Don’t look now but the USA’s quiet neighbor up north is a major hotspot for high-end audio. Companies like Classé, Mirage, Energy, Paradigm, Totem, PSB, and Oracle are almost household words in some households. Add to this list Aurum Acoustics, Blue Circle Audio, Ed Meitner’s EMM Labs, Raysonic Audio, Reference 3A, and I think you too will find that there is some pretty creative design work being done in the Great White North.
Hailing from Peterborough, Ontario, Bryston of course is well known, and greatly respected, for its amplifiers and, more recently, digital gear. Favored by the pro-audio market, its stuff has never been cheap but neither has its build-quality ever really been less than first-class. Now Bryston is getting into the loudspeaker business in a country that is already home to at least 14 well-regarded speaker manufacturers. Mulling over this new venture I was surprised that Bryston had taken amplification out of the equation; you can hook the Mini T’s up to one of Bryston’s own SST2 amplifiers, a combination that will no doubt work very well, but you don’t have to. Given Bryston’s expertise it could have cooked up the ultimate self-powered loudspeaker, and wouldn’t we all want one of those?
Well, maybe, maybe not. Bryston wants to move loudspeakers, and the self-powered variety is going to be a tough sell for those who have already invested in a good amp. James Tanner of Bryston’s brain trust and the main instigator of its speaker business also reminded me that the self-powered loudspeaker, at least when amplification is applied internally as is the norm, invites the use of compact Class D circuits, which, if not quite anathema, is a topology he considers second-rate. So what is Bryston bringing to the party?
According to Tanner, the main areas of opportunity were loudspeakers that do not suffer from dynamic compression, have big “listening windows,” and excellent in-room power response. To address compression Tanner found the best solution to be multiple high-quality drivers in a vertical array. Ultimately expressed in Bryston’s flagship Model T, which aims seven drivers at the listener, the vertical array helps explain the size of the gigantic (for a bookshelf speaker) $2695 Mini T; it also explain why a small, two-way design, like a Totem Model 1, is not going to come from Bryston.
I’m used to frequency response data that show a single curve; however, the Mini T’s published frequency response graph contains two similarly shaped curves. One (labeled LW) is level, and the other (labeled SP) heads steadily south starting at 100Hz or so. LW or “listening window” is superbly flat and comprises an average of response curves measured from the typical on-axis listening positions. The SP or “sound power” response curve is also superbly flat but falls 8–10dB as it approaches 10kHz. It is the average of all the response curves taken in a 360° angle around the loudspeaker, otherwise known as the polar response. The combination of this direct (on-axis) and reflected sound is what we ultimately hear, and according to Tanner, achieving linearity in both curves is crucial to optimum performance. He was certainly not surprised when I informed him that the Mini T’s produced the flattest frequency response (32Hz–10kHz ±2.7dB) I have yet observed in my listening room.
In electronics Bryston is certainly no start-up, but it pretty much is in the loudspeaker biz, which makes the Mini T’s measured performance all the more impressive. However, I’ll let you in on a little non-secret: Bryston hasn’t entered into this venture alone. Technical and manufacturing assistance, as well as the use of a state-of-the-art anechoic chamber, were provided by Axiom Audio, a company I wasn’t familiar with but which is evidently a major player in the home-theater market, building loudspeakers (including drivers) as well as amplifiers. Knowing that Axiom is in possession of an expensive anechoic facility strongly suggests that it takes speaker design seriously. Also learning that Axiom’s Ian Colquhoun, an alum of the psychoacoustic research facility that is Canada’s National Research Council, and Andrew Welker, formerly of API/Mirage, both lent a hand or two in the design of the Mini T makes expectations of strong performance more reasonable. So the Mini Ts are “flat” and, in that sense, “accurate,” but do they sound good?
My heart goes out to the sales person, copywriter, or ad campaign that is charged with getting across what these speakers are about. I’m now staring at two pumped-up bookshelf speakers sitting on made-to-fit but otherwise unremarkable tubular stands (sand-or shot-fillable), clad in an equally unremarkable, although well executed, black ash-pattern vinyl (hardwood veneers are available at an additional cost). Constructed of, again, unremarkable although carefully braced and assembled MDF, the cabinets house what look to be rather pedestrian drivers—dust cap, cone, rubber surround. Even the mounting of said components is rather ordinary—no coaxials, seemingly no attempt at time-coherent signal launch a la Thiel and others, and no special patterns or materials on the front baffles to help control diffraction. My speakers in college looked more advanced. Not much here for an ad in a glossy magazine. Time to call the model agency.