Bryston BDA-3.14 DAC/Preamp/Streamer

Digital Versatility

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

My overall impression of the BDA-3.14’s is that it attempts and, for me, succeeds in being an extremely neutral DAC/pre with a “straight-no-chaser” approach that does not prettify or euphonize the sound. Also, it’s a stable design that is deadly silent, with nary a hiccup or burble even with its volume turned up to max and my ears a scant few inches away from my loudspeaker’s tweeter.

On my own DSD5.6 masters I was able to hear all the minute low-level details that I’m accustomed to hearing through my current references, the Manhattan and DSD jr. The BDA-3.14 was easily able to decode and illuminate the subtle spatial informational cues I know are in my recordings. I often use my open-air recording of three quarters of the Punch Brothers doing a workshop/mini-concert at the Rockygrass Academy to size up a system’s ability to produce a coherent three-dimensional soundfield that preserves spatial cues. During one tune, a service vehicle rumbles by in the background approximately thirty feet behind the players, tracking from extreme right across the soundfield and disappearing on the left as it continues down a dirt road. The BDA-3.14 rendered this aural landscape with reference-level three-dimensional accuracy. 

Listening to the latest, just released, Plangent Processed version of the Grateful Dead’s Working Man’s Dead 50th Anniversary release through the BDA-3.14 via Tidal MQA, as well as 192/24 WAV files from my hard drive, I was impressed by how much easier it was to listen into both of these versions compared with the original 44.1 mix, both played back through the BDA-3.14. Vocals that on earlier versions were a murky homogenous mess, now were clearly defined into three and occasionally even four-part harmonies. Also, Jerry Garcia’s pedal-steel guitar parts were no longer vague noodling afterthoughts, but clear musical statements. Between the new mix and the BDA-3.14’s midrange clarity, listening to this latest version was a revelation.

The extension and overall speed of my system’s bass response remained first-rate with the BDA-3.14 handling preamp duties. One of my guilty musical pleasures is pop music with a strong, four-in-the-floor, 120-beats-per-minute, Niles-Rogers’-approved “disco” beat. Many feature the bass lines, often combining synth with electric bass tracks. Being lithe enough to keep the bass clean and unhomogenized while giving the music its dynamic due challenges an audio system’s “speed,” and a room’s ability to dispel bass energy quickly without trying to sing along. The BDA-3.14 did a fine job of keeping the bottom end neat, clear, and very danceable. Give Banks’ “Gimme” from Qobuz a spin and see if your system can control all the bass transients successfully. My system with the BDA-3.14 installed in it sure could, with subtlety and finesse.

Even the most hardcore solid-state fanatic will grudgingly grant, usually over a scotch, that tube electronics often have a lovely beguiling midrange that can inject an additional bit of verisimilitude into a system’s sound. Cool, but that’s not the BDA-3.14’s midrange. Listening to the track “If You Leave Me Now” by Charlie Puth with Boyz II Men via Tidal, I was suitably impressed by the purity of the sound, which made it easy to hear which singer was employing some electronic assistance. No, with the BDA-3.14 you get Class A solid-state, clean, clear, WISWIG, with no sonic embellishment or “mojo” added to the music itself. I personally prefer that. But, if you want to add some tube electronic ”magic,” you can easily route the BDA-3.14’s outputs into a tube-based analog preamplifier.

Currently my hearing extends to 13kHz, and although I can no longer hear a TV flyback tone (if there were still a CRT TV around to emit one), my high-frequency hearing below that point has, if anything, become more sensitive within my upper-end range limits, especially to IM distortion and hash. On the 192/24 WAV of “St. Stephen” from the Grateful Dead’s Aoxomoxoa—The Complete Studio Collections, all the little tinkles and tiny bells came through with same startling purity, just as when I first heard them 50 years ago, due to both the mix and the BDA-3.14’s ultra-clean presentation. On intentionally rude-sounding cuts such as The Bottle Rockets “Headed for Ditch” from Brand New Year, which contains the priceless line “they want Mercedes Benz but all they got are BMWs,” the BDA-3.14 lets the rudeness come through without buffing off any of the rough edges or intentional guitar-grunge nastiness. But at the same time that it sounds rude, it remains listenable, even running 99dB peaks at the listening position.

Since high-performance audio became “a thing,” audio manufacturers have come and gone. Many have been short-lived establishments offering “bleeding-edge” performance with equally short warrantees on products with limited lifespans. Bryston is different. Because Bryston’s roots were in pro audio, where long-term reliability is crucial to success, longevity has always been part of Bryston’s DNA. No other audio firm offers a 20-year warranty and is still around to honor it. This is one of the reasons that audiophiles seeking high-value components have embraced Bryston gear since 1976. As an example, I have employed five Bryston Powerpac 120 monoblock power amplifiers in various applications and systems (including P.A. and subwoofer) for nineteen years, and they are still functioning within spec as far as I know and still under warranty, if by chance one does go down. That’s value.

The Bryston BDA-3.14’s goal was to offer a similar level of overall performance as the BDA-3, while adding streaming options and a volume control, and upping cost by a mere $400. I think it was successful. And if I were in the market for a new DAC, with the intention of keeping it as long as possible, the BDA-3.14 would be a prime candidate for acquisition. The BDA-3.14 is a first-class component that could be the center of a high-performance digital audio system—maybe even yours.

Specs & Pricing

Type: DAC/streamer/digital preamplifier
Inputs: Four USB HD; one USB 1; one USB 2; TosLink; SPDIF RCA and BNC; AES/EBU; two Ethernet; USB; and RS 232 
Formats supported: Up to 384/32 PCM, 512DSD, WAV, FLAC, AIFF
Output: One pair balanced XLR, one pair unbalanced RCA fixed or variable output
Dimensions: 17" x 3.4" x 12"
Weight: 8.5 lbs./4 kg
Price: $4195

677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario K9J 7Y4
(800) 632-8217