Bryston BDA-2 Digital-to-Analog Converter

Presence From Absence

Equipment report
Digital-to-analog converters
Bryston BDA-2
Bryston BDA-2 Digital-to-Analog Converter

I was quite startled when I first played this track through the BDA-2, wondering, “Hey, where’s the noise?” However, after a few seconds of acclimation, I found that the ambient room sound was simply being “decoded” in an entirely different manner, intermodulating less with the direct sound of the guitar. Put another way, the BDA-2 was doing such a superior job of reproducing both the guitar and the air conditioner as familiar, identifiable, distinct sound sources, that the brain could more easily isolate the “subject” from the “background,” and thus more effectively tune out the annoying air-conditioner noise, and focus on Carter’s exquisite playing—just as we do when listening to live music in real spaces with similar ambient background noise levels. I smiled with appreciative recognition at this realization, since it paralleled my experience hearing the legendary Goldmund Reference turntable in the mid-1980s.

Most audio components tend to render the spatial dimensions of recordings with some degree of editorial perspective. For example, the Esoteric D-07X presents the listener with an upfront, immersive experience, emphasizing immediacy and expansive width. The Bryston BDA-1 opts for a seat farther back in the hall, with correspondingly reduced size, but appropriate scale. The dCS Debussy paints an altogether larger, more illuminated picture than the BDA-1, albeit one viewed through a scrim of ultra-fine mesh. In direct side-by-side comparisons, I can easily understand why different listeners might prefer one of these interpretations over the others.

Here again, the BDA-2 just doesn’t play by the same rules. I hear no intrinsic spatial characteristics whatsoever from this DAC. Instead of “throwing a soundstage” or “bringing the musicians into your room,” the BDA-2 does something quite unlike anything that I have ever heard before. It is as if the end of my listening room behind the plane of the speakers has been removed, leaving an open-air view into the recording venue itself, with life-sized proportions, scale, and volume. Perhaps paradoxically, this absence of spatial coloration does endow the BDA-2 with a distinctive perspective. Because instruments and performers are rendered with a much more realistic sense of distance than we are accustomed to hearing, the surrounding space logically extends far beyond the listening room boundaries, especially in depth. Some listeners might initially find the BDA-2 “laid-back” or “recessed”; it takes a little time to move past our preconceived categorical constraints, and embrace the paradigm shift implicit in the BDA-2’s radical advance in conveying spatial relationships. The sensation of being in the presence of live musicians is uncannily realistic, yet un-spectactularly natural.

As thrilled as I was to explore these advancements in digital playback fidelity, I found that the crowning achievement of the Bryston BDA-2 can be described in the simplest of terms: It makes the best of every recording that you play through it. Late one night, I browsed through the BDP-1’s music library, and selected one of my “desert island” discs: the eponymous 1993 debut release from October Project. This album is a delectable pop confectionery that I will never be able to assess objectively, as it has a special place in my heart.

Alas, its densely layered studio production can become murky during complex passages, and some tracks suffer from a dull tonal balance. As much as I love the music, I usually end up playing only a few songs at a time, frustrated by the sonic compromises. What an unadulterated joy, then, to finally surrender to this cherished album’s unabashedly romantic spell from beginning to end, enraptured by the BDA- 2’s magical ability to allow the music to transcend the recording’s limitations. I have never enjoyed the music more, and have never heard more in the recording. I cannot think of higher praise, nor can I imagine living without the Bryston BDA-2.


Sample rates: 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, 192kHz
Frequency response: 20–20kHz +/-0.1dB
Noise: -140 dB unweighted Output level: 4.6 volts balanced, 2.3 volts unbalanced
Dimensions: 19" x 2.5" x 11.2"
Weight: 18 lbs.
Price: $2395

Bryston Ltd.
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario
Canada K9J 6X7
(705) 742-5325, (800) 632-8217