EDITOR'S COMMENT: We received this review, gave it a read and found it to be a very interesting take on the Mini-T (which we have also reviewed) by writer Allen Edelstein. Below is the complete unedited review - probably the longest review we have ever published over the last twenty-five years. We hope you enjoy it.
Introduction by Allen Edelstein
I was at Lehigh University in the early 60s and two friends had simple mono systems. As a music lover and Formula 1 fan the technology of the equipment fascinated me and I started reading the magazines of the day, Stereo Review and High Fidelity. And for graduation my parents bought me a classic system, AR2a speakers, a PAS 2 kit, A Stereo 70 kit and AR turntable. I was hooked. When I had a small problem with a set of IMF Studio 2 speakers I got to know Bud Fried(the initials of IMF). And one day I went to a dinner he was giving for Percey Wilson(Gramaphone), David Hafler(Dynaco) and Gordon Holt (Stereophile). I became friends with Gordon and helped out at the magazine and when Gordon was slow reviewing a set of B & W DM6 speakers I got for him I wrote my first review and continued writing sporadically for the magazine until John Atkinson became editor. Through Gordon I became friends with Murray Zeligman, a multi talented audio designer of all sorts of gear who became a teacher and designed my current speakers, SEAS Froy 3s with 18 inch woofers. I got to know another teacher, George Bischof(Melos electronics, Scaena speakers, The Memory player CD player, Pipe Dream speakers) when I moved to New Jersey in the 80s. In the last few years I got back to reviewing doing some work for The Audio Beat.
I love both the gear and the music equally but differently. My music tastes are mostly acoustic and the source, analog and digital doesn't matter as long as I love the music. I listen mostly to classical and folk music.
Bryston Mini T Loudspeakers
The Bryston Mini T is a medium sized, stand mount speaker with an 8” woofer, 4 ½” mid-range and 1 “ dome tweeter, all of them metal diaphragms. That makes it basically conventional but it is a little larger than the usual stand mount at 22” by 10.5” by 10 “ deep. It has an interesting non-box shape, and a 3 way configuration, relatively rare in this size speaker these days. They go for a reasonable $2695 in vinyl and $3195 in wood veneer. I suspected I had an interesting speaker to look forward to auditioning.
In the early 1980s long before his involvements with Pipe Dreams and Scaena speakers, my good friend, George, ran a retail shop in Dunellen, New Jersey, called Personalized Audio. It was one of those friendly, fun stores of that time period where amake sure to report it as spamudiophiles just hung out and had a great time and even purchased equipment. I was there at least a couple of times a week after work and the Wednesday evening beer and ‘garbage’ pizza and audio parties could be the source of more than a few good tales.
One of my strongest memories from that period was a story, George told me about a Bryston amplifier. Bryston was already almost two decades old and well known for its powerful amplifiers. Well this amplifier was used for the music at a party. It was a loud party and little attention was paid to the system. Needing more volume to be heard over the party noise someone, who was never identified, turned the up volume and bass and treble controls (this was the old days when bass, treble and balance controls were still common). The result was inevitable, a huge blow up.
By this time Bryston was already known for their generous 20 year warranties. But warranties rarely cover abuse. And this was obviously gross abuse, the kind that is overtly obvious to any good technician as soon as the cover comes off the amp. So the amplifier was sent back to Canada and the wait was on for a repaired amp and the expected bill. It took a while. This amp was really trashed. But the amp came back without a repair bill. Checking with the company got the response that Bryston amps just don't break.
Since that time Bryston name arouses warm feelings and I have to admit a positive bias towards the company. So, given when my strong interest in speakers, along with my opinion of the company, when I was given the chance to review a Bryston speaker , it was easy to say yes.
Although Bryston has been in business for almost half a century, it has made speakers for only a few years. And in North America producing both electronics and speakers is rare. Few companies have made a real go of it, trying to do both for a while and usually reverting to only producing their original product. But given the rate that Bryston has been releasing new speakers I can only assume success in this case. Starting with the original floor standing Model T, the T series line has expanded to include multiple versions of the Model T, smaller floor standers, sub woofers, stand mounted speakers, and center channels. Plus a second line of smaller speakers using the same technology, the A series, has just come out and it is expanding also. And the original five year speaker warranty has been lengthened to twenty years, just like the amplifiers. Add the reasonable prices being asked and it certainly appears the company is becoming a force in the speaker market in a very short time.
From what I’ve read and been told by James Tanner, vice president of sales and marketing and head of speaker development at Bryston, he didn’t start out to develop the original Model T for sale. It was meant to be a known instrument for testing Bryston amplifiers. But I bet being involved in a speaker design was also a secret desire. I know it is one of my audio fantasies. James, of course, wanted low coloration but he also needed superior dynamic linearity and high power handling to test the high power Bryston amplifiers. When I discussed his interest in dynamics with James my audio soul lit up. Dynamic linearity, change of loudness with minimal compression at all levels, micro, middle and macro, is the speaker attribute I most value, the most important link to sounding real in my opinion. This was a good omen.
James Tanner, Model T, I wonder if that’s where the model name came from? But I can’t get that other famous Model T, the Ford one, out of my mind. And given that the second series of Bryston was called the A series and the Ford that came after the Model T was the Model A. I wouldn’t be surprised if the pun exists in the Bryston mind too. Anyway I can’t get it out of my mind.
James probably picked up a lot of knowledge about speaker design over many years in the audio industry and he surely developed an educated ear and knew what he wanted the new speaker to ‘sound’ like. But he also knew that developing a speaker was a new and large project for Bryston with many unexpected unknowns that would crop up during the process. Over the years he had built up a good relationship with an old, established Canadian speaker company, Axiom, that he respected, and that wasn’t too far away from Bryston. And even better, unlike many speaker companies, they had the facilities to manufacture their own drivers and they had their own large anechoic chamber, an invaluable tool very few manufacturers have. Having drivers made to spec rather than using drivers bought from OEM manufacturers is a huge advantage. Crossover design is more straight forward and overall results potentially superior. The crossover needs to do less work to compensate for driver anomalies all drivers have. An anechoic chamber on site speeds up the design procedure giving rapid feedback during the design process. So an alliance was made with Axiom with James acting as the project leader and design leader.
Before the Mini T speakers arrived, I was sent graphs of their on axis frequency response and power response(averaged response of many frequency curves on and off axis) taken in an anechoic chamber. Both curves were dead flat smooth after the bass roll off region. There was a slight slope, a couple of DBs towards the treble range in the on axis curve. This is often good. Many recordings are bright and a flat curve will emphasize this brightness so many designers adapt this slope. What was even more interesting is that the power response curve looked almost the same except the slope was a bit faster but it was just as smooth.
I sent the curves to my friend Murray Zeligman, who designed my reference speakers. Murray is often unusually adept at relating measurements and sound. I once saw him select a cartridge just using a frequency curve, a separation curve and a 1 KHz square wave out of a group of about 60 pickups, not knowing what any other pickups were, telling me he wanted that cartridge and he knew what it sounded like. It was a Technics 205C, not your usual fave cartridge. We both bought them and he was dead on the money. Murray got back to me telling me that this was probably a very nice speaker. The smoothness of both curves was obvious but it was the power response that was most illuminating. It implied very good integration of the three drivers. It’s often difficult to integrate drivers of different sizes at their crossover points. Their dispersion is often radically different because the larger driver has narrowing dispersion and the smaller one has very wide dispersion. This dispersion difference is what people usually are hearing when they say they can hear the crossover. It appeared Bryston had solved this problem very nicely, another good omen.
Mies van de Rohe, the great architect and father of the 20th Century glass sky scraper, once said that, God is in the details. He should have said it about dynamic speakers. Dynamic speakers are basically simple but it’s the details of driver design, crossover design and box design that separate great dynamic speakers from good ones. The Model T is a good example. And the Model T features were handed right down to its siblings.
I’ve already mentioned driver design and the its relationship to crossover design. Good drivers and good crossover design are the main keys to low coloration. They are also fundamental to dynamic linearity. Designing your own drivers makes it simpler to design more linear crossover/driver combinations. James made the Model T, and subsequently all Bryston, even the smaller ones like the Mini T, speakers 3 way. Spreading the input over multiple drivers helps keep the voice coils cooler. Heat raises the resistance of the wire voice coils which reduces their linearity. Spreading the spectrum over multiple voice coils keeps them coiler. The model T takes this a step further with multiple drivers per audio band, using three woofers, two midranges, and double tweeters.
The cabinet design is very well thought out. Until the last decade or two cabinet design has been the poor sister in speaker design. But just put your hand on a speaker playing even moderately loud. It’s evident its vibrating. And if it’s vibrating it’s acting as a secondary radiator. The inherent assumption in speaker design is that only the drivers are radiating sound. If the cabinet is vibrating it’s radiating unintended sound, distortion, and since it’s a resonance this distortion not evenly spread out, not a good thing. Stop and think how much larger the surface area of the cabinet is compared to the driver area and you realize it doesn’t take much box resonance to color and muddy the sound of a good driver/crossover.
There have been many attempts to limit box radiation. This is especially true in costly speakers. Indeed this is often a large portion of their cost of manufacturing along with minimizing panel resonance, why many audiophiles who mainly look at the drivers often complain the money isn’t in a speaker. Speaker cost escalates rapidly with added box complexity. A short aside here. Some manufacturer ads claim their boxes are acoustically dead. There’s no such thing. Everything vibrates. Good design minimizes this vibration and places it where it’s less noxious. It never eliminates it.
Bryston does a nice, sophisticated job with their enclosures. The normal rule of thumb is to make rigid panels to raise their resonant frequencies(the one exception is BBC design like the LS3/5a where the voice range is so important to the BBC that they design the resonance below the voice range and try to dampen it). In a flat, rectangular panel the important dimension, which defines the panel resonance, is the shorter width, not the longer length. The less the width the more rigid it is and the higher the resonance. This(and the smaller surface area) probably explains a lot of why a good small speaker can be so highly rated.
All Bryston speakers are six sided(sort of 8 sided but more on this later). The front and rear are parallel but of differing widths which means they have different resonance. The sides are V shaped which makes the two pieces narrower than a single flat panel and thus higher in resonance. And the top and bottom are hexagonal also minimizing resonance. So Brystons have multiple, relatively high box panel resonance which are also spread out so they aren’t additive at any one frequency.
There’s another source of distortion in the conventional six sided box, the 90 degree corners . When sound traverses the front plate and hit a corner it can’t turn the corner and it diffracts and becomes a secondary radiator, time delayed, another source of non-driver distortion. At bass frequencies these corners are acoustically invisible but with rising frequencies the problem becomes more and more serious. But if the angle made by the side and front of the box is reduced as it is with the hexagonal shape of the Brystons this diffraction is significantly reduced in the horizontal plane. And it is reduced even further because Bryston adds a narrow strip(the 8 sided comment above) between the front and first side panel so the corner is turned in two steps cutting the angular change in half. The 90 degree turns at the top and bottom will act as diffraction points but this will have its main affect in vertical dispersion which is not as important as the affect in the horizontal plane. In addition the hexagonal design means there are three sets of parallel sides instead of four sets in a conventional box, eliminating one source of internal standing waves. Bryston didn’t stop there with the cabinet. They made the front panel, the one that first must handle the reactions from the drivers, extra thick. Plus there’s extensive front to back and side to side internal bracing to further reduce resonance.
This is a pretty costly cabinet to make. And at$2695 this is where the standard vinyl finish comes in. Bryston wanted to hold down the cost of manufacture as much as possible . The extra $500 saved over the optional wood veneer is a large factor here. And the vinyl records used today look better and better, although they still aren’t quite like a real veneer. And unless there’s a serious WAF factor this is a great allotment of funds.
Earlier I mentioned the first Bryston floor standing speaker in this series used multiple woofers, midranges and tweeters to reduce the load on each individual driver and to increase the handling of dynamics. In a speaker the size of the Mini T there isn’t enough space on the front to do this. But most speakers this size are two ways, not three ways And the woofers are usually 6 ½ inches or smaller rather than the 8 inch woofer in the Mini T. Even if there are two smaller woofers the Mini T woofer is at least as large in surface area or larger than most competitors. And since there is a mid-range driver in the 3 way Mini T, the input power of the two way woofer band width is still shared by two drivers. Design wise the Mini T has the potential for excellent dynamic linearity for a speaker of its size.
I went into these details because they matter and because they show the manufacturer really cares. These are the type of factors that are the difference between a good speaker and a very good speaker. The omens kept adding up.
The Mini T speakers were set up near field, my preferred listening position, in a roughly equilateral triangle well away from my back wall and a couple of feet from the side walls. They were moderately toed in but not directly firing at my head. I set them on a set of Heybrook speaker stands that were placed on a 16” by 16” by 1” concrete paving block that sitting on my wood floor. I’ve found using the paving block rather than using the stands directly on the floor results in noticeably less feedback. In between the floor and the blocks and also between the stands and the block and between the speakers and the stands I used 3 sets of 3 original Mod Squad Tip Toes. I want my speakers to be a rigidly positioned as possible. I handle any acoustic feedback into the rest of the system, often a significant distortion in a good system by isolating all the rest of the components on squash balls sitting in furniture cups for stability. I have to give credit for this idea to a fellow New Jersey Audio Society member Igor Kuznetsoff of K Works who is always ready with tons of good free audio advice even though he’s in also the audio business. As my reference I used my Froy III speakers without the 18” woofers to make a fairer comparison bass wise.
I found the Mini T to be a really difficult speaker to review. That was because it was quickly obvious that this was a really good speaker, a perhaps perilous leap I know. But it was clear this was a well balanced, low coloration product that went about half an octave lower than my reference FROY III speakers(they go down nicely to the mid 40s without the 18 inch woofer) with no easily obvious problems on my initial casual listening. It’s easiest to review a product, even when it’s good, when there are a few factors that stick out, either good and/or bad to concentrate on. But nothing stuck out during my initial sessions of just listening to and enjoying music. Then again with nothing dominating the attention you can get an total impression more rapidly. It wasn’t like it completely blew my mind right away. It just sounded really good with no obvious audiophile affects to draw my attention away from the music, a good beginning. It was like the student that gets low to mid 90s in every course. He’s not the valedictorian but he’s a heck of a student. For a $2700 product in a land of 5 and 6 figure products, that’s a fine start. Almost every time a speaker just sounds good the first listen with no overt affects it’s almost always a good one. The question only becomes how good.
As usual, except when reviewing an analogue product like a phono stage, I began with the same two CDs I use 99% of the time, The Pentangle(Castle 06076 81120-2) and Kissin’s piano Pictures at an Exhibition(RCA BG2 63884) because they’re perfect for judging dynamic linearity, Pentangle for low and middle level dynamics and Kissin for high level(there’s nothing like a good piano recording for massive, short dynamic swings). I’m repeating myself and I’m sure I’ll do it again, dynamics are the number one factor for me in making reproduced sound seem real and, recall that dynamics were a prime objective in the Bryston’s design brief. Plus the Pentangle drums are a good test of mid bass performance. And lousy mid bass seems to foul up not only that region but it also almost always muddles the next couple of higher octaves. And while I’d never dare to judge a product with just these two CDs I’ve yet to find a product that handled these CDs well that I didn’t rate highly. I could almost stop here but I always want to play a wide variety of music, especially simple voice and massed instruments just to be sure and to catch minor nuances that might need mention.
On The Pentangle the guitar strings snapped. They had a jump affect that I want and I’m used to hearing on better speakers. And I could hear the sound of the plucked guitar decay cleanly with detail, another important factor in reproduction and necessary in any speaker I’d want to own. Startup of a tone is easier to capture than decay because any vibrating device like a speaker takes time to mechanically decay and the faster that occurs the better the detail and the sense of dynamics. Stopping is harder to reproduce because of the tendency of mechanical vibrating devices to want to continue to vibrate, stopping slowly rather than instantly as often necessary in sound reproduction. When the acoustic bass is played with a bow I can easily hear the slight raspiness that is the mini dynamics, the subtle changes in level caused by the bow going across the strings. The tones should not be absolutely smooth if your system is high definition. Similarly you can hear the texture, the variation in mini dynamics in Jacqui McShee’s voice. Real voice is also not smooth. It varies slightly, up and down, in subtle dynamics, even at a constant level, if the recording is good enough. An important asset of the Mini T.
There is an acoustic bass solo played with a bow on Pentangle. Small speakers usually don’t reach quite low enough with enough energy to reproduce this with full scale. The Mini T has no problem with this. It’s rated down to the mid 30s and that’s what’s needed to reproduce the bass here with a full sense of the sonic energy. This is excellent performance for a speaker the size the Mini T. Here is a small speaker with at least an extra half octave of bass reach over similarly sized speakers that only shows bass limitations with organs and some synthetic music.
I hate muddled, ripe mid bass. Besides what it does to the mid bass, it also muddles up a couple of octaves above the mid bass. I love the drums, especially the drum solos, on the Pentangle album for judging mid bass and its affects. On a good speaker you can close your eyes and imagine the head of the drum returning to its original position after being struck. The Mini T passed this test well. No it doesn’t do it quite as well as my reference speakers with 18” woofers in a line tunnel. But it’s close. Recall the analogy to the good student who just isn’t the head of his class.
On the Kissin Pictures the piano sounds big as it should on the Mini T. Not as big as a real piano(I’ve never heard a system that can do that) nor as large as a few of the really good large speakers but way bigger than a speaker this size has any right to sound. If you close your eyes, suspend belief and try to make believe you’re in a live venue it’s good enough for me to make believe it’s real at times, a difficult achievement for a speaker. And when Kissin really bangs a key, when the instantaneous dynamics, measure in multiple tens of Dbs, the Mini T doesn’t make the tones sound a damped, screaming reproduced sound at you.
I wrote a few paragraphs ago, every speaker I’ve heard that sounds good on these two CDs has been a fine product. So I was sure I had a good one here. But it takes a little more listening to cement a final decision. I had, of course, done tons of casual listening before I sat down to play critic so I wasn’t worried. But the major critical listening test missing was a large scale orchestral piece. I like to use a piece many of us are familiar with, the Reference Recording, Rutter Requiem(RR-57CD). I find Reference Recording software to be at the top of the heap for realistic sound. Their octave to octave balance seems so realistic. They capture scale and detail in an completely natural way. The detail is all there but without any artificial emphasis. It doesn’t force itself on you like some super detailed recordings. And the top end is wonderful. It goes out naturally without calling attention to itself. I often find myself thinking an audio device is a little bright and I’m ready to criticize it. Then I put on a Reference Recording and everything just sounds right. I suspect RR gets it real and too much software gets it hi fi.
I’ve been a huge fan of Joan Baez and the folk movement of the 60s. She was a subtle performer with a voice an angel would have been jealous of. Unless you were there you can’t imagine how popular Joan was. My college record store couldn’t keep her first three Vanguard albums(there were two earlier albums most fans are not aware of, especially the first one she would like to disown). These albums were wonderful examples of a single singer and a guitar making simple but sophisticated, beautiful music. And Vanguard Records, a family owned business, did a lovely job of recording her(and everything else they recorded). My favorite is the first Vanguard album, Joan Baez(VMD 2077). At first it seems like just an album of a female singer and accompanying guitar doing a nice job singing simple folk songs. But there’s a lot of subtleties going on, the vibrato of Joan’s voice and small, but significant, changes in the loudness of her voice that Joan uses to add just a taste of emotion into her presentation without really upsetting the unemotional, story telling approach that is the classical method of singing traditional folk music(as opposed to modern ‘folk music’ where the author is known and isn’t folk music in the original sense) . The Mini T captures all these small but important variables. And that you’re in the first row sensing the nuances I described of the folk singer and her guitar singing alone of the big stage in front of you.
On Requiem the Mini T presented a large three dimensional soundstage, way larger than my room they were playing in. This feeling of space extended beyond the side walls. The height went up into the apartment above me. And the depth made me feel like it could go out my living room window and leave the cold autumn air in. The sound stage was a wide, continuous expanse in front of me. I heard the orchestra and voices as one large integrated image. But if I wanted to I could concentrate on individual sources as one can at a live concert. If it sounds like I’m raving about this aspect of the Mini T’s performance here, I am. This is the one time where my analogy to the excellent student collapses. In this course the Mini T simply excels and is at the head of the class. I’m not so surprised about the depth and width. The cabinet construction minimizing horizontal diffraction should explain that. But one would expect diffraction at the top and bottom because the cabinet bends sharply there. But that’s what I heard and I love it and that’s why we ultimately judge by listening, of course. And the top end sounded natural and extended on this most natural reference CD.
I’ve been a big fan of Allison Krauss since her first album. I always get a smile listening to her because she is known as a wonderful country singer but she’s even a better fiddle player. She was winning national fiddle competitions when she was a teenager. It would be cool if she did some long solos on her albums. I’d love if some classical composer who understood country sound would write a fiddle concerto for Allison.
But that’s a bit off the subject. Her CD Paper Airplane(Rounder 11661-0665-2) is a typically wonderful and well recorded album done with her backup group, Union Station. I played the title cut and everything was fine except for one small factor I hadn’t noticed before while using the Mini T. There was a fullness, a bloom to the bass I hadn’t noted before. This is a nitpick. Let me explain further. First, I’m an advocate of extremely tight bass. I suspect I like my bass reproduction much tighter than almost all audiophiles. Second, part of the problem was the recording. Even on my highly damped system I was now aware of the fullness. Third, the Mini T bass was very tuneful so it wasn’t boomy, one note bass or anything close to that. And recall I had played tons of music up to this point and until I noticed this affect here I hadn’t been aware of it before. But it was there. So I purchased a Radio Shack meter and measured the woofer bass near-field and also measured the port response and and the bass was up a few Dbs. The bass was rising slowly up to its roll off point(just like the curves Bryston published). But to put it in perspective unless you’re even pickier than I am about bass you probably won’t give a darn. And I’d have no problem living with the Mini T bass. It’s excellent other than when the software being played makes it evident. And perhaps this is just a case of the reviewer feeling the need to find at least one negative point to write about.
I’m lucky to have a private recording of Carmina Burana done by Gordon Holt and Steve Stone. It’s marvelous. Gordon loved recording and was as good at it as he was at audio criticism. And I know his approach to making this recording from conversations with Gordon. Gordon believed in doing as little as possible to capture a live performance as near to what he heard while recording it as possible, the absolute sound? This recording was done with a minimum of manipulation. The recording level was set during rehearsals. And the recording was then done directly into the digital tape machine. There is no compression at all. Finally the recording was transferred to CD directly exactly as it came from tape. The sound is big both dynamically and spatially. And it’s the type of recording where if you set the listening level comfortably at lower level passages you find yourself tempted to run and drop the volume level. I’m lucky. Even though I live in an apartment with another above me, my neighbors never complain. And I did have to resist that temptation many times playing this piece. Most importantly the Mini T pair, even though they’re small came through with flying colors doing full justice to my only JGH recording.
I could go on like this. I have more notes about the sonics of the Mini T. But I think you get the point. This is an excellent, well-engineered small speaker that does essentially everything well. It reproduces dynamics well. It has good octave to octave balance and has no obvious coloration. It has wide bandwidth particularly, particularly in the bass, for a small speaker. And it’s not expensive. I think it’s a bargain and it’s the kind of speaker I could live with, a highly recommended speaker with a great warranty from a consumer friendly company.
Analog: VPI HW-19 Mk 1 turntable with Mk 4 platter and VPI Isolator suspension, Fidelity Research FR64fx tonearm, Shure V15 V MR cartridge with Jico SAS stylus, Technics EPC-205C Mk 2 cartridge with Jico SAS stylus, Goldbug Clement II cartridge, Sumiko head shell.
Digital: GeorgeMark Audio DAC/line stage, Pioneer DV-563A DVD player (used as a CD transport), two Monarchy DIP digital processors in series.
Tuner: Sony XDR-F1HD.
Preamplifier: GeorgeMark Audio DAC/line stage.
Power amplifier: Sunfire 300.
Loudspeakers: SEAS Froy III with two 18" woofers and two external passive crossovers.
Interconnects: BetterCables Silver Serpent 8 meter(line stage/amp), Nordost Heimdall, AudioQuest Black Mamba.
Speaker cables: Four-foot lengths of 14-gauge Parts Express High Definition multistrand cable to connect amp to crossover and crossover to speaker drivers.
Power cords: Pangea AC-14.
Power conditioners: API Power Wedge II (for amp), PS Audio Premier AC (for all components but the amp).
Equipment rack, platforms and accessories: IKEA screwed-and-glued stacked coffee tables used as an equipment rack, modified Lead Balloon platform, caster cups and squash balls for isolation, Mod Squad Tip Toes, VPI Bricks, VPI HW-16 record cleaner.