October 27, 2009

A Friendly Chat With Brian Russell, President Of Bryston Ltd.

Brian Russell a.k.a. "big boy" carrying a mono B28 SST "big amp". I wouldn't mess with him!

A seasoned audiophile used to tell me, that in his days, Bryston stuff was something only one would buy if he couldn't afford a Krell or Mark Levinson. Strictly class B stuff, he said. How times have changed!


According to Brian Russell, President of Bryston, the last 2 years have been a peach for Bryston, whom recently dropped in to KL, AV Designs, to be exact, for a pit stop of his Asia Pacific tour. James Tan cordially invited a few of us friendlies to have a chat with Brian. The Qs are not entirely mine, but are a summation of the few of us whom was there.


Q: How has the current financial turmoil effected Bryston?

BR: In fact Bryston couldn't have been better! We've got rave reviews with all our recent new product launches, like the 28B SST power amps, the recently renewed SST2 amps, the BCD 1 CD player and the BP26 pre amp. The Torus Power range also did surprisingly well in the market. We just couldn't make enough products to meet orders list!


Q: How did the recent Hifi and Audio Shows fared stateside? The recent KLIAV 2009 in KL recorded significant increases, in both trade participants and visitor counts.

BR: Some were more effected than others, like CES, will always be CES! It's the more regional shows, like one held recently in Atlanta, where only a third of total visitor numbers turned compared to last year! That was a pretty depressing show.


Q: How does Bryston test their amps in the factory?

BR: We do not do any listening test in the factory! We only do measurement test in the lab. There's just no space to do so!


Q: So there's no PMC speakers in the Factory?

BR: No, there is no space in the factory, we only use small speaker drivers to ensure there's output from the amps we produce. We listen to our products at home. We have 2-3 employees whom we entrust them with gears to take home for listening trails, where by they report their findings and any faults that may have experienced then. James Tanner and Stuart Taylor does most of those listening trials. James has 3 systems of various set ups in his place, where he'd put the Bryston gears thru its paces. James has amongst others at the moment, a pair of PMC, Thiel, Martin Logan and Magnaplanars, I think. He is constantly changing speakers so when I get home later, it'll probably all be changed?


Q: But many have said that Bryston amps and PMC speakers work best?

BR: For the record, Bryston amps will work best with which ever speakers of your liking, within reason of course! I guess many do feel that Bryston works best with PMC speakers is perhaps, because PMCs have transmission line tuned cabinets, which places more difficult loading on an amp. Our Bryston amps have that capability to control the woofer's forward and aft movement better in a transmission line tuned cabinet, there fore giving more favourable results, sound wise.


Q: Bryston seems to be venturing in to hybrid class D amps in the professional segment, any plans to introduce similar concept to the consumer audio line?

BR: We call it a hybrid because we used a linear(non switching) power supply with a class D module, which is out sourced. We feel that for the PA and piped music applications, a hybrid class D amp would meet the need for a multi chanel, efficient and non absolute audio critical quality. However, we have no plans for a hybrid class D in the consumer high end market. Audiophiles will mostly avoid class D based amp, and I will agree with them that class D sound can never be as good as class A or A/B amps. Maybe in the future, but most certainly not anytime soon.


Q: How many employees does Bryston have in the factory?

BR: We have about 50 employees.


Q: There's been a slew of new product launches from Bryston lately, what's next?

BR: We are hoping to launch the new Bryston SP3 processor for the home theater market in about six months from now. This will replace the Brsyton SP2 processor.


Q: Would the SP2 be upgrade able to SP3 spec?

BR: No, the SP3 works on a totally new architecture, circuit wise. However, we've come to learned from many customers that they appreciate a module upgrade able approach, and we've incorporated that feature to the new SP3 to allow it some degree of future proof. The SP3 has an over sized case and there are empty, unpopulated slots on the SP3 main board to accommodate new cards and video modules should we need to add features later. However, should existing SP2 owners wanna up grade to the new SP3, we may have a program in place by then to make it as financially painless as possible to do so.


Q: Bryston has been doing very well in the last 2 years you've said earlier, what did you do differently this recent 2 years compared to before?

BR: Bryston have always been doing the same things in the last 37 years of our existence. We provide quality products with a realistic mark up, and back it up with the best warranty and after sales services in the audio industry. Who else would offer a 20 year warranty on the audio products? The only difference is that in the last 2 years, there was a proliferation of audio blogs and online consumer feedback journals, such as yours(now remember that's HiFi-Unlimited)! The internet based media offer insights, exposure and reviews of our products at speeds that no traditional print media can hope to match.


Q: Your amps have 20 years product warranty, why 5 years only for digital products like BCD-1 CD player?

BR: Now again, tell me if you know another manufacturer whom will offer you a 5 year warranty on a digital product? You see, digital products component lifespan turns over just too fast. 5 years is a very, very long time in the digital world. Take the Philips transport that we used for the BCD-1 CD player, barely 2 years we've launched the product, Philips now tells us they no longer make the transport! We bought the last batch of transport available from Philips, log, stock and barrel, to make sure we have enough spares to support the BCD-1 for the next 5 years at least!

Brian demo-ing the BCD-1 CD player's reliable CD tray!

Q: Speaking of the BCD-1 CD player, are you ever going to improve the CD tray motion quality? It's the single biggest let down in the otherwise impressive product!

BR: I am gonna throw you a grenade for bringing this up! He!He! Yeah, we know about that problem, but it's really not a problem is it? The Philips sourced CD transport is very reliable, and even if we used an all metal transport, would it had contributed so much more to the sound?(Perhaps? I quietly thought) It would just probably glide in and out smoother and give a better perception of quality, that's all. That'll be something we'll have to think about in the BCD-2, our next CD player. Now don't get all excited and ask me when that"ll come. It's still a white sheet of paper now!


Q: Yes, perception, that's the word! But isn't that important in the market for high end audio?

BR: Yes, perception is important, but that's also why we see so many brands out there selling a 20 thousand dollar amp with fancier quality case and marketing perception at say, 100 thousand dollars. Bryston just would not do that. By the way, do let me know if you are in the market for a 100 thousand dollars amp, I'd gladly sell you one with an emperor's clothing plus my personal signature on it and just for you, it'll come with a 40 year product warranty! Show me the money!(Now I am wondering which part of me looked rich?)


Q: You mean Bryston products are actually priced accordingly to reflect the product's actual manufacturing cost with a fair mark up factored in?

BR: Matter of fact, yes! We will provide a product of the best technical quality and specifications where possible, irregardless of selling price. For instance, if we used a certain grade of capacitors in our amps, and a supplier can come and suggest a better spec capacitor, for example, long life span, we will test it and if confirmed to meet the promised specs, we will certainly adopt it in our parts catalogue tomorrow, even if it means we have to pay more for the better capacitor. Now if the supplier says we can save money on a better capacitor, than I'd be very careful about it, because, there's just no such thing as that, if it's too good to be true, it probably is!


Q: Speaking of the "new" yet to come BCD-2 CD player, with the dawn of hi-rez music down loads, do you still think there's a market for CD players? If so, how long do you see the CD player will still be around?

BR: Hey! They said the same thing with vinyl, right? Look at the market today, the turntable is still around, and a growing market too! Why? There'll always be guys whom have vinyl collections, and they'll still need good quality turntables to play their collection. I see the same thing happening to CD. There'll always be a guy, like my self, I have 5000 CDs, and I'll always need a CD player to play my collection. Down loads or not!


Q: I have been playing with the latest SST2 amps lately, and they are very good! I would consider them to be absolutely sonically superior to the earlier non squared SST series. What's changed?

BR: As electronics specs and quality improved, we will incorporated these newer parts, like transistors in to our designs. The SST2 upgrade was just that. It's got lower noise floor, higher signal to noise ratio and closer L/R chanel matching tolerance. Also, THD is significantly lower in the SST2 series, like 0.005% on the 4B SST2.


Q: Now, can one subjectively hear lower THD in amps?

BR: You probably have to ask James Tanner about that! However, I suppose, you hear what you wanna hear right? There's always the tube guys too remember?


Q: How is the current financial meltdown in the US affecting Bryston?

BR: Despite the financial situation in the states, they are still our single biggest market by taking 45% of our production. Asia/Pacific and Canada are about even at 25% and 27% each respectively.


Q: Who do you consider to be Bryston's biggest competitor?

BR: I'll tell you this as I've told all others whom asked this question before! It's the room! Now, people have suddenly become aware of their rooms, they spend a lot of money to build custom ed rooms! Money, which would have been better spent in my opinion, buying bigger Bryston amps! He!He!

Brian and local man AV Designs, James Tan getting a li'll friendly! He!He!

After that long chat, we all had some refreshments and got all too friendly with each other!

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