Bryston is known for building some of the most sought-after, powerful and dependable amplifiers in the business. For over 40 years, they have provided an incredible 20 year transferable warranty, practically unheard of in this or any industry. If you find one (that is if you can find one) on the used market, chances are it will still be under warranty. Their rare appearance on the used market has as much to do with their sound quality and dependable (high) power delivery as it does with their warranty.
Based in Ontario, Canada, Bryston has grown to become one of the industries largest independent electronic manufactures. Their products include power amplifiers, preamps, processors, CD players, DACS, and more. Yet, they do not just grab any OEM machine, slap a matching face-plate on and call it a day. They engineer and thoroughly test all their gear before it ever gets to the audio dealer’s showroom.
They have a quality control program that ensures every individual hand built amplifier is tested not once, but three times before leaving the shop. First, the amplifier components are tested before being assembled, then the unit is tested a second time after it has been assembled, and finally it is tested after the intense 100 hour burn-in session. This final test is recorded on a data sheet that is included with every amp. This shows total harmonic distortion at full rated power, intermodulation distortion, and noise level with the inputs shorted, and the output power at clipping. The 9B SST2 that I received for review tested above the rated output, which is typical of Bryston’s conservative specifications.
- Design: Solid State Power Amplifier
- Output: 140 Watts RMS x 5 into 8 Ohms, 200 watts into 4 Ohms
- Modular Design, Each Channel with 30,000 µF of Power Supply Capacitance
- MFR: Not Specified
- Sensitivity: 1.1 V for Full Output into 8 Ohms
- Input Impedance: 50 kOhms Single Ended; 20 kOhms Balanced
- THD+N: 0.005% 20 Hz – 20 kHz
- S/N: 116 dB
- Dimensions: 5.25″ H x 19″ W x 19″ D
- Weight: 76 Pounds
- MSRP: $6,695 USD
We will get to the sound in just a moment, I swear. First let’s marvel at the beauty of the 9B SST2. The unit is available in 17″ and 19″ black or silver faceplates. There are handles on the back and front (19″ version) that help when moving this beast around. The face has a power switch and an LED for each channel. This LED will change color depending on the channels state: red indicates muted, green indicates normal operation, and flashing red indicates channel clipping and orange indicates thermal shut down.
The back panel of an amplifier is usually pretty mundane. Not so with the 9B SST2, each modular channel has single-ended (RCA) inputs, balanced inputs (1/4″ and XLR in the same connector), binding posts that will take most any size and type of connector (up to 3 gauge bare wire!), polarity switch (allowing for bridging the channels) and a three-way gain switch (great for matching to a wide-variety of pre-amps). The 9B SST2 is a modular design, with each module having an independent power supply. The detachable 15 amp cord plugs into an IEC socket on the far left of the back panel, which also houses a magnetic-trip circuit breaker htat further protects the amplifier. On the same panel you will also find a 12 volt trigger (in/out).
Speaking of modular, the 9B is available in 3, 4 or 5 channel versions, and if something were to happen to one channel, you simply remove that module and send it in for service. This leaves you with the rest of the amplifier channels to power your speakers.
Overall, the 9B SST2 is not a new amp, rather an improved version of the original 9NRB from 1998. After the unit was modified and re-designed by Stuart Taylor, the name changed to a 9B SST, and since then more refinements added the 2, or squared, designation. This change included a new soft-start circuitry, new RF input filters, the input impedance increased, and there are improved input and feedback capacitors. What this translates to is a smother high-frequency response (not as clinical as before), improved power-band (more consistent sound throughout the entire operating range), as well as lower measured THD and noise.
After unpacking this 75 pound beast, I connected it via the single-ended inputs to my Denon 4308 receiver’s pre-outs. From there I connected five MartinLogan electrostatic loudspeakers with 12 gauge wire, terminated with banana plugs. Before flipping the magnetic-circuit breaker switch, I set the gain switches to the 1 volt setting as recommended in the thorough user manual, and ensured all polarity switches were at 00.
After that I re-calibrated the Denon and got down to business. Sources used were an OPPO 981-HD universal player sending SACD and DVD over HDMI to the Denon, an Onix XCD-88 HDCD player via co-axial digital connection for Redbook and HDCD playback, and a PS3-slim for Blu-ray. And this is where things really get fun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Amplifiers are a tricky beast to review. One would think there would be a hugely obvious difference between amplifiers, yet when you get down to it the differences are minute at best. I did not notice a life-changing difference going from the Denon’s built-in amps to the Bryston, nor did I notice a significant output difference. Instead, where I found the greatest change was with low-volume detail. With both the Denon and the Rotel amplifiers, they never shined until at mid to loud levels, where the Bryson was an absolute joy to listen to at every level. The 9B SST2 was able to constantly deliver high power to an entire MartinLogan five speaker set without issue.
Add an industry-leading warranty, massively over-built chassis, and the ability to drive hard loads, makes this amp a serious contender for any consumer wanting the best he can afford. If you like the idea of having a solid purchase that will outlive the rest of your system, and you prefer your amplifiers to just amplify and not color the sound, then the 9B SST2 needs to be on your shopping list.