BP-173 Cubed Se­ries Pream­pli­fier

NOVO - - REVIEW - by Ge­orge de Sa

In Au­gust 2017 Brys­ton an­nounced its new BP-173 pream­pli­fier, the first sig­nif­i­cant re­vi­sion of the model since its in­tro­duc­tion in 2012. Yet, even more sig­nif­i­cant is that this was also the first-ever Brys­ton pream­pli­fier to get “Cubed”. What’s Cubed? Brys­ton launched its Cubed Se­ries am­pli­fiers back in Jan­uary 2016 to ac­co­lades. Speak­ing from hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence, my main am­pli­fier is a Brys­ton 4B3. The Cubed Se­ries de­liv­ered, dare I say, a rev­o­lu­tion­ary per­for­mance im­prove­ment over pre­vi­ous Brys­ton am­pli­fier gen­er­a­tions. At the heart of the Cubed up­date is the Salomie in­put-stage cir­cuit, named af­ter its late de­signer Dr. Ioan Alexan­dru Salomie; so in­no­va­tive that Brys­ton has it patented. Given the broad recog­ni­tion and suc­cess of the Cubed am­pli­fiers, I was in great ex­pec­ta­tion of what the Salomie cir­cuit would de­liver within the BP-173 pream­pli­fier ($3,995 US).


In ad­di­tion to the new Salomie in­put stage the BP-173 has gained two pairs of bal­anced (XLR) in­puts, one of which is con­fig­urable as ei­ther vari­able or fixed. And, Brys­ton de­vel­oped a new dig­i­tally con­trolled ana­log bal­anced vol­ume con­trol for the BP-173. The rear panel is ar­ranged dif­fer­ently to ac­com­mo­date the new XLR plugs but still re­mains sim­ple, clean and func­tional. Form fac­tor of the BP-173 re­mains un­changed from its pre­de­ces­sor but keen eyes will no­tice the new Cubed face­plate with Brys­ton’s thin-line logo. Black re­mains brushed but the sil­ver gets the new Cube Se­ries mi­cro-bead blasted fin­ish for a softer and more so­phis­ti­cated ap­pear­ance. The front face plate is 1/4”solid alu­minum with all-alu­minum vi­bra­tion-re­sis­tant case­work. The chas­sis is perched on four pro­fes­sion­al­style rub­ber feet and all con­nec­tors are sturdy pro­fes­sional-grade. Build, fit and fin­ish is typ­i­cal Brys­ton – that is to say top notch.

When it comes to stan­dard op­tions, the BP173 pream­pli­fier comes with a few choices. Fin­ish is black or sil­ver; a 17-inch or 19-inch face­plate; an op­tional in­te­grated 96 kHz/24bit DAC ($750 US) with 2 coax and 2 op­ti­cal in­puts; op­tional MM phono stage ($750 US) and fi­nally, an op­tional Brys­ton BR-2 re­mote con­trol ($375 US). Oh, I al­most for­got, you also have the op­tion of stan­dard green or op­tional blue run­ning lights.

The Brys­ton BP-173 of­fers a bounty of con­nec­tions in­clud­ing: 2 bal­anced (XLR), 4 sin­gle ended (RCA) in­puts; 2 bal­anced (XLR) out­puts, plus 1 RCA preamp out and 1 RCA fixed out­put; IR re­mote-con­trol sen­sor; re­mote in/out pin con­nec­tors and; an RS232 jack. De­tailed spec­i­fi­ca­tions can be found at www.brys­ but let me share a few high­lights with you: the BP-173 is rated with a THD of < 0.0025% (with IMD

0.0003%) and noise of -102 dB (RCA) and -108 dB (XLR), as well, an out­put of up to 15V (RCA)/30V(XLR). All Brys­ton com­po­nents come well burned-in from the fac­tory, part of their QC test­ing, yet I put about 300 hours on the BP-173 be­fore

any for­mal eval­u­a­tions. All my lis­ten­ing was done on my ref­er­ence sys­tem: a Brys­ton BP-26 preamp and 4B3 am­pli­fier, MOON by Si­mau­dio 280D DAC/player, Rega Apollo CDP and VPI Scout 1.1 turntable. Loud­speak­ers were my Au­dio Physic Scorpio 25+ and Fo­cal Elec­tra 1008Be, and cabling was courtesy of Nor­dost Heim­dall 2 / Tyr 2, with QB8 power dis­tri­bu­tion.


The track, “A La Ver­i­cale”, from David San­born’s al­bum Time and the River is a com­plex in­ter­ac­tion of in­stru­ments and if not prop­erly han­dled sounds con­gealed. Lis­ten­ing to this track through the BP-173, I was fas­ci­nated by the crys­talline pu­rity that the cym­bals pos­sessed. There was a height­ened level of del­i­cacy and com­plex­ity un­like any­thing I’ve pre­vi­ously ex­pe­ri­enced. The shim­mer of the cym­bals was han­dled with won­der­ful pre­ci­sion, al­low­ing me to fol­low the strikes and eas­ily hear their full de­cay amidst the other in­stru­ments. My sus­pi­cion is that the lower dis­tor­tion level might be what was al­low­ing me to per­ceive greater clar­ity, de­tail and del­i­cacy in the up­per-most fre­quen­cies. This sense of pu­rity and the as­so­ci­ated ben­e­fits also ex­tended to the shak­ers, which were su­perbly ren­dered with fo­cus, tex­ture and tim­bre that was also to a height­ened level. Per­cus­sion had an in­cred­i­ble touch-and-feel qual­ity, with a most tan­gi­ble snap to the skins, nat­u­ral tim­bre and star­tling speed. The BP-173 also ex­hib­ited an iron-grip over the low­est notes lend­ing to greater bass tex­ture.

As I lis­tened, I was struck by the abil­ity of the BP-173 to pro­vide fo­cus and sep­a­ra­tion amongst the el­e­ments within the sound­stage. El­e­ments were carved out in three di­men­sions, holo­graphic within the stage. In com­par­i­son, my Brys­ton BP26 pream­pli­fier sounded dif­fuse, with an ap­par­ent haze, which I state with some reser­va­tion as those ad­jec­tives are not ones I would nor­mally use for the BP-26; how­ever, in com­par­i­son to the BP-173 that’s what it was. This greater fo­cus of the BP173 re­sulted in a per­cep­tion of el­e­ments within the sound­stage be­ing more com­pact and denser. Bass was no­tice­ably tighter and more ar­tic­u­late with the BP-173, which re­vealed the BP-26 to have a some­what pro­nounced and slightly force­ful up­per bass. Gen­er­ously wide, deep and high sound­stages were cus­tom­ary with the BP-173. Yet what was most in­ter­est­ing was that the fur­thest and faintest el­e­ments within the sound­stage could more eas­ily heard and with more nu­ance and pres­ence, some­thing I’d at­tribute to the ul­tra-low noise and dis­tor­tion of the Salomie in­put-stage.

Mov­ing to fe­male vo­cals, I lis­tened to Juno award win­ner Di­ana Pan­ton’s al­bum If the Moon Turns Green and the track “Quiet Night Of Quiet Stars”. Here the BP-173 again spoke with clar­ity, fo­cus, def­i­ni­tion and as­ton­ish­ing low-level de­tail. The sound­stage pre­sented seemed to be­gin just be­hind the front plane of the speak­ers, with Di­ana’s voice closer to the front wall of my room. In gen­eral, I found that the BP-173 placed vo­cals just slightly fur­ther back within the sound­stage then my BP-26 pream­pli­fier. Di­ana’s voice had a rev­e­la­tory smooth­ness and there was an ex­cep­tional con­trol of sibi­lants. Bass notes were pris­tine, tight played with no over­hang. The BP-173 was mas­ter­ful in sep­a­rat­ing in­stru­ments, re­lat­ing a clear sense of space be­tween them and hold­ing them rock solid within the sound­stage. I would char­ac­ter­ize the sonic qual­ity of the BP-173 as one of pu­rity, trans­parency, top-to-bot­tom con­trol and un­com­pro­mised lin­ear­ity. Though clar­ity and fo­cus was ex­cep­tional, I did note that the BP-173 did not por­tray the gui­tar and pi­ano notes with as much bloom as the BP26. My in­ter­pre­ta­tion, af­ter con­sid­er­able lis­ten­ing, is that the BP-173 was just demon­strat­ing its greater con­trol and trans­parency to the source, while the BP-26 pro­vided a more dif­fuse ren­di­tion, over­lay­ing this ap­par­ent bloom.

On the track “Gaia” from James Tay­lor’s Hour­glass al­bum, the BP-173 sounded open and of­fered nat­u­ral warmth. The ren­der­ing of low-level de­tail with open­ing synth sounds, chimes and back­ground vo­cals was lu­cid. I couldn’t get over how much more sep­a­rated and in­di­vid­u­ally dis­tin­guish­able the massed back­ground voices were. James’ voice was silky and au­then­tic, bring­ing in­ti­macy to his de­liv­ery and the strums of the gui­tar with its au­then­tic tone had en­gag­ing pal­pa­bil­ity. The fierce drum roll at the 4:10 mark on this track, es­tab­lished the fan­tas­tic tran­sient speed and dy­namic ca­pa­bil­ity of the BP-173 ; putting an ear-to-ear grin on my face. I’ve lis­tened to the track time and time again but never heard it with such vis­ceral pu­rity.

Pream­pli­fiers can’t be un­der­es­ti­mated in their in­flu­ence. Sit­ting be­tween source and am­pli­fier, they have di­rect im­pact on all mu­sic sig­nals. Purists seek those which have least im­pact - “a wire with gain”, while mu­si­cal ro­man­tics seek spec­i­mens that im­part the sound they de­sire. If you’re one of the for­mer camp, I have no higher rec­om­men­da­tion than the BP-173. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, it is su­perla­tive in its lin­ear­ity of tone, clar­ity, def­i­ni­tion, trans­parency and con­trol. I cau­tion those who might pair it with lesser sources, as the BP-173 is a tell-it- like-it-is pream­pli­fier. With beau­ti­ful record­ings you will be swept to the high­est realms of ap­pre­ci­a­tion, yet don’t ex­pect it to hide the freck­les on those poor record­ings or up­stream com­po­nents. With other pream­pli­fiers you might get more warmth, softer im­ages or more bloom but I’m not aware of any­thing near the price of the BP173 that will al­low you to peer so deeply into the mu­sic and get so close to the truth of record­ings.

Brys­ton Lim­ited

www.brys­ 1-800-632-8217

Brys­ton BP-173 Cubed Se­ries Pream­pli­fier

Price: $3,995 US

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