When James Tanner (Bryston V.P. of Sales and Marketing) first envisioned a Bryston-designed loudspeaker in 2009 his ambitions were modest. Since the release of the Model T loudspeaker in 2012, however, the project has grown exponentially, and has been received with overwhelming success by the consumer audio community. Dealers, customers and reviewers alike have been unanimous in their praise of numerous Bryston model loudspeakers, and demand has far exceeded expectations.
I have particular insight into the process that led to the introduction of Bryston’s first loudspeaker line because I was lucky enough to witness and, to a lesser extent, participate in its evolution. A number of factors contributed to Bryston’s positive venture into the loudspeaker industry, and each can be traced back to Tanner, the man at the heart of the project.
I’ve known James Tanner a long time. We met in the bar of the Hotel Intercontinental during the Canadian Music & Multimedia Show in 1996 when Ernie Fisher, editor-in-chief of The Inner Ear Report introduced us. If I recall correctly, the three of us shared some cognac (this would have been Ernie’s doing) and a few hours of audio and music chatter. Over the close-to-twenty years that we’ve known each other, Tanner and I have developed a mutual respect that is borne out of an appreciation for each other’s work and commitment to good audio.
While Bryston amplifiers and digital electronics have been the focal point of any demonstration of Bryston equipment that Tanner invited me to attend, there was, naturally, always a pair of loudspeakers involved. As a result, I have seen him champion a large number of speaker brands alongside Bryston equipment. Thiel, Quad, Dynaudio, Magnapan, Martin Logan, JBL, KEF, Tannoy and Sanders Sound Systems are just a few of the memorable brands I’ve heard presented with Bryston electronics.
In 1995 Bryston established a formal relationship with British Loudspeaker manufacturer PMC, in which Bryston managed the distribution of PMC loudspeakers in Canada and the United States. Following this strategic partnership, for a number of years Bryston was synonymous with PMC within the consumer and professional audio industries here in North America. During this period, when I ran into Tanner at various Hi-Fi events and professional audio conventions, I saw first-hand that his commitment to PMC was as strong as his commitment to Bryston.
In the mid-2000’s PMC ended the North American distribution agreement with Bryston (PMC still manages Bryston in the U.K.). While the relationship between the two companies was a successful one, (Bryston & PMC still co-exist within a large number of professional sound studios), the end of the partnership brought a sort of liberation for Tanner. As V.P. of Sales and Marketing, Tanner is at the front of the line in terms of Bryston’s public image, and during the PMC years the British manufacturer dominated any conversation about Bryston electronics and loudspeakers. But with the break from PMC, suddenly Tanner was free again to present Bryston equipment with any loudspeaker manufacturer he chose.
Shortly after the split, I recall Tanner mentioning that he was excited to be able to pair Bryston equipment with other speaker brands. He felt that the best way to remain educated, and to offer his customers first-hand experience as to how Bryston equipment performed with different loudspeakers, was to listen to Bryston electronics with as many speaker brands as possible.
The mid-to-late-2000s saw a number of loudspeakers find a place alongside Bryston equipment at Tanner’s home in Whitby, Ontario. The three most memorable set-ups that I recall included a Bryston-Quad 2905 combination, a pair of Sanders Sound Systems Model 10 Active Hybrid ESL loudspeakers with dual 14Bsst2 amplifiers, and an elaborate Thiel system that incorporated a pair of 3.7 loudspeakers, two SS1 subwoofers and two Bryston 28bsst2 amplifiers. All three systems sounded wonderful in their own way (more on these later).
It was in July of 2010 that I first heard mention of the idea of a Bryston-built loudspeaker. A month earlier Tanner had asked if I would consider writing a report on Bryston’s upcoming BDP1 digital music player. He knew I had already been experimenting with high-resolution audio at home and that I also had professional knowledge of computer-based audio playback. While at my house with what was then a proto-type of the BDP1 (I’ve written reports on both the BDP1 and BDP2 for The Inner Ear and The High Fidelity Report), as we sat listening to music via my pro-like ATC SCM40 floor standing speakers, Tanner asked my thoughts on professional loudspeaker manufacturers. We discussed ATC, PMC, Dynaudio, Focal, Meyer and a smaller, lesser-known Canadian speaker-maker, Axiom Audio. He explained that he was looking to collaborate on a personal speaker project, wanting to design an active loudspeaker system that would incorporate Bryston electronics, the main goal being a ready-made, predictable sounding, active speaker system that Tanner could use for demonstration purposes alongside Bryston amplification. At the time he described it as a sort of vanity project, small in scale and mostly for his own private use.
A few months later Tanner indicated that he had made progress on the speaker project with Axiom Audio, and their owner & chief engineer, Ian Colquhoun. According to Tanner, his relationship with Colquhoun has deep roots. They met in the early 1980’s during an acoustics research project being conduced by the National Research Council Lab in Ottawa, Canada. Tanner said he was happy that Colquhoun was receptive to collaborating with him on his speaker project as he’s always been impressed with the high price-performance ratio of Axiom loudspeakers, with Colquhoun’s continued work with the NRC lab, and with his collaboration with Dr. Floyd Toole on acoustical research and loudspeaker design. In addition to Colquhoun, acoustician and speaker designer Andrew Welker is part of Axiom’s loudspeaker design team. After a series of planning conversations between Tanner, Colquhoun and Welker the Bryston Model T loudspeaker project began.
While the engineering and design process was new to Tanner, his years of pairing different loudspeakers with Bryston amplifiers gave him a strong foundation of listening experience that allowed him to define the technical parameters and performance goals for the speaker-in-progress. His lack of design experience was more than compensated for by Colquhoun and Welker’s decades of knowledge and acoustical expertise.
They started working together by listening to a pair of Axiom M80 loudspeakers with various Bryston amplifiers at Tanner’s house. At under $2k a pair, the M80’s are a relatively modest loudspeaker, however they boast outstanding technical specifications, and possess two audible characteristics that Tanner found appealing, namely their wide dynamic range and excellent off-axis response. With the M80’s as the starting point, Tanner, Colquhoun and Welker began looking at all the components within the loudspeaker, searching for a combination that would lead them to an ‘ideal’ Bryston loudspeaker.
Tanner was ultimately looking for a high performance speaker that would boast strong power handling capabilities as well as the ability to reach high SPL levels before reaching any level of audible distortion or dynamic compression. He knew he wanted a three-way design with separate bass, midrange and tweeter drivers. He was also steadfast in the concept of providing an active power amplification version. After a period of time it was clear to all three of them that they would need both larger and more robust components than those employed by Axiom within their own loudspeaker line.
Since the speaker being developed was larger than any current Axiom model, Colquhoun and Welker started by designing a new, customized 8” woofer driver, engineering a completely new crossover unit, and building all new cabinetry, sturdy enough to provide the necessary bracing for the more robust components. For the remaining drivers, they ended up with a modified 5 ¼” midrange unit, making adjustments to an Axiom designed midrange with changes to the suspension and motor systems to accommodate the double midrange-driver concept. A titanium dome tweeter, designed and built entirely in-house by Axiom, was the last component employed in the new speaker (See P.S.).
Though the M80 put Tanner, Colquhoun and Welker on the same page, the Bryston loudspeaker was actually being engineered from the ground up. After a year of design and development, conducted almost exclusively at Axiom’s facility in Dwight, Ontario, utilizing their own anechoic chamber (identical to the NRC’s acoustic research chamber) and manufacturing facilities, the first ever Bryston loudspeaker started to take shape. While the project was still being talked about as a personal venture for Tanner, it was becoming clear that it had evolved into something more significant than a private demonstration system.
Bryston officially introduced the Model T loudspeaker at the King Edward Hotel in Toronto as part of the TAVES2012 home entertainment show, available in both passive and active versions as per Tanner’s original vision.
The launch was so successful that expansion soon followed. The Model T is now just one of several options in Bryston’s T-series of loudspeakers. The full line-up includes a smaller floor-standing speaker called the Middle T, a stand-mount Mini-T, two subwoofers along with both on-wall and in-wall models. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to all of the available speakers (except the in-wall model) since the release of the original Model T, which I heard for the first time during a spring visit to Tanner’s house, a few months prior to the TAVES2012 launch. The trip was memorable as the beginning of my own auditory discovery of the Bryston speaker line.
Let me provide a bit of context. Tanner has three listening rooms of various sizes. During a previous 2012 visit, about six months before I first heard the Model T, he had three exceptional systems in operation. The small room, with the Quad 2905 ESL loudspeakers and a Bryston 2.5Bsst2 possessed a gentle, warm character that was very easy to listen to. The medium sized space, with the Sanders Sound Systems Model 10 hybrid-ESL speakers, sounded exceptionally revealing and offered a glorious musical presentation. His large room, which has always been the most impressive, contained the Thiel 3.7s and SS1 combination.
Predictably, the new Bryston Model Ts were in the large space where the Thiel speakers had been. When we started listening it took very little time to realize that Tanner, Colquhoun and Welker were on to something special. The sound of the Model Ts was effortless, incredibly dynamic, and nuanced. Spatial energy and off-axis response was excellent. What I heard was, in my opinion, the best overall musical presentation I’ve experienced in Tanner’s large room. It was easily one of the finest music listening experiences I’ve ever had. My strongest recollection from that first exposure to the Model Ts was how effortless they made music playback seem. They did everything well and filled the room with a beautiful amount of musical energy. It was breathtaking.
My next experience listening to Bryston’s loudspeakers came sometime in early 2013, during a visit with Ernie and Cheryl Fisher at The Inner Ear. Fisher had both the passive Model Ts and the stand-mounted Mini Ts in for review and invited me over for a listen. We spent hours alternating between different speaker and amplifier combinations, included Fisher’s Bryston 7Bsst2 mono-block amplifiers, my Allnic T2000 integrated tube amplifier and an Aesthetix Atlas stereo power amplifier. It was a lovely day, full of exploration, curiosity and great music. Fisher has since written articles on both the Model T and the Mini T, and I experienced much of what he documented during our visit that day.
The following year, in September of 2013, Fisher decided to use a pair of the new Mini Ts for his room at TAVES2013 back at the King Edward Hotel. Rather than pair the speakers with the obvious choice of a Bryston amplifier, however, Fisher set the Mini Ts up with a lovely but inexpensive Unison Research Simply Italy tube amplifier ($2500). The Simply Italy is an EL34 based integrated amplifier that puts out a modest 12 single-ended, Class-A watts – a small amplifier to pair with the Bryston Mini-T speakers, one would think. But there was a point to Fisher’s system design. It challenged assumptions about electronics combinations that on paper appear to be a bad fit. It was a shrewd decision; the room was gentle, pleasant and accomplished exactly what Fisher had set out to do. It presented an engaging, simple and affordable Hi-Fi system to an enthusiastic crowd of music lovers.
Eventually I asked Tanner if I could try a pair of Bryston speakers myself. By the early winter of 2014 a pair of Bryston built Middle T loudspeakers adorned my listening room. I spent about six weeks with them. While private time in your own listening room is normally when you learn the most about a component’s character, by then I had already spent enough time with various Bryston model speakers, in various settings, that I was already intimately familiar with their sonic character. The six weeks simply provided confirmation of that which I already knew.
With the Model T series of loudspeakers Tanner, Colquhoun and Welker have designed and built what could be considered a perfect Bryston model loudspeaker. If you like Bryston amplifiers, I suspect you will like these speakers. They are perhaps the most dynamically controlled loudspeakers I have ever heard. They are technically accurate, with outstanding measured specifications. They possess amazing off-axis response and they are, most importantly, musically nuanced across the entire frequency spectrum.
The Model T Measurements @ 45, 60, 75 degrees
I feel that three main factors contribute to Bryston’s success with the Model T and its subsequent sibling speakers. First, Tanner’s experience with so many different models of loudspeakers prior to the development of the Model T meant he started the project with a strong, focused vision about how a Bryston speaker should sound. Second, Tanner’s partnership with Coquhoun and Welker, both of whom possessed vast acoustic and loudspeaker design experience, meant he could skip past many of the early pitfalls a new design team might encounter. Finally, Bryston’s partnership with Axiom Audio was a key component in its success. If Tanner had attempted this project on his own he might have reached the same end goal, but the total cost of the project would have been far greater, and the resulting cost of the loudspeaker to the consumer far higher. The partnership with Axiom brought Coquhoun and Welker’s years of experience, Axiom’s private anechoic chamber for research and testing, and all of Axiom’s in-house design and manufacturing facilities to the project. Had Bryston needed to invest the capital required for this level of R & D on their own, Tanner speculated, the Model T would likely have ended up costing close to three times the price. I do feel that, in an era when the prices for Hi-End audio components are growing exceptionally high, part of the appeal of Bryston’s new loudspeakers line is their price and their overall cost/performance ratio.
When Tanner first mentioned the idea of a Bryston speaker back in 2010, I’ll admit that I was initially skeptical. Why bother, I thought? Why not continue working successfully with other loudspeaker brands? Surely such a project would be fraught with obstacles and would have a small likelihood of success. I was wrong. Bryston’s foray into loudspeaker design may be the best product decision they have ever made. The Bryston T-series speakers sound excellent, are well built, are in high demand, and they have been met with great accolades by the Hi-Fi press. Though his ambition was (and I believe it to be true) small, the results have proven to be rather large.
James Tanner and the Model T in custom white lacquer finish
I’ve been impressed with every Bryston model loudspeaker I’ve heard. The sample Middle Ts I auditioned, priced at $4695.00, are an outstanding value in an extremely competitive medium-sized floor-standing loudspeaker market. The Model Ts, in the currently available Signature version, are the best overall loudspeakers Bryston build. At $7495.00 they also represent high value in today’s Hi-End audio market. Fisher’s favourite, the Mini-Ts, ($2695.00) possess most of the sonic attributes of the two larger models, except perhaps their extreme dynamic level capabilities and low bass energy, and are the best overall bargain in the T-series.
By this time positive reviews and press coverage has been plentiful, and James Tanner’s vision for Bryston to provide a fully integrated home audio solution has proven an overwhelming success. The T-series loudspeakers fairly deserve all the accolades they receive.
Over the past year Bryston has not sat on the laurels. Searching for improvements in performance, a new titanium tweeter has been developed for all speaker models. The new tweeter has a die-cast aluminum face plate for better rigidity and cooling, a new horn design to provide smoother off-axis response above 12 kHz and a larger rear chamber that lowers the resonance frequency further below the crossover region. The new tweeter can also handle significantly more power than the older version. The new tweeter is available as a drop-in replacement with any Bryston speaker and is available for $90.00.