BRYSTON BHA-1 REVIEW (2019) | The Headphoneer

The bryston bha-1 headphone amplifier was launched in 2012 and immediately gained a foothold as a solid high-end product. Unlike most brands, Bryston hasn’t bothered to release new versions of an already great product. The downside to this approach is that since most reviews naturally occur soon after the initial launch, “old” products get less attention. However, the headphone has never been chasing news, and since I’ve always wanted to hear this amp thoroughly, here comes a review of the Bryston BHA-1 – Year 2019.

The bha-1 is not a small amplifier, mainly because the chassis is the standard hi-fi component width of 43 cm. It seems very solidly built and given that Bryston offers a 20 year guarantee that’s no surprise. the bha-1 has three analog inputs: rca, xlr and 3.5mm minijack. It has a high and low gain setting. There are 4-pin and dual 3-pin balanced XLR outputs and a standard 1/4-inch TRS connector.

Reading: Bryston headphone amp review

The amp is powerful yet quiet, even with sensitive headphones and earphones. has some pot leaks – music plays very quietly even if you turn the volume control all the way down. plus, you hardly ever need to turn the volume wheel up very high, even with fairly unwieldy headphones.

Now, as usual, I’ll jump right into the comparisons with the selected amps. The Violectric V200, Kinki THR-1, and Audio G-D Master 9 are a bit under Bryston’s price, the QueStyle CMA800R and Auralic Taurus quite close, and the Woo WA22 (with upgraded valves) is priced a bit higher.

BHA1 V200 THR1 CMA800R 0125

bryston bha-1 vs taurus aural

beyerdynamics t1 mk2

the 600 ohm t1 is a difficult headphone to drive and the amp match is essential. it’s not just about power, and i never liked the taurus with the t1. I find the combination sounds thin and lacks bass. the bryston is another story. great bass, great punch. without thinness the bryston is a much better amp for the t1.

hifiman he-560

the 35 ohm/90 db he-560 is quite demanding and requires a powerful amplifier.

wild nothing – drive: while the taurus is great, the bryston feels a bit lighter and a bit more dynamic.

tomasz stanko – terminal 7: the bryston is a bit lighter and feels more spacious, however the taurus has a nice wrap around feel.

montague grant – prins thomas: there may be a little more hit on the mid kicks with the taurus, but overall they sound pretty similar.

spring 1 – max richter / vivaldi: in this piece of string, the differences are small. the taurus is a bit more “meaty” in its presentation, the bryston feels a bit crunchier.

never mind – leonard cohen: again, they’re very close, but the bryston is a little roomier and a little more articulate.

grålysning – thomas thonstrup: As with the stanko track, the acoustic jazz highlights the brystons’ edge in breadth, but they’re definitely not too far apart.

audeze lcd-3

thank you – thomas thonstrup: i always thought the lcd-3 was a great match for the taurus. again the bryston is a bit lighter but it also loses some of that enveloping magic touch that i feel the taurus has on the lcd-3. the taurus feels more complete in a subjectively better way.

azzaharat – eple trio: I have the same impression as above. the lcd-3 sounds nicer to me with the taurus. the bryston gives it a slightly sharper touch.

Moving through some more music, I still find the lcd-3 more pleasing with the taurus, but while my preference is clear, the differences aren’t huge, and I can easily imagine myself reconsidering my preferences.

audeze lcd-x

Overall, I have the same impression as with the lcd-3. the bryston is sharper and offers a bit more room, but the taurus feels a bit more pleasantly rounded. still, for some reason, i tend to prefer the bryston more often now for its greater clarity.

lcd-2 rev.1.

the lcd-2 responds fairly similarly to both amplifiers like the lcd-3 and lcd-x. the bryston is a bit lighter, while the taurus is a bit warmer and fuller sounding.

hifiman he-1000v2

a thousand lies – machine head: the two amps are very similar, but the bryston has a little more power in the bass region.

montague grant – prins thomas: again, very similar, this time also on bass.

terminal 7 – tomasz stanko: remain similar, but the bryston reveals a little more three-dimensionality, but as with the lcd-3, the taurus is a little less intense in its presentation , which can be a good thing depending on the listener.

grålysning – thomas thonstrup: experience similar to the previous one.

Beethoven: chamber music for winds – les vents francais: again, the bryston is a bit clearer, but also more direct. Taurus has a nice warm feeling.

Surprisingly, with the he1000v2, the perceived difference was generally less than with some of the lower resolution headsets I’ve tried before. both amps do a good job.

sennheiser hd800

Checking out my playlist, it’s clear that these two amps have a lot in common. they sound so close, I struggle to find differences that are significant enough to articulate. they’re not identical, but I can’t find a single track where I prefer one over the other. both have a good grip on the hd800 and keep it from being too bright.

focal headphones

montague grant – prins thomas: this vibrating soundtrack gets even more vibrating with the bryston. both amps do a great job, but the bryston is a bit more dynamic.

ginsterweg – hauschka: the hauschka prepared piano is a bit sharper and livelier with the bryston, but both work well.

endalaus – olafur arnalds: the bass is a bit more three-dimensional with the bryston.

grålysning – thomas tostrup: similar impression, bryston is sharper and more dynamic, but taurus has a nice warmth. even so, they are more similar than different.

4:30 – solveig slettahjell: again, they are very similar, but especially the bells in the background have more of a “buzz” with the bryston.

sennheiser hd650

both amplifiers bring to life the classic sennheiser 300 ohm. they are very similar, although the taurus sometimes feels a bit meatier and fuller.

hifiman he-6

the legendary he-6 is one of the ultimate tests of power. the better the taurus in clarity, control and dynamics. definitely seems to have more power resources than the already powerful taurus.

concluding, the bryston bha-1 and the auralic taurus have a lot in common. Sometimes they sound almost the same, but when they do show apparent differences, the bryston tends to be a bit clearer, sharper, as well as more dynamic and spacious, while the taurus has a slightly warmer, fuller sound.

Bryston BHA1 HE560 HD800 0119

bryston bha-1 vs questyle cma800r

audeze lcd-x

Like when comparing the bryston to the taurus, the bryston generally comes out a bit lighter, the questyle a bit thicker, more noticeable with vocals. they often sound quite similar, and it’s hard to pick a winner for me here. both are great with the 16 ohm lcd-x.

hifiman he560

Same as above, they are very similar. however, the bryston has a slightly clearer/thinner sound. but both are very dynamic and the differences are very small.

hifiman he1000v2

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Also the he1000v2 works very similarly with these two amps.

sennheiser hd800

with the hd800, the two amps have surprisingly similar performance, and honestly, there’s not much to share.

I continue with the oppo pm1, focal elear and hd650. they all sound great on both amps and similarly.

concluding I must say that to my surprise I feel that the questyle and the bryston are more similar than the bryston resembled the taurus. This is despite the fact that I tend to think of the Questyle as a bit meatier than the Taurus, a reminder that you need to compare side by side to get the real impression. That said, all three amps compared so far are in the same ballpark, with similar (but not identical) sound and performance signatures.

bryston vs. kinki thr1

sennheiser hd650

pretty similar performance, but bryston a bit sharper.

focal headphones

both are dynamic and articulate well. again, the bryston again a bit thinner and crispier, but not much. the kinki has a nice extra dose of warmth.

sennheiser hd800

the kinki holds up very well against the bryston. they have different characters. occasionally, as with phanta du prince’s “photon”, i find the bryston to have slightly better bass control and separation, but mostly the difference is about presentation rather than one be objectively better. kinki is generally warmer and fuller sounding. I tend to prefer the slightly toned down presentation of the kinki for the hd800, but trying to be objective, I can imagine others would prefer the extra clarity of the bryston. even so, they are not so different.

hifiman he560

never mind – leonard cohen: the kinki has more of a mids presence here, it’s a bit warmer and feels fuller and more satisfying than the bryston, without losing any notable detail.

three notes to say i love you – vincent friend: here too, the kinki offers that much-needed dose of warmth, making the bryston feel a bit skinny.

the he560 has a slightly delayed midrange and can benefit from a dose of warmth. even though the kinki feels pretty neutral, it actually brought out the goodness a bit more than the bryston with the he560.

hifiman he1000 v2

With the he1000, I experience the same as with the he560, but my preference is not so one-sided. the bryston offers a thinner sound, but also a bit more transparent, which makes for a trade off. also the bass is a bit tighter with the bryston. both amps are doing a good job, but with different benefits.

audeze lcd-3

with the lcd-3 they work quite similarly. they sound more alike than the other headphones, but i find the bryston offers a slightly tidier bass performance, like in smashing pumpkin’s “rock cherub.”

fostex th900

kinki sounds great with the th900. It has a dose of warmth that the Bryston lacks. the kinki has a bit less accuracy but a bit fuller mid and bass range. now the th900 typically benefits from a bit more fullness in the mids, so a neutral amp like the bryston might not be the best choice.

beyerdynamic t1 v2

my first impression of the t1 mk2 with the kinki was fascinating and to be honest i didn’t hear anything else for weeks. the bryston does a good job, but for me there is a special magic in the kinki/t1 combo. the kinki offers a spacious, yet enveloping and full-bodied sound. the bryston is sharper, brighter and a bit thinner in sound. compared to the taurus, the bha-1 worked very well with the t1, but can’t quite match the kinki.

concluding, both amps perform capable with all tested headphones. the bryston has a slightly sharper sound with a bit more resolution and dynamics, but the kinki often balances this out with a softer, warmer sound signature.

bryston bha-1 vs violectric v200

audeze lcd-3

terminal 7 – t.stanko: the v200 has always been good with planar magnetic headphones, and now it doesn’t disappoint either. with the lcd-3 for me it has a slight advantage over the bryston because it sounds a little warmer, without losing amplitude and detail.

edmond – prins thomas: this bass-heavy track reveals how impressively well bryston handles the bass; the v200 gets a bit looser below in comparison.

Violin concerto in D major. op 35.1 – tchaikovsky/hahn: the bryston certainly has a more brilliant presentation. yet both feel equally spacious and detailed.

generally i tend to prefer the v200 to the lcd-3 for its warmer feel, but the bryston has better bass control.

hifiman he1000v2

4:30am – s.slettahjell: the bryston sounds a bit more open and purposeful when I have the v200 on normal gain. adding 6 db helps and narrows the gap, but still the bryston is a bit better.

edmond – prins thomas: both do very well, the bass performance is excellent.

3 madrigals for violin and viola – h313.1 – martinu/emerson string quartet: with this string trio, the bryston reveals more of the recording, there is more space between the strings, the background feels blacker and there is a bit more detail in each stroke.

sennheiser hd800

the bryston works very well with the hd800, and while the v200 is good, the bryston is a step up. with string music, the treble is more lively. moving through other music, the bryston is more dynamic and fun. there is not always much difference, but sometimes it is quite evident.

I continue with the elear focal, fostex th900, beyerdynamics t1. The pattern continues: Although the amps are close, the Bryston is generally a bit clearer and cleaner, with slightly better dynamics and tighter bass control. the v200 sounds a bit more complete.

Bryston BHA1 T1 0123

bryston vs master 9

hifiman he1000v2

I find the master 9 to be a very good solid state match for the he1000v2, which can sound a bit flat with some amps. however, the master 9 is a neutral amp, so it’s not as straightforward as simple amp coloring, but it drives the he1000 v2 very well. there is something special in that combo. so i expected the bryston to lose this one. And it does. In direct comparison, the Master 9 has a fuller sound and feels more dynamic, while the Bryston is flatter and thinner. it’s crisp and clear, but lacks that magical feel. it makes the he1000v2 feel less spectacular and less alive.

sennheiser hd700

I think they both work very well with the hd700, I don’t find the bryston slim or clinical here at all.

sennheiser hd800

the bryston feels more dynamic than the master 9. the master 9 has a slightly warmer sound. the bryston brings out more detail and seems to have a bit tighter control over the hd800, but the master 9 has (for me) a more appealing sound signature, being a bit more relaxed. however, to the benefit of the bryston, it makes the background percussion more lively and organic, and opens up the listening space a bit more. therefore I tend to prefer the bryston, especially at lower listening levels.

hifiman he560

again the master 9 has a slightly thicker sound signature and as with the he1000v2 I tend to prefer it more than the bryston albeit with a smaller margin. bryston plays well with the he560, and many prefer his more advanced style with the he560, but for me, master 9 makes music a little more magical.

audeze lcd-3

also with the lcd-3, the bryston is a bit livelier than the master 9, making it a trade off between the attractive extra dose of fullness of the master 9 and the bryston’s slightly snappier character. both are great, although they are of different flavors.

hifiman he-6

The Master 9 is one of the few headphone amps that come close to doing the HE6 justice – to reach its full potential, most people use a speaker amp. master 9 is not optimal, and i have the normal version, not the “high gain” version, but for me, matching master 9 is kind of a minimum level performance test for the he-6. and the bryston if it happens. it’s pretty fast, faster than the master 9, but it might sound a bit thin. so, like the master 9, it handles the he-6 well, but not to its full potential.

bryston bha-1 vs. woo wa22

the wa22 is the most expensive amp in this comparison, it is also the only tube amp. It is equipped with the following nos tubes: tung-sol 5998, philips gz34 and sylvania vt231

oppo pm-1

the wa22 makes the oppo shine, it feels more alive and dynamic, more fun and organic. the bryston does a pretty good job, but that little extra fun factor makes me prefer the wa22.

hifiman he560

the bryston is a bit cleaner and probably has better control, but the wa22 pushes the midrange a bit further forward, in a very nice way. so it’s a tradeoff: the wa22 makes the he560’s tonality sound better, the bryston feels a bit tighter. however, in general, I prefer the wa22.

he1000v2

with the he1000, the impression is similar to that of the oppo pm1: the wa22 makes the he1000v2 come alive. with the bryston it becomes flatter and less exciting.

shure srh1840

The srh1840 works very well with both amps and is a very attractive presentation of both amps. the wa22 is bolder and sounds a bit fatter, the bryston a or maybe neutral is a better word. I really like both generally, I tend to favor the extra liveliness. i find the wa22 works in a lot of headphones, but with the srh-1840, i feel like the bryston holds up very well in that regard, and if anything offers slightly better separation and texture.

sennheiser hd800

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bryston is very good with hd800. it compares well to most other high-end solid-state headphone amps I’ve tried. however, the wa22 brings out a different sonic character, with a fuller, more enveloping sound and a sweeter tone. all without losing the fabulous level of detail and the wide soundstage. I might add that I’ve always liked the hd800 with the wa22, and I think good tube amps certainly tend to improve on the hd800.

Bryston Front 0113

bryston’s bha-1 conclusion

the bryston is a beast: it has plenty of power, a good selection of inputs and outputs, and handles all headphones well. even the hifiman he-6 sounds decent. overall it’s a very neutral amp, but leans slightly towards the snappier and sharper side, without becoming “edgy” or bright. i was very impressed in 2012 i end up even more so after spending some real time with him in 2019. highly recommend.

Bryston Back 0117

comments: the dacs used in this test are hegel hd25, violectric v800 and audio-gd master 7, and my impression was that the bryston bha-1 can benefit from a slightly warm sound source .

manufacturer specifications:

features:

balanced outputs

balanced dual mono circuit

left/right balance control

six fully discrete Bryston class-a op-amps

14db or 20db gain

10k input impedance

high quality noble stereo volume control (laser cut)

gold plated input and output connectors

capable of multiple headphone units

options:

available with silver or black faceplate (2u)

17″ or 19″ faceplate available

rack-mountable ears available

locking mechanisms on balanced xlr connectors

physics:

standard width: us. US: 2.75″ (2″ without legs) H x 17″ W x 12.25″ D (17″ faceplate)

metric: 69.85mm (50.8mm without legs) high x 431.8mm wide x 311.15mm deep (431.8mm faceplate)

extra wide:

us: 2.75″ (2″ without legs) high x 19″ wide x 12.25″ deep (19″ faceplate)

Metric: 69.85mm (50.8mm without legs) H x 482.6mm W x 311.15mm D (482.6mm faceplate)

13.25lbs / 6kg

specifications:

  • 2 ohm output impedance for each op amp driver.

load at 600 ohms

  • hi – 10.9v out at 001% power 200mw
  • lo – 5.45v out at 001% power 50mw
  • lo – 2.50v output @ 001% power 10mw
  • low – 788mv output @ 001%¹ power 1mw

load at 300 ohms

  • hi – 10.8v out at 001% power 390mw
  • lo – 5.40v out at 001% power 50mw
  • lo – 1.79v output @ 001% power 10mw
  • low – 583mv output @ 001%¹ power 1mw

load at 80 ohms

  • hi – 10.4v out at 002% power 1.35w
  • lo – 5.20v out at 001% power 383mw
  • lo – 887 mv output @ 001% power 10 mw
  • low – 345 mv output @ 003% power 1 mw

load at 32 ohms

  • hi – 9.65v out at 0.150% power 2.9w²
  • lo – 4.84v out at 002% power 732mw
  • lo – 578 mv output @ 001% ¹ power 10 mw
  • low – 185 mv output @ 005 %¹ power 1 mw
  • low – 4.00 v output at 001% power 500 mw³

¹ 80khz filter >

² crop start

³ rated power

ref: bryston website

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