Bryston BDA-1 D/A converter Page 2

The resulting soundstage was the most realistic, palpable, and three-dimensional I'd ever heard in my room. Singers were enveloped in a 360° space that extended well behind them, as heard with the performance of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing," from the Chesky sampler. The first movement of the "Eroica" was spellbinding—I could hear subtle ambience cues I'd previously heard only at concerts.

Soundstages were also wider and deeper when I played CDs. There was an enhanced sense of three-dimensionality, with more precise images of the instruments in space, as heard during the percussion solo in "Nardis," from Patricia Barber's Café Blue (CD, Premonition/Blue Note 21810 2). The cymbal appeared at extreme right, the double bass was centered behind the drum kit, the piano was on the right, and Barber's voice floated three-dimensionally between my Quad ESL-989s. Similarly, Mary Gauthier's voice was stunningly real as she sang "Long Way to Fall," from her Filth and Fire (CD, Signature Sound SIG 1273).

For the deepest bass notes, I supplemented the Quads with a pair of JL Audio Fathom f212 subwoofers (review forthcoming) and Bryston's 10B SUB external crossover. The BDA-1's recovery of microdynamic details was then most evident, sharpening the leading edge of deep-bass transients and giving the combination of Quads and JLA subs a light, fast quality. The bass notes were integrated in time and space with the rest of the music. Powerful synthesizer bass notes were captured with dead-on pitch definition, adding pace, energy, and emotional weight to film soundtracks. The deepest synthesizer growls and pulses literally shook the room in the tortuous mix of percussion, chimes, gongs, and snare drums that is "Attempt on the Royals," from James Horner's soundtrack score for Patriot Games (CD, RCA 66051-2). The bass remained clean, solid, pitch-perfect, with no spurious noises. I could easily discern subtle changes of pitch in timpani notes in Eiji Oue and the Minnesota Symphony's recording of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring (CD, Reference RR-70CD).

The BDA-1's midrange reproduction was effortless and clean, with excellent tonality and instrumental timbres. I was strongly impressed with the rightness of the timbres of guitar and saxophone on L.A. Four's Going Home (CD, Ai Music 3 2JD-10043). Male singers benefited from the BDA-1's tonal accuracy. Willie Nelson's cover of T.S. Bruton's "Getting Over You," from Across the Borderline (CD, Columbia CK 52752), was particularly natural and clean, and entirely free of honk or hollowness. I heard the same rich but totally natural timbre in Buddy Miller's mando-guitar accompaniment in "Prayer in Open D" from Emmylou Harris's Spyboy (CD, Eminent EM-25001-2). I heard layers of resonant male-voice textures from the Turtle Creek Chorale, led by Timothy Seelig, singing John Rutter's Lord, Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace, from Requiem (CD, Reference RR-57CD). The solo that opens H. Owen Reed's La Fiesta Mexicana, from Howard Dunn and the Dallas Wind Symphony's Fiesta! (CD, Reference RR-38CD), was unusually lovely, sweet, and captivating.

The BDA-1's highs were clean, open, effortless, grain-free, and extended. Clarity and extension were so good that I heard the subtle sweep of the guitar in the opening of David Bowie's "Putting Out Fire," from the Cat People soundtrack (CD, MCA MCAD-1498). The clarity and openness of the BDA-1's treble response let Patti Austen's soft contralto emerge easily from the Latin arrangement of "Only You," on Arturo Sandoval's Hothouse (CD, N2K 10023). In Emmylou Harris's a cappella performance of "Calling My Children Home," also from Spyboy, the silken, translucent tonality of her effortlessly ethereal voice stood out separately from Buddy Miller's sweet tenor in both location and tonality.

The Bryston BDA-1 reproduced the extraordinary dynamics of Mark Flynn's flash-bang drumming in the opening of "Blizzard Limbs," from Attention Screen's Live at Merkin Hall (CD, Stereophile STPH018-2); Mick Fleetwood's thunderous kick drum, which opens "Dreams" on Fleetwood Mac's The Dance (CD, Reprise 46702-2); and David Hudson's raw, pulsing, raspy bass didgeridoo in "Rainforest Wonder," from his Didgeridoo Spirit (CD, Indigenous Australia IA2003 D). Best, perhaps, was Tito Puente's solo on "Tito," on Arturo Sandoval's Hothouse: the Bryston conveyed an image of his timbales spread across the soundstage, Puente moving back and forth among the three drums, each clean drumstroke producing a sudden snap of drumhead, rim, and stick wood, mixed with trumpet blasts and more rim shots—all without compression. And I delighted again in hearing the sledgehammer-like thudding of the bass synthesizer in "Assault on Ryan's House," from Patriot Games, and a segment of Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, from the recording by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (SACD/CD, Deutsche Grammophon 02899 477 5198-2), in which wind instruments are mixed with the thunderous stomping of strings in a pulsing tempo and surging energy that build through the Adoration of the Earth, then erupt into the explosive Dance of the Earth.

The Bryston BDA-1 let me enjoy the best-sounding digital playback I've ever heard in my listening room, outshining even Bryston's own BCD-1 CD player. This might be related to the fact that the BDA-1 has two Crystal CS4398s vs the BCD-1's single chip.

The Bryston BDA-1 has become an essential part of my listening experience. Mated to my Quad ESL-989 loudspeakers and used with Bel Canto's USB Link 24/96, the BDA-1 let me enjoy hi-rez files downloaded from the Internet, producing open highs, detailed imaging, deep soundstaging, and well-defined and authoritative bass that connected me to those crucial elements of music: pace, rhythm, and emotion. And, yes, the BDA-1 also let me enjoy a higher level of musical dimensionality and realism. As Bob Reina did when he added the Audio Research Reference 110 amplifier to his reference system, at the end of my listening sessions for the BDA-1, I put down my notebook and picked up my checkbook. I give the BDA-1 my heartfelt recommendation for the highest rating in Stereophile's "Recommended Components."

Bryston Ltd.
PO Box 2170, 677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 6X7
(800) 632-8217

Metalingus's picture

What is it like with oversampling off? Does it have a perfect response like a NOS DAC? If so this has the best of both worlds, inaudible distortion and good impulse.