Sugg. Retail: $7000 (CAN)
Manufacturer: Bryston Ltd.,
PO Box 2170, 677 Neal Drive,
Canada K9J 7Y4
(Reprinted from the Spring 01 AIG)
If power corupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then I guess I’d better watch myself as long as I have the 14B ST in my system. The traditional Bryston spec sheet (measured specs) shows on the left channel 573 watts at 8 ohms and 560 on the right, all distortion figures under .005%, and noise at 114 and 112 dB, left and right, respectively. And all this power is in one 85-pound chassis with a bright silver faceplate.
And I don’t even have the most powerful version of the 14B ST! For that you have to have a 20-amp breaker available in order to draw 30.7 amps at full power into both channels with a 4-ohm load. The manual doesn’t talk about the amps going out of the amplifier in this circumstance, but it’s got to be a lot of current. And that’s the difference, the same power drawn by my 15-amp version almost sure to trigger both the circuit breaker in the amplifier and the one in the breaker box.
Not that I even got close. I’ve never been able to put the red clipping LEDs on with my 3B ST driving the Veritas v1.8 speakers because they’re pretty much a 4-ohm load, making this smaller amp able to put out close to 300 wpc, if I could ever stand to listen that loud. Given wall amperage limits and power supply capabilities, the 14B is rated at 800 wpc into 4 ohms in both versions.
Inputs are the standard balanced Neutrik XLR/1/4″ phono jack combination with a new switching option. Normally you toggle between balanced and unbalanced, with levels matched to THX spec, but here the additional 6-dB higher position for professional use is in the middle of the 3-position slide switch.
For anyone using this amp in a high-powered home theatre system, there are both auto-on selection, external trigger settings for staggered power-up, and 12-volt output triggers for screens and other components. The main on-off switch is on the rear panel, but a front panel button labeled ST Power contains a relay to power up the amp.
Bryston engineering staff were being a bit coy when I talked to them about how the 14B ST is different from the previous monoblock powerhouse 7B, the first of the ST series designed by Stuart Taylor. The most I could get out of engineering director Chris Russell was that the new Motorola output devices are able to handle more current, and have better performance at high frequencies. He felt that sonic improvement was “evolutionary”, a part of the ongoing ST process.
I was curious about the role of specifications in this evolution, so I dug into the archives for the 3B ST sheet, which goes back 6 years. The smaller amplifier bettered the new one in all categories except power output (151 wpc), distortion marginally lower, and noise equal at -114 dB. However, the 14B uses at least twice as many output devices, so its numbers are more than exceptional for a superamp.
But what matters is the sound, and in the company of the extraordinary Chord the Bryston certainly held its own. Very open and sweet in the upper octaves, the 14B also has an effortless quality that separates it from most other amplifiers. It also delivers a level of detail and depth of image that I’ve never heard before from an amp this powerful. It also images outside the speakers to a greater extent than the Chord, which comes very close in most other aspects of performance; and some may prefer its slightly richer, more liquid presentation.
When I finally went back to the 3B ST I had the sense that it was a little more veiled (even though it has slightly lower measured distortion), but with the same soundstaging qualities. With my speakers more than triple the price gets you a subtle improvement, but that extra refinement makes the Bryston 14B ST just about the best power amplifier I’ve yet heard.