There aren't a whole lot of audio brands as universally respected as Bryston. They're popular with studio professionals. They're popular with audiophiles. And because Bryston has mostly stuck to what they know - high-end audio electronics and, in particular, amplifiers - the company has never sullied its brand with underperforming products or, worse, cheap mass-market junk. Now you see why Bryston's recent move into speakers is such a huge risk.
Fortunately, Bryston did it the smart way and brought in a partner: Axiom Audio, a Canadian speaker company. Like Bryston, Axiom Audio is known for straightforward, unglamorous, but well-engineered products. Not surprisingly, Axiom's engineering is heavily influenced by the pioneering work done at the Canadian National Research Council. In fact, Axiom founder Ian Colquhoun used to work there. Seems a perfect match for a company like Bryston, right?
So we have a straightforward amplifier company working with a straightforward speaker company. That doesn't seem an inspired pairing. Usually it works better when one partner is straightforward and the other adds a touch of whimsy. Think Jagger and Richards. Sonny and Cher. Obama and Biden.
The $4,500/pair Middle T - the smaller of Bryston's two new tower speakers - sure doesn't look inspired. It's just a boring, wood-veneered cabinet with angled sides and workaday dynamic drivers. The binding posts are ordinary red-n-black plastic jobs. The screws holding the drivers in place stick out a lot, giving the Middle T a bit of a homemade look. Bryston touts the benefits of the Middle T's custom-made drivers and heavily braced cabinet, but every speaker company says that. Okay, maybe not Monoprice, but every other speaker company says that.
The Middle T packs a pretty conventional driver load. Handling the mids and highs are a 1-inch titanium-dome tweeter and a 5.25-inch midrange with a cone made from ceramic-coated aluminum. The dual 8-inch woofers, also made with ceramic-coated aluminum cones, are about as deep as they are wide and look like they were stolen from a hopped-up Honda Civic on its way to a dB drag race.
Rest assured that the Middle T wasn't built on a whim. It's part of an extensive line of 15 speakers, which includes in-walls, on-walls, center speakers, and subwoofers. Thus, Bryston has all the models you need to put together anything from a purist two-channel rig to a full Dolby Atmos system.
So, what's sexy about this speaker? Why did I pitch it to HomeTheaterReview.com? Only one reason: because I heard it at the 2014 CES in Las Vegas, and it sounded good. Of course, that's a trade show, where the manufacturer had the chance to completely control my listening experience. What would the Middle T sound like when set up in my listening room, connected to my gear, playing my music?
I was lucky to have Bryston's Craig Bell drop by to help me with unpacking and setup. Beyond getting the speakers out of the boxes and the optional outriggers installed to make the speakers more stable, Craig didn't force any sort of Bryston ideology on me. He just told me to place the speakers where I had my Revel F206s set up, checked them to make sure they were in good working order, then left me to my listening.
For this review, I used my trusty Krell S-300i integrated amp, plus a wide variety of sources that included a Music Hall Ikura turntable run through an NAD PP-3 phono preamp; a Sony PHA-2 USB DAC/headphone amp connected to the Toshiba laptop that holds my music collection; and a Cambridge Audio DacMagic XS USB DAC/headphone amp with the same computer. I also used a Samsung BD-C6500 Blu-ray player.
The pair of Middle Ts was accommodating and unfussy in my listening room. With the rear panels 24 inches from my back wall, I got a nice balance between the bass and the mids and treble, although the Middle T has enough bass that I could have pulled the pair further out if I'd wanted to. I spread them out to a distance of about eight feet apart and about 9.5 feet from my head when I sat in my listening chair. This gave me the blend of spaciousness and solid center image that I like.
Bryston includes magnetically attached grilles, but I didn't use them.
I'm just gonna cut to the chase and say that the Middle T sounded so good that I listened to it mostly just for pure pleasure. Whenever I picked up a new (or old) record or bought a new download off Amazon, I was always eager to hear how it sounded through the Brystons. That's not usually the case with speakers I have in for review; typically I focus on getting the review done so that I can get back to my Revel F206s. Of course, I did eventually get some notes down so that I could finish this review. So let's dig in to some recordings.
When I spun saxophone/flute/manzello/stritch/whistle player Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Three for the Festival" from We Three Kings, I experienced some of the most amazing imaging I've heard. The drum kit sounded pretty darned close to real, with the snare and ride coming from just inside the right speaker and echoing smoothly, seamlessly over into the left channel. The piano, coming from just inside the left, echoed right back. It was obvious I was hearing a real studio, and I think with the aural clues I was hearing from the Middle T, I could have drawn a pretty accurate picture of the recording space. When Kirk played his three saxophones (tenor, manzello, and stritch) all at once, the instruments didn't sound that great; I imagine recording one guy playing three saxes at once must have been tough. But Kirk's flute, his whistle, and his squealing, guttural vocal sounds seemed uncannily real. It felt almost like the two Middle Ts were carrying on a conversation about Roland Kirk.
"Three for the Festival" got me thinking about other not-so-great recordings, so I flipped through my computer to cue up the king of non-so-great recordings: Todd Rundgren. Even though Todd's voice sounds crude, coarse, distorted, and oversaturated on his first sorta-hit, "We Gotta Get You a Woman," I've never heard him image so precisely on this tune. The hand claps in the second verse -something that's barely noticeable on most of the systems people would hear this tune on - sounded eerily real, almost like I was right next to Todd when he was adding them. The percussion, normally buried in the busy mix, was suddenly easy to hear, with the milk bottle (?) practically jumping out of the left tweeter. I noticed so many new details in this recording (which I first heard on eight-track around 1977), yet the sound was never, ever even slightly hyped-up or bright. I only wish all those audiophiles who think exaggerated treble equals detail could hear this speaker do its thing.
Of course, I had to see what the Middle T could do with great recordings, not just lousy ones, so I pulled out one of the most audiophile-esque pop recordings of the last decade: Thomas Dybdahl's "Something Real" from Science. It just rocked. The bass was especially great, with lots of body, character, and subtlety. Whatever percussion instrument Dybdahl was whacking on sounded like it was absolutely real, stretching across to fill my living room from side to side. At the three-minute mark when the bass kicks in, the bottom end got really serious. Above all this sonic chaos, Dybdahl's voice floated, sounding impeccably clean, clear, and full. The whole experience was simply amazing. If every trade show demo were this good, a lot more speakers would be sold.
Click over to Page Two for more on Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion . . .