Bryston is a company that has never rested on their laurels. Unlike some companies, Bryston does not release new products every year; just to release "something". Instead, Bryston tends to issue generational releases, marked by a significant incremental improvement in sound and technology. Last year, Bryston introduced their new Cubed Series amplifiers, followed by Cubed Series Integrated Amplifier (Bryston B-1353 Integrated Amplifier), Pre-Amplifier (Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier) and Digital Streamer (Bryston BDP-3 Digital Player). The Cubed Series products were developed with the same patented circuitry developed in conjunction with Dr. Salomie, Ph.D., to "move the listener ever closer to the music with such visceral realism, the experience is most comparable to live performance".
Two of the products developed from this lofty goal, are the subject of this review; The Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier and Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers.
"Some things will never change. Some things will always be the same. Lean down your ear upon the earth and listen". ― Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again
In full disclosure, I would like to admit that I have been a fan of Bryston products for many years. I own both a 4BSST2 series amplifier (and most recently), the new BDP-3 Digital Player. I became aware of Bryston many years ago (1999); having reviewed a pair of 7B ST mono amplifiers. When asked to review the new Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier, I naturally jumped at the chance. Going for broke, I asked to also review the new Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers as a complete system. A few weeks later, Fed Ex delivered three large brown boxes to my door.
Experiencing a bit of melancholy, as I lifted the first 7B3 Mono Amplifier from the plan, brown box; I reflected on how much things had changed, in the past 18 years. My life and wife were different. The room where these products would spend the next 90 days of their lives, was certainly different. A dedicated Audio Room in hot Arizona is certainly far removed from a cold basement in Chicago (it actually had a heated tile floor, but still...). So much was different, but the initial appearance of the Bryston products, appeared the same. The plain brown box with minimal writing was the same. The internal protective foam and owner manual cover appeared the same. It wasn't until I removed the protective plastic wrapping, did the differences start to manifest themselves. Both Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers were removed from their boxes and placed on individual VTI Amplifier stands.
The Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers come with either brushed aluminum or black anodized front plates. Seventeen inch wide or nineteen inch wide front plates let you choose between a clean front panel, or (for a more beefy appearance) two large (functional) handles on the front. I have always been partial to the studio look, so I requested the silver, nineteen-inch front plate with handles. With the two mono amplifiers in place, my attention turned to the remaining box.
As expected, the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier held the same fit and finish as the amplifiers. Noting "clean and understated" in my notes; the preamplifier was placed into my rack, where it would remain for the duration of the review. My current preamplifier, an Audio Research LS27, was slotted right above and so A/B comparisons could be done with little effort.
As many audiophiles will admit, it is virtually impossible to have too many electronics in one room. In this case, my newly completed Audio Room was bursting with gear. Currently reviewing other products during this time; I would have my choice of products to play with.
Taking a breath and a moment to reflect, I gazed upon my temporary bounty: a Bryston BP-173 preamplifier, two Bryston 7B3 mono amplifiers, a Bryston 4BSST2 amplifier, a Bryston BDP-3 digital player, a AURALiC Aries Digital Player, an iFi Audio DSD BL DAC/headphone amplifier, a Wadia di322 DAC, an OPPO UDP-205 UHD Blu-ray player, a pair of excellent Audio Physic Tempo Plus Loudspeakers, my Martin Logan Summit loudspeakers... and on... and on. This is how it must feel to be rich?
Having spent over two hours unboxing and connecting the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier and Bryston 7B³ Mono Amplifiers; it was time to turn them on. The Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers would be the first to spring to life. The front of the 7B3 Mono Amplifier is a minimalist dream. The only button on front, is a single, small square "power" button (just underneath the milled Bryston name, 7B3 model indicator, and green LED light). The overall impression, is that of subtle power and respect. As expected, the minimalist design continued in the rear. At the top is a Gain Switch (29dB or 23dB), Input Switch (Balanced for XLR or Single Ended for RCA), Input Port (Balanced connector or Single Ended). At the bottom rear; heavy duty speaker post, Status LED, Remote Turn-On (with four port, IN / OUT connector), External/Local Remote Switch, Master Circuit Breaker (ON/OFF) and power terminal.
I replaced the standard power cables with Audioquest NRG-X3 US three-prong (grounded) Power Cables and plugged both amplifiers into an Audioquest Niagara 1000 Power line conditioner and surge protector. I then connected Audioquest Mackenzie XLR balanced cables from the 7B3 Mono Amplifiers to the Bryston BP173 Preamplifiers Balanced Output 1. Audioquest Rocket 44 speaker cables were connected to the 7B3 Mono Amplifiers to the Audio Physic Tempo Plus Loudspeakers (under review). My personal choice is to leave amplifiers on all the time. To that end, I selected "Local" on the Remote Switch, "ON" with the Master Circuit Breaker and depressed the "power" button on the front.
The rear status indicator initially flashed green, then red (indicating power is present). On the front, the startup sequence was Orange/Red, then Green. The Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers were powered on and ready to go. They remained in this state, throughout the entire 90 day review period.
The Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier was placed on the second shelf of my Salamander Rack. The rack was currently pulled away from the wall, for ease of connectivity. The front of the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier continues the minimalist design as the amplifiers. The large Volume knob rest just right of center. The remaining near-flush buttons are tiny in comparison to the volume knob. The dual-use Input Selectors take a few minutes to understand. Each button controls both, the digital and analog inputs, accordingly. Simply select the input button to choose the input that you would like to listen to. To switch to analog mode, you must select that same input, again. My review BP-173 came with an optionally moving magnet phono input, so the configuration was five line-level inputs, plus one MM phono input. Input 2 is reserved for the turntable. As such, Input 2 cannot be used with regular line level analog components. Rounding out the front; Balance (Left/Right), Mute, Bypass and Power. Bryston completes the front plate with a 1/4" (6.35mm) TRS Headphone Connector. The Headphone input is 50 Ohm output impedance and automatically mutes the main outputs, when the headphones are connected. A small IR Receiver eye is placed to the left, for use with the brick-like BR-2 remote (included with my review Preamplifier, but available as an option).
As you might expect of any preamplifier; the rear of the Bryston BP-173 is packed, and features the following: two pairs XLR balanced stereo outputs, two pairs un-balanced RCA outputs (Preamp Output and Fixed level output), five pairs single-ended analog stereo inputs, two pairs XLR balanced stereo inputs, Optional digital to analog converter (TosLink), Optional MM phono stage, Remote control RS232 port, Low-voltage control ports, IR control port, Ground terminal and power terminal.
For burn-in, the initial source connections were from the OPPO UDP-205 UHD Blu-ray player, into the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier XLR Input 1. These connections were made with Audioquest Mackenzie XLR balanced cables. As is my usual process; I dropped in the Stereophile Test CD 3 [ASIN b00008fukl], hit random/repeat and cracked the volume to 50%. Doug MacLeod's "Rollin' & Tumblin'" [Come to Find, Audioquest Music AQ-CD1027] was the first track to play.
The initial impression was puzzlement. The volume knob was at midway point (12 o'clock) but the volume level was still surprisingly low. With the Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifier capable of displacing 900 Watts into 4 Ohm and 600W into 8 Ohms, I should be at my normal listening level, which I call "pre-shouting". I checked all the connections, with no change in volume level. Contacting Bryston support, they suggested I check the Gain Switch. There are just two settings, 29dB or 23dB. I confirmed that the Gain Switch was set to 29dB. In the end, I simply readjusted my mindset, and turned the volume knob to two o'clock (please feel free to enter your favorite Spinal Tap reference at this time). The volume was now, closer to my normal listening level.
As I had been listening to the Audio Physic Tempo Plus Loudspeakers (paired with my own ARC L27 preamp) for some time know; I initially found the Bryston Combo, very tight and sterile. Very "Solid State" sounding, if you will. I was not surprised, as both, the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier and Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers, were brand new. Lowing the volume, I closed the doors to the Audio Room and let the system marinate for two days.
Forty eight hours had passed. Time to get to work! Started my critical listening test that morning on the Tempo Plus Loudspeaker setup (see review), I was ready to switch pre-amps and try out the Bryston Combo. Since the UDP-205 UHD Blu-ray player was still connected to the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier; I removed Test CD 3 and dropped in Ed Sheeran "Divide" CD. I had been listening to the High-resolution version earlier, so the tracks were still in my mind. After a 48 hour burn-in, I didn't expect much of a change. I didn't hear one, either. I played through my favorite tracks ("Galway Girl", "Eraser", "Perfect", "Barcelona" and "Castle on the Hill") before replacing the CD with my self-made disc. It's a collection of over 50 rock, classical, folk and new wave tracks, I've listened to over the years. As it was late Sunday evening, I hit random/repeat and closed off the room for the week.
Approximately 144 hours later (otherwise known as Saturday morning), I was eager to do some serious listening. Since I am not a morning person, I lean toward Classical music as I wake up. Resisting the urge to just cue up Roon and select my Classical playlist, I decided to drop some plastic (i.e. drop in a CD).
Sure, using my recently acquired Bryston BDP-3 Digital Player would be a bit easier, please see my "Wholehouse High-Resolution Audio. Myth or Reality? article). Instead, I lumbered out to my CD storage and selected a few old favorite CD's off the shelf.
Covered in unrelenting Arizona dust, I pulled out my old time favorites. Even though I had several of these selections in Hi-Resolution, I felt a bit nostalgic for my old pressings. Taking a few minutes, I washed off : "The Planets" by Gustav Holst [The Planets op. 32 and Maurice Ravel – Bolero, DDD Digital Masters - Product number: 5099704478128], Copland: The Music of America [Philip Collins - UPC 089408033926 1997], J.S. Bach: The Brandenburg Concertos [Phillips: ASIN: B01LXQBP84] and "Pictures at an Exhibition" [Mussorgsky by Ukraine National Symphony Orchestra: ASIN: B01K8R6C74].
All of these collections hold a special place for me, as I performed many of these classics, in either marching band or Drum Corp (yep, I'm a "Bandie"... don't hate). I have played various percussion instruments to many of these tracks. I know them well. I still have some of the parts memorized. To that end, I know what to listen for. That is why a smile crossed my face, as I fired up the cappuccino machine. The track "War" (from the Planets), was pumping out of the Audio Room; my tympani solo part was tight and present. Moving into the room, the sound hit me, center mass. "Here we go..." was scribbled in my notes.
The Bryston's Has Awakened!
Bassnectar's "Above and Beyond" provided the visceral chest thumping that I try to subject all of my prey, (um...review gear), through. With the bass clearly below 32Hz at this point, the Bryston Combo didn't flinch. As I settled into the rest of the destruction playlist (Linkin Parks "Papercut", "Yeah" by Usher, "Boom Boom Pow" (Black Eyed Peas), "Don't Let Me Down" [featuring Daya re-mix], and "Never Forget You" [MNEK re-mix]); I realized that for the first time in my life, I was listening to an all Bryston system. That has never happened to me before. At the very least, there was a visual appeal to the system.
Sonically, there was an overall cohesiveness to the sound stage. A very solid, sonic fit (and finish) to the room. The combination of the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier, the Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers, and the Bryston BDP-3 Digital Player; resulted in a formidable audio infrastructure, akin to a brick house. Think of Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers as the buildings foundation. Solid, and un-moveable. The Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier as the walls, plumbing and electrical, and the BDP-3 Digital Player is the roof and attic. This entire building was designed and built by the same construction company. Everything fit together as planned.
As a reviewer, I prefer to listen to my many playlist in a certain order, depending on fatigue. By late afternoon, my ears were ringing, but not tired. Dropping the volume a bit, I turned to my female vocal performance list. Norah Jones "Come Away with Me" [192kHz/24-bit] usually leads the pack, as I have her performances in all formats (MP3, WAV, DSD and Vinyl). Her vocals patterns and mid and mid-high range are always soothing to me, and an easy flag (or warning) to my ears; if not reproduced properly. The Bryston Combo reproduced her vocal tonalities as expected. The overall soundstage of the room, being a full (and not overly bright) concert venue. During playback of Alicia Keys "Kill Your Mama [FLAC 44.1kHz/24-bit] and Kate Bush "Experiment IV" [DSD - from LP- 192kHz/24-bit], you could start to hear (and feel) the punch of the mid-range; a throaty/nasal timbre on sustained notes. Female performances can come across as bland and lifeless, if the mid-range driver isn't up to task (I call it the "Bose Effect"). I was experiencing none of that, on this day.
Although my task was to review the two Bryston components as a system; both, the Bryston BP-17³ Preamplifier and Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers are unique creatures unto themselves. The Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier achieves the most difficult test of any preamplifier; which is to do...nothing. The Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier is simply "not there" sonically. Which is to say, that it's virtually transparent. It is simply passing the source material, directly to the amplifiers, with adding (or subtracting) little or no sonic color or presence. I cannot stress upon you, how difficult this is to accomplish. During my first few listening sessions; yes, I could detect a bit of dampening or muting of the soundstage. As the music continued to pump through the BP-173 Preamplifier; it began to disappear, bit by bit. By the time I completed the review, the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier was gone. Several times, I swapped out the Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier with my Audio Research LS27 Preamplifier; just to hear the difference. During my final listening session, it became more and more difficult to differentiate between the two. In the end, my notes had a single cryptic sentence: "...tubes and no tubes". Let the war continue...
The Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers are a bit more difficult to pin down. Big, powerful mono-block amplifiers require a great deal of time, to truly show their mettle. Having reviewed the 7B ST mono amplifiers almost two decades ago (God I'm old...); I thought I knew what to expect from the Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers. Initially, I was a bit put-off. Yes, they were pretty and detailed and everything you would expect from a product of this lineage and breading... but they didn't sound musical, at first. My nearly two-decade review amplifiers were well broken-in, before I had a chance to listen to them. The new Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers didn't begin to sound musical until they passed the 150+ hour mark. By the fourth week into my review time; you couldn't remove the smile from my face.
When it comes to amplifiers; I am a size and power king. I like big amps (and I cannot lie). I like big, room-heating amps. If my lights dim, when you initially turn them on; then I am happy (but you should rally call an electrician, because that is not good).
Although starting to show their age; I built my entire system to support the performance of my Martin Logan Summit loudspeakers. As with every component; they all have their pro's and con's. Martin Logan Summit loudspeakers are electrostatic, and love power. They eat power for breakfast. Any amplifier under 100 Watts per channel, need not connect. The Martin Logan Summit loudspeakers won't even bother to come to the party. To that end, I have always owned powerful amplifiers (I currently drive them with a Bryston 4BSST2 Amplifier – 500 Watt per channel into my 4 Ohm Martin Logan Summits). Plenty of power. The trade-off? Electrostatics can suffer from lack of warmth. They compensate for that; I have a hybrid JFET Tube/valve circuit-driven Audio Research LS27 Preamplifier, which provides just a bit of warmth to my system. Audio Research has always had a distinct, warm midrange, clear bas, sound. It's the perfect match for my Martin Logan Summits.
In reviewing the Bryston BP-17³ Preamplifier and Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers, and pairing them with my Martin Logan Summits); the results were unmistakably, "solid state", in the final soundstage. Picture a surgical suite, in Switzerland. Clean and bright. Nothing out of place. The room screams of precision and complete competence. Solid. But not a romantic place for a date. I discovered I could change the entire landscape of sound, just by swapping out a few things.
My Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier demo came with the optional, moving magnet phono input and BR-2 Remote. Plugging in my Technics SL-D3 automatic turntable to the BP-173 Preamplifier's Input 2 via Audioquest Big Sir interconnects, I was able to instantly send a stream of warmth, through the entire system. It didn't take a lot of tweaking to get to my warm spot. Over time, I believe the Bryston review combo would warm up without any additional changes, but since I only had a limited amount of time; I needed to force the issue a bit. I would hazard a bet, that all of the Cubed Series would need this treatment.
So, What Is The Bryston Cubed Series?
In short, this means "Do no harm", to me. Visually and aurally; all Bryston cubed Series share the same audio footprint. The three Bryston Cubed Series components in my presence (Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier, Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers and Bryston BDP-3 Digital Player) share the same characteristics: dead quiet, add nothing to the final soundstage, and look awesome. Bryston describes this as:
less distortion at input stage
Generally, it's best to avoid manufacturer press hyperbole with descriptions stating: "... featuring patented circuitry developed in conjunction with Dr. Salomie, Ph.D., move the listener ever closer to the music with such visceral realism, the experience is most comparable to live performance." In this case, I found this to be a true statement. Many times (over several weeks of listening), my recording took on a live performance feel. Not the large coliseum-sized concert hall, but the quiet, control live recording of a studio. Both, the Bryston BP173 Preamplifier and Bryston 3 Mono Amplifiers provided blistering attacks, long delays and a clarity I‘ve rarely had in my audio room, before.
True, my Bryston 4BSST2 Amplifier is no slouch. This award-winning amplifier has given me hour upon hour of pleasure, over the years. Were I to describe the difference between the Cubed Series and the Square Series; I would say, the Cubed series is the responsible adult (with a few kids). A bit stiffer and more refined. A bit grown up, in bed by 10 pm. A bit dialed back. The difference between a nice brandy and a fine cognac. It's subtle, noticeable and there.
Many hours were spent with the Bryston Cubed Series combo. Clearly more listening session than before. Partly, because I was breaking in my recently completed Audio Room. I also spent more time listening to go music, because it just sounded so good. Ear fatigue was never a factor. The only time I deliberately ended a session early, was when my trusted Technics SL-D3 Automatic Turntable finally died. I was playing an old favorite [Gustav Holst - Sir Adrian Boult, New Philharmonic Orchestra with The Ambrosian Singers: "The Planets" - Angel Records – 36420] when she just slowed to a stop. My remaining listening session utilized the Bryston BDP-3 Digital Player, provided the bridge between my NAS and my Wadia di322 DAC.
My "Demo Playlist" (which is a collection of High-Resolution DSD and FLAC files) easily provided me with session after session of outstanding performances. In the final days of a review, you are generally not trying to identify a components weak spot(s). You are summing up your thoughts and trying to read your hastily scribbled notes. This time it was a bit different. This time, it was personal. My trusty Turntable was dead. That was expected. She gave me months of notice. This time, my trusty Martin Logan Summits were starting to falter.
What's great about demoing quality audio gear, is that they expose every nuance of a musical performance. What's awful about demo'ing quality audio gear, is that they expose every flaw in your system, as well. The Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers are capable of displacing 900 Watts into 4 Ohm. I love that kind of power. If you've never experienced that kind of headroom, I highly recommend it. With that kind of power and grace, the Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers can power virtually any loudspeaker available on the market, today. In this case, they easily power the twelve year old Martin Logan Summits. In the final days of my review period, the right Martin Logan Summit loudspeaker dropped all mid and upper range sound. It was a sign.
You Really Can't Go Home Again
As I stated before, this is not the first time I've auditioned the Bryston 7 series mono amplifiers. At the end of that review period (19 years ago); I was not in a positive economic or marital position to acquire the amplifiers. I had to let them go. This is not true today, yet find myself boxing them up all the same. Although I find myself a bit depressed at the task; it's more of a "See you in a bit", rather than a long "Goodbye".
With the combination BP-173 Preamplifier and 7B3 Mono Amplifiers; my Audio Room has never sounded so good. It was dialed in, for a time. If I wasn't already the owner of an Audio Research LS27 Preamplifier, the Bryston BP173 Preamplifier would be the perfect fit for my taste. In the same line of thinking; I already own the Bryston 4BSST2 Amplifier, but a pair of the Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers have always been my nirvana. What I lack (now) is the perfect "Final Foot". In other words, speakers to match the performance of the Bryston BP17³ Preamplifier and Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers. To date, the Sonus Faber Amati Tradition loudspeakers are in my sites. Once safely installed into my Audio Room, the Bryston Cubed Series will be next through the door.
The Bryston BP173 Preamplifier ($3995 base price. Phono Stage + $ 750, Optional DAC + $ 1595) and the Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers ($11,990 per pair) are not for the casual listener. In most cases, you will need to save up for a bit, to call these your own. For this quality and performance, $15,000 is not outrageous to most of us. You'll own them for a long time, as they come with a 20 year warranty. Yep, twenty years! One of the best warranties in the business.
It would be a bit odd, if you have not (in your audiophile life), heard a Bryston demo. If you have not, (at the very least), your Audiophile card should be temporarily suspended, until you do so. It would be like saying you have never heard a Diana Krall song. She's very talented, but she's dead to me....I just can't take one more song! I just can't.
The Bryston BP-173 Preamplifier and the Bryston 7B3 Mono Amplifiers is an amazing setup, and should be on any serious short list. The entire Bryston Cubed Series component line should be evaluated, as well. Excellent products with outstanding support. Highly, highly recommended.
Analog Sources: Technics SL-D3 Automatic Turntable.
Digital Processors: Wadia Di322 DAC, AudioquestDragonFly Red DAC,
Pre-Amp: Audio Research LS27, Bryston BP-17³ Preamplifier (under review)
Phono Pre-Amp: Parasound Zphono
Power Amplifiers: Bryston 4BSST2, Bryston 3B ST. Bryston 7B³ Amplifiers (under review)
AV Receivers: Denon AVR-X4300H, Integra DRX-5
Loudspeakers: Martin Logan Summit, Martin Logan Purity, Jamo Concert 8, Sonus Faber Chameleon B, M&K V1250THX Subwoofer, SVS Ultra-13 Subwoofer.
Headphones: OPPO PM-1 (Balanced), Meze 99 Classics, Noble Audio K10 CIEM, Noble Audio 3 IEM.
Cables: USB: Audioquest Carbon, Audioquest Cinnamon. Audioquest Yukon S/PDIF: Audioquest Optical Carbon, Audioquest Optical Cinnamon. Line level: Audioquest Red River, Audioquest Mackenzie (XLR), Audioquest Golden Gate, Audioquest Big Sir. Audioquest Irish Red, Audioquest Boxer. Audioquest Yukon (XLR).
Speaker cables: Audioquest Rocket 44, Audioquest Rocket 33, Audioquest Type 4.
Accessories: Dedicated 20A lines to dual Furman Elite ELITE-20 PF I surge protectors.
Frequency Response 20Hz - 20kHz: ± 0.05dB
Bryston 7B3 Monoblock Amplifier
Voice: ( 705) 742-5325