Bryston Headphone Amp $1400
I used to be an avid headphone listener. My kids were born in the 80s. Their sleep was precious. (So was mine!) The only listening I got to do at substantial volume back then was under cans.
Like a lot of you, I had a pair of Stax phones with a transformer. They were nice. I was happy with them, they beat any dynamic phones I’d heard. We didn’t know they could be much better. One day Stax came out with a matching amp ($1500 in 1985 money) to drive them, which absolutely SMOKED the transformer. The amp was so much better that it made the transformer sound “broken.” In the process, I was, like everyone else, blown away that these phones were capable of so much more than what the transformer allowed.
As my kids grew up and got busy, I had more time to enjoy speakers. It’s actually been many years since I “had to” listen to cans. Buttt…
When you’re listening to phones, it’s the most intimate of musical experiences. The house could be burning down and you can still be “one with the universe,” your music. We have caller ID for times like this.
When Bryston introduced its headphone amp, I put it on the TO-DO list. Bring it in, give it a listen. But I didn’t go diving to the phone to order one up. I didn’t really need to because headphones weren’t a daily part of my life anymore. Eventually I got around to it. When I did, holy audio improvement! How time has marched on! I was sorry I waited several months to give this incredible headphone amp a test drive. Definition. Speed. Control. Warmth. Bass. All these levels of performance crushed the past!
Why? First of all, Bryston is a discrete (not chips), Class A design with high current capability. It can drive challenging impedances (and low SPL phones) with oceans of current and voltage. Bryston doesn’t mind hills and valleys. Typical headphone amps are meant to drive an average impedance about about 100 ohms and use chips. They current limit when seeing anything but a flat road. Consider BHA-1 the equivalent of Bryston’s 28B power amp. As the 28 is to speakers, BHA-1 is to cans!
Grado GS-1000 Heaphones, Balanced, $1100
Of course one thing leads to another, doesn’t it? When the Bryston headphone amp arrived, I ran it in the shop with an array of Grado phones. I was shocked to hear that the SR-125i ($150) sounded better with the Bryston headphone amp, than the SR-325i ($300) sounded with the Grado RA-1 AC ($425) headphone amp! The Bryston amp made any set of phones so much better than we knew they could sound!
The Grado RS2i ($500) with wood cups stole the show. I’ve always enjoyed the RS2i. For me, it’s been the law of diminishing returns in headphones. It has much better bass, warmth and ambience than RS-325i. The wooden cups of RS2i bring a mellow flavor that makes headphones less fatiguing. When mated with the Grado headphone amp we had a nice synergy for under a grand. But running the RS2i with the Bryston headphone amp.. twas like running the Stax electrostats with their direct drive amp instead of the transformer. The Bryston/RS2i combo runs $2k. It’s worth every penny!
Well, as I said, one thing leads to another.
With the Bryston headphone amp charting new territory, I decided to get the best and ordered in Grado’s top wooden ear-piece design, the GS-1000, $1000. But because of the Bryston headphone amp, we could go a step further and run GS-1000 in the balanced configuration, $1100.
GS-1000 brings a warm, lush feel to the party. I hear no brightness or edgy sound. It’s smooth as silk. The bass is absolutely through the floor! It is warm and full, leaning to rich instead of lean. Separation and clarity reach new highs.
This combo pushes new levels of headphone pleasure due to the contributions of each!