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Bryston BDA-3 DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) Review 01

More Canadian than Darryl Sittler sipping a double-double from Tim Hortons while handing Terry Fox an autographed #27 Maple Leaf Jersey at the Toronto City Hall, Bryston has been manufacturing consumer electronics out of Peterborough Ontario since the early 1970s. Today, Bryston sells a vast array of audio products including amps, preamps, digital products, speakers and even a turntable.

In this review, we look at the BDA-3 ($3,495), Bryston’s current flagship Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). What’s a DAC you ask? You may not know it, but if you listen to music then you use a DAC all the time. The DAC is a device that’s responsible for converting digital audio to an analog signal that’s audible by the human ear (and played by speakers or headphones). The DAC sits between the music source (CD player, your smartphone, laptop, etc) and your amplifier and is critically important in the overall quality of the music we hear. A high quality DAC can make all the difference in the sound of your home or headphone music system.

The BDA-3 is Bryston’s first DAC to include DSD conversion. The unit can convert PCM, DSD, and DoP (DSD over PCM) encoded digital signals. The BDA-3’s front panel has three vertical rows of LEDs. The first two rows indicate what the incoming PCM digital signal sampling rate is. The third row shows which DSD sampling rate is being fed into the unit.

There’s one ‘On/Off’ button located to the far right side and one ‘Upsample’ button. There are also individual buttons for all of its inputs. An optional remote control (the BR-2) costs $250 extra.

Users can upsample PCM streams by multiples of 44.1 KHz or 48KHz through the S/PDiF inputs. It’s not possible to upsample either native DSD or DoP signals.

The BDA-3 features two AKM decoding chips which can convert binary PCM-encoded signals up to 32-bit / 384 KHz resolution and DSD code up to 4 x natively. The unit offers an immense number of audio source inputs – a whopping total of 10. These include 4 x HDMI; 2 x Asynchronous USB; S/PDiF over BNC, RCA, or Toslink (i.e. optical) connectors; and 1 x balanced (AES/EBU).

Computer based music players and servers, SACD players, Blu-ray transports, TVs, and digital media players can all pass hi-res digital code up to the DSD-512 or 32/384 PCM level through the BDA-3’s USB inputs; or up to 24/192 PCM signals through its HDMI inputs.

The unit also has one HDMI digital output, one pair of single-ended RCA analog outputs, and one pair of balanced XLR analog outputs. For control applications, the BDA-3 comes with an RS-232 interface port, a USB control port, and an Ethernet jack.

Chipsets alone do not guarantee good sonics. Achieving true high-end sound also depends on the quality of the power supply, the way in which the D-to-A conversion is done, and the quality of the output stage.

The power supply in the BDA-3 is linear, not switched. And it uses a fully balanced dual-differential DAC. This means that there are no phase-splitters anywhere in the signal path.

Bryston claims that integrated circuits (ICs) “…limit the bandwidth and dynamic range of so many other DACs.” Accordingly, there are no ICs anywhere in the BDA-3’s proprietary solid state analog output section. To learn more technical details about the BDA-3, I encourage you to visit www.bryston.com.

Kicking off my listening sessions, I conducted a number of comparison tests between Bryston’s BDA-1 DAC and their latest BDA-3 model, using PCM music files. The BDA-3 consistently created better resolution, a much wider and deeper soundstage and smoother pace, rhythm and timing (PRaT). It also offered superior low-level detail retrieval compared to Bryston’s first DAC- the PCM-only model BDA-1.

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bryston-blp-1-btp-1-wood-table-oblique

Imagine this:

It’s mid-morning at Bryston’s HQ in Peterborough Ontario. James Tanner, VP of Sales, sits at his desk answering emails. He’s surrounded by boxes filled with cash- CDN dollars, US dollars, and Euros. There’s so much money piled up that his office is—literally—buried in cash.

A bouncy secretary bounds into his office and, in a bored voice—as if it’s become expected and normal—calmly says: “More money Mister Tanner.”

A Fed-Ex delivery guy wheels a 6 foot high stack of boxes brimming with cash into the office.

In a panic-stricken voice, J.T. yelps back: “Jumpin’ Jesus on a Kawasaki… get it outta here!!

His secretary yawns and then asks: “What would you like us to do with it Sir?

Rising up with his arms waving frantically, an adrenalized J.T. barks back: “Burn it! Smoke it! Throw it out the window of a car onto the 401!! I don’t care. Just get rid of it! The storage costs of all this money are gonna bankrupt us!”

Ok… back to reality. Contrary to what some people might think, James Tanner isn’t hoarding money. Gold Bullion… maybe(?). But not cash currency. The fact is this: Bryston are a very successful consumer audio company. And this success means they can invest their profits into new products and attempt things which smaller companies simply can’t. Examples…? Bryston have released a new turntable called the BLP-1.

This is Bryston’s first turntable. As such, they’ve relied upon the expertise of more experienced TT manufacturers to bring their ‘table to life. Built to Bryston’s specifications, the plinth, drive mechanism, motor, and platter are all sourced from Gold Note in Italy. GRW of Germany supplies the B7 titanium tonearm.

The 3cm thick plinth is made from non-resonant MDF and comes in one colour: black. The BLP-1 combines a belt-drive mechanism with a 3.5cm thick Delrin platter, a 5mm diameter polished-bronze main bearing, and an 8cm long carbon-rectified hardened steel spindle.

The ‘table uses a 12 volt synchronous low speed / high torque motor. It features Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) power conversion that changes voltage in an A/C to D/C and then back again to A/C fashion. 33⅓ RPM and 45 RPM rotational speeds are both supported and can be fine-tuned using the power supply’s speed buttons.

The stock BLP-1 comes with a 4-pin DIN female output plug, an entry-level OFC phono IC, a platter weight, and basic cylindrical feet. On a TT of this caliber, all of these items need to be upgraded. Fortunately, they can be.

The BTP-1 is the turntable’s power supply. It’s linear; not switching. Bryston designed and built the one-third sized outboard unit entirely in Canada. I had a professional bench-tech measure it. He said it’s the second best power supply for a TT that he’s seen in over 20 years. The quietest and most accurate one came with a ‘table sporting a $25K price tag. In practice, the BPT-1 runs silent and delivers ultra-clean power to the motor.

Gold Note B7 Tonearm

The BTP-1 comes equipped with a Gold Note B7 9-inch long, pivoting tonearm.  To reduce vibration, the B7’s wand is made out of 7 different diameter titanium sections. The arm uses four sealed tungsten micro ball-bearings: two for the vertical plain and two for the horizontal axis. The counterweight is machined out of 303-grade aluminum and can handle cartridges up to 15 grams.

The internal wiring is an AWG 36 Hyper Litz shielded 99.9999% Oxygen Free Copper (OFC) cable. The Vertical Tracking Angle (VTA) can be adjusted via 2 set screws on the arm’s base and the cartridge’s azimuth can also be fine-tuned by a micro-sized screw.

Overall, the B7 is a superbly engineered tonearm with an impressive level of micro adjustability.

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Bryston Mini A Loudspeaker (Custom)

Bryston has just revealed the Mini A loudspeaker, a brand new high-performance three-way bookshelf speaker engineered for superb resolution and balanced off-axis response— something that all Bryston loudspeakers are renowned for. The Mini A was designed to set a performance standard for a speaker in this size and price range.

At just over 15-inches tall, the Mini A features a sleek, décor-friendly form factor made sturdily from ¾-inch MDF and utilizing a premium quality 6.5-inch aluminum woofer, 3-inch aluminum midrange and 1-inch Titanium dome tweeter. All drivers are designed and purpose-built specifically for the Mini A loudspeaker.

The Mini A design has benefited from extensive enclosure vibration analysis, crossover network refinement and anechoic chamber testing in order to deliver true high-fidelity at an affordable price. Like all Bryston loudspeakers, the Mini A is capable of high output levels without introducing distortion or compression into the listening experience. Each pair is unit-to-unit matched to ensure uniform response.

Home Theater

The Bryston Mini A is an ideal home theater speaker. Two pairs of Mini A loudspeakers (front and rear) combined with an AC-1 Micro center channel and the Model A subwoofer deliver Bryston performance in a complete 5.1 loudspeaker package for under $5,000 MSRP. Also available is the Bryston CIW architectural speaker, a low profile timber-matched in-wall speaker solution ideal for home theater applications.

The Bryston Mini A is available in Natural Cherry, Boston Cherry, and Black Ash. Custom finishes are also available for an additional charge. The Mini A features premium grade binding posts along with padded feet, spikes and a black fabric grille. Like all Bryston loudspeakers, the manufacturer’s warranty is 20 years. The Bryston Mini A loudspeaker will retail for $1200 per pair and is available now. Optional stands designed for the Mini A, which can be bolted to the speakers securing them in place, are available for $299 per pair.

Specifications:

  • Frequency Response: 60Hz to 20Khz (+/- 3dB)
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms (nominal)
  • Sensitivity: 87 dB (2.38V, 1m, anechoic)
  • Recommended Power: 10 watts to 175 watts RMS
  • Max SPL @ 1M: 100dB
  • Tweeter: Single 1.00″
  • Midrange: Single 3.00″
  • Woofer: Single 6.50″
  • 15.5” H x 8.5” W x 8.25” D / 394mm H x 215mm W x 210mm D
  • 11 Ibs (5 kg)

For more info, please check out www.bryston.com