Bryston BHA-1 Amplifier Impressions and stuff

Discussion in 'Headphone Amplifiers and Combo (DAC/Amp) Units' started by tommytakis, Jun 16, 2020.

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  1. tommytakis

    tommytakis Gear Cycler SoCal Edition

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    I couldn't find any dedicated thread for this amp, so I thought I would share my thoughts on this pretty sweet amp!

    Listening Rig: Pi2AES > Bifrost 2 | Matrix X Sabre Pro > BHA-1 | Black Widow > JAR650 | Borealis | modded HD800S
    A72BFB42-24DA-483C-94D8-08F8115EFF85.jpeg
    - First off, this is one of the few solid state amps out there that synergizes well with HD800. no joke, even the stock HD800 was sort of listenable which really surprised me. What was even more surprising for me was that it wasn't a warmpoo amp trying to mask all the flaws of HD800, rather play to its strengths without messing up the FR too much.
    - I would say overall tonality is "neutral" with a hint of warmth. At least to my ears, it doesn't really seem that colored to me.
    - Really, really good sense of dynamism, in both macro- and microdynamics. Very engaging and lively amp, reminescent of the Amorphous 3F I had a while ago... except at 1/3 of its price.
    - Excellent sense of clarity and helps reduce the veil of my good old 650s.
    - Impressive transients with precise and clean attack. This was immediately noticeable when I was using my modded HD800S.
    - Great staging capabilities, for a solid state with good width and depth. It's not as grand and deep as Eddie Current stuff, but actually has front and back layering. Most solid states I've heard seem to suck at this part, but the BHA-1 seems to do well here.
    - My favorite DAC pairing was with the Bifrost 2. XSP+BHA-1 works fine, but the BHA-1 really sings with the Bifrost 2. The BF2 gives a good sense of body and punch, where XSP+BHA-1 can sometimes sound a bit thin with some tracks. I still very much enjoyed the combo, but if I had to choose between the two DACs I would choose the BF2.
    - My favorite headphone pairing was ...the JAR650! BHA1 makes JAR650 have a decent staging capabilities despite the 3 blob stage and with improved macrodynamics/slam. But yeah, Holy moly such great synergy that gave me many late nights of "Ugh, just one more song!" "Oh SHIT it's 3AM already" Borealis works well too, but I actually prefer the BW with the Borealis.

    BHA-1 vs. Black Widow
    - BW is easily the more colored one, with its warmth and gentle highs.
    - BW has rounder transients compared to BHA-1's clean and sharper response. I did notice that the roundness can be ameliorated by using a more aggressive DAC like XSP. BF2 just makes it sound a bit too warm and lush with a touch rolled highs. It could work well for people using brighter headphones, but yeah YMMV
    - BW has better macrodynamics/slam but BHA-1 is not too far behind. BW makes everything slam hard, where BHA-1 slams when warranted.
    - BHA has slightly better microdynamics and sounds slightly more nuanced in the minute changes in comparison. BW is no slouch in microdynamics tho! Both amps provide a very engaging listening experience.
    - BW's bass has a touch of "tube-like" bloom where BHA-1's bass is clean and tight.
    - Both amps have decent staging capabilities for a solid state, but BHA-1 projects a more outward, diffuse stage in comparison. If you're a stage head, I think you'll appreciate BHA-1's staging capabilities.
    - You can't go wrong with either amps, I think it matters more about how it synergizes with your other gears in the chain :)

    TLDR: I think this is a great all rounder solid state amp that is "reasonably-priced" and can provide an alternative flavor if you find the Black Widow too warm and lush sounding. For me, this is the perfect place holder amp while I patiently wait for Starlett to arrive on my doorstep.
     
  2. jcn3

    jcn3 Rando

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    thanks so much for your comments. i agree that the best way to describe the bha-1 is "neutral" -- whatever goes in is exactly what will go out. sound is clean and tight. build quality is outstanding as you would expect from bryston.
     
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  3. JoshMorr

    JoshMorr Friend

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    I've owned one of these since October and its been really great. Best solid state amp for my preferences I've used. My top 3 would be Black Widow v2, first Ragnarok and BHA-1. Depending on headphone, BW2 was a bit too thick & warm, Rag1 leaned bright, thin and glarey, BHA-1 seems to split the middle tonally.

    Bryston power amps have a reputation of sounds a bit dead and flat, but this headamp / preamp is more neutral and smooth. It has punch and power for almost anything. If I go on high gain and full volume, HE6 sounds good but too quiet. Like Rag / BW2, BHA-1 excels with dynamics & planar about equally. If you want a treat, old hd580 with this guy is as good as the headphone can ever sound. Tommy nailed everything, but soundstatge, slam, timbre are highlights of this amp. Tommy also nailed that this is one of the few amps that highlights hd800 that isnt trying to color or microwave the sound until its mush.

    MSRP new is $2k or so, but they go pretty often on the used market for under $1k. Dont let new or high prices scare you away. Really good warranty, Bryston says 20 years - but you need a bryston box. I've heard you can purchase one to ship to them if needed.

    I always say the best solid state amps sounds like tube amps, best tube amps sound solid state.
     
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  4. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Great write-up!
     
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  5. WhiteNoise

    WhiteNoise Facebook Friend

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    I owned a BHA-1 for about a year before selling it. I agree that it is a very neutral sounding amp. I was never overly impressed with it myself hence my selling of it but build quality is top notch and if you like an amp that does not color then it is by far one of the best out there.
     
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  6. Clemmaster

    Clemmaster Friend

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    Would be interesting to compare it to the Phonitor X/E!
     
  7. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    @tommytakis interesting review and I really liked comparison with BW.
    I cannot compare BHA-1 with any other similar class amplifier, at some point I had both BHA-1 and two Nuforce HA-200s in monoblock configuration. I liked the HA-200s warm and tonality, but BHA-1 is in different class.

    The background, even with something as sensitive as SE846 is entirely quiet. Transient response and bass control of this amp is really something, even big planars like HEKv2 sound very fast. Surprisingly, in spite of the fact that the amp is on the neutral side of neutral, it works well with HD800. I think @purr1n mentioned it in the thread about the amps for with HD800 years ago.
    Remarkable synergy with HEKv2, and HE500 that I owned and should have NEVER sold.
    My BHA-1 is moded in the factory, they lowered the gain for both low and high gain by -12dB. It is reversible and I did it because feeding BHA1 from a Bryston DAC (BDA-2) I could not get the volume higher than 10 with HD800, 11 max with HEKv2 on low gain.
    The mod is reversible, they showed me how, and Bryston charged only $65 for it I decided to try and it was really change for the better. The background right now is pitch black and HEKv2 on 3PM sounds jut a bit more solid in low frequencies.
    HD800S before the mod sounded wide and detailed, but the music was less coherent and fluid. I like it better now.
    Sometimes I use high gain, HEKv2 sounds different on high gain, very dynamic and engaging, good for metal, but looses a bit in terms of microdynamic and layering.
    The full stack includes BDP-2 connected with a 30 feet AES/EBU cable from the living room. Not ideal, but it will change when I finally get miniDSP SHD.


    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2020
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  8. Jerry

    Jerry Friend

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    Now you made me wanna buy the BF2. Damn it.

    Great comparo btw. Agree with Josh and you. Timbre, slam, transients and staging are the main strengths of this amp. And it has plenty of power to tap too.

    Bryston's 20Y warranty seems underestimated by many. Factored in, the price makes a lot of sense.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2020
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  9. purr1n

    purr1n Finding his inner redneck

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    It's stood the test of time. Hits hard. Nice clean transients. Neutral. We wouldn't think an amp with these qualities would work with the HD800, but it does.

    If I updated the HD800 amps list today, this amp would still be up there.
     
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  10. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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    Is it just a changed resistor in the feedback loop? That's how I changed the gain in my 2B amp years and years ago.

    I've had fantastic warranty and service from Bryston. I'm in Canada and bought a 16-year old amp from the US. I asked the guy to send the amp directly to the Bryston US depot for an upgrade which I scheduled with Bryston separately. The cost to me was literally cheaper than what it would have cost me to obtain the parts myself after shipping. While they were doing the upgrade they also checked the entire amp over, replaced a couple old caps, replaced some old connectors, cleaned the pots, all at zero cost to me. They packaged it up, sent it up to Canada through their company channels so I didn't get hit with any import fees, oh and I was expecting to pay shipping at least but nope they somehow included that in the upgrade cost.

    The Bryston boys there do good work and stand by their product. They've unfortunately succumbed to worsening price creep in their last couple generations, though a lot of that is the economics of manufacturing and certifying in Canada.

    I think used prices for the BHA-1 have actually gone up the last couple years.

    I have a Phonitor 2 and the BHA-1 has been on my curiosity list for years but I keep missing deals as they seem to get snatched up quick. If I see another one though at a good price, I'll consider doing this.
     
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  11. Firegon

    Firegon Rando

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    I used to own BHA-1 for half a year or so. Great amp and I absolutely agree - it synergized with HD800 suprisingly well, even if on paper it shouldn't. Although personally, I think that the HD800S synergy was even better - even though I don't particularly like the S variant. Bryston is quite a lively sounding amp and that's what HD800S need imho. I also know a number of people who adore their BHA-1 with Ether Flow and consider it endgame.

    That being said, to me it didn't work with HE-6 at all - my biggest ( and in fact the only ) complaint regarding BHA-1 was the treble, which was - let's just say not on the smooth side. Somebody mentioned it once at it always stuck with me - BHA-1 is like a thunder and that has both upsides and downsides.
    Combined with HE-6 ... well that's a recipee for a disaster. Code 6 were a much better match, although still not on the level of a decent power amp or a very powerful headphone amp.
     
  12. Jerry

    Jerry Friend

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    Strange, I always thought BHA-1 is smooth in the treble, without being dark. That's quite a feat. One of the reason why I like it with HD800.
     
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  13. wormcycle

    wormcycle Friend

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    Prices for used BHA-1, in CAD went a bit up but CAD is in a gutter so for the US buyers I think it is the same. But tere is almost no supply.
    Probably yes but that explanation would not work with me. They just said: this one here. I hope I remember otherwise the mod is "irreversible"
    And warranty from Bryston is really as good as it can be. 20 years for audio components, 5 years for digital like DACs and players but it is fully transferable, they usually upgrade other components to the latest factory configuration. With 20 years warranty they must carry a lot of spares.
    What is also good they would work with you. My BHA-1 was serviced for a slight channel imbalance, and it took some time and lots of emails to figure it out. It still has 16 years of warranty left :).
     
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2020
  14. Firegon

    Firegon Rando

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    It's a good amp, so obviously You've got less distortion and grain in the upper region, making it cleaner and thus "smoother" in a way. Or less fatiguing.
    But compared to some of the other amps I've auditioned ( HE-9, SuSy Dynahi, Niimbus US4 and a few higher end tube amps - Euforia, Auris stuff, Viva stuf, Ayons ) it's most likely the sharpest treble of them all. It's not bad by any means - but still the sharpest. It simply didn't work with HE-6 and caused me a few migraines, although I've used it with HD800 and the treble didn't bother me that much - I suppose whatever it does, it doesn't emphasise the infamous HD800 peak.
     
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  15. Armaegis

    Armaegis Friend

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  16. Firegon

    Firegon Rando

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    I'd prefer not to. It's a bit too polarizing due to the price tag and I haven't heard nearly enough high end stuff to be able to evaluate it properly (I've heard mostly tube amps and obviously those tend to sound quite a bit different )
    Would be pointless to start praising such an amp without knowing what performance one can get for 5-6k$. Especially since I quite enjoyed my time with it - but again, not much to compare it to.

    I can recommend the BHA-1 though - certainly a capable amp, especially for the used price. Although not necessarily for HE-6 or K1000.
     
  17. Scubadude

    Scubadude Almost "Made"

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    I also missed out on a BHA-1 sold locally about a year ago - called dibs but could not get out to pick it up. Lucky for me a good friend bought it, so I had the opportunity to do some back-to-back listening against my Phonitor 2730.

    Sonically I rate the Bryson and Phonitor as equals, which to me is the absolute pinnacle of what is possible with a solid state design. Both works really well with just about every headphone available and on every imaginable genre. But the Bryson has a few tricks which my Phonitor doesn't ... balanced output (which I dont care much for), input switching, gain selection (not sure if the Phonitor's DIM pre-attenuator does the same thing), and pre-amp output. It is a very good headphone amplifier - possibly the best effort by a mainstream high-end audio company (other worthy mentions are Krell KSA-5, PS Audio GCHA, possibly Perreaux SHX2 ... never heard Pass or Conrad Johnson designs).

    JoshMorr said it and I agree that both these amps achieve valve-like clarity without any roll-off, and the detail and dynamic capabilities of the finest solid states without the harshness and glare that typify lesser creations. If I didn't have a Phonitor I would be more than a little bitter missing out on the BHA-1.
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2020
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  18. JeremiahS

    JeremiahS Acquaintance

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    This amp has been around for a while... I remember testing it when I searched for a top end solid state amp a couple years back. Comparatively it's near the top but not as highly refined as the top dogs like the Dynahi or Beta 22. There is a sense of tube-like liquidity that you get from Ti Kan and Gilmore designs that are missing from lower tier amps.
     
  19. Hrodulf

    Hrodulf Prohibited from acting as an MOT until year 2050

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    Good to see big boy solid state getting some press! Otherwise toob doodes are stealing all airtime.
     
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  20. YMO

    YMO it's not drinking alone if you're on Zoom

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    Would be interesting to hear @tommytakis comments after getting his Starlett, and then come back and compare it with BHA-1. I dunno, but I been thinking about maybe I should get an alt SS amp that is being fed XLR output from BF2 into the BHA-1 to change it up a bit. Then again, I always worry about the infamous SS glare and perhaps too sharp attacks.
     
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