Bryston SP 1.7 A/V Processor / Preamp and SPV 1 Video Switcher

      Date posted: September 17, 2003

Bryston SP1.7 Surround Decoder/Preamp
SP 1.7 Sugg. Retail: $6295 (CAN)
SPV-1 Video Switcher Sugg. Retail: $2695 (CAN)
Manufacturer: Bryston Ltd.
P.O. Box 2170, 677 Neal Drive,
Peterborough, Ontario,
Canada, K9J 7Y4
(800) 632-8217
FAX (705) 742-0882

(Reprinted from the Fall 03 Audio Ideas Guide)

      Like many manufacturers, Bryston has quickly moved to update its SP1 (Spring 2001, Vol. 20 #2) home theatre processor to accommodate the new surround formats and processing options, including Dolby Pro Logic II (Film & Music), DTS NEO:6, and THX Surround EX. There are also these DSP listening modes: Stereo5, Party, Hall, Stadium, Club, Theatre, Church, and Natural; in my view, all but the last of these should be ignored.

      The SP1.7 provides both balanced and unbalanced outputs for the 6 (5.1) channels, with unbalanced outs only for channels 6 and 7. There are 6 analog stereo inputs, whose signals remain in the analog domain throughout; Bryston engineers believe that this home theatre component is also their finest analog preamplifier. Digital inputs include 4 fixed coaxial SPDIF, and 2 assignable Toslink optical. There is also an analog input for 6 channels for DVD-A or SACD sources. 12-volt trigger, RS-232, and an Aux IR receiver are provided for integration into custom systems.

     Bryston has made the SP1.7 as simple as possible to program and operate, and the remote control reflects this. However, be warned that it’s also in the company’s tradition of solid, heavy remotes, so don’t throw it to your partner, drop it on the glass coffee table, or, God forbid, let it fall on your foot.

     The indicators of function, not the buttons themselves, light up, and not only does this remote have a light sensor, but also a Motion sensor, so if you flail around on the couch even moderately, it will reveal itself. Clever.

     Logical too. This remote has well arranged buttons, starting at the top with Power and Code, the latter able to provide all its codes to other universal remotes. Below are vertical rows of buttons to control, left to right, THX, DTS, and Dolby modes; beside these at right are Volume and Mute. Test and Save buttons allow setting and saving levels for every input, these grouped below. Near the remote’s bottom is a group of buttons for setup, with menu up/down for negotiating the various on-screen options. This remote does the most things with the fewest buttons possible, and is a masterpiece of logic. Too bad Sunfire didn’t go this kind of route in the Ultimate receiver.

Bryston SPV-1 Video Switcher

     The SPV-1 video switcher interfaces with the the SP1.7 via an RS-232 interface with a DB9 cable with a 1/8″ 3-conductor mini-plug at the source end. This allows simultaneous switching of audio and video. A DB9 cable with this 9-pin connector is also supplied for use with Crestron, AMX or other A/V automation systems.

     Signal paths are all independent, with Composite, S, and component video switched: there are 6 Composite and S inputs, and 2 component, with composite and S record outs, and main outs for all 3. According to the manual, “Pressing the OSD button will change the OSD assignment between composite, S-Video and Component sequence.” The LED will change colour as follows: Off: inactive; green: composite; red: S-video; amber: component. This provides an additional capability, since component OSD is not available with component through the SP1.7.

     Another useful feature to be aware of is that the “Component 1 input on the the SPV1 will be active when TV/SAT, CD, or VCR is selected on the Bryston SP1.7″, and the “Component 2 input…will be active when DVD, AUX, or TAPE is selected.”

     Also noted in the manual: “When using Progressive Scan, De- interlaced, or HDTV signals turn off the OSD feature. The Hi- Definition signal will still be passed to the Component Output but On Screen display (OSD) will not be available. If OSD is active Hi-Definition signals will not be passed to the Component output. When not using the OSD it is recommended that it be turned off to ensure optimum picture quality.” In fact, with the SP1.7’s excellent front panel display, the OSD should seldom be needed.

     That display shows the input source, surround format and the number of channels. It also shows when a PCM signal is decoded, as with DAD discs and stereo DVD-A, along with the sampling frequency up to 96 kHz. I checked with a test/demo disc from AIX records to see what the SP1.7 would do with a 192-kHz/2- channel DVD-A signal; interestingly enough, it downsampled it to 48 kHz, while correctly playing and displaying 96 kHz DVD-A signals, though in 2-channel PCM stereo rather than 5.1 format. Of course, you’ll want to plug your universal player’s analog outputs into the processor.

     One other feature of this new model that was shared with the SP1 is the front panel dynamics switching, a toggle that selects MAX, NORM, and LATE. Once again, my advice is to leave it on MAX, even if NORM gets his nose out of joint.

     Getting into the analog side of things (sorry, Norm), I think I’ll just reprise what I said in the SP1 review: “Continuing on the subject of dynamics and sound quality, there’s no question that the SP1[.7] is a great analog preamp in the Bryston tradition, and this pretty much justifies at least half the cost for audiophiles who have to have a single A/V system. It is open, transparent, and very nicely passes the 96/24 sound from my music DVDs.”

     ”Dolby Digital and DTS have a liveliness and clarity that is also heard only from the best surround units. In listening I found more than ever the virtue of having lots of power.” Of course, this time we were using a Bryston 9B multichannel power amplifier. I take for granted the extra 2 channels, but really don’t need them in my shape and size of room. And it helps to have the vertical line source ribbons from Newform Research to provide wide dispersion and excellent surround image precision. Perhaps more important to everday listening (off-air, CDs, LPs, etc.) is the excellent Dolby Pro Logic II, also on the SP1, which can be set for music or movies, and provides more immersive surround than the previous Pro Logic.

     The DSP modes are, frankly, a pain in the ass, especially if you’re trying to scroll through them to get to Natural or Pro Logic II Music. And don’t get me started on the THX crap (I wouldn’t want to upset Robert Harley again). I should also note that the default setting is Pro Logic II Film with either digital or analog stereo inputs.

     Speaking of digital inputs, I compared the SP1.7’s DAC with that in the Panasonic DVD-RP91, and the Bryston reproduction was clearly superior, providing a more detailed, lively sound. This is high praise indeed, since the Panasonic player is notable for its sound quality.

     If you are contemplating a serious high resolution digital system, and want to match it with analog excellence, this is the processor to consider. The addition of an extremely high resolution video switcher that works in tandem is a real bonus, its component picture passthrough especially outstanding (however, it would be nice if the component inputs and output were colour coded for foolproof hookup, even though it’s something you do just once). Though not inexpensive, the SP1.7/SPV-1 combination sets a very high standard for home theatre and pure audio.

Andrew Marshall

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