Readers of Stereophile need no introduction to Bryston, a venerable Canadian electronics manufacturer known for the quality and reliability of its amplifiers and preamplifiers, and for its unique 20-year warranty. In the past few years, Bryston has ventured into digital audio with notable success, producing D/A converters, multichannel preamplifier-processors, and music-file players. While an evolution from analog into digital audio would seem logical, their most recent expansion, into loudspeakers, is more surprising. Apparently, James Tanner, Bryston’s vice president, designed a speaker for his own use, and it turned out well enough that the company decided to put it into production.Bryston probably got a taste for purveying speakers when the company was the North American distributor for the studio and domestic speaker models made by the British company PMC—and over the years, Bryston seems to have made wise choices of loudspeakers to partner their own products at audio shows.Still, while speakers were far from Bryston’s area of expertise, the company has again taken its usual conservative approach. They’ve partnered with established Canadian speaker maker Axiom, whose testing and production facilities have provided Bryston with a base from which to rapidly generate a broad line of models, and the new speakers themselves seem to employ no radical new technology.
Bryston’s first loudspeaker, the Model T (for Tanner), is a large “statement” tower, offered in two versions, the standard Model T and the Model T Signature (featuring an outboard crossover), each at a very attractive price compared to physically similar speakers ($6495/pair and $9495/pair, respectively); both have been warmly received at audio shows. The T comprises a vertical array of three woofers, two midranges, and two tweeters, and, as I heard at one show, is capable of prodigious power as well as overall high sound quality. Given Bryston’s deserved reputation for quality, I was immediately interested.
However, the task of picking a Bryston speaker to review was soon complicated by the launch of further T models and, soon after that, the smaller A models. My choice of the Middle T was primarily based on two criteria: its base price in wood veneer finish is $5400/pair, and it has only one midrange driver and one tweeter. My preference for this sort of driver configuration is based on the complexity of getting multiple drivers in those frequency ranges to provide broad, even dispersion on all axes. In addition, the Middle T stands a fraction under 40″ tall, which places its tweeter very close to the usual height of my ears when I’m seated (though the optional outriggers elevate it another 2″). After a long wait, I finally received a pair of Middle Ts, which I set up in my Manhattan system.
My initial visual impression was mixed. Clearly, these were solidly built and cleanly executed speakers, and setting them up on their spikes went off without a hitch. I really appreciated the clean, unadorned cabinet design with the four drivers on the front and, at the back, two fluted ports near the top and, near the bottom, two sets of sturdy, multiway binding posts.
The 1.5″-thick front panel is significantly wider than the rear panel, and front and rear are joined not by curved or sharply angled side panels but by two panels on each side. The side panel toward the front is angled at 90° to the front panel, as in an ordinary box speaker, but about halfway back, a smaller panel is angled to connect it to the narrower rear panel. This construction serves to reduce the production of standing waves inside the enclosure and increase the overall rigidity. The latter is further ensured by the inclusion of multiple internal frames and cross-braces. Sure enough, at 81.4 lbs, the Middle T is quite heavy for a speaker measuring 39.4″ high by 10.4″ wide by 16.3″ deep, and notably stiff.
On the other hand, I wasn’t impressed with some of the Middle T’s cosmetic features. First, the expensive, optional Red Rosewood veneer (add $1520/pair) was undoubtedly real wood, but the grain was too open and textured for my taste. In addition, the grain matching between the top and vertical panels seemed casual. So while the quality of the materials themselves was not in doubt, I would have preferred a more polished finish (though of course this will have no impact on the sound).
My second concern is for something that might have sonic consequences for some users. Bryston provides three separate grilles for each Middle T: one for the midrange and tweeter, and one for each woofer. Each grille is covered with sheer black fabric and is attached to the front panel with strong, hidden magnets. I found the grilles ungainly, and thought they detracted from the simplicity of the speaker’s appearance. The frame for each panel is so sturdily and heavily constructed that I feared it might compromise the dispersion of soundwaves, especially from the midrange and tweeter. Indeed, that was the case, so I did all of my listening without the grilles. Still, the hidden magnets mean that, when the grilles are off, nothing mars the Middle T’s clean lines.
I rolled my B&W 800 Diamonds out of the way and replaced them with the Bryston Middle Ts, connected them to my system, began listening.
My initial impression of the Middle T’s sound was of such integrity that it might have been generated by a single driver, even though that was belied by its dynamics and wide frequency range. Center fill and imaging were good, but were vastly improved with adjustments in the speaker positions. In this I used the DEQX PreMate D/A preamplifier-equalizer to take nearfield measurements to distinguish soundwaves directly radiated by the speakers from their reflections, both early and late, from the room walls and large objects. It revealed that increasing the toe-in angle from my usual 10–15° to almost 20° delayed a significant reflection from a large credenza that stands against the room’s left wall. This not only improved the subsequent DEQX operations, it so improved central imaging that the Middle Ts seemed to entirely “disappear” into a wide, deep soundstage.
I think the Middle Ts’ spatial performance was as much a result of their smooth, untiring treble as of the matching between the two speakers. The tweeters never called attention to themselves, but rather provided all the edge called for. Sara K.’s sibilants on her Hell or High Water (SACD/CD, Stockfisch SFR 357.4039.2) were rendered naturally, but the transients of strings and percussion also had snap and delineation (though the triple grilles clearly muted such felicities).
The midrange was equally satisfying. The Sara K. disc demonstrated how the Middle Ts could render a well-recorded voice with a most thrilling, somewhat eerie presence. The Brystons delineated Ping from Pang from Pong in Turandot, and revealed inner vocal lines of the choirs in the War Requiem. I make so much of the midrange presence because, while I found nothing to suggest that the Middle Ts were accented or peaky, they seemed to place images just a bit more forward in terms of distance, though not of character.
The bass, too, was outstanding for a speaker of this size, as attested by the sheer weight and power of the low end with the bass drum in the opening scene of Turandot, or the pipe organ (and everything else) in the War Requiem. Moreover, I could turn these recordings up to unneighborly levels with no sign of stress or limiting from the Brystons. I guess you might expect even more from the bigger Model T, with its trio of woofers and pairs of midranges and tweeters—but I doubt it could be realized in my living room.
The Middle Ts also seemed to put everything together just right, if not perfectly. Both a speaker’s bass performance and the integration of its drivers greatly depend on the room and the speakers’ positions in it. The Middle Ts were more tolerant of these factors than many speakers I’ve had here, and sounded good in almost any reasonable location. Over time, however, I found that, no matter where I put the Brystons, there seemed to be just a bit more lower midrange than I thought was right. At first, I thought, “Hey, this is great! Just listen to the power!” Male voices sounded natural, but somewhat richer and more macho than I’m used to. The same for lower strings and brass.
It was some weeks before I was sure that what I was hearing were a very slight emphasis around 200Hz, and a slight sag from there down to 100Hz. One can see this in the frequency-response graph included in Bryston’s Quick Setup Guide. I don’t want to make too big a deal of a deviation from flat of only ±1 or ±2dB in a frequency range hugely influenced or even swamped by room effects. I allowed myself to apply some correction in the form of DEQX or Dirac Live, both of which first confirmed Bryston’s otherwise admirably flat FR curve for the Middle T. The result was simply icing on the cake, and the entire problem will probably be insignificant or nonexistent in most rooms.
In an admittedly unfair face-off, the Middle Ts sounded as cleanly and smoothly integrated as my B&W 800 Diamonds ($24,000/pair), and threw nearly as big a soundstage. The B&Ws, however, create a sense of silent space (audiophile air?) that enlivens the soundstage; the Brystons did not. Of course, that in no way detracted from the actual music the Middle Ts made. Drawing from memory and notes, I can make only generalized comparisons of the Middle T with other speakers I’ve auditioned in this room.
Still, the Bryston competed well with the pricier B&W 804D ($7500/pair), the ADAM Audio Classic Column MK3 ($7000/pair), and the Aerial Acoustics 7T ($9850/pair). The Middle T went head-to-head with all of these models in the bass and midrange, but again seemed to lack their treble finesse. Bear in mind, however, that all of these speakers cost more than the Middle T. I suspect that the most appropriate comparison would be with Revel’s Performa3 F208 ($5000/pair). Both it and the Middle T have two 8″ woofers in a ported enclosure, and they’re almost identically priced. Erick Lichte loved the Revels, but I’ve heard them only at a Consumer Electronics Show, and so can say little more than this: Those who have $5000 to spend on speakers should listen to both before making a choice.
I seem to have picked away at the Bryston Middle T. Though I have no reason to redact any of the criticisms I’ve made, I hope that I haven’t obscured the most important message: The Middle T is an excellent speaker, and an excellent value at $5400/pair—it bears comparison with speakers costing much more. Its tonal balance is neutral, its power handling will exceed the needs (and the capacity) of most users, its bass extension is substantial, and, most important for me, it offers a generously wide, deep, and immediate soundstage with stable imaging. The Bryston Middle T is the real thing: a wonderful speaker at a reasonable price that can be enjoyed for many years as its owner basks in the security of its two-decade warranty.