Built like a tank with powerful and solid sound
Review sample supplied by Mafico
Retail price: 4250 euro
These days one may be forgiven to think that CD’s have ceased to be relevant but I can confirm that many of my friends still play them. Some of them even maintain that CD’s sound better when played directly rather than ripped and played from a music server. While that last bit ties in with personal taste as well as system synergy there is no denying that even in 2018 CD’s do still matter. For those with carefully assembled collections and no desire to switch to streaming, sadly there are precious few options left. It’s either a cheap audio/video combo player or a no holds barred super high-end player.
Above: this stock picture shows the BCD-3 with a blue display. Thankfully my sample had a much more legible green display.
Enter the Bryston BCD-3 CD player. Bryston amplifiers are bomb-proof no-nonsense designs and fortunately, the BCD-3 is no different. This machine is as solid as a rock and it only plays CDs. Period. What? No SACD, no mp3 compatibility and no streaming? Indeed, only CD, CD-R and CD-RW and I thank them for it. When SACDs were still hot I could understand the desire for a CD/SACD combo player but as I have found over and over again, combining such functionalities rarely leads to the best sound. Rather, it often leads to complications and early failure. Following the no-nonsense design, the player has no filter settings or volume control to worry about. Connect, load CD, press play. That’s it!
The BCD-3 employs a StreamUnlimited JPL-2800 transport with a very nice and smooth running drawer. In fact: this loader mechanism looks suspiciously much like the one used in the megabuck Wadia S7i CD player, complete with steel guide rails. Read-in times are short and every CD that I loaded was read and played without problems. Just as one would expect! But as self-evident as all this might seem, many players with multi-format drives gave me trouble even with this basic task.
The player’s functions are laid out logically on the front panel and it simply always responds as expected. The drawer slides in and out smoothly, the transport loads quickly and there are no mechanical sounds during playback.
The BCD-3 may be a single format machine but it has been designed to do this task exceedingly well. I already mentioned the StreamUnlimited transport and loader mechanism which is currently probably the best OEM transport that you can find. Another very important aspect is that there is only 1 master clock in this player that controls both the transport and DAC rather than the DAC slaving to the usually inferior transport clock. This is a technique that reminds me of the ones implemented by the old great high-end players from Mark Levinson and Wadia, and this really is the way to go. As I observed during tests with the Wadia 861, switching the player from clocklink (DAC clock controlling transport) to non-clocklink (DAC slaving to transport clock), soundstage depth and pacing clearly took a giant leap backward. Although the Bryston implementation is a little different I have no doubt that this is a big factor in producing its solid and sonorous sound. A novel aspect of the Bryston approach is that the clock operates at a natural multiple of the 44.1kHz sampling frequency specified by the CD format.
Just like virtually everything out there, the BCD-3 employs a Delta/Sigma DAC, but rather unusually it is an AKM model, two actually, because they are employed un a dual balanced manner, based on BDA-3 DAC design. Although you probably can’t say much with certainty about a given DAC chip’s sound quality, coincidence or not, I do find that the AKMs tend to sound recognizable with every player that I have heard them with. In my experience, the AKMs are not the smoothest or most refined but they do always produce a very solid and upbeat sound, and that too is something I think contributes very positively to this player’s character. By the way, the outputs are not simply driven with an OP-amp but with a proprietary fully balanced class-A discrete output stage. Finally, as customary for Bryston, the power supply is of the linear type and its very beefy toroidal transformer leaves nothing to chance.
The BCD-3 has AES/EBU XLR and RCA S/PDIF digital outputs and balanced XLR and single-ended RCA analog outputs. The player can be controlled via (optional) IR remote as well as via its trigger input, RS232, USB or UTP.
The BCD-3 was placed on top of a wood shelf on the Artesania Exoteryc rack. I really should have adjusted the rack’s feet to accommodate the player right away but felt a bit lazy. Initial listening was done with the player like this, but at a later stage, I would continue listening to it using the Artesania’s feet as they are meant to.
The player was powered using a Belden power cord with a smooth sounding Furutech FI-15 Rhodium IEC connector and let it warm up for about 2 weeks while carrying out other reviews. When listening started, I immediately liked what I heard so I left this power cord in place.
For starters, I just listened to the BCD-3 by itself, connected directly to the preamp using Cardas Clear XLR cables. My main speakers are Wilson Watt/Puppy system 8. These are very revealing speakers, but with the Bryston there was never a problem. From the very first tones, it was clear that I was going to like this player a lot! It’s got a very engaging sound that invites active listening, not because it sounds in any way loud or forward but because it just seems to do everything right. In the spirit of the great Wadia and Naim players, the Bryston player rocks and entertains, and most importantly, it sounds timbrally right!
Not only timbrally but in all aspects, the BCD-3 is so musical and complete that I tended to listen to its delivery as a whole while enjoying the music, not dissecting it into parts. That is a very good quality for a piece of audio equipment but it makes it hard for me as a reviewer to keep my hat on. That said, there are a couple of qualities that stand out in particular.
The bass is sonorous, fast and articulate, the mids are powerful and colorful and treble is open and well-defined yet also smooth. The overall feeling is of a very neutral sound yet, somehow, there is lots of texture and always a sense of deep saturation. This is definitely not a cool or clinical performer. The player also does not sound warm in the sense that it does not add any extra smoothness itself yet it can sound every bit as smooth as the recording requires. The dynamics are also great, in fact, I find that the BCD-3 sounds more like a typical multi-bit DAC than a Delta/Sigma DAC, which, trust me, is not something that is very common.
In terms of focus and soundstaging, the BCD-3 performed admirably. While more focused than spacious, images within the soundstage were always well-defined, crispy and clean. It is not a romantic or dreamy-sounding player but it definitely is one of the best PRaT animals that I have encountered in its price class. The BCD-3 certainly rocks!
Above: the BCD-3 was used during several other reviews. Even in this elevated presence it never felt out of place.
Having heard the very best CD players out there, I know that in an absolute sense there are areas in which the BCD-3 can be outperformed, such as fluidity and ultimate resolution. But achieving this while retaining its other excellent qualities will cost multiples of the BCD-3’s price sticker. In fact, from memory, I’d say that, while not entirely its equal, overall the BCD-3 has a similar overall character as the great Wadia S7i, and that is no small compliment!
The S7i was a 16.500 euro CD player based on the 521 DAC that I still own. Compared to this DAC, the BCD’s treble can be a little dry, fine instrumental texture is a little glossed-over and decay of subtle reverbs are not entirely as eternal as they can be, but this is nothing that stands in the way of musical pleasure. In fact, the BCD-3 never sounds less than convincing and never fails to get my foot tapping!
Now, of course, there are always overachievers and it seems to make little sense to compare the 4200 euro BCD-3 with players costing four times as much, but since the Bryston BCD-3 engages me just as much as the aforementioned Wadias, it does indicate just how far the Bryston actually comes.
For a fairer comparison, I also pulled out an old favorite of mine: the Meridian 506.24. At its introduction, it cost 2000 euros, but that was a zillion years ago. Were it to be available now, then it would probably be priced in the same region as the Bryston. So, how do they compare?
The little Meridian has always pleased with a creamy smooth, well-rounded sound. Its forgiving sound was perfect in the time that CDs (or my system?) tended to sound hard. Today the Meridian still has a pleasing sound, but it’s never been the king of dynamics, or resolution, or PRAT, and this becomes ever clearer. The BDC-3 manages to improve on the Meridian in all these areas, having excellent PRAT and sounding more dynamic as well as more detailed. The comparison with the Meridian also nicely shows that the BCD-3 may be more detailed and dynamic as well as more neutral, but definitely not still nicely refined.
The BCD-3 was also connected via SPDIF to the 10.000-euro Bricasti M1 DAC to enable direct comparisons between the Bryston’s DAC and the Bricasti while using the BCD-3 as a transport. The BCD-3 was connected to the preamp using Cardas Clear XLR and the Bricasti using T T L’d Cardas Hexlink Golden 5C.
When playing directly to the preamp the Bryston BCD-3 sounds lively and engaging and surprisingly solid and sonorous. Much in line with their amplifiers, the BCD-3’s bass is so solid that it makes even the Bricasti’s bass seem a little relaxed. It’s not just the bass though, timbre is also decidedly non-synthetic and very lifelike. In fact, the BCD-3’s entire presentation is reminiscent of the typically powerful classic Wadia sound. The Bricasti sounds sweeter and smoother and a little bit more filtered, less direct if you will, but it has higher resolution and more refinement. The BCD-3, however, sounds upbeat and always immediately engaging.
It seems that I need to reach for very expensive alternatives to balance the Bryston against but honestly I can’t think of any sub 4000 players that are just as entertaining.
As a final unfair comparison, I am pulling the Aqua card. The Formula xHD DAC is currently the best DAC that I have heard, and one could rightfully argue that at over 13.500 euro it better be. The Aqua is ultra-transparent and manages to extract even more detail than the Bricasti while also sounding more natural. It would be unreasonable to expect the BCD-3 to match this level of performance, and it doesn’t. It is not nearly as highly resolving or as transparent as this super DAC, but it is similarly neutral, just as dynamic and its timbre is just as convincing. All audiophile matters aside I must mention that the BCD-3 never fails to just make music: it certainly boogies!
BCD-3 as a transport versus Music Server
As I have recently sold my Aurender N10 and am in the process of acquiring a new reference Music Server, I have temporarily reverted to using the AudioAanZee Reference Flow Music Server with Euphony Drive in Roon mode. In its native form, this is already a supremely musical server and the Euphony drive only further adds to its strengths.
Cross-comparing the BCD-3 as a digital source via Belden RG59 digital coax cable with an 8-speed rip of the same CD streaming via Roon RAAT to the Reference Flow via USB and switching between them on the Bricasti DAC repeatedly I must say that I hear subtle differences, but they are not really meaningful. If pressed, I’d say that the Bryston sounds slightly more lively, but the two are simply very, very close! This means that the BCD-3 not only has a very good DAC onboard but also an excellent transport. This may seem like a given for people who do not believe that differences even exist between CD transports but I can assure you that there most definitely are differences, and they can even be quite large.
Further up I mentioned that I would use the Artesania’s feet as they are intended and also planned to experiment with power cables. As it so happened, the BCD-3 never failed to sound utterly engaging and I just never felt the need to change anything in its setup! In a way, this distinguishes the true full-blooded machines from the susceptible and sensitive devices that need careful tweaking before they give their best.
Tonally neutral yet dynamic, full-bodied and sonorous. Never less than fully engaging and always ready to boogie, the Bryston BCD-3 CD player is a joy to use and a pleasure to listen to. It is a sure bet and a real winner!