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Bass performance aside, the biggest surprise with the 10B-Sub was that it introduced no audible downsides at all. Most audiophiles will be wary of introducing yet another component into the signal chain and I was no different. Yet I heard absolutely no deterioration whatsoever by adding the 10B-Sub. Bryston explains how they eschew ICs or digital filters and that the 10B uses all analog class A discrete circuits and is in effect a very high quality class A preamplifier. Nevertheless, the thought of introducing a second 'preamplifier' to a system will likely keep many an audiophile up at night. Well, sometimes there's theory and then there's practice. Again, I heard no downside. Upsides? They were grand and they were numerable.

In several ways, an active crossover makes life very much easier on your entire system. First, when you remove the bass signals from the main amplifier, you really brighten its day. The reproduction of bass consumes a lot of power. Once those bass frequencies are removed, the demands on the amplifier diminish greatly. Usually one can get by with half the amplifier power, often less. Second, many speakers, though capable of deep bass, do so only grudgingly. Their manufacturer may specify an F3 of 30Hz but that doesn't mean the speaker is happy doing it. It doesn't mean that it truly articulates at that frequency - and you'll never see a specification indicating just how much distortion it's adding there. Crossing over at some point above 30Hz to a subwoofer whose raison d'être is the reproduction of clean articulated deep bass can be a great move. If you're using two or 2.5-way speakers whose main drivers must do both vocals and bass, relieving them of the high excursions required for bass frequencies improves midrange clarity.

Then there's the well-known compromise while situating a pair of speakers in your room and having to choose between bass response and imaging. Subtract the bass, send it to a subwoofer located where it works best and you are free to place the speakers where they shine. Even if you're using large three-way speakers, you can still benefit in this way. Then there's the ability to tweak the bass response of the system by punching up the bass at the sub if you desire; or manipulating your way around a nasty room mode. In short, there are all sorts of ways the addition of an active crossover and a good sub or two can benefit your entire system.

Last but not least, adding a good crossover and subwoofer, particularly to a two-way system may make for greater dynamics. Hopefully you'll get a good microdynamic bounce as the midrange driver takes a step forward by way of articulation. In terms of macro dynamics, once relieved of those big bass excursions, you may find that your speakers
now play louder and with a lesser sense of strain and distortion.

I chronicled the introduction of the subwoofer + active crossover in my review of the Genesis G-929 subwoofers and highly recommend reading it because it details bass improvements in a way I don't plan on repeating. The reality is that the Bryston 10B-Sub active crossover was the unsung hero of that review, hence its moment in the sun now.

What did the 10B-Sub active crossover do for me? Well, it depended on the speaker though the benefit was significant no matter what speaker I used. What were perhaps the most surprising beneficiaries were the largest and most expensive speakers I had in the house. My Tidal Pianos are exactly the sort of speaker I described earlier. They are a floor-standing 2.5 way design with two 6.5" woofers rated with an F3 of 32Hz and I've measured usable bass down to 25Hz in my room. But these speakers are not about bass, not with two fairly small woofers on duty. Thus they jumped for joy when I introduced the Bryston 10B. First, the soundstage became huge. That's partly the effect of added bass frequencies. Adding a good subwoofer will usually increase the sense of space since there are a lot of spatial cues in the deepest bass. But it was the way how not only the sense of space increased but the music was finally completely liberated from the speakers that I appreciated most. While the speakers had always done a pretty good job of disappearing, the introduction of the 10B proved that the speakers could do better. The music now floated completely free and decorrelated from the speakers. Midrange articulation increased and even image specificity took a jump in the right direction. Non-stationary images on the stage now moved about with less ambiguity than before. Check out the female voice on "One Of My Turns" from Pink Floyd's The Wall [Columbia C2K 36183] -- you know the one -- when she mutters "Are all these your guitars?" and 'Wanna take a bath?" as she walks back and forth across the listening room. Now she does so with an almost spooky sense of focus and presence. Depth too is enhanced. The rest of the Floyd disc presents a suite of bass signatures each featuring differing textures and degrees of power and each of them is articulated far better than the speakers were ever able to do before.

The main reason I set off on this journey to improve the bass response in my room had nothing to do with getting more bass slam and power. Neither was it about increasing bass tonality and pitch - all of which I accomplished. After a recent visit for my RoadTour Exit 13 to Bill Legall's place and experiencing his Infinity IRS series speakers, I realized just how wrong the bass in my room was. Bass at Bill's place was phenomenal. Phenomenal for its tonality and impact, sure - 12 large servo-controlled woofers and a few thousand watts of good clean power can do that. But just as important was the sense of ease. If you've experienced deep and powerful bass that pressurized your ears to an uncomfortable level, you'll understand what I was now trying to avoid. There was none of that in Bill's room. There was no fatigue-inducing pressure on the ears at all. It was the most natural bass presentation I'd ever heard and suddenly what I was hearing in my room sounded wrong, uncomfortable and arduous. I wanted that grandiose bass in my room kicking me in the gut and in the seat of my pants - but without my eardrums ready to implode. I got that with the introduction of the Bryston 10B. What I discovered was that my speakers were the problem. They just couldn't produce those enthusiastic levels at those frequencies without distortion. I'd discovered long ago that a large part of the bass drama produced by smaller speakers is nothing more than distortion. Listening to the digitally recorded canons on either of Telarc's versions of the 1812 Overture with the crossover and subwoofer -- and without them, just the speakers alone -- demonstrated that a lot of the cacophonous drama with the cannons is often nothing more than the speakers distorting like crazy as they try to produce that which is beyond their reach. Filter out the bass and send it to a really good sub and you may be shocked at how much less drama you hear; how much cleaner and clearer the cannons can sound. They sound damn near musical now - and I'd normally not be the type of guy to elevate gun fire to musical relevance!