Bryston BDP-2 Server and BDA-3 DAC Review 
Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 15 July 2016

There has never been a better time to be a fan of high end digital audio. Audiophiles and non audiophiles alike can spend as little as a few hundred dollars for high quality sound. Or, the sky is the limit, with six figure Digital Audio Convertors and file players available to those who can afford them. Couple that with high resolution downloads, and lossless streaming from Tidal and others, and the days of having just a CD player for digital playback seems quaint.

I have been on a networked playback system for close to 9 years now. My first device was a Squeezebox Classic, then a Squeezebox Touch, via wired Ethernet. I ripped my CDs to FLAC and bought the occasional 24 bit download. I started with the analog outputs of the Squeezebox, then soon connected via TosLink to a number of outboard convertors.

As time went by, I auditioned and reviewed numerous streamers, including the Bryston BDP-1, the Canadian company’s first file player. It was the best digital source component I had heard up until that point, circa 2010. It bettered my Naim CD player by a clear margin. I was able to couple the BDP-1 with Bryston’s first DAC, the BDA-1 as well. The BDA-1 became my reference DAC until recently, until the BDA-3 was released last year. More on that later.

The BDP-1 was well reviewed and became a reference component for many reviewers for a number or reasons. It ran on custom Linux and firmware, passed through up to 24/192 resolution in just about every file format, and worked with locally connected storage. With firmware updates, Bryston added network streaming and other features. Bryston eventually developed the BDP-2, which doubled the onboard memory, added USB DAC connectivity, DSD output via DoP, and numerous other features.

The BDA-1 DAC was superseded by the BDP-2, which added an asynchronous USB input, and other improvements. The BDA-3 arrived after a long-term development phase, adding DSD decoding and HDMI inputs, among other things. Bryston, in my opinion, has shown a history of ignoring trends and fashion, and defers instead to engineering and proper product design. The company could have easily put out a “DSD capable” DAC three years ago but chose to not capitalize or compromise. I admire this very much.

Bryston BDP-2

Features

I decided not to get too technical with this review, and focus on set-up and sonics. However here is a brief overview of the $2995 BDP-2 file player:
  • Playback from local USB drives
  • Custom Intel Atom Powered Motherboard
  • Multiple control options (iOS, Android OS, and PC)
  • User upgradable firmware
  • NAS Connectivity supported
  • Outputs DXD/DSD
  • Gigabit Ethernet

Here are the features of the $3495 BDA-3 DAC:
  • Dual 32Bit AKM DAC IC's
  • Discrete Class A analog output stage
  • Independent analog and digital signal paths
  • Independent power supplies
  • Supports DXD/DSD, up to DSD512
  • HDMI video pass-through with audio out (4K video pass-through)
  • Optional Synchronous upsampling

Both the BDP-2 and the BDA-3 are available in black or silver faceplates, and in either 17 or 19 inch width. Both my units were 17 inch silver. Both are beautifully built and are covered by Byrston’s comprehensive warranty. Both products are made in Brystons Canadian factory. An optional remote control is available as well.

The BDP-1 and BDP-2 were developed with the notion that a consumer grade computer, even if “optimized”, cannot compete with a purposefully designed and built file player. High quality power supplies, stripped down processes, and careful attention to layout make the difference. The BDP-2 takes things further with a custom Intel motherboard, and an in-house designed / manufactured sound card.

Bryston BDA-3


On an ergonomic level, the BDP-2 requires no external software or drivers. When using locally attached storage, MPD is used, and when used as a network player any number of Android or iOS control points can be used to control playback. A web browser is used to customize the settings, and to update update the firmware. The interface is seamless.

I used the BDP-2 both as a DLNA network player and with locally attached drives. My set-up, for reference, consists of 10 TB of FLAC and DSF files attached to a networked Mac Mini, running MiniMServer, which decodes the FLAC files to WAV before sending them through the network.  I used the Linn Kazzoo app on an iPad Air to control network playback, and the MPD app for iPad to control local playback.

I have Ethernet running into a SOtM ISO-Cat6 LAN Isolator via Rosewill Cat7 cable, then from the SOtM, a run of Supra Cat7 Ethernet cable into the BDP-2. A Wireworld Electra 7 power cord connects the BDP-2 to a Bryston BIT-15 isolation transformer

The BDP-3 had significant development cycle, as Bryston wanted to not only add DSD support, native at that, it also wanted to add any other improvements it could along the way.  I know with certainty that not only was the BDA-3 an engineering driven design, but a lot of listening was done for fine tuning. James Tanner, VP at Bryston, who is deeply involved with product development did not let the BDA-3 hit the market until his ears were satisfied, despite impatience from Bryston customers!

Bryston BDP-2

Set Up & Listening

The BDP-2/BDA3 combo was installed in my main system consisting of an Aric Audio Unlimited tube preamp, a Simaudio 760A power amp, an Audio Research VS55 tube amp, a JL Audio d108 subwoofer, and Bryston Mini T monitors, which sat on wrought iron Sound Anchors stands. Cabling was Wireworld all the way. Both units stayed powered on 24/7.

The BDP-2, as noted, can be used in many different ways, and I used mostly DLNA/Open Home for network playback, and MPD for local playback. Local drives had AIFF files, and networked files, were FLAC decoded to WAV by MiniMServer. I hooked up the BDP-2 to the BDA-3 via both AES/EBU and USB (for DSD decoding) with Wireworld Gold Starlight 7 and Platinum Starlight 7 cables. When connected via AES/EBU, I left the upsampling engaged, as I thought it improved the presentation. Bryston’s upsampling takes 44.1 kHz and multiples / re-clocks them to 24 bit, 176.4 kHz. Multiples of 48 kHz are re-clocked to 24 bit, 192 kHz.

Upsampling is not available via the USB input for a very good reason, as it allows for DSD decoding, and Bryston wanted to make sure separate signal paths were used, which is one of the reasons the development of the BDA-3 took longer than expected. The company wanted no compromises for PCM playback, which is still going to make the great majority of users digital libraries.

I noted in previous reviews that I am on an extensive classic progressive rock kick, especially so called Krautrock and the legendary Canterbury scene. The music is not only cosmic and expansive, but because of it’s complexity, more often than not, was recorded with great care. During this review, I probably cycled through over fifty albums from The Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, Camel, Brainticket, Eloy, Gong, Can, and more.

Bryston BDA-3

In The Land Of Grey And Pink, the classic album from Caravan, was as expansive as I have heard, from the Redbook CD layer, and the DSD layer ripped from the Japanese SHM SACD. The remastering is a flat transfer from the original master tapes, and the band’s mix of jazzy motifs, english folk, and progressive rock is magical. There are a number of quiet passages on the album, and that helped illustrate the amazingly low noise floor that the Bryston combo and Wireworld cables produced. Yes, silent backgrounds really do make a difference.

I also delved into highly obscure classic British folk rock. Again, mostly well recorded, and intricate in nature. A Midsummer's Night Dream, the 1970 release by Oberon, mixes chanted melodies, minstrel like arrangements, and acoustic flourishes. Their versions of “Nottamun Town” and “Summertime” are sublime. The Bryston duo was able to shine a very sympathetic light on this wonderful time piece, allowing acoustic guitars, reverb, and classic analog recording
techniques to shine through.

I decided to take a left turn and cued up the discography of the band U.K. band Japan, who helped spearhead the New Romantic movement in the late 70’s. Their sound was a big influence on Duran Duran, and others. The Bryston combo made their first few albums, Obscure Alternatives, Quiet Life, and Gentlemen Take Polaroids sound vibrant, cutting edge, and avant garde, even thirty years later. David Sylvian lead vocals, from which Simon Le Bon of Duran Duran took great inspiration, were framed perfectly between the Mini T speakers, getting his tonality down pat.

Bryston BDP-2

The Bryston front end made Cannonball Adderley’s late 60’s to mid 70’s adventurous output sound just as fresh as when they were released. Titles like Black Messiah, Inside Straight, Pyramid, and The Happy People were intoxicating, and the Bryston duo nailed the horns, space rock influences, funk beats, and exotic compositions. I was able to hear the differences in how different band members contributed to each recording, and the differences in recording production. But most importantly, these albums never sounded more enjoyable.

What I find impressive about the development of the BDP series, and the BDA DACs, is that features were added taking into account direct feedback from customers. Early on, DLNA support was added, then USB output, then DSD support, and now, as of the writing of this review, Roon support. Roon, according to some, is superior technically to DLNA and offers certain benefits like a superior graphical interface. Note, that Roon is a premium solution requiring you purchase a license from Roon Labs. A few final notes: the BDP-2 can be outfitted with an internal drive, and one can use the new Bryston BOT-1 disc transport to rip CDs directly to a hard drive via the BDP-2. Files can also be transferred to locally attached drives via the network.

Very little actual technical knowledge is required to get the BDP-2 up and running, but if one should run into roadblocks, Bryston support is superb. The company interacts with customers regularly through internet forums as well, and it’s key operatives for their digital front ends are very accessible. In the end, I can state with certainty one can purchase Bryston digital products with confidence. The Bryston team also only updates the official firmware if there are significant improvements to be offered, unlike some competitors which constantly feed their customers updates in a wack a mole approach. Bryston does offer downloads of beta builds for those who wish to try them. Detailed information about each build is provided on the download page.

Bryston BDA-3

Conclusion

The Bryston BDP-2 digital file and network player used in tandem with the BDA-3 DAC is the best digital front end I have had in my system. The versatility, build, ease of setup, and sound quality are unrivaled in my experience at least. The combination costs approximately $6500. From what I have heard at audio shows and dealers, this duo competes with far more expensive digital players and DAC models.

It is my opinion that a purpose designed digital transport is far more desirable than an an assembly line computer, a patchwork of software, and other add on peripherals. Others may disagree, which is fine by me, I only offer my view. I focus on the “audio” part of of computer audio. There is simply too much music to listen to! The Bryston BDP-2 and BDA-3 should be auditioned if shopping for a state of the art digital front end that while not inexpensive, is worth every penny.


Specifications



Bryston BDP-2: $2995
Bryston BDA-3: $3495
www.bryston.com

Review System 1


Preamp: Aric Audio Unlimited
Amplifier: Audio Research VS55, Simaudio 760A
Speaker:  Bryston Mini T
Cables: Acoustic Zen, Element Cable, DH Labs, iFi, Wireworld
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks and Svelte Shelves, Shakti Stone, Bryston BIT-15, Salamander rack

Review System 2


Music Server: SOtM sMS-100 w/ Battery XPS, Sonore microRendu
Preamp: Aric Audio Expression, Belles Soloist 3
DAC/Streamer: Simaudio 280D w MiND
Power Amplifier: Onkyo M5000R
Tape Deck: Sony TC-350
Speaker: Magnepan MMG, Spendor S35R
Cables: DH Labs, Transparent
Accessories: Cable Pro Noisetrapper, iFi iPower, Audience aR6






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