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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Audiophile Review!
Bryston 14B3 Stereo Amplifier:
“Accuracy Ramps Up a Notch,
Same Massive Power Delivery”

Silver Bryston 14B3 Everything Audio Network

Price $10,795
Likes: ultra accuracy, big power
Dislikes: amp heft requires two people
Wow Factor: no speaker is too daunting
More info: Bryston 14B3

by John Gatski
  I have been reviewing Bryston amps since the 1990s. One of my favorites has always been the big 14B-SSTII model, a dual-mono stereo, single-chassis version of the Bryston 7B monoblocks. I was so impressed by the amp’s sonic neutrality that I purchased the review sample of the 14B-SSTII in 2003 and have faithfully used it for almost every speaker review I have done, plus hours of listening for ultra hi-res playback. It is that good.
  With the Bryston, I never had to worry about its pairing with any speakers, and having the big B in the system meant no amp coloration. I could focus on the other components and enjoy the utmost detail of hi-res music playback.  So my 14B-SSTII has been in constant use all the years, and I never really thought about replacing it.
  But along comes the new Bryston 14B3 Cubed Series, reviewed here. About the same power, and although I did not think that Bryston could improve on the sonic character, by golly, it does sound a bit fresher, a tick up in stereo imaging and ease of listening.

  Priced at $10,795 retail, the Bryston 14B3 dual-channel (stereo) amplifier, the stereo flagship of the new Cubed Series, is basically two 7B3’s, which have been combined in a dual-mono modular design and has the power to drive any speaker from modest towers to "impossible" loads of exotic loudspeakers; the powerful stereo amp is rated at 600 watts into 8Ω; a whopping 900 watts into 4Ω. Distortion is less than .05 percent along its power bandwidth, which extends to 100 kHz.
  The new 14B3 has got the power slam, but relays an increased sense of detail refinement, smoothness, imaging and upper-end air over the SSTII series. It sounds fresher, more concise than the old amp.

  As you would expect, damping factor is impressive: greater than 300 at 20Hz (8Ω), and signal to noise is -120 dB with balanced input. This amp is made for real hi-res music. According to Bryston, the Cube amp line embodies the “first to last watt” philosophy. A significant part of the design criteria for the new Cubed amplifiers was to develop amplifiers that would maintain an ideal power curve through the “first and last watt” including noise floor and distortion.

All watts matter
  According to Bryston’s white paper on the new amps, “most amplifiers exhibit a power curve whereby the best noise floor, drive capability and distortion are maintained from about 1/3 power and up. The new Bryston Cubed series maintain their ideal power curve right from the first watt to the last watt. Think of it like a torque curve in a car. The sweet spot or the torque curve has been expanded.”
  Bryston says that achieving this “first-to-last-watt” fidelity and clarity is the result of multiple design approaches. First is the elimination of low-level crossover, or zero-crossing, artifacts.  According to Bryston, most Class AB amplifiers have sufficient bias to prevent primary crossover distortion, but another type of crossover artifact, “secondary crossover distortion,” is the result of insufficient speed in the driver transistors.
Bryston 14B3 Inside Everything Audio Network
Dig those massive power transformers

  Bryston utilizes fast drivers to prevent the secondary crossover distortion, but more important is Bryston's proprietary Quad Complementary Output design, which is said “to vastly reduce the capacitance seen by the driver transistors, virtually eliminating storage delay in the output stage that could contribute to nonlinearities in the zero-crossing region.”
  Another key improvement in the Cubed Series is Bryston's continuing effort to reduce low-level noise. The clarity of Bryston's design is enhanced at low-listening levels by pushing the noise floor far below the signal level, improving the “silence between the notes” and enhancing the clarity of the music at low power levels.
  Finally, Bryston has focused on reducing distortion at all levels, especially at high frequencies. Bryston amplifiers show  remarkably 'flat' THD-with-frequency curves, showing almost no tendency to increase distortion as frequency rises. This has the effect of reducing overall “haze,” helping to pull the quietest passages out of the background.
  Bryston VP James Tanner also noted other contributors to the 14B3’s low-level audio clarity, including power-supply design  which improves the placement-in-space and focus of the sonic “image.” “We think the overall result is an unprecedented degree of clarity and freedom from artificiality,” Tanner said, “especially noticeable at lower levels — in comparison with other designs, but continuing to even the highest outputs.”
  The B3 Cubed Series also includes several other amps including the 135wpc 2.5B3, the 300wpc 4B3, previously mentioned 7B3 monoblocks, the 1,000wpc 28B3 and various models in Bryston’s professional range. They are all made in the Bryston factory in Canada. And yes, they still have that 20 year warranty.

Make the connection
  As an amplifier, the 14B3’s rear panel is simply laid out. Balanced XLR and single-ended RCA jack connections, speaker binding posts, remote operation connection and two-stage gain switch, 23 dB or 29 dB, input selector switch, remote power connection, main power switch and a status light. The 14B3 pro version also has rotary attenuators. For easier  movement, the rear also has rack handles.

Back Panel Bryston 14B3 Everything Audio Network
All the connections a stereo amp needs

  The new Cubed series have also been redesigned aesthetically with a modern look that is not as rectangular looking as the old series. The left and right side rounded indentations give it a slicker look with the rack handles overlaying each side. The 14B3 comes in black and silver finishes. They can also be ordered with a 17-inch or 19-inch  faceplate configuration. As you would expect for a massive power stereo Class A/B amp, it is quite heavy: about 90 pounds. In lifting and moving the new amp, it seemed a bit heavier than the old 14B-SSTII.

The set up
  I paired up the Bryston 14B3 with a variety of speakers including a pair of Pass Labs Tower SR-2s. Westlake Tower 5s (review upcoming) and two MartinLogan models: the new Impression and my Montis.
  The playback system included Oppo BDP-205 universal player, Benchmark DAC-3 HGC, a Mytek Brooklyn DAC, Clear Audio Emotion turntable/Benz MC cartridge, Rogue Audio RP-5 all-tube preamplifier (for the phono stage), and my tried and true CODA line preamp. Other amps on hand included Pass Labs X350.8, the Bryston 14B-SSTII and a Rogue Audio Medusas Class D/tube amp.
  All interconnects were done with the Wireworld Eclipse line of analog, digital, USB and speaker cables. Power was routed through the Essential Sound Products Essence Reference II power cords and power strip.

The audition
  First up were some of my favorite jazz tracks in hi-res, played through the MartinLogan Montis. Since the Montis have their own powered woofers, I was mainly listening for the air, detail smoothness and music realism conveyance via the hi-res tracks.
  On the Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD, as played on the Oppo BDP-205 with its new ESS Sabre DAC Pro chip, I immediately heard an immense soundfield with the jazz piano, drums and bass. Great clarity of the upper-register Steinway piano notes and cymbal brushes. What I didn’t hear was amp coloration; my favorite Bryston attribute is its sonic neutrality. There is no amp flavor at all. The MLs and upstream components all worked together to give that openness and studio dynamic that I hear in real music. The 14B3 just relayed it.
  Switching over to the older 14B that neutral character was still there, but the new amp revealed a bit more refined smoothness. The older amp seems a smidgen sharper in the high midrange when playing at low levels. Maybe because it is 14 years old, it needs a refresh, but I definitely preferred the 14B3 to the SST-II.

  On the 2006 Telarc SuperBass Recorded Live At Scullers, Ray Brown Christian McBride and John Clayton, the Pass speakers' bottom end got a big work out with the three maestro class bassists digging deep. Immersive, chunky full, room filling bass, without a subwoofer, that the Bryston kept in check with extended bottom end.

  I listened to another dozen or so SACDs and hi-res downloads, and my conclusion pretty much held up through all the MartinLogan listening. The amp gets out of the way and allows those magic electrostatic panels to shine.
  Moving on to the Pass SR-2s with 12-inch woofers, I could now test the bass caliber of the 14B3. Listening to the Flim And The BB’s — Tricycle SACD, another DMP recording of yore, the kick drum slam was fast, tight — with no slow bloom in the midbass. Ditto with several organ recordings that were made with pipe organs with huge bass pipes, down into the low 20 Hz range. The speakers could not quite get that low, but down to 28 Hz, the Towers relayed out a very tight organ bottom end.
  On the 2006 Telarc SuperBass Recorded Live At Scullers, Ray Brown Christian McBride and John Clayton, the Pass speakers' bottom end got a big work out with the three maestro class bassists digging deep. Immersive, chunky full, room filling bass, without a subwoofer, that the Bryston kept in check with extended bottom end. Wow! Did this recording kick ass.
  On the new Westlake Tower 5s, the Bryston was a total complement to the Westlake’s accurate voice response. The 5-inch woofers don’t deliver the thunderous low end of a subwoofer, but there is plenty of bass for most music and the speakers’ lack of midrange and low treble coloration made listening sessions a pleasure through a great amp.

  If you are looking for amplifier honesty and the ability to drive any speaker in the largest of rooms, or just like the power reserve on hand in your modest listening area, the 14B3 is one to consider.

  Case in point was the Tsuyoshi Yamamoto TrioMidnight Sugar SACD (Three Blind Mice) with a juicy upright bass, piano and drums. On some amp/speaker combos, the high-register  piano amplitude can be hard on the ears when played loudly, but the Westlake/Bryston tandem delivered the loud notes without me reaching for the volume. Well done.
  On classical music, I really enjoyed a recently discovered SACD: The two Sergei Prokofiev Concertos as played by Arabella Steinbacker, accompanied by the Russian National Orchestra. This 2012 violin/orchestra performance is not only beautifully played but the rich, harmonics-filled tone of the vintage Stradivarius is amazingly life like. And the Bryston delivered it that way, without any stridency in the violin reproduction.

Rocking the Bryston
  I played a dozen or so pop recordings including the Michael JacksonThriller SACD, Daft PunkRandom Access Memories HD Tracks hi-res download, and the remix/remaster of the 50th Anniversary BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP, played on a VPI Player Turntable with a dandy MC cartridge from HANA.
  As with any other genre that I played through the Bryston, the 14B3 handled it all without a fuss. MJ’s "Bille Jean" bass lines and kick drum really showcased the amps ultra-quick bass extension. The Sgt. Pepper remix is highlighted by a much better stereo image with proper instrument balance and air. The 14B3 rendered such tracks as “Day In the Life” and “Lovely Rita” with a perfect blend of vocal and instrument layers that revealed what an expert remix and remaster can do for an old recording.

Black Bryston 14B3 Everything Audio Network
Of course, 14B3 Cubed also comes in black

  The old 14B-SSTII, in comparison had the same basic audio signature, but it was slightly courser. Again my old amp is 14 years old with hundreds of hours on it, the basic sound signature is close, but I preferred the new one.
  In comparison to the other designs mentioned, the Bryston 14B3, I believe, is still one of top analog amplifiers for accuracy. Though lower power, the more expensive Class D Veritas is right up there as is the lower power Benchmark ABH2 bipolar. The tube front end Class D Rogue Audio, at a couple hundred watts also evokes music with a high degree of realness and taut bass as well, though it can sound somewhat bright with some speakers. The MOSFET Pass X350.8 is slightly less analytical; with a breath of warmness that can offset digital coldness, but it has gobs of layering and detail reproduction on the ML’s.

Exceptional specs

  Overall, I had no complaints with the Bryston 14B3. A bit heavy as you would predict for a full, dual-mono power supply heavy watter that can put out 900 watts per channel. The amp ain’t cheap at $10,795, but high price is the norm when it comes to North American-manufactured audiophile amps. 
The verdict
  I did not believe that the Bryston 14B-SSTII amplifier could be improved upon: the 14B has always been a bastion of neutrality with gobs of power and bipolar-output bass quickness that squeezes out the last ounce of detail.
  However, the new 14B3 has got that power slam, but relays an increased sense of detail refinement, smoothness, imaging and upper end air over the SSTII series. It sounds fresher, more concise than the old amp — especially with hi-res music, such as DSD 5.6, and 24/352 PCM.
  In our opinion, the new Bryston 14B3 Cube stereo amplifier is most certainly an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award winner and a candidate for amp of the year. If you are looking for amplifier honesty and the ability to drive any speaker in the largest of rooms, or just like the power reserve on hand in your modest listening area, this is one to consider.

   John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via email:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Audiophile Review!
Phono Pre, A/D-D/A Combo:
"Perfect For Your Vinyl Rips"

Hi-Res LP Dubbing A/D-D/A

Price: $499
Likes: DSD audio, easy to use
Dislikes: no Android AudioGate4
Wow Factor: smooth DSD for vinyl rips

by Russ Long
  We have discovered a nearly perfect audio device for dubbing your LPs to the hi-res digital format of your choice: DSD (Direct Stream Digital, the same digital as used on SACDs) or 24 bit PCM. And it is so easy to use that a novice can be up and running in a few hours, dubbing that original Sgt. Pepper LP, a classic RCA Red Seal disc, or the favorite Fish record.
  The KORG DS-DAC-10R is a USB 2.0 DAC/ADC and headphone amplifier that supports 1-bit native 2.8224 MHz and 5.6448 MHz DSD record and playback on Mac (via Core Audio) and Windows (via ASIO or WDM). The device works in conjunction with KORG’s AudioGate4 high-resolution music player application. It includes a phono input making it a perfect solution for high-resolution, vinyl archiving.

  KORG’s early commitment to high-resolution audio goes back more than ten years with its MR Series of rack-style DSD/PCM studio recorders, portable devices, and hand-held units. Later came a line of consumer DACs, AudioGate software for PC/Mac playback and now the A/D-D/A.
  We have discovered a nearly perfect audio device for dubbing your LPs to the hi-res digital format of your choice: DSD (Direct Stream Digital, the same digital as used on SACDs) or 24 bit PCM.

  The KORG DS-DAC-10R (US retail $599 and sold by Essence Electrostatic) is built into an aluminum box with a copper sub-chassis that weighs in at just under 2.5 pounds. It measures 6.10 x 7.24 x 1.93 inches, is robust and well made. The front panel of the simple, sleek, stylish box includes a stereo headphone jack and a large volume pot that is encircled by a glowing LED ring. The ring glow color cleverly changes to indicate the incoming audio’s sample rate. Green indicates 44.1/48 kHz, purple 88.2/96 kHz, white 176.4/192 kHz, light blue 2.8 MHz, and dark blue 5.6 MHz.

Cool looks and  simple, but effective, control/hookup

  The headphone amplifier has a maximum output of 70 mW + 70 mW (PEAK) at 32 ohms. Exemplifying KORG’s motto for “uncolored sound that faithfully reproduces the original,” the DS-DAC-10R utilizes the same Texas Instruments PCM4202 AD converter and Cirrus Logic CS4390 DA converter used in the renowned KORG MR-2000S 1-bit studio recorder.
  To ensure pristine phono cartridge performance, the phono amp’s pre-stage circuit incorporates high-performance parts such as the Texas Instruments OPA1662 and Rubycon thin-film polymer multi-layer capacitors.
  AudioGate4 is KORG’s free computer music player and audio recorder software that also provides basic file conversion and editing capabilities. AudioGate4 is fully DSD and PCM compatible, making the DS-DAC-10R  an ideal companion for high-resolution recording. It also allows projects or files created with any of the KORG MR Series of DSD 1-bit recorders to be converted into any desired audio file format for export or used to create an audio CD or DSD disc.

Connection could not be easier

  KORG’s iAudioGate iOS app ($14.99) makes it easy to playback files created with the AudioGate4 software on an iPhone or iPad (although if no external DAC is used, the audio is down-sampled to 44.1kHz or 48kHz).
  There is no specific AudioGate4 app for Android users, even though Android is much more hi-res capable than IOS when it comes to ultra high-res playback. Fortunately, there is a wide selection of hi-res-capable playback app options for Android including: USB Audio Player Pro, Hiby, Neutron, etc., in order to play the KORG-recorded music. Or you can take your KORG-recorded tracks and transfer them to one of the many DSD portable DAC/players with headphone output: Sony, TEAC (PCM only), iBasso and Astell & Kern, Hi-fiMAN. 

My vinyl dub setup
  My review setup included KORG’s AudioGate4 software (version 4.0.2) running on a MacBook Pro (Retina, 13-inch, Early 2015) 2.9 GHz Intel Core i5 laptop with 16 GB RAM, with OS X Version 10.11.6. The MacBook Pro was connected to the DS-DAC-10R via USB. Source audio playback was via a TEAC TN-550 turntable that was connected to the DS-DAC-10R’s analog input. The TN-550 was switched to phono input via the AudioGate4 software. Users who have a phono stage that they favor can add their  own external phono stage to the chain and re-configure the inputs via AudioGate4 to line level. 
  While I listened to the digital files that I created on several different systems, all of my listening during vinyl transfers was through the DS-DAC-10R’s headphone output with either Ultimate Ears 18+ Pro IEMs or Audio Technica ATH-MSR7 headphones.

The DS-DAC-10R is a compact 6.1 inches wide

  Considering the box’s primary function is a high-resolution DAC/ADC, the headphone amplifier quality is very good. It lacks the power to drive many of the power-challenged, “pro” headphone models up to full spec, but it sounds quite impressive with exceptional image and depth — when coupled with Ultimate Ears 18+ Pro IEMs (in ear) or HPs, such as my Audio Technica ATH-MSR7.  
  The unit’s phono stage input impedance is 50k Ohms with a maximum input level of 5 mV rms/100 mV rms making the phono input incompatible with some cartridge makes. Software selectable phono equalizer curve options include RIAA, RIAA+IEC, NAB, COLUMBIA, FFRR, AES and Off. KORG recommends RIAA for most situations, and I found that setting always worked well for me. Although the phono equalizer curve is applied in the digital domain, it cannot be changed after a recording is made. So if you are unsure of the curve, you should record with this setting set to Off.

Match your cartridge with AudioGate4's software settings

  The strength of the DS-DAC-10R is it's A/D - D/A conversion and its integration with the AudioGate4 software, which provides digital audio encoding in PCM up to 192 kHz as well as DSD64 (2.8 MHz) and DSD128 (5.6MHz). AudioGate4 accommodates real-time up/down-sampling, hardware configuration, in/out data processing, normalization and file exporting — as well as standard recording, track splitting, tagging and playback functions. The only trade-off to the exceptional sound quality of DSD is its memory requirement. An average DSD64-encoded phonograph side requires close to a gigabyte of storage. However, you get the perfect dub in return.
  When recording to DSD, AudioGate4 creates DFF files that cannot be tagged for use beyond AudioGate4. This is because all in-app written album/artist tags, file merges and track splits take place at KORG’s proprietary Meta level. To listen in other software, the AudioGate4 file export function must be used — as it creates a copy of the rip that can be used in Audirvana+, JRiver or most other preferred hi-res playback applications on PC, Mac, Android and IOS.

The audition
  During my review period, I dubbed multiple albums to DSD 5.6 including The Beach BoysPet Sounds, Roxy MusicAvalon, RadioheadIn Rainbows, Daft Punk —  Random Access Memories, Wilco — Summerteeth, The BeatlesAbbey Road, and both mono and stereo versions of Antal Dorati conducting the Minneapolis Symphony OrchestraTchaikovsky 1812 Festival Overture, Op. 49.
  Since I make my living recording audio, I found recording via KORG DS-DAC-10R and AudioGate4 software very easy to use. A novice may need a little time to familiarize himself with the on-screen functions, but it won’t take long until they become a wiz at operating the software.

TI PCM4202 A/D  and Cirrus CS4390 (D/A chip sets

  You simply set the phono preamp settings on the DS-DAC-10R, plug in, and connect the USB cable from the DS-DAC-10R to the computer. Open the AudioGate4 program, select input source, adjust the channel levels via the on screen level slider and hit the record on screen button. As with recording any audio. it is best to have the peak signals hit about -3 dB level to build in some headroom to prevent clipping.
  AudioGate 4 allows individual songs in the Song List to be divided into sections, or combined into one. This allows the user to export selected regions from an audio file, or combine multiple consecutively-recorded files into a single file before you export it. You can also edit the gain, fade, and DC cut settings of each song, and edit text data such as the Title, Album, and Artist Name. For a free computer program, AudioGate4 has some great features,
  The DS-DAC-10R allows recording to be monitored via the headphone jack or the line-level output as it progresses or for play back once recording stops. In both instances, monitoring is via the internal DAC; thus, the sound is identical. Record-standby also provides the ability to listen to the audio encode/decode without committing any data to the hard-drive. Not only does AudioGate4 simplify the entire vinyl transfer and cleanup process, it also makes the addition of track meta-data (track names, album name, artist name, etc. ) quick and easy. 
  The DS-DAC-10R packs a unique combination of features into an easily transportable A/D-D/A unit, combined with the excellent AudioGate4 app. The package provides exceptional recording quality and playback at a remarkable price. Let the brotherhood of vinyl-rippers rejoice!

  Preferences vary from one listener to the next, but I enjoyed the DSD record dubs more than those tracks recorded with 192 kHz PCM. The only problem with DSD is that it doesn’t lend itself to easy editing or processing like PCM. For example, when dealing with problem vinyl (vinyl with excessive scratches and/or wear and tear), the AudioGate4 does not offer extensive de-noising. So I used a separate de-noise program. I recorded problem vinly in  PCM via the KORG, then used iZotope’s De-click plug-in from their RX 6 Audio Repair plug-in suite.
  I used this de-noise program on a Korg PCM dubbed 1964 LP of Virgil Fox playing Philadelphia’s famous Wanamaker Court Organ (which I had picked up a used copy earlier this year after having an opportunity to hear the amazing instrument during a trip to Philadelphia). Although the album is showing significant wear and tear, iZotope’s De-click plug-in was able to make it sound like new. I then used AudioGate4 to convert the PCM files to DSD for final playback. 

The verdict
  While one can easily argue that nothing beats the sound of listening to vinyl on a world-class hi-fi system (to which I must agree!), there’s something wonderful about being able to capture that amazing sound from  your favorite turntable and phono stage, record it to DSD and play it anywhere — be it your living room, hotel room, car stereo or on an airplane flight.

  My DSD recordings of vinyl with the DS-DAC-10R increased my LP enjoyment factor with digital sound reproduction — at a level I previously had not experienced. In every instance, the vinyl recordings revealed a depth and sonic soundscape not present in their solely digital counterpart. Bravo to KORG for making this so easy to accomplish.
  While the DS-DAC-10R isn’t revolutionary, it packs a unique combination of features into an easily transportable A/D-D/A unit, combined with the excellent AudioGate4 app. The package provides exceptional recording quality and playback at a remarkable price. It most certainly receives the Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award, Let the brotherhood of vinyl-rippers rejoice!

   Russ Long is a Nashville-based producer, engineer, and audio mixer, whose worked with numerous artists over the last 25 years. He also is an avid audiophile and home cinema equipment reviewer for the Everything Audio Network. Based on his professional experience, Mr. Long has a unique perspective on high-quality audio — from the initial studio recording to the final playback in a home environment.

Second Opinion
The DS-DAC-10R Rules!

  I have have been using the KORG AudioGate app on Mac for five years with various KORG DACs, and prior to that I was the first reviewer to evaluate KORG's original hand-held MR-1 DSD recorder.
  The new KORG DS-DAC-10R and AudioGate4 software make for a surprisingly high-quality computer vinyl rip setup. Pro caliber, if you will, and you can use it to dub other analog sources such as your cassette collection (8-Track?). The A/D-DAC unit gives you all the tools: high-quality conversion for DSD or PCM, onboard phono preamp and the USB link to your computer.
  AudioGate4, although feature filled, is really easy to navigate and setup for recording, editing and playback. Once your LP tracks are recorded (all at once or one by one), you can easily edit them to a comprehensive play list that plays back via the AudioGate4 software on your computer or smart device. Or you can play it all back on almost any of the popular software players.
  I had a ball recording via the KORG and playing a dub of my original Frampton Comes Alive double LP (better sounding than the SACD release) on my Android tablet using USB Audio Player Pro and a Benchmark DAC3-DX.
  The DAC quality is excellent on either DSD or PCM, rivaling units that are a grand or more. If you record a great-sounding record, the KORG DS-DAC-10R systems guarantees you a pristine-sounding dub. Highly recommended and an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award winner.
—John Gatski