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Bryston BDA-1 DAC Review Print E-mail
Thursday, 14 July 2011
Article Index
Bryston BDA-1 DAC Review
Set up, Listening, and Conclusion

I next used the BDA-1 with the Squeezebox Touch.  I switched between optical and coaxial RCA cables by selecting the corresponding input on the front panel and had a hard time picking a winner. Musically, I ended up with the same observations as above. With FLACs ripped from CDs (and high resolution downloads streaming via Ethernet) and played back via hard drive directly attached to the Touch, the results were stellar. Superb detail. coherency, and a truly balanced presentation. Listening to the North African band, Tinariwen, a group of nomads from Saharan Mali, was a hair raising experience. With percolating rhythms, Hendrix influenced guitar stabs, and songs sung in the Tuareg language, this music is complex call and response that can trip up any component lacking the goods. Not so here, the BDA-1 unwrapped this exotic stew without raising an eyebrow. I had just seen Tinariwen live, a great musical experience if there ever was one, and I was pretty astonished at how my system was able to capture the tonality of their voices, instruments, and overall vibe so accurately.

I also cued up the 96 Khz 24 bit downloads of Paul McCartney’s Band On The Run, Alison Krauss & Union Station’s Paper Airplanes,  and the Bill Evans Trio’s Waltz For Debby. The high resolution material shined through the BDA-1 with shimmering highs, liquid mids, and in your chest bass. I plan on accumulating a larger library of higher resolution material, funds permitting, as in many cases there is huge payoff, and an improvement over the corresponding CD. Although in some instances, the margin of improvement is surprisingly small. This has everything to do with production choices and recording quality rather than playback equipment or formats. Higher resolution material also seems to make more of a difference in minimally miked, acoustic based music, rather than in rock or pop, in my personal opinion. I base this on various hi-rez classical downloads where the additional spatial information was very impressive.

Bryston BDA-1 DAC


I can honestly say the Bryston BDA-1 DAC is the best sounding digital component that I have had in my system.  There is simply no area sonically I can find fault with. Maybe I could if I stacked it against units costing well into the high four figures, but that is going down the wrong path. Since a DAC has no moving parts, and all manufacturers are generally selecting from the same pool of chip sets, in my opinion there the most diminishing returns in this product category. That may be one reason there are more “budget” DAC units on the market then in any other component category, not including speakers. The Bryson BDA-1 sits exactly where my budget would be if shopping for a new DAC.  I found the number and variety of inputs incredibly useful and convenient.  The defeatable upsampling option was very enjoyable to experiment with, and as mentioned above, I left it engaged most of the time.  

You will notice there is one obvious omission from this review, and that is the USB input on the BDA-1. I feel there are far better uses for the BDA-1, and that a computer as a direct source is not my cup of tea.  If one were determined to use a computer with playback software, outputting audio via USB, there are several USB only DAC units on the market. I prefer to stream music from a computer, or a NAS type device, or direct file playback. The USB input on the BDA-1 is limited to 48Khz & 16 bit resolution to boot. Bryston essentially agrees with me about USB and has not poured too many resources into this type of connection. In any case the BDA-1 can be used with any number of  excellent USB/SPDIF interfaces on the market if a computer is your preferred direct source.

In conclusion, The BDA-1 offered up detailed, flawless imaging, that allowed all the music I played to flow in a superbly organic way. As a matter of fact, the BDA-1 may be the most neutral source component of I have heard.  Are their less expensive competitors? Sure. But forget about multiple digital inputs, separate digital and analog power supplies, and defeatable, synchronous upsampling. You can also forget about a 5 year warranty, and build quality that would shame some well-reviewed DAC units out there.

I will be doing a follow up on the BDA-1 when I review the Bryston BDP-1 digital file player. The units are made to be used together, connected via BNC.  I very much look forward to this coupling. In the meantime, I can highly recommend the BDA-1 based on sonics, flexibility, and overall quality of build. The BDA-1 is definitely a keeper in my book.


Bryston BDA-1 DAC:

  • Description: Digital-to-analog converter with remote control of digital input and volume.
  • Digital inputs: USB 1.1, four S/PDIF electrical (RCA, BNC); two S/PDIF optical (TosLink), AES/EBU (XLR).
  • Digital input sample rates accepted: 32, 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, and 192kHz (transformer-coupled S/PDIF, AES/EBU); 32–48kHz, USB. 
  • Input word lengths accepted: 16–24-bit, S/PDIF and AES/EBU; 16-bit, USB. Digital output: S/PDIF bypass loop output via RCA jacks
  • Dimensions: 17" (432mm) or 19" (483mm) with rack ears W by 2.75" (44mm) H by 11.25" (286mm) D. Shipping weight: 18 lbs (8.2kg).
  • Finishes: Black, silver.
  • Price: $2195


Bryston Ltd.
PO Box 2170
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 6X7
Tel: (800) 632-8217

Reviewer System 1

Cd Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
Music Server: Squeezebox Touch
Preamp: Audio Research SP16
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55
Speaker: Thiel CS2.4
Cables: DH Labs Revelation (IC), Kimber KCTG (IC), Transparent  MM2 Super (IC),  Transparent Plus (Speaker) Acoustic Zen Tsunami II (AC),Transparent (AC).Element Cable Element Cord, (AC)  Shunyata Venom (AC) Pangea AC-9 (AC) Audience powerChord e.(AC)
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks, Shakti Stone, Sound Anchors stands,  Audience Adept Response aR6 power conditioner, Cable Pro Noisetrapper, Salamander rack

Reviewer System 2

Cd Player: Marantz 5003
Music Server: Squeezebox 3
DAC: CIA VDA-2 with VAC-1 Power Supply
Tape Deck: Revox A77
Preamp: Belles Soloist 3
Amplifier: Belles Soloist 5, Revox A722
Speaker: Harbeth Compact 7ES3
Cables: Kimber/QED/Transparant/Shunyata(AC)/PS Audio, Pangea Audio (AC), RS Cables, Element Cable

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