BRYSTON BCD-3 CD PLAYER
If you had to buy your very last CD player, reviewer Martin Iredale reckons the Bryston BCD-3 should be the one you buy.
Aquestion I am often asked is: ‘Why would anyone buy a CD player these days?’ I usually just answer with a single word: ‘Simplicity’. I am now consciously trying to reduce the stresses of modern living by making my own life as simple as possible. When I want to play music, I rather like that I can just pop a CD in a drawer, press play and be listening to music immediately. Yes, I have ripped all my CDs. Yes, I have a music server connected to my system. Despite this, when I want to listen to music, it’s more likely that I’ll browse the CDs stored on my shelf, select one and play it than that I’ll pull out my phone, fire up an app, browse through the music stored on my NAS and play from that.
The same question must often be asked of the folks up at Bryston, in Canada, because they have an answer published on their website. Here it is, verbatim: ‘ Although high resolution digital downloads dominate the attention of audiophiles, many music lovers have hundreds or thousands of CDs that require the finest playback equipment to sound their best. Though universal disc players or DVD players can play back CDs, they certainly won’t resolve the full dynamic range and nuance the medium is capable of. Such players inherently compromise CD playback to support additional formats.’
The Bryston BCD-3’s front panel looks quite standard until you switch it on and the display lights up and you discover that it’s amazingly crisp and sharp.
In fact it’s downright beautiful… probably the best display I have ever seen on any CD player ever. It turned out to be an OLED, of course, but in the course of discovering this, I also discovered that it comes in different colours: blue and green. You can choose either, but it’s a factory-only option, so if your local hi-fi store doesn’t have both colours in stock, ordering a different colour might take a while.
Despite the provision of this state-of-theart display, Bryston has included an option that means you don’t have to use it. If you connect the BCD-3 to your local area network (via the Ethernet interface on the rear panel), you can control it via a web browser.
You can also update the BCD-3’s firmware via Ethernet for the purpose (according to Bryston) of ‘ ensuring reliable operation and add new features.’
If you choose to operate the Bryston using the front panel controls you’ll find all the usual buttons are there, along with the less-usual ‘Repeat’ button (though it only does Track and Disc repeats, not A–B repeats), and ‘Random’. If you use Bryston’s BR2 remote control to control the BCD-3 (which will require an additional purchase, since Bryston doesn’t provide one with the BCD-3), you will get a feature that is not available from the front panel: direct track access using 0–9 buttons. This is handy if you regularly skip tracks on CDs that have dozens of tracks, but on most CDs I find it’s faster
Downright beautiful… probably the best display I have ever seen on any CD player ever!
to just press the ‘Previous’ or ‘Next’ buttons multiple times. This system of skipping tracks works particularly well on the BCD-3 because it has a buffer than allows you to press multiple times very quickly, and track access is also quick, so I probably wouldn’t bother buying the remote unless I had other Bryston components (though if this were the case you might already own a BR2 remote!).
The disc drawer is very solid and, rather refreshingly, made of metal rather than plastic. Rather too solid in fact, because there are metal rods either side of the tray that no doubt increase rigidity but make it very hard to remove discs unless you jamb your finger into the CD’s centre hole and remove the disc from the tray that way. I found it almost impossible to remove a disc from the tray by grasping it by its outer circumference.
The rear panel of the Bryston BCD-3 has both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) analogue outputs, and AES/EBU (XLR) and S/ PDIF (RCA) digital outputs. It also has RS232, Ethernet, USB and ‘Remote’ connectors. Note, however, that the USB input is only for system control—it does not accept (or output) digital audio signals. There is also no headphone output—either on the front or the rear panel which, because I do a lot of headphone listening and prefer my headphones to be as close to the original source as possible (so as to have the least circuitry in the way) I view as a fairly significant oversight… but you might have a different opinion.
Not surprisingly (since they were both designed by the same person and they have almost identical model numbers) the BCD-3 uses most of the same digital circuitry as Bryston’s BDA-3 DAC, including exactly the same DACs (AKM 4490s) in exactly the same configuration (two per channel, in differential mode). And, as with the BDA-3, the analogue output section of the BCD-3 operates entirely in Class-A, and all the gain and buffering devices are discrete and all the components for it are on their own PCB. The power supply is on another PCB all by itself and the digital circuitry is split over two PCBs. In fact, in a rather beautiful piece of electronics design, there are only 12 ‘thruhole’ components in the entire machine… all else is surface-mount. Well done Dan Marynissen! I have to mention the build quality too, which is exceptionally good, plus the fact that the BCD-3 is made in Bryston’s own factory in Canada.
In Use and Listening Sessions
After loading my very first CD into the player (and these are the only discs the BCD-3 will play, by the way) I played around with the transport controls a little and made a few discoveries. The first was that the fast-forward and fast-reverse buttons are multi-stage so one press will start a slow-ish search and a second press will speed that search up. Pressing the button a third time drops you back into play.
The ‘Play’ button does the usual, but if you press it while a disc is playing, it will re-start play at the beginning of the track. Conversely, if you press |<< while playing a track, it skips you back to the beginning of the previous track. I was not used to this functionality, but once I became used to it, it then seemed like an excellent way of arranging the transport logic.
What wasn’t quite so logical—at least to me—is that the player won’t skip tracks while a disc is paused, and in order to get the player out of its pause mode you need to press pause again: pressing ‘play’ won’t do it. Another quirk I discovered was that whenever I connected the BCD-3 to my network and used my browser to control it, whatever CD I next tried to load into the player would rarely load, with the display just showing ‘Reading’ continuously. Ejecting the disc and then re-loading it always fixed this issue, so it’s obviously just a programming glitch and will likely already have been fixed by the time you read this review, because the machine I was using had old firmware (V2016.12c).
The very first disc I just had to play was a strange one titled ‘Colour Thinking’ by Human 2.0 that was recorded by Dutch outfit trptk in 352.8kHz 32-bit DSD using only state-of-the-art technology. The company makes its recordings available in all formats, but obviously I was listening to the CD version. It’s a conceptual album that marries conventional instruments with electronics and samples plus a small choir. I’d been finding it strangely beguiling on other components and in other formats and I wanted to hear how well the Bryston BCD-3 would reproduce the sounds on the disc, more than listen to the music itself. Wow! It was immediately obvious just from the very first track ( Progress) that the sound from the Bryston BCD-3 left the sound from my own player in the shade, which rather stuck in my craw since BCD-3 retails for just over half of what I paid for my own machine. I was hearing deep, rich, bass sound, super-authentic percussion (cymbals in particular, but the sound of the snare drum was also amazing), but it’s the overall soundscape that’s created by the BCD-3 that is the most mesmerizing. The guitar sound on Problem Child howled from my speakers like a banshee, echoing the howl of lead singer Robin Coops.
Despite its strangeness, I liked this disc so much that I invoked the BCD-3’s ‘Repeat’ mode, and through a curious twist of fate discovered that this mode is eternal: if you switch it on, the Bryston will continue to play the disc (or track) forever.