Nothing seemed out of balance tonally or rhythmically. All too often, some other gear at this price level tends to focus your attention on a particular aspect of the music, such as leading edges, punchy dynamics, or a pervasive silkiness, any of which can register as affectations after a while. The Bryston combo just gets the “musical gestalt” right and doesn’t otherwise draw much attention to itself. Could it be more revealing of fine detail? Perhaps, but considering its total price of $16,925, I would be hard pressed to find a similarly priced, solid-state, feature-rich, 600-watt rig that delivered similarly enjoyable and honest musicality.
Calling solid-state electronics at this price level “neutral” is sometimes understood to mean, “leans towards the clinical.” I don’t mean that at all. The Brystons’ tonal spectrum is basically correct but there is nothing sterile or pedantic about it. From top to bottom, the combo sounds tonally and dynamically coherent. The Brystons have a rich and weighty quality while simultaneously sounding open and airy, somewhat like live orchestral music in this regard. The bass is deep reaching and tuneful, and conveys a reassuring feeling of stability and ease. Dynamic power reserves are very good, too. I never had the sense that the 7B³ was running out of juice on even the most demanding musical passages, and I presume it will easily drive a wide variety of loudspeakers.
Soundstage width is a particular strong suit. I think some of this good width performance stems from separating each channel into its own power amp chassis as well as having sufficient power on tap to really control the speakers, and easily move a lot of air when called upon. When paired with other power amplifiers, the BP26 preamp demonstrated that it also presents a fairly wide soundstage, so it, too, contributes to the combo’s performance in this area. Soundstage height is also notably good. Soundstage depth is good, but not exceptional. If you must have a very deep soundstage, you are probably already aware that depth portrayal is not a typical strong suit of solid-state gear at this price level. Mind you, the Bryston combo does render depth fairly well, but tube gear and some other solid-state electronics—usually more expensive ones, like those from GamuT and Hegel—will portray depth more readily. The Brystons revealed plenty of hall and distance cues, but those cues were a bit foreshortened. Still, for solid-state at this price level, the Brystons acquitted themselves nicely.
I listened briefly to the headphone output on the BP26. Since I don’t own any other headphone-capable preamps or dedicated headphone amplifiers against which I could directly compare it, all I can report is that the BP26’s headphone output sounded quite good, better than I expected—based on the ’phone listening I have done in the past with the Oppo HA-1 and at industry trade shows. I have a hunch that Bryston engineered more performance into the BP26’s headphone section rather than merely including it as an additional marketing feature.
Switching between the Brystons and the Hegel P30 ($7500) preamp and H30 stereo power amp ($15,000, Issue 223) as respective combos pretty much mirrored what each component brought to bear individually. The Brystons sounded more rhythmically nimble and imparted a shade more upper-frequency openness. The Hegels sounded more continuous and a bit more revealing, and they rendered depth better, too—both of individual images and of the larger soundscape. The pairing of the Bryston BP26 preamp with the Hegel H30 power amp actually sounded quite good. The quick, pristine quality of the BP26 complemented the more tube-like liquidity and sonic sophistication of the H30. The Bryston 7B³ amp also sounded good with the Hegel P30 preamp driving it, but the Bryston BP26 preamp seemed to be just a bit “quicker” no matter which power amp it was paired with. The Hegel P30 sounded as if it had less of a solid-state sonic signature than the BP26, but the P30 also sounded just a hair rhythmically restrained compared to the very direct and immediate-sounding BP26. The 7B³ power amp did lend just slightly more bass foundation and, perhaps, expanded the soundstage width a hair over the Hegel H30 amp. But, again, the H30 rendered depth better, sounded more continuous, and revealed subtle details a little better.
Comparing the Bryston and Hegel gear to my reference Ayre K-1xe preamp and GamuT 250i mono amplifiers proved instructive as well. In short, my roughly $35,000 reference combo outplayed the Brystons in every way—particularly in overall resolution and almost tube-like image density and soundstage depth, but then they should as they cost a little over twice the price. In my system, the Hegel combo performed at a level between the Brystons and my reference Ayre/GamuT electronics, but it is quite possible that some listeners might prefer one of the Brystons to either of the Hegel units depending on system matching and their tastes. To summarize, the following qualities followed the Brystons no matter in what pairings they were placed: notable musical immediacy, good rhythmic drive, solid foundation through good dynamic and bass performance, open but non-fatiguing top end, honest tonal balance, and finally, depth portrayal and “liquidity” that can be bettered by other gear. A good showing, indeed.
The Brystons proved to be a real treat. The new 7B³ power amplifier and the already well-received BP26 preamp are a wonderfully musical combination. Together, they offer feature-rich, real-world practicality in the form of the BP26’s versatility and the 7B³’s high-output power delivery and ability to drive a wide range of speakers. Bryston’s 20-year, transferable warranty applies to both units, so you can buy with confidence knowing that you are purchasing well-engineered equipment that also sounds good. If you favor high-powered solid-state amplification and would rather not spend more on audio gear, the Bryston BP26/7B³ combination should be on your short list. I don’t know of a more powerful, versatile, and musically rewarding solid-state pre/power pair at its asking price.
Specs & Pricing
Type: Solid-state linestage
Analog inputs: Two balanced (XLR), five unbalanced (RCA), 12V trigger port, auxiliary relay jack
Digital inputs: Two SPDIF (with optional DAC section, not reviewed)
Formats supported: 16kHz–108kHz sample rates and 16-, 18-, 20-, or 24-bit word lengths (with optional DAC section, not reviewed)
Phonostage: Moving magnet, input impedance 50k ohms, 5mV sensitivity; moving-coil, input impedance 180 ohms (with optional phono section, not reviewed)
Outputs: One balanced (XLR), two unbalanced (RCA)
Dimensions: 17" x 2.25" x 11**
Weight: 27.9 lbs. (main unit and MPS2 power supply)
Price: $5535 (including MPS2 external power supply and BR2 remote)
7B³ Power Monoblock Amplifier
Type: Solid-state, Class AB
Output power: 600W into 8 ohms (900W into 4 ohms)
Inputs: One pair balanced (XLR), one pair unbalanced (RCA), one 12-V trigger port
Output impedance: Not listed
Dimensions: 17" x 6.3" x 16.2"
Weight: 42 lbs.
Price: $11,390 per pair
677 Neal Drive
Canada K9J 6X7