Reprinted with permission from UHF Magazine No.82
(450) 651-5720 www.uhfmag.com
Bryston BCD-1 Player
o here we are at the end of 2007, discrete transistors, not chips. Great care that the drawer is of particularly flimsy
with everyone predicting the has been taken in the design of power plastic. We can understand why Bryston
death of the Compact Disc. And supplies for both analog and digital cir- wanted to hold the price down, but the
here’s Bryston, which has been cuits, and proper grounding techniques drawer is something you touch each time
building audiophile and professional (a mystery for too many designers, alas) you change a CD.
electronics since at least the 1970’s, have been used. The rear panel has both RCA and
finally bringing out its first digital player. We like the green fluorescent dis- XLR connections for everything, as you
What’s up with that? play, and the fact that its two lines would expect from a company that has
We don’t mean to suggest that Brys- show somewhat more information than one foot in the professional sound world.
ton is new at the digital game. It has long most (we still wish it were bigger, and The RCA jacks are so-so.
offered other digital products, including thus readable from across the room). Though Br yston runs all of its
digital-to-analog converter circuits, We also like the brushed metal remote products in for a number of hours, we
preamplifiers with digital inputs, and control, whose legends light up in what gave it three more days of continuous
home theatre audio processors. No, this looks like Indiglo green when light is duty before we installed it in our Alpha
is more of a marketing question: is this low. Unique! You need a screwdriver to system, and pitted it against our Linn
the right time to be getting into the CD change the (pre-installed) batteries, but Unidisk reference player.
player business? we’re happy to say they’re alkalines, not We began the evaluation with a
Bryston believes it is, that the pro- the leak-prone “super heavy duty” cells recording that had just arrived, a set of
liferation of music in harsh, unmusical we see too often. Mozart violin concertos on Norway’s
MP3, WMA and AAC compressed for- In contrast to the remote, the player 2L label. This two-disc set includes an
mats has awakened a thirst for something itself is by no means flashy. The front SACD, but of course we selected the Red
better among more discerning music panel is nicely finished but not truly Book CD for this session. We listened
lovers. The same thirst, it could be said, distinctive, and the rest of the player is to the Rondeau from the Concerto No. 4
is at the origin of a modest but notable a plain black box. The disc drawer opens in D Major.
revival of analog. instantly when the appropriate button is It was obvious from the first mea-
The transport of the BCD-1 is from pushed, and we were disappointed to see sures that the Bryston offers a broad
Philips, supplier to almost everyone, and and well-balanced spectral range. We
the Crystal CS4398 converter chip is a
hybrid device, using both multibit and
Just in time for the had however some difficulty finding a
volume level that seemed right, though
Delta-Sigma processing and 128-time
oversampling. What Bryston brings to
CD’s silver jubilee, we had had no such problem with our
the table, however, is its long experi- Bryston’s very first A bit of experimentation revealed the
ence in analog design. The operational reason. There is a lot of high frequency
amplifiers treating the analog signal use CD player content in the strings on this record-
38 ULTRA HIGH FIDELITY Magazine
ing, and a hint of asperity made some
The CD Player’s Missing Jack
passages sound a little louder than they
really were. It was no more than a hint
in fact, and we didn’t initially notice
the effect because the sound was by no It’s a serious problem, and it isn’t confined to any one brand. Pretty much any
means shrill. Once we had found a com- player we’ve seen has an important jack missing.
fortable volume, we admired the beauty Which one? Any player will have a digital output for use with an outboard
of Marianne Thorsen’s violin tone, and digital-to-analog converter, even players so expensive that using one as a mere
the virtuosity with which she interprets transports seems like insanity. But where’s the digital input?
this familiar concerto. Think about it. More and more, the computer and its associated network will
Indeed, we quickly concentrated become an important music source, and a high quality source at that. Modern com-
on the player’s many qualities. The puters have analog outputs, but you don’t expect hi-fi from that. Some computers,
rhythm was lively, the music full of joy. however, also have digital outputs, as do some wireless peripherals. You can run
The stereo image was precise, letting us that output into your standalone converter…if you have one.
hear where each instrument was placed, If you own a quality CD player, a good deal of attention has been given to its
something you would hear only if you converter and its associated analog circuitry. Indeed, the converter may account
had bought top tier concert tickets. We for much of the player’s cost, since few companies make their own transports. So
had a good sense of the hall’s acoustics here you are, with a good player, and a top-grade converter that could also be used
too. The conclusion? “It’s got energy,” with external digital sources…except that there’s no friggin’ digital input!
said Reine, “and that is Mozart.” We would like to see a digital input on every player costing more than maybe
How would the player do with a $500. And while we’re at it, we’d like to see a USB input too. That would make a
female voice, always a potential trap for good CD player not only more valuable, but also future-proof.
any CD player? We pulled out soprano So who does this now? Hardly anyone. It’s time that changed.
Isabel Bayrakdarian’s superb recording
of songs by Pauline Viardot-Garcia
(Analekta AN 2 9903), selecting the song the whole band. It is tense, evocative praised the impact of the drums and
Haï Luli. Would there be a problem? Not music. the shimmer of the cymbals. This is a
a bit. The player did wonderfully well with difficult piece to do justice to, but it all
True, the tone of Bayrakdarian’s voice it. In the opening, the depth was about worked.
was altered a little, and Albert thought as good as it gets, another indication that We had two more female voices wait-
her singing was not quite as effortless, this player has little difficulty with the ing in the wings.
but it wasn’t possible to be sure whether subtle cues that depth is built upon. The The first was that of Joan Baez, in
the alteration was for better or for worse. lateral image was exemplary as well. a European re-release of the Robbie
The words of the song were clear as But depth and image are one thing, Robertson song, The Night They Drove
spring water, and the notes of Serouj musical values are another. The low- Old Dixie Down (Vanguard VFCD7104).
Kradjian’s piano flowed like a mountain pitched brass was as dramatic as we had Her soaring voice was clear, her usual
stream. The considerable space audible hoped, with power that added a sense of characteristics perhaps more empha-
on this recording remained vast. We foreboding. Clarinets leapt out like little sized, the lyrics easy to follow. The
pronounced ourselves more than pleased phantoms, with malicious woodiness. guitar, which provides the beat, seemed
with what we had heard. The tutti that followed wasn’t quite as more prominent, and thus less warm.
Our next recording was a different coherent as with our own player, but the There was also a change in the
sort of challenge. It’s a wind band piece experience was so seamless that we could background choral voices that sing the
composed by Stephen McNeff, titled find little fault with it. Reine particularly chorus, but not at the expense of clarity.
Ghosts. That is indeed the title of the Indeed, it was now easier to distinguish
album (Klavier K11150), featuring the among those singers, and that added to
redundantly-named Philharmonia à Summing it up… the bittersweet tone of the song.
Vent Wind Orchestra, conducted by The second, and final, female voice
John Boyd. Brand/model: Bryston BCD-1 was that of Margie Gibson. We often end
This is not the usual wind band Price: C$2395 a session with her, because her songs are
bravura piece, nor is it a march. It opens Size (WDH): 43.2 x 28 x 8.5 cm especially revealing of finesse of perfor-
with a rattling of chains in the distance, Most liked: Very good clarity, fine mance, and also because we can think of
and there is the uncanny illusion that all tonal balance, strong rhythm no better way to wind up the day. So…
is happening well out beyond the walls Least liked: Minor asperity at the top Margie, with the song The Best Thing For
of the listening room. This somewhat end, can’t read some signals (see text) You.
worrisome manifestation is followed by Verdict: Bryston aims for the sweet Even small flaws in a player’s perfor-
a dramatic rumble of horns and tubas, spot, nails it mance will pop up like a jack-in-the-box
announcing a powerful cataclysm by with this recording. We were happy to
ULTRA HIGH FIDELITY Magazine 39
which is the way things should work.
The low-level wave, recorded 60 dB
below the CD’s full level, is shown at left.
It is very good, with little contamina-
tion by noise. It doesn’t always look this
What we can’t show you is the 100 Hz
square wave we like to run. We had so
much trouble with the reading we were
convinced our equipment was misbe-
having, and we actually downloaded a
software update. It didn’t help.
The Bryston, it turns out, doesn’t
like square waves. Each time we tried
to read one, the player thought it was
seeing a data disc (the word data actually
appeared on the screen), and it muted its
see that none did. Margie’s voice was this session. The music worked on every output. But we were relieved to find it
clear and natural, with “S” sounds that piece we listened to. wasn’t our fault!
were normal. There was the smallest of We took the Bryston into the lab and Our conclusion is that, if Bryston has
differences compared to our reference proceeded to run some our usual batch of taken its own sweet time finally bringing
player, but the expressiveness of her voice instrument tests. The jitter was so low we out a digital player, it hasn’t been wasting
was so delightful it scarcely mattered. actually couldn’t read it. And even play- the years. The BCD-1 is a thoroughly
The accompanying instruments — ing tracks deliberately sliced through by modern Compact Disc player with excel-
piano, bass, cello and drums — were a laser had little effect on jitter. Amazing! lent musical performance.
delightful. Musically, and in every other With a wide (2 mm) laser cut across the By the way, as the BCD-1 finds its
way, the song worked. track, the BCD-1 began letting through way into stores worldwide, Bryston has
Indeed, we could and did say the same uncorrected noise bursts. On the tracks announced a new standalone converter.
thing about all of the recordings used in that followed the player simply muted, It may be one to watch.
This player, at several levels and across no worries. Feed it a lively piece and your philosophy — and I think that one has
a variety of musical types, offers all of the listening room will light up with bursts of emerged over the years — leaves little room
qualities of a true audiophile product. It fireworks. Ask it to sing for you, and you’ll for eye candy, esoterism, and irrelevant
projects a satisfying image, with a sumptuous hear a voice you love as you’ve never heard gewgaws. The result is that a lot of Bryston
bottom end, a very good spectral balance, it before, but wished you had. products don’t look as flashy as those of the
exemplary clarity for a multitude of details, This player has a straightforward style best-known high end manufacturers, but
and the fidelity needed to reproduce vir- of performance, with little need to smooth they don’t cost like it either.
tuosity and move the emotions. In general out the wrinkles. If one of your recordings The BCD-1 is squarely in line with that
musical timbres are gorgeous, and rhythm appears really close-miked on your existing philosophy. It looks downright austere, but
is involving. player, prepare to dive right into it with this there’s nothing austere about the way it
I do have a small reservation concerning one. reproduces music. The range of frequencies
a singer whose voice is naturally nasal and And yet it also has a wonderful way with is broad — and that includes the bottom end,
was even more so with the Bryston. But I large spaces, offering no place to hide for which some players all but lop off — and it
was won over by those dazzling cymbals, the slightest sound, whether a barely brushed is in balance. Rhythm is excellent (we’ve
tubas and horns that combined their weight cymbal or a faint rattle. Hey, you’ll probably heard a lot of players get that wrong, wrong,
in superb fashion. And amid all that joyful catch the crinkle of a candy wrapper in a live wrong). And the high end can fairly be called
noise, a melody continued, easy to follow. performance — being slowly unwrapped on musical.
This is, in short, an excellent product the first balcony. This is no entry-level player, not unless
that merits your consideration. —Albert Simon you’re a lot richer than most of us, but it
—Reine Lessard hits the sweet spot: the price is one you can
It seems obvious that Bryston has worked at least eventually aspire to, and so is the
A n excellent player. Ready to play to hold the price down on its first player, sound.
anything you choose. No questions asked, but then it usually does that. The Bryston —Gerard Rejskind
40 ULTRA HIGH FIDELITY Magazine