Bryston BDA-2 and BDP-2

Device Type: DAC
Input: USB Class 2, 4x SPDIF (2 BNC, 2 RCA), 2x Optical (TOSLINK), AES/EBU
Output: RCA Single Ended, XLR Balanced, SPDIF Bypass (RCA)
Dimensions: 2.75” (2" W/O feet) H x 17” W x 11.5” D (17" faceplate)
Weight: 12.5 Ibs
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $2395.00

Device Type: Network Player
Input: 6x USB 2.0, 1x eSATA, 2x Gigabit Ethernet
Dimensions: 2.75” (2" W/O feet) H x 17” W x 11.5” D (17" faceplate)
Weight: 12.5 Ibs
Availability: through Authorized Dealers
Price: $2995.00

A Sound House
One could buy a complete system, end-to-end, from the house of Bryston Limited. From a source like the BDP-2 to any number of loudspeakers and everything in between. We've taken just the digital sliver, the BDP-2 and BDA-2, to put under our sonic scope. I've been hearing good things about the BDP since it was a 1, so I must admit to being especially excited to get my hands the BDP-2, what Bryston calls a "digital player", and we refer to as a network player. Bryston was kind enough to also send along their matching DAC for a twofer review.

The BDP-2
The BDP-2 houses a custom Intel Atom powered motherboard running a modified Linux OS and MPD (Music Player Daemon). You can serve the BDP-2 files from USB storage, there are a total of six USB inputs—four around back and two up front, from your NAS, there are two Ethernet inputs, external eSATA drive, or from an optional dealer-installed internal SATA drive. I went with a USB hard drive and NAS. The BDP-2 supports PCM files up to 24/192 as well single rate DSD via DoP over USB. Supported file formats include AIFF, FLAC, WAV, MP3, M4A, and OGG. Outputs include AES/EBU, USB, Coax, and Toslink.

The front panel of BDP-2 houses a two line dot matrix display, four file/folder navigation buttons, and a number of playback control buttons including Play, Pause, Stop, Next, and Previous. While these controls can work in a pinch, I'd say you really need to use either an MPD app like MPoD/MPaD/MPDroid or Brytson's own web-based app, Media Player, for control. There are also two USB inputs up front and and on/off button.

Bryston has also taken care in separating the power supplies for the data and audio portions of the BDP-2, with audio getting its own linear power supply. Overall the build quality is super solid and what I've come to expect from Bryston's no-nonsense approach.

The Bryston App
The current build of the Bryston web-based app, dubbed Manic Moose, is for the most part fast and functional. Between the USB storage and NAS drive, I loaded up the BDP-2 with just over 23,000 songs and playback through the web-based app was immediate while scrolling through the album-view listing was speedy, without any noticeable lag.

The App has two main views; "Dashboard" and "Media Player". The Dashboard is where you take care of business like firmware upgrades (requires a network connection) and setting up access to your NAS devices, while the Media Player is for playing your music. I'm not going to go into detail about all of the options in the Dashboard but for anyone interested in the full story, the BDP-2 manual will give you a detailed view.

Default View

The Media Player has three main views into your music; Default, Song, and Artist view. I preferred the Default view pictured in the screen shot above. Here you have access to all of your music libraires in the right hand column, the center column shows you what's currently playing, while the far left column shows the current playlist. If you're wondering what that "Consume" option is for above the playlist, selecting it removes a song from the playlist after it has been played. This is useful when using the random play feature so songs do not get repeated.

You can save Playlists or just play as you go. You can also play internet radio through the BDP-2 and you access stations while in Dashboard view, which struck me as kinda odd. I found it useful to make a playlist of internet radio stations I like to frequent so they were available from the media player.

While in default view, there's an alphabet dropdown that allows you to skip ahead to view the associated listings in your music library. Otherwise, you can just click and scroll which for large libraries can be a time consuming way to browse. There's also a search feature that works relatively quickly, with just a few second delay when searching through my 23,000 options.

Artist view requires an attached drive for storing cached copies of album art "for quick retrieval". Bryston refers to this as a scratch drive which you select from the Dashboard view. I ran this process but for some reason none of the album artwork appeared. The alphabet dropdown is also not available so I preferred using the Default view or MPad for playing back music.

While in Default view, you can easily edit the current playlist. If you grab a song by its playlist number you can drag and drop it into a new position in the playlist. If you want to get rid of a song, just drag and drop it out of the playlist window area. There are no options in terms of adding songs to the current playlist like Play Next or Play Last that I've grown used to in other apps like MPaD. In this sense, the Bryston app is fairly limited and requires manual intervention on your part as described in order to re-order your playlist. One nice feature, and one not available on most apps I've come across—clicking on the "I" info button while a track is playing brings up its associated metadata which you can edit in place. Nice.

Overall, I found the Bryston app serviceable. Album view is limited in that it only displays a selected artist's albums. If you're interested in a more workable version of Album view, stick with MPad/MPod/MPDroid. Default view struck me as being more useful, providing access to the current playlist as well as all of your music libraries. If you have separate libraries on separate drives, this can be a nice way to easily browse just a select drive. On the other hand, if you prefer viewing your entire library, album view is your only option and for that I'd recommend MPaD, et al. over the Bryston app.

The BDA-2
The matching and equally solid BDA-2 DAC can handle up to 24/192 data with its dual 32-bit AKM DAC's. All incoming data can be synchronously upsampled to either 176.4 or 192kHz with a push of the "Up-Sample" button on the unit's face. There are two independent analog and digital linear power supplies and a discrete class A output stage. The USB input is asynchronous and there are also 2x Toslink, 4x Coax S/PDIF (2x BNC, 2x RCA), and an AES/EBU input. Bryston sent along one of their AES/EBU cables so I took the hint and used that to connect the BDP-2 to the BDA-2. Outputs include unbalanced RCAs and fully differential balanced XLRs which I used to connect to my Pass INT-30A.

The front panel houses input selector buttons, one for each input option, and an on/off button. There are also green LEDs that indicate the incoming sample rate, USB, and signal Lock status (should be lit). Bryston offers an optional system remote which controls all of these functions but one was not sent along for this review.

The House Sound
The Bryston house sound seems to be best summed up by one word; control. From the very bottom to the tippy top, your music is served with astounding clarity and control. Bass response, in particular, is some of best I've heard from any network player bettering the Simaudio Moon MiND. Something like The Bug's latest, Angels & Devils, is served up with room-shaking but highly controlled bass. The BDP/BDA combo is also a micro detail champ, pulling out every subtle nuance contained in your tracks. Dynamics are also handled with a nice sense of slam when called for. Overall I'd place the Bryston combo on the taut, analytical side.

There's also a certain front-to-back flatness to the presentation, a little lack of air as compared to other combo's. Connecting up the Auralic Vega (see review) to the BDP-2 via AES/EBU added back the air I was missing. It also upped the ante on tone colors, the Vega being a timbre champ in my experience. In contrast, the Bryston BDA-2 DAC sounded a bit tonally bleached, a tad less dimensional. With the Vega, bass response lost a bit of its bite and boldness that the Bryson duo delivers in spades. In terms of purely personal preference, I thought the Vega/BDP-2 combo was pretty killer and certainly bettered my MacBook Pro feeding the Vega.

I also connected to the Aries via USB to test drive the BDP-2's way with DSD and everything performed without a hitch. A few tracks from MA Recordings La Segunda in DSD sounded simply stunning, the dimensionality and natural ease of DSD shone through.

Substituting the Simaudio Moon MiND (see review) for the BDP-2 and keeping the BDA-2 DAC in the picture, the differences noted were for the most part minor. The most obvious change was in terms of bass response, the MiND not offering up as much heft and control as the BDP-2. In most other areas I'd be hard pressed to tell which was which although the MiND appeared to be less concerned with micro-detail offering up a slightly more relaxed overall presentation.

Back to the Bryston combo, their strengths make less than ideal recordings sound, well, less than ideal. On the other hand, you are richly rewarded by great sounding recordings, especially complex music which the Bryston's handle without breaking even a hint of a sweat. I played through all of my test tracks and some newer releases including Amen Dunes, Angel Olsen, and Sharon Van Etten and found myself getting lost in the music. Again, the BDP/BDA combination are micro detail kings, never missing a beat and their way with bass response is truly exceptional.

For the final switch, I connected the BDA-2 DAC directly to my MacBook Pro (running Audirvana Plus) via USB and the differences without the BDP-2 in the picture were notable. First off bass response became much more diffuse and overall there was a lessing of the sense of fine grained resolution I got with the Bryston combo. Images were less distinct, tone colors were less distinct as well, and dynamics appeared to take a few steps in the wrong direction, becoming less snappy. There's no question that the BDP-2 network player offers improved performance over the MacBook Pro in most important areas.

A Dynamic Duo
The Bryston digital duo of the BDP-2 and BDA-2 offered up a rock solid and revealing presentation. With excellent dynamic snap, astoundingly full and fit bass, and plenty of resolution revealing of the most your recordings have to offer, Bryston's dynamic duo pack a lot of musical punch.

Associated Equipment

Also on hand and in use during the Bryston review: Simaudio Moon MiND, Auralic Vega.

solo2's picture

Does the network player use an internet radio aggregator like vTuner or Reciva?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Although I did not really dig into Internet Radio, just found a few stations I like in the Bryston app and went about playing.
derneck's picture

...the Audiophile Optimizer Script for Mac OS X?

Non-treated Macbook has no chance against the single purpose Linux based player... however the improvement after running the script may surprise you. Not saying that it will eclipse the Bryston but it will likely come close.

Marc San Soucie's picture

Hello - have you been able to determine whether the BDP-2 provides gapless playback when streaming from the network? This is a critical requirement. Thank you.

unincognito's picture

Because the BDP requires a playlist it is able to start buffering the next song into the output buffer before its done playing the current song, thus creating gapless playback.