||"... a very involving preamplifier indeed."
Bryston BP 6 C-Series Preamplifier
by Tim Shea
||"In my listening
notes, I wrote that the clarity and resolution of the BP 6 C-Series fleshed out individual
instruments and 'peeled open' the soundstage, and thats exactly what it did."
"The sound was clear and organized, with less distortion and grit getting in the
way." "Turning up the volume with the BP 6 C-Series certainly made things louder,
but it seemed to do it in three dimensions, much like you would hear at a live
preamplifiers use a proprietary, discrete, class-A circuit with no ICs in the circuit path,
and the focus of this core design is on decreasing noise and distortion while increasing
linearity." "Although its appearance is balanced, its operation is not, as
youll only find gold-plated single-ended inputs and outputs around back. On the standard
version you get two outputs, a tape loop, and four line-level inputs; one input can be
replaced by a MM phono option ($500) or internal DAC ($1200) if you prefer."
||"The BP 6 C-Series
can come with a decidedly non-full-function remote control ($350), and this is one area where
I would have wished for a couple more bells and whistles, or even just a single bell. The
remote will control volume, and there is a mute button, but thats it."
||"Put another way,
the BP 6 C-Series will certainly give more expensive preamps a run for their money."
I finally bit the bullet a few months ago and
bought a 50" plasma HDTV for our family room. The picture, with a good signal, is
stunning. The increased clarity, color, and depth to the image are intoxicating, and
Im finding myself watching baseball again simply because the picture is so vivid.
Heck, Im even becoming a pseudo-videophile.
I find it rather ironic and sad that at the same
time people are flocking to buy high-definition TVs they are also embracing low-definition
MP3s for music. I guess the message is that the average person appreciates and will pony
up for a better picture, but for music quality takes a third-row seat behind portability
and convenience. While we audiophiles may fool ourselves into thinking that if only people
were exposed to decent recordings on good-quality systems they would magically transform
into at least pseudo-audiophiles, as I did with video, the reality is that when it comes
to audio, most people are and always will be happy with "good enough."
Relatively few people in our ultra-busy, multitasking, information-overloaded world can or
will sit down solely to listen to music anymore, much less care about the quality of
I really think theres some gene we
audiophiles possess that predisposes us to not only love music but also the reproduction
of it, and these things are forever lost on those without the gene. Pity, theyll
never know the difference an HDHF (high-definition hi-fi) component like the Bryston BP 6
C-Series preamp ($1995 USD) can make to the pure enjoyment of reproduced music.
Bryston has a long heritage that includes the
manufacture of professional equipment. The need to hear clearly and accurately everything
thats going on in the professional realm runs through to Bryston's consumer
products. Brystons professional roots probably also have something to do with the
company's being able to offer its famous 20-year warranty on parts and labor for analog
components. An interesting fact about Bryston preamplifiers (including the preamp section
of the company's integrated amp) is that they all share the same basic circuitry and gain
stages, the major differences being the features that surround the core design. As such,
all Bryston preamplifiers use a proprietary, discrete, class-A circuit with no ICs in the
circuit path, and the focus of this core design is on decreasing noise and distortion
while increasing linearity. As for specs, the BP 6 C-Series' frequency response is stated
as 20Hz-20kHz (+/- 0.05dB) with THD of <0.0015% at three volts output, and sensitivity
is rated at 500mV and noise at -100dB. The standard version measures 17"W x 2
1/4"H x 11"D and weighs 8 1/2 pounds, but it is also available in a wider
version and a rack-mount version, both of which increase width to 19".
The BP 6 C-Series most obvious features are
the three large round knobs that occupy the middle portion of its face, which can be had
in either silver or black. They control source selection, balance control, and volume,
respectively, and they look great. However, it would have been helpful to add some
stronger indication of the knobs positions, as its all but impossible to tell
whats set where from the listening chair (or maybe its time for a trip to the
eye doctor). The knobs are flanked by the IR sensor and power switch on the right, and a
tape-monitor switch and headphone jack on the left. A lot of preamplifiers dont have
headphone jacks (my Marsh P2000b included), so I appreciate this and view it as a nice
little bonus. Thats pretty much it for the front of the unit, save for the engraved
Bryston logo toward the upper left. In an era where stiff competition seems to be leading
manufacturers to incorporate more bling into their designs to help them stand out, I find
simple, tasteful designs such as the BP 6 C-Series to be refreshing. Its not big,
its not shiny, and it doesnt have edges or creases running all around its
surface, but it is attractive, with a clean and balanced functional design.
Although its appearance is balanced, its
operation is not, as youll only find gold-plated single-ended inputs and outputs
around back. On the standard version you get two outputs, a tape loop, and four line-level
inputs; one input can be replaced by a MM phono option ($500) or internal DAC ($1200) if
you prefer. I had the standard version for review, so the only other feature on the BP 6
C-Series rear was an IEC power-cord inlet.
Last but not least, the BP 6 C-Series can come
with a decidedly non-full-function remote control ($350), and this is one area where I
would have wished for a couple more bells and whistles, or even just a single bell. The
remote will control volume, and there is a mute button, but thats it. I dont
much mind getting off my fanny to change sources (especially since I only have one source
and one fanny), but I would have really liked the ability to adjust the balance from my
listening chair, because it is much more difficult to fine-tune while standing at the unit
itself. I confess to being a frequent balance fiddler, so this might not mean as much to
others, but I missed it. According to Bryston, a motorized balance control would add
something like $400 to the price of the remote option, and while I might actually purchase
it, I can understand why they chose to omit it. The remote itself, by the way, is a
substantial hunk of aluminum that works effectively even when not pointed directly at the
unit, which is nice and not always the case with other remotes.
The BP 6 C-Series operated silently and
flawlessly throughout the review period. Even during long-and-loud listening sessions the
unit barely got warm to the touch, so I didnt feel guilty leaving it on 24/7. I
dont know if the unit was fully broken in when it arrived, but I did not notice any
huge changes in sonic character during critical listening, although I didnt listen
closely during the first several hours of operation.
During those first several hours, I listened
indirectly to the BP 6 C-Series as I was working out. Listening that way, I really
didnt notice much of a difference from my reference Marsh preamp, which was mildly
concerning given that the Bryston (with remote) is priced about 57% higher than the
P2000b. Then, on a whim, I tried a little experiment and switched digital cables -- from
an Apogee Wyde Eye to a Stereovox XV2, mainly because I thought the Stereovox cable might
be a better match with the Stello DA100 DAC I also had in the mix. While I had noticed
differences between the two cables before, mainly with respect to detail retrieval and
accurate tonality, now the soundstage opened up considerably and everything in it took on
an added sense of space and dimension. Since the only change in my system had been the
addition of the Bryston preamp, I started to suspect there were larger differences at play
The first thing that jumped out at me upon closer
inspection was increased resolution (of the good variety) combined with what subjectively
seemed like a distinct sense of atmosphere in and around the soundstage. Individual
elements appeared in a more holographic way, not only in their positions within the space
but also individually. Im finding this holographic imagery to be a hallmark of
Stereovox cables in general, but the point here is that the BP 6 C-Series was transparent
and refined enough to coax all this goodness out of the XV2.
Loudspeakers Soliloquy 6.2.
Amplifier Bryston 2B-SST
C-Series and McCormack DNA 0.5 Rev. A.
Preamplifier Marsh Sound Design
Digital Oppo DV-970HD universal A/V
player (used as transport), Electronic Visionary Systems Millennium DAC 1 and Stello DA100
Interconnects Acoustic Zen Silver
Reference II and Stereovox Colibri-R.
Speaker cables Acoustic Zen Satori,
Apogee Wyde Eye and Stereovox XV2 coaxial cables.
High resolution can be a bad thing if it is too
pronounced, handled poorly, or not balanced across the frequency spectrum. One of the
things I find that suffers in this case is classical music. Strings can start to sound
zippy and brass hard and thin. I put on Symphony No. 40 from Mozart: Symphony Nos.25,
29, 38 & 40 as performed by Benjamin Britten and the English Chamber Orchestra
(London 444323) to assess how detail was being conveyed, and while the strings still had
some zip, everything sounded perfectly natural and balanced. The performance had good
weight to it as opposed to being artificially thinned out or lightened up, which can
happen with components that skew to the overly analytical side of things. The clearer
background environment and additional spatial detail did wonders to open up and better
define the recorded space and the players within it. In my listening notes, I wrote that
the clarity and resolution of the BP 6 C-Series fleshed out individual instruments and
"peeled open" the soundstage, and thats exactly what it did.
To more specifically assess the BP 6
C-Series tonal properties, I turned to Joe Samples Old Places, Old Faces CD
(Warner Bros. 46182) so I could focus more on individual sounds rather than a massed
performance. On "Cliftons Gold," there's a nice sax run that is full of
color, nuance, and inflection, and it was immediately clear that the Bryston preamplifier
was not selling any of this performance short. In addition to sounding like a live
instrument, the saxophone sounded cleaner, clearer, and less distorted than Ive ever
heard it before, and Ive heard this particular piece on lots of systems (many of
them of the megabuck variety), so my reference for this is fairly broad. There was also a
much better sense of space in and around the instrument, and the preservation of reverb
trails that even protruded from behind the sax greatly added to the awareness of its
physical presence and placement within the stage.
This carried over to the cymbals at the beginning
of the piece as well. For the first time I didnt feel as if I was just hearing what
emanated from the tops of the cymbals, but also what was produced from the underside,
giving the cymbals much more of a dimensional presence and completing their sonic
fingerprint. Again, the sound was clear and organized, with less distortion and grit
getting in the way, and this translated consistently to every disc I played.
But perhaps the most surprising and beguiling
aspect of the BP 6 C-Series performance was what happened when I turned up the
volume. Normally when I do this the performance gets louder and more impactful, with the
sound coming directly at me more forcefully. Turning up the volume with the BP 6 C-Series
certainly made things louder, but it seemed to do it in three dimensions, much like you
would hear at a live performance. The effect was that individual components of the sound
were getting louder and more physically present within their own space, rather than
greater volume just being thrust at me. This was really quite impressive, and it
took the BP 6 C-Series from what was already an excellent component to one that is truly
What about when the BP 6 C-Series was paired with
its 2B-SST C-Series amplifier sibling? As good as imaging was for both units individually,
there was an additive effect when they were used together. Perceived three-dimensional
spatial relationships became even more evident, and overall resolution increased even a
bit further. However, in the context of my system, the combo seemed to go just a bit too
far in that direction and became slightly light- and thin-sounding.
|Bryston with Bryston
I initially substituted the Bryston 2B-SST C-Series amp ($2650) for
my McCormack DNA-0.5 Rev. A (with my Marsh preamp still in the system) and right away I
noticed an increased level of detail -- something I hadnt expected. As with the BP 6
C-Series, there was a more pronounced portrayal of reverb trails in and around
instruments, and definition throughout the soundstage was kicked up a notch. The other
thing I noticed, while listening to Donald Fagans Morph the Cat (Reprise
49975), was that the bass was considerably tighter and quicker without going as deep, but
the result was much better tonal definition of bass notes, especially at the very depths.
As I explored further and swapped back and forth between
the 2B-SST C-Series and the McCormack amp, my initial impressions were confirmed. The
Bryston amp's bass was indeed quicker, tighter, and better defined, while the DNA 0.5 Rev.
A countered with depth and impact. The 2B-SST did indeed offer more upper-range detail
that boosted a sense of dimension, air, and space, but the images wrought by the McCormack
amp came across as more dense and with a little more force behind them.
Overall the Bryston amp had a lighter, airier way about it
that more freely floated images in space and opened up the soundstage to fill more of the
room. The DNA 0.5 Rev. A constrained the soundstage more to the front third of the room,
and images seemed more locked down rather than free to shoot off into space. There was
more of a sense of solidity and heft with the McCormack amp, and it sounded like a more
powerful amplifier than the Bryston, although both are rated at 100Wpc.
I dont want to leave you with the impression that
this is a classic thinner/leaner vs. thicker/richer case, because with all its neutrality
the 2B-SST C-Series proved to be quite the chameleon depending on the surrounding
equipment. For example, pairing the Bryston amp with my Marsh preamp and Acoustic Zen
Matrix Reference interconnects in balanced mode produced a much weightier presentation
that sounded remarkably similar to the BP 6 C-Series/DNA 0.5 Rev. A pair run with
Stereovox interconnects. The point is that while in direct comparison the 2B-SST C-Series
may come across as a little lighter-sounding than other amps, it is not on its own a
lean-sounding amp and has the ability to transform into a much more rich-sounding device
if the partnering equipment pushes it in that direction. I view it as a blank canvas upon
which you can paint almost any sonic picture you like, within its limitations of course.
And thats where Ill sound my only note of
caution regarding the 2B-SST C-Series. Although it was perfectly able to rock the house
with my fairly sensitive speakers, there were times when my more enthusiastic listening
sessions pushed the amp to its limits, and the green indicator lights briefly flashed red,
implying the onset of clipping. I would imagine people who have more demanding speakers or
who like to listen to their music on the louder side could require more juice and might
want to look at one of Brystons more powerful amps.
Realizing that both my resident amp and preamp
are a bit mellower relative to the Bryston units, I decided to try some different
interconnects to see if the synergy thing had been lost in transition. Although I hated to
do it because the outstanding spatial abilities of the Stereovox Colibri-R interconnects
mated so well with those of the Bryston products, their more revealing nature was
apparently just too much of a good thing. So I plugged in the more robust-sounding
Acoustic Zen Silver Reference II interconnects, thinking they might be a better fit, and
in some ways they were. Although there was a price to pay in the form of a little less
spatial information and reduced dimensional relationships, it was countered by a fuller,
richer, and more natural-sounding presentation. In the end Id like to combine the
strengths of both the Acoustic Zen and Stereovox interconnects, but I credit the Bryston
separates for their ability to communicate the cables differences as well as fully
benefit from their strengths. Id love to hear them with the Stereovox
Reference-series interconnects (and I think they fully justify and deserve this level of
cable), but suffice it to say that these Bryston products will certainly appreciate and
reward pairings with better source components and cables.
Negatives? Youll not get any from me
regarding the BP 6 C-Series other than the ergonomic points I brought up earlier. There
may be preamplifiers that do this or that better than the Bryston BP 6 C-Series, but so
balanced and clean is its performance that Id bet most of them fall more under the
category of personal preference rather than strictly better or more accurate. Im
thinking things like gushing tonal color, spot-lit-from-within imaging into the next zip
code -- you know, all the usual suspects. Sonically theres really nothing Id
change about the BP 6 C-Series, although Id certainly be interested to hear its big
brother the BP 26 C-Series with its external power supply. Thats a whole new price
category, however, and Id bet that the law of diminishing returns would be firmly in
play. Put another way, the BP 6 C-Series will certainly give more expensive preamps a run
for their money.
My Marsh Sound Design P2000b preamp ($1495) costs
$850 less than the BP 6 C-Series with optional remote control, but by many accounts it is
competitive with other models well above its price point. We here at SoundStage!
named it a Reviewers' Choice
back in 2003 for this very reason. One area in which I definitely preferred the Marsh
preamp was with regard to ergonomics. With its truncated oval knobs, it is always easy to
see where I have the volume set. Ditto the balance control, which is also adjustable via
the remote, a big plus in my book. The "b" in the model designation denotes that
the Marsh preamp also comes with balanced ins and outs, and although I dont use them
in my current system, I did in evaluating the Bryston 2B-SST C-Series amp, and its
always nice to have the option.
Sonically the Marsh preamps presentation
came across overall as softer, rounder, and slightly more robust than that the BP 6
C-Series. Before you jump to the conclusion that by comparison I found the Bryston preamp
to sound sterile, let me say that is absolutely not the case. If anything, my impression
was more that the Marsh preamp was being a little loose and additive, although I would
still characterize the P2000b as a fairly neutral preamplifier that has a very natural way
with music. The BP 6 C-Series, on the other hand, countered with superior clarity and
definition that more effectively illuminated individual performers as well as the entire
soundstage. By comparison, the Marsh P20000b sounded a little opaque and two-dimensional,
which is not the way I would describe it except in comparison to the BP 6 C-Series, which
is exceptional in comparison. All this added detail never came across as forced,
unbalanced, or overwhelming -- just very matter of fact and right -- and tonal colors came
across as wholly realistic, if not as warm and fuzzy as with the Marsh preamp. When I
cranked things up a notch, as I am wont to do, the Bryston preamp held together better and
seemed to amplify its superior resolution with less inherent distortion and confusion. All
this added up to a sense of transparency and spatial dimension that simply left the Marsh
preamp in the dust.
In a way the Marsh P2000b is a little easier to
listen to because its a little warmer and fluffier, and it doesnt reveal
detail to the point of forcing you to notice things and pay attention to them. Some people
may actually prefer it for just those reasons. In fact, in my review of the P2000b, I
described it as "pure and effortless sonic indulgence," which I think still
holds. But in the end, I preferred the added detail and overall clarity that the BP 6
C-Series brought to the table, as it realistically (as opposed to artificially) uncovered
more of the recorded event and as a result brought me closer to visualizing and
experiencing the performance in my room. I want to be involved in listening to
music, as opposed to being just a passive bystander, and with all its considerable
strengths the Bryston BP 6 C-Series is a very involving preamplifier indeed.
Ive been planning on purchasing power
conditioning for my system for quite a while, because I know how big an improvement it can
make across the board, and I promised myself that this would be my next purchase no matter
what. I already broke that promise once when I ran into the Stereovox Colibri-R
interconnects, which provided a lot of the benefits I hoped to achieve by adding a power
conditioner in the first place: a quieter and clearer background, increased overall
clarity, improved depiction of detail, and a more voluminous and dimensional soundstage --
among others. My rationale was, hey, if Im getting all these improvements without
power conditioning, think how good this will sound when I finally do have clean
power fueling my system.
Well, the Bryston BP 6 C-Series has done it again
for virtually the same reasons. It accurately portrays more meaningful detail of the
recorded event and brings me significantly closer to it or, rather, it closer to
me. Were it in the family budget I would certainly add this preamplifier to my system
right now and worry about power conditioning later, so dramatic and unmistakable are the
improvements it brings. As with the picture on my new HDTV, I find the clean and clear
HDHF sonic picture as portrayed through the Bryston BP 6 C-Series to be simply and
|Bryston BP 6 C-Series Preamplifier
Price: $1995 USD; remote control adds $350; moving-magnet phono adds
$500; internal DAC adds $1200.
Warranty: 20 years parts and labor.
P.O. Box 2170
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario, Canada K9J 7Y4
Phone: (705) 742-5325
Fax: (705) 742-0882