Bryston’s first two forays into digital source components, the BCD-1 CD player and the BDA-1 DAC , have been smashing successes, garnering rave reviews for sound, build quality, and overall value. Those products brought to the table what all other Bryston products are known for. Namely, highly engineered, superbly built, reliable, musical sounding components. I can vouch for this as I have had the pleasure of reviewing the BCD-1, the BDA-1, as well as other Bryston products.
Bryston has obviously kept tabs on the growing popularity of computer audio, and the declining popularity of CDs, and optical disc playback in general. The result is the BDP-1 digital file player. This new product has caused quite a stir, and raised many eyebrows for what it does, and for what it does not do. First, unlike the Marantz NA7004 network file player and Squeezebox Touch , it has no analog outputs, no on board DAC, and does not stream files from a remote NAS or computer. Bryston has forgone all this with the single minded notion of peeling away all functions that they feel compromise bit perfect playback of digital music files. In a nutshell, this is specialization taken to the max.
In a way, this is a throwback to the multi box disc players of the 90’s, with separate transport, DAC, and clocks. Some even had separate power supplies. But obviously, the thinking there was that isolating the critical processes vital to high quality playback was the goal. Bryston has taken this even further, determined to strip away unnecessary functions found in typical digital file playback systems and computers. To clarify, the BDP-1 is essentially a computer, housed in an attractive, user friendly chassis. It runs on Linux, and at the heart of it is a top grade ESI Juli@ soundcard. I won’t get too technical in this review, as there are several other write ups that go that route, so I will give an outline on set up, which is quite interesting, and focus heavily on sonics.
Set Up & Listening:
I connected the BDP-1 to the Bryston BDA-1 DAC. Bryston feels the AES/EBU digital output sounds the best, and they did supply a cable for the review; I used a DH Labs BNC terminated cable as well for comparisons. I then simply plugged in a powered 1 TB USB hard drive filled with Redbook FLAC rips and higher resolution downloads into the front USB slot. After powering up, the unit initializes and then scans the attached storage devices. You can scroll through folders, hit Play, Stop, Forward etc using the front panel buttons, much like you would on a CD player, or via the optional remote control. But, there are much better ways to navigate the BDP-1.
First, you connect the BDP-1 to your home network (Bryston sent me a Cisco router to use so I could create a private network). Then you call up the player on your web browser and use the Bryston Max application. I found it slow, unreliable, and stopped using it after a few days. Better yet, you can install the Firefox add on, Minion player. Users have reported very positive experiences with it. Unfortunately, it is not currently compatible with the version of Firefox I just updated to on my Mac Mini. Bryston says Minion generally runs about a month behind Firefox updates.
Certainly the most elegant way to use the BDP-1 is via an iPhone, iPod Touch, or an iPad. You simply install the MPod or MPad apps and away you go. I do not own an iPad or my own iPod Touch, so I eventually used the GNOME music player. It worked like a charm on my Dell netbook running Wndows XP. I was able to control the BDP-1 and navigate entire libraries housed on the attached hard drive and USB sticks. It found the interface reliable and straight forward.
Now we approach the BDP-1’s biggest selling point for me, the sound quality. What I heard, from Redbook rips, and higher resolution downloads, was the most distortion free, refined, and natural sounding digital source component I have heard. I think the combination of the BDP-1 and BDA-1 DAC was a match made in heaven, which is no surprise, since they are engineered to work to together. I can tell you that in the last two years I have heard a lot of CD players, music servers, and streamers. The BDP-1 for me is clearly at the top of the heap, regardless of price point, and by a wide margin.