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In the listening room, there was no doubt about it. Right out of the gate, the 28B-SSTs sounded like very powerful amplifiers. They emit a confidence and awe-inspiring sense of power and ease. It lets you immediately know that they are capable amplifiers, sure-footed enough to handle any terrain. This can't be said of all powerful amplifiers. A lot of them (most, in my experience) need to get up to speed in higher gear before sounding their best. Some will never sound their best when used with efficient speakers or while honoring polite volume levels. [From 180 to 450wpc amplifiers, this mirrors my experience precisely - Ed.] This is most assuredly not the case with the 28B-SSTs. They absolutely do sound great from the first watt - just as advertised. I used them extensively with my 96dB efficient Hørning Perikles. They sounded marvelous. In fact, I rotated the Brystons with the Mactone MA-300B and my own Canary CA-330s for comparison. Both the Canary monos and Mactone stereo amp utilize a pair of 300B tubes in push-pull. Their raison d'être is insightful and illuminated midrange expression and transparency. In this single area, the Bryston 28B-SSTs couldn't quite compete on the 300Bs' turf. But they didn't miss the mark by much. I'd say they delivered 95% of what these other two amps did. That's something I never thought I'd be saying of a solid-state amplifier of 200 watts per channel, let alone 1,000. This is scandalously good news for the Brystons. Through the midrange, the 28B-SSTs are some of the warmest, smoothest, most insightful amplifiers I've ever used; period. If solid-state amplification makes you think cold and sterile, think again. These are two words that will never be associated with the Brystons.

After that, it was all bad news for these particular tube amps. I actually liked the smoother and more fluid upper midrange of the Bryston amps better than my Canarys. It was smoother and had less edge without leaving me feeling that anything of import was missing. I still got all the detail, textures and transparency yet the Brystons were slightly more ingratiating. To my ears and with the speakers I had available, the treble among all these amplifiers was a wash, with each giving a balanced and subjectively neutral presentation. There's not the smallest hint of hardness, grit or grain from these 28B-SSTs. No veiling neither. Insightful most certainly but without the antiseptic dryness of other amps. Just beautiful.

The bass was everything you would pray for from 1,000-watts of fire-breathing brawn. While my Tidal Pianos don't do 20Hz, what they do produce is room filling. After hearing the 28B-SSTs with the Mark & Daniel Apollo IIs, I feared that the Brystons would team up with the Tidals to produce just a little too much bass in my room. I was afraid that more bass would upset the balance and that, perhaps, the speakers would turn sluggish and overall pace would slow. Nothing could have been further from
the truth. Yes, the Brystons did give me more bass. They ably demonstrated the difference between having enough power to drive a pair of speakers and having enough power to drive a pair of speakers. Taking the bull by the horns so to speak. The 28B-SSTs do take that bull by the horns and so they grabbed the Tidals' woofers for more bass, yes. But more importantly, the Brystons exercised iron-fisted control and cleaned up what, frankly, I didn't think had been dirty. In terms of upsetting the room/speaker balance, the Brystons didn't interfere in the least.

There was an increase in bass power but the bass was more accurate, more tuneful and at once more highly damped. This all added up to greater speed and control. The Tidals have an F3 of 32Hz and while that's plenty of extension for most music, they couldn't compete with the Mark & Daniel Apollo IIs for the really deep and powerful Herculean stuff that's sure to put smiles on faces. With the larger Apollo IIs and their under-hung 10-inch woofers with 1.2 inches of linear excursion, it seemed as though there was nothing the Bryston/ Apollo II combo couldn't achieve when it came to bass. The 28B-SSTs adored the Apollo IIs because, among other things, the speakers allowed the amps to really strut their stuff.

I played pipe organ (Dorian's Peter Richard Conte recording at the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ at the Lord and Taylor in Philadelphia [Dorian xCD-90308]); large-scale symphonic in Horner's soundtrack to Casper [MCA]; and some sonic spectaculars [Very Best Of Eric Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops Telarc CD-80401] at volumes that exceeded what I usually allow. With the Bryston amps at the helm, dynamics seemed limitless and explosive, yet the entire system had such a
sense of ease about it that these boisterous levels incurred no listening fatigue at all. In terms of bass depth and Armageddon-style output, I've only heard better from dedicated subwoofers. Still, in terms of integration, coherence and explosive speed, nothing I've heard in my room exceeded what I heard with the Bryston/Mark & Daniel combination. Lithe and sprightly, the 28B-SSTs combine the agility of a gymnast with the in-your-face intensity and dominance of an NFL linebacker. That's not hyperbole. That's a simple fact.

Peter Conte's Grand Court Organ shook the room with copious volumes of prodigious bass and tactile texture. Eric Kunzel and his Cincinnati Pops literally startled me with some of the most razor-edged bass snap I've ever heard - certainly in my own listening room. Casper provided deep bass that billowed throughout the room with more coherence and less break-up than ever.

In terms of dynamics both micro and macro, the Brystons have it in spades. Particularly into the 96dB efficient and Lowther-equipped Hørning Perikles, a speaker well known for its microdynamic prowess, there was absolutely no giveaway that I was listening to a lead-footed solid-state brute or that the speakers were somehow slowed down. That may sound like sacrilege to some but it's the truth. I've always suspected there are many roads to nirvana and the 28B-SSTs proved to be yet another path. Nothing about the Bryston/Hørning pairing left me wanting for anything. In fact, the Brystons' way with the dual 10-inch low-excursion back-hornloaded Beyma woofers produced the most satisfying bass I've heard from these speakers. The Hørnings don't go as deep as either the Tidals or the Mark & Daniels and I generally use a subwoofer with them - but not on this day. I was far too pleased with both the quality and quantity of the bass to want to deal with splicing in a subwoofer. I heard more bass and coherence from these speakers than ever before and those who have heard the Hørnings will know exactly what I'm talking about. It's the most difficult thing to achieve and their Achilles heel. Their upper bass was just as taut and full as it was down low. Again, a simply stellar synergy.

More important than bass alone, when used with the Tidal and Mark & Daniel speakers, there was a sense of complete dynamic control over the speakers. No matter the volume, there was no losing control of the woofers with the attendant time smear that blurs microdynamics. At the macro level, the limits will certainly be imposed at some point - by the speakers. The Tidals couldn't be pushed to the same extent as the Apollo IIs, which played with a complete sense of ease and dynamic potential that I never felt was even remotely challenged. If you're keeping track, add complete dynamic finesse and authority to the list of what the Brystons do extraordinarily well.

They also breathed new life into Henry Mancini's theme from The Pink Panther on the Kunzel disc. The amps imbued it with verve and a fleet-footed vitality I'd never heard before. Further, they also soundstaged like demons, with triangles all the way at the right rear of the stage, a very focused saxophone center stage and a wealth of space surrounding it all. The brass section interjects with a sense of brash contrast that stirs the emotions of the music lover as it impresses the reviewer with detail, texture and microdynamic speed. "The Main Theme From Star Trek" received the same kind of resuscitation at the hands of the Brystons. I've heard this track way too many times to anticipate newfound excitement but I'll be darned if the 28B-SSTs didn't make it a new experience. The strings, chimes and triangles sounded as delicate as they were present within my room. When the brass kicked in with some high-octane energy, the Brystons propelled the Apollo IIs as they rose to the challenge with a smooth articulation and fantastic sense of ease and grace.
So, what we have here is a pair of very large and expensive amplifiers that have gargantuan power with oodles of bass and bass control. They also come uncomfortably close to some of the very best triode amplifiers I've used in terms of midrange clarity, transparency and detail. They're dynamic and they're fun. Now, why do I feel as though I've completely failed to sum up their virtues? It's probably because I've read reviews of products described in such a way every single day. I know the vast majority of these products won't hold a candle to the Brystons. I've been writing for 10 years. I've reviewed over 125 different products. I've never come across a product that transcended expectations as these amplifiers did. I expected certain aspects of what I've described but not the sum total of what these amplifiers achieve. I didn't expect 1,000-watt monos that could step in and take the place of 300B triode amplifiers. I didn't expect muscle amplifiers so completely load invariant as to sound equally stunning on "wimpy" speakers as on the "burly load" kind you'd expect to throw at them. The last time I spoke of the most capable amplifiers I'd used was while reviewing the Canary CA-160 monos. Those were 140-watt EL34 amplifiers that transcended what I expect of an EL-34 amplifier. But they cannot touch the Brystons. Not in terms of power and control. Not in terms of midrange resolution. In terms of overall gestalt, the two amplifiers are rather similar though. They are both extremely warm to the point of sensuality. They are both smooth and extremely musical and they share a sweet sweet treble. And while 140 tube watts sounds a lot more powerful than the usual 140 watt solid-state amplifier, there's no question as to which amplifier is better equipped to take on all comers. I've yet to meet an EL-34 amplifier transparent enough for use with speakers like the Hørnings. Most EL-34 amplifiers suddenly sound opaque and slightly colored over them.

In terms of inner detail and resolution ... well, allow me to plagiarize myself from my own Mark & Daniel Apollo II review because, after all, some of the credit surely must go to the amplifiers used: "Loisaida" from Joe Jackson's Body And Soul [A&M CD 5000] uses two cymbals at various parts of the song, one of which is heard in each speaker. I remember well the first time I realized they were not the same cymbal but of two different sonic signatures. For years I've been listening to this piece and enjoying the two different timbres but once I heard them over the Apollo IIs, I realized that they differ in more ways than just timbre. The two cymbals have very different textures and decay characteristics. I've been playing this piece for 23 years and it's been an on-again/off-again reviewing staple so you can imagine my surprise. The cymbal on the left is clearly tuned lower. It has greater body and texture. It has deeper sustain as it rings slightly longer and its tonal signature changes as it does. The Apollos further did a wonderful job with not only Jackson's piano but with the articulation of its reverberations throughout the hall."

Just in time for Christmas, a good friend presented me with a copy of Boogie Woogie Christmas by The Brian Setzer Orchestra [Surfdog Records 440-40-2] that proved to be a heckuva lot of fun. Lots of snappy bass lines reproduced with vivid tonality and punch, agile and bouncy rhythms drove it all along. Then there's Setzer's rockabilly guitar kicking up some old Christmas favorites as well as some new ones. The disc is a blast. But as I listened to "O Holy Night", I realized just how harmonically saturated Setzer's voice sounded. Not exactly known for one of the more accomplished voices, the Brystons rendered Setzer with a depth and tone that surprised me even at this late stage in the review period. There was solidity and a dimensionality to his voice that was positively arresting. It was something most people would probably expect of tubes but not transistors.

At less than 1/3rd the price sit my solid-state reference amps, the Bel Canto e.One Reference 1000s, a pair of small, extremely powerful amplifiers (500 watts into 8 ohms, 1,000 into 4). These were the first-ever electronic components to receive 6moons' Lunar Eclipse award. Nothing I've written here diminishes their accomplishments. For what they are and cost, they are a major achievement in amplification. But they don't play in the same league as the big Brystons, sorry. The Bel Cantos are sweet, smooth and tonally saturated. They're also very non-fatiguing on top. But they don't exhibit the raw power and gravitas of the 28B-SSTs. The Bel Cantos are of the run all day and never break a sweat type. The 28B-SSTs are of the get outa my way sort. I love that. Even at low volumes, the Bryston amplifiers keep all the music together. While the Bel Cantos are also rather tube-like in terms of harmonic saturation, they don't have quite the illumination of the Brystons through the midrange. It's very good, don't get me wrong, but the Bryston amps are better (as they should at better than three times the price). They're just a little more intimate. There's just a little bit less between music and listener. In absolute terms, that makes the Brystons 'only' marginally better. Marginally. It's odd how important that margin can become. Once you hear what that margin brings in musical enjoyment and involvement, you won't want to give it up. If I said the Brystons were 10% better than the Bel Cantos, that wouldn't sound like very high praise at first. But if success is in the details and it's the little things that count, then that 10% margin takes on exponential importance. And it really does. Of course, if the Brystons are out of your price range and you're on a budget, this is great news. The Bel Cantos will get 90% of the performance for almost ¼ the price. That's not too shabby no matter how you look at it. But if you command the means and want the best, this is the way of the world. That last iota of performance is gonna cost you. In the case of the 28B-SSTs, it costs rather big, true - but there's no question that they deliver. I frankly can't imagine a pair of solid-state amplifiers that deliver more than the 28B-SSTs. Not in terms of power. Not in terms of sophistication.

As mentioned earlier, the 28B-SSTs are large and they do generate some heat. Even at idle, they'll likely suck some juice from the local utility so you probably won't want to leave them on all the time. No worries here, either. The 28B-SSTs not only sound good from the first watt, they also sound good cold. There's no long wait to warm up before you can begin to enjoy the 28s.

My old wrestling coach used to say, there's never been a horse that couldn't be rode or a rider that couldn't be throwed. The Bryston 28B amplifier is indeed a horse of another color and may just be the exception that proves the rule. These amps are well nigh unshakable. If you thought solid-state meant cold, thin and sterile, forget it. If you thought only tubes could be warm, smooth and involving, the 28B-SSTs will have you reexamining all your preconceptions. If you thought muscle amps are graceless ruffians by definition, you must hear these. Everything about these amplifiers screams musical satisfaction. From the sculpted rack handles that are so easy on the hands to the heat sinks that are without a sharp edge to everything about how they perform; these amplifiers exude superiority and refinement. Yeah, they're big. They're heavy. They'll heat up a small room. But - if you're looking for just one amplifier that'll just about do it all no matter the music, the speakers or your proclivities for specific output devices... look no further. The Bryston 28B-SSTs are exceptional amplifiers. If I had the means, they would not be going back. For first-watt-to-last excellence in the reference muscle amplifier category, the Bryston 28B-SST amplifiers are my no-brainer recommendation of the year as well as my top pick for personal Favorite Discoveries of 2007. They're also Blue Moon award winners.
Quality of packing: First rate.
Reusability of packing: First rate. High quality sturdy cardboard outer boxes and heavy malleable foam cradles inside provide superb protection of these heavy amps.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: The amps are heavy but front and rear handles make them less cumbersome to move than imagined. The type of packaging used makes easy access and easy work for two people.
Condition of component received: Flawless
Completeness of delivery: Everything was thoroughly thought out and complete.
Quality of owner's manual: My manual was pre-production and some of the specifications were inaccurate. I'm sure this will be or has been corrected. In all other respects, the manual was as complete as one should expect from such an established company.
Website comments: Excellent, with a wealth of useful information.
Warranty: 20 years hassle free – and with excellent customer support as this Bryston owner can attest to from multiple previous (self-inflicted) reasons to call on Bryston's service support.
Human interactions: Excellent.
Bryston website