Bryston BDA-3 D/A processor Page 2
A quick check confirmed that the BDA-3 was processing DSD and PCM files of different sample rates with ease, lighting up the correct LED on its front panel. To do this, I downloaded songs by Blue Coast Records artists Meghan Andrews and Marco Ferrero that had been recorded at different DSD sample rates, including "99" (DSD64), "Just Let Go" (DSD128), and Johnny Colorado" (DSD256). From 2L Records' HiRes Download Test Bench I downloaded DSD and PCM files, at various sample rates, of Tone Wik and Barokkanerne's performance, on period instruments, of Vivaldi's Cantata RV 679, "Che giova, il sospirar, povera core," for soprano, violin, and harpsicord. I also compared the DSD128 version of this recording through two different inputs of the BDA-3, AES/EBU and USB 2.0 Type B, and heard no difference in sound quality.
With my three source components successfully streaming DSD, I sat down to do some serious listening. I was eager to hear my SACDs decoded by a standalone, high-performance DAC rather than by my SACD player's internal DAC. Mind you, these SACDs already sounded quite good through the DAC of my eight-year-old Sony SCD-C555ES SACD player.
On DSD from SACD, the BDA-3's spatial performance was sensational, with wider, deeper soundstages than heard from my SACD player on its own. The enhanced three-dimensionality resulted in more precise positionings of instruments, voices, and sound effects in space, as I heard in the opening of "Breathe (in the Air)," from Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon (SACD/CD, Capitol CDP 5 82136 2), which filled my room with dive-bombing airplanes, sinister laughter, and the sounds of someone running across the room. Soundstages were widest and deepest in Duruflé's Ubi Caritas, from the collection Sacred Feast, with Paul Halley directing the unaccompanied choral group Gaudeamus (SACD/CD, DMP SACD-09). In addition, SACDs played through the Oppo BDP-103 and BDA-3 sounded more relaxed and smooth, and more involving than I could recall them sounding before.
Playing CDs, I enjoyed how the BDA-3's imaging abilities captured the ambiences of recording venueseg, that of Gnomus, from Jean Guillou's performance of his own transcription for organ of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition (CD, Dorian DOR-90117). The BCD-3 also conveyed the ambiences of more intimate recording venues, enabling it to separate tenor Gary Ruschman's voice from those of the other singers in John Atkinson's recording of Eric Whitacre's "Lux Aurumque," from Cantus's While You Are Alive (CD, Cantus CTS-1208). Similarly, the DAC enhanced the space around the drum kit at the end of "Nardis," from Patricia Barber's Café Blue (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 21810-2), placing Barber's voice center stage, her piano to the right, the drum kit to the left, and the double bass just behind the drums.
The BDA-3's dynamic range was fantastic. It easily rendered the in-your-face dynamics of David Bowie's whisper-to-scream "Putting Out Fire," from the Cat People soundtrack (CD, MCA MCAD-1498); the eerie synthesizer in Don Dorsey's "Ascent," from Erich Kunzel and the Cincinnati Pops' Time Warp (CD, Telarc CD-80106); the rapid-fire piano scales that burst out of black silence in "The Handoff," from James Horner's Sneakers soundtrack (CD, Columbia CK 53146); the rim shots and drum beats mixed with shouts from the audience during Brady Blade's drum solo in "The Maker," from Emmylou Harris's Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM-25001-2); the deep, propulsive kick drum that opens and drives "Dreams," from Fleetwood Mac's The Dance (CD, Reprise 46702-2); and the red-hot rim shots from drummer Mark Flynn that open "Blizzard Limbs," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2). And I delighted again in hearing the pounding bass synth that runs through "Assault on Ryan's House," from Horner's score for Patriot Games (CD, RCA 66051-2). I was stunned by a number of passages in Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, with Esa-Pekka Salonen conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic (SACD/CD, Deutsche Grammophon 02899 477 5198-2), a recording that captures the full dynamics of the orchestra's pulsating timpani and thunderous bass drum.
The BDA-3's highs were clean, open, effortless, grainless, and extended. Zofia Kilanowisz's lucid soprano in Górecki's Symphony 3, Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, with the composer conducting the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra (SACD/CD, Polskie Radio PRSACD2), was entrancing and crystal-clear. Billy Drummond's wire-brushed ride cymbal at the beginning of "The Mooche," from the Jerome Harris Quintet's Rendezvous (CD, Stereophile STPH013-2), came across well, its characteristic metallic sound easy to identify. The BDA-3's excellent treble response let Meghan Andrews's eerie, feather-light soprano generate an unusually sad, lonely, but hopeful effect in her DSD128 recording of "Just Let Go" (Blue Coast Records download). Emmylou Harris's effortless and delicate unaccompanied soprano in "Calling My Children Back Home," from Spyboy, was distinct from Buddy Miller's soft tenor.
The BDA-3's reproduction of the midrange was equally effortless and clean, with superb rendition of instrumental colors. The timbres of the guitar and alto saxophone in the L.A. Four's Going Home (Japanese CD, Ai Music 3 2JD-10043) were natural and just right. So, too, was the Bryston's reproduction of the rich timbre of the solo bassoon that opens Herbert Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana, from Howard Dunn and the Dallas Wind Symphony's Fiesta! (CD, Reference RR-38CD). Buddy Miller's mando guitar accompaniment to Emmylou Harris's "Prayer in Open D," also from Spyboy, was energized by the detailed rendering of its timbre.
Male voices benefited from the BDA-3's clean processing, which produced a relaxed smoothness with no sign of stress or edge. James Taylor's voice in "Line 'Em Up," from his Hourglass (SACD, Columbia ACS 67912), was smooth, effortless, fluid, and sweet in a way I hadn't heard before. From the same album, Taylor's "Enough to Be on Your Way" elicited a deep, heavy feeling of sadness and anger not heard in earlier auditions. The BDA-3 easily resolved the layers of texture in the resonant voices of the Turtle Creek Chorale, a men's chorus led by Timothy Seelig, in their performance of John Rutter's "Lord make me an instrument of thy peace," on Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57).
When it came to low frequencies, the BDA-3 easily integrated deep bass notes with the sounds of other orchestral instruments, musically and spatially. In Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Orchestra's 24/176 PCM recording of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring (CD, Reference RR-70CD), I could easily hear subtle changes in the pitches of timpani notes. The BDA-3's great pitch definition made it easy to follow organist Olivier Latry's pedal notes in the first movement of Saint-Saëns's Symphony 3, with Christoph Eschenbach and the Philadelphia Orchestra (SACD/CD, Ondine ODE 1094-5). And the Bryston fully reproduced the intense, raw, pulsing, raspy bass of David Hudson's didgeridoo in "Rainforest Wonder," from his Didgeridoo Spirit (Indigenous Australia, IA2003D).
Synthesized bass was cleanly and convincingly reproduced by the BDA-3 in all its grab-you-by-the-collar intensity. The deepest synth growls and pulses in "Attempt on the Royals," from Horner's Patriot Games, shook my listening room with its torturous mix of deep pulses, chimes, gongs, blocks, and snare drum. The BDA-3's reproduction of the heartbeat that opens and builds, in Pink Floyd's "Breathe," to a massive and subterranean climax was bewildering and thrilling. Similarly, the staccato deep-bass synth in "Something's Wrong," from Randy Edelman's score for the film My Cousin Vinny (CD, Varèse Sarabande VSD-5364), stunned me with its solid, gut-pounding impact
Organ music never sounded better than through the Bryston BDA-3. John Atkinson's 24/88.2 AIFF file of organist Jonas Nordwall playing the Toccata of Widor's Organ Symphony 5 delivered massive pedal notes with excellent pitch definition. Organist John Busby's performance of Herbert Howells's Master Tallis's Testament, from the compilation Pipes Rhode Island (CD, Riago 101), pressurized my room and rattled the metal radiator covers. The deep pedal notes in Gnomus, from Guillou's transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition, were focused and deep, rumbling the floor beneath my feet. And I was impressed with how the BDA-3 was able to retain the air around Nancy Keith's lovely soprano in Piè Jesu, from Rutter's Requiem, while simultaneously conveying the full weight of the massive, almost infrasonic pedal notes of the pipe organ.
While it was frustrating not to be able to play MQA files through the Bryston BDA-3, that didn't keep it from being the most versatile and best-sounding DAC I've heard in my listening room. It delivered superbly effortless, delicate, subtly revealing, tube-like analog output from a variety of digital file formats and sample rates, including DSD64 datastreams from SACDs. Although pricey at $3495, it's less expensive than some high-end, standalone DACs that can't process as many types of digital files.
The BDA-3 arrives from the factory ready to play more varied digital file formats than your digital source components are surely set up to deliver. For that reason, demand that any dealer or custom installer who sells you a BDA-3 be prepared to set up the rest of your system to be compatible with all of the formats and sample speeds your new Bryston can handle.
This versatility makes it an ideal reviewer's tool for evaluating other high-end gear. For that reason alone, I had no choice but to buy the review sample, and I recommend that the BDA-3 be listed in Class A+ of Stereophile's "Recommended Components."