Not many high-end audio marques have survived to observe their 50th anniversary. Bryston, a Canadian company with product lines in both the professional and consumer markets, celebrated fifty years of existence in 2012. With an impressive client list, including concert halls, production studios, educational institutions, and, of course, many private consumers, Bryston has a solid foundation in the specialty audio industry.
The new B-135 SST2 integrated amplifier handles basic pre- and power amplification duties for $4695, and if you add the optional on-board DAC ($1395) and moving-magnet phono section ($600), you have a single-box solution that will cover many different input, conversion, and amplification requirements. (The DAC supports up to 96/24 resolution files through two S/PDIF and two TosLink inputs, no USB.) The B-135, without either the DAC or phono section (as reviewed), has seven single-ended line-level inputs, a preamp output and power amp input, a 1⁄4" headphone jack, and a tape loop. Some of the line-level input pairs are commandeered for the add-on phono or digital inputs if you buy those options. One line-level input can be assigned as a “pass-through” for use with a home-theater processor. The hefty, full-featured, programmable, remote handset is also optional ($375). The B-135 has a balance control, which allows users to attenuate a channel up to 6dB, as well as a nifty channel-muting function—sometimes useful for troubleshooting. There are additional inputs for an external infrared remote-control relay unit and a 12-Volt remote trigger connector for convenient turn-on and turn-off of all devices connected to the B-135. In versatility and features, the B-135 pretty much covers all the bases.
Micah Sheveloff, Bryston’s U.S. media representative, assured me that the B-135 is not merely a beefed-up version of its predecessor, the B-100. Bryston took two years to develop the B-135, and it incorporates some technology from the SP-3 processor as well as elements from its latest SST2 power amplifier line. The volume control uses a computer-controlled, motorized analog potentiometer, which allows remote-controlled operation while still employing only fully discrete analog circuitry throughout the preamp section. Bryston claims that most solid-state Class AB power amps have lower distortion in the top two thirds of their power-output ranges as well as better distortion figures in the lower frequencies, thereby leaving the first few watts and the upper frequencies to be relatively distortion-laden. According to Bryston, their SST2 technology cleans up distortion in those problem areas, as well as addresses much of the crossover notch distortion (common in Class AB operation amplifiers), where the signal is “handed off” between the positive-going phase and the negative-going phase. Bryston apparently employs very fast drivers and a method called “Quad Complimentary Output,” which is said to reduce the capacitance seen by the drivers, and this, in turn, reportedly significantly reduces distortion- inducing “storage delay” in the output transistors right in the crossover region. Other aspects of SST2 topology include the following: no point-to-point wiring in the power-supply circuitry which Bryston found reduces noise, new output chokes to help lower distortion in the upper frequencies, a soft-start circuit to reduce wear and tear, and finally, simplification of several circuit assemblies to bring down the number of signal-smearing contact points.
The overall fit and finish of the casework and the sense I get from interacting with the B-135 point to a well-made product. The tactile elements, such as using the buttons, volume control, and connectors, all engender a feeling of confidence. Even the speaker- cable binding posts, custom-made for Bryston, require less fiddling than usual to get large spades to seat—at least compared to the slotted WBT binding posts I have come across. Inputs are selected directly by pressing the corresponding button on the either the front faceplate or the remote. You do not have to cycle through input selections until you reach the one you want. Bryston’s attention to detail shows. Output power is listed as 135Wpc into eight ohms and 180Wpc into four. I do not have headphones, so I did not try that feature. I added about 200 hours of additional break-in time after I received the review sample, which presumably also had its standard 100-hour burn-in at the factory.
My first impression of the B-135’s sound can be summed as “immediate and powerful”—powerful for its physical size and output rating, that is. Bass extension and dynamic snap were commendable, suggestive of a power supply capable of delivering ample power reserves on demand. The B-135 had little trouble driving my somewhat difficult to drive Dynaudio C1 II speakers (4 ohms, 85dB sensitivity), except on very demanding music. Individual images appeared to be a bit larger—especially in the center of the soundstage—and closer than I am used to, thereby contributing to a feeling of immediate presence. The front of the soundstage also tended to hang in space in a plane a little more forward than usual, which also added to my perception of being nearer to the musicians. Using terms like “forward” often means a tendency towards brightness, but this really isn’t the case here. In fact, if I consider its overall tonal balance, the B-135 comes across as essentially neutral, with only a hint of extra energy in the 2–4kHz zone. It is a near perfect tonal match with the Dynaudio C1 II speakers and will most likely partner very well with the majority of speakers it dances with.
The B-135 tended to accentuate the primary elements of the music, the main musical line, and the principal music- makers—such as the lead singer or most prevalent group of instruments—at any given moment in a recording. As a result, my initial response to the overall presentation was one of enjoying the clarity with which these primary musical constituents were represented. Patricia Barber’s voice and Michael Arnopol’s acoustic bass in “Winter” from Modern Cool [Premonition], for example, came across as “direct” with very little coloration of any kind intruding on the performance—despite rather odd recording values like too much reverb on Barber’s vocals. I think some of the B-135’s straightforward character comes from its somewhat forward soundstaging, as mentioned, and also through its apparent dynamic agility. It is not hyper- or over-charged; it just comes across as clean and direct. As I already alluded to, the B-135 mated quite well with the Dynaudio C1 II, not only tonally but also because of the C1’s less-forward soundstaging and its ability to unravel overlapping dynamic events quite well. This helped the B-135 sound more musically complete and less dimensionally restricted to two or three depth-levels, as was the case when it was paired with the Aerial 7T.