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The Bryston BDP-1 – Interview with James Tanner

With the imminent availability of the BDP-1 digital player from Bryston Limited, we asked Bryston VP James Tanner if he would be willing to respond to a few questions about it. Firstly, though, let me briefly summarize the unit. It is intended as a front-end to a high-resolution DAC such as the Bryston BDA-1 (but other DACs are also suitable). It accesses audio files stored on a USB stick or USB drive, and outputs a digital audio signal via AES/EBU balanced or unbalanced (S/PDIF-compatible) connectors to the DAC. The audio files can be in 16-bit or 24-bit format, at sample rates from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz. The BDP-1 has a compact front panel interface and display to enable playback, and will work with the Bryston BR2 remote. It will also accept a network connection (Ethernet, no wireless) to enable playback control from a laptop or desktop computer, or portable devices such as an iPhone or iPad.

Now – on to the interview!

JR – Hi James, thanks for speaking with us today. Perhaps we could start by you outlining for us your role at Bryston?

JT – Hi – I am the VP of Marketing, part owner of Bryston and resident delusional audiophile.

JR – Could you tell us a bit about how new products come about at Bryston – where does the initial idea for a new product typically come from?

JT – Generally we get feedback from our customers, dealers, and distributors as to what product they would like to see Bryston producing. We will then think about whether it fits into our philosophy, and move forward on the idea if it agrees with our design criteria (function precedes form).

I am usually the one to make the decision as to whether the product is worth presenting to our customers or not. I leave the engineering issues up to the experts as far as design and manufacturing are concerned, but ultimately it has to sound and perform better than what I currently have or have access to in order to continue the development.

Being a small specialty company gives me a lot of autonomy when it comes to developing new products, and I should probably do much more market research before acting on some of these ideas. But, my feeling is, given our target customer, I hopefully represent a reasonable example of the type of customer who will appreciate what we do.

JR – And in the case of the BDP-1?

JT – The BDP-1 developed from my frustration in assembling a digital server type system, and recognizing that playing high-resolution (up to 192/24) files and using a system off the network was not going as well as I had hoped.

JR – To put it in a nutshell, the BDP-1 is in essence the modern solid-state high-resolution equivalent of the CD transport?

JT – Correct – think of it as a CD player but instead of CDs you load USB drives – which brings you one step closer to the master tape.

JR – I understand that you’ve been using various prototypes of the BDP-1 in your own systems for some time now. How has the unit evolved over this time?

JT –  The drivers for the soundcard and the software to control the process have changed as I listen, plus the power supply and output section.

JR – You can already purchase recordings housed on a USB stick (for example, the Beatles collection). Will these simply plug into the BDP-1 and play?

JT – Correct – any USB drive that has the appropriate digital file type loaded – WAV, FLAC, AIFF, M4A, MP3, WMA at this point.

JR – How do you see this trend (music purchased on USB stick) evolving? Could this completely remove the need for a (laptop or desktop) computer to be involved at all in replay of high-resolution digital audio?

JT – Good question – I think if the listener wants to “control and manage” thousands of files then it certainly makes sense to be using a desktop or laptop computer for that. But for those who just want to “listen to” hundreds of songs and manage their playback in a more simplified manner with the highest fidelity possible and without any moving parts in the playback system, using just the BDP-1 with this kind of off-the-shelf USB stick makes a lot of sense.

For those users who want to utilize a laptop or full desktop setup and are comfortable with assembling a quality high-resolution computer system using a quality sound card and configuring the operating system to provide as accurate a signal path as possible, a “do-it-yourself” approach may be fine. But recognize that the BDP-1 was born out of the fact that many laptop computers and all-in-one desktop computers will not support accurate high-resolution digital files (up to 192/24). Generally the sound cards and operating systems of these off-the-shelf products are limited in performance, and optimizing their performance is not a simple plug-and-play exercise.

JR – Could you tell us more about the choices in user interfaces for the BDP-1?

JT – The lesson I have learned after playing and demonstrating the BDP-1 for a while now is that (beyond great sound) for those who want to interface with the BDP-1 using some type of remote control – it’s a critical factor for them. As opposed to a “Luddite” like myself who is just fine with the front panel and Bryston handheld remote.

So, we have implemented our own interface and embedded the software into the BDP-1. We are working on two versions – the “Bryston MINI,” which runs on handheld devices like an iPod touch, iPad, iPhone etc., and the “Bryston MAX” under development, which uses standard web-browsers like Firefox, Chrome and Safari on your desktop or laptop computer. We’re also giving our customers other ways to remotely interface with the BDP-1 by supporting MPD-compatible (Music Player Daemon) third-party programs such as MPod for handheld devices like iPhone and iPad, and web-browser programs such as Music Player Minion. I should point out that to remotely interface with the BDP-1 you do have to use a router and be on a network – with the front panel controls you do not.

JR – Some of the initial reactions online to the product have been interesting, with many audiophiles assuming that a “digital player” means streaming data across a network. Could you outline the key technical reasons for the design choices that have made the BDP-1 a distinctly different product?

JT – Streaming is fine for what it is but it is limited to 44.1/16 at this point (that may change going forward – I have heard maybe 96/24 is coming). Streaming also has issues with fallout as the bit depth and sample rate are increased, due to traffic and limitations on the home network system. We also found that building streaming devices into the BDP-1 proved to be a noisy proposition. We wanted the BDP-1 to be a no-compromise low-noise state-of-the-art high-resolution (up to 192/24) playback system without any compromise in performance given the current state of the art.

JR – What about future-proofing? 24-bit 192 kHz FLAC seems as high a resolution as we could ever dream of as being necessary… but we’ve been wrong before. What are your thoughts – is this the end of the line, the pinnacle of perfection? Or is there more to come?

JT – Well, the nice thing about the BDP-1 is that it is totally modular mechanically, and you will be able to load new software online – so any changes going forward are hopefully covered.

JR – Do you have a favorite genre of music? Tell us about some of your favorite artists or recordings.

JT – I really like folk-rock and simply voice and instruments. I like to feel intimate and connected to the performer when I listen – Ya, I know I have serious psychological issues!

Brief specifications

  • Data source: any USB-compatible storage device
  • Input file formats: WAV, FLAC, AIFF, M4A, MP3, WMA
  • Supported bit depth: 16 bits, 24 bits
  • Supported sample rates: 44.1KHz, 48KHz, 88.2KHz, 96KHz, 176.4KHz & 192KHz
  • Output connectivity: AES/EBU balanced via 3-pin XLR connector (recommended for the BDA-1), AES/EBU unbalanced via BNC connector (S/PDIF-compatible)

Recommended retail price

  • USD2100

Manufacturer’s website

All images courtesy of Bryston Limited.

Readers' comments

    Mr. Tanner is claiming that wired Ethernet streaming of 24/192 files is not possible at this time? If this unit had had an Ethernet input and the ability to pull files from a computer (like the Squeezebox does) it would have been a sure buy for me.

  • I’m really puzzled by the James Tanner’s statement

    “We also found that building streaming devices into the BDP-1 proved to be a noisy proposition.”

    Isn’t streaming accomplished by developing some additional software? The BDP-1 already has an Ethernet interface. How does adding more software increase the noise?

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