Over the years, I have used and enjoyed in my audio system large, single-purpose components. Each of these chassis has had but one role: preamplifier, amplifier, digital-to-audio converter (DAC), etc. I guess I've been just a little suspicious of products with multiple functions crammed into a single small chassis; I've figured that the designer may have cut a corner that could affect the sound.
Bryston's first CD player, the $2695 BCD-1, is a drawer-loading player with a front panel of polished aluminum. The slim disc drawer, engraved with the Bryston logo, sits in the panel's center. To the drawer's left are an infrared sensor and Open/Close button, then a two-line, 16-character alphanumeric display. To the drawer's right are the usual transport controls and a power On/Off button. All of these functions are also accessible via the BCD-1's remote control, as well as two more: Back and Forward. Hold down either and the player moves through the selected track at several times normal speed until the button is released.
In February 2009, I reviewed Bryston Ltd.'s first CD player, the $2695 BCD-1, and was very impressed by what I heard. The BDA-1 ($1995) is the Canadian company's first standalone DAC. It's slim, only 2.75" high, with the engraved company name, model number, and infrared sensor grouped at the extreme left of a front panel of polished aluminum. Farther to the right are two columns of four LEDs each that comprise the sample-rate indicator, which identifies the selected input's signal frequency and whether the BDA-1 has locked to it. Closer to the center is the Upsample control, which governs the conversion of the incoming digital signal synchronously to 192kHz or 176.4kHz. The Upsample LED turns green for 192kHz, red for 176.4kHz. Digital sources are selected by pressing one of eight pushbuttons just right of center: two TosLink, four S/PDIF (coaxial), one AES/EBU XLR, and one USB 1.1, the last accepting only signals with sample rates at or below 48kHz. An LED above each pushbutton lights green for an incoming PCM datastreams and red for other types, including multichannel Dolby Digital streams.
James Tanner, VP of marketing at Bryston Ltd., was frustrated. He'd borrowed a Music Vault 4000 music server to play high-resolution digital music files at Bryston's exhibit at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show. Most of the time, the server delivered some of the best sound at that event. The rest of the time, there were dropouts and crashes. Tanner later experienced similar dropouts and crashes when he streamed hi-rez digital files over his home network to a Bryston BDA-1 digital-to-analog converter (see my review in the February 2010 issue).
I found a more relaxed Tanner at the 2010 CES. This time, he'd borrowed an Auraliti L-1000 digital file server ($3000 at www.auraliti.com), a box with no front-panel controls, no display, no hard drive, no fans, and no CD drive. Instead of a Windows operating system, the L-1000 ran a stripped-down version of the Linux open-source operating system. Its simplicity of design solved the reliability problems Tanner had encountered the year before.
Then and there, Tanner decided to ask Auraliti to help Bryston create a simple digital music file player. The result is the BDP-1.
The Bryston BP-25MC preamplifier is a full-function control center with one balanced and four single-ended inputs, including one input for a moving-coil cartridge. The BP-25 is shielded in a black steel cabinet said to reduce electromagnetic interference effects. The power transformer is housed in a small external chassis, the BP-PS. The BP-25's remote control allows volume up/down, along with buttons for mute and absolute polarity. Signal switching and audio connections, including balanced and unbalanced input and output connectors, are heavily gold-plated to provide good long-term connections. A 12V AC/DC screw terminal connector on the rear of the power supply provides convenient use when used in conjunction with the remote start feature optionally available on Bryston power amplifiers.
Bryston's James Tanner surprised me by showing me a new direction for Canadian amplifier manufacturer Bryston: it has developed a series of class-D (switching) amplifiers. "You'll notice from the line's hybrid name that we combine the class-D output module with regular linear power supplies, not switching supplies," explained James. "The switching supplies are too noisy."
Thiel and Bryston always share an exhibit area in the Sands Convention Center’s Bassano Ballroom, and this year's CES was no exception. James Tanner, Bryston's upbeat product manager, had gathered a terrific playlist of musical selections on a thumb-drive, which drove the company's $2195 BDP-1 digital file transport, $2195 BDA-1 DAC. Livingston Taylor's whistling on "Isn't She Lovely" opened the playlist, just as it did at the Joseph Audio suite, and many othersit was a common selection at the Venetian exhibits. Sound from the $9500 Bryston SP-3 preamp/processor ($7900), three-channel Bryston 6BSST2 amplifier, Thiel CS1.7 speaker prototype and Thiel USS SmartSub Subwoofer produced soundstage depth and imaging that was among the best, almost as good I heard at the much more expensive system in the VTL suite. Tanner walked me through Bryston's newly announced BHA-1 headphone amplifier featured in the photo ($1295), which is highly versatile, including twin XLR outputs for balanced headphones, and both XLR and ¼ jacks for conventional headphones.
Bryston showed a static model of its new loudspeaker system, the Model T Signature ($7495/pair), that is specified to handle 501100 watts into its 8 ohm impedance, with a frequency response from 25Hz22kHz, ±3dB. In active form, the Model T uses the AX1 external DSP crossover ($2995), but the passive version’s crossover features large, expensive air-coil inductors, as well as something brand new: Bryston capacitors. Working with Clarity, Bryston's James Tanner specified the exact requirements for these capacitors, which have both company's names featured on their blue exteriors. The Model T benefited from Bryston's close relationship with with Axiom, a speaker design company that has its own large anechoic chamber. The Model T is available in Black Ash, Boston Cherry, or Natural Cherry veneers.
Sometimes it all comes down to the shape of the side panels. I was smitten by the gentle curves of the Burmester B99 loudspeaker's aluminum side grilles, which have uncommon grace. A love affair with an enclosure? Well, yes. After all, beauty is an intensely personal matter. In the words of Burmester's motto: "Art for the ear."
It's always fun to visit the Burmester Audio suite at the annual Consumer Electronic Show. Founder Dieter Burmester and CEO Udo Besser are upbeat, fun-loving personalities who enjoy demonstrating their latest home audio gearthat is, when they're not working on the latest updates to their sound system for the $2.1 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4 supercar. This past year they introduced their new B25 loudspeaker, an 88-lb floorstander. This "baby" Burmester's suggested retail price of $12,000/pair is only one-sixth that of Burmester's flagship speaker, the B100, only one-fourth its weight, and half its height. The design goals for the B25 were a less expensive, lighter speaker that was easier to set up, while retaining Burmester products' high-quality sound and good looks. Playing my own CDs through the B25s at the 2008 CES, I found them notably smooth and detailed; they also imaged well, and were particularly good at reproducing male voices.