Power, Precision & Punch, Clarity Included!
This all-purpose amplifying and control device has been at the heart of my audio system for several weeks now, first as a basic amp, replacing a Bryston 3B SST, and subsequently operating as a full preamp/amp/DAC. I won’t say that it has surprised me a lot, but it is a case where familiarity definitely does not breed contempt. More on this below, but to start, a brief function and spec readout from the Bryston web site:
“Inputs: 6x RCA Single Ended Pairs, 2x RCA Single Ended Pairs (Record In, Power Amp In), 2x Optical (TOSLINK)*, 2x SPDIF (RCA)*
And more from their brochure:
I’ve provided a quite complete listing of features and facilities to underline the kind of thinking that has gone into this audio product, which is unusually complete in today’s audio marketplace. In black, the B135 SST²’s front panel has a quite modest look for its complexity, but to my eyes, anyway, is much more handsome in silver brushed aluminum. With a single large knob for level right of centre, it has Mute and Power buttons and indicators at right, along with a Clip LED as well. At centre are those for Balance, with input selection and headphone jack at left. In general, the front panel is logically and intuitively laid out for any user.
I will be less complimentary about the remote control, however, which I find somewhat clunky and heavy, with too many identical buttons in rows. And it reminds me of an old skit popular in my undergraduate days long ago from from a British Comedy review called Beyond The Fringe, the episode titled, Coal Minin’ and Judgin’, where a pair of Cockneys discuss their fortunes: “Oi coulda’ bin a judge, ya know, but Oi didn’t ‘ave the Latin…Oh, Oi’ve dropped a lump of coal on your foot…” Don’t drop the Bryston remote on anyone’s foot, since it’s milled from a block of solid aluminum, and weighs in at almost half-a-pound, fully buttoned, so to speak. Substantial, what? Enough said about that.
The essential Bryston performance is as expected from this end - clean, very powerful, and fully detailed, perhaps offering more than many tubeophiles might want to hear, perhaps, but very much to my own craving for both musical satisfaction and audio truth…less there there, so to speak, and more of the music, unvarnished and unenhanced. Since I often listen through my Soundcraft mixer, I can add accents or otherwise adjust the sound for not-so-good sources, but I do like to hear my best recordings and live broadcasts in their essential purity, and I can still have my positive coloration when I want it.
I did manage to clip the B135, something I’ve yet to achieve with my resident and reference 3B SST, but maybe that’s a goal for my newer, larger listening room, which I’ll spend the next month fine tuning. I guess that’s the difference between the power ratings, conservative as they are. Into my 5-ohm Energy Veritas/ads (modified and tri-wired) speakers, I can get somewhere in the region of 300 to 350 watts per channel from the 3B SST, while the B135 SST²’s rated power almost doubled from the 8-ohm rating into them, adds up to around 250wpc, which makes for a significant difference in outright dynamic capability. I also suspect that the power supply in the larger, heavier amp is beefier and less limited in current draw capability.
The preamp section is worthy of considerable comment, offering essentially state-of-the-art DAC performance (if only in stereo), and excellent input flexibility, including a pair of Toslinks, but omitting AES/EBU. The analog preamp-in/-outs allow home theatre integration, but digitally you’re stuck in stereo, which limits its usefulness in that arena. You could, of course, employ the B135 as a stereo preamp and primary front- (or even rear) channel amp in the HT setup, if that kind of integration seems felicitous in your own combined viewing and listening room. And Bryston does make dedicated HT preamps of identical quality and sophistication, if that’s your primary objective. The company also makes outboard stereo DACs of greater flexibility in terms of inputs and formats, as well as higher overall specification levels, such as the new BDA-2 (review forthcoming from Aaron).
Whatever version you may choose, you will not be disappointed by sound quality or dynamic capabilities. The B135 has lots of the latter up to its clipping limits, which are more reachable than with my reference 3B SST. The supplied power measurement chart of this individual sample (how many amplifiers come with this!) indicates 155 watts rms into 8 ohms, and with the load of the Energy Veritas/ads hybrid speakers being in the 5-ohm range, we probably have just under 200 useable watts on a dynamic basis, as opposed to over 300 with the 3B. That difference is noticeable in our large (38 x 28′) room, but might not be so obvious in smaller spaces with less demanding reproducers. Measured S/N ratio is 108 dB at 1V input, which provides 100 watts at the speaker terminals of the amp. It is also notable that the B135 SST² produces comfortably more power at the highest audio frequencies, clipping at 355 watts at 20 kHz, a capability that might save a few tweeters, the caveat being that in the real world this is a mere 3 dB of acoustic output.
Our sample was supplied, at my request, with the built-in DAC, but Bryston president Brian Russell later reminded me that the more popular option is with the phono stage in this recent renaissance of the LP. He added that their outboard DACs have greater versatility of function. My thinking was that, having had a Bryston BP-1 professional phono preamp in my system for close to 2 decades, that it was a product I did not have to evaluate again. And I still make the assumption that the current inboard preamp is at least as good as my pro version, and that in the new B135 probably better than that in my ancient 11B. I’m sure that buyers of the current integrated amp so equipped find it, at the very least, satisfactory.
But having the DAC version allowed me to compare its digital reproduction with that of my current OPPO universal player, which I did with a number of familiar discs, some of my own making. Included were a wonderful, if fast group of performances by Martha Argerich with the OSM under Dutoit for EMI Classics (7243 5 56654 2 3) of piano concertos by Prokoviev and Bartok, of particular interest the Prokofiev 3d, which I recorded for broadcast with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony under Raffi Armenian with Jon Kimura-Parker many years ago. Jackie’s performance was much more leisurely than Martha’s fiery run-through, but the EMI sound is decidedly more exciting than most of the many Decca OSM recordings, and makes for quite a sonic treat. and the Bryston DAC certainly did the CD justice in its reproduction of it.
Other classical discs, chosen for familiarity, including some Audio Ideas titles, were our Juno-award-nominated Debussy Preludes 2-CD set, with Francine Kay, piano (AI-CD-6/7), engineered by Clive Allen, and my own production, Romantic Organ, featuring Ian Sadler, recorded in Toronto’s St. James Cathedral on their mighty polyphonic organ (AI-CD-017, available only by special order at firstname.lastname@example.org for $19.99). The piano recordings were made in St. John’s Anglican church in Elora, Ontario, a recording location much used by the Festival Singers, with superb acoustics for both voice and piano, and notable for its warm, bathing ambience that always retains clarity with appropriate minimal microphone techniques, at which Clive is both a past master and continuing presence in Canadian Classical music recording.
I also listened to one of my Bellingham Sessions CDs, made with the Chuck Israels Quartet in the Music Rehearsal Hall at Western Washington University, a project I undertook in the Summer of 1998 (AI-CD-11 & 13), taking a pair of Bryston BMP-2 microphone preamps and various microphones and portable digital recording gear out to that northern Washington city just south of Vancouver. The 2 CDs, sponsored by Paradigm Electronics, turned out to be our best-sellers, with over 3000 copies of each shipped over the next decade over two pressing runs (and still available on this web site).
In pop recordings, I turned to a couple of favourite voices, Jennifer Warnes (The Hunter, Private, Inc. 261974), and the late English folksinger Sandy Denny (Sandy, Island IMCD 132), a voice I love for its dusky eloquence and passion. Other recordings followed over several months, of course, interrupted by my move from King City to Aurora, ON and only recently completed. I also listened to LPs regularly, using the aforementioned Bryston phono preamp, (not to forget both FM and internet radio), and so got to know the B135 SST² well as preamp, DAC, and power amplifier, both individually and collectively.
The 192 kHz DACs in the B135 sounded just a tiny bit smoother and more detailed, effortless perhaps, than the similarly specified ones in the OPPO, but differences were close enough to be perhaps attributable to the quality of surrounding parts. The overall sonic performance of the preamp/amplifier combination with analog program material was uniformly superb, detailed and dynamic with all music. There is a distinct sense of presence with Bryston electronics that definitely suits my sensibilities, which lean not so much to the analytic, but the accurate and true reproduction of music. Tube lovers may love music, if not fidelity, and I have every respect for good tube preamps, through which many of the great recordings of the LP era were made. Conversely, tube amplifiers, for me, are an exercise in nostalgia rather than accurate reproduction in most cases.
Aside from its relative power limitations, this integrated amplifier fitted into my system perfectly, with just a bit less flexibility than my separate preamp and power amps. I recommend it in all its variations highly, also noting that the B135 SST² comes with the company’s 20-year warranty, and is designed to be simply bullet-proof and reliable over at least that time period.
Related Reviews:Bryston 14B ST Stereo Power Amplifier
Bryston B-60 Integrated Amplifier
Bryston BP-25 Stereo Preamplifier
Bryston SP 1.7 A/V Processor / Preamp and SPV 1 Video Switcher
Bryston 3B SST Stereo Power Amplifier
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