Bricasti Design M1 D/A converter Page 2
This high degree of resolution, however, was not achieved by exaggerating detail, which would emphasize a recording's flaws. I do much of my classical radio listening these days via the Internet, using my Logitech Transporter. With this connected to the M1 via S/PDIF, I could enjoy live classical concerts from Chicago's WFMT, for example, without being reminded overmuch (other than the missing top octave) that the music was being squeezed through a lossy pipe.
So the Bricasti M1 offered superb soundstaging, extended and weighty low frequencies, and a cleanly musical midrange. How did it measure up against other well-regarded DACs?
I first compared the Bricasti M1 with the Weiss DAC202 ($6670, reviewed by Erick Lichte in January 2012), and then with the dCS Debussy ($10,999, reviewed by Michael Fremer in January 2011), which since its review has had its USB input updated to handle audio data with sample rates up to 192kHz. The DAC202 was connected via an AudioQuest FireWire cable to my Mac mini's FireWire port. The hard drive containing my iTunes library was connected via another AudioQuest FireWire cable to the DAC202. (The other option, connecting the drive between the Mac mini and the DAC202, resulted in occasional clicks.4) As the Mac can't send audio data simultaneously through its USB and FireWire ports, for direct comparisons I fed the Weiss's AES/EBU output to the Bricasti M1 or the dCS Debussy. Playback was with Pure Music, and the output levels of all three processors were matched to within 0.1dB at 1kHz.
Erick Lichte called it correctly: The Weiss DAC202 sounds smoother than the dCS Debussy. However, when I listened to "Singing the Blues," from Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's Raising Sand (24/96 ALAC file converted from FLAC, Rounder/HDtracks 11661), the Weiss, set to its slow-rolloff Filter B, sounded softer in the bass than both the English and the American processors. This is not a step in the right direction through the Sonus Faber Amati Futura speakers I have in for review, which themselves are balanced on the warm side of neutral. Although Filter A sharpened a bit the definition of the DAC202's low frequencies, it still didn't match the clarity of the Bricasti's bass. But in "Vigilante Man," from Ry Cooder's Live at the Record Plant (Sausalito), July 7 1974 (16/48 ALAC file converted from FLAC, downloaded from Wolfgang's Vault), the percussive nature of Ry's playing of the acoustic guitar had more palpability with Filter B, the instrument hanging there in space, than it did with the Debussy or Bricasti.
The Bricasti, with Filter 6 and fed AES/EBU data from the Weiss, had bigger, deeper, better-defined low frequencies, the bass guitar on Ry Cooder's interpretation of Alfred Reed's "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" providing more of a foundation to the music.
Set to Filter B, the Weiss seemed a little kinder to old recordings, which was particularly welcome with the very revealing TAD Compact Reference CR1 speakers. Smokey Robinson's "The Tracks of My Tears" is a favorite of mine, not least because of the artful poetry of the lyrics"My smile is the makeup I wear since my breakup with you"and the way, in the chorus, the horns emphasize "Take a good look at my face" and "you'll see my smile seems out of place" by taking an extra two measures to play the same figures. But this mid-'60s recording suffers from the usual Motown ills of analog tape distortion and hiss, and overload on the vocals. The Bricasti sounded a little brasher than the Weiss in its handling of the inevitable combination of these mastering problems and the mid-1980s transfer to digital on Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' Greatest Hits CD. Even with its apodizing filter, the Debussy was even less kind to this almost-half-century-old recording than the Bricasti, sounding too lean.
For further comparisons with the dCS Debussy, I fed USB data to the Empirical Off-Ramp4, then connected the Off-Ramp's S/PDIF output to the Bricasti and its AES/EBU output to the dCS. (While the Bricasti can handle data with sample rates greater than 96kHz over a single-wire connection, the Debussy can't, so I couldn't do A/B comparisons with 192kHz files with this setup.) Again, levels were matched at 1kHz, using the Debussy's level control. Fed natural-sounding material, such as my Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival recording of Brahms's Piano Quartet 2, from Encore (16/44.1 ALAC file ripped from CD, Stereophile STPH011-2), I was hard-pressed to hear any significant difference between the M1 and the Debussy. Both gave full weight to the piano, both were true to the somewhat astringent tones of the violin, viola, and cello, and each threw a wide, deep soundstage.
But after much listening, and swapping the digital connections to the two processors halfway through the comparisons to minimize the effect of that variable, I felt the Bricasti sounded both very slightly warmer and offered a slightly more transparent view of the soundstage. With many classical recordings this warmth was a good thing, but with Vytautas Sriubikis's performance of J.S. Bach's Flute Sonata in E Minor (24/96 ALAC file, downloaded from Lessloss Music), the continuo bassoon sounded a little too tubby; through the Debussy, it sounded more natural.
The main area of difference among these three processors was their imaging. The dCS correctly limns the outlines of acoustic objects within the soundstage, whereas the Bricasti did a better job of presenting the bodies of the objects within those outlines. The Weiss balances both aspects of imaging, but at the expense of a too-smooth sound. Each processor also offers a different feature set that will make it more suitable for some systems than others. The Weiss and dCS offer digital-domain volume controls that will allow their owners to dispense with a preamplifier, and computer connectivity for files with sample rates up to 192kHz, via FireWire and USB2.0, respectively. The Bricasti M1 is less well featured, but offers sound quality that, on balance, I preferred to the other two processors.
I agree with John Marks: Bricasti Design's M1 is a Class A+ digital processor. I would add that it is priced relatively reasonably for what it offers in terms of both sound and build quality. For my own needs, I would have preferred two AES/EBU inputs rather than one, though the lack of a USB input can be readily compensated for by using one of the asynchronous USB adapters from (in ascending order of price) Musical Fidelity, Halide, or Empirical Audio. But all things considered, the Bricasti M1 is a worthy successor to the Mark Levinson No.30.6 as New England's stakeholder in state-of-the-art D/A processors. Enthusiastically recommended.
Footnote 4: I at first thought these clicks due to digital clipping, but the M1's display menu includes the option to individually log the numbers of digital "overs" for the left and right channels. There were none, so I had to look for a different solution to the problem, which was to change the FireWire cable setup.