I've been enjoying and making do with (in equal measure) my second hand PMC FB1's, Musical Fidelity A3cr pre/power and A3 CD kit for something like ten years now and I recently decided the time had come to upgrade as far as my average sized living room, wallet and middle aged ears would allow. Having spent several person-weeks browsing the internet including just about every forum going I got round to auditiioning Bryston amplification and more up-market PMC speakers. Thankyou to Paul at Zinc-HT of Borehamwood for helping with that.
The first upgrade happened last month with the acquistion of a used Resolution Audio Opus 21 from a vinyl head in south London. He rarely used it having some really exotic vinyl replay with an enormous turntable and a perpendicular tracking tonearm floating on a feed of air pumped from the bedroom above! I guess some wammers will recognise this? Anyway, the Opus 21 seems really good as far as CD goes with fine detail and clarity. So my Musical Fidelity A3 CD player will need a new home.
The second upgrade took place this week with the arrival of a brand new Bryston 4BSST2 imported from Hong Kong at little more than half the retail price here in the UK. Don't ask me how. Anyway, it works, at least it did after some problems getting the relay circuit breaker mains switch to operate without tripping the circuit breaker on my ring main! I have not started serious listening yet and will be upgrading my cables first. I'm planning to experiment with direct input from the balanced Opus CD output to the Bryston as well as single ended source switching and volume control through the Musical Fidelity A3cr pre-amp. There's a switch on the back of Bryston allowing selection of single ended or balanced inputs, so no lead swapping needed to switch betwen music replay via the A3 or direct. Shame the switch is round the back and not remote controllable.
Back to Paul's demos at Zinc_HT, I have to say I was surprised to find a range of middle and high end kit on demo in proper demo rooms at a warehose store which also sells TV's and fridges. Comet it isn't, but a surprise nonetheless. Paul is a really nice, helpful guy who has owned his own Bryston kit. The location is really handy too, being just an easy ten minute drive from South Mimms on the M25.
I demo'd the latest model of my own speakers first, the PMC FB1i signatures, through all-Bryston amplification, including their BP26 pre-amp, BDA-1 DAC fed by Bryston's BCD-1 and the 4BSST2. Can't say I liked what I heard, as the sound, though very transparent, had what I thought of as a metallic sheen to it, others might use a different adjective, nasal even. I then listened to the PMC OB1i's, but this time with my own Opus 21 CD player (the first time I had actually switched it on!) through the BP26 pre-amp but using the DAC in the Opus. This sounded much more natural, although we never went back to check whether the Bryston CD and DAC or the FB1i signatures were responsible for that metallic sound. I suspect the speakers. I was pleased firstly that my Opus 21 (for which I'd paid only £1,100) seemed to concede nothing to the much more expensive Bryston CDP and DAC. The Opus / Bryston / OB1i sound was obviously superior to the FB1i signatures albeit with different CD player sources. There was just a bit more of everything and a more natural presentation, with none of the metallic sheen previously experienced. I still thought that the bottom end was a bit lacking though - no sign of the famed Bryston grunt. My CD listening, by the way, was Metronomy, Fleet Foxes, Norah Jones and The Mummers.
Next up came the Fact 8's from PMC. These were incredibly detailed and dynamic, and were very listenable. The sound was if anything a tad more open and transparent than the OB1's which were not lacking at all to my ears in these depoartments. The Fact 8 bass was impressively strong and punchy for a speaker with such small bass drivers, conceding nothing to the larger OB1i. The Fact 8 was a touch more strong in the upper mid voice range frequencies whilst being smooth and clear (Paul called it forward) and I thought the treble and middle were better integrated and seamless, whereas the OB1's were more laid back but with the treble frequencies sometimes seeming a bit detached. I'd guess the Fact 8 has better cross-over implementation. But there was not a light and day difference and I felt i could live with either, except that I was still not hearing as much powerful and tight deep bass as I'd expected to come from the Bryston. I had to book another date to hear the new PMC PB1i's which would need to be obtained from PMC and which Paul reckoned would show me that missing deep bass, having twin bass drivers and a larger cabinet.
At this stage I should also mention that my introduction to Zinc_HT was triggered by wammer Tony Lazzerini's sale of his PMC EB1i speakers which I was going to listen to at Zinc-HT, Paul being a friend of Tony's. I never did get to hear the EB1's which Tony predicted would out-perform all the speakers I was auditioning including the replacement PB1i model. Unfortunately, I decided that the EB1's would be simply too big physically for my room, with likely bass and placement problems. My other half was rather emphatic in this analysis, in that they were definitely too big and they were also the wrong colour! Tony quickly found another buyer though. One day I may hear the EB1 but not in my house! Everything even higher up the PMC range and their pro-range would also be too big, of inappropriate appearance and too expensive!
Back to Zinc-HT a week later to hear the PB1i's. I began where I had left off the week before with my "new old" CD player feeding the BP26 and 4BSST2 into the Fact 8's. I then switched to the OB1i, repeating the difficulty in deciding which of these two I preferred. Then the PB1i resolved the dilemma with an immediately obvious superiority to both of the others with the best of both worlds and more. Everything gelled, a tremendously open and transparent but very natural and smooth sound, seamlessly integrated (better than OB1) accompanied by very deep bass only hinted at by the OB1 and the Faxct 8. The bass was still very tight but you could feel it as well as hear it, and at modest listening levels. Eureka. Now I have to persuade my wife to let me spend another £6k. The savings on the second-hand CD and the imported Bryston will help!
Next will be my search for the best pre-amp, with everything from tubes to a used BP25 in the frame, or indeed a retained Musical Fidelity A3cr. I'll post more later once I have done some serious listening and installed better cables.