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. Armaegis

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    So I did the low gain mod on mine. Now instead of +14/20 dB it is +2/8dB.
    Managed to do it with just a soldering iron and tweezers/chopsticks. Not super difficult, but my hands and eyes are not as steady as they used to be, sigh. I kinda used a quadruple-tap and drag-out method. I can try to post up some pictures if anyone is interested in doing it on their own.

    Mostly playing around with the HE-6 so far because I'm a nub like that and I lent my HD650 out after the meet last weekend. Volume through Phonitor, BHA-1 at max. I definitely prefer it on high gain. Feels livelier. I might be imagining it, but I think before the gain mod it was even livelier still. Right now it feels slightly more reined in and controlled. Maybe this takes out some of the polarizing effect but I don't have the same stock of headphones to compare with right now. Traded out some slam for what feels like a nicer soundscape. Yes I said soundscape and not soundstage, because that's the word that comes to mind, I dunno, I can't explain it beyond that. Feels more landscapy. Listening to Journey - Good Morning Girl right now, the stage isn't super duper, it hasn't become bigger, but it just feels fuller. Something something fluffy words of fluff.
     
  2. Beefy

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    Gain settings on commercial amps always perplex me. I mean, 20dB on a 2VRMS source would try and give you 20VRMS at max on the volume knob, that's just nuts. And 14dB vs 20 is only a halfing of output, which is actually a small difference on a log scale.

    I mean shit, my amp is running at 3x voltage gain, about 9dB, on a 1.4 VRMS source, and it could still easily deafen me with the HD650 well before maximum volume.
     
  3. Armaegis

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    Bryston's choice of gain settings is one of the great mysteries of the BHA-1. Presumably they're so ingrained in thinking about speaker amps they figured +20dB would be normal for a headphone amp. The only 6dB difference between low/high is also puzzling, but their speaker amps are the same *shrug*
     
  4. Erroneous

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    The really weird thing for me is how from 10 to 2 it's minimal volume adjustment, fine tuning. Like WTF is that? I've never had another amp that did that.
     
  5. dllmsch

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    IME the sound of BHA-1 changes quite drastically with different power source.
    I tried balanced isolation transformer, voltage regulator and straight from strip they all sounded different. So that may be the cause of polarising views.
     
  6. Rob the Comic

    Rob the Comic banned from ASR

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    Hope I didn’t reply to this already like the old fart I am.
    They are EXTREMELY similar - excellent build quality, very neutral with just a hint of warmth and synergy is great with HD800SDM. The XE also banishes the 650 ‘veil’. The BH-1 probably has just a touch more slam, but it’s very close.
    I kept the Phonitor and am still wrapped with it. I like the VU metres and some other features it has also. The cross feed actually works - not jump put of your seat difference - but probably a little less fatiguing over long sessions with classical. Personally, I rarely use it as I quite like the super stereo effect.
    Anyway - very similar amps IMHO and both excellent bang for buck.
     
  7. wormcycle

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    After the mod I like it better on high gain, except for HD800S, and HD560 Ovation 1.
    But HD650 and planars defnitely on high.
     
  8. Jh4db536

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    I finally got to hear one of these recently with the DC2 and HD800S anniversary and my own HD800 og (no mods). I already talked to a few people about the -14db setting and low gain combined with the DC2 might not have been ideal. That's how it was setup and i didn't really touch it. Anyway they said it shouldn't have changed the character and i didn't hear audible clipping (something im quite familiar with these days playing with analog tapes). DC2 not having single ended output, hot outputs i think there is no use case for me on that front, which i guess is why i haven't bothered to hear or loan one of these earlier.

    Maybe my expectations were too high. I was under the impression or lead to believe that: BH1+DC2 was a synergistic setup with HD800, didn't have glare, had good macro and slam, the DC2 was near the top of the foodchain on timbre for a DS dac (short of maybe bricasti?).

    BHA1 was Not a wall of sound and it had good separation and layering NICE. This is great relief, compared to many other similar amps i have owned or made in the past and matched the impressions of other people that i talked to. Not being a wall of sound should really be a requirement, not a feature...the first immediate sign that something isnt crap.

    BHA1 had good clarity, which also matched the impressions of other people that i talked to. So far we are two steps ahead of my AMB M3. An edge that wasn't too sharp or rounded off. This is one of the best attribute of the BHA1 imo. Not too crisp, not too round.

    Then what i heard was unbelievable glare from the 800S and even my 800OG which measures no peak. I thought this was supposed to be synergistic with 800? TLDR: I don't know how 'neutral' (not really actually it's neutra bright at best) gear could ever be considered a good pairing with HD800 :shrug:
    Thin and diffuse typical mid recessed 800. What timbre? Not sure whether it's the BHA or the DC2 responsible here. This whole chain to me sounds exactly like stereotypical Studio pro gear. Again, a HD800 synergistic setup would not be neutral and should be very mid forward. This is ruler flat presentation or even slightly upward sloping FR.
    Truncated bass, zero decay or sustain. Maybe i prefer a little bloom and it Does intrude into the mids on the M3 which is bad. There should still be some decay and sustain that might even be tasteful on an amp such as BHA1 that has good layering and separation. The bloom would not intrude the mids. Again, that pro gear sound. Having none, is not synergistic with a HD800 which already sounds lean and bright. HD800 non S has very clean tight bass and it's not being taken advantage of.
    Where's the transients, macro, or slam? I think the AMB M3 is more dynamic and punchier sounding on a NOS dac.

    I think this chain would works better on a different headphone, but i did not enjoy it with HD800.

    edit (Update):

    I found someone else locally to bring the whole stack to my house. This time, i actually connected it to different dacs and tried different combinations and this is the newer version with lower gain. My conclusion now (and the owner of this stack) is that the DC2 is a better dac than i originally thought and is completely carrying the BHA1. The sins of Omission committed by the BHA1 is now undeniable to me. So, this is a neutral amp that commits few sins of commission or offenses...maybe. It doesnt seem to do anything to 'fix' HD800 tonality or high frequency ringing. The amount of information removed from between the dac output and headphone tho is astounding.

    I don't buy into the source flavoring BHA1 much. It takes a very Strong flavor to season BHA1 just a tiny bit because it removes most of the flavor that goes into it.

    To be fair i was comparing it against my modified Sangaku Korg amp as well. Headphones used are dynamics only, HD800 and 580. If i connected the DC2 to the Korg amp, it would have more 'slam' and transient performance than most amps i've tried. The BHA1 does have flatter FR extension than Korg though, but still at a much lower level compared to good tube.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
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    Last edited: Oct 20, 2021
  9. dleblanc343

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    Have not been on SBAF for a while, but I do have some personal experience related to above discussion and feel like sharing some thoughts.

    I've owned a BHA-1 way back in 2012 and hated it (with HD800). Upon re-exploring this amp several years later, in 2019, I realized how great of an amp it actually is. Turns out, my Schiit Gungnir at the time (glary) and HD800 (shrill, piercing) were coming through full force and had me conclude BHA-1 is also bright (which it is not); and I got rid of the better piece of gear of the 3. HD800 is an average headphone by today's standards without modding or EQ (something I've warmed up to in recent years, but never would dare do 7+ years ago as the resources were not up to standard).

    If I can explain BHA-1's voicing, is that it is dry, with bottomless flat bass, and a slight forward midrange (more upper mid tilted). It excels at dynamics (unrivaled headamp so far for me) and its main issue is not quite the best timbre. It is an SS amp after all. It is genuinely the most neutral amp I've heard to date - take it or leave it. It's good for a reference system, but it's not very romantic.

    Out of all amps I own (Bryston B135sst2; best for Susvara/HE6, Modded McIntosh MC225; exceptional, Luxman P750u; exceptional, ECP DHSA-3F; great, ECP L2; pretty good, Woo WA6se; fun, decent, colored as hell, THX 789; sounds eh, but great benchmarking tool, McIntosh MHA200; extremely warm, overpriced) - the BHA-1 is actually the best bang for your buck and so by a landslide considering it can be had for about $1.1K.

    Other amps I've owned/ heard: ECP Balancing act; good, Feliks Euphoria 20th anni; okay, Woo WA33; good sound, $5000 overpriced, Jot2; great value, decidedly mid-fi sound but best in class, iHA6; average, lacks detail, HDVD800; shit, Mjolnir gen 1; bright, bad, BottleHead Crack; middling, DNA Sonnet; terrible (but it's dated), Vali Gen 1; it's been in a drawer for years, don't remember the sound but hey it's 100 bucks.

    Last winter, I got a Jotunheim 2 when it just released, and it packs quite a punch, but agree this is a very aggressive and in your face headphone. Immediately, I concluded it sounded fun with K1000 & HE6, driving them with relative ease, providing a huge bass hump and slam, great macrodynamics and middling microdynamics. But holy moly does it have some shout. Not just because of those pairings, anything I paired it with including LCD4, Auteur, Verite (warmpoo) - it's quite the forward sounding amp. I packed them up and sold them the next day, surprisingly got hounded by dozens of people, apparently it was super hyped at the time.

    Jotunheim 2 is in no way comparable to BHA-1, objectively. Subjectively, if you have proper hearing, it should be no discussion as well unless you really want a v-shape sound sig. The Jotunheim 2 was really not voiced for my preferences, but if you want an exhilarating and fun amp, sure, might be better than Bryston. It sounded decent with HD650 black silk, a really dead sounding headphone in the upper mids - they scale with a lot of headroom - Jot 2 fulfilled that synergy.

    Lately, I got an LCD-R, and really felt strong potential from the headphones, but found them quite grainy and compressed in the upper mids, and was shocked when I saw the measurements have them dipping like crazy (as Audeze traditionally is), and figured, ah, maybe the topolgy is like the Jot 2, and it's also way too shouty. I then tried the LCD-R on the Bryston B135sst2 speaker taps, and it's just another ball game - we're talking near Susvara performance, and generally better than Utopia.

    I liked it so much, I got my hands on another set of LCD-R, and for shits n giggles tried the other Jot-A. Can confirm it sounds schiity lol.

    I love Schiit products, but the Jot2, and Jot-R/ Jot-A all sounded familiar and really not to my liking/ preferences. For the 2 months with Raal, I also never used the Jot-R and heavily favored speaker converter.

    Sorry for the rant, but all in all, BHA-1 has seen a revival in popularity in late years due to source components constantly improving over the years. This amp is sublime with Holo May KTE and Dangerous DC2; I definitely can attest to these helping the amp showcase what its got under the hood.

    To the user above, since I own the DC2/ BHA-1 & a few HD800 variants - no kidding it sounded poor. DC2 is very lean in the midrange & technical, Bryston is very technical and extremely revealing and HD800 is extremely revealing and bright. Need to counter-balance with some warmth in the chain to create synergy. HD800 almost requires tubes to be a competent headphone imho.
     
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  10. Vlach

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    I agree the HD800 prefers tube amps and i'm surprised you consider the BHA-1 a better choice than the WA6 SE which can be had for even less.
     
  11. Justin S

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    I've had this in here for a couple of months now. I've had the opportunity to try it with a couple of different DACs, four sets of headphones and to compare it against the JOT2 and the internal head-amp of the Hilo.

    ;TLDR I know it's a polarizing amp. I personally like it better than any SS amp I've had here. It is "neutral-y" against the Lynx Hilo head-out, detailed, spacious, smooth and dynamic. However, the star of the show with the BHA-1 is how well it stages and images.

    My BHA-1 is from 2018. I bought it used while the previous owner was having Bryston check it over, and it was shipped to me directly from them with a full QC report. Bryston told me this iteration has -6dB lower gain than older models. I still find that it is pretty hot, though. The Hilo allows me to change the output trim of the DAC, which helps with the amp's performance. I tried some Roswell -10dB pads between the Yggdrasil and the BHA-1 with terrible results - it rendered everything super flat sounding.

    W10 Roon->LAN->PI2AES->AES->Yggdrasil LIM | Lynx Hilo->BAL->BHA-1->BAL->Headphones

    BHA-1 with Yggdrasil LIM VS LYNX HILO.

    I found that the BHA-1 did not synergize with the Yggdrasil here. It was not terrible, but nothing exceptional. I felt the Yggdrasil performed better with the Jotenheim 2. The BHA-1 and Hilo, on the other hand, are a perfect fit. This may be a result of being able to adjust the output trim on the Hilo (i am set to +4dBV), so I can get the volume knob on the BHA-1 up higher than 9:00. With the Hilo and output trim adjustments, the sound of the BHA-1 is cohesive, detailed, smooth, dimensional and involving. Spatial cues and trailing reverb create a great sense of space. The BHA-1 gives me more depth, weight and impact than the head-out of the Hilo. It's a combination I love right now.

    VS Jotenheim 2

    I had my old Jot 2 here for a couple of weeks and flipped back and forth. I liked the Jot 2 for its "party down" vibe. It is super fun, slamming, exciting and energetic. It gets your toes tapping and your head moving. When I first compared the BHA-1 to the JOT 2, I strongly preferred the JOT2 for its sense of presence and fun.

    Flipping between the two, I began to notice the strengths of the BHA-1+ Hilo are in the subtleties - sense of front-to-back depth, micro dynamics, spatial cues, etc. The JOT 2 does all these things (except the front-to-back staging), but not quite like the BHA-1. In a couple of words, the BHA-1 presents as dexterous and refined. I initially didn't care much about this when comparing it to the JOT 2, but I kept returning to the BHA-1 to the point where I just stayed with it.

    Headphones:

    The BHA-1 creates a very dimensional picture with all of my headphones. This is apparent with the LCD-X. When I switch between the head-out of the Hilo and the BHA-1, the difference is not subtle.

    The HD800Ss sound very dimensional, too (as they always do, but with the BHA-1 the effect is less cardboard cut-out style). They're a relatively new purchase and are now sitting in a box waiting to be sold - not my thing, even with a suitable amp.

    With the HD6XXMs and HD600s, the BHA-1 is remarkable. Both the 6XX series headphones are brought up a solid couple of notches in their clarity, sense of space, and dynamics. The 600s, in particular, stage well with the BHA-1. I just added the ZMF pads to them (perf suede on the 600s, perf lamb on the 6XXMs), and I am having difficulty believing how much I like them in this configuration.

    All in all, with the Lynx Hilo, I am happy to live with the BHA-1. It is a keeper here. The Yggdrasil will go back to my home 2CH system, where it is beloved. I think this is the only time I have had a configuration that is Schittless in my office. To remedy this, I'll probably get a Lyr+ in here at some point for a different flavour. PXL_20220914_173750789.jpg
     
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    Last edited: Sep 14, 2022
  12. wbass

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    Great review! Thanks for it.

    One small thing: My BHA-1 doesn't like anything stacked on top of it. Left on like this for more than an hour, it overheats and goes into a protection mode. There's a mention of this in the manual. It's not vented, and the top cover acts as a heat sink.
     
  13. Justin S

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    Thanks for the heads up. I have had it running for a month like this (always on) and it is only slightly warm to the touch. Perhaps it is because the Hilo legs (which you can't really see in the photo) are quite high. Knowing this though, I will jack it up a bit higher. It's the only place on my desk this will fit. The SOTM PSU is going to my home system for my PI2AES so it'll be gone soon. I am replacing it up here with the new PI2AES-Lite with an Atomic Bob Noise Nuke.
     
  14. edd

    edd Almost "Made"

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    interesting... I have a DAC2541 (with very short legs) & monitor stand riser thing sitting on top of mine and haven't had any issues (ambient temperature can be as high as 82F or so); though, the BHA-1 does get quite warm after being on for several hours.
     
  15. wbass

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    I think I had a Gungnir Multibit on top of mine. Maybe a combo of that unit's length and low-slung chassis that sent the BHA-1 to protection. At any rate, I was darn confused till I went to the manual. But if it ain't a problem, it ain't a problem!
     
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  16. Riotvan

    Riotvan Snoofer in the Woofer

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    One of these landed on my radar but not sure if it's what i want, my syngery radar, based on what i'm reading here says no to maybe. Dac is Yggdrasil OG and hp is HD600 custom cans modded. Also very interested in it's preamp performance... Looking to consolidate.
     
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  17. internethandle

    internethandle Almost "Made"

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    I keep mine around even post-Studio B, if for no other reason that it can drive almost anything, and slams hard. Only get it if you can get one south of 1k at this point, would be my vote. Have seen a few recently between 600 and 800. 900-ish would be fine too, probably, as long as you can get the original box (usually required to cash in on 25 year warranty) and in good condition.
     
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  18. Riotvan

    Riotvan Snoofer in the Woofer

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    Thanks, could maybe haggle it down below €1k. Can also get a red Phonitor X for a bit more. Might be more to my taste.
     
  19. Armaegis

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  20. Riotvan

    Riotvan Snoofer in the Woofer

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    Yes, read your impressions of course. Still trying to make up my mind though. Preamp performance has more weight for me, remote is nice on phonitor. Might just wait and see what's up with Mjolnir 3 as well.
     
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