Bryston LTD is known for making well- engineered, high-value audio gear. Its famous 20-year warranty and successful 35-year track record in both the pro- and home-audio worlds have helped solidify the company’s reputation for producing reliable, high-performing products at fair prices. The BP26 preamp and 7B³ mono amplifiers exemplify this approach.
The quality of the casework is good. Everything fits well, and there are no rough edges. The controls are intuitive. There are no configuration set-up menu selections to make and no operating firmware updates to download. You connect your sources and speakers to the combo, and you’re ready to go—all sort of reassuringly “traditional.” The Brystons functioned without any problems throughout the five months I used them regularly. This is all fine and good, but would be disappointing if the components did not also sound good. I can happily report the BP26/7B³ combo was a pleasure to listen to. To be honest, I expected the sonic performance to be more along the lines of competent than inspiring, which has sort been my impression of Bryston gear in the past, despite my long-standing admiration for the company’s history of delivering solid engineering, reliability, and value—not to mention its reputation for treating its employees well.
The BP26 preamp and its MPS2 external power supply list for $5160. (Bryston also offers an alternative, compact PS-3 power supply for $1000, but I believe most users get the standard MPS2 power supply [$1865].) The MPS2 can also power three other Bryston devices, such as a separate crossover, phonostage, or digital music player. The remote control unit costs an extra $375, and I recommend it. The robust metal handset controls a variety of Bryston equipment and has nifty user-set sensors, which illuminate the buttons in low light when a button is pressed or when the remote is merely moved. I grew to like the convenience of seeing the buttons in low ambient light simply by picking up the remote. Bryston offers other on-board options: a DAC ($1595), a moving-magnet phono section ($750), and a moving-coil phono section ($1500). You have to opt for either the DAC or one of the phono options but not both. Bryston’s PR rep Micah Sheveloff told me most customers choose one of the phono sections and use an external DAC because digital technology changes more rapidly than phono technology. To sum up, as reviewed as a linestage only, the BP26, MPS2 power supply, and BR2 remote retail for $5535.
The BP26 is fully featured. It has a tape loop, a mono/stereo toggle, a mute toggle, a channel balance control, a motorized volume pot, an input selector, and a feature one does not find very often anymore—a phase inversion toggle (also activated on the remote control). Some recordings sound better with the absolute polarity inverted (like Alison Krauss’ Forget About It [Rounder]), so I liked this feature. Only tone controls are missing, but I presume Bryston reasoned they would cause more harm than good or would push the cost higher than the design brief. The BP26 has both balanced/XLR and unbalanced/RCA inputs and outputs and a ¼" headphone jack. The matching external MPS2 power supply is connected to the main unit via a detachable umbilical cord with six-pin connectors. I separated the MPS2 from the main unit on another shelf, but the instruction manual mentions that users may stack the main chassis on top of the power supply chassis unless excessive system noise is present through the optional phono section. The BP26’s volume knob has its position indicator slot on its outer edge, so I could not easily tell what the volume setting was from my listening position. A more visible, direct-view indicator would be helpful.
The 7B³ mono amplifiers retail for $11,390 per pair and deliver 600 watts into 8 ohms (900 into 4). Each amp has balanced/XLR and unbalanced/RCA inputs, an input gain selector (23dB or 29dB), and one pair of multi-way speaker binding posts. Thankfully, the binding posts’ spade slots face upwards for easy speaker cable connection from above and for routing speaker cables away from the floor. The 7B³ was released earlier this year, so it has some of Bryston’s latest technology, whereas the BP26 has been in production since 2009. The previous series of power amps, labeled SST², made advances in reducing distortions typically found in the output sections of Class AB amplifiers through technology Bryston calls “Quad Complementary” output. The new Cubed Series retains that technology and also addresses lowering noise in the input stage. The updates were co-designed by a Bryston team led by Christopher Russell with some further advances to the work of the late physicist and computer scientist, Dr. Ioan Alexandru Salomie. (Salomie apparently held patents in fields such as circuit-design software, 3D computer-animation, medi-cal applications, as well as in audio design through his work with Bryston.) The Cubed series amps reportedly have better common-mode noise rejection and improved EMI/RFI noise rejection.
The 7B³ is more refined sounding and more musically rewarding than previous Bryston amps I have heard. Even though I didn’t have a pair of the previous generation 7BSST² on hand to directly compare to the new 7B³, I am willing to give some credit to what I perceive to be a “new Bryston sound” to the updates in the Cubed Series.
I listened to the Brystons with some of my reference gear, including the very revealing YG Sonja 1.2 speakers and a set of nicely transparent Shunyata Anaconda cables. I did several A/B/A comparisons with two other pre/power combos (discussed later). I also mixed and matched each combo’s preamp with the other combos’ power amps to cross-reference my sonic impressions and to get a better idea of the BP26’s and 7B³’s respective individual characteristics. Because I used a higher-resolution evaluation platform than a typical listener might, given the Bryston combo’s price, the observations and distinctions I make may not be as readily apparent in other systems to the degree I describe below. I ran the Brystons for at least 300 hours before I did any serious listening.
To summarize my overall impressions upfront, the Bryston BP26/7B³ combo sounds musical and engaging with fabulous rhythmic drive and momentum. It is tonally neutral with an open quality that does not veer toward edgy or forced. It imparts a sure-footed foundation with good bass extension and control. The soundstage is wide, tall, and reasonably deep.
The sort of musicality I hear in the Brystons is more along the lines of a winning, agile tunefulness than a beguiling, silky lusciousness. I kept listening to cut after cut not necessarily because every nuance was brought forth, but because the Brystons seemed to convey a feeling of unfettered directness and immediacy. I remained engaged with the music during long listening sessions, my feet tapping to the beat and my head leaning with the phrases, because the Brystons’ readily transmitted the central “musical core”—if you will.