Bryston BDA-3 DAC Review

DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,108
edited April 2016 in Going Digital
Introduction

I initially planned to forego the increased spatiality and realism of DSA (SACD) recordings in my office rig, but you know how it goes in the rabbit hole. My previous office system DAC, a Cary Audio DAC-100 ($2,495), does not accept DSD input and it does not have an AES input. Although it offers optical and coaxial inputs, the DAC-100 is optimized for USB input. I began looking for a DAC that would work well with my Bryston BDP-2 digital player and that offered coax, AES, and USB inputs, and that accepts DSD input. The Bryston BDA-3 ($3,495) met all those criteria.

BDA3-Stack-MED-s_zpszthpnfos.jpg
Figure 1. Top to bottom: Bryston BDP-2 digital player, Bryston BDA-3 DAC, Adcom GFP-750 preamplifier.

Preliminaries

My stereo listening evaluation methodology is based on mapping the locations of sound images laterally and aerially, making notes of the character of the individual sounds in the sound stage and making notes of the tactile sensations produced.

BDA3-2CHEval-s_zpslamorfbl.jpg
Figure 2. The BDA-3 goes up against the dCS Debussy DAC ($11,500), which is over three times the BDA-3's price.

The BDA-3 sounded great out of the box, and even better after 24 hours of continuous play. The BDA-3 was connected to my Pass Labs XP-30 preamp via AudioQuest Sky (Gen. 2) XLR interconnects. It was connected to the PS Audio P10 AC regenerator with a PS Audio AC 12 power cord. The Debussy DAC also used AudioQuest Sky (Gen. 2) XLR interconnects and a PS Audio AC 12 power cord.

The BDP-2 digital player has one each of coaxial, AES, and USB outputs. The BDP-2's USB output cannot be used because it is connected via USB connection to a dCS Puccini word clock, which will not allow another USB output connection. Therefore, turns were taken comparing the BDA-3 via coaxial connection vs. the Debussy via AES connection and then the BDA-3 via AES connection vs. the Debussy via coaxial connection. Digital interconnect cables were the latest version Prophecy Cryo-Silver coaxial and AES cables from Revelation Audio Labs.

Listening tests were done by switching between the preamp's Debussy and BDA-3 inputs and then by carefully mapping the location of sound images in the sound stages generated by each DAC. The character of each sound image along with tactile sensations, was also noted. The BDA-3's sound stage was the same width and height as the Debussy's, but half as deep (dropping from 10' to 5').

The BDA-3 did not generate the high level of palpable three dimensional holography, tactile sensation, overall clarity and detail, and ambient sounds as the Debussy.

But I digress, the BDA-3 was not designed to compete with five figure DACs and was not designed to "fit in" with six figure stereo systems. After a brief visit to the "tweak shop", and two more listening sessions, the BDA-3 was taken to its new home in my office rig.

Tweaks

Some of my digital gear have benefitted from audio grade power line fuses and Dynamat Xtreme vibration damping applied to the case.

BDA-3-Dynamat-s_zpsg7bsxjq4.jpg
Figure 3. Unlike many "chip" DACs, the BDA-3's chassis is 90% full of "stuff".

BDA-3-HFT-SilverStarFuse-s_zpscm2b7dkx.jpg
Figure 4. The power line fuse, at left, was replaced with an audio grade Hifi Tuning Silver Star fuse. Current enters the fuse receptacle at the clips nearest the rear panel, therefore the fuse arrow was oriented pointing to the front of the unit.

I did not perceive a sonic improvement after the application of Dynamat. It did stop the case from ringing after being "thumped". There was a small improvement in clarity and detail after the fuse upgrade.

Worklife Rewards

Critical listening was done after 144 hours of continuous playback. The BDA-2 offers the option of upsampling 44.1 kHz and 88.2 kHz files to 176.4 kHz and upsampling 48 kHz and 96 kHz files to 192 kHz. Upsampling works on the coaxial, optical, and AES inputs. Music files were 44.1 kHz FLAC files ripped from CD. Upsampled mode sounded better than native mode, therefore comparative listening between coaxial, AES, and USB was done with upsampling engaged.

BDP-2%20Found%20BDA-3-s_zpsgxdpyyuo.jpg
Figure 5. No setup issues whatsoever. I plugged the BDP-2's digital outputs into the BDA-3 and the BDA-3 was instantly recognized by the BDP-2.

BDA3-vs-DAC100-s_zpsvb0qmokr.jpg
Figure 6. Top to bottom: BDA-3 DAC, BDP-2 digital player, GFP-750 preamp, DAC-100. This too, was an unfair comparison, the BDA-3 is in a class above the DAC-100.

The BDA-3 and DAC-100 were compared using the same coax/AES alternating scheme that was used in the BDA-3/Debussy comparisons. Since the GFP-750 preamp only has one set of XLR inputs, the BDA-3 and the DAC-100 were connected to the '750's Aux1 and Aux2 inputs via Signal Cable Analog 2 single-ended interconnects. Digital cables were Signal Cable coaxial and AES.

The BDA-3 generated a deeper (by 3' rearward), more detailed sound stage with more image weight and image density. Whereas image density with the DAC-100 was highest in the center and trailed off toward the sides, the BDA-3's image density was consistent across the width of the stage. Images at the far left and far right of the stage moved forward 2 feet.

BDA3-Stack-7140-s_zpsfihfxfdq.jpg
Figure 7. All I was really after was to be able to play ALL of my digital file formats, but I ended up with Such Good Sound that I sometimes find myself working later. The music sometimes causes me to lose track of time...sort of like being in a "bubble" where time stands still.

The BDA-3 can be controlled three ways:

1. By computer via the BDA-3's web-based interface ( I use a docked Dell Venue Pro 11 7140 tablet).
2. With a Bryston BR-2 multiproduct remote control ($375).
3. With a universal remote programmed with (free) codes available from Bryston.

BDA-3-WebIntf-s_zpsmuxga0ci.jpg
Figure 8. BDA-3 web-based control interface.

Cable Trials

Once I had gained an understanding of the stereophonic performance differences between the DAC-100 and the BDA-3, in this system, in this room, I moved on to more extensive cable trials.

It is commonly thought that a digital signal is just "ones and zeros", therefore there is no way that there could be audible differences in digital cables that meet transmission specifications. Actually, there is no such thing as a "digital" signal that only varies between two discrete voltage values. If you look at a "digital" signal on an oscilloscope, you find that it ramps up to a nominal maximum high voltage level, overshoots that by a bit, then fluctuates closely around the nominal maximum level, then ramps down to a nominal minimum low voltage level, undershoots that by a bit, then fluctuates closely around the nominal minimum level, then the process repeats. In this regard, a "digital" signal is continuously varying with time JUST LIKE ANY OTHER ANALOG SIGNAL. Therefore, a "digital" signal is subject to SOME of the same noise effects as any other ANALOG signal.

Again, music files were 44.1 kHz FLAC ripped from CD. AES and coaxial listening was done with upsampling (to 176.4 kHz) engaged.
"So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
"Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
"Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
"Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK

Comments

  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,108
    edited April 2016
    Analog Cable Trial:

    With the DAC-100, in this office system, I did not perceive an audible difference between the Signal Cable Silver Resolution Reference XLR interconnects ($209 per 3' pair) and the PS Audio xStream Transcendent XLR interconnects ($500 per meter). I heard more musical detail through the Transcendents with the higher resolution BDA-3.

    Digital Cable Trials

    The purpose of the digital cable trials was to determine which of the BDP-2's digital outputs sounded best with the BDA-3 and which digital cable sounded best on a specific type of output (coaxial, AES, USB). Trial results are listed in order of decreasing sound quality. Depth, clarity, and detail were diminished going from 1 to 2 to 3.

    RAL%20USB%20OLD-NEW%20Ver-s_zpsc0kftv4f.jpg
    Figure 9. At top: Current version RAL Cryo-Silver USB 2.0 cable with CCIC jacket and upgraded Amphenol connectors. Bottom is prior version USB 2.0 cable.

    The "dual A head" USB cable configuration allows the power conductors to disconnected after the USB connection is established. Depending on the resolution of the stereo system, removing the power leg can result in a lower noise floor and greater clarity and detail.

    Digital Cable Trial 1:

    1. USB - Pangea USB-PC ($110)
    2. AES - Signal Cable ($45)
    3. Coaxial - Signal Cable ($45)

    Digital Cable Trial 2:

    1. Coaxial - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver BNC-BNC ($449)
    2. USB - Pangea USP-PC ($110)
    3. AES - Signal Cable ($45)

    Digital Cable Trial 3:

    1. USB - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver with power leg unplugged ($549)
    2. Coaxial - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver BNC-BNC ($449)
    3. AES - Signal Cable ($45)

    Digital Cable Trial 4:

    1. Coaxial - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver BNC-RCA, CCIC* ($549)
    2. USB - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver with power leg unplugged ($549)
    3. AES - Signal Cable ($45)

    Digital Cable Trial 5:

    1. Coaxial - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver BNC-BNC, CCIC* ($549)
    2. USB - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver with power leg unplugged ($549)
    3. AES - Signal Cable ($45)

    Digital Cable Trial 6:

    1. AES - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver, CCIC* ($549)
    2. Coaxial - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver BNC-BNC, CCIC* ($549)
    3. USB - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver with power leg unplugged ($549)

    Digital Cable Trial 7: (Tie between AES and USB cables.)

    1. AES - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver, CCIC* ($549)
    1. USB - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver with power leg plugged in, CCIC* ($649)
    2. Coaxial - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver BNC-BNC, CCIC* ($549)
    3. USB - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver with power leg plugged in ($549)

    Digital Cable Trial 8:

    1. USB - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver with power leg plugged unplugged, CCIC* ($649)
    2. AES - Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver, CCIC* ($549)

    *CCIC - Conductive Carbon Infused Composite

    RAL%20USB-Coax-AES-CICC%20DigCables-s_zpspw2jwvua.jpg
    Figure 10. Top to bottom: RAL AES CCIC cable, RAL USB Dual A Head CCIC cable, RAL coaxial BNC-BNC CCIC cable.

    The BDA-3 only accepts DSD via the USB input. I expected the BDP-2's AES output would sound best and I expected to have to use two digital cables: USB for DSD music and AES for everything else. Fortunately, it turned out that the USB output (with cable power leg removed) was the best sounding. Every now and then I catch a break in the rabbit hole.

    The moral of this story is that you should always be willing to try new things to see what works...and then let us know.

    Further Study

    4b3_17blk_front-angle-right-LARGE-s_zpsg0vv9pce.jpg
    Figure 11. A Bryston 4B3 power amplifier ($5,695, 300 wpc 8 ohms/500 wpc 4 ohms) is coming to replace the Adcom GFA-565SE ($1,499). The Adcom was a "stop gap" until I decided what I wanted for power amplification.

    I am considering sending the GFP-750 to Musical Concepts to have the caps, resistors, and power supply diodes replaced, along with changing the LEDs to blue. After that, I will address power cables and that ***should*** complete this upgrade adventure.

    Associated Equipment

    Office System:

    Bryston BDA-3 digital to analog converter
    Bryston BDP-2 digital player with 500GB internal drive
    Adcom GFP-750 preamplifier
    Adcom GFA-565SE power amplifier (250 wpc 8 ohms/350 wpc 4 ohms)
    PS Audio xStream Transcendent XLR interconnects
    Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver CCIC USB cable
    Signal Cable Digital Reference power cords for DAC and digital player
    Signal Cable MagicPower cords for power amp and preamp.
    PS Audio P10 AC Regenerator
    PS Audio Statement SC power cord for P10 AC Regenerator
    Polk Audio SDA CRS+ (1989 version) loudspeakers (heavily modified)
    Douglas Connection CDF92 speaker cable (9 AWG)
    HiFi Tuning Classic Gold and Silver Star fuses for all electronics.
    Dell Venue Pro 11 7140 tablet computer for digital player and DAC control

    Two Channel System:

    Teres Audio Model 255 turntable
    Graham Phantom II tonearm
    Ortofon MC Windfeld phono cartridge
    Sonic Purity Concepts and Design "The Clamp" record clamp
    Bryston BDP-2 digital player
    dCS Puccini master clock
    dCS Debussy DAC
    PS Audio PowerBase isolation platforms for turntable, BDP-2, Debussy DAC and Puccini U-Clock
    Black Diamond Racing isolation Pits and Mk IV Cones
    Pass Labs XP-30 line level preamplifier
    Pass Labs XP-25 phono preamplifier
    Pass Labs X600.5 monoblock power amplifiers
    Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver Split Configuration USB cable
    Revelation Audio Labs Prophecy Cryo-Silver CCIC AES cable
    Revelation Audio Labs Passage Cryo-Silver DB-25 power umbilicals for XP30 and XP-25 preamps
    AudioQuest Sky XLR interconnects
    AudioQuest Everest speaker cables
    AudioQuest LeoPard tonearm cable
    PS Audio PerfectWave AC-12 power cords
    PS Audio PerfectWave P-10 AC Regenerator
    Polk Audio SDA SRS 1.2TL loudspeakers (heavily modified)
    HiFi Tuning Supreme audio grade fuses for preamps and source components
    Salamander Synergy Triple 30 audio credenza

    References

    dCS Debussy DAC Review:
    http://forum.polkaudio.com/discussion/170612/dcs-debussy-dac-review/p1

    Pure Overkill Computer Audio Office System:
    http://forum.polkaudio.com/discussion/168871/pure-overkill-computer-audio-office-system

    The Year Of DACs:
    http://forum.polkaudio.com/discussion/168179/the-year-of-dacs/p1

    Bryston BDP-2 Digital Player Review:
    http://forum.polkaudio.com/discussion/166413/bryston-bdp-2-digital-player-review
    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • Moose68BashMoose68Bash Posts: 3,411
    edited April 2016
    @DarqueKnight,

    Another extraordinarily well done review, and also a good read. Well done!

    Your patience, rigor and attention to detail never cease to amaze me.

    Thank you.
    Family Room, PS Audio PW Transport, DirectStream DAC; AQ Sky XLRs, Perreaux SM6 MKII Pre; AQ Sky XLRs, Perreaux Prisma 750 Amps or CAT 600.2 Dualmono Amp, Morrow SP7 Speaker Cables, SDA SRS 1.2tls (RD0198s, Dreadnought, Black Hole 5, Acousta-Stuf, Dynamat Extreme, JBWeld. Vr3 Mods: "The Abbot" Monastery-Level Xovers, Custom Internal Wiring, Binding Post Plates, & SDA ICs).

    Exercise Room, Wadia 171 iPod Dock, PS Audio PerfectWave MkII DAC, AQ Sky XLRs, Perreaux SM6 Preamp, AQ King Cobra RCAs, Perreaux PMF3150 Amp, Dreadnought, Supra Rondo 4x2.5 Speaker Cables, SDA 1Cs (Vr3 Mods Xovers).

    Synology 713+ NAS on Gigabit LAN serving PW MkII DAC & DirectStream DAC.
  • sgmsmgsgmsmg Posts: 194
    @DarqueKnight,

    Just wanted to check and see if you are still happy with the BDA-3? I am thinking about this DAC. Trying to figure out if I want to step up to a stand alone DAC. This one seems most appealing due to the ability to pass DSD over HDMI. I have a few SACD's and I would like to still be able to use them. My plan would be to send DSD over HDMI from my Oppo-105D to the BDA-3. I am just wondering if I will be able to appreciate the quality of the BDA-3 in my setup. Oppo-105D>Parasound P5/A21>Polk LSi15's (soon to have Fortress Plus crossovers). Cables are AQ Columbia Interconnects, AQ CastleRock Speaker Cables, PS Audio and Pangea Power cords.
    2 Channel
    Pre:Parasound JC2BP
    Amp:Parasound A21
    Speakers: Golden Ear Triton Ones
    Source: Oppo 103D, Mac Mini, Bryston BDA-3
    Cables: AQ Castlerock Speaker, AQ Columbia XLR/RCA, AQ Diamond USB
    Power: PS Audio P10 Regenerator, AC12, AC10 and AC5 Cables
    Display: Panasonic TC-P65ZT60

    Home Theater
    Reciever: Pioneer Elite SC-99
    Amp: Pioneer Elite SC-09TX
    Speakers: Polk LSiM 703 (Fl, FR, RL, RR), Polk LSiM706 (Center), Polk 900-LS (Atmos)
    Source: Oppo UDP-205, Apple TV, Amazon Fire
    Power: PS Audio P5 Regenerator, Furman IT Reference 15i, Pangea AC14SE and AC9SE Cables
    Display: Sony XBR75X940D
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 27,489
    I dunno If I'd spend the coin on the 750 Ray. I don't think you'd ever recoup that coin, not that your looking to anyway. You need some tubes in the pre category in my opinion.
    legacy Focus 20/20
    Butler tdb 2250
    Cary Xciter dac
    Joule LA-100
    Pioneer BDP 320
    Sony 4k 55 850c
    FX 500 surround
    Acoustic zen Satori SC's
    Pioneer elite vsx21
    Sonos-Cullen mod.
    Audio Metallurgy GA-0 digital
    PS Audio Quintet
    Analysis Plus crystal ovals
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2's IC
  • DarqueKnightDarqueKnight Posts: 6,108
    edited February 15
    sgmsmg wrote: »
    @DarqueKnight,

    Just wanted to check and see if you are still happy with the BDA-3?

    Still thrilled.
    tonyb wrote: »
    I dunno If I'd spend the coin on the 750 Ray. I don't think you'd ever recoup that coin, not that your looking to anyway. You need some tubes in the pre category in my opinion.

    Since the 750 has been replaced with a Bryston BP-26 pre, modifying the 750 has been put on the back burner. I don't plan to ever sell the 750, so recouping mod costs is not a consideration.

    BP-26 review:

    http://forum.polkaudio.com/discussion/comment/2251554#Comment_2251554

    Office Rig Upgrades thread:

    http://forum.polkaudio.com/discussion/168871/pure-overkill-computer-audio-office-system/p1

    "So hot it burns Mice!"~DK
    "Polk SDA-SRSs are hopelessly out of date both sonically and technologically... I see no value whatsoever in older SDA speakers."~Audio Asylum Member
    "Knowledge, without understanding, is a path to failure."~DK
    "Those who irrationally rail against something or someone that is no threat to them, actually desire (or desire to be like) the thing or person they are railing against."~DK
  • mikeyb128mikeyb128 Posts: 2,428
    Just picked up a bda 3 today, I haven't been able to peel myself away from it, it sounds better and better as the hours go by.

    I've spent the last 4 days demoing dacs. My local hifi shop was super patient with me. Was waddling between a cembalo river (a small company from Vancouver Canada) and the bda 3. I may still pick up the cembalo for the sheer fun I had with it, such a nice sounding dac.

    Ultimately the bda won due to detail and it's huge soundstage. The cembalo demo unit developed an issue While in my care, so that scared me off a bit. Any harshness or fatigue I was experiencing with my benchmark dac2 is totally gone.
    2 channel:
    Bryston 4B3, Bryston BDA3, Cary SLP03, Shanling CDT1000SE with parts conneXion level 2 mods, Nottingham analogue ace space 294, soundsmith Carmen MKii , Eastern Electric minimax phono pre, Core power technologies balanced power conditioner, Akiko Corelli power conditioner with Akiko Audio HQ power cable, Nordost heimdall 2, Frey 2, interconnects, speaker and power cables, Focal Electra 1028 BE 2, Auralic Aries mini, Black diamond racing cones, ingress audio level 1 roller blocks, JL Audio E110 with Auralic subdude, Primacoustics room treatments.
    Theater:
    Focal Aria 926,905,CC900, SVS PB ultra x2. Pioneer Elite SC85, Oppo BDP93, Panamax M5400PM, Minix neox6, Nordost Blue heaven LS power cables.

  • sgmsmgsgmsmg Posts: 194
    Congrats on the BDA-3! I hope to have one some day but can't justify the cost just yet.
    2 Channel
    Pre:Parasound JC2BP
    Amp:Parasound A21
    Speakers: Golden Ear Triton Ones
    Source: Oppo 103D, Mac Mini, Bryston BDA-3
    Cables: AQ Castlerock Speaker, AQ Columbia XLR/RCA, AQ Diamond USB
    Power: PS Audio P10 Regenerator, AC12, AC10 and AC5 Cables
    Display: Panasonic TC-P65ZT60

    Home Theater
    Reciever: Pioneer Elite SC-99
    Amp: Pioneer Elite SC-09TX
    Speakers: Polk LSiM 703 (Fl, FR, RL, RR), Polk LSiM706 (Center), Polk 900-LS (Atmos)
    Source: Oppo UDP-205, Apple TV, Amazon Fire
    Power: PS Audio P5 Regenerator, Furman IT Reference 15i, Pangea AC14SE and AC9SE Cables
    Display: Sony XBR75X940D
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