Bryston BDP-2 Digital Player

From Revolution to Evolution

Equipment report
Music servers and computer audio
Bryston BDP-2
Bryston BDP-2 Digital Player

I was surprised to find that playback of DLNA streamed files sounded consistently more refined, open, and relaxed than playback of those same files accessed through the shared NAS folder. Perhaps the DLNA protocol provides additional local data handling at the source end, facilitating smoother transmission over the network. Playback via NAS file-share access imposed a crude, grainy, airless haze over the music. Using the BDP-2’s DLNA client to play the same files streamed by the source computer’s DLNA server substantially reduced those unpleasant artifacts.

However, neither networked playback mode came close to the performance of the directly connected USB hard drive. Music played over the network exhibited a disembodied, diffuse quality, lacking foundation, substance, and presence, never remotely suggestive of the real thing. The notes were there, but not the instruments that generated those notes. In stark contrast, music played from a USB hard drive connected directly to the BDP-2 engages the listener’s attention with vitality, immediacy, and dramatically superior resolution.

The BDP-2 performs at least as well as other networked audio products that I have heard, ranging from entry-level Blu-ray players to expensive high-end streaming clients. I’m glad to see that Bryston has added these convenient network functions for playing background music; however, realizing the BDP-2’s true potential as a reference-class primary music source remains contingent on its original core function—playing files from storage drives connected directly to its USB ports.

Bryston has been rather coy in describing the technology of the BDP-2’s new Integrated Audio Device. Consulting the Audio Devices page of the player’s web interface provides the missing clue, describing the IAD as “Bryston BDP Audio Device—BUC Board.” The “BUC” acronym is recognizable as a reference to the company’s BUC-1 external Bryston USB Converter. Yes, the new IAD is not a PCI audio interface in the traditional sense, as was the original customized ESI Juli@ card, but rather a dedicated USB-to-SPDIF-and-AES/EBU converter, connected by a short jumper to an internal USB port on the BPD-2’s motherboard. Inspection of the IAD itself reveals the same essential configuration as both the BUC-1 and its progenitor, the asynchronous USB input of Bryston’s BDA-2 DAC. Amortizing the development costs of this robust state-of-the-art asynchronous USB input stage across multiple platforms is a well-considered, forward-looking design decision—provided that the technology proves its mettle in the listening room, which it most assuredly does from both the BDA-2’s USB input and the BDP-2’s Integrated Audio Device.

As someone who has been generally disappointed with USB Audio—not due to dogmatic bias, but because most such products that I’ve auditioned have failed to deliver the performance that I routinely achieve with SPDIF sources—I was thrilled (and, frankly, relieved) to hear the USB-derived SPDIF and AES/EBU outputs of the BDP-2’s Integrated Audio Device deliver across-the-board improvements above and beyond the performance of its predecessor’s customized ESI Juli@ PCI audio interface. At last, here was “proof of principle” evidence that the USB interface could function as an audio conduit of the highest caliber.

In truth, I’d already come to this conclusion several months before, also courtesy of Bryston’s USB Audio technology. As detailed in the accompanying review, the Oyaide Neo d+ Class A USB 2.0 cable has enabled the BDA-2 DAC to achieve an unprecedented level of performance from its USB input, when driven from the USB output of a BDP-1 or BDP-2. This exciting development raises a logical question for the potential buyer of a Bryston Digital Player to consider: Which BDP model is the best choice?

The prudent answer for most listeners will be: the BDP-2. The BDP-2 enables any high-resolution DAC to perform to the best of its abilities, whether connected by SPDIF, AES/EBU, or USB. In contrast, the ultimate performance of the BDP-1USB is contingent on the quality of the USB input of the partnering DAC. Hopefully, additional listening will confirm my initial positive impressions of the eminently affordable Oyaide d+ Class A USB cable, but the issue of the quality of a DAC’s USB input remains a significant variable. In order to assess the real-world implications of this potential constraint, I tested both the BDP-2 and BDP-1 with two alternate DACs, in addition to the Bryston BDA-2.

The $4500 Esoteric D-07X, enthusiastically reviewed by Alan Taffel in Issue 230, requires a proprietary USB driver to operate in its “optimal” high-speed mode. Nevertheless, it sounded quite respectable when operating in its “compatible” high-speed mode driven by the USB output of either Bryston digital player. However, the D-07X never sounded better via any USB cable than it did via SPDIF from the BDP-2.

At an entirely different price point, the value-leading Schiit Audio Bifrost Uber DAC (not the latest “new and improved and even less expensive” $400 model, but the previous fully-loaded $519 version) sounded outrageously, spectacularly, shout-it-from-the-rooftops good when connected to the BDP-2 via SPDIF, but only achieved a pale shadow of its potential via USB. This observation should not be construed as a criticism of Schiit; those irreverent guys are a bastion of rationality, candor, and intellectual honesty in this over-bloated industry, and have frankly acknowledged that if you want USB to perform as well as SPDIF, you’d better be prepared to pour a significant amount of money into the USB input circuitry. And therein lies the rub.

Unless you already know that your current DAC’s USB input is capable of performing at the same level as its SPDIF and AES/EBU inputs, or unless you know that the USB input of a future DAC that you plan to buy is capable of performing at the same level as its SPDIF and AES/EBU inputs, you will be best served by the Bryston BDP-2 Digital Player, which is capable of class-leading performance from any of its digital outputs.

It has been both reassuring and rewarding to follow Bryston’s evolutionary development of its Digital Player product family. With the latest iteration of the BDP-2, it has progressively built upon the revolutionary foundation of its predecessor, adding features, expanding connectivity, refining the user interface, and pushing the boundaries of music-file playback performance even further.

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