In 2012, when Bryston launched their first loudspeaker, the Model T, I raised an eyebrow. I wasn’t sure what to expect -- a one-off product that would end up as a back-catalog offering? Or the start of something larger for the Canadian electronics company? Three years later, the answer is clear: Bryston now offers 16 loudspeaker models, including subwoofers, center-channels, surrounds, on- and in-walls, and, of course, floorstanding and stand-mount designs. This wide array of speakers -- it would be impressive for a company that made only speakers -- comprises two lines, T and A. The T models have 8” bass drivers, the A speakers 6.5” woofers. In model-for-model comparisons, the Ts are larger, play louder and lower in the bass, and cost a bit more. I chose to review the second model from the top of the T line, the Middle T ($5400 USD per pair).
How and what
For those unfamiliar with the development of Bryston’s loudspeakers, that’s perhaps the most interesting part of the story. Anyone who knows how complex a task it is to design a good loudspeaker knows that a maker of amplifiers that decided to just have their electronics engineers crank out umpteen speaker models would soon run into all sorts of problems. Although that has indeed happened many times in the history of high-end audio, that’s not what Bryston did. Instead, they collaborated with another Canadian company, Axiom Audio, which designs and manufactures some of the most highly regarded, value-conscious speakers on the market -- we’ve positively reviewed Axiom’s speakers for many years across the SoundStage! family of sites. Bryston’s speaker project was spearheaded by Axiom engineer Andrew Welker, whose history in Canadian speaker design includes a long stint at the now-defunct Audio Products International (think Energy and Mirage) before taking his current position at Axiom. What’s nice about this partnership is that Axiom brings to it not only manufacturing and engineering expertise, but R&D resources such as their own anechoic chamber (Axiom founder Ian Colquhoun was involved in the speaker research that took place at Canada’s National Research Council back before some of you were born). That’s how the Bryston speakers came into existence. What’s more relevant to their potential buyers is what, precisely, these speakers are.
Because Bryston makes super-powerful amplifiers -- their 28B SST2 monoblock is rated to deliver 1000W into 8 ohms -- the last thing they wanted to make was speakers that couldn’t handle large amounts of power: Any Bryston speaker would have to be robust. The Middle T is specced to output 112dB at 1m. Most audiophile loudspeakers (as opposed to professional recording monitors) would break long before they reached that number. So yeah -- check the robust box.
One of the first things I noticed when I unboxed the Middle Ts were the huge surrounds of each speaker’s two 8” woofers -- clearly designed with long excursions in mind. But of course, the ability to play loud is not about only that -- especially with some of today’s high-resolution recordings, a speaker should be able to reproduce a wide dynamic range. The ability to accurately reproduce music at high SPLs can also hint at lower distortion at more moderate output volumes, because it’s far from being stressed by heat built up in its drivers’ voice-coils. But high-SPL capability isn’t the only design trait of Bryston speakers, not by a long shot.
I’ll begin talking about dispersion by dispelling a misunderstanding common among audiophiles: “A speaker’s off-axis response isn’t relevant unless you listen to it off axis.” That’s not true. Although off-axis listening isn’t much of a priority for speaker designers, that doesn’t mean that a speaker’s off-axis response isn’t critical. Why? One word: reflections. It’s important to know that the sound from your speakers that’s reflected by the walls, ceiling, and floor of your listening room combines with the sound that you hear directly from the drivers to create the totality of sound heard at the listening seat. If a designer takes pains to get a flat response for the speaker’s direct or on-axis sound but ignores that speaker’s off-axis dispersion, then what ends up reaching the listener will be anybody’s guess. Bryston’s speakers are designed to have off-axis responses that contain no huge peaks or valleys, so that when this off-axis or reflected sound is combined with the direct sound from the drivers, the result is a neutral tonal balance. In some ways, this design ethos can be thought of as the ultimate in room correction: it takes the room at least partly out of the equation by working with the room. The reflections help, not hurt.
(This is also why everyone who’s anyone measures a speaker anechoically, either in an anechoic chamber or through electronic manipulation: so that the response all around the loudspeaker can be captured without reflected soundwaves confusing things. The designer can then tell how well the speaker’s dispersion has been controlled, which tells him or her more about how the speaker will perform in a listening room.)
The 81-pound Bryston Middle T’s drivers are mounted in a fairly conventional array. Near the bottom of the cabinet are two 8” bass drivers, each with an oversized surround. These hand off to a 5.5” midrange located directly above the upper woofer. Bryston says that all three drivers have “ceramic-coated aluminum diaphragms, long-throw suspensions, and very powerful motors.” The treble range is handled by a 1” titanium-dome tweeter. The four drivers are housed in an MDF cabinet measuring 39.5"H x 10.5"W x 16.5"D; the sidewalls are 0.75” thick, the front baffle 1.5" thick. Inside, multiple braces increase stiffness to reduce resonances. The three-way Middle T tapers toward the rear, where two sets of binding posts facilitate biwiring or biamping. The Middle T is a bass-reflex design: there are two ports on the rear, near the top. These are fluted, to prevent chuffing at high output levels.
The Middle T’s sensitivity is specified as 88dB/2.83V/1m, its impedance as 4 ohms, and its frequency response as 33Hz-22kHz (+/-3dB). Bryston offers three standard real-wood veneers: Black Ash, Natural Cherry, and Boston Cherry. Custom finishes are available as well. The optional outrigger feet ($400/pair) have larger spikes to better pierce thick carpets, and provide more lateral stability -- though with the Middle T’s squat stance, I can’t imagine the latter being a problem. (I’d be more likely to consider buying the outriggers for the Model T, which is the same width as the Middle T but 13” taller.)
The construction of the Middle T is workmanlike: solid, without puffery. Bryston’s speakers are not audio jewelry -- in fact, some critics have decried their looks for being too plain -- but their build quality is substantial. The veneer is nicely done, and each cabinet’s 81 pounds make you feel you’re hefting a real speaker. Segmented black-fabric grilles round out the package.
Before doing any serious listening, I played the Bryston Middle Ts for a couple of weeks with background music and movies. With the latter, I formed a set of first impressions that lasted throughout the review period. I was watching Robin Hood, a British TV series that had a run of three seasons, via Netflix. In one scene about halfway through the second season (I watch these shows with my kids), as Robin is once again escaping from Nottingham Castle, the gate is lowered, preventing the Sheriff’s men from following him. The gate descends with a rumble of sustained deep bass that, through the Middle Ts, energized my room. The Brystons were able to pump more low bass into my room than has any other speaker with only two 8” woofers -- a common configuration among today’s floorstanders of moderate size. And this bass was low, loud, and prominent.
Such a strong low-end response made me think of the Bryston Middle Ts as “bottom-up” speakers from early on in the review period. By this I mean that the Middle T’s musical center was in the bass: If I were to draw a frequency-response chart based on what I heard early on, it would have a very slight tilt from left to right. Such a voicing can be a very good thing -- speakers with deep, full bass are satisfying on a primal level. Research shows that when people listen to music that has deep, strong bass, they feel more confident. Armed with this research and my early Robin Hood experience, I dug deeper into the T’s bass capabilities.
I cued up “The Man,” from Aloe Blacc’s Lift Your Spirit (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Tidal). About 28 seconds in, the bass line is rounded and deep -- and sure enough, halfway through the song I’d begun to feel like Lebron James. Well, a shorter, whiter version. OK, so deep, strong bass can make you feel more confident, but it probably won’t increase your athletic ability much.
I was sweating after the impromptu 50 push-ups I’d done after listening to “The Man,” and needed to cool off. I loaded Idina Menzel’s performance of “Let It Go,” from the Frozen soundtrack (16/44.1 FLAC, Tidal). Hitting the high notes better and singing more expressively than does Demi Lovato in the same song on the same album, the Middle Ts showed that they weren’t all about bass. The piano in the opening bars was crystal clear. Menzel’s voice was reproduced neutrally, and powerfully projected on a wide soundstage -- not upfront, but easy to distinguish among the instruments. This was a solid, confident sound that really did get out of the way of the music.
Livingston Taylor’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” from Taylor’s Ink (24/96 AIFF, Chesky), was, well, lovely. The whistling at the beginning was crisp if not airy, and centered properly on the soundstage, if not laser-focused, the way some speakers present it. And this brings me to my only two caveats about these speakers.
First, the Middle Ts didn’t sound airy and dimensional, the way some more resolving speakers do -- there was just a touch of high-frequency energy that somehow eluded them. Granted, the only speakers I can think of that do this better than the Brystons are more expensive, but still -- it was a limitation. Second, the soundstage wasn’t carved out in space with sharp edges and crystal-clear delineations. When it came to the Brystons’ soundstaging capabilities, think drawn with a marker instead of a sharp pencil and you get the idea.
With most music, however, those minor criticisms ceased to matter. When I played “Evil Is Alive and Well,” from Jakob Dylan’s Seeing Things (16/44.1 AIFF, Columbia), the guitar in the track’s opening moments was plucky and resonated forcefully -- satisfyingly -- in my room. When Dylan began to sing, I could hear deep into his voice, as if I were sitting right in front of him -- nothing obscured his delivery. The Middle Ts had an intensely solid midrange with no hint of “whitish” suckout. Just the opposite, in fact: The Brystons put meat on the music’s bones, and projected sound outward in a clear, neutral manner.
The Brystons have a reputation for being speakers that can rock. Or rap. Or whatever. In short, they can take whatever you throw at them. So in honor of Jay Z putting Tidal on the map a few weeks ago, I played “Holy Grail,” from his Magna Carta . . . Holy Grail (16/44.1 FLAC, Tidal). The Justin Timberlake part at the beginning was all good, but when the bass comes in and the rapping starts, the Middle Ts woke up -- me and the neighbors. The bass easily pressurized my room, with no hint of distortion or stress. Yes, these speakers will kick out the jams, and keep their cool while doing so. Not only that, here their three-way, four-driver arrangement paid huge dividends: While the woofers were pumping out all that bass, the midrange remained clean and clear. Try that with a little two-way and you’ll be sorely disappointed.
The Bryston Middle T has a lot going for it. At $5400/pair, it’s an unquestionable value: a big, three-way speaker that will flat-out rock without losing its audiophile street cred. That’s a tough balancing act, but the Middle T handles it well. You won’t easily break these speakers, and you won’t want for big bass -- but you can also play through them some tinkly audiophile music with most of the nuance of boutique minimonitors. Add to that a design this well engineered in terms of dispersion and you stand a better-than-average chance of being able to successfully integrate the Middle Ts into your room to produce a balanced, neutral sound.
Ultimately, the Bryston Middle T is an easy recommendation -- not for a particular type of listener, but for almost everyone. And who knows? After a few hours of listening to these speakers, you just might be able to dunk a basketball. Or not.
. . . Jeff Fritz
- Speakers -- Magico Q7, PSB Alpha, Triangle Magellan Cello
- Amplifiers -- Ayre Acoustics MX-R monoblocks, NAD Masters Series M22
- Preamplifiers -- Ayre Acoustics KX-R Twenty, NAD Masters Series M12
- Digital-to-analog converter -- Exogal Comet
- Computer -- Apple MacBook Air running OS 10.9.4, iTunes, Amarra 3.0.2, DSDPlayer for Mac, Tidal streaming service
- Cables -- Nordost Valhalla interconnects, speaker cables, power cords; Siltech Explorer speaker cables, interconnects, power cords
Bryston Middle T Loudspeakers
Price: $5400 USD per pair.
Warranty: Twenty years parts and labor.
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 6X7
Phone: (705) 742-5325