Built to last literally decades, the Bryston 2.5B3 stereo power amp sounds like a winner to the Audiophiliac.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Bryston is one of those legendary high-end brands that some audiophiles take for granted. Founded in 1962, Bryston is based in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, and the company just keeps going about its business making great components without a lot of fanfare. It does, however, have a long roster of musicians who rely on Bryston gear on the road and at home: Alicia Keys, Garth Brooks, Jim Carrey, Kid Rock, Stevie Wonder and many more.
The Bryston 2.5B3 is a Class AB stereo power amplifier, without any front panel user controls, that's why it's designed to be used with a preamplifier, such as Bryston's BP6 ($2,950, £2,999).
Back to the 2.5B3; it's a 135-watt-per-channel stereo amp that can be, with the flick of a switch, converted into a single 270-watt amp (so you'd then need two amps for stereo). It measures 17 x 4.5 x 14.3 inches (432 x 114, x 363 mm), and weighs 28 pounds (12.7 kg), with beautifully milled aluminum front panels (available in silver or black). The Bryston amplifier line also includes the 3B3, 4B3, 7B3, 14B3 and the top-of-the-line 1,000-watt per channel "monoblock" 28B3! The amps are sold with a 20-year warranty; that's an extraordinary commitment to customer service. The warranty is transferable, so if you ever sell a Bryston amp it will still be covered for the remainder of the warranty. Bryston even pays for return shipping.
The 2.5B3 is an upgrade over the 2.5B SST2 amp that was introduced in 2009; the biggest changes lie in the power supply that Bryston claims better isolates the amplification circuitry from noise on your AC power lines. The 2.5B3's input stages have also been completely redesigned.
I've been deep into listening to Miles Davis' electric period albums, and then I got stuck on Disc 4 from the "Complete Jack Johnson Sessions" CD set. It's loaded with unedited funk jams that go on for 20+ minutes. The inventiveness of the players is staggering, especially Keith Jarrett on electric piano, John McLaughlin on electric guitar, Jack DeJohnette's drums and Airto Moreira's percussion.
"Johnson" is always a bright recording, but listening past that the interplay of the musicians kept me on the edge of my couch. There's also lots of added studio reverberation, which I don't usually like poured on as thickly as it is here, but the entire system perfectly communicated the excitement of these long ago performances. Davis also played ever so sweetly early on "Konda," then the tunes get more electrically charged but never frantic, it just quietly builds. The sound of the entire band was palpably realistic, the 2.5B3 stayed out of the way and let the music shine.
I'm a new fan of folkie Tom Brosseau, and his "Perfect Abandon" album spent time in heavy rotation while I wrote the 2.5B3 review. He's an emotionally naked singer, so it's just you and him, and the 2.5B3 makes that perfectly clear. I felt a total connection to his sound, so my audio system melted away, and all that remained was Brosseau and his hollow-body electric guitar. The best components do that; they let the music come through, seemingly without adding or taking anything away.
Cruising through the "Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan" album that features dozens of artists doing Dylan tunes, and each track has its own distinctive sound, as they should because each tune was recorded in a different studio. Standout tracks: My Morning Jacket's heavily reverberant "You're a Big Girl Now," and Airborne Toxic Event's version of "Boots of Spanish Leather" is my favorite reinterpretation of that song, ever!
My Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3 speakers need a lot of power to fully come alive, and that's what the 2.5B3 delivered when I pumped up the Black Keys "Brothers" album, it felt more powerful than I expected from a 135 watt per channel amp. The more I played it, the more I liked the sound.