The Canadian company Bryston is one of the mainstays of pro and high end audio. I have previously reviewed their entry level power amp and preamp combo and their excellent BCD-1 CD player. Bryston gear is known as being exceptionally well built, clean sounding, and reliable. The company, with the BCD-1, made their first foray into digital, and several years ago, introduced the much raved about BDA-1 DAC. I have been itching to get a review sample fo the BDA-1 for some time now. Micah Sheveloff, Bryston’s long time PR rep was kind enough to send one my way. The timing was perfect, as I had several digital sources on hand to evaluate, and I just ordered several brand new digital cables.
Recently I have done several “budget” DAC reviews, that is, those costing less than $1000. I found both the Arcam rDAC and the Channel Islands Audio VDA-2 to be wonderful performers that punched above their weight class. But certainly, as you move up the ladder you get more sophisticated products with more and higher quality inputs, linear power supplies, and features like defeatable upsampling, and even remote controls.
The Bryston BDA-1, priced at $2195, is one such unit that features high quality linear power supplies for digital and analog, eight digital inputs, single ended and XLR analog outputs, a digital output, a detachable IEC power cord, and integer based (“synchronous”) defeatable upsampling. The digital inputs offered are two optical, four coaxial with two RCA and two BNC jacks, an AES/EBU input, and finally a USB input. The build quality and front panel panel layout are superb, typical of what I have seen from Bryston. There is also an optional remote control.
On the inside, the BDA-1 features dual 192K/24 Bit Crystal CS-4398 DAC chips. The digital inputs are transformer coupled, excluding the USB, and the unit’s firmware is upgradeable. The BDA-1 handles sampling frequencies up to 192 Khz on all inputs except for USB. There is an optional upsampling feature that takes multiples of 44.1 (upsampled to 176.4), as well as multiples of 32 Khz (upsampled to 192 Khz). Many believe this type of integer upsampling is preferred because the processing is simpler and more accurate. If upsampling to 176.4, the the LED indicator lights an amber color, and if upsampling to 192, the LED lights green. Having this optional feature is very desirable, as most DAC units that feature upsampling, especially at lower price points lock you in to a predetermined upsample rate. Incidentally, Bryston says the upsampling feature optimizes DAC performance.
Set up and Listening:
Setting up the BDA-1 was a snap. During the review period, I also received a set of digital cables from DH Labs, including an optical, a coaxial RCA, and a coaxial BNC. I ran the BNC from my Naim CD5 XS CD player into the BDA-1, then both the coax RCA and optical cables from my Squeezebox Touch. Naim is one of the few companies out there that offer CD player with BNC outputs. Many with technical backgrounds believe BNC is one of the better digital connections due to its wide bandwidth, low noise, and true 75 Ohm performance. Using the Naim as a transport with the BDA-1 was very interesting. I found the analog output of the Naim and the Bryston more similar than different.
With upsampling engaged, it was a different story. Upsampled to 176.4 Redbook CD's sonic images seemed to leap out of the speakers. Bass seemed deeper and richer. There seem to be details that emerged from recordings that were pushed to the forefront that were previously buried in the background. What was driving me crazy is that even at the conclusion of the review period I could not decide if upsampling was providing a fuller listening experience, or an artificial sheen. Ultimately I was leaning toward the former, as I semi concluded the Byrston’s upsampling scheme was doing something desirable musically.
With upsampling engaged, the BDA-1 created an additional dimension on CD playback, but as I said, it took me some time to decide it was a natural improvement. When it was off, I missed the additional soundstage width and depth. I decided to leave it engaged 90% of the time. Once I settled in, listening to the BDA-1 was an absolute pleasure. There was a seamless coherence throughout the frequency spectrum, and not even a hint of digital glare. This was clearly a world class digital component.