This has been one of the easiest products to review. Installation was very simple due to the excellent labeling on the connectors and switches, there were no sharp edges to be careful of on the nicely finished heatsinks, and the amplifier worked perfectly from the moment it was first turned on. The thick, perfectly finished face-plate is the type which is normally seen on much more expensive products. The amplifier is very solidly built, but not excessively heavy. The single pair of binding posts per channel can accommodate spades or bare wire, and also banana plugs. This is perfect in my system since I use both spades and bananas, although the old standard ¾” dual-banana spacing is no longer available to prevent conflicts with European power plugs which are also ¾” (19mm) apart. There is a remote trigger connection for those systems able to use this feature. The inputs can accept RCAs or XLRs, and there is provision to adjust the amplifier’s gain. With all these installation options, there is no current audio system that would not be able to work well with this amplifier.
If there was a break-in period, it was probably less than 10 hours. I used the amp for background music for a day before attempting any serious listening, and was not aware of a change in the character of the amp afterwards. I’ve remarked in other reviews that almost every component sounds pretty bad for the first 10 hours or so. That observation probably does not apply here due to the extensive run-in every Bryston product receives at the factory before shipment. Don’t you wish that every other maker of high-end electronics would deliver a product that you could actually use as intended upon receipt? [If you answered “no”, please click on “Home” on your browser now.]
The 3B SST is proof that solid-state components have “come of age”. There is no longer a need to deal with hot-running and relatively unreliable tube gear to hear great music. There is no need to maintain an inventory of expensive replacement tubes for those times when you sit down to hear music and a bad tube arcs and sparks, forcing you to spend your valuable listening time doing the swap ‘n pop until you find and replace the bad tube. Or even having to ship off the amp or preamp for repair.
I’ll leave the technical details to Bryston, except to note that Bryston includes a signed test report with each amplifier listing its actual power output and distortion measurements. This used to be fairly standard, and even though not required, it does give the purchaser that warm fuzzy feeling that his or her amplifier actually passed specific quality control checks. From Bryston’s point of view, when they offer a 20 year, transferable warranty, they want to make sure that everything is working properly before shipment since excessive warranty repairs can decimate profits. I doubt they are worried, since the word on the street is that Bryston makes some of the most reliable gear you can buy. By the way, the warranty is based on date of manufacture, not when it was first sold or registered by an owner. An amp could change hands every 6 months for 20 years without ever being registered with the factory and still be completely covered under warranty. This definitely “raises the bar” for warranties!
Let’s talk about the operation and sound. I love the touch sensitive “SST POWER” switch on the lower front panel that gets the mojo flowing. It takes about 5 seconds for the front panel LEDs to change from red to green, indicating that everything is ready to go and all is well. And with the Bryston, those lights always turn green. Daily warm-up was about 15-20 minutes. This is about normal for electronics, although even cold, the 3B SST never sounded like it needed much warm up. There is really not much more to note about the operational aspects of this amp, except that, in my system with relatively efficient speakers, the amplifier never got more than just barely warm. If you have significantly less efficient speakers, say in the low-to-mid 80 dB range, the amp will probably run warmer in your system. But with 175 watts of actual power, the “baby” SST will drive almost anything out there with power to spare. One listener reported that while all the SST amps share a very similar character, the 3B was heard to have slightly greater transparency in the treble range than its larger siblings.
The Bryston amp provides a bass and lower midrange foundation to the music that is like reinforced concrete. There is no “maybe” or “somewhat” or “almost” about it. There is no sense of compression or compromise to the lower registers. There is no effort required to follow a walking bass line in a piece of music as long as your speakers are up to the task. And you will hear what your speakers are capable of doing in the bass department. The bass is excellent, powerful, detailed, and dynamic. If you’ve been living with tube-amp bass, it is time to get real – literally.
The upper frequencies supply a comparable level of dynamic contrast, uncompressed realism, and imaging as any good amp in this price-range. If this amp misses at all, you’d have to compare it to some of the better amps available at the deep-pocket level. In that stellar company, and depending on the system, one will notice a reduction in low level, high frequency detail and “air”, and a similar reduction in the depth of the sound stage. And that’s about all! The SST is certainly competitive in dynamic ability, truth of tone, the complete and undeniable lack of grain or harshness, and the feeling of great drive and timing. It gets the fundamental sound of all instruments and voices dead-on correct. I found that I often turned the volume up during a listening session, which is always a good sign.
Compared to the well-received Musical Fidelity A3.2cr, the Bryston is much more dynamic, has far greater upper frequency extension, resolution, and that sense of air, greater ease in identifying individual players on a sound stage, and of course, better bass. Where the A3.2cr is like the little engine saying, “I think I can, I think I can…”, the SST is a refined and powerful Northstar V-8 easily accelerating up the steep incline without even downshifting. These two amps might only be a few hundred dollars apart, but they are in different sonic leagues entirely.
You can imagine that with its state-of-the-art low distortion, it is dead silent when no music is playing. You’ve all heard about “black backgrounds”. Bryston gives you “black hole” black backgrounds, not matte-black or semi-gloss black or any other variety of black.
This review could be longer, but there is no need. The 3B SST is a very listenable amplifier with no significant faults, tremendous drive and cohesion to the real message of the music, all in a very easy-to-live-with package at a bargain price.
Overall Rating: 8.5 LPs
Link to Manufacturer’s Web site: Bryston