In the 1992 movie called “A Few Good Men”, there is a well known scene where a young lawyer played by Tom Cruise (Kaffee) is cross-examining a Colonel played by Jack Nicholson (Colonel Jessup), in a court room. In the extremely intense scene the lawyer shouts at the Colonel, “I want the truth!” and the Colonel responds, “You can’t handle the truth!” I’m sure you’re wondering what all this has got to do with the review of an audio component – keep reading and you’ll see.
Bryston Ltd. is a Canadian company which has been designing and manufacturing electronics for both consumer and professional audio marketplaces for over 35 Years. The company stands by the reliability of its products with an industry leading full parts and labour 20 year transferable warranty, covering manufacturing defects on all its analog audio products. Bryston products are no strangers to the CANADA HiFi staff. In fact, CANADA HiFi has previously reviewed two Bryston amplifiers: the 4B-SST (May – July 2007) and the latest 4B-SST2 (June/July 2010), with positive impressions. Both reviews are now available on novo.press/. This time, I was able to get a hold of one of Bryston’s stereo preamplifier models to take through the paces, namely the BP-6 C-Series preamplifier, priced at $2,450.
Bryston offers a few dedicated stereo preamplifier models – the BP-26, the BP-16 and the BP-6. The Bryston BP-6 C-Series preamplifier is their simplest and lowest cost model. However, Bryston preamplifiers are all based on the same basic circuitry and gain stages, with the key difference between the models being features, rather than performance. Also, it’s worth noting that Bryston takes an evolutionary rather than revolutionary approach to new models. Bryston’s objective is to provide accuracy in the pre-amplification of the source signal, minimizing distortion and any signal colouration, in other words, to tell the truth.
Beginning with the internals, the BP-6 utilizes Bryston’s own proprietary Class A Discrete Operational Amplifiers. The circuitry in the signal path is fully discrete with the intention of maximizing performance. A torroidal transformer power supply is utilized and strategically placed to minimize interference with the internal circuitry and components. There is no internal wiring in the preamp circuitry, the components plug directly into the circuit boards via RCA connections so as to eliminate variations in signal travel as well as any potential wire interaction. Low output impedance and high current availability allow for long cables between the preamp and power amp(s) without any loss of frequency response, allowing for flexibility in placement.
In the world of high-end audio there are many exotic and elaborate products, which, without a sound, call attention to themselves. If you’re looking for extravagance in design, the BP-6 may not be for you. Rather, the BP-6 puts forth a simple and purposeful exterior that clearly reflects Bryston’s professional audio roots, while engendering favour with any who are partial to contemporary and minimalist design. The solid aluminum face plate of the BP-6 is just 2.25” high and comes in either a 17” or 19” width and it sits 11” deep, weighing in at 8.4 lbs. The most obvious features on its front panel are three flat faced conical shaped knobs centred on the faceplate. From left to right, the knobs are for source selection, balance and volume, with the volume knob being motorized for adjustments using the optional IR remote control ($375). On the left is a tasteful embossed Bryston logo, a studio-like toggle switch for the tape monitor and a 1/4” headphone jack for 50 to 600 ohm headphones. On the right side you’ll find the IR sensor for the optional remote, a power status LED and another toggle switch for power on/off. The faceplate comes in a brushed black or silver finish and the case is matt black. The solid chassis sits on four heavy duty puck-like rubberized feet. Personally, I found the BP-6 quite appealing to look at, with the gentle curved rake of the faceplate edges and simple controls exuding a modest handsomeness. The switches and controls have a solid feel and both fit and finish are superb.
Turning to the back-side of the BP-6 you will find an IEC power-cord inlet, great for those who like to try aftermarket cords, and eight pairs of RCA gold-plated jacks. There are 4 high level stereo RCA inputs, an in/out stereo RCA tape-loop and two stereo RCA pre-amp outputs that can control up to two amplifiers. One input can be replaced with an optional moving-magnet phono stage ($550) or alternatively, an optional coaxial SPD/IF digital input for an in-board DAC ($1295). My review model was the base model line-stage preamplifier (no phono stage, DAC nor remote control), which called for a little exercise in adjusting the volume. Couch potatoes – be on your guard!
I’ve actually been using a Bryston 3B-ST amplifier in my reference system, paired with a Kenwood Basic Series C2 preamplifier, so swapping out the Kenwood preamp for the Bryston BP-6, had me thinking this might be a step in the right direction. For sources, I used my Rega Apollo CD player as well as my Goldring GR1.2 turntable, connected via my Project Phonobox II SE phono stage. The loudspeakers used for the review were my Epos ELS3 bookshelf monitors. The stereo RCA interconnect between the preamplifier and the amplifier was an AudioQuest Diamondback 1 metre cable.
The BP-6 is a relatively straight forward hook-up with no special settings to worry about. Power is turned on with a flip of the toggle switch on the right. Though I didn’t have the optional Bryston remote, I should note that power on/off can’t be remotely controlled – only the volume and mute functions can be controlled with the optional IR remote. With the power toggle flipped to on the power LED indicator first glows red and then goes green expressing its readiness to go.
Before I began critically listening to the BP-6, I let it have a couple hundred hours of break-in time, though my understanding is that Bryston, as part of their quality control, burns-in their components for 100 hours. I should note that over this period I did not perceive any significant changes in the preamp’s presentation or sonic performance other than a slight extension at the frequency extremes.
I began my listening tests with redbook CDs, fed via my Rega Apollo. One CD that I’ve really been enjoying of late is from the English, progressive rock band, Elbow. Their latest album is called “Build a Rocket Boys!” Elbow uses a good mix of sonic elements, including a youth choir on this album, which makes for an interesting listen. The album came across as very relaxed and fluid sounding. In the opening of one of my favourite tracks on the album, Lippy Kids, I was amazed at the clarity of someone’s soft whistle deep in the soundstage. The whistle was clearly placed and surprisingly lifelike. Vocals were also very realistic and detailed. The texture in Guy Garvey’s voice was present in a compelling fashion and placement was just slightly behind the front plane of my speakers. The soundstage ran deep, going far beyond the back wall of my listening room and having substantial breadth. The piano and guitar sounded tonally correct. Skipping toNeat Little Rows, one of the faster paced tunes on the album, I was amazed at the placement of a drum. Even with my eyes open it sounded as if the drum was being struck way over to the left wall of my room and it pushed my relatively small ELS3 speakers to produce a deeper than typical note.
Next, I moved to an album that I’ve had a lot of time with. It was the CD album “To Love Again” (The Duets), by Chris Botti. Chris is a fantastic trumpet player and I find that his recordings are a wonderful test of upper frequency naturalness and stridency. Starting with What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life?, which features lead vocals by Sting, I was captivated by the holographic manner in which Sting’s voice was delivered. Sting has a very distinguishable voice but I’d never heard it until now with such detail and life – it sounded as though he was there, in my room. The whispering manner in which he sings was lifted to a new level of resolution with the BP-6 employed in my system. Chris Botti’s trumpet came across very clear with its pure brightness intact but never sounding overly strident or fatiguing to the ears, as it can when poorly portrayed. Cymbal strikes carried a stunning shimmer and effortless sustain. Softly ringing bells in the recording came across with their true metallic nature. The texture of the brushes on the drums was clearly present, without sounding like white noise or tape hiss. Again, the soundstage was very deep with good width. Overall, I perceived lovely depth and preciseness on the bass, a lifelike and natural midrange and an airy and extended top end.
Next, I changed sources, moving over to my Goldring GR1.2 turntable with its Elektra cartridge. I always enjoy the warmth and the pure organic sound of vinyl and in fact, am one of those that appreciate the nostalgia that a turntable can bring to the listening experience. I put on one of my 180 gram pressings, which is “A Fragile Balance”, by Ray Montford, a Canadian guitarist and composer. The LP is a high quality pressing, which provides a window into the instrumentals. The record came across with all its inherent warmth together with a high-level of detail. What was also apparent was the breathtaking three-dimensionality of the soundstage, with various layers of depth. The beautiful guitar phrasings carried with them the harmonic resonances of the strings and guitar body. The percussion also carried a realistic tautness, even revealing the characteristic reverberation of the drum skin. It was hard to keep from getting lost in the lushness of this album.
During the weeks that I listened to the BP-6, I concluded that it was providing me with a much clearer window into the recordings than my reference Kenwood preamp. It portrayed music in a layered and holographic fashion with great resolution, accurate tonality and linearity across the frequency spectrum. I would say that the BP-6 is very true to source, adding nothing and taking nothing away. If you’re currently using an older or low quality preamplifier or perhaps an AV receiver as a preamp, you may want to consider employing a high quality preamp, such as the Bryston BP-6 C Series preamplifier; you’ll be surprised at what you’ve been missing. To sum up, going back to the movie, A Few Good Men, if you’re someone who says, “I want the truth!” then the BP-6 will likely be a preamp on your shortlist but beware, with poor recordings, like MP3, you could find yourself saying, “You can’t handle the truth!”. Let the truth be told.
Bryston BP-6 C Series
Price: $2,450 CAD