- Created on Wednesday, 01 January 2014 00:00
- Written by Philip Beaudette
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
It’s common in consumer electronics to see large companies offering products for nearly every segment of the market. To accompany their displays, for example, a maker of TVs will usually sell at least one model of soundbar or home-theater-in-a-box. Typically, such audio components are lower-priced, lower-quality products that make for great add-on sales at big-box stores -- mere afterthoughts in a company catalog that likely also includes cameras, computers, and microwaves.
High-end audio companies are different: most specialize in one sector of the market, making electronics or speakers or turntables or cables. There are a few exceptions -- e.g., Linn, Rega, MBL, and Krell -- but not even these make everything. A recent addition to the latter list is Canadian audio firm Bryston. Best known for building amplifiers, stereo and surround-sound preamplifiers, and, more recently, D/A converters, Bryston hasn’t made a speaker in the half-century they’ve been in business. What began as a pet project for VP of Sales and Marketing James Tanner evolved into a collaboration with Canadian loudspeaker specialist Axiom Audio, and has culminated in the release of two full speaker lines: the A and T models. The two lines share similar driver configurations, but the Ts have larger cabinets, and 8” rather than 6.5” woofers. For the past few months, I’ve been listening to the T series’ lone bookshelf model, the Mini ($2695 USD per pair).
The Mini T measures 22.5”H x 10.5”W x 10.0”D -- to call it a “bookshelf” speaker, as Bryston does, seems not quite apt. Each speaker weighs a hefty 42 pounds, which is more than many floorstanding speakers I’ve encountered. However, the Mini T’s cabinet accommodates three drivers, the largest being an 8” woofer -- its bigger dimensions (by bookshelf standards) are born of necessity.
Bryston had two major objectives for their speakers: 1) to reproduce music in the most neutral, accurate manner, and 2) to ensure that the speakers could play loudly and capture the scale of live music without audible distortion or dynamic compression. To achieve these, they enlisted the help of Axiom Audio, to take advantage of that company’s 30+ years of experience in designing and manufacturing speakers, as well as gain access to Axiom’s anechoic chamber and associated measurement instrumentation and software. The collaboration didn’t stop there; Axiom builds the loudspeakers to Bryston’s specifications.
The three-way Mini T has a 1” titanium-dome tweeter, a 5.25” midrange driver, and that 8” woofer. The tweeter is crossed over to the midrange at 2.3kHz, which in turn hands off to the woofer at 160Hz.
In selecting a tweeter, Bryston considered domes, horns, magnetic planars, ribbons, and ring radiators. In the end they chose a titanium dome because they found it offered the most natural sound while meeting their requirements for high power handling. The midrange and woofer both have composite cones of ceramic-coated aluminum, and cast-aluminum baskets. Like the tweeter, they have substantial magnets and motor assemblies for very high output.
The Mini T’s considerable mass is mostly due to its cabinet, also designed to produce high SPLs. Made of MDF, with a 1.5”-thick front baffle, the cabinet’s nonparallel sides eliminate internal standing waves and thus minimize resonances that would otherwise degrade the sound. Each speaker is also well braced, to further increase its rigidity and thus decrease any tendency to vibrate as it reproduces a recording. I confirmed the Mini T’s solidity by rapping its top and sides with a knuckle -- I heard only a dull thud.
The Mini T frequency response of 37Hz-22kHz, ±3dB, is impressively wide for a stand-mounted speaker. Its nominal impedance is 4 ohms, its sensitivity 85dB; you’ll need a capable amplifier to wake up a pair of them. Bryston recommends as little as 10Wpc and a maximum of 250Wpc to drive the Mini T, but what will be critical won’t be your amp’s power output but how comfortable it is with a 4-ohm load; that is, how much current it can produce. Bryston claims that the Mini T can put out a whopping 118dB maximum SPL; combined with its power-handling capacity, this says a good deal about how far the speaker can be pushed. I wasn’t surprised that a company known for building muscular amplifiers now builds equally powerful speakers.
Each Mini T is outfitted with two pairs of gold-plated binding posts near the bottom of its rear panel, to permit biwiring or biamping; these accept spade lugs, banana plugs, or bare wire. At the top of the rear panel is a large port to augment the speaker’s bass output. It’s flared, to reduce audible turbulence as air exits the port.
The Mini T is available in standard vinyl finishes of Black Ash, Natural Cherry, and Boston Cherry. A variety of hardwood veneers, stained to the customer’s preference, is available for additional cost. The review samples were finished in real-wood walnut, and the fit and finish were without flaw. However, the use of vinyl veneer in place of real wood is disappointing at this price, considering that many (most?) of Bryston’s competitors use only real wood on bookshelf speakers costing more than $2000/pair. And although the Mini T looks fine, its appearance is a bit pedestrian. The grille exemplifies this; although it attaches magnetically (a nice feature), negating the need for ugly mounting hardware on the front baffle, it’s very chunky and gives the Mini T a dated appearance. Unless you have reason to cover the drivers, I suggest hiding the grilles in a closet. I suspect Bryston will come out with a successor to the Mini T; when they do, I hope they’ll come up with a grille more worthy of it. The ten-year warranty is most reassuring.
Bryston, Bryston, and more Bryston
I was able to set up the Mini Ts in what was nearly an all-Bryston system. I paired my Bryston B100 SST integrated amplifier with Bryston’s BDA-2 DAC (which I reviewed in July), linked with a Kimber Kable Tonik interconnect. Hooked up to the BDA-2 were an NAD C 565BEE CD player (via an i2Digital X-60 digital coaxial cable) and a MacBook computer running Audirvana software (via AudioQuest Forest USB cable). A Thorens TD-160HD turntable with Rega RB250 tonearm and Dynavector DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil cartridge played LPs. Finally, AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables connected the Mini Ts to the B100 SST, and all electronics were plugged into an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner/regenerator.
Spending a couple of months with the Mini Ts made one thing clear: Bryston has met its objective of designing a neutral speaker capable of effortlessly high output. The Ts were extremely faithful to the signals they were fed, and thrived on lots of power. Their sound was uncolored -- neither forward nor recessed, fat nor thin, romantic nor analytical. In what was basically an all-Bryston system, the Mini Ts were simply conduits at the end of a disinterested signal chain that reproduced music with clarity, a sense of ease, and excellent soundstaging.
I’ll be curious to see the Mini T’s measurements, but I suspect that its frequency response will look relatively flat. These not-so-little bookshelf speakers were shape-shifters in their ability to take on the sonic personality of whatever music I played. Listening to Eric’s Trip’s Love Tara (CD, Sub Pop SP234b), I heard a recording that, while by no means of audiophile quality, sounded better than I recall it ever sounding (probably because I mostly listen to it on headphones). Most tracks have some semblance of space, but the sound is still pretty two-dimensional, with drums buried in the mix and voices pulled out so much that they seem disjointed from the tune. However, despite its sonic shortcomings, I had a great time listening to this album through the Mini Ts, which offered considerable insight into its production. Time and again, the Brystons showed they had little character of their own.
The same was true of the late Lou Reed’s Transformer (CD, RCA ND83806). My CD represents the first digital transfer of this classic 1972 recording -- it sounds pretty terrible. Through the Mini Ts it sounded flat, displaying very little dimension and completely paling in comparison to the same album on vinyl, which sounds both fuller and more spacious. The Brystons seemed impartial about whichever format of Transformer I played; remaining always faithful to the source, they conveyed the strengths and shortcomings of each.
Satisfied that my crappier discs weren’t going to sound any better through the Brystons, I switched to some well-recorded bluegrass: Jerry Garcia and David Grisman’s Shady Grove (CD, Acoustic Disc ACD-21). “Louis Collins” is a favorite track of mine, and through the Brystons it sounded natural and realistic -- the speakers did a fine job of conveying the location and space around the musicians across the front of the listening room. The Mini Ts managed a wonderful disappearing act, producing a coherent and believable soundstage that, rather than remind me that I was listening to a stereo, treated me to what felt like a live performance. The banjo and mandolin strings sounded crisp and lucid, while Garcia’s voice hung suspended in space between the speakers, sounding as convincingly real as I’ve ever heard it. The Mini Ts’ splendid midrange sounded open and clear, inviting me to hear what was really happening in the music. The sense of three-dimensionality they created, combined with their ability to create a well-defined soundstage, was fantastic.
Considerations of neutrality and spaciousness aside, the Mini Ts’ dynamic prowess was equally notable, as I heard while listening to Björk’s Biophilia (16-bit/44.1kHz AIFF, Nonesuch). The Brystons were easily up to the task of portraying the dramatic finale of “Crystalline,” which begins with the sound of sparse notes from a gameleste before erupting into a fierce attack of electronic bass that exploded into my room. So composed and effortless were the Brystons that they yawned in the face of this sonic onslaught. The bass wasn’t immensely deep -- it was just nicely balanced against rapid-fire beats that remained discrete and focused across a broad wall of sound. When I heard Björk perform “Crystalline” outdoors at Ottawa’s Bluesfest this summer, I was impressed that while the bass resonated to my core, the music was very clear and easy to follow, something too often lacking at live shows. Listening to this track reproduced with such precision by the Mini Ts, I was reminded of my experience at Bluesfest -- if I didn’t live in an apartment, it would have been fun to crank up the volume to help reproduce the energy of that night. I have no doubt the Brystons would have handled it with ease.
Because the Mini T is the first bookshelf model I’ve reviewed that has an 8” woofer, I tested its low-frequency extension with hip-hop. The beats in Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris (CD, Columbia 88883 75170 2) were palpable. At times the sound was a bit flat, but this was merely a function of the recording, and the Brystons conveyed it as such. However, with tracks such as “Guild,” which has fat bass, the Mini T’s output was prodigious: top-to-bottom clarity set against a deep, brooding low end that completely flooded my listening room. In a room of small to middling size, the Minis could likely offer more than enough bass and a better overall balance than a pair of floorstanders -- which, if not carefully selected, could sound overblown. More than any other bookshelf speaker I’ve heard, the Mini Ts made a strong case for owning stand-mounted speakers instead of floorstanders, and especially if you value powerful bass. I experienced their authoritative, controlled output across a wide range of music; whether I listened to electronic or acoustic bass, the Brystons consistently delivered it with impact and clarity.
I compared the Bryston Mini Ts to my reference Amphion Argon3L speakers ($3995/pair). The Finnish-made Amphion is a smallish two-way floorstander with a 1” titanium-dome tweeter at the base of a deep waveguide, crossed over at 1.6kHz to a 6.5” aluminum midrange-woofer. The Argon3L tips the scale at 50 pounds -- only 8 pounds more than the Mini T, which is half its size.
What most surprised me was how close the Bryston came to matching the depth and dexterity of the Amphion’s bass. The powerful bass of “good kid,” from Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city (CD, Aftermath/Interscope B001753602), rumbled through both pairs of speakers, sounding fat and full and filling the room. The Amphions may have had the slightly weightier sound, but the difference was small, and unlikely to lure a potential buyer one way or the other. This was the first time I’d heard a bookshelf speaker that seriously challenged the Amphion’s low-end output -- an amazing feat, given how strong the Argon3L is down low.
Returning to Björk’s “Crystalline,” I thought the Brystons did a better job of re-creating my Bluesfest experience -- they had an even bigger, more voluminous sound than the Amphions, with a fullness that better mimicked the sound of the concert. However, despite the Brystons’ incredible sense of scale, the Argon3Ls were more precise, carving out images with razor-like precision and creating soundstages with sharp outlines and outstanding coherence. The Amphions sounded more transparent. The Mini Ts were very incisive in their ability to delineate a musical performance, but the Argon3Ls are more transparent still, and make it very easy to uncover what’s happening in a recording.
In creating their very first loudspeakers, Bryston hasn’t just cranked out a product that their dealers can throw in to sweeten an amplifier sale. Rather, they’ve hit a home run that should interest many audiophiles, whether or not they use Bryston electronics. While the Mini T’s appearance is so-so, its sound is anything but. The Mini Ts’ unerring neutrality, great soundstaging, and ability to play ridiculously loudly without breaking up and distorting will tick all the right boxes for many music lovers, and will likely attract new customers to the brand. Particularly, the Mini T’s ability to sound composed and clean at very high volumes will challenge competing speakers costing significantly more to meet those levels of power handling and output. Bryston’s first foray into loudspeakers is a great success, and should further enhance the strong reputation the company has enjoyed in high-end audio for over five decades.
. . . Philip Beaudette
- Speakers -- Amphion Argon3L
- Integrated amplifier -- Bryston B100 SST
- Sources -- NAD C 565BEE CD player; Thorens TD-160HD turntable, Rega RB250 tonearm, Dynavector DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil cartridge; Apple MacBook computer running Audirvana, Apple AirPort Extreme, Apple AirPort Express
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Type 4
- Interconnects -- AMX Optimum AVC 31 coaxial, AudioQuest Copperhead, Kimber Kable Tonik, XtremeMac XtremeHD TosLink, i2Digital X-60 digital coax
- Power conditioner -- ExactPower EP15A
Bryston Mini T Loudspeakers
Price: $2695 USD per pair.
Warranty: Ten years parts and labor.
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough,Ontario K9J 6X7
Phone: (800) 632-8217, (705) 742-5325
Fax: (705) 742-0882