DACs

Bryston BDA-1 Digital to Analog Converter and Halide Design USB to SPDIF Bridge

ARTICLE INDEX

In Use

The BDA-1 is the first DAC I have heard in my system that really made a significant improvement over my trusty Bel Canto DAC-1.1, without costing an arm and a leg. While $2,150 is not exactly cheap, the BDA-1 offers a lot of performance and a lot of features for the money. It is fully balanced with discrete analog output stages, uses the latest and best available sample rate converter and DAC chips, has a wealth of digital inputs and more. I first tried the BDA-1 using the Toslink output from the Macbook Pro as I had with the DAC-1. This combination resulted in virtually every area of the performance of my system improving. In particular, the soundstage was significantly wider, images sharper and extraction of detail was improved. The dynamics were similar, but when combined with the improved detail, soundstaging and imaging, the system sounded a little flat. This was most obvious with highly produced pop recordings with a lot of compression. A good example is Daft Punk's Human After All, which should fill the room with a level of bass power and impact that is shocking. With both the DAC-1.1 and the BDA-1 with the Toslink input, the dynamics and impact were dulled a bit.

When I received the Halide Bridge, the sound took a significant change for the better. This wasn't entirely expected, since the BDA-1 rejects all jitter faster than 10 or 20 Hz, but the change in the sound was undeniable. The dynamic flatness with the Toslink input was gone, while the improved soundstaging, imaging and detail retrieval was preserved. The combination of the Halide Bridge and the BDA-1 was the real ticket. The pair of components managed to improve on every aspect of sound compared to the Bel Canto.

After getting the Halide Bridge in the system, I didn't go back to other inputs. All my music is now delivered to my system through computer, with the exception of SACD and that doesn't go through the DAC. My favorite improvement delivered by the BDA-1 was the significant increase in space. The wider soundstage, located a foot or two farther back compared to the Bel Canto made all recordings sound bigger and more spacious. There was also a significant improvement in the ability to hear detail. By comparison, the Bel Canto began to sound muddled and confused in louder, more complicated passages. The BDA-1 retained its ability to present clear detail even when the recording was busy. An example was the album "Dedicated to Diz" by Slide Hamption and the Jazz Masters. This modern big band jazz recording has a combination of soloists playing on their own with minimal backup, and the whole band laying it down. With the Bel Canto, soloists sounded fantastic, with every last nuance audible, but when the rest of the band came in, I could not listen to each instrument with the same precision. The BDA-1 also sounded great with the soloists, but maintained that ability to hear detail even with the whole ensemble going full speed.

Throughout my auditioning, I left upsampling on most of the time. I tried turning upsampling off with both 16-44.1 and 24-96 source material, and didn't really hear much difference. The upsampling (especially the way Bryston implements it) should only help, so I left it on.