How time flies when you’re having fun! It hardly seems like four years since my review of Bryston’s BDP-1 Digital Player in issue 215. Since its auspicious debut, the BDP-1 has remained my reference digital playback component, consistently delivering engaging music without provoking complaint. Contentment is rare in audiophile circles; the dominant sentiment seems to be an insatiable desire for the next best thing. I have continued exploring alternative music-file playback architectures, but I must confess that whenever I return to the BDP-1, I feel relief, thankful that Bryston has taken care of the tweaky details and eliminated the erratic glitches that can turn computer-based audio into a tedium.
Of course, the industrious folks at Bryston have not rested on their proverbial laurels. Not long after the introduction of the BDP-1, they released the slightly more expensive BDP-2, incorporating the same digital audio circuitry, but a more powerful system board and a correspondingly heftier power supply. Processor speed and memory capacity were both increased. Connectivity was expanded to include an internal SATA connection, an eSATA port, two gigabit Ethernet ports, and six full-current USB 2.0 ports.
Cognizant of the increasing availability of digital-to-analog converters with USB Audio inputs, Bryston then differentiated the digital player family further, shrewdly removing the customized SPDIF and AES/EBU digital output board from the BDP-1, yielding the new BDP-1USB with only USB Audio output, but at a substantially lower price.
On the software side, the Canadian programming crew has continued to refine the BDP user interface and add features well beyond the scope of the original design. The latest “Manic Moose” (smile!) firmware includes an updated Media Player application, the enhanced configuration Dashboard, Bryston’s bRadio interface to search and play Internet radio stations, and access to the Tidal Internet music-streaming service (still in beta-test phase at the time of this writing). The Bryston digital players operate in accordance with the open-source Music Player Daemon (MPD) protocol. Users can now switch between several different MPD versions. The latest firmware (S2.18 2015-09-29) includes MPD v0.17.6, v0.18.21, and v0.19.9 for the BDP-2, but the BDP-1/USB hardware is incompatible with MPD v0.19.
While “Direct Disc” playback from connected storage drives remains the core operational mode—and a principal performance differentiator—the BDP can now also play files from Network Attached Storage (NAS) devices or shared folders on networked computers, function as a DLNA client, renderer, or server, and play music streamed from AirPlay/SharePlay and Squeezebox-format sources. Each of these new features can selectively be activated from the BDP’s browser-based interface, facilitating interoperability with other networked devices: computers, tablets, Blu-ray players, media streamers, game consoles, smartphones, toasters, etc.
Bryston’s BOT-1 Optical Disc Transport further expands the functionality of the digital players. While a traditional CD transport connects directly to a DAC via a SPDIF or AES/EBU cable, the BOT-1 operates only in conjunction with a BDP, connected via a USB cable. In CD playback mode, the BDP accesses the BOT-1 as a CD-ROM drive, effectively “ripping” CDs on-the-fly and buffering the output datastream through the BDP’s memory, in the same manner as files played from storage drives. For those of us of a certain age who recall the expensive, heavily engineered, high-end CD transports of days past, the prospect of bit-perfect real-time CD playback from a modestly sized (and modestly priced) add-on optical drive is most enticing. Additional BOT-1 functions include ripping CDs directly to attached storage drives—with metadata tag editing via the BDP’s browser interface—and burning CDRs of CD-resolution (16 bit 44.1 kHz) music files from custom playlists.
While these ongoing improvements have added functionality and enhanced the operational ease of the Bryston digital players, the primary impetus for this review came from a recent change to the BDP-2’s audio circuitry: replacing the venerable ESI Juli@ sound card and Bryston’s custom digital output board with a new Integrated Audio Device (IAD), designed entirely in-house. The IAD is powered directly from the BDP-2’s higher-capacity linear power supply, rather than from the motherboard’s PCI bus, and thus cannot be retrofitted to the BDP-1. However, owners of the original BDP-2 can upgrade to the IAD for a modest charge of $500.