Bryston BDP-1 Digital File Player Review 
Home Theater Media Servers Music Servers
Written by Andre Marc   
Friday, 19 August 2011

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.

Bryston BDP-1

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.


Specifically, I heard low level detail, layers, and musical cues on familiar recordings that I just did not realize were there.  On track after track, I found myself marveling over the improved separation of instruments, soundstaging, and additional dimension.  An album I have been spinning quite a bit lately is the U.K. band Mumford & Son’s debut Sigh No More. It is a great sounding disc, and the production showcases Mumford’s blend of rock, English folk, and bluegrass. On my Naim CD player and streamed through the Squeezebox Touch it sounded great, but played back through the BDP-1 it was quite remarkable to hear the improved presence and imaging.

A few more Redbook examples include the exotic sounds of Amina Aloui on her CD,  Arco Iris. The Moroccan singer creates an exotic stew of hypnotic rhythms, and modal, North African melodies.  The BDP-1 created holographic images on this beautiful sounding disc, and only made me want to explore Moroccan music further. I also went on a Seattle rock kick, spinning old favorites by the Screaming Trees, and solo work by their lead singer Mark Lanegan. I was rather surprised at how good these rips sounded, as the early 90’s gave birth to the grunge, which was not known for high fidelity. But these records rocked, with surprising definition and presence.

I then spent a significant time listening to high resolution downloads from sites such as iTrax, High Definition Tape Transfers, HDTracks, and a few others. 96 and 192 Khz material sounded pretty mind blowing.  The added dimension and depth was easy to notice depending on the recording.  The owner of a BDP-1 will be perfectly positioned for when studio quality masters will be offered to the public for download. That time can’t come soon enough, as far as I am concerned.

Bryston BDP-1

Conclusion:

I really think Bryston has created a new product category for high end audio.  A purpose built, perfectionist digital file player that forgoes additional so called “features”, and performs the task at hand with no distractions.  Take note there is no streaming, large, fancy display, touch screen, or multi room capability. If that is what you are after, there are other, sonically compromised options for you to consider.

With a short learning curve, set up is basically pain free. Since the BDP-1 does connect to a home network, using an iPad, iPod, or web browser makes controlling the unit a snap. You can also transfer purchased or ripped music to the attached drives via your home network, which means you don’t have to lug your drives back and forth to your ripping computer when acquire new music. I transferred gigs of music with a few clicks of the mouse. Since the firmware is upgradable, new features and functions will be added periodically, making this a future proof purchase.

Ultimately, I keep coming back to one thing, and that is sound. The BDP-1 is amazing sounding, period. I will conclude by repeating what I said earlier, and that is BDP-1 removes layers of distortion you never even knew were there, and lets nothing but music flow through the speakers. After hearing the BDP-1 it will be nearly impossible to let it go.



Q&A with Bryston’s James Tanner:

Q: What was the impetus behind the BDP-1?

The BDP-1 was born out of my frustration with trying to assemble a quality digital playback system that would play NATIVE digital files all the way to 192/24 without glitches. I spent a year playing with different operating systems like Windows and MAC and different sound cards.

I played with a number of soundcards, and many had issues integrating with the specific operating systems. Tthe operating systems had to have many areas 'deactivated' (ex - 'do not map through this device' in Windows and bypassing ‘KMIXER’) in order to get 'bit perfect' output.  Some would play 96/24 and 192/24 but not 176/24 etc. Anyway to make a long story short, I wanted a plug and play system which performed at a state of the art level, and you did not have to be a computer guru to figure out how to setup your computer operating system and choose an appropriate sound card that did not have issues with high resolution (192/24) playback. I wanted NO MOVING PARTS - no fans or switching power supplies etc. that can generate noise. I did not want a dead box that had to be on a network to operate

I finally decided the ‘Linux’ operating system because it can be dedicated to do 'one thing'- PLAY A MUSIC FILE - no housekeeping, no virus issues etc. I wanted a more Plug and Play approach. I wanted to separate the ‘Management’ side from the ‘Playback’ side. Not a Swiss army knife approach.
 
It is not easy to assemble a computer system which will have the incredibly low noise floor and low distortion and high resolution file playback that the BDP-1 has to offer.  Certainly a knowledgeable computer guy can assemble a great sounding setup but it is not a simple task.


Q: What makes the BDP-1 unique is the fact that new features can added and improvements can be implemented via firmware updates. Is this going to be an ongoing process at Bryston?

Yes, the door is wide open moving forward as to the types of features we can add. The hardware is set and works superbly so software updates are continually being looked at to add more features and improve performance. For instance, on the current software we have implemented the ability of the BDP-1 to act as its own NAS. By that I mean you can transfer files from your main computer or external hard drive storage over the network to any hard-drive or thumb-drive connected PHYSICALLY to the BDP-1. That saves you having to connect and disconnect the USB drives from the BDP-1 to add more music.

Going forward we want to look at a dedicated NAS drive or cosmetically matching attached docking bay for USB drives.


Q: The reviews of the BDP-1 have been pretty consistent on one point, the total lack of distortion and purity of sound. Is this due to the Bryston's single minded approach of not making this sort of a Squeezebox on steroids?

ABSOLUTLY- The raw components in the BDP-1 were selected for their performance and reliability.

The Sound Card in the BDP-1 player is excellent in it’s native configuration, one of the best out there.  To improve its performance we modified it with a much better output stage (both the transformer and driving stage are removed). We also installed a dedicated balanced low noise, low distortion AES EBU and BNC output section to integrate properly (impedance matching) with our BDA-1 DAC.
 
The specific Computer Mother board was chosen because it is used in industrial areas and changes very little over time so you have a consistent supply of parts and predictability in performance.  But the really important part is it has NO MOVING PARTS - no fans or switching power supplies etc. that can generate noise. The motherboard has been used for metro area wireless systems for a number of years and has a very good reliability record. It also meets the essential requirements of low power and fan-less operation, both essential to the low noise acoustical and electrical requirements for good audio.

One important point about the way the BDP-1 deals with playing a digital file. Raw Data is processed at USB input not Music 1 or Music 2 streaming. The concern over USB asynchronous versus synchronous has to do with the use of the USB to stream audio class one or two from a Source to a DAC. These concerns do not have any effect on the use of USB to transfer data from a storage device, thumb drive or hard drive, to the CPU over the USB bus in the BDP-1. When a disc volume (USB) is connected to the BDP-1 Digital Player we are transferring computer data and not streaming audio from that drive. In other words, we are extracting bits without any worry over file corruption or inducement of "jitter" to the file.

The BDP-1 provides as faithful a bitstream as we know how to provide with current technology. Very few PC’s come close to this goal and then only with a lot of special optimization that cripple their utility as a PC.  Many PC’s have a lot of audio processing running in the background as well as a lot of EMI and RFI that can influence the performance of connected equipment.

The BDP-1 is definitely a different philosophy and approach to playing back state-of-the-art digital files. Recent technology is allowing us as consumers for the first time to listen to music at much higher resolution than CD. Up to FOUR (4) times better than CD, Computers are allowing us to connect and download high resolution audio directly from the studios masters eliminating many of the compression and manufacturing issues with CD’s


Specifications

Bryston BDP-1 Digital File Player:

●    Output Sampling Rate: Up tp 24 Bit, 192 kHz
●    Jitter: 20 pico-seconds
●    Connections: RS-232, Ethernet, XLR Balanced Digital Output, BNC Balanced Digital Output, Four USB Ports, Trigger
●    Dimensions: 2.75" H x 17" W x 11" D
●    Weight: 12 Pounds
●    MSRP: $2,195 USA

Finishes: Black, silver.


Manufacturer

Bryston Ltd .
PO Box 2170
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 6X7
Canada

Tel: (800) 632-8217

Review System 1

Cd Player: Naim CD5 XS with Flatcap 2X,
Server: Squeezebox Touch
DAC: Bryston BDA-1
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

Review System 2

Cd Player: Marantz 5003, Audiolab 8200CD
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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