The BCD-3 is a persuasive case in point. Its engineers took full advantage of the device’s focused functionality. For instance, Bryston designers knew that the ideal CD drive module would be clocked at 44.1kHz, the format’s standard. Anything else would compromise sound quality. They therefore decided to limit drive options for its new player to those clocked at 44.1kHz. That uncompromising stance ended up delaying the new player for several years.
A bit of history: The original BCD-1 benefitted from a 44.1kHz drive module supplied by Philips. Philips’ discontinuation of that module precipitated the untimely demise of the BCD-1. Bryston was anxious to build a replacement, but it soon learned that CD-optimized drives had all but vanished from the market. Instead, there were lots of DVD drives, and that’s what most everyone was using in their disc players. Needless to say, those drives aren’t clocked at 44.1kHz.
Rather than settle for a sub-optimal drive, Bryston decided to wait for something suitable. The company’s patience was finally rewarded when an Austrian firm named StreamUnlimited came out with a CD drive module clocked at 44.1kHz. Even better, the new drive improves upon the unit it replaces, boasting a metal (rather than plastic) tray and a much-improved slide mechanism. I can vouch for its smoother, quieter operation.
The timing of this drive’s arrival was auspicious; it coincided with Bryston’s release of a new DAC, the BDA-3, featuring dual 32-bit AKM 4490 DAC chips. The BDA-3 is a highly versatile component, with a vast array of inputs and outputs, plus support for a lengthy catalog of formats and sample rates. The BDA-3 was designed as a modular platform that facilitates hardware updates in the future, as well as allowing sub-systems to be repurposed in other products. Specifically, the DAC section in the BCD-3 is part-for-part identical to that of the BDA-3, with the same dual AKM DACs and balanced analog output circuitry. The difference is that the BCD-3 is programmed to operate only at 44.1kHz. The main circuit board is unique to the BCD-3, and the power supplies are similar.
Bryston lodged all this new componentry inside a chassis that looks nearly identical to that of the BCD-1. The front panel consists of a display surrounded by “Chiclet” buttons; however, Bryston has bumped up their size to make them easier to use. (Unfortunately, the optional remote control remains as bewildering as ever.) In a similar update, the newer model’s display boasts clearer, larger lettering. In back, there are balanced as well as single-ended analog outputs, several control interface options, and a digital out. Overall, the BCD-3’s packaging is handsome, efficient, and reinforces the player’s purpose-built gestalt. Users get everything they need to play CDs with ease—and nothing more.
In assessing how successful Bryston’s strategy has been, the obvious place to start is to compare the new player with the BCD-1. Sonically, the latter has never been a slouch. Nearly ten years ago, when I reviewed it in Issue 183, I dubbed the BCD-1 a superbly musical CD player, and it remains a joy. The first track I played in my nostalgic trip down BCD-1 lane was Bob Dylan’s atmospheric “Man in the Long Black Coat” from the Oh, Mercy disc. The evergreen Bryston propelled the song forward with an unstoppable pace. While the Bryston is not the epitome of openness, every instrument made its mark, with bass being particularly solid. Most importantly, the BCD-1 conveyed the music’s tense mood. That’s always been the case with this player; it gets to the heart of the music.
Yet when I switched to the BCD-3, the new player proved effortlessly and substantially superior. The new model is every bit as musically faithful as the old, but there are sonic improvements that I, for one, wouldn’t want to live without. Among these is the BCD-3’s far better channel separation, no doubt due to the use of dual DACs rather than just one. The result is not only a wider soundstage, but also much more precise imaging within that space. Through the BCD-3, Dylan is no longer vaguely centerstage; he is firmly planted exactly mid-speaker. As all TAS readers know, the ability to virtually “see” a musician adds dramatically to the sense of being in the artist’s presence.
The second main difference between the two players, also evident on the Dylan track, concerns background levels. The BCD-3’s hushed drawer mechanism foreshadows equally unobtrusive background noise. With a lower noise floor, music emerges from the new Bryston with greater purity and tangibility.