FOR Neat, detailed, evenhanded presentation; build AGAINST Remote costs extra; bass lacks a bit of bite and scale
Why buy a dedicated CD player such as the Bryston BCD3? It’s a fair question in this age of streaming and file downloads. The answer is surprisingly simple: it’s good. If you have a large collection of discs and don’t have the inclination to move to computer-based audio, this Bryston could be just what you need.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who follows this Canadian brand that the BCD3 is a purist affair. It’s a plain, understated box that, at a glance, could pass for a budget machine. That impression fades when you see the unit in the metal and notice the thick aluminium front panel and general solidity of build. This is a premium product – but rugged and durable with it. It’s available in a black or silver finish.
Inside you’ll find a digital design that borrows heavily from the company’s well-regarded BDA3 digital-to-analogue converter using dual balanced AKM 4490 32-bit/384khz DAC chips. Great care has been taken to reduce jitter and minimise distortion. The analogue output stage is a Class-a design using the company’s own discrete op amps. The analogue and digital sections have their own power supplies to minimise any interaction that could spoil the sound.
There’s no doubt that Bryston has worked hard on this product. But what does throw us a bit is just how far the company has stripped back the package. There are no digital inputs, which have become something of a standard feature in most recently introduced CD players.
Digital inputs are a good way of keeping the player relevant even if the owner decides to move to computer audio. After all, a CD player has a DAC circuit built-in, so why not make it accessible to other digital sources too? The idea makes sense – but Bryston also feels it could compromise CD performance due to having to accommodate a wider range of input signals and sampling rates.
The company has been a little tight-fisted by not including a remote handset as standard – come on Bryston; that’s just mean. Even budget players a tenth of this price have remotes. You can buy a rather fetching all-metal BR2 system handset from the company for (take a deep breath) £400, or use a dedicated custom-install controller.
Up to standard
That apart, everything here is pretty standard. There are both single-ended and balanced analogue outputs, as well as coaxial and AES/EBU digital outs. Don’t get too excited by the presence of an ethernet socket; the connection is there for firmware upgrades, alongside a USB and a trigger input for system integration.
Lack of remote apart, there’s little out of the ordinary here when it comes to usability. The front panel controls feel positive and are nicely laid out. The display isn’t particularly big, but it remains clear enough to see from the other side of the room, and the drawer glides rather than stutters as it moves.
Our review sample has already been properly run-in by the importer, so there is little else to do than plug it in, use a decent support and leave it on repeat for a couple of hours. We use our regular reference system of Gamut D3i/d200i pre/power and ATC SCM50 speakers.
Those expecting sonic fireworks are in for a disappointment. The BCD3, like most Bryston products, just doesn’t swing that way. It’s balanced, mostly neutral and detailed, and avoids the temptation to hype the recording.
Cohesive and convincing
Play George Michael’s Fast Love and this player is right at home. The BCD3 sounds cohesive and organised, managing to tie the song’s numerous instrumental strands into a convincing whole. Michael’s vocals are communicated with solidity and natural warmth, the Bryston avoiding the overly etched and slightly lean quality that many higher-end players use to emphasise detail. This is a more natural, if less overtly impressive sound. We like the way the player handles nuances in the music and the way it shades small-scale dynamic shifts.
Rhythmically it’s surefooted. There’s not quite the sense of momentum we hear in players such as Roksan’s cheaper Caspian M2 or Naim’s pricier CDX2, so there’s an element of excitement lost, but there’s still enough to keep us interested.
Moving on to an old favourite in the form of Hans Zimmer’s Gladiator OST allows the Bryston to show off its control and organisation. Battle is one of the most demanding tracks we know with its combination of savage dynamics and complex orchestration. The BCD3 copes well. It’s insightful, delivering a good amount of information and arranging it naturally. We’re rarely distracted by what the player does, which leaves the music in the spotlight.
The player’s tonality is nicely judged too, treading the balance between weight and agility well. Stereo imaging is precise and reasonably spacious, but it lacks a little scale. The low end isn’t flawless either. It’s precise, extended and nicely textured, but sounds a little polite. While the mid and higher frequencies have a good amount of bite when the music demands, the bass frequencies seem a touch reserved. It means the piece’s drama is somewhat diluted.
Make no mistake, the BCD3 is a fine CD player, and certainly worth a place on your shortlist if you’re after a higher-end unit. Its well-balanced nature means it will slot into a wide range of systems with ease and, in the best possible way, fade into the background. That’s the mark of a good piece of hi-fi.