Interview with Christopher Russell, CEO of Bryston Ltd.

[Bryston Front Door] [Chris Russell]

Manufacturer: Bryston Ltd.
Interviewer: Roger McCuaig - TNT Canada
Published: November, 2019

Introduction

Bryston really needs no introduction as it enjoys an excellent, world wide, reputation for the quality, performance and reliability of its products. This interview attempts to shed a bit of light on the thinking behind the products and the direction Bryston is taking as the audio market evolves. This interview was conducted shortly after Mr. Russell's return form the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and I would like to thank him for taking the time out of his no doubt very busy schedule to answer my questions.

Interview

Bryston is famous for the 20 year warranty. What specific measures or quality control activities are required to enable you to offer such a warranty?
CR: To ensure quality levels are high enough to more that justify a 20-year warranty, Bryston carries out extensive research into all components and their suppliers. For instance, we use only the highest-rated electrolytic capacitors in our power-supplies, tested at 105 degrees C, to ensure very long life. We also deliberately design all circuits to run at low stress levels, and over-design the power-handling parts of our products. Beyond that, we run all of our products for 100 hours, with amplifiers run at high power levels to break them in and reveal any possible early flaws, prior to final testing.

I once owned a Bryston TF-1 step up transformer and really, I thought that I could run over it with my car and not make a dent! Isn't that a bit overkill?
CR: It may seem like overkill, but part of the design was to have a strong steel magnetic shield around the transformers and circuitry to prevent any hum from being introduced. It worked quite well! And you may not be aware, a reviewer some years ago ran over our BR-2 remote control six times as part of the testing…of course it continued to work flawlessly.

How long has the Cubed amp series been in production and how does it differ from the previous generation of amps?
CR: The Cubed Series of amplifiers was introduced in early 2016. The new circuitry was developed in conjunction with Ph.D. engineer Alexandru Salomie to improve linearity and drastically reduce the amplifiers' sensitivity to RF, noise on the power line and noise on the input signal. The result, as noted by many reviewers, is a drastic improvement in depth and transparency of the image and an absence of grain in the sonic presentation.

Why do your amplifiers have such high power ratings?
CR: Music is a very dynamic signal, in some cases with a range over 100 dB. It is difficult to capture that wide a dynamic range in recordings, but the latest 24-bit digital recording can accurately capture it. Thus, the high power ratings of Bryston amplifiers, (such as the 28B-3 with a very conservative rating of over 1000 Watts), are not meant just to play rock music and house-shaking levels, (though they certainly can do that!), but more to fully express the huge dynamic range of the best recordings without clipping or compression, to capture the thrilling 'life' of these amazing performances.

Bryston's product line includes digital music players. What do you see as the percentage of high end audio consumers that are moving this type of music source? For someone like me who is quite new to this type of music source, can you explain how this is different than simply putting music on a PC.
CR: Bryston believes that the best and most accurate way to stream music from the 'net is to have a dedicated computer that does not time-share with other programs running in the background, and which is designed and dedicated for one job, to play music with the lowest possible jitter and distortion, and the maximum clarity and transparency. The Bryston BDP products do exactly that, and do it very well indeed.

Regarding the BDP-π, what is it about the Raspberry Pi that makes it a good fit for this product?
CR: When Bryston decided to build streaming digital music players, we considered a number of factors: Among these were modular construction for the feasibility of future upgrades, software availability, and economics of construction. The Raspberry Pi had all of these attributes together in one package.

On Sept. 5th Bryston announced a new product called the BDA-3.14 Streaming Dac. This unit combines a DAC with a streaming player. Great timing as Amazon has just announced a new lossless music streaming service. With lots on inputs and integrated digital volume control this could be a ''system in a box'' for some people. Please tell us about it.
CR: Bryston's BDA-3.14 combines our highest-rated, multi-award-winning DAC with our most popular digital streamer, the BDP-Pi, and a volume-control function, in one box. This presents a very economically accessible, super-quality all-in-one music player that needs only amplifiers and speakers to deliver a truly amazing music source for the home. The DAC uses twin 32-bit DAC chips running in balanced mode for the widest possible dynamic range and lowest possible noise and distortion.

There are a lot of speaker manufacturers, it seems like a new speaker company pops up every week! Why should someone consider buying speakers from Bryston?
CR: The Bryston line of loudspeakers was designed to combine very wide and linear frequency range with the lowest distortion and highest power-handling. As mentioned above, the latest and best music recordings have extremely wide dynamic range which can require huge amounts of power. Very few speakers can handle that wide range and immense power without high distortion, compression and even catastrophic damage. Bryston speakers have been designed to handle it with ease while also providing very consistent dispersion characteristics over the widest frequency range. This enables the speakers to adapt very naturally to different room configurations, and sound extremely realistic in almost any setting.

It seems to me that we rarely see active speakers at audio shows or in high end showrooms. On one hand Active speakers looks like a good path for Bryston as it leverages your amplifier/digital crossover know-how and reputation, but on the other hand it seems a bit of a risk as audiophiles tend to stick to old ideas. How long has Bryston been building active speakers and who should be considering such an option?
CR: It is undeniable that speaker drivers work at their best with ideal damping, the smoothest and most consistent response, lowest distortion and highest efficiency when connected directly to the amplifier terminals with no passive components in the signal path. That inevitably means active crossovers ahead of the amplifiers for each driver; active systems in other words. There is simply no other way to get that ultimate level of performance. The kind of customer who might consider such an option is anyone looking for the best in realism, the lifting of the last veil between the recording and the listener, and who recognizes that it is worth the small extra investment to obtain the last word in dynamic range, frequency linearity and extension, and near-perfect transparency and realism from their music system.

How should one compare systems with active vs passive speakers? I am thinking specifically of price tag vs performance.
CR: In the best loudspeakers, passive crossovers can work very well. Bryston's Signature Series is an excellent example, especially with the external passive crossover that we offer, featuring air-core chokes and film/foil capacitors. However, if you have a speaker you really like that has the aspects you are looking for, you are guaranteed to get a strong, serious, all-encompassing improvement by going to an active version of that speaker, for a relatively modest extra investment versus trying to wrangle with the characteristics of a completely new, possibly more expensive speaker that will impart an entirely new set of compromises and characteristics to get accustomed to. For the music enthusiast seeking to wrest every last drop of clarity and detail from their system, an upgrade to an active loudspeaker system is likely the preferred choice toward that end.

I recently had a conversation with Christian Ouellet from Solen Electronics. He sees the audio industry evolving into two streams, one being the low end big box store products and the second being the very high end very expensive products. The mid-range products have disappeared. Do you agree with this and if so has your product strategy evolved as a consequence?
CR: I think it is easier to consider distributions channels rather than income delineation. Bryston is sold to audiophile consumers through specialists, it is sold to home theater consumers through specialists and it is sold to pro consumers through a different group of specialists. Bryston is also sold in many countries worldwide, and each geography has their own unique patterns and preferences. Performance and build quality are typically the reasons that any consumer chooses Bryston. Secondly, we have always built the best quality products we are capable of, and we've always spent a great percentage of our resources on research and development to define the cutting edge of the finest sound equipment available. Thus, although our products have always been fairly and reasonably priced, we were never going to cater to the customer looking for fast, cheap, big-box sales solutions.

We have reached another turning point in technology. The CD killed vinyl back in the 80s and now digital audio and the resurgence of vinyl have killed the CD. I am a big fan of vinyl with about 2000 records and several turntables. But at the rate that the price of new vinyl records is escalating I see myself giving up on that option sometime in the future. Where do we go from here?
CR: First off, LP sales are up. Used LPs and used CDs are still readily available, so consumers have lots to choose from, and any format that is enticing to a younger audience can only be a good thing. Every medium for music recording has had its heyday, and then something else has taken over. There is still a growing market for LPs, and CDs still have a presence on the market, but the convenience and high density storage of downloads are becoming strong motivators for sales. Downloaded music also has the potential for the highest fidelity, with 24-bit, 192 kHz material becoming more readily available all the time. It's still worth remembering that to some extent, as Marshall McLuhan said, 'The medium is the message'; even old 78s can be a source of irreplaceable material, many audiophiles continue to love the distinctive sonics of LPs, and certainly CDs are a huge treasure-trove of material that we will want to keep as long as possible.

               

DISCLAIMER. TNT-Audio is a 100% independent magazine that neither accepts advertising from companies nor requires readers to register or pay for subscriptions. After publication of reviews, the authors do not retain samples other than on long-term loan for further evaluation or comparison with later-received gear. Hence, all contents are written free of any “editorial” or “advertising” influence, and all reviews in this publication, positive or negative, reflect the independent opinions of their respective authors. TNT-Audio will publish all manufacturer responses, subject to the reviewer's right to reply in turn.

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© 2019 Roger McCuaig - roger@tnt-audio.com - www.tnt-audio.com