Power Amplifiers

Bryston 9B SST2 Multi-channel Amplifier

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

There are five channels in this powerhouse, and I intended on using them all at once when possible. As such, my music selections focused on multi-channel SACD and Blu-ray concerts. As well I threw some more challenging stereo SACD music and HDCD titles.

Cowboy Junkies

The first disc I like to enjoy with a new component is the MFSL multi-channel recording of the Cowboy Junkies first album, Whites off Earth Now. This is a superb quality SACD release that has amazing dynamics for a non-classical album. This is great for testing the power band of an amplifier. Does it sound musical at low volumes, mid volumes or only at reference levels? The previous high-power amp in my system, a Rotel RMB-1575 five-channel Class D power amplifier, was fantastic at resolving detail and sounded great at mid to high volumes. But, from low to mid, it just wasn't alive. The Bryston on the other hand gets going at low volumes and keeps it musical presence all the way to the top (well as loud as I was able to push the MartinLogans – which was considerably louder than my normal levels).

As well, this disc has phenomenal high frequency resolution (thanks in part to the SACD format). There is an air and ambience to the recording that I had noticed before, yet never experienced quite like I did through the 9B SST2. There was no background hiss or colorization of any kind, and given the clarity and speed of the Electrostatic panel used in the Summit X's, any symmetry concerns with using this amp with electrostatic panels was soon dismissed.

Seeing as the SACD player was warmed up, I jumped into something rather different. Rock, Punk, Alternative, Grunge however you choose to categorize them, the Pixies were somewhat of a unique band for their time. What makes their albums great for critical listening is the complexity of the music combined with shear loudness, which really tests your system's ability to play loud and detailed at the same time. And there is no better sounding version than the MFSL (Ultradisc UHR stereo SACD) remakes done in 2008. These were taken from the original analog master tapes and have substantially more dynamics and clarity than all the previous CD releases. Using the Pixies first album, Surfer Rosa, I tested the Bryston's ability to resolve complex detail at high volumes with heavy rock. The Pixies are known for sudden stops and starts in there songs, and the 9B SST2 kept the pace going. From hearing the decay of the cymbals, the bantering of the band, to the soaring crescendos, this amp never broke a sweat. Sure it got warm, but never once was there audible compression or distortion.

Tom Waits

If only someone would release some Tom Waits on one of the high-res formats. Until then I will have to keep my Onix-XCD88 Redbook/HDCD player. Using the internal DACS (Burr-Brown PCM 1738 24-bit/192kHz) on this fantastic player, I sent the analog outs into the Denon 4308 and ran it in Pure mode. First up was the exceptionally recorded Tom Waits disc, Heartattck and Vine. Once again there was no issues resolving detail, the punch and dynamic range were fantastic, and there was seemingly unlimited headroom.

Tool

The final musical test came from my HDCD torture-test, Tool's Lateralus. Here is where I expected things to get ugly. I mean come on, powerful amplification, Electrostatic speakers, and a CD source playing heavy distorted progressive rock? This has all the workings of a shrill, analytical, and overly-clinical sound. Or so people would have you believe. From on-line forums to my local Hi-Fi dealer (who is also a ML and Bryston dealer), everyone predicted this to be a poor match. And if that were the case, it would surely happen when I pushed the amp to high levels, feeding it a highly detailed, heavy rock distorted sound.

Well, I can positively report there was no issue. I heard more detail in the percussions than with any other amp/speaker combo I have ever listened to. There was an amazing amount of headroom which created a dynamic range that I thought was impossible with this album. Gone was any hint of compression at high volumes, and at almost every volume point the sound was consistently detailed and musical.

High resolution 5.1 music is starting to arrive on Blu-ray discs. With the massive storage capability of the format, we can enjoy a significantly less compressed DTS and Dolby Digital feed, now called DTS-HD Master Audio and Dolby Digital TrueHD.

Terminator Salvation

For movie playback, I threw a wide range of films at the Bryston. From the rain-soaked dialogue scenes in Seven, to the widely explosive Terminator Salvation, the 9B SST2 was solid and consistent in driving the difficult load presented by five electrostatic panels. At no point did any clipping-indicators light up, and other than some decent heat production, I found no issues with movie playback. Compared to the Rotel Class D, this amp is toasty, so it does benefit from an open cabinet.