REVIEW: Bryston 14B3 Stereo Power Amplifier
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When I think of Bryston, the first thing that always comes to my mind are amplifiers. After all, it’s what Bryston have a strong reputation for and one that extends back decades.
And while I have come across Bryston before listening to various systems, I’ve never had the pleasure of experiencing what they can do in my very own system. So, I welcomed the opportunity to spend time with a Bryston, let alone the flagship in the stereo offering, the 14B3.
This is a very solidly built unit. It looks very imposing in black, carved from solid chunks of metal. While it is also available with front handles, personally I think the amp has much cleaner lines and is more visually appealing in the domestic environment without them.
Overall it’s a fantastic work of industrial design and quite purposefully built. It’s stylish looking with no frills or fancies for the sake of it.
The front panel has a very subtle incorporated power button and what appears to be two very tiny LEDs. The cooling fins have their corners chamfered which is a great idea. I’m not entirely sure why other makers don’t do this as it lessens the chance of losing some skin as you brush past!
Looking at the back of the unit, its bristling with ports and switches. The two rear grab handles are not quite in keeping with the overall styling of the amp. While they look a little dated, they’re only there for a purpose and not noticeable in normal use.
Peeking under the hood, two big toroidal transformers are the main feature, but while surrounded by top quality components, it’s no wonder Bryston can offer a 20-year warranty.
Bryston state that the 14B3 is rated at a massive 600W per channel with an 8 Ohm load, which can also reach up to 900W per channel into 4 Ohm loads. It is basically two 7B3 mono amplifiers in the same chassis. This is even more evident when you see the dual mono layout.
I discovered from reading the supporting material that the B3 range is a refinement and development of their previous long standing SST2 range. According to Bryston, the Cubed B3 range brings improvements with less distortion, improved noise rejection, and an incredibly low 500mw power consumption in standby mode. Apart from the sonic capabilities, very apparent is the updated aesthetics and quite contemporary styling of the new range.
This amplifier is no light weight. It needed two people to carry off the delivery truck! After making use of a trolley just to get it in the house, upon opening the box it became clear why they put handles on these things.
I decided to utilise the balanced input connections since I use a balanced 2-channel pre amplifier. Making the connections via Sommer Carbokab XLR cables, I then used Van den hul Magnum speaker cables to my main speakers.
Signs of life. There’s a main ON-OFF switch at the back of the amplifier, and a front ON-STANDBY switch. Flicking the switches, the amp makes some curious sounds while a flashing light sequence indicates all is well and ready to go.
While Bryston amps come pre ‘run in’ from the factory, local distributor Busisoft recommended that these amps are best left powered up for a couple of hours before critical listening. To be sure, I left the amp powered up for a good day before any listening. It can’t hurt!
The next day the whole amp had this lovely warmth to it. What I noticed now is that not just the cooling fins, but rather the entire amp is made from Aluminium; great for heat dissipation.
In my case the amplifier was setup in open space with plenty of air circulation. I think this might be an important consideration for an amp such as this, particularly if you’re thinking about rack or AV cupboard mounting.
There’s also the option for an external trigger to switch the amp in tow with the rest of your system if you feel you’d rather not be leaving an amp like this on all the time.
For the source, I utilised the fantastic Bluesound Node 2 feeding a Bryston DAC. On first listen I thought the sound seemed a touch quieter/softer than what I am used to for the same volume level. Fortunately, Bryston provide a gain toggle switch on the back of the amp. It has two settings, 23db and 29db. I selected the 29db setting and found it more like what I am used to.
Craig Armstrong’s ‘Weather Storm’ off Talvin Singh’s Back to Mine compilation is an instrumental, and starts off with some great scale that the Bryston portrayed well. A scale that fills the whole front stage, in fact.
After the initial opening the track then drops back to a simpler piano and string instrument with a steady bass beat. The bass I felt was well rounded and had some good depth and punch. The instrumentation coming through from some inky blackness showed off the good noise floor of the Bryston.
I followed on to the next track on the album by U. Srinivas and Michael Brook. With a lot going on in particularly with percussion and all sorts of instruments, the Bryston conveys well the rhythm and pace of this track, while clearly separating out all the instruments in the sound scape.
Next up was ‘Sweetest Decline’ by Beth Orton from her album Central Reservation. It’s a beautiful track with her lovely vocals that I’m very familiar with and I really couldn’t wait to hear this with the Bryston. Interestingly, I find the vocals are placed quite forward of the speakers. I wouldn’t be disappointed. It’s a room filling sound and her vocals and inclinations are picked up beautifully. The thing with Beth’s voice is that on some systems she can come across quite cutting and edgy. Certainly not the case here in fact, quite possibly the opposite. She sounded quite a bit more fluid and softer in nature.
Cueing up the vinyl, I switch across to Simply Red’s Picture Book and the track ‘Sad Old Red’. With a gentle start to this track, the Bryston has no trouble picking up the subtleties. The gradual buildup in the instrumentations, the swings in dynamics and the pitch of Mick Hucknall’s voice from just coasting to full tilt as he does; it’s all there. It’s an LP with some good tracks on it and can’t help but listen to the rest of the side.
My 2 channel systems also doubles as part of my multi-channel home theatre system. Being a power amplifier I thought I’d give the Bryston a workout via a movie. Hook up required no changes thanks to my pre-amp featuring the ‘HT Bypass’ function. A quick check of levels/calibration found no changes required for speaker level trims. My earlier switching to the higher gain setting on the Bryston was the right choice.
I put on the Mad Max Fury Road Blu-ray disc. It has a Dolby ATMOS 3D audio track which is a good test to see how the Bryston incorporates into a 11.1 speaker system.
The movie begins with ethereal scenes with voices whispering and squawks of crows etc. coming from various parts around the room. The Bryston works in well enough to not disturb this placement and the effects of them.
The movie then heads off in a frantic frenzy. The Bryston again proves to be working well here in the mix by not drawing attention to itself. There are huge dynamics with explosions and a crescendo of sound effects from every channel. The Bryston did extremely well supporting the onscreen action with the soundtrack. Both detail and dynamics were always delivered effortlessly.
It’s been a great introduction to Bryston having the 14B3 in my system. I can see why Bryston has the reputation it does. It is an incredibly well designed and manufactured product. I like the new styling, fit and finish, and particularly that it doesn’t get too caught up in form over function.
Bryston is without doubt built to last, evident by their confidence in offering a 20-year warranty. Peace of mind.
The Bryston 14B3 is well featured for a power amp and I particularly like its selectable gain which proved useful in my system. I’m also a fan of the option of balanced and unbalanced connectivity. There are no pre-outs, which in my case would actually be useful for subwoofer use and bi-amping.
It does get a touch warm, but not hot, although I would still suggest its best used in an open rack type installation where there is adequate ventilation.
The listening tests proved it has a very good noise floor which is a great basis to start from. In sonic character, it stays close to the path, quite neutral in sound.
What comes through is a very fluid, smooth sound. At times, I did feel it could even be too smooth with the Beth Orton tracks. Some care in matching is required. While probably a good calming match with harsher, strident sounding ancillaries, it might also make too much of a mellow match with components reticent in this regard. While I did use a Bryston DAC during this review, it did leave me wondering how much difference a matching Bryston preamp could have made for ‘synergy’.
That wonder aside, the Bryston performed extremely well in both 2-channel music and even for home theatre use, with excellent detail, a well dimensioned sound stage in width and depth, as well as room filling ability. As an amplifier, it never ever felt strained or wanting in ability to deliver dynamics of control in the bass or breaking up in the top end. I think these are good indications of it being a superb amplifier.
It’s great to see Bryston continue their tradition of building extremely high quality equipment. Just as importantly, it’s great to see them not sit on their laurels and past reputation and continue development.
The Bryston 14B3 is an excellent flagship amplifier and with some consideration of partnering equipment, the Bryston would be a very good choice whether its use for 2-channel music, or within a home theatre system.
Bryston is distributed in Australia by Busisoft AV.
- 600W into 8Ω
- 900W into 4Ω
- Balanced and Single Ended audio inputs
- Selectable gain at 23 or 29dB
- No fans or other moving parts
- Regulated power supplies to all voltage gain stages
- Convection cooled and housed in a fully aluminium chassis
- Independent power supplies for each channel
- Energy storage power transformers maximize dynamic range
- Harmonic Distortion: ≤.005% from 20Hz to 20kHz at 600W
- Noise below full output: -119dB single ended, -120dB balanced
- Slew Rate: >60V/µS
- Power Bandwidth: .5Hz to >100kHz
- Damping Factor: >500 at 20Hz (8Ω)
- Switchable Gain: 23dB or 29dB
- Available with silver or black faceplate (4U + .55”)
- 17” (without handles) or 19” (with handles) faceplate available (non-rack mountable)
- Rack mountable Pro Edition available in black (see Cubed Pro for more details)
- 2-Channel: Bluesound Node 2, Bryston BDA – 3 DAC, Musical Fidelity M8Pre, Rega P9 Turntable with Ortofon Jubilee, Audio Research Ph5 phono stage. Focal Utopia Diva main speakers. Sommer CarboKab XLR interconnects and Van Den Hul Magnum speaker cables. Siltech digital coax and Van Den Hull D102III Hybrid source interconnects.
- Home Theatre: In addition to the 2-ch system, Marantz AV8802A processor, Samsung UHD Blu-ray player, 2 x Elektra Theatre HD amplifiers, Focal Electra series 11 channel speaker system, Velodyne DD15 subwoofer.
Alain is an audio-visual enthusiast since as early as he can remember, well known to most specialist shops as a customer at some point over the last few decades in his hometown, Melbourne.