Bryston BCD-3 CD player

The English saying "putting the cat among the pigeons" has an obvious meaning in a general sense, but when applied to commerce it conveys something more specific: bringing to market a product that will make mincemeat of the competition, presumed complacent by comparison.

The phrase winked at me from the margins of an e-mail I received last year from Gary Dayton, Bryston Audio's VP of sales and marketing, whom I know from my visits to the Montreal Audio Fest. Referring to my ongoing series of reviews of ca-$10,000 CD players—the best of which one might consider for the title The Last CD Player You'll Ever Buy—Dayton suggested I have a listen to his company's new BCD-3, which retails for the comparatively low price of $3495. I accepted almost at once, and set about adjusting an English saying for a Canadian product: With the BCD-3, has Bryston succeeded in putting the wolverine among the loons?

I've never visited Bryston's Peterborough, Ontario factory—just 5 hours and 43 minutes from my home in central upstate New York, according to MapQuest—nor have I written about a Bryston product before now (footnote 1). Notwithstanding a tendency for introspection that borders on the unhealthy, I have no idea why this should be, though at times I wonder if my Bryston apathy might have been a reaction to the Bryston look, which is utilitarian in the extreme. For instance, in their line of electronics, products abound that are exactly 19" wide—the industrial rack width established in the 1920s by AT&T and ultimately codified by the Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) (footnote 2). That size and that look are a little less domestically adaptable than I prefer.

So it is with the BCD-3, which adds to that dimension (footnote 3) a depth of 11.53" and a height of 3.325". Its satin-finish aluminum faceplate, available in silver or black, is engraved with Bryston's distinctive fat-letter logo, and has at its center a CD drawer, flanked on one side by a digital readout and an open/close button switch, and on the other by a button switch for power, plus another 10 buttons for the usual CD playback controls. (Unless a flamethrower and an ejector seat are included, I think left-to-right descriptions of every button on a dashboard are as tedious to write as they are to read, so I'm sparing both of us.)


On the rear panel, in addition to an IEC power socket, are balanced and single-ended analog output jacks (XLRs for the former, RCAs for the latter), plus AES/EBU and S/PDIF digital outputs (ditto), as well as another four jacks in a group marked Control: 3.5mm mini-jacks labeled RS232 and Trigger In, plus Ethernet and USB (type B) sockets. The Ethernet socket is provided for connection to the user's home network, and makes possible firmware updates without having to ship the unit back to Bryston. (Either a NetBIOS name or the unit's own numerical IP addresses can be used; the latter is displayed on the digital readout by pressing the Stop button when a network-connected BCD-3 is not playing.) The USB socket is for control and diagnostics only: The BCD-3 has no digital input of any sort. As Bryston states on their website (I'm paraphrasing), the idea behind the BCD-3 was to make the best possible product for enjoying music from 16-bit/44.1kHz "Red Book" CDs, to the exclusion of all other digital formats, physical and virtual.

Inside the BCD-3's enclosure, which is covered with a texture-finished aluminum wrap, are a chunky toroidal transformer, an array of solidly neat-looking circuit boards, and a metal-encased (as opposed to plastic) disc transport from the Austrian manufacturer StreamUnlimited. Regarding the latter, CEO James Tanner told me via e-mail that Bryston buys these transports "in bulk, so, barring the unforeseen, we always have enough for repair." The BCD-3 was designed by engineer Dan Marynissen, who also designed Bryston's BDA-3 DAC, which Larry Greenhill reviewed in the November 2016 Stereophile. Like the BDA-3, the BCD-3 uses as its DAC chip the AK4490 from Asahi Kasei Microdevices (AKM)—two per channel, in differential mode. In that regard, this Bryston CD player differs from its predecessor, the BCD-1, which had only one DAC chip per channel (and which also had a plastic disc transport). In the BCD-3's analog output section, which operates in class-A, all gain and buffering devices are discrete.

Installation and setup
There's only so much one can say about installing a CD player. Heck, install seems too pompous a word. I took it out of its carton—Bryston's packaging is echt professional, as you'd expect from a company that's been in business more than 35 years—and plunked it on a short, half-width Box Furniture stand that John DeVore loaned me ages ago. I connected it to my household current with its stock AC cord, and to my preamp with my well-loved Audio Note AN-Vx silver interconnect, and that was that.

The only thing I did that was the least bit out of the ordinary for me was to try using the optional BR2 remote handset ($375, or $150 when purchased with the BCD-3), with which a variety of Bryston products can be controlled, and which duplicates but does not supplement the controls on the BCD-3's front panel. I usually avoid remotes in audio-playback settings, partly because they encourage a superficiality in the relationship between a listener and his or her music—I am an unashamed fan of ritual, of regarding the playback of every recording as a special moment—and partly because they're usually cheap, horribly made, nonintuitive, and ugly. At the very least, the BR2 took aim at some of those last descriptors: It's well made, with an aluminum enclosure and aluminum buttons, and it's pleasant to hold and not unpleasant to look at. Also in the BR2's favor is the motion-activated backlight for its control panel, which comes on automatically when the handset is lifted—and only when lights are low.

During its time in my system, the Bryston ran cool to the touch and performed without flaw, save for one isolated incident: The first time I tried to play an SACD/CD, the BCD-3 balked. The disc didn't play, and the word Reading remained in its front-panel display for several seconds, until I ejected the disc and reinserted it. After that, the BCD-3 found all of its tracks; the problem never recurred, with that or with any other hybrid disc.

It's early May as I write this, a time when my thoughts turn to bluegrass music and the many good bluegrass festivals that are just around the corner in this part of the US. (The Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, in Oak Hill, New York, remains my favorite.) So after running in the Bryston player for a few days, I started off with the title track from Fork in the Road, by the Infamous Stringdusters (Sugar Hill SUG-CD-4021), a young band that's equally adept at traditional and progressive bluegrass. I was at once impressed by the BCD-3's ability to communicate both detail and a genuinely good sense of physicality—that kind of sonic presence Herb Reichert and I often refer to as flesh and blood. Andy Hall's lead vocal was colorful and present sounding, and Travis Book's double bass had the right balance of rich resonance and pitch certainty. The too-brief guitar solo by Chris Eldridge—now a member of the Punch Brothers, as well as part of a duo with the no-less-amazing Julian Lage—was appropriately snarly, and Chris Pandolfi's banjo was rich with trebly overtones, though not to the point of clatter.

Footnote 1: Nor have I ever visited McIntosh Laboratory, in Binghamton, New York, despite my having spent much of my life in a town just one hour from there—a puzzle for another day.

Footnote 2: Then again, given the symbiosis between AT&T and Western Electric, perhaps I should reconsider?

Footnote 3: Like other 19"-wide Bryston models, the BCD-3 is also available in a non-rack-mount version with a 17"-wide faceplate.

Bryston Limited
PO Box 2170, 677 Neal Drive, Peterborough
Ontario K9J 6X7

mrkaic's picture

Just look at the measurements!

Axiom05's picture

It doesn't play SACD's or DVD-A discs. Is a CD-only player really competitive in 2017? For less than half the price I can buy a top of the line Oppo (UDP-205) that plays every 5" disc in existence, plus uses the ESS 9038PRO DAC (and I bet it comes with a remote control at no extra cost). Something just seems wrong with this picture...

johnnythunder's picture

while not inexpensive, based on AD's review and JA's measurements, this seems to be a very well made and great sounding CD only player. I'm sure the Oppo is a good machine. I've only read great things about its blu ray capabilities. Enjoy it. But it's not a proper comparison.

watchdog005's picture

The point is if it can play CD audio better then a modern day SACD or DVD machine can play CD audio then it's worth owning even if it cannot play SACD or DVD audio. They made these and tuned them specifically for CD audio.

hnickm's picture

Ah, I remember - those are the hard media things you used to rip so you could store AND FIND the songs and play on a music player, like the excellent Bryston BDP P1 (less than $1,500). Or if you want to go all out, the BDP 2 (less than $2,500). Either of these solutions seem superior to the silver LP solution.

johnnythunder's picture

of the future or even the present for that matter, it's a review of a cd player - which, considering how many companies are still investing in new state of the art players and considering how many people still have massive cd collections - is still a viable and often great sounding format for reproducing music.

jmsent's picture

... and the specs of the individual components, you'll see that the transport and all the digital processing circuitry are all fully capable of reading and decoding far more formats than Redbook CD. It comes as no surprise that the CD measurements are going to be great, as modern transports and DACS designed to decode 24bit/192kHz files and greater are not even breaking a sweat when it comes to CD playback. It's not as though they've employed some "super special CD only components" to make a machine that will outperform every multi format player. It's more like they built a high quality multi-format player and programmed out the "multi". At least, that's how I see it . YMMV.

johnnythunder's picture

Hegel is doing the same thing w their Mohican CD player. Over-engineered and optimized for purely redbook cd playback. Not another piece of electronics wasted for anything other than that. I get your point but it's a little like criticizing a $35000/ 100 lb. PASS amplifier for only being a mono block and not being for that price and size a maasive home theatre amplifier.

smileday's picture

Looking at the owner manual of Bryston BCD-3 CD player, I found that the program function is missing. Why?

$499 Marantz CD6006 and $1499 Onkyo C-7000R have the feature.

It is just a little bit of coding, but Bryston skipped it for their $3495 CD player?

Or omitting the programming feature leads to better sound quality?

johnnythunder's picture

Once again, criticizing a feature that has no direct impact on SOUND QUALITY is missing the point of this review and the product and others like it.
Another analogy - it's like someone criticizing a $10,000 turntable/cartridge/arm combo for only playing one record at a time. Yes, back in the 60s you could buy $69.00 turntable that could stack record after record!

smileday's picture

Single record playing turn tables are designed that way to achieve better sound quality.

By skipping the programming feature on a CD player, do they achieve better sound quality?

Allen Fant's picture

Nicely done- AD!

have any of guys compared this new BCD-3 to the older BCD-1 spinner?

Ortofan's picture

[ ]
its intrinsic resolution is better than is needed by the CD medium, then what does the Bryston unit do for about 10 times the price?

Fleschler's picture

I have tried over 100 CD players in the past 35 years. The Marantz CD5004 is a smooth and generously rich sounding player. I also suped it up with new power and filter caps, etc. but it still sounded lacking in resolution to start with and just okay. A Denon 1500 and Kyocera 310x wipes it out. I now use a radically altered Benchmark HDR1 Synergistic Research Atmosphere X Euphoria cable and a suped up Arcam Delta 250 transport with high end power cables. It KILLS the Marantz. The Bryston uses the same or similar transport used in the Project RS2T ($3.2K) 1Aqua Audio Diva II (Current version) about10K 2 Acustic Arts Drive II about 17K 3 Gryphon ETHOS CD player 35K. Stream Unlimited transports. I'd like to hear it.