Listening to the track “Soon as I Get Paid” from the Keb Mo album Slow Down, I took note of the wonderful natural richness and texture of the bass notes that delivered a tangible growl to the electric bass. The guitar too was impressively snappy and percussion was concussive and very dynamic. My attention was drawn to the cymbal strikes that possessed a natural shimmer without any harshness or abruptness. In contrast, the 4B-SST2, though also able to deliver great dynamics, presented notes, most noticeably high-frequencies, with more leading-edge emphasis – more bite and less refinement. Notes with the 4B3 were fuller, presented more naturally, had greater tonal colour and harmonic complexity that increased sonic authenticity. Listening to the piano, playing to the right of the soundstage, it was evident that the SST2 came short on the depth that the 4B3 was able to convey. This was amazing because the 4B-SST2 has been nothing less than impressive with depth and imaging. The 4B3 was clearly able to expand the envelope of the soundstage, allowing me to peer deeper and hear the outermost limits of the reproduced space more easily.
One of my beloved jazz recordings is the 1964 live recording of the Oscar Peterson Trio, the album We Get Requests. My favourite track, “You Look Good To Me”, sounds very pure and incredibly lifelike when played on a capable system. Playing it off TIDAL, I was riveted by the sinewy drone of the double-bass bow across the strings. I’ve listened to this track many times before; yet, the 4B3 brought increased fullness, additional texture, richer tone and inherent musical detail, unlike anything I’ve experienced with my long-term reference, the 4B-SST2. The woodiness of the instrument and the vibration of its panels was conveyed with tactile intensity, embodying the instrument. Various elements within the soundstage now possessed a clearer sense of space, with greater delineation and separation, as well as significantly improved front-to-back layering. The high frequencies had an enhanced sense of purity and transparency; characterised by the bell chimes and cymbals in this recording. The 4B3 also gave Oscar’s piano an unprecedented grandness, giving it realistic size and dimension within the soundstage. By contrast, the 4B-SST2 delivered all the fundamental details and dynamics but produced flatter and smaller images with less tonal colour and harmonic complexity.
Moving to Patricia Barber’s, “Ode to Billy Joe” with the 4B3, Patricia’s finger snaps gained a new sense of realism. This track possess impressive detail and vivid dynamics but with the 4B3 there was more. Along with the quick and tight sound of the snaps was now a considerably greater appreciation of the smack of the finger against the palm. It’s in such matters of completeness and harmonic rendering that the 4B3 shines. Not just detail but detail accompanied by shadings and overtones that add to realism and the convincing illusion of a live event. Patricia’s voice was also more alive, larger and rounder, with less sibilance. In addition, the 4B3 was more capable in distinguishing her direct voice from the reverb in the recording, separating the layers better, and revealing her direct voice closer and clearly separated from the reverb trailing behind.
With the high resolution version (24-bit / 192 kHz) of Shelby Lynne’s title track from her Just A Little Lovin’ album, the soundstage was larger than I’ve ever heard in my listening room, with the faintest of the echoes carving out the nether regions of the space. It was the brush strokes though that called out the sophistication of the 4B3. Here, where the 4B-SST2 was able to render an impressive amount of clarity and detail, the 4B3 went considerably further by delivering increased delicacy and consistency, portraying a truer likeness of reality, and giving more insight into the subtleties of the movements. On the piano, the 4B3 demonstrated its proficiency with inner warmth and body, rendering the piano with size, significantly better than the SST2.
Bryston has always aimed at producing equipment that is faithful to the recording, however the 4B3 goes far beyond this by being faithful to the soul of the music. Yes, it’s endowed with muscle; it is quick, dynamic, transparent, and has an iron grip of the frequency extremes but what makes the 4B3 most special is its finesse – able to conjure subtleties that engender realism. Its $5,695 price is very competitive for a North American built high-end amplifier, especially given that it will easily compete with some of the world’s best amplifiers. The Bryston 4B3 is a world-class amp – beg, steal or borrow – once you hear it, you won’t be able to go home without it.
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Bryston 4B3 Amplifier