Bryston BDA-1 DAC

rancew -- Fri, 07/25/2008 - 16:35

I'm prepared to take the plunge into the realm of the media server!

I'm attracted to the convenience as well as the fact that - apparrently - there is not only no sacrifice in quaity, but the sound is even better from a hard drive, all else being equal. I'm particularly intrigued by the prospect of high-resolution music downloads, which could leapfrog us way beyond the (now fading) optical disc format war between SACD and DVD-A.

My first step is a high-quality stand-alone DAC...

I purchased the new Bryston BCD-1 CD player a few months ago, as much to try out the DAC as anything. It's an impressive unit!

I'm now contemplating the just released Bryston BDA-1 DAC. My question is: Can this unit handle/output true high-resolution, or simply upsample to 196K?

Here's a link to the press release that includes some specs:

Anybody with more technical knowledge than me (that's not saying much!) care to weigh in?

Robert Harley -- Tue, 07/29/2008 - 10:27

It looks to me like the Bryston can accept and decode high-res digital sources. Many new DACs are coming on the market with this ability, specifically for the application you describe.

I'm about to get for review the Berkeley Audio Designs Alpha DAC.

rancew -- Sat, 08/09/2008 - 14:36

Thanks for responding, Mr. Harley.

My follow up question is about connecting to the DAC.

The Bryston DAC, I believe, has a choice of all available connections i.e. optical, USB, etc. Having never dealt with computer audio can you tell me which one of these would be best from a performance standpont? (I haven't yet bought a PC/server , as the issue of connection cababilities is one of the quesions I have about them . I've looked at the Qsonix system, but am also considering a Mac-based server.)

Robert Harley -- Fri, 08/15/2008 - 22:33

In my experience, the coaxial connection sounds the best. There's a technical reason behind why coaxial should sound better than optical and USB, but it's rather long and detailed.

Alan Taffel -- Fri, 02/20/2009 - 11:01

The Bryston DAC does indeed support high-resolution sampling rates for all connections EXCEPT USB. Like many current-generation DACs with USB capability, the Bryston is limited to 48kHz over this interface. So be forewarned. However, as Robert points out, coaxial connections sound better anyway, especially if they terminate in a BNC connector, which the Bryston DAC commendably supports.

Alan Taffel
TAS Senior Writer

Wes (not verified) -- Sat, 02/28/2009 - 05:14

    The search for right DAC for my setup has led in many directions.  But as I researched and compiled trusted opinions, the decision came to be between the Bryston BDA-1 and the Benchmark DAC1 USB.  The reviews for both have ranked them among the best buys for your money in both build and sonic quality, yet to my knowledge, there are no direct comparisons between the two available.  And, regrettably most retailers do not sell both, let alone have demos of both for comparison.  Fortunately for me I was able to come across one dealer that not only does, but one that was also able to set up an A/B listening session.  For that, I have to take a quick minute to thank the people at Westlake Pro Audio ( for allowing me 2 hours use of one of their professional mixing studios filled with some of the finest audio gear as well as one DAC1 USB and one BDA-1.
    I brought with me my MacBook Pro with 25 records of various music stored as AIFF 44.1K 16bit files, a mini-to-toslink fiber optic cable, and a USB 2.0 cable.  All Midi Controls were set using that timesaving application, CA-Sample Rate, provided by the people at Computer Audiophile ( with everything set at 44.1K and 16bit, except for the when using the Benchmark, which forces 24bit.  My salesman joined me as well as the Manager of the studio who was also interested hearing what the two had to offer.
    As we began A/B’ing between the two from song to song, it was instantly apparent how much louder the Bryston was then the Benchmark.  According to the decibel meter on the mixing board, it was approximately 3db louder! To my knowledge the Benchmark does has level adjustments on the back that could easily fix that, if its volume is an issue to you.
    Utilizing the USB connections of both units, we all appreciated the stronger treble and tonal balance that the Benchmark had over the Bryston.  Voices were slightly fuller, symbols were crisper with a longer finish, and keyboards and synthesizers had more impact and vigor.  On the flipside, we also noticed that the bass was stronger and more controlled with the Bryston.  The difference was equally as dramatic as the Benchmark’s strengths in higher frequencies.
    In terms of sound stage, the Bryston was slightly wider and a tad more room filling.  The Benchmark tended to be more forward and central.  Separation and definition were about the same on both units with some songs from Thom Yorke’s The Eraser Rmxs album sounding better on the Benchmark while others from Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion sounding better on the Bryston.
    Unlike the Benchmark, the Bryston allows for the control over the up-sampling feature.  Throughout our tests, we almost always preferred the up-sampling to be on.  The difference between the function being on and off was miniscule, and I liked the fact that we had the ability to turn it off or on with the push of a button.
    After and hour and a half, both the manager and I preferred the Benchmark simply for its clarity and balance, with the salesman preferring the Bryston for its “pleasing scoop” that he felt evened out the balance with the midrange at higher volumes.  With my mind made and as we were packing everything back up, I remembered the mini-to-toslink cable that I had brought.  Knowing that the Bryston functions differently via USB then it does via its other inputs, we decided to switch the cables and do another quick test to see it there is a noticeable difference.  And, yes, there was a noticeable difference.
    The Benchmark sounded very similar to an almost unnoticeable degree, but the Bryston opened up revealing much of the lost highs that it lacked via USB.  It was not 100% at the level of the Benchmark, but it was 95-97% there, creating a very natural and full sound.  The Bryston’s bass also improved in tightness, which could be a result of the pairing with better higher frequency resolution or that over the optical pathway, the Bryston’s processing was better as a whole. Playing the Isley Brothers song, “People of Today”, the BDA-1 provided a much more musical experience then the Benchmark did, even evoking some head bobbing.  That is to say that the DAC1 USB sounded fantastic as well, it is just that the combination of the Bryston’s newfound clarity meshed with its already large sound stage, made for a more pleasing experience.
    The cable switch also improved on Bryston’s imaging, making for much sharper and more defined reproductions.  This was a noticeable difference over the Benchmark. Via the BDA-1, on Henry Fiol’s Fe, Esperanza y Caridad, the background vocals in the song ”Ven y Baila mi Son” were distinct and clearly separated in space from your left to slightly right of center, and when played through the DAC1 USB, the same separate voices merged into a group, and the space narrowed to a range slightly to left and right of center.  We played a few other songs with similar results.  On Heat Miser’s Mic City Sons, “Rest My Head Against the Wall”, the Benchmark had a very pleasant range with all of the instruments sounding as unenthusiastically energetic as I assume Elliot Smith had wanted them to be.  But when played through the Bryston, each of those instruments took its place within the soundstage, filling the room, and essentially making the whole experience more lifelike.
    Given this large gain in performance, I had to reconsider my decision made 30 minutes earlier.  If I had only the option of USB, I would have gone with the Benchmark without much of a thought.  It has a wonderful, clear, and balanced sound, that is sharp without being harsh or hard to listen to.  It, in fact, was a pleasure to listen to.  It is a unit that is worth every cent.  But, since the use of an optical cable is an option for me, I ultimately chose the Bryston.  The gains by using an optical cable were, in our opinion’s, game changing.   Its’ soundstage was wide and spacious, its’ ability for separation and definition was amazing, its’ control and authority was impressive, and its’ sound, for lack of a better phrase, makes you want to dance to the music; all making the Bryston BDA-1 an easy choice as my DAC.


Rick Lee (not verified) -- Sat, 01/09/2010 - 14:47

Wes--Very nice comparison you give between the Benchmark and the Bryston. It mirrors my own experience as I own and enjoy both. I note you never tried the Bryston with a coax source. I have compared identical transports running optical and digital into the Bryston and coax sounded much more full. So if you already liked it on optical it might sound even better than you thought. I hooked up a ten dollar optical to coax convertor and even THIS sounded more full than the same source on optical. Weird.

I would have thought a simpler conversion happening inside the Bryston would be better-but nope. It goes to show you really have to fool around with how you move digital from one device to another and common sense doesn't all ways win the cigar. I also have a digital FM-HD tuner that doesn't care one fig which output I use, optical or digital. They sound identical on this one device. But it is all ways worth a little time spent fussing around here as any improvement is close to "free." No?

I mainly use the Benchmark in a smaller system where I don't even have a pre amp. Just a power amp with left and right volume controls on the amp to set room balance and a pair of high quality BBC monitors. In this application the Benchmark truly shines. I can't help but speculate that this is exactly what Benchmark meant for the unit to be used as it is for "pro" monitoring and endorsed by recording guys in the main. And that's how they are using it. I imagine Benchmark was amazed how many of their DACs wound up in the audiophile realm. But it truly is a lot of well engineered kit for $1000. For bigger systems with their own preamp I believe the Bryston is worth another thousand at $2000.

Sonically the Benchmark is clean and a bit lean. The Bryston is fuller, richer timbre, more "palpable" when the hammer hits the string on a Steinway for example, more "you are there" on voices and most important it shows a full wide angle view onto the soundstage. So Carnegie Hall sounds like a stage from side to side with no breaks. The Benchmark sounds like left-center-right. As a matter of fact most of my inexpensive DACs sound this way. More of a paint by numbers version of the Mona Lisa if you get my drift.

The Bryston truly moves closer to a fuller richer more detailed spatially correct version of what's going on. Anyhow that's what I hear over at my rooms. Some of it may be because the Bryston runs its output into class A topology while the Benchmark uses the cheaper class AB type on its output devices. Class A usually is a guaranteed upgrade or at least somewhat noticably more natural sounding when used in line level componentry.

Walpataca (not verified) -- Mon, 04/27/2009 - 07:50





Wes, that was one of the most straight talking and useful reviews I've read in a long time - thank you.
I've recently auditioned (and purchased) the Moon I3.3. My hope was that the internal DAC was the same, if not better, than the 'DAC' I'm currently using (Cambridge Audio 840C,which is a CD  player by any other name, but also a pretty good DAC courtesy of it's digital inputs). Alas it wasn't, but I bought the amp anyway as it sounded simply superb via a normal analogue input.
The same dealer has lent me a Benchmark DAC USB which is clearly better than the Cambridge 840C. However, having read your review, as well as other professional reviews, I will certainly demo'ing the Bryston.
Rancew, your initial question about a music server - I'm using Slim Devices' (now Logitech) Squeezebox 3. It doesn’t support high-def content but otherwise it is a fantastic implementation of wireless lossless audio streaming.

Walpataca (not verified) -- Mon, 04/27/2009 - 07:51

Please excuse the cut-and-paste mess!

Will Z. (not verified) -- Wed, 10/14/2009 - 16:59

Has anyone tried the Bryston BDA-1 using the Cambridge Audio 840C CD player as transport?  I have the 840C (which I love), but am wondering if the addition of the Bryston DAC in the signal path would be worth the investment, given the highly regarded upsampling capabilities of the Cambridge player.  Would I be guilding the lily?  $$$ better spent on a Focul JM Labs or REL sub?  I'm running Bryston 3B SST amp, Bryston BD-26 pre w/ phono stage, a Nottigham Horizon t-table, and Acoustic Zen Satori Shotgun biwire speaker cables into Dali Euphonia Mk 5 speakers; various Acoustic Zen balanced interconnects.  And if there is a substantial ROI to be found in the Bryston DAC, what's my best bet for interconnects, given that this is not a server- or PC-based system?
Any help from our distinguished Panel would be v. much appreciated.
Will Z.
(long-time TAS subscriber)

Sonny -- Wed, 12/22/2010 - 16:16

Thank you Wes and Rick Lee for your review on the Bryston BDA1...
I am new here and i was so please to find your reviews on BDA1... i have recently bought a set of 14B SST with BP26 w/MPS2 and was looking for a DAC unit and was debating between the BDA1 and the Benchmark... thank you so much for your reviews so now i feel much confident going for the BDA1
I would like to ask for a suggestion/advise, have anyone listened to both Bryston 14B sst2 and the 28B sst2... the 28B is lot more power than the 14B... if i was to jump to the 28B... would it be too overkill?...
Thank you so much for your time
sonimages [at] gmail [dot] com

booaaaa -- Wed, 12/29/2010 - 02:48

anyone knows how long is the break in time for the bryston dac?

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