Bryston 14B³

Full review and laboratory test of the Bryston 14B³ by Australian Hi-Fi Magazine. This equipment review consists of a full subjective evaluation of the Bryston 14B³ power amplifier written by Edgar Kramer together with a complete set of independent laboratory tests conducted by Newport Test Labs and a test report written by Steve Holding. The full text of the review is below. For the test report and accompanying graphs, please download the original magazine pages as PDFs using the button on the right.

 

Canada’s Bryston Ltd. has been designing nigh-unbreakable amplification for a number of decades. Such is the reliability rep built by the company that many recording and broadcast studios around the world have adopted its products—Bryston’s stable now includes a full suite of electronics and, more recently, a selection of high quality speaker systems and a turntable. The company confidently offers an industry-leading 20-year warranty on its amplifiers, and the new ‘Cubed’ series amplification certainly oozes longevity from the extraordinary build quality on display—the handcrafted 14B³ on review here is built like a tank, and weighs in at a chiropractor-friendly 42kg.

The Equipment
Bryston amplifiers have traditionally been rather conservatively styled. The new Cubed amps may not send industrial design fashionistas agape, but there are noticeable aesthetic improvements over the previous ‘Squared’ generation that give them a more attractive presence. The amplifiers now feature a central plate attached to the thick aluminium fascia, with suitable three-dimensionality provided by a rounded trench-cut and deep etchings for company logo and model number, and the fascia is nicely machined to a curved chamfer edge.

The 14B³ is Bryston’s top-of-the-line stereo offering, while the 28B3 monos are the flagships of the company’s fleet of amplifiers, all of which are available with either black or natural aluminium high-quality front fascias in 17-inch or 19-inch widths, with front handles on the 19-incher (all models have handy rear handles to help with lifting them).

For this new ‘Cubed’ series, Bryston’s Chief Engineer Christopher Russell teamed up with amplifier designer Dr Ioan Alexandru Salomie, jointly developing improvements over the previous generation just prior to Salomie’s tragic death from a brain tumour at age 48. Circuit refinements are claimed to provide lower distortion in the input stages, increased overall bandwidth, reduced EMI and RFI noise, and improved overall CMR (Common Mode Rejection). These substantial improvements have real potential for elevated sonics. Oh, and a side bonus is a reduction in standby power, now down to 500mW.

The Bryston 14B³ is specified as offering 600-watts RMS into 8Ω and 900-watts into 4Ω, with a very low THD (Total Harmonic Distortion) of 0.005 per cent from 20Hz to 20kHz at full power (no 1kHz measurement at half power here). The solid power supply features twin 850VA transformers supported by banks of 88,000μF of capacitance per channel (total 176,000μF). There are 32 high-current bipolar devices (16 per channel) in the output stages, with each being rated at 16-amps. The power supply is not a limitation with the 14B³; this amp will drive anything both in terms of power and current. The damping factor is specced at 500, promising good speaker cone control.

The real panel has a switch that allows you to choose between two different gain settings (23dB or 29dB) to allow wider compatibility with preamplifiers of varying voltage sensitivity—the 23dB gain setting will be ideal with the largest proportion of high-gain preamps. A 12V terminal allows for either remote or local turn-on options via a small switch, and there’s a mains circuit-breaker switch at the rear, with the on/standby button located on the front panel. Input connectivity is via your choice of either single-ended (via RCA sockets) or balanced (via XLR sockets) inputs, and while the speaker posts are of high quality, are well-insulated and accept both banana plugs and spade connectors, they can only be accessed from above (there is no opening at the bottom of the plastic post insulator), which I personally found to be both impractical and unsightly.

In Use and Listening Sessions
Given that my fairly demanding speakers have a very low impedance and high phase angle in the frequency region between 80Hz and 120Hz (and are fairly demanding in the octave below as well), this was a sensible place to start in order to test the control the 14B³ can exert over difficult-to-drive loudspeakers. One of the torture tests in this respect I like to use is the soundtrack from ‘American Beauty’. The title track features a swelling subterranean bass that ebbs and flows across other musical textures. The 14B³ lapped up the challenge, delivering tremendous control, power, and incredible detail. The leading edge of each bass note was highly defined, while the notes in sequence properly exhibited a forceful tightness. It proved unshakeable in the toughest tests it was subjected to, such as the Blade Runner soundtrack, Sergio Leone from Jackson Browne’s ‘The Naked Ride Home’, and many more. Not a bead of sweat…

At the other end of the scale, the highs are pristine in terms of tonal colour, while being a tad laid back. Cymbals and bells, for example, are beautifully rendered with fine detail and air, while being somewhat layered back into the soundstage/mix—this also equating to an impressively deep soundstage. And if your metal tweeter is on the bright side the 14B³ will tame it somewhat and still preserve high frequency detail.

Conversely, the midrange spectrum is subtly forward and ever-so-slightly brilliant, providing oodles of detail and scalpel-like instrumental separation. This last trait is most evident with female vocals, as with Tracy Chapman’s Give Me One Reason from her ‘New Beginnings’ album or Patti Larkin’s Helen from ‘Angels Running’—both singers are projected somewhat forward of the speaker plane.

The two recordings mentioned in the previous paragraph are superb productions, but the Bryston will not lie about any that are less well-recorded—expose it to deficiency, be it from mediocrity in componentry or in recording—and the sonics will reflect those poor decisions from designer or audio engineer… and that’s exactly what any accurate amplifier should do. Should you want colourations, feel free to add them at either source or preamplifier stages… the amp should tell the truth.

The Russell/Salomie circuit redesign has certainly lived up to the claim in terms of noise and distortion reduction. I equate those as having an influence on the background levels of self-noise, and this is where the 14B³ displays an extremely quiet ‘black’ background. Such silence allows very good low-level and micro-dynamic information to be relayed unpolluted by circuit noise. This is also helpful in allowing the superb level of frequency-wide detail and instrumental separation the amplifier is generously capable of. And it’s not just in the low-level stuff either—the Bryston amplifier is a bit of a dynamic weapon, along similar levels as other very expensive amplifiers that have graced this reviewer’s listening room.

Conclusion
What should be expected of a high-power solid-state amplifier? Well for starters, you’d demand accuracy and faithfulness of reproduction in both the recording and the sonic signature (if any) of the preceding componentry. Plus total control of whatever speakers are being driven, excellent tonality and timbral balance—all mandatory. And of course, wide electrical compatibility with preamplification, teamed with unbreakable reliability via the application of highly-skilled engineering. Knead the above with a sprinkle of styling flair and a squeeze of solid casework—and you have a magnificent blend, right there, all ingredients fused, in the essence of the superb Bryston 14B³…  

Bryston 14B³ Stereo Power Amplifier
RRP: $13,999

Warranty: Twenty Years
Product page: Bryston

Readers interested in a full technical appraisal of the performance of the Bryston 14B3 Power Amplifier should read the LABORATORY REPORT that follows this review in the PDFs of our original magazine pages; click the red button above right (811kB download).