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August 2014
Superior Audio Equipment Review
Bryston Branded System Review
The most natural, and musical, sounding combination I have heard.
Enjoy the Music.com's takes a closer look at the Bryston BDP-2 digital player, BDA-2 external DAC, B135 SST2 integrated amplifier and BHA-1 balanced headphone amplifier.
Review By Rick LaFaver


Bryston B135 Integrated Amplifier  To be fair I have always had a bit of a bias against branded systems. It is very rare for one company to be able to produce a source, DAC, and AMP all reference quality, all under one roof, if any company in this industry could do it though it would be Bryston. Bryston has been long renowned as one of the top amplifier manufacturers in the industry and has been generating a lot of buzz around their new Digital Source the BDP-2 I had to hear what a single solution would sound like. Bryston's full digital end to end solution goes as such: The BDP-2 is a world class digital player based on an Intel Atom board, it reads network content while also allowing for a local drive (Note that the BDP-2 received a significant, significant being an understatement firmware update right as this review was being finished,) the BDP-2 feeds into the BDA-2 via a balanced S/PDIF connection, for the amp Bryston provides the B135 SST2 Integrated amp, available in multiple iterations should you choose to combine the DAC or a phono-amplifier into this setup along with this there is the BHA-1 which is very good quality professional style headphone amp with balanced or unbalanced inputs and outputs. From there you could go to one of Bryston's new loudspeaker designs derived from a strategic alliance with Axiom to help Bryston build a lineup of world class speakers or any other headphones or speakers of your choice. For this review I used my daily drivers Beyerdynamics DT-990 Pro 250 Ohm and my reference speakers Vapor Audio's Cirrus REV 2. Forgive me if this review becomes disjointed, but there are a lot of bases to cover.


Setup And Impressions
Bryston BDP-2 DACThe system came nicely packed and with both paper guides USB instruction manuals and USB drivers pre-loaded onto some clever and really cool looking Bryston branded USB sticks. The sticks do exactly as expected and make the system plug and play with any Windows system, (I was running windows 7 and 8 on the boxes I tested with) Bryston also provided very high quality HD tracks preloaded on a USB stick to plug into the BDP-2 so you can really run the system through its paces right out of the box. I hooked the system up using the balanced audio connectors (why doesn't everyone use these yet) this system allows you to go from source (BDP-2) to amplifier (B135-SST2) using balanced connectors. This makes set up a breeze one type of connector, which easily connects and locks all connections with little concern. I used Bryston's recommendation of the branded BNC connector to go from BDP-2 to BDA-2 and used StraightWire's balanced cables throughout the rest of the chain. All things considered, connecting the system and installing drivers and such was a breeze.

The system came to me with little or no break in and as I like to do for future comparisons I listened to the system with little or no time on it and scribbled down some initial impressions only to compare with after the system had 100 or so hours on it to see there was any significant break in effects. Overall the system was a little more congested right out of the box but this all seemed to clear after only a few hours as treble clarity and tonality improved over time reaching their potential after only about 20-25 hours. At no point was the system offensive by any means but it certainly improved over time.

Since I just saw Ray LaMontagne In June at one of my favorite venues (The Fabulous Fox) in St. Louis, I had a theme to my review music. Not to say I didn't put the system to the usual paces and my usual review tracks ranging from Dub Step to Classical but you may see a certain troubadour theme to the tracks I mention below.


Chris Trapper Gone Again Away We Go
Bryston BDA-2 UnitThis CD is really a hidden treasure for those who haven't heard of Chris Trapper his only real claim to fame so far are as lead man for the Pushstars writing so tracks for August Rush and Me Myself and Irene. I have heard him a few times live and originally discovered him with my wife about 7 years ago. Chris Trapper is great songwriter with some really personal lyrics and this CD exemplifies his style and his ear for good talent. This whole CD includes accompaniment by the equally talented Wolverine Quartet from Boston, each of the songs was recorded live with only studio mixing but they must have had a wizard on the board because the tracks all have great sound stage, a consistent intimate feel, and phenomenal nuance and detail, things you don't normally get on a CD. Every time I listen to it I feel like sitting on a rocking chair on the veranda with a mint julep, if you haven't had the delight of hearing this CD go pick it up from Christ Trapper's website. So many good tracks on this album to put a system through its paces but I think Away We Go is probably my favorite with bassoon, saxophone, banjo, piano, and some very intimately recorded electric guitar. On the Bryston system this track shone as most did, it allowed the intimate nature of the whole set to shine through. Never did any of the elements come forward of the speaker or become shrill in any way. The Piano sat slightly back and left on the soundstage as it should and the pacing and tone across the whole track were as they should be. At several different levels of amplitude the dynamics remained consistent showing the quality of build of the B135 SST2. The stage was sharp and it was easy to place instruments and musicians throughout the sound field. The BDP-2 does exactly what it should in this presentation and draws no attention to itself for this track I was listening off my NAS and with no fan or drive noise and apparently some good memory buffering on the BDP-2 there was no buffering or hiccups in the playback.


Ray LaMontagne Supernova Lavender
In an abrupt departure from Ray LaMontagne's already accomplished career as singer songwriter, Supernova joins the movement of band like The Alabama Shakes, Jack White, and The Black Keys in keeping 60s style rock alive. Personally, I have no issue with the change in style; it is executed quite well with great space and dynamics. I am not a huge fan of how the acoustic guitar was recorded on the album (a little to much after effects and digital clean up) but other than that this album features a lot of really interesting cuts. I picked Lavender mainly because it exemplifies the 60s style rock that this album is, definitely give this album a listen, don't go in expecting the intimate one on one feel of Til the Sun Turns Black but it stands on its own merits. Lavender has ethereal open field vocal with a strong resounding acoustic guitar and organ chorus. With all that was going on, the system never sounded congested, however compared to some other amp and DACs I have heard this track on, the track lacked a little bit of warmth but that is comparing this system to much higher end tubed components. The B135 SST2 had plenty of oomph to keep control of the low end of the Cirrus and really made for a great almost live feeling from the track, it really held itself together even at very high volumes higher than most people would listen to in a room. At the show in St. Louis there was an appropriate kaleidoscope playing on the screen behind the band when this song came on, I felt overdressed for occasion having taken a shower.


Martin Sexton Fall Like Rain For What Its Worth
The five song EP Fall Like Rain is again an album of very 60s style activist tracks made most evident by Martin's cover of Buffalo Springfield's track For What Its Worth, Martin plays the track in much more of scat style man and his guitar presentation and is appropriately recorded live with a what sounds like an omni-mic. It creates a great sense of passion and when properly reproduced the song sounds like you are listening in the venue. Martin really shows of his skills with the acoustic guitar on this track, I saw him perform it live in Little Rock Arkansas with just me and maybe 20 other folks that made the trek to hear him play in a dingy bar on a Sunday night with snow storm rolling in the next day, but we were all very rewarded as he pulled out that omni and played a barely amplified version of this song with even better flourishes than the ones that made it to the album, it was really one of my greatest concert experiences. The Bryston system is very capable of keeping up with the live sound of an acoustic guitar and silky smooth voice of Sexton and accurately reproduced the sense of the space this recording was captured in. It allows the clean sustain and murky black sound stage of this track, it is really evident that all of these components were voiced together and designed to be used as a system.


The Source
Bryston BR2 Remote ControlThe BDP-2 is among many new entrants into the audio world; it is essentially a headless media server with high grade audiophile construction and considerations. One of the key features that differentiate it from some of its competitors is the balanced S-PDIF output and the phenomenal case work and the surprisingly functional LED display on the front. I have heard several ATOM board implementations and this is certainly among the best sonically. The kernel installed is capable of handling almost every format I could through at it (does not support DSD [With Manic Moose firmware update the BDP-2 now supports DSD over USB to enabled DACs]) and was stable and without hiccups in decoding. There was no playback delay and you could clearly identify the difference between a high bit rate high resolution file and a good quality MP3 (as you should.) Sonically I was tickled, although for the price point ($3000), I would expect a little more polished user interface, Wi-Fi integration, and a more resilient external hard drive solution [The USB bus has been remapped in Manic Moose and now runs flawlessly]. The user interface is a little clunky from a laptop when setting up a DLNA or NAS drive but the app works very well for navigating your music library and is very quick and smooth to jump from album to album, track to track. For a device that can be controlled via iPad, iPhone, or laptop an integrated B/G/N wireless adapter really should have come standard or at least upgradeable via dongle, few people have and few companies make a good quality wireless access point.

I happened to have a Cisco access point laying around and once integrated the WiFi functionality is very good for both control and wireless networking (should you choose to go wireless) although if Bryston integrated a high quality wireless solution they could be assured customers would have a more consistent user experience for a very low overhead cost. The USB bus the BDP-2 uses has some issues with higher power draw USB 2.0 devices such as external drives with more than a 500 GB capacity this creates an issue when it is very difficult to find an external drive with smaller than a 500GB capacity, my 640 GB external drive was unreadable via any of the USB inputs [this has been corrected with the new Manic Moose firmware], the internal SATA bay has no such issues. Bryston continues to release firmware revisions for the BDP-2 and the user interface has been improved over time with new firmware releases.


The BDA-2 is a very high quality DAC and very competitive at its saturated price point ($2,395.) The integration of oversampling, balanced input and output, and discrete analog and digital signal paths are not standard features in a sub $3k DAC. This along with the optional rack mount integration and high quality case work make the BDA-2 a very versatile player. The sonic execution is masterful, this is among the top DACs I have heard at this price point that along with the features it possesses makes the BDA-2 one of my favorite DACs. It maintains a super clean noise floor and snappy treble with a tight and accurate if not a slightly center focused soundstage without any of the digititus that plagues some poorly executed DACs. The BDA-2 is the brightest spot of this system.

The BDA-2 delivers spot on imaging and tonality and is very and I mean very stable. I tried connecting it to the BDP-2 as well as connecting it directly to my media PC as well as connecting it to my laptop through Bryston's USB converter the BUC-1. The BDA-2 handled all sources with aplomb and didn't hiccup or choke once on any of the content I threw at it in various formats at various bitrates. I really like the sound that comes out of this thing regardless of what is upstream from it but it sounds particularly good downstream from the BDP-2, as if they were developed to deliver a particular coherent sound together. The DAC hasn't dethroned my favorite DACs, but it certainly outperforms everything I have heard in its price range by leaps and bounds.


Bryston B-135 SST2 Integraded AmplifierIntegrated amplification really gives a system a lot of versatility and makes the concept of a dedicated 2 channel system a more feasible possibility for those who do not have the space or the funds to build a dedicated system for a dedicated listening room. The B-135 SST2 provides a good balance of utility and refinement to be able to perform double duty as a "receiver" to enhance the sound in a multipurpose media room while still providing the clean power with great separation and imaging of a dedicated two channel amplifier. The small footprint and conservative cosmetics do not hamper the amplifier's sonics at all. Bryston was smart with this one, rather than trying to cram everything under the sun into an integrated and compromising performance for form factor; they provided a great quality basic platform for 2 channel audio with plenty of inputs and great quality amplifier section ($4695) and then allowed the customer to decide whether they wanted to integrate the DAC to save space (+$1395) or integrate a phono section (+$600). This allows Bryston to provide a very good quality platform with plenty of power and versatility for your average multi-purpose media room or even a medium size listening room, so long as your speakers present a moderate load. The B-135 never missed a beat with the 87Db efficient Cirrus even at quite loud volumes and I was unable to drive the amp to clipping at reasonable volume levels with an 8 ohm load. The amplifier is very well made and should you have issues Bryston backs all of their analog electronics with a 20 year warranty and the digital device are covered for 5 years! This could easily be the last amp you ever own, even if you use it every day.

The BHA-1 mimics the cosmetics of the DAC and digital player; it is professionally finished and polished and could easily fit in with a modern aesthetic. The BHA-1 really impressed me with its versatility, most amps that try to do too much let you down sonically but the BHA-1 certainly doesn't disappoint. Ron Nagle goes into much greater detail in his review of the BHA-1 in his full write up of the BHA-1 found here.


Bryston BHA-2 Headphone AmplifierAs a suite of electronic components the Bryston system is rivaled by few (I don't think there are many companies that can produce a system in this price range with this kind of pedigree), the source and DAC are world class and would be rivaled by few components at any price point. The integrated amp doesn't have quite as much separation as some dedicated stereo rigs or monoblock set ups but provides plenty of clean dynamics and headroom for a small to medium sized room or even larger with more efficient speakers. The strongest point in the system is certainly the DAC, I think the BDA-2 would be tough to match in its price point and I would say it is probably my new reference for a DAC in the sub $3000 range.

The BDP-2 and BDA-2 together are one of the most natural and musical sounding combinations of digital source and decoding I have recently heard and B135 sst2 provides a versatile platform to produce high quality audio. Bryston really does have the pedigree and the chops to produce a one stop show for source components. The pieces naturally fit together both stylistically and sonically and have a very small and easy to place footprint without sacrificing in performance at all. I would highly recommend any of this suite of electronics on their own, and as a system they truly shine.


Author's Note: Although out of the box the BDP-2 had certain clunkyness and issues with USB drives running the stock firmware (Looney Loon) all new versions of the unit will be shipped with a much more resilient firmware (Manic Moose) which corrects these issues. I doubt many if any companies in the hi-fi market would issue as significant of a firmware release to a media player as what Manic Moose provides for the BDP-2, for most companies the features introduced and the bugs worked out would have been enough to warrant the release of a new unit as a BDP-3 rather than a free firmware upgrade available to all customers and easy to install.



BDP-2 Digital source
Inputs: 6x USB 2.0, 1x eSATA, 2x Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45)
Outputs: S/PDIF (BNC), AES/EBU (XLR), USB 
Control: 2x RS-232 (DB9)
Audio Formats: AIFF, FLAC, WAV, MP3, M4A, OGG
Playback from USB flash drives, as well as USB and eSATA hard disk drives (HDD)
Custom Intel Atom Powered Motherboard
Eight times more system memory then the BDP-1.
Improved power supply delivering over 5 amps.
Multiple control options (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android OS, and PC)
User upgradeable firmware
NAS Connectivity supported
UPnP/DNLA Server supported
Requires external DAC 
RS-232 serial data port for remote control via Crestron, AMX or similar control systems
  Available with silver or black faceplate
  17" or 19" faceplate available (non-rack mountable)
Price: $2995

Inputs: USB Class 2, four S/PDIF (two BNC and two RCA), two Optical TosLink, AES/EBU on XLR 
Outputs: RCA single ended, XLR balanced, S/PDIF Bypass (RCA unaltered from original source)
Dual 32-Bit AKM DACs
Discrete Class A analog output stage
Independent dual power supplies
Synchronous Upsampling (176.4/192k)
Oversampling: 14 to 24 bit, 44.1, 48, 88, 96, 176, 192 kHz sampling PCM via USB
  Available with silver or black faceplate
  17"or 19" faceplate available
Rack mountable option available (1U)
Dimensions: 2.75" x 17" x 11.5" (HxWxD)
Weight: 12.5 Ibs.
Price: $2395

B135 Integrated Amplifier
Inputs: Six RCA Single Ended Pairs, Two RCA Single Ended Pairs (Record In, Power Amp In), two Optical (TosLink), two S/PDIF via RCA 
Outputs: Two RCA Single Ended Pairs (Record Out, Preamp Out), Speaker Terminals, 0.25" Headphone Jack
Control: RS-232 (DB9), AUX IR, 2x 12V Output Triggers
Power Output: 135W into 8 Ohms (180W into 4 Ohms)
Chassis: Convection cooled and housed in a fully aluminum chassis
Control: RS-232 serial data port for remote control via Crestron, AMX or similar control systems
  Available with silver or black faceplate
  17" or 19" faceplate available (non-rack mountable)
  Optional internal DAC or internal MM phono (see Accessories in Other Products)
Price: $4695

BHA-1 Headphone Amplifier
2 Ohms output impedance for each Op-Amp driver.
Load @ 300 Ohms (Tested at 250 Ohms)
Hi - 10.8 V Out @ 001% Power 390 mW
Lo - 5.40 V Out @ 001% Power 50 mW
Lo - 1.79 V Out @ 001% Power 10 mW
Lo - 583 mV Out @ 001% Power 1 mW
Balanced outputs
Balanced dual mono circuitry
Left/Right balance control
Six fully discrete Class A Bryston operational amplifiers
14dB or 20dB gain
10k input impedance
High quality noble stereo volume control (laser trimmed)
Gold plated input and output connectors
Multiple headphone drive capability
Dimensions: 2.75" x 17" x 12.25" (HxWxD)
Weight: 13.25 Ibs.
Price: $1395

Beyerdynamics DT 990 Pro 250 Ohm
Frequency response 5 Hz to 35 kHz
THD: <0.2%
Impedance: 250 Ohm
Nominal SPL: 96 dB
Circumaural Design
Dynamic Transducer
Price: $299


Company Information
Bryston LTD
P.O. Box 2170
677 Neal Drive
Peterborough, Ontario
Canada K9J 7Y4

Voice: (705) 742-5325
Fax: (705) 742-0882
Website: www.Bryston.com













































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