As single-minded approaches go, Bryston’s BDP-1 takes some beating.
Think of it as a stripped-down computer, tuned for audio quality.
As a consequence, the design is equally sparse: there’s no touch-screen display or internal transport, and no streaming circuitry, storage or DAC.
The lack of these features is seen as a strength by Bryston: the company says each of these things adds noise and degrades audio performance, and that’s something it refuses to accept.
It also feels streaming music through a network is inherently compromised in terms of performance and reliability, and prefers to avoid it altogether.
Sends data to a DAC
The BDP-1 simply takes music data from a memory stick or hard drive via one of its four USB inputs, processes the data and squirts it out digitally for an external DAC to complete the task.
The natural partner for this digital player is Bryston’s well-regarded BDA-1 DAC. We’re great fans of this product due it its well-thought-out connectivity (eight inputs including USB, AES/EBU and S/PDIF in optical, RCA and BNC forms) and its even-handed sound.
Many hi-fi buffs still look down on computer audio. It’s an easy attitude to understand if all they’ve sampled is low bitrate MP3s played on low-priced mass-market kit.
However, start using good-quality files – Apple Lossless is a minimum, with uncompressed formats such as WAV the ideal – with decent equipment and you can get proper hi-fi.
One of the BDP-1’s aces is the ability to replay files up to 24-bit/192kHz. These high-resolution files lift the sound of this Bryston client well above any CD player we’ve heard when it comes to outright detail, subtlety and fluidity.
Astonishing sense of space
Listen to a 24-bit/192kHz recording such as The Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s rendition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.3 in C Minor, Op.37 and the sense of space is astonishing.
Not just the space that defines the venue, but that between instruments, too. And despite all the insight, there’s no loss of cohesion.
There’s also a spell-binding finesse here, a lightness of touch, that once heard is hard to do without.
It’s to the fore in the complex decay of piano notes and the skill with which stringed instruments are delivered.
Dynamics are a treat, too. They’re wonderfully free-flowing and build in an almost unstoppable manner when the music demands.
Limited hi-res material
Higher resolution material, be it 24-bit in 88.2, 96, 176.4 or 192kHz, is limited at the moment, both in terms of quantity and mass-market appeal.
So, for now, the bulk of material played on this Bryston is likely to be no better than 16bit/44.1kHz WAV files from CDs.
Switching to a WAV version of Kanye West’s Monster is a bit disappointing.
It’s not just the resolution drop, either: the sound is clear and informative, but the pair’s subtle lack of rhythmic drive becomes more apparent with music such as this.
We have no issues as far as tonal balance, sonic stability or insight are concerned, though.
The BDP-1 proves that there’s life beyond CD. And if the choice of high-res content grows to include mass-market offerings, it’s a future we’ll relish.