Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bryston's synergy

The Bryston BP 6 preamp


Much has been said about the synergy between Bryston pre and power amps - many people have noted that Bryston power amps sound the best with Bryston preamps.

I have been using a Sugden C28 preamp with my Bryston 3B SST power amp for a while. So I thought it would be a good idea to find out if indeed the synergy between Bryston pre and power amps does exist.

I borrowed a Bryston BP 6 preamp, which retails at RM10,100, and a 3B SST2 power amp (I will post on that later) from AV Designs.

My first task was to compare the BP 6 preamp with the made-in-England Sugden preamp.
The small British hi-fi firm needs some introduction - it is well known for its Class A designs and its legendary A21a integrated amp released in 1987 is still being made today. The C28/P28 pre-power amps are essentially the A48 Mk III, another classic amp released in 1974, split into two components.

Sugden has a very rich sweet, sound that suits the Bryston 3B SST which is a bit on the lean side and I have found this combination quite satisfactory thus far.

With the BP 6 preamp linked to the 3B SST, the sound took on a different hue - the bass was immediately stronger, the pace was quicker and the soundstage became bigger vertically.

The most obvious difference would be the richness of the Sugden versus a less-rich sounding BP 6 despite using the rich-sounding Oyaide Tunami power cord with it. This is not so noticeable on songs with lots of electronic instruments, but when playing Eva Cassidy's acoustic numbers, it became apparent that the Sugden added a bit too much richness to the acoustic guitar - there was too much bloom, too rich decay and too much body. The Bryston BP 6 gave a leaner but perhaps more realistic reproduction of acoustic instruments.

On rock songs, the Bryston preamp had ample drive and pace with a prominently strong bass leading the rhythm. Dynamics also improved as lead guitar and other instrumental solos leapt out of the soundscape.



The rear of the preamp. There are no balanced inputs.


However, voices also became leaner with the Bryston and the Sugden's inherent sweetness and richness made female voices more 'seductive'.

Next I compared the headphone jack of the Bryston BP 6 with that of the CEC 3300 CD player using a pair of Sennheiser HD600. The Bryston's headphone jack turned out to be even leaner sounding than its preamp section.

Initially I was using a pair of Alphacore Silver Micropurl interconnects to link the CD player to the preamp and I thought it was the silver that made the sound lean, and when I changed the interconnects to a pair of DH Labs Air Matrix the music became a bit fuller, but still lost out to the CEC in terms of richness.

The CEC headphone jack which uses its Load Effect Free (LEF) Class A amp sounded richer and fuller without losing out on details and timbre. When I played a Charlotte Church Christmas CD, the choir sounded closer to me while the Bryston placed the singers further away and provided a middle-of-the-hall performance.

So it turned out to be a rich-versus-lean-sound kind of contest. Which preamp is more accurate is highly debatable.

The Sugden preamp provided perhaps a shade too much richness and suffered from some loss of detail and pace while the Bryston BP 6 gave the power amp a firm grip on pace and power while offering good transparency and detail.

Should you buy a Bryston preamp to match your Bryston power amp? As usual, the advice is to hear for yourself. 

The BP 6 also has the advantage of having the option to be fitted with an MM phono stage and a DAC. With a max output of 15V, it can drive very long interconnects and, of course, there is the 20-year warranty.

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