Bryston BCD-3 CD player Page 2

That good physicality stayed with the Bryston as I moved on to a few of my favorite piano CDs. Ivo Janssen's recording of J.S. Bach's Prelude in e-flat (BWV 853), from his recording of The Well-Tempered Clavier for the Nederlands Bach Collegium (4 CDs, Void 9805 AB/9808 AB), moves along at a more or less steady, gracefully flowing pace—at the other end of the spectrum is Ralph Kirkpatrick's engagingly idiosyncratic phrasing in his 1959 recorded performance on an Arnold Dolmetsch clavichord (2 LPs, Archiv 198 311/12)—and the Bryston found enough nuances in dynamics and touch that Janssen's relatively subtly dramatic Bach held me spellbound. (By comparison, my Sony SCD-777 SACD/CD player rendered this somewhat dynamically dull and uninteresting.) When Janssen slightly increases the intensity of his left hand about 1:40 into the piece and again at 3:12, those notes had what seemed the correct, and ultimately believable, sense of force. Additionally, the room sound was perfect, with note decays that were neither too abrupt nor too generous—the very realistic decay of the final E-flat (ca 77.8Hz) was a die-away to die for.

Procol Harum's Something Magic, the last of the band's albums before a 14-year hiatus and their 1991 reunion, has a troubled history, beginning when producers Ron and Howie Albert (Bee Gees, Eric Clapton, et al) rejected most of the songs written for the collection, and ending with scant sales and a critical savaging that endures to this day ("something quite awful" was how Mojo's reviewer put it in 2002). Yet its 2009 CD reissue (Salvo CD029) restores, in demo version, two of the rejected numbers, both very strong; and because the two songs were recorded live in the studio, the recording quality is superb, especially for the stately "You'd Better Wait," which features a very direct-sounding, upfront vocal from Gary Brooker. Compared with my long-in-the-tooth Sony player, which led me to believe that a bit of top-end glare in the vocal's dynamic peaks was endemic to the original recording, the BCD-3 presented the whole of it without such distortions, and with fine color and clarity. The Bryston also seemed to increase the recording's dynamic range—through it, the difference in loudness between the vocal and the instrumental backing appeared greater—and rendered more audible guitarist Mick Grabham's subtle volume-knob swells.

Speaking of great records that never saw the light of day, in November of last year producer and Sierra Records CEO John Delgatto released the Gene Clark compilation The Lost Studio Sessions: 1964–1982, which mixes solo guitar-and-voice demos with full-band performances. Highlights of the latter include Clark's 1970 recording, with the Flying Burrito Brothers, of the Herb Reichert favorite "She Darked the Sun," which I enjoyed on the SACD/CD edition (Sierra SACD 7001, footnote 4). The BCD-3 honored the crisp, close-up recording style without letting the sound become harsh or brittle. On the other hand, although the Bryston's pacing and drive were faultless, the BCD-3 did nothing to cover up the grit and grain on the 2009 CD remastering of With the Beatles from The Beatles in Mono box. Ringo's first hi-hat strike in "All I've Got to Do" was just as painful as it is through my Sony—which, if nothing else, suggests that the Bryston's good sound doesn't come from smoothing over the cracks in substandard recordings or remasterings.


Just as my 1990s Bruckner fixation seems, these days, to be resurging, so too is my interest in Mahler's symphonies. Lately, Eliahu Inbal's recording of the Adagio of Mahler's Symphony 10 with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra (2 CDs, Denon 60CO-1566-67) has found its way back to the top of the pile. The Bryston succeeded in putting across Inbal's really fine grasp of the structure of every line (why isn't he better known?), and played the piece with good tone from the strings and, especially, the horns, which Inbal also controls to great effect. The infamous big chord was appropriately unsettling, and the pizzicato cellos that precede and follow it were conveyed with a nice sense of touch, especially considering that this Denon recording isn't among the most vivid ever made. (It's a little pallid, especially for this music.)

Which begs the question: Given suitable recordings, could the Bryston do color—which is to say, could it do vivid, well-saturated, near-psychedelic, yet believably natural instrumental and vocal color? It could and it did—but only when called for, and always right up to the border that separates real from unreal saturation and "hue" but never beyond. Instrumental and vocal sounds—especially massed voices, horns, woodwinds, and percussion instruments such as bells, gongs, and xylophone—were indeed vivid on the 1960 recording of Puccini's Turandot with Birgit Nilsson, Jussi Björling, et al, and Erich Leinsdorf leading the Rome Opera Orchestra and Choir (2 CDs, RCA Victor 62687-2). The no-less-remarkable mono recording of Mahler's Symphony 1, by Dimitri Mitropoulos and the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra (Sony Classical MHK 62342), was no less successful at teasing radiant instrumental sounds from the otherwise dull air between my speakers. And the recording by members of La Gaia Scienza of Brahms's Piano Quartet 3 in c (Winter & Winter 910 052-2)—a CD that I enjoy a little more every time I play it—came across with believably fulsome colors, not to mention the sort of very good stereo imaging in which the performers' positions on stage are described in an unfussy manner, and that entertained me without drawing my attention away from the music itself. Note attacks, especially from the violin and viola, were believably crisp, as were instrumental textures—and the room sound was, again, convincing.

Has Bryston indeed succeeded in putting a big wolverine among the somewhat smaller wolverines? Quite possibly. Apart from a lingering disappointment that the BCD-3 lacks the ability of some of its competitors to play music streamed from my computer, I came to regard it as that rarity of rarities: a high-end CD player without apparent flaw. It's not enough to say that the BCD-3's sound was well balanced from bottom to top: Its treble performance, in particular, proved sufficient to let a bright recording sound bright, yet the quality of that treble was such that the player never used brightness as a tool to pry unnatural information from natural-sounding discs. For a listener such as I, who has enjoyed a number of digital source components whose musicality results from discarding or spackling-over treble information, this sort of sound is remarkable.

I'll take that a step further: Now as always, some if not most of the playback products I most love are those that work in mysterious ways: the artisanal, the antique, the natural, the rare, the intuitively rather than the merely logically designed. But sometimes—perhaps especially as an addition to a system comprising such products—there's something to be said for a product whose designer's apparent goal was simply to reduce distortion. As here.

But you could forget all that: In today's parlance, the Bryston BCD-3 simply is what it is—an apparently well-designed and exceptionally well-made CD player that succeeded in connecting me with most of the music I asked it to play, and that offers very good value for the money. I could easily, happily live with it, and can just as easily recommend it.

Footnote 4: The Lost Studio Sessions is also available as a two-LP set (Sierra SHF 1002).
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

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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?