mounted on its own separate circuit board, is a Crystal CS43122 DAC chip, a multi-bit, delta-sigma design. Before the digital signal reaches the DAC’s delta-sigma modulator, it is “run through an 8x-oversampling process and digital interpolation filter.” The modulator’s overall interpolation ratio is 128x; the upshot of this is that oversampling is used to move the high-frequency cutoff higher in the audioband, to require less analog filtering on the top end, “which results in a phase-linear circuit in the audioband.”
The nice thing about having an internal DAC is that you have one less cable to buy. In this instance, a minor criticism of the BP26 DA would be its lack of a USB input for the DAC. Nowadays, USB DACs on all types of audio components are as common as Starbucks coffee shops. However, many of the USB DACs included in such components are limited to 16-bit/48kHz. This renders their “added value” questionable, and makes the absence of one in the BP26 DA understandable.
Bryston claims for the BP26 DA a frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz, +/-0.1dB; a signal/noise ratio of greater than 100dB; and voltage deliveries of 15V and 30V via its RCA and XLR outputs, respectively.
The MPS2 outboard power supply provides balanced DC power for various Bryston preamps and crossovers. The supply’s stark front contains a single control: a toggle power switch, accompanied by a green LED status indicator. When I reviewed the Bryston 9B SST2, I was at first taken aback by the addition of Bryston’s green lights to my all-blue-glowing system. I got over it.
On the rear of the MPS2 are an IEC power inlet and enough six-pin output connectors to power four preamps or crossovers. There are also numerous two-pin terminal blocks that provide control signals for the remote on/off triggering of certain other Bryston preamps, amplifiers, and crossovers.
Bryston states that many of their customers buy more than one Bryston component for their system. As a result, in order to avoid customers having to buy more than one remote control, the Bryston BP26 DA+MPS2 combo comes without a remote. That’s why Bryston sent me the BR-2, which can operate many of the company’s amps and preamps. The BR-2’s buttons are backlit in, you guessed it, green. Machined from solid aluminum, it seems to weigh several pounds, and is nothing short of a work of art, with build quality that seems to approach military standards. You seldom see audio products made so solidly. The BR-2 has a bunch of neat features not uncommon in high-end remotes, including power-saving light and motion sensors.
Most Bryston products, including the BP26 DA, MPS2, and even the BR-2, come with a 20-year, transferable warranty. Offering such a warranty with any audio product, let alone a remote control, would seem to indicate that the Bryston folks are partying with a few beers short of (or, in this case, more than) a six-pack. But Bryston offers such a generous warranty because its products are built to last.
In fact, I was so intrigued by these products’ build quality that I asked James Tanner, Bryston’s vice-president of sales, if I could subject the BR-2 remote to a few, umm, tests. Could I drop it from the roof of my 29-story apartment building? (Highly dangerous, and likely illegal in most jurisdictions.) “No problem,” he said. Could I run over it with an SUV? (No doubt safer, but still an extreme way to test a remote control.) “Go for it!” said Tanner. Eventually, as you’ll read below, I did.
Tanner is my kind of guy. Maybe, for my next review of a Bryston product, I’ll ask if I can throw the component off the roof.
Due to a lack of space, I placed the MPS2 power supply directly under the BP26 DA. While this placement is shown on Bryston’s website, I’m typically loath to stack electronic components atop each other, particularly when an amplifier or power supply is involved. Electromagnetic fields can be passed from an amplifier’s or power supply’s transformers to other components to create distortion-causing interference. However, stacking the BP26 DA and MPS2 is probably not a problem, as the preamp doesn’t contain a highly sensitive phono section, and doesn’t draw a huge amount of power from the MPS2.
Once the units were positioned, I hooked up the MSP2 with the six-pin power cable included with the BP26 DA. I then plugged the MSP2 into my Synergistic Research Powercell 10 SE power conditioner, and connected the BP26 DA to both my power amp and a modified Marantz UD9004 Blu-ray Disc player via Synergistic Research Tesla single-ended interconnects. I then connected one of the two S/PDIF inputs of the BP26 DA’s internal DAC to the disc player’s digital output with a Synergistic Tesla D-3 digital cable. I did my initial listening, however, without engaging the DAC.
Because I use the same system for home theater and multichannel music listening, I used the BP 26DA’s tape-loop jacks to connect my Integra DTC-9.8 surround-sound processor. Note that, when using the tape-loop connectors as opposed to a true home-theater bypass, the volume for the front main channels are controlled by the BP26 DA rather than your surround processor. This affects any bass management or digital room correction for these channels that your A/V processor might otherwise want to impart.
After a brief listening session, it was immediately apparent that the BP26 DA and the MSP2 are highly competent pieces of audio machinery. You name it -- detail, clarity, transient speed, soundstaging -- the Brystons pretty much had it in spades.
What stuck with me most about the Brystons was their transparency. With The Best of Sade (CD, Sony Music EK 66686), they let me hear way into the music; Sade’s intimate presentation shone through the recording. It was almost as if I could peek around the sides of Stewart Matthewman’s tenor saxophone and look far into the space at the rear of the recording studio.
High-current bottom-end control was aptly demonstrated in “O Fortuna,” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana, as it appears on Usher Audio’s Compass Dancer Series II Test CD (Highend 2005). The Brystons nicely reproduced the grandeur, tightness, and slam of the massive bass drum while seeming to capture every ripple of the drumhead.
Microdynamics were another impressive strength of the Brystons. On George Winston’s Autumn (CD, Windham Hill WD-1012), they wonderfully captured the nuances of the acoustic piano’s elongated reverberations, and revealed the often subtle shifts in mood that Winston is able to convey.
The Brystons sounded really good in my system, and in some regards, even better than that. Their extraordinary transparency brought with it, though, a tendency to sound slightly dry with some recordings that lean that way to begin with. This was demonstrated by a variety of discs, from Sade’s voice on her Best of to any one of the many violin selections on the Willi Boskovsky and the Boskovsky Ensemble’s Dances of Old Vienna (CD, FIM LIM K2HD 034), which contains a selection of waltzes from the era of Johann Strauss, Jr. The addition of the Brystons to the system, with their combined enormous heaping of transparency, could be too much of a good thing. Such was the ultra-revealing nature of the Brystons.
Engaging the BP26 DA’s internal DAC brought improvements in performance over the DAC in my Marantz UD9004 disc player. While it didn’t totally trample the Marantz’s DAC, it offered, among other things, more realistic image size and superior solidity, as well as greater heft. Your mileage may vary, of course; the amount of any improvement will depend on the quality of the DAC in your source component.
But I still needed to test the BR-2. Not wanting to cause needless injury or break any laws, I reluctantly decided to forgo dropping the remote off my roof. Instead, I gathered a few friends, and ceremoniously placed the BR-2 a few feet in front of my friend’s 2010 Toyota Highlander SUV, which weighs just under three tons. I gave the “all clear” sign, and he ran over the BR-2. Six times.
The BR-2 emerged victorious. Incredibly, save for a few barely noticeable scratches on the rear panel, where it rested on the rough pavement, the BR-2 looked entirely unfazed, and continued to work perfectly. Try that with your current remote -- but don’t blame me if you pulverize it.
Did the Brystons prevail over the sound of my current reference preamp, the Nuforce P-9?
Subtracting the $1295 for the optional DAC, the Bryston combo (with remote) costs $4545 vs. $3150 for the P-9 (with remote). Each is undoubtedly a very fine preamp for the money, and offers value beyond its ticket price. Both espouse a two-box approach, separating the “dirty” power box from the “cleaner” control box. Both also operate in class-A. As stated above, depending on the quality of the DAC in your digital source, the addition of the BP26 DA’s DAC has the potential to kick up your system’s performance. It also raises the price of the Brystons to almost twice of that of the Nuforce.
Even without the BP26 DA’s internal DAC, the sound of the Bryston combo is strikingly transparent. This is not to say that the Nuforce is not transparent -- something for which, in fact, the Nuforce is known. But I have to give the Transparency Award to the Brystons.
Also, without the BP26 DA’s internal DAC, the Brystons and the Nuforce split between them many audiophile criteria, such as imaging, dynamics, and detail reproduction. Nonetheless, compared to the Brystons, the Nuforce offered a little more of a rich creaminess that prevented it, in my system, from sounding a bit too lean and dry. I imagine that if your system, like many, would benefit from a dose of transparency and enhanced imaging, the Brystons would very well do the trick. However, if your system wants for some tube-like magic, I’d recommend the Nuforce. Otherwise, I’d be hard-pressed to say that one is better than the other. Of course, the only way to know for sure is to bring one home and try it. In this case, a listening session in the dealer’s showroom won’t suffice.
It’s also worth noting that the Brystons are rich in features. They let you biamp or triamp. (You can biamp with the Nuforce, but you can’t triamp without a splitter.) Moreover, only the Bryston has a headphone jack. Also, the Bryston BP26 DA comes with an optional, built-in moving-magnet or moving-coil phono stage or, as in the sample reviewed, a DAC with two switchable S/PDIF inputs. On the other hand, the Nuforce includes a true home-theater bypass. Watching movies or listening to multichannel music with the Brystons relegates you to the somewhat less elegant tape -- loop solution.
Finally, don’t forget Bryston’s 20-year transferable warranty. The Nuforce offers only the standard three years.
The Bryston BP26 DA preamplifier and matching MPS2 power supply together comprise a flexible, feature-laden, great-sounding preamplifier that will likely make most owners extremely happy. They have a 20-year warranty, they look great, and, like all Bryston products, are built to survive nuclear Armageddon -- or, at least in some cases, being run over by a late-model SUV.
. . . Howard Kneller
- Speakers -- MartinLogan Summit X
- Amplifier -- Bryston 6B SST2
- Preamplifier -- Nuforce P-9
- Source -- Marantz UD9004 Blu-ray player, modified by Tube Research Labs
- Interconnects -- Synergistic Research Tesla Apex, Precision Reference, Synergistic Research Galileo MPCs on all signal cables and power cords
- Speaker cables -- Synergistic Research Tesla Apex
- Power cords -- Synergistic Research Tesla Hologram A (amplifier) and D (source), Precision AC (speakers) and T2 (preamplifier), Synergistic Research Universal cells (on speaker cables and interconnects)
- Power conditioners and distribution -- Synergistic Research Powercell 10SE, Synergistic Research QLS 6 and 9, PS Audio Noise Harvesters, DIY parallel filter
- Isolation devices -- Silent Running Audio VRfp Isobases, Synergistic Research MIGS, Mapleshade Heavy Hats, DIY amp stands
Bryston BP26 DA Preamplifier and MPS2 Power Supply
Prices: Bryston BP26 DA ($2695) with built-in DAC (add $1295), MPS2 power supply (add $1500), and BR-2 remote control (add $350).
Warranty: 20 years parts and labor (five years for digital circuitry).
P.O. Box 2170
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 6X7
Phone: (705) 742-5325
Fax: (705) 742-0882