When I reviewed the Bryston BP26 preamplifier and 2BSSt power amplifier last year (link), I was impressed with overall level of performance, build quality and value. I concluded that Bryston had been in business, serving the pro audio and home audiophile markets well since the early 70’s for a very good reason. They deliver the goods. They have been, and clearly are still, an engineering driven company.
I was offered the chance to evaluate their very well received BCD-1 Redbook CD player. Even though Bryston is a relative new comer to digital playback devices, they quickly are taking the market by storm. Their BDA-1 DAC also has garnered quite a following. Now word has it they are coming to market with something they call a network music player as seen here: Link.
I received a brand new unit in with a black faceplate; it is also available in silver. I was extremely impressed with the build quality when examined after unpacking. The faceplate is thick and heavy. There is significant heft to the player, which leads me to believe high quality power supplies are used inside the chassis. There are plenty of choices as far as connectivity: XLR and single ended outputs, plus transformer coupled TOSlink coaxial, and AES/EBU (via XLR) digital outputs. A superb, backlit remote control is included as well; one of the best I have seen for a product costing around $2600. The remote can also be used in conjunction with other Bryston gear.
The player itself is front drawer loading with a Bryston modified Philips sourced transport. There is clever engineering going on under the hood, and for some specifics, see the brief and very enlightening interview with Bryston’s James Tanner at the end of this review. The BCD-1 uses a 128x over sampling 24 bit delta-sigma DAC. The original 44.1 kHz data are up sampled to a 192 kHz sampling frequency. A high quality dedicated analog output stage completes the picture.
Set Up and Listening:
I set up the BCD-1 as I do my reference Naim CD5X, on the same shelf in my rack, with Symposium Roller Block Jr’s resonance control devices and a Shakti Stone centered above the transport to eliminate any variables. I used several interconnect cables, including a Kimber Hero AG, a Kimber KCTG and an Element Cable Silver Serenade. I ended up leaving a Hero AG for the majority of the evaluation. I also used a Transparent power cord, leaving the stock cord in the box.
From the get go, the BCD-1 appeared to be a very balanced player. There was nothing that I could possibly detect in the presentation that would give away the fact that this was a sub $3000 player. As a matter of fact, if forced to guess, I would have ventured into dollar figures two or three times that amount. The review sample appeared in a time period when I had the opportunity to hear a few other players costing double, from some very well known manufacturers. The Bryston held its own and then some. It is almost as if the Bryston engineers had taken a look at some of the weaknesses of other, more expensive players, and applied what they learned in the build of the BCD-1.
To be specific, the soundstage was rock solid with excellent imaging. Bass was deep, defined and had excellent weight. On the other end of the spectrum, high frequencies were utterly devoid of glare, brightness, or any other digital nasties. On the contrary, the highs were smooth, extended, and in my opinion, superbly accurate. I don’t know if was because of the low noise signal paths or the sophisticated up sampling scheme, but there was a natural shimmer and intoxicating ambience to every disc I spun.
One thing to note is the BCD-1 was in use with a system consisting of some pretty good sounding gear from Audio Research, Naim, and Thiel, and it more than held its own. The Thiel CS2.4, which is more or less becoming my reference for speakers in the 5K price range, is in particular very revealing of sub par source components. The BCD-1 was in no way tripped up nor had any weaknesses exposed. In fact, it shone in such a system, and would be a most welcomed permanent addition.
I had an assortment of different discs out of the drawers during the review period and got into some marathon listening sessions. I am really enjoying Jeff Beck’s latest, Emotion & Commotion. It features some very interesting song choices, such as interpretations of the late Jeff Buckley’s versions of “Lilac Wine” and “Corpus Christi Carol” from his masterpiece, Grace. Beck’s huge Fender Stratocaster tone is wrapped in tasteful orchestral arrangements. There are also a few slamming cuts featuring vocalists, including Joss Stone, a recent favorite. The BCD-1 made this disc sound huge, expansive, and very natural, despite it probably being a cross continental studio patchwork.
I also was enamored with the new offering from Herbie Hancock, The Imagine Project. It features a stellar and very interesting cast of support musicians including Wayne Shorter, Seal, Pink, Dave Matthews, Tinariwen, James Morrison, Juanes, John Legend and more. It is a cross cultural stew featuring a dizzying blend of jazz, pop, African, Indian and Latin sounds. The vocals are especially very well recorded and, through the Bryston, it sounded like the voices were right in the middle of the room. Wayne Shorter’s sax was reproduced with tremendous realism and clarity.
I also stumbled upon a new disc by Irish singer and songwriter Luka Bloom called Dreams in America. The album features re-recordings of tunes from his earlier, excellent back catalog, but featuring just his voice and guitar, minimally miked; a true test for any system, especially a digital source component. The Bryston passed with flying colors. Bloom’s voice was rich, dark and passionate. His very underrated guitar playing was also rendered beautifully, with a bell like clarity to the strummed chords and picked notes. It was a real breath of fresh air in today’s world of overly compressed, artificial sounding pop recordings.
Of note, I was able to compare the BCD-1 to the Naim CD5x ($2950), without the external power supply I usually employ. The BCD-1 has a slightly higher output, so I made sure to match levels. In general, I felt the Naim set the presentation a row or two back from the Bryston. They were very similar in over all tonal balance, but the Naim was a bit darker. I found myself preferring the Bryston about 70%, if not more, of the time. The Naim is not an upsampling player, by the way.
In high end audio, we often hear the term “giant killer.” In my opinion, it is very much over used and sets up consumers for disappointment. However, I don’t believe I would be going out on a limb in labeling the Bryston BCD-1 CD player as a giant killer after spending a significant amount of time with it and comparing it to other, more expensive units. It is built beautifully, highly engineered, sounds terrific and is made in North America. The hefty, superb backlit remote control is a very nice bonus indeed.
In addition, I really like the fact that there is a total lack of audiophile marketing nonsense from Bryston concerning the design. There is no talk about exotic chassis materials, fancy digital filters that can “make 80’s CD’s sound like audiophile masterings”, or other questionable claims. What Bryston has done is take the essential elements of a one box CD player, such as clean signal paths, high quality power supplies, discrete analog output stages, and jitter reduction, etc, and they have optimized them. The proof is in the listening. The player is a very clean window into compact disc playback. It has a presentation that is very well balanced and could be inserted into mega buck systems without a single eyebrow being raised. It’s a job very well done by Bryston and at an extremely attractive price. I can easily recommend the BCD-1.