December 5, 2010

A Better Way Towards Hi Rez! Bryston BDP-1 & BDA-1 Combo.

This is the most high end USB thumb drive I've seen, it comes with a hair line finished metal cover and the Bryston logo printed on top. Bryston will include this thumb drive with 8 Chesky hi rez files pre loaded to start you up, only if you're the first 100 buyers of the BDP-1 and BDA-1 combo.

The past 2 weeks has been the most exciting time of my audio blog/reviewing life so far. The excitement is driven by a new format in the form of a USB thumb drive as a music carrier. There are merits to use the USB as a music carrier. It does not involve any mechanical device, i.e. no moving parts to degrade the signal or reliability issues. It's small, portable and cheap to purchase. Lastly, never did I imaging it'll sound so........ life changing good(for a dyed in the wool audiophile)!

This leads us to a new product range in the market called digital media players. The player in question today is the Bryston BDP-1. Bryston is not the first company to enter the market for this product niche, but it comes in with a bang!(a very big bang indeed) by offering the most bang for buck sound quality that any self proclaim high end hifi equipment can do for RM$8,400.00. One can argue that the humble PC or Mac computer, strap along with the latest USB DAC will do the same and much more for less, yes! I agree that much. But no, I've not heard any PC or Mac based music system reach the level of musical satisfaction that the Bryston combo offers. Read on if you're still interested.
The Bryston combo in my man cave! Note the 2 USB thumb drives in the front panel, and 2 more USB inputs in the back. The center alpha numeric display scrolls track information, but lacks a track timer like CD players have.

The Bryston BDP-1 is designed to match the Bryston BDA-1 DAC sonically and visually(finally, I now know the BDA-1 was meant for bigger things to come!). I came away impressed with the BDA-1 DAC when I played with it 2 months ago(refer to it's very own review dated 24/10/2010), but when partnered to the BDP-1 as a combo, the sonic results just completely blew my mind away! AV Designs, the local distributor for Bryston supplied the BDP-1/BDA-1 combo together with a computer router to link up with an iPad as system remote and a QED AES balanced digital cable. The BDP-1 is built in to the same solid casing as the BDA-1, and the spartan rear panel sports an AES digital balanced output, a BNC output, a network plug(for the a fore mentioned router) and an RS232 for future firmware up grades via the www. There's also four USB 2.0 input on the Bryston, two at the rear panel and 2 on the left side of the front panel. The front panel features a center display window with 2 rows of alpha numeric scrolling menu. Just on the right is an up/down, left/right navigation for the scrolling menu. Further right on the panel are the usual play, stop, pause, forward, reverse and power ON/OFF buttons. By the way, Bryston supplies a BR2 all aluminium body, with back lite buttons, remote along with the combo to access the music files just like a CD player remote, if one does not wanna splurge on an Apple iPad. However with an iPad, the music file access and management just got all the more fancier, sexier and just a whole lot more practical. I'd get an iPad for sure if the Bryston combo was mine!

If you're expecting the Bryston BDP-1 to do more than just play back, you'd be disappointed! Yes, just like your average CD player or turn table, the Bryston is a one trick pony, just specialising on playback only. You'll still need the support of a PC, connected to the Internet to do the down loadings and manage the music files for you.
Another look at a matching Bryston combo. They are available with either anodised black or silver front panels. I think the black one's look cool, but Malaysians tend to like silver panels more though.

I used the XLR balanced output from the BDA-1 to my pre amp and the rest of my system remains the same, but with the Marantz CD 7 player decommissioned. James also thoughtfully supplied me with a few USB thumb drives pre-loaded with some of my favorite CD rips @ 16/44.1 resolution and some other hi rez down loads from Chesky, HD Tracks, Linn Studio Masters and 2L web sites.

I had the Bryston combo set up and ready to play within 20 minutes after arriving home. I first listened to the CD rips which the musical contents that I am very familiar with, namely Charly Antolini's Crash, Diana Krall's Quiet Nights, Linn Super Audio Collection Vol.4, Dream Of An Opera by Rhymoi Music, Youn Sun Nah's Voyage, Danny Wright's Black & White and Jz8 by Lydia & Cher Siang. With the CD rips, the sound is even more transparent and truer to source than most CD players can muster. There's a lack of grain in the highs, full bodied mids with a bold & tuneful bass. On Charly Antolini's Crash rip, I found dynamic contrast and transient response of his drum kit and the bass guitar on the titled track to be even more extreme than the usual. The snare drums had real energy, and percussion tracks can swing to a dizzy musical spiral nearing sonic nirvana dom, as if such place existed. There's not much of a tonal quality to speak about here, and neutrality does not come to mind either. The chameleon like Bryston combo just gets out of the way and allows the music in the recording to speak for it self. The tonal quality and colour is therefore what the recording it self represents. It has shown me how awfully coloured my Marantz CD player was, for better or worse, and the weakness in the mechanical factor of the CD transport removed! I found that out when playing Danny Wright's Black & White solo piano tracks. If in the past, piano tracks were the sole digital advantage over analog, due to the later's poor speed stability, then the USB has shown up the flaws of jitter and it's correction factor apparent in the CD transport. I never suspect anything of such a miss with the CD player until I heard the Bryston combo. Practically every CD rip I played on the Bryston sounded consistently better than the CD player in so many ways. The back grounds were certainly quieter and darker, making musical nuances easier to absorb in to one listening experience, without the need to actively look for it.
The optional iPad remote interface is more user friendly and give more information about the music playing. It also allows one to program a play list and store favorites or recently played track listing. The picture above shows a Linn Studio Master down load playing at 24/192 sampling rate.

Another screen interface common with the iPad. The touch screen menu operation is cool too!

Now if the CD rips were impressive, then hi rez files, played back thru the Bryston combo is the deal breaker here. The whole hi rez experience is altogether in another league of it's own. I've certainly not heard hifi musical experience anymore life like than this, period. For once, I could just forget about digital, or analog? And just let the music take me away. The hi rez downloads musical experience is emotionally intense. Words just fail to describe how I felt after each long session of satisfying hi rez music, but it does not stop me from trying to share with you, our dear readers.

Playing my current fav, the Linn Super Audio Collection Vol,4 on hi rez Studio Master download is a whole new experience again, comparing to the CD rip and the CD playback it self! Maeve O' Boelye's Pray It Doesn't Happen renders her more life like, with much more guitar notes that the CD rip and CD play back it self missed. Playing track 9, excerpt from Aria: Sehet, Jesus Hat Die Hand where the Diva is even more clearly separated and relief ed from the mass strings in the back of stage. The mass strings do not sound like a lump of sound, but clearly separated individual string each in their own place, this level of detailing is breath taking to say the least.

The hi rez down loads simply blows any CD or LP based play back system in terms of sheer musical transparency. There's so much resolution loses in the CD and LP play back system, that when compared to hi rez, one is like trying to fill in the gaps/blanks within a sonic picture without even realizing it all this while. The hearing of minute instrument textures, harmonics and timbre with each note just lingering around a bit longer than before is just astonishing. Dynamics is un restrained, with out compression and every beat just hits harder and every pitch is more accurately defined. The highs are smooth and never piercing, totally devoid of digitalis, mids more highly dense than CD rips, not only mouth, head and chest, but there's body to the imaging. Bass is bold and tight when need be, or supple and organic too when a tune calls for it. Listen to hi rez down loads also reminded me of the naturalness of analog, perhaps more so....

If the back ground of the CD rips were already dark, then comparing to hi rez makes the back ground of the former seemed a little hazy white. This allows imaging to prop up of a 3D staging that much more convincingly, with hall acoustics and spatial cues a plenty, easily transporting the listener to the recording venue, all the more enjoyable with classical and "live" recordings. I've seldom have listening sessions longer than 2 hours usually, but during the time of the Bryston combo with me, I often stay up till way past mid night in sessions exceeding four hours. The easy going naturalness, non edgy and fatigue free sonic character of the Bryston combo just make me wanna try out hi rez music file after file! James managed to bring over a Paul McCartney & The Wings hi rez file towards the end of the review period, playing the track Band On The Run just made me re-discovered, why I liked this song so much when I was a kid, but hearing it on hi rez also made me discovered how much of the notes in music I did not hear then! There's also a feeling of imeadiacy in the Paul McCartney recording that makes it so endearing.
A CD player's worst nemesis?

Now the Bryston combo also showed me that not all hi rez music files are created equal, and higher sampling rate does not automatically means better sound either! This was the case when I compared some of the Linn Studio Master files at 24/88.2 against Chesky's hi rez at 24/96. At best we can probably call it even on sound quality, but I always find my self drawn to the Linn Studio Master files more than the Chesky, despite Linn's lower sampling rate. I found the Linn sound to have more crystaline clarity quality, and opposed to Chesky's more muted and slightly opaque characteristic. A matter of preference at play here perhaps? I guess it doesn't really matter either way, because these files are operating at SACD/DVD-A sampling rates, but I must question why did I never experience the same intense musical pleasure from either hi rez disc based format? It's just a thought, but hmmm.......

However, it was the recordings from Linn Studio Master files and 2L, a Swedish web site offering mainly classical music down loads, operating on the edge of the Bryston BDA-1 DAC's sampling frequency at 24/192, offered the most superior sound quality of all previously mentioned by comparison. I won't even go there and repeat to dissect the sound all over again, but I urge all audiophiles to at least try and sample these wonderful hi rez files on the Bryston combo for your selves.
The Bryston BDP-1 rear panel. By the way, the BDP-1 is less sensitive to after market power cords compared to the BDA-1 DAC.

The cost of the Bryston combo, as reviewed is as follows:
Bryston BDA-1 DAC - RM$8,800.00
Bryston BDP-1 Digital Media Player - RM$8,400.00

Then there's the cost of an AES digital cable of your choice and should one fancy a sexy iPad remote, then add a dedicated router to the cost of setting up the Bryston combo.

To be honest, I am not sure if I can return to normal CD or analog vinyl playback after this prolonged hi rez experience. I know a fellow Linn LP12 owner and good friend certainly couldn't and have already purchased this combo. James tells me the first batch of this Bryston combo bound for Malaysia is already sold out(Only this review pair is on demo at the AV Designs showroom for now). And should you be impressed enough to buy one after reading this, or an experience with it at the showroom, then please form an orderly queue to get yours, right after my dear friend!

It's quite possible that I've not heard better sound quality from a source component at any price.(Well, perhaps except the most esoteric of turn tables, cartridge and phono stage combos, which we are are clearly looking at well in to six figure price tags no less!) Clearly, this Bryston combo is the better way towards hi rez music files, if not the best yet!

Bryston is sold by AV Designs, contact James Tan at 03-21712828.

6 comments:

Capernaum Creative Solutions Inc. said...

Big E,

Excellent write up!

I had as much fun reading as I did listening to the Bryston BDP-1/BDA-1 Combo.

All I can say is, listenier serious into hi-rez music should shortlist the Bryston BDP-1/BDA-1combo. It will definitely be worth their trip down AV Designs showroom.

kiarch said...

Big E,

Reading your review on Bryston BDP-1 and BDA-1 rekindled many of my emotional upheavals; for Bryston, it is all good, if I may add. However, on personal ground, I was disturbed with the fact of my 4,000+ CD collections and my existing CD system! What am I going to do with them?

Having 3 past experiences listening to Bryston combo in 3 different systems, which one of it is my own system, I can testify that your review is accurate.

To reproduce my short statement I made in LS3/5A Club, "Sonically speaking, high res music file perceived smoother but not lack luster, it is more natural but NOT in the expense of richness in tones, timbre and colours; it is also able to regenerate a lot more live-like acoustic space so that the sound has unlimited spatial expansion before it precipitate into nothingness, or otherwise its improved ability to 'suggest' the boundaries of recording space clearer."

Well done Bryston.
Jo Ki

Chow said...

Big E

Will you be reviewing more media streaming devices such as those produced by Linn,Naim, Olive, Marantz etc? Would make for most interesting comparisons!

I heard Marantz is bringing in their product this month. The limitation of the Olive players(from what I can gather) is that the max. file resolution that it can play is 96/24 files which precludes some studio master files.

Great work!

OdioSleuth said...

I heard the Bryston combo in Big E's system last week.

I was very impressed to say the least. It was the most convincing demo of computer-based audio and high res audio I have come across.

I think it is now just a matter of time for me to cross over.

Big E said...

Guys,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts of the Bryston combo with me.

Jo,

Like your goodself, I have nearly 2000 music CDs and a copule of hundred LPs in my collection. I'd like to keep them for now, but who knows what'll happen to the CDs when the BDP & BDA-1 combo comes?

Chow,

As much as I would like to play with more hi rez streamers from other manufacturers, it all depends if the local dealers would like to do so. The ball is in their hands. I'll do what comes my way.

Odiosleuth,

Hi rez is dangerous temptation right? He!He!

OdioSleuth said...

I heard another demo of the Bryston combo in a highend system tonight - Krell amps, EgglestonWorks Andra III. I was mighty impressed by the performance again.

The improvements that the Brystons brought were just there to be heard - coherence, composure, musical, excellent details, dynamics to die for. It was a sound that I just wanted to listen on and on.

Damn, got to go ask James when he can let me listen to the Brystons in my system.