For something larger scale, I turned to Osmo Vänskä’s brisk, assured performance of Beethoven’s Ninth on the BIS label. This is a hybrid disc, but it sounds wonderful even on its CD layer. Listening to it through the BCD-1, I was carried along with every movement. Again, I wished for a greater sense of air, but the BCD-1 had no trouble conjuring the recording’s mammoth scale and dynamics. Nonetheless, the BCD-3 delivered even more dynamic furor, along with a clearer view into each orchestral section’s playing. As on the Dylan, imaging was markedly better. Nor was openness any longer an issue. The BCD-3 ably conveys that elusive sense of frequency range and dynamic unboundedness so manifest in live performances.
By this point in my testing I had already come to two conclusions. First, the new Bryston is a significant upgrade to the BCD-1. Second, it’s a superb CD player, full stop. Like the BCD-1, it gets the music right; but it also provides greater resolution, dynamics, spatial precision, and openness. Additional listening over many months only confirmed these initial conclusions. So much so, in fact, that I began wondering how the BCD-3 might fare when pitted against something more exotic. To satisfy my curiosity, I did something wholly unfair: I directly compared the Bryston to the $28,000 dCS Rossini.
Did the Rossini sound better? Of course it did! What did you expect? Still, it took me a while to put my finger on what made the Rossini’s presentation the more convincing of the two. Notes—their timbres, rhythms, dynamics, and the space they play in—sounded remarkably similar on the two players. But the dCS proved better in between the notes, maintaining a low-level sense of acoustic space even during musical gaps. This capacity had a surprisingly outsized effect on realism.
The Rossini is also capable of more weight in the bass, which is unsurprising considering its anvil-like build. On solo piano recordings the BCD-3 can’t muster a Bösendorfer’s lower-register heft in the same way the dCS can. Yet the Bryston fully captures that instrument’s deep beauty, as well as its prodigious dynamics. In the same way, though an upright bass emerges from the Rossini with a little more oomph, the BCD-3 matches the dCS’ sublimely realistic attacks and timbral density. Considering the vast price divide between these two players, I came away from this comparison with even greater admiration for the BCD-3.
Clearly the new Bryston has the sonic mettle to qualify as a prime choice for a “last” CD player. Equally clear to me, having thought it through, is that purchasing such a unit makes eminent sense. Still, why take the plunge now? Why not stick with what you’re currently using for a while longer?
The first part of the answer has to do with the degree of the BCD-3’s improvement over previous generations of CD players. I suspect that many readers are getting by with a trusty old Rotel, Rega, Bryston, or other creditable CD player. You may think things haven’t changed much since then. But, in fact, they have.
Spurred by the hi-res phenomenon, companies such as AKM have invested heavily in a new generation of DAC chips. Frankly, these new chips stomp their predecessors. Modern chips are much quieter and far better behaved at the musical extremes. Built for ultra-high sample rates and bit depths, they coast through decoding a CD. One reason the BCD-3 smokes the BCD-1 is that the latter is saddled with a generations-old Cirrus Logic 4398 DAC chip. You can expect the BCD-3 to dispatch your aging CD player just as quickly and definitively as it did the BCD-1. In short, by upgrading you’d be getting a major improvement.
But doesn’t the fact that DACs are progressing at such a brisk pace argue for waiting a bit longer? Well, it would, unless a player you bought today was somehow future-proof. Ideally, a “last” CD player would offer a means of taking advantage of DAC advancements (or winning lottery tickets) that may appear down the road. The BCD-3 does.