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.
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“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.
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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.
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Click over to Page Two for more on Performance, The Downside, Comparison & Competition, and Conclusion . . .
Every summer seems to have one song you can’t get out of your head. For me, 2014’s chanson d’été is Tom Vek’s irresistible “Sherman (Animals in the Jungle).” I’d say it was a perfect fit for the Middle T, except that almost everything seems a perfect fit for the Middle T. The grating synth punches in the intro sounded colossal, wrapping all the way around behind my head as if I’d had surround speakers set up. The quartet of 8-inch woofers totally brought the boom, slamming out Vek’s incessant, insistent beat with all the power, ease, and clarity of a great subwoofer. As usual with this tune, I kept cranking it up and cranking it up, yet I heard not a trace of distortion in Vek’s voice.
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Pining to put the high-res capability of the Sony USB DAC to use, I put on the 24/96 version of Yes’s “Long Distance Runaround,” sourced from HDTracks.com. Normally what gets me about this tune is the hook: the melody played by guitarist Steve Howe during the choruses and by both him and keyboardist Rick Wakeman in the intro and the mid-song break. What I noticed most here was Chris Squire’s bass, which just sounded so perfect, so flat, and so tight, with no notes sticking out and every subtlety of his fingering and picking right out there. The two pairs of quick double-kicks that Bill Bruford delivers to his kick drum in the second verse also impressed me. With a lot of speakers and subs, the bass is too sloppy to get the attack on both kicks. With the Middle T, both kicks sounded completely clear and detailed, giving me a realistic sense of the felt beater striking the drum head.
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Considering that Bryston offers a complete line of speakers, it’s likely the Middle T will find its way into plenty of home theater systems. So, of course, I had to see what it sounded like with dialogue and movie sound effects. I put on the Blu-ray of Star Wars – Episode II: Attack of the Clones, which starts with a bass-heavy fly-over from a spaceship and ends in a giant explosion, then segues into a scene in which characters with a wide variety of vocal timbres discuss worldly matters. Even though I was feeding the system stereo audio from the analog output of my Samsung Blu-ray player – thus stripping out the low-frequency effects (LFE) channel – the spaceship fly-over came through the Brystons with a powerful bass rumble and delivered some serious shake to my listening chair during the explosion. I also noted a great sense of envelopment during and after the explosion, with the alarm klaxons seeming to come from about 80 degrees to either side of the screen. My notes concluded with, “Wow, listen to how good the voices sound!”
Here are the measurements for the Bryston Middle T speaker. Click on each photo to view the graph in a larger image.
On-axis: ±3.3 dB from 33 Hz to 16 kHz, ±7.9 dB to 20 kHz
Average: ±3.5 dB from 33 Hz to 16 kHz, ±7.7 dB to 20 kHz
Minimum 3.7 ohms/32 Hz/+17°, nominal 7 ohm
Sensitivity (2.83 volts/1 meter, anechoic)
The first chart shows the frequency response of the Middle T, the second shows the impedance. For frequency response, two measurements are shown: at 0° on-axis (blue trace) and an average of responses at 0°, ±10°, ±20° and ±30° (green trace), all measured on the horizontal axis.
For a speaker in this price range, this isn’t a very flat response. There’s a mild but very broad midrange dip, almost three octaves wide and centered at 1.5 kHz. There’s also an apparent tweeter resonance at 17.5 kHz, with a sharp roll-off above that. My guess, though, is that the midrange dip will be something that gives the speaker a subtle character rather than an overt coloration – much the same kind of thing I heard from the B&W CM10, which didn’t have the perfection of my Revel F206 reference speakers but had an undeniable charm of its own that sometimes made it more engaging to listen to.
These measurements were done without grilles. Sadly, I forgot to do a grille-on measurement and the speakers have long since returned to Bryston, so we’ll never know unless Bryston publishes the measurement. (Don’t hold your breath.)
Sensitivity of this speaker, measured quasi-anechoically from 300 Hz to 3 kHz, is a tad above average at 89.3 dB. You should get about +3 dB more output in-room. Nominal impedance is 7 ohms. So basically, almost any amp with at least 10 watts of power can drive this speaker to reasonable volumes.
Here’s how I did the measurements. I measured frequency responses using an Audiomatica Clio FW 10 audio analyzer with the MIC-01 measurement microphone and the speaker driven with an Outlaw Model 2200 amplifier. I used quasi-anechoic technique to remove the acoustical effects of surrounding objects. The Middle T was placed atop a 28-inch (67-cm) stand. The mic was placed at a distance of two meters. Bass response was measured using ground plane technique, with the microphone on the ground two meters in front of the speaker. Bass response results were spliced to the quasi-anechoic curves at 200 Hz. Results were smoothed to 1/12th octave. Post-processing was done using LinearX LMS analyzer software.
While the Middle T sounded good with everything, it didn’t sound perfect with everything. For example, in Holly Cole’s version of Tom Waits’ “Train Song,” the shakers and other hand percussion didn’t sound as lush as I’ve heard from, say, electrostatic speakers such as MartinLogans. The Middle T plainly and neutrally presents the treble, with no artificial charm or character. That’s not to say the treble detail was lacking. Quite the contrary: There was so much treble detail that the percussion almost started to distract from the vocal.
On my all-time-fave all-around test track, Toto’s “Rosanna,” I noticed that the bass wasn’t quite as full and grooving as I’d like. But this is a tower speaker, which means it can’t be placed for the flattest possible bass response the way a subwoofer can, so a few peaks and dips in the bass are simply are an inherent part of the package. Everything else about the track sounded great. I especially liked how easy it was to hear the lack of smooth decay in the snare drum – an artifact of the early days of digital reverb, perhaps?
When I listened to Attack of the Clones, I did note that there was a little more dialogue coming from the 8-inch woofers than I’d like, which occasionally made the voices sound subtly congested. A few voices – notably Chancellor Palpatine and that Jedi dude with the weird bulb of skin on his head – lacked a bit of body. But these were subtle flaws, and overall the vocal clarity was superb.
Comparison and Competition
The obvious competition for the Middle T is the Revel F208, which shares the same driver configuration and list price. I don’t have the F208 on hand, but I do have the very similar, somewhat smaller F206. In comparison with the Middle T, the F206 sounds a little smoother in the mids, but slightly strained in the lower treble. Both speakers image beautifully; I couldn’t pick a favorite when it came to spatial presentation. The Bryston had more and deeper bass, obviously, although the difference wasn’t as large as I’d expected.
One of the really tough vocal tracks I like to play is the live version of “Shower the People” from James Taylor’s Live at the Beacon Theatre. On this track, Taylor’s vocals definitely sounded a little clearer and more lively with the Middle T. His voice sounded fuller through the F206, which seems to cross over more smoothly between its midrange and woofers. But overall I like the liveliness of the Bryston better; it sounds a little flatter to me overall.
Another obvious competitor is the GoldenEar Technology Triton One, which costs $500 more but packs three powered woofers, four passive radiators, and a 1,600-watt Class D subwoofer amp into each tower. Unfortunately, I haven’t reviewed it; I’ve only heard it at trade shows. It’s gotten nothing but glowing reviews. My educated guess, based on what I’ve heard and on GoldenEar’s other speakers, is that the Middle T will sound perhaps a tad more neutral, but the Triton One will deliver a more dramatic and exciting treble response, plus a lot more bass output.
Since the Middle T is so close to the Revel F208, I keep finding myself thinking about those two as the ones I’d decide between at this price. Honestly, overall I like the Middle T ever so slightly better, just for its somewhat more lively sound. That said, the Middle T is one of the worst-looking speakers I’ve reviewed in a long time; I imagine bringing it up to the aesthetic standard of the Revel might add $1,000/pair to the price, which is why I knocked a point and a half off on the value. But you know I can’t make that decision for you. Some people care (or are forced to care) how their speakers look, and others don’t.
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