Hands On: Bryston BDP-1 Digital Player
A bold musical statement for the digital age.
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December 21, 2012 by Arlen Schweiger

Performance
I’ve never heard music in my home system more dramatic or detailed. The combination of Bryston’s digital player and DAC gave the entire system, which already had very good pieces, more dimension and airiness that made listening to all kinds of digital files truly exhilarating — even on low-res MP3s that I’d heard tons of times through my PC.

The BDP-1 is seemingly effortless in its playback, and I had to dial down the volume because it was inherently louder than other sources I use. But at the lower levels the detail and dynamics still came through loud and clear. I listened to everything from 128kbps MP3 and AAC files to 24/192 FLAC, and was awed by how full and vibrant they sounded even without implementing the upsampling feature on the BDA-1 when I played low-res tracks. Doing some A/B comparison of “You’re a Big Girl Now” from Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, for example, the quality gap between the 128 AAC and a 16/44.1 FLAC remaster was not nearly as apparent as I expected with the acoustic guitar work and imaging sounded highly realistic on both.

Depth and imaging are the strong suits of the BDP-1. As I began concentrating on high-resolution 24-bit files — an area that Bryston really designed this product for — I found the playback superior to my PC setup. The company says the BDP-1 produces low distortion, and that was evident as I cranked up high-res files to near-reference levels and the utter cleanness of the music further revealed itself. Classical music like the 24/96 HDtracks version of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Snow Maiden - Dance of the Tumblers” was deep and textured, with a great feel for where everyone in the orchestra seemed to be sitting. On the whole, the individuality of instruments was given really strong presentation through the BDP-1/BDA-1 combination.

Several other high-res files from HDtracks exemplified the BDP-1’s authoritative low end, including Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” when the drums and bass line are introduced — light years from how it sounds on the radio or CD they thunder in, plus you hear subtle detail like Elton’s lips smacking as he opens his mouth to sing. On Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” in 24/192, the well-defined drums come hammering in and every instrument’s crisp notes help create an incredible overall soundscape, including the right-channel clavinet that is far more impactful and pronounced in high-res.

Finally, I’m not a huge Rolling Stones fan, but playing some of their high-res tracks through the BDP-1 showed just how commanding their music can be, especially during the rich, carefully assembled preambles to “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Gimme Shelter,” “Monkey Man” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” for instance. The clarity and instrumental detail, plus the enhanced vocal definition of the latter, were effectively spine-tingling to hear—including every little grunt on “Sympathy” and the chilling piano intro to “Monkey Man.” Then you get hit with aspects such as the guitar solo in “Sympathy” that seemingly floats in the middle of the image and screeches at you as if Keith Richards was standing 5 feet away.

Value
If you’re looking for audiophile-grade playback of digital music, the Bryston combination can’t be beat. In a quality system, it delivers breathtaking, lifelike sound. The only knock I had was that as a computer-like machine it does take about a minute to boot up. But the overall merits of this component-based system outweigh a more convoluted computer-based alternative.

Conclusion
With its prowess in delivering both low-resolution and high-res digital files from storage devices, the BDP-1 is a player that will be able to satisfy consumers’ music demands for years. It’s a great path toward re-discovering one’s music collection and getting excited over hearing old songs in a new light.

Pros
Stunning clarity and detail, precise image, great depth, easy setup

Cons
Lengthy bootup, occasionally confusing navigation

Specs
4x USB 2.0 inputs
SPDIF (BNC), AES/EBU (XLR) outputs
Ethernet (RJ-45), RS-232 (DB9) control
AIFF, FLAC, WAV, MP3, M4A, OGG formats
External DAC required
Silver or black faceplate
12 pounds
MSRP $2,195
bryston.com

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Arlen Schweiger - Contributor, Electronic House Magazine
Arlen writes about home technology installations and product news and reviews for electronichouse.com and Electronic House magazine.

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