REVIEW: Bryston BDA-2 & BDP-2
In the fall of 2012 Bryston introduced two new products to its collection of digital audio components, updated versions of both its BDA-1 digital to analog converter (DAC) and its BDP-1 digital audio player (DAP). The BDA-2 and BDP-2 are additions to Bryston’s lineup rather than replacements, and in offering my thoughts on the new units I can’t escape comparisons with the first generation models.
By way of a bit of back history, then, I’ve been using Bryston electronics as a part of my digital front end for nearly five years. The first piece to arrive was a review sample BDA-1 DAC, which quickly established itself as a reference DAC for my main listening room. Priced in the very competitive 2k range, the BDA-1 is a versatile, excellent sounding product. My enthusiasm for the BDA-1 meant that when James Tanner (V.P. Sales & Marketing) asked in the summer of 2010 if I would be willing to take an early look at his new BDP-1, I happily obliged.
At that time the BDP-1 was a new product and had not yet established its roots in the Hi-Fi world. The model I spent time with was an early production unit, and I ended up writing what was the first published article on Bryston’s new dedicated audio player. My words were praiseworthy; the unit did sound damn fantastic. However, being an Apple aficionado, I privately wondered how a small company like Bryston would be able to compete with the likes of Apple or iTunes, and I’ll admit that at the time I was skeptical about the way the BDP-1 would fit into the marketplace. I was 50/50 on that call. I got the praise for the sound of the BDP-1 right, however my skepticism about its ability to carve out a place for itself within the Hi-Fi world proved quite unfounded.
Time now reveals that in the big picture Bryston wasn’t competing with music utilities such as iTunes at all – Bryston customers are looking for something different. And hindsight now allows me to offer even stronger praise of the player, as no single product has had a bigger impact on my Hi-Fi life than the BDP-1. It is the most transparent player of digital audio I have come across.
Prior to the arrival of the BDP-1 I had been experimenting with hard drive based playback for a few years. My profession (Sound Designer and Supervising Sound Editor for films and television) affords me access to high quality computer based audio equipment, and when high sample rate and bit depth audio files started to appear in the mid to late 2000, I began research into what was then an emerging niche for the Hi-Fi world. My first attempts at computer based high-resolution playback for the home, however, felt clunky and overly complicated.
In those early days I came across some impressive products: Amarra’s software solution for iTunes stands out in my memory, and good companies were developing products to suit this new niche. But my primary reaction was that computer based Hi-Fi listening lacked elegance. This private skepticism was reinforced during a pair of lectures on high resolution audio and computer based audio that I attended at the 2010 AES convention in San Francisco. During one of the talks, chair Vicki R. Melchior (Audio DSP Consultant) and panelists Bob Bauman (Lynx Studio Technology), James Johnston (DTS Inc.), Andy McHarg (dCS Ltd.), and Daniel Weiss (Weiss Engineering Ltd.) discussed the complexities of extracting true high-resolution from computer-based systems. The talk was encouraging, but raised many issues about audio playback from a computer, and left me with a dilemma, feeling the pursuit of a higher standard for digital audio playback might not be worth the effort. However, following the lecture, I had a closer look at the design of the BDP-1 digital player, and realized that it did appear to represent a simple and clean solution to that dilemma.
For those not familiar with the BDP-1 or dedicated sound music servers in general, here’s a brief primer on how it works (1): The Bryston BDP-1 is a digital audio player (DAP) that plays music from a USB hard drive or USB Thumbdrive rather than a CD disc, designed specifically for playing high-resolution music within a two channel Hi-Fi stereo system. It plays digital audio from a USB drive and outputs a digital audio signal to an external DAC, just like a CD transport; instead of being stored on a disc, the music is stored on a USB drive. The BDP-1 is able to play multiple audio file types including AIFF, WAV, FLAC, MP3, M4A, with sampling frequencies of 44.1 KHz, 48 KHz, 88.2 KHz, 96 KHz, 176.4 KHz & 192 KHz, and bit depths of 16 bit & 24 bit,converting computer audio files into digital audio for output to a DAC via either AES-EBU (110 ohms) or SPIDF (BNC) (75 ohms) digital signal formats.
Since integrating the BDP-1 into my system I have transferred my entire music collection to hard drive, overhauled much of that collection by replacing original compact discs with newly remastered versions of the same albums- mostly digital downloads from websites such as HDTracks.com – and removed all my transports for digital music playback. Having instant access to my entire music collection and having that music collection sound better than it ever has vaulted the BDP-1 to the top of my ‘must have’ list of components. I recognize that my praise here is mostly directed at server-based music playback in comparison to disc based-playback. However the BDP-1 was designed to make that transition easy and in that regard it succeeded.
Considering my satisfaction with the original units, when I discovered in the late fall of 2012 that Bryston was due to release updated versions of both the BDA-1 DAC and the BDP-1 DAP, I expressed my interest in testing the new units and learning more about what developments Bryston had made with both the DAC and player.
Both the newly released BDA-2 DAC and the BDP-2 DAP offer technical advancements over the original units. The BDA-2 DAC employs two new 32 bit AKM core converter chips, upgrading from the 24 bit Crystal DAC’s found in the BDA-1. There is also a new asynchronous 24 bit /192kHz USB input (the BDA-1 contained a 16 bit/44.1kHz USB input.) Practically, the DAC works exactly as the BDA-1 did, possessing the same connectivity, up-sampling and audio performance standards as the previous model.
Bryston also made significant technical changes to the BDP-2, however those changes aren’t related to its sonic performance. Essentially a computer that only plays audio files, the original BDP-1 suffered from some basic limitations that have been addressed with the new model. Utilizing the same Linux based operating system, the changes to the player include an upgrade to its main motherboard (3x more speed), added connectivity including the availability of both an internal and external eSata hard drive, additional system memory (8x) and increased speed in reading the hard drive.
I found these improvements in capacity, speed and load times for data quite useful. It takes significantly less time to load a full 750GB hard drive onto the BDP-2 compared to the BDP-1. I’m also aware that for some users having the option of an internal hard drive is a necessity. Personally I use external hard drives so that I can more readily update and change the music media from other locations, but the internal drive is perhaps a bit cleaner for others. The internal drive can also be updated or have music added over a network.
During the 2012 TAVES Hi-Fi show in Toronto last September I did see a prototype external USB Bryston labeled transport-drive. This device allowed for the transfer of media (CD or data disc) to any internal or external hard drive connected to the BDP-2, or for direct playback by the player (technically the data is stored in memory while playing the CD disc, so the drive unit isn’t functioning as a transport.) While I haven’t tried it, with the right computer software drivers installed I’m sure another manufacturers external computer disc drive would perform this function, but the Bryston branded disc unit looked pretty cool. At the time of writing, however, the external disc drive was still in development so I can’t fully comment on it as a function of the new model. Finally, using either the BDP-1 or the BDP-2 has become a bit easier with advancements in both Bryston’s own mobile device interface as well as the iPad/iPhone application MPod/MPad, developed by software designer Katoemba and available from iTunes.
I’ve been using the new BDA-2 and BDP-2 combination for a few months and feel comfortable that I’ve developed an understanding of the merits of both the DAC and player as stand-alone audio components as well as in comparison to their predecessors. Sonically, both units perform at the same standard as the previous generation’s models, however if you are looking for great leaps forward you are not going to find it. These new models do offer refinements of operation, upgrades in technology and a continuation of Bryston’s fine standard for digital audio playback.
The BDA-2 is a clean, accurate and neutral sounding DAC. While the new 32-bit chip set provides the flexibility to add DSD decoding down the road (new software is required for this application to become available) and theoretically offers both increased headroom and improved technical measurements over the original BDA-1, the real strength of the BDA-2 is not found within it’s digital engine, but with two features carried over from the original BDA-1: the analog output circuits that follow the digital decoding and the integrity of the independent analog & digital power supplies. I’ve written extensively about Bryston’s work developing their analog circuits in both a review of the BDA-1 a few years ago and in my article on Bryston’s SP3 Sound Processor published here at HPSoundings.com in late 2012. I believe it’s the quality of these analog circuits that set the performance bar for all of Bryston’s digital equipment, and the BDA-2 follows directly on that path.
With the BDP-2 DAP I couldn’t find any tangible sonic improvements over the BDP-1, however that doesn’t mean the upgrades are unsubstantial. With improvements in the efficiency of its operation you are listening to music faster than before, and there is more of it available from one hard drive. While I haven’t exploited some of the player’s new features for my own use, such as installing an internal hard drive or utilizing one of the eSata connections, I can see how the features would be of benefit. I quite like the new BDP-2 and while it is more expensive than the BDP-1, it’s my assertion that it is the superior player.
In combination, I am quite happy with both the performance and function of the BDA-2 and BDP-2 DAP as a digital front end for my home audio system. As I mentioned in the introduction, I am fully committed to computer-based playback. However, I do strive for a convenience and understanding of quality Hi-Fi listening that these units are designed to satisfy. I find them superior to a computer, even if I have to forgo applications such as iTunes, Songbird or other databases that may be better at media organization.
Both the BDA-2 and the BDP-2 offer subtle yet necessary advancements for Bryston’s digital front end products. While they aren’t billed as replacements (both the BDA-1 and BDP-1 are still available) the updates to the second-generation models reveal an awareness by Bryston of the speed at which trends in digital audio can change and adaptability to incorporate new features quickly. If you already own either a BDA-1 or BDP-1 these new units won’t change your life, but they should be more attractive than their predecessors to any new customer looking for either a new $2-$3k, DAC or digital audio player. Both are exceptional sounding products that would fit in well with any Hi-End audio system.
~ David McCallum
*The original BDP-1 review can be found here: http://www.innerearmag.com/reviews/accessories/Bryston_BDP-1.shtml
David McCallum is a 20-year audio professional who works as a Sound Designer and Supervising Sound Editor for films and television. A partner at Tattersall Sound & Picture in Toronto, David has traveled the world to practice his craft, spending time at studios in Paris, London, Sao Paulo, San Francisco and Amsterdam. His recent screen credits include television dramas The Vikings & The Borgias, and the film adaptations of Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Jose Saramago’s Blindness. Other feature films of note include Antiviral, Splice, Still Mine, Take This Waltz, Away From Her and the Silent Hill series of horror films.
David is also a long time collaborator with Rhombus Media Inc., a world renowned producer of performing arts films. David’s work with Rhombus has led to collaborations on numerous documentary films about classical composers such as Ravel, Shostakovich, Weill, Beethoven, Eisler, Satie and many others. A winner of a prestigious BAFTA award from the British Association of Film & Television, David has received 19 awards and 39 nominations for his work in the screen industry. David’s passion for audio and music follows him from the studio to his home, where his love of Hi-Fi dates back to his teenage years. Prior to hpSOUNDINGS, David has been sharing his thoughts on Hi-Fi, home theatre and music for almost two decades as a contributing editor and writer for The Inner Ear, a Canadian magazine dedicated to high end audio enjoyment.