For a couple of years, my main CD source has been my Theta Data Universal Transport — a laserdisk/CD player from the early 90s. Fed through a Meridian 518 for dejittering and upsampling to 24-bit, it has always sounded good through my Yamaha DSP-AX1 amp. But recently, I’ve started to feel it’s been missing something at the top end. Conversely, CDs played on my Arcam FMJ DV27 have sounded mechanical, with a lack of warmth in the bass, and overbright, unrefined treble. Assuming that the Theta’s failings at the top were probably simply masking the limitations of the Yamaha’s power amps, I decided to try a different, discrete, power amp, to see if it would make any improvement, keeping the Yamaha patched in for surround decoding and DSP.

I’ve had a Bryston 9B SST THX surround power amp on loan from the Cornflake Shop for the past few days. What a difference. Fed through the Bryston, via the 518, the Arcam delivers clarity at the top (hihats sound like cymbals, rather than a mash of noise), and warmth at the bottom. Bass is relaxed and tight, and the whole soundstage is wider and deeper. I’m sure it sounds even better fed from a better decoder than the Yamaha, but for now, I love it. I’ve even (finally) bothered to tweak the Yamaha’s ridiculously complex DSP settings to tune things a bit better. Shame about the 9B’s price, but I’ve ordered one anyway. Sigh.

The whole setup is a long way from my first ‘surround system’, which I built back in the 70s for about five Australian dollars —an ‘ambience recovery’ system based on David Hafler’s OOPS (Out Of Phase Stereo) hack. Nice to see that there are still cheap commerical implementations of this kicking around.