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Bryston's new DAC rules as affordable high-end
Few DAC's Can Compete
by David McCallum

We all know of Bryston’s accomplishments as a manufacturer of high quality analog amplification products. They have been at it for decades, and their most recent SST2 series amplifiers have received strong praise within the hi-fi community. The new 7B SST2 mono-block amplifiers received a prestigious four note rating here on TIE’s website. However, over the last decade Bryston’s most impressive work may be in the design of dedicated two-channel digital electronics.

Bryston’s foray into digital audio began about ten years ago with the introduction of an internal 96/24 DAC designed for the BP25 pre-amplifier. Following the internal DAC were multiple generations of multi-channel surround sound processors for home theater (SP 1.0, SP 1.7 & SP 2.0). At that time, much of the world was moving toward all-inclusive products that handled both video and audio in one unit, prioritizing convenience of use and connectivity. Bryston, however, made the decision to exclude video circuitry from their processor because of the impact it had on the audio performance. By successfully pairing digital audio decoding with high quality analog output circuits, Bryston’s processors quickly became known for their uncompromising sound quality.

Moving forward a few years, with the electronics world in the middle of a battle between high-definition media formats, and with many hi-fi enthusiasts exploring computer-based music, Bryston made another curious decision; they designed a CD player – investing substantial resources into a format that many consider to be dying. The result was the BCD 1 compact disc player.

Not coincidentally, in one unique aspect the BCD 1 mirrored Bryston’s earlier surround sound processors: simplicity. The unit only does one thing: it plays Redbook-standard 44.1K-16bit compact discs. However, it plays them very well. With design emphasis placed on its dual-discrete class A analog output stage, Bryston’s first disc player became an instant hit. Since it’s release in 2007, the BCD 1 has received worldwide praise and countless awards, and has become the most successful Bryston product to date.

After investing the resources in developing the BCD 1 CD player, it was logical for Bryston to further advance their digital product line. The success of the disc player proved to Bryston that they had the ability to succeed in the world of stand-alone digital electronics. According to James Tanner (VP of Sales and Marketing), Bryston was looking for a product that was capable of tying multiple digital sources together. The result is the BDA 1 DAC.

The Sound
Let me tell you a story. The Bryston BDA 1 arrived on a Sunday afternoon in mid-December after I had spent an extensive weekend testing RCA interconnect cables. As the day moved on I pushed my cable testing to the limit and was due to leave the house. By then, I had probably logged 20 hrs of listening over the weekend and was pretty spent on hi-fi, but felt a pull to at least hook up the BDA 1.

Using Alan Parsons & Stephen Court’s Test Disc Two reference CD for about the 30th time that weekend, I set the system to my regular listening level, ran a few tests and finally skipped down to the instrument cues. While listening first to a solo piano then a few guitar tracks I found myself a bit disoriented; the whole system sounded quite different. I was only a few seconds into Limelight by The Alan Parsons Project when my enthusiasm started to build. Something big was happening here.

Knowing that I was under some pressure to get out of the house, I couldn’t resist trying one more song. Into my player went Abbey Road. Selecting track seven and knowing the volume was perfect, I sat back with my eyes closed. I smiled as the opening guitar in Here Comes the Sun began to pour gently from the left channel of my ATC SCM 20 loudspeakers. By the time the song spread across the room and George Harrison’s voice rang out, I knew something very special had entered my system.

Following a weekend of cable testing in which I found myself straining to find even minute differences, this new component was quite simply a game changer. Differences were no longer subtle, improvements were no longer debatable and the overall sound quality had leaped forward a multitude of degrees. For the rest of that night and the next day my time was split between raving about what I had heard and anticipating when I would get to play with the BDA 1 again.

My next opportunity had to wait a full 24 hrs. Arriving home from work, I slid past my lovely wife who had already started cooking dinner. She knew where I was headed and graciously let me pass down into my hi-fi den.

While waiting for the tubes on my Modwright LS 36.5 preamp to warm up I figured out the BDA 1’s next test: how would Bryston’s DAC compare to SACD? I’m an avid SACD enthusiast, one of a dying breed I know, but I have remained a hold out. So for the next go-round I planned to play three different stereo SACD tracks, level match the system and switch to the CD layer. The BCD 1 adds about 2-3 db of gain to the system, which is a massive difference if not accounted for with a volume trim.

The tracks I planned to use were Here We Go Again by Ray Charles & Norah Jones, Ring them Bells by Bob Dylan and The Pink Panther Theme by Henry Mancini. I started with Here We Go Again on SACD. It sounded as I expected: lush, full and spacious. However, after just one track I wanted to get right to the test and switch to the CD layer.

“WOW” I must have yelled, probably more than once. What sounded good before now leapt from the speakers, breathing life and space into the room where none had been before. Clarity, detail, bass response, high frequency extension, depth, dynamic range, and imaging…you name the sonic attribute and the improvements were obvious. I ended up listening to about 6-8 tracks in each format, and as amazed as I was there really was no comparison between the SACD layer and the 44.1k-16b Redbook layer. The BCD 1 remained a game changer.

Responding to my constant outbursts my wife climbed down the stairs and pronounced, “You’ve got 4 minutes to wow me.” While not an audiophile, Natalie is a real music enthusiast who willingly participated in much of my weekend cable testing. As a result, she was quite versed in the system’s sound, and, I think, skeptical of my ravings about the BDA 1.

Under pressure to make a quick impression, I eagerly put Abbey Road back into the CD player and again skipped down to track seven. As the guitar began I noticed a smile creep across her face, and after about 30 seconds, right around the time George crooned “little darlin’’’ for the first time, Natalie turned and said, “you weren’t kidding.”

Abandoning any comparisons to SACD or cables, we simply enjoyed each song as if it were a new discovery. The Beatles, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, Dire Straits, The Chieftains, Bob Dylan, U2, Neko Case and Oscar Peterson all got their fair share. Near the end of the session, as the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue reached its final notes Natalie leaned over and said, “I hope this never leaves.” The BDA 1 had announced its presence, and it was here to stay.

I know the previous part of this review read more like a story than a technical analysis. I’ve left out comparisons to other DACs, explanations of attributes like upsampling and evaluations of its performance on different types of music. However, I found myself having so much fun listening to music through the BDA 1 that my experience seemed best expressed as a narrative. But I will add a few bits of hi-fi related info for those who are curious.

The most exceptional quality of the BDA 1 is its overall musicality. The DAC sounds very sweet, with warmth not often attributed to digital audio. However, that warmth does not come at the sacrifice of accuracy. There is an exceptional level of separation between channels, resulting in a very high level of detail across the entire sonic spectrum. Highs are crisp and clear without bite, the midrange has the full space it requires, and bass & depth are uncompromised. My instinct is that these attributes are directly related to the quality of the design in the analog output stage.

I have spent a lot of time listening to Bryston equipment. I own a 9B SST amplifier, and through my affiliation with TIE have listened to most products they have manufactured in the last decade. This relatively inexpensive DAC ranks with the best components Bryston has produced. As I’m sure you can tell, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time with the BDA 1. It is an exceptionally good product, and would probably earn the same level of praise if it cost three times as much. But it doesn’t. Whether you choose to evaluate it based on design, functionality, sound or price, the BDA 1 is a winner.

Bryston BDA 1 Digital to Analog Converter Bryston Ltd.
K9J 6X7
PHONE: 705 742-5325




Bryston’s BDA 1 DAC is an external stereo digital-to-analog converter. It is capable of converting numerous digital input signals (from 32k-16bit to 192k-24bit) via eight selectable inputs options and six input types (USB, 2 COAX, 2 OPTICAL, AES-EBU, 2 BNC). The analog signal is output via unbalanced RCA or fully differential balanced XLR connectors.

Inside the box, the BDA 1 employs a discrete, dual mono design with completely separate digital and analog signal paths. It starts with impedance matching transformers that provide optimum termination of the incoming digital data stream. The signal also passes through both a re-sampling and re-clocking process in order to reduce jitter.

Jitter is a nasty attribute of digital audio transmission, the result of mistiming of the data as it moves between two points in the audio chain. By providing a re-sampled & re-clocked signal to the DAC chips, the BDA 1 is able to greatly reduce the effects of jitter in the audible signal.

Finally, two independent 192k/24bit Crystal CS-4398 DAC chips are used to perform the conversion from digital to analog. The analog signal now moves through two completely separate analog audio chains. Each chain uses its own independent linear power supply, has a separate ground plan, and a fully discrete, class-A proprietary analog output amplifier circuit.

There are a few more relevant features, such as user selectable up-sampling (176.4k & 192k), transformer coupled SPDIF & AES EBU digital inputs, and SPDIF COAX bypass loop output, but at this point I’m more interested in wrapping up the technical garble and getting onto what really matters, which is how the BDA 1 sounds.
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