Bryston BDA-3.14 DAC/Preamp/Streamer

Digital Versatility

Equipment report
Categories:
Solid-state preamplifiers,
Digital-to-analog converters,
Music servers and computer audio
Bryston BDA-3.14 DAC/Preamp/Streamer

Setup and Ergonomics
When I received the BDA-3.14, initially I set it up as a source, with its XLR balanced analog outputs set to fixed level, feeding the balanced XLR inputs of a Mytek Manhattan II. The Manhattan was connected to a Pass X150.8 power amplifier driving a pair of Spatial Audio X-2 loudspeakers. The Manhattan was also connected to a pair of JL Audio Fathom f112 subwoofers configured for stereo. Input sources included a Mac Mini via USB 2, Oppo BDP-83 Extreme, Tidal, Qobuz, and my NAS drive. After the initial break-in period I reconfigured the system for the Bryston BDA-3.14, replacing the Manhattan as the control device and connecting the BDA-3.14’s analog outputs to the Pass amplifier and JL Audio subwoofers.

My first interactions with Bryston’s control app, Maniac Moose, sent me running back to Roon as my preferred control application. Manic Moose is web-based, so you must use a web browser on whatever device you choose to control the BDA-3.14 with Moose. PC users, or anyone else used to working with less-than-intuitive devices, should be able to stumble through the Moose’s configuration and setup with little outside assistance, but those used to a simpler-to-understand, more user-friendly experience, such as Mac OS users, may find the Manic Moose could make them even more manic. The BDA-3.14 owner’s manual did not help, since it only mentions MPD (which is Bryston’s music server application) in passing, with no step-by-step instructions for initialization. Setting up the MPD properly, which is important if you do not use Roon, necessitated a phone call to Bryston support to get everything up and running. Gary Dayton, Bryston’s tech guy, did a remote computer takeover to show me how to properly configure the BDA-3.14. It really wasn’t hard and took him almost no time at all, but an online step-by-step tutorial would have saved me a phone call to Gary. And while the Manic Moose control app now works and is ergonomically a step above player/control apps such as BubbleUPnP or mControl, if you are used to Roon I doubt you will switch over to Manic Moose. Given that Manic Moose is approximately five years old, it’s due for a make-over (or replacement), and a well-placed source told me that the replacement may arrive in late fall.

The BDA-3.14 comes packaged with a small, unprepossessing remote control. While you can make input selections, turn the unit on and off, and activate the muting from the front panel, all other control functions require the remote, a pad, or a smartphone. If you intend to use Manic Moose as your control app, you will need to make sure that your pad or smartphone can connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi because it relies on a web-based interface. I used my desktop Mac, iPhone, and Sony Experia Android pad to access and use Manic Moose with no issues. As with Roon and other music apps, the user experience with Manic Moose is much better on a pad or PC than with a phone, where the small display makes it harder to see all the functions and to access features.

I will admit that most of my listening time was spent using Roon rather than Manic Moose. While Manic Moose offered access to all my sources including Tidal, Qobuz, and everything on my NAS drive, like most manufacturer-supplied playback apps it does not have the level of control, selection, metadata access, and flexibility of Roon. Plus, due to my experience with the app, I know how to make Roon sing and dance, which is something that I couldn’t quite manage with Manic Moose.

Once it was properly configured, I found the BDA-3.14 to be quite stable with no operational quirks besides the need to switch in and out of Roon or MVP mode when and if I needed to change from Roon to MVP mode. I found that using two smart devices with the BDA-3.14 made it even easier to use if the remote wasn’t handy—one connected to my Roon Core for music selection while the other linked with Maniac Moose for switching and control functions.

Sound
How does the Bryston BDA-3.14 sound? Given that its DAC and its analog output sections are identical to those in the Bryston BDA-3, one could assume that it would produce a similar level of sound quality. When Karl Shuster reviewed the BDA-3 in Issue 275 of The Absolute Sound, he was so smitten that he purchased his review sample as a reference. The BDA-3 reviewer from Stereophile also purchased his review sample. [And TAS reviewer Alan Taffel just bought a Bryston BCD-3 CD player, whose DAC is identical to that in the BDA-3.14.—RH]

My current reference DAC/pre/streamers in my main room system are the Mytek Manhattan II and the PS Audio DSD jr. Because real-time A/B comparisons with rapid switching of DAC/preamplifiers were not practical without employing additional devices that could affect conclusions, I opted for longer listening sessions where I used primarily my own recordings augmented by particular high-definition tracks via Tidal and Qobuz.