Jump to content
  • The Computer Audiophile
    The Computer Audiophile

    Review | Bryston BDA-3.14 DAC / Streamer / Digital Preamp

    BDA314-Render-front-Alpha.jpgI have a love / hate relationship with the Bryston BDA-3.14. There is much to love about this DAC, streamer, digital preamplifier, and there is much to love about Bryston as a company and its employees. Unfortunately, there is also much to hate about the BDA-3.14. I've had the 3.14 in my system for a few months and in that time I've gone from writing this product off as a flop to my current position that it's a great component as long as it's used in a specific way and one sets expectations before jumping in head first. What follows is my honest take on the BDA-3.14 and its features. 


    Digital playback has become more complex over the years, with seemingly endless options. While I like the options and can get into the complexity as much as anyone, I realize it isn't for everyone. When I first heard about the BDA-3.14 I thought it could be a fabulous all-in-one type of digital component that's simple to understand and use. Sure it's a DAC, streamer, and preamp, but it also has Bryston's Manic Moose digital audio platform installed on a Raspberry Pi 3 inside the unit. I thought it could be one's complete digital system, just add a hard drive full of music to the USB port or point the unit at a NAS and call it a day. That's the idea anyway. The reality is a bit different.

     

    The BDA-3.14 has all the inputs one could want and a robust analog output. I used this unit connected directly to my Constellation Audio Inspiration amplifiers and really enjoyed what I heard. Some DACs have trouble driving these amps directly and require a preamp or require one to turn the volume to its maximum level for some tracks. Not so with the BDA-3.14. Even when using convolution filters for room correction, that reduce the output by several dB, the BDA-3.14 had plenty of headroom and power to spare. The BDA-3.14's 4 volt output certainly isn't more than the average DAC but it's performance in this area is very strong and better than many of its competitors. 

     

    I must also note that the BDA-3.14 is very quiet. Listening to some Reference Recordings' albums with extremely large dynamic range, I couldn't hear any noise coming from the DAC. On some components it's possible to hear what I'll call grunge on the quietest passages of these albums. The BDA-3.14 is typical of a Bryston component, designed to a very high standard using only the best engineering methods and zero voodoo. 

     

    BDA314-back-alpha-web.jpgThe sound quality of the BDA-3.14 through my Constellation, Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2, Transparent system was excellent. I put every type of music through this DAC and couldn't find a fault. I even connected the BDA-3.14 to my headphone based system using the RAAL-requisite SR1a true ribbon headphones. If there is anything wrong with a component's design, it will be revealed by these headphones. Listening through these headphones is equivalent to putting one's ear less 1/4 inch away from a loudspeaker's tweeter. We've all heard the noise that emanates from loudspeakers when our ear is next to the tweeter, fortunately our listening positions are much farther away. Not so with the SR1a headphones. The BDA-3.14's performance on this headphone system was stellar. 

     

    Whether playing my new Three Blind Mice album Touch from Isao Suzuki or Bill Frisell's latest Valentine, the BDA-3.14 delivers the goods in typical Bryston fashion. The DAC and analog output stage are competitive with components featuring the most exotic and expensive designs. 

     

    I also used HQPlayer to send DSD256 (poly-sing-ext2, ASDM7EC) to the BDA-3.14's dual AK4490 DAC chips via USB with great success. If that's too in the weeds, don't worry because the unit is also a Roon endpoint (still awaiting official certification). As a Roon endpoint, Roon can control the digital volume just like the physical remote that ships with the BDA-3.14. It was really nice to have both options during the review period. 

     

    Readers should note the differences between inputs with respect to sample rate support. The USB input is most versatile, supporting PCM up through 32/384 and DSD up through DSD256. According to Bryston, "Source audio greater than 192kHz PCM or all DSD is automatically downsampled to 192kHz / 24 bit when played through internal streamer." In my testing I found this downsampling works on content played through the built-in streamer as well as Roon audio sent to the BDA-3.14 because it's routed through the internal streamer / Raspberry Pi. However, DSD audio played from Roon is converted to a multiple of the original sample rate, 24/176.4 rather than 24/192 kHz. 

     

     

    BDA-3.14 whole system.jpg

     

     


    Manic Moose Interface

     

    If the BDA-3.14's feature set stopped here, with Roon, USB input, high sample rate support, great analog output, etc... it would be on the CASH List without hesitation. This is an excellent DAC. However, the BDA-3.14's raison d'être is that it features Bryston's own Manic Moose platform built into the unit on a Raspberry Pi. This is where I get off the fanboy bandwagon. I love Bryston as a company and the people with who I've interfaced over the years. All salt of the Earth, honest people, who manufacturer great components and support those components very well. But, I have a duty to the Audiophile Style community, and to all manufacturers, to be honest and give a 100% fair assessment of each component under review and must say the BDA-3.14 falls far short of of nearly any bar set by competing products in 2020. 

     

    I'll start with the user interface and functionality of the Manic Moose platform. If this product were released in 2005, it would be a little bit behind Logitech's Squeezebox interface of that same year. I completely understand that building this stuff from scratch isn't a trivial task for a HiFi company and I applaud Bryston for the effort. But, other companies such as Auralic, Lumin, and Aurender have all done it unequivocally better by a huge margin. 

     

    The interface certainly looks like it's from the early 2000's but I can get over that. It's everything else that's so underwhelming. At the bottom of the Dash hard screen are several buttons for either configuration or displaying statistics. This is like a mixture of a laboratory tool and end user area that shouldn't be necessary unless something goes wrong. I can't imagine telling a customer who just purchased a $4,195 component to pull up the Dashboard and take a look at what you just purchased. 

     

    Disk Information get SMART.pngThe system tab is decent, as it provides information about the library and the version of Manic Moose. It goes off the rails on the next tab titled Disk Information. Selecting my USB flash drive on the left and clicking the Get Info button reveals the Linux command sent to the operating system and a message that no end user can decipher - "sudo /usr/sbin/smartctl -H /dev/sda 2>&1 sudo: no tty present and no askpass program specified." Clicking the Get S.M.A.R.T. button should reveal smart info about the disk, but has a nearly identical outcome to think button. 

     

    Note: I had issues mounting my USB flash drive after first inserting it into the BDA-3.14. Bryston support was able to manually mount it remotely, showing the company's great support.

     

    I don't want to methodically go through the Dashboard and cover all my dislikes. I will just say that it's a confusing Dashboard, where some of the services are beta and may not work, and many items are the opposite of intuitive. I found an outdated Manic Moose manual somewhere online and it was somewhat helpful in deciphering this Dashboard, but by no means was it a definite guide. 

     

    The Media Player section of the BDA-3.14's web interface is confusing, sparse, and strange at best. For example, searching for Canadian band Cowboy Junkies, reveals all Cowboy Junkies tracks in my library, in one long list. I'm sure someone can use such a list, but it just doesn't work for me. Searching Qobuz for Cowboy Junkies took so long it was unusable. When the results appeared, I clicked on the band's name and again waited for its albums to show up. Unfortunately it brought up the same screen listing the band name. I clicked the name one more time and was presented a gray screen for several minutes before giving up. This wasn't a one time occurrence that I could ignore. This was just how the app worked. 

     

    Browsing Qobuz favorites was another exercise in frustration. After clicking on Albums, the little browse window often turned gray and never changed. Once in a while it would display my favorited albums. Switching to Tidal and browsing my collection of albums revealed a single very long list of albums I've favorited over the years. The albums were in alphabetical order by album name. The list had 741 albums to scroll through without the ability to sort by another data point such as date added or even artist name. Clicking into an album and then using the back button resulted in a long delay while the interface populated the long list of 741 albums once again. 

     

    I couldn't find any redeeming qualities in this interface but highly recommend readers use it at a local Bryston dealer before making up their minds. Perhaps it will be OK for some and for others they can see first hand what I experienced. 

     

    Another way to use the BDA-3.14 is with a third party app such as Rigelian. I used this for a while and believe it's much better than the Bryston interface, but still sorely lacking compared to the competition. For example, there is no support for Tidal or Qobuz through Rigelian and I couldn't get volume control through the app to raise or lower the BDA-3.14's volume. These are things that apps from Aurender, Lumin, Auralic, and Roon do without breaking a sweat. 

     

    During the review period, the BDA-3.14 was sitting with the rest of my audio components along the same wall as my desk. I can look over and see the side of these components. Upon looking at the BDA-3.14, all I saw was the gap between the chassis and the faceplate, and a bright green light. This is certainly not an issue for sound quality or functionality, but seems like a cut corner in manufacturing. I have 25 audio components within my field of view as I write this review. The only one with this or a similar issue is the BDA-3.14. Certainly not a longitudinal study, but I also don't remember seeing this on anything I've had in house in the past. 

     


    Conclusion

     

    The BDA-3.14 is a CASH List component based on its audio performance. However, it comes with a host of other features that don't live up to the Bryston name. As a Roon endpoint the DAC is excellent. Buyers should beware about all of the other features based on the Manic Moose digital platform built into the onboard Raspberry Pi. If a family member asked me about the BDA-3.14, I'd likely tell them to steer clear and purchase the BDA-3 in a heartbeat. The BDA-3 is the DAC, digital preamp version without the Raspberry Pi. On the other hand, if one wants the BDA-3 sound quality with Roon, the BDA-3.14 is a good way to get this functionality. One should just zero-out expectations for the other Manic Moose features. 

     

    The competition in this area is stiff. Products from Auralic, Lumin, and Aurender have far better interfaces and usability, for less money. With respect to sound quality, the BDA-3.14 is second to none of the products from those companies. I recommend the BDA-3.14 as a Roon endpoint, but can't recommend any of the included Manic Moose features. 

     

     

     

     

    Manufacturer's Comment

     

    bryston_black_logo_outline.pngChris, thanks for taking some time to review the BDA-3.14. Like you, we are really pleased with the way the BDA-3.14 sounds but wish you had enjoyed the Manic Moose (MM) user interface more. 

     

    Bryston is a company focused predominately on making equipment that performs exceptionally and lasts a very long time—and we have been doing this successfully for decades. We firmly believe that nothing else matters unless the product delivers its promise of making music sound as good and true as possible. But with components that require a complex, multifaceted user interface, the design and engineering goals are very different and often present a host of moving targets.   

     

    We are always looking for ways to improve our user experience, including how we manage search results in the local library. When we initially built the framework for MM, high-resolution streaming didn't exist. Since its initial release, we have offered over 40 firmware revisions and added services like Qobuz, Tidal, Roon, internet radio, CD ripping, metadata management, library aggregation with streaming services and so much more. We are the first to acknowledge that our digital players have outgrown what MM can support. That said, I am perplexed that you ran into some operational problems during your evaluation. Unlike many other companies in the space, we have several methods of addressing client issues including screen sharing and a service mode with which we can diagnose errors by wire. 

     

    The engineers at Bryston are deep into the creation of a brand user interface that first and foremost, is intuitive and stable. Our new UI will provide a way for us to keep customers current with new services and features that come along in the future. The goal is for everything except perhaps the BDP-1 (our oldest player, released over 10 years ago) to receive this upgrade at no cost to the consumer. I think Bryston is unusual if not unique in that we continue to offer firmware updates, new features, and bug fixes many years into the life of a product, and often well beyond the extent of our warranty. 

     

    I am happy that you recognized the superb sound quality of the BDA-3.14 and reported that those consumers utilizing the Roon user experience will find it most satisfying. I am also hopeful that those without Roon will engage with our nationwide network of dealers and all of us here at Bryston in order to explore the BDA-3.14 in greater depth. For music enthusiasts who value sound above all else, the Bryston BDA-3.14 offers outstanding performance and build quality, and once unleashed, our new user experience will provide a fun and intuitive means to access content.

     

    All the best,

    Gary

     

    Gary Dayton

    Vice President / US Sales

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Community Star Ratings and Reviews

     

    I encourage those who have experience with the Bryston BDA-3.14 to leave a star rating and quick review on our new Polestar platform.

     

     

     

    Product Information:

     

     

     

    Where to Buy

     

     

    Associated Music:

     

     

     

    Associated Equipment:

     

     

     

    Listening Room:

     

    This graph shows the frequency response of my room before (top) and after (bottom) tuning by Mitch Barnett of Accurate Sound. The standard used for this curve is EBU 3276. This tuning can be used with Roon, JRiver, and other apps that accept convolution filters. When evaluating equipment I use my system with and without this tuning engaged. The signal processing takes place in the digital domain before the audio reaches the DAC, thus enabling me to evaluate the components under review without anything changing the signal further downstream. 

     

    551112741_myroom.jpg.7922adb92cf9efcff4c401f0dffbc5c4.jpg

     

     



    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    Good review. Seems like if you are a Roon user it's a great component.

    I actually don't understand why most audio HW companies insist on writing their own UI. Few succeed. And if they do, it's often limited to use only with their own components.

     

    Since it's running a Pi, there are multiple modern, mature, open source, superior OSes available. Or very good commercial ones like Volumio that can be relatively cheaply added. These could be setup by Bryston so the 3.14 could be a Roon Bridge, Squeezebox streamer, HQP NAA, UPnP render, MPLA renderer, Audirvana player, Airplay endpoint, etc., etc. The end user could then simply pick which interface he wants to use and connect seamlessly. This solution would be vastly superiior to the user experience you described.

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    4 minutes ago, firedog said:

    Seems like if you are a Roon user it's a great component.

     

    For the most part yes. Although, there's a strange sample rate and no DSD limitation when using Roon, but I'm guessing it's a very minor issue for most people. The Pi can handle much more than just up through 24/192. 

     

     

     

    4 minutes ago, firedog said:

    Since it's running a Pi, there are multiple modern, mature, open source, superior OSes available. Or very good commercial ones like Volumio that can be relatively cheaply added. These could be setup by Bryston so the 3.14 could be a Roon Bridge, Squeezebox streamer, HQP NAA, UPnP render, MPLA renderer, Audirvana player, Airplay endpoint, etc., etc. The end user could then simply pick which interface he wants to use and connect seamlessly. This solution would be vastly superiior to the user experience you described.

     

    Good points.

     

    It would be really cool if users could flash a microSD card and run whatever they want on the built-in Pi. The sound quality is really great. Such flexibility would make this an unreal component. Bryston wouldn't have to give up the simplicity of its own solution for those who want it and wouldn't have to support all the other options. 

     

    I'm looking forward to the new updated UI that Bryston is working on and I really hope the company will allow me to review it. I love Bryston as a company and the people who work there. First class all the way. 

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites
    52 minutes ago, The Computer Audiophile said:

     

    For the most part yes. Although, there's a strange sample rate and no DSD limitation when using Roon, but I'm guessing it's a very minor issue for most people. The Pi can handle much more than just up through 24/192. 

     

     

     

     

    Good points.

     

    It would be really cool if users could flash a microSD card and run whatever they want on the built-in Pi. The sound quality is really great. Such flexibility would make this an unreal component. Bryston wouldn't have to give up the simplicity of its own solution for those who want it and wouldn't have to support all the other options. 

     

    I'm looking forward to the new updated UI that Bryston is working on and I really hope the company will allow me to review it. I love Bryston as a company and the people who work there. First class all the way. 

    If you look at pictures of the Bryston with the top off you can see an upside down Raspberry Pi 3 with a micro SD card in its slot. It should be possible to try another SD card with MoOde or other Pi OS in there.
     

    I would have thought you would need to do that if there was a major update to the Manic Moose software which needed to change the underlying Pi OS as opposed to tweaking the user application layer. As far as I know most (if any at all) Rasperry Pis don’t have a dual partition scheme where they flip between the two partitions when there is a firmware update. That allows the whole OS to be changed on the currently unused partition without needing to reflash the whole SD card.

     

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I had a BDP-1 for many years and it was a solid performer within the context of the very limited interface.  As you mention, customer support is excellent and when the BDP-1 bricked support would tunnel in and fix it.

     

    It is interesting that the same points you raise about MM were the ones that really annoyed me.  I came to hate the interface and it seems reasonable that many others dislike it too.  Therefore, it is really surprising that Manic Moose was used for this new product.  MM had been severely limited by the memory, etc. of the BDP-1.  To their credit, Bryston released MM updates that could fit on the BDP-1.  I truly appreciated that as an owner.  

     

    Would be good to read another review once the UI is updated.  

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I was one of the first to buy the BDP-1.   The first platform was Loony Loon... the predecessor of Manic Moose.   To be honest I wasn't thrilled with the interface(s) either.   I was transitioning from a Mac mini and Hag USB converter which wasn't the best.   I got over the interface pretty fast when I heard the sound quality.   The Loony Loon and Manic Moose interface were quite similar.   Over the years I migrated to Manic Moose only because of the Tidal streaming functionality they added to it.   So what is the trade off?   I have an "ancient" media server that is still supported.   And here's the big one.... my wife uses it because the interface isn't continually changing.    However, I am waiting for Nutty Narwhal platform to come to life.  I know this means the BDP-1 won't be supported anymore...sigh.    Time to review options!    Please note I am a Bryston fan!

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I had a BDA-3 early on. I really wanted the HDMI ports to work better. Mixing 4K in caused issues for me, back then. That’s probably fixed by now, I think there was an upgrade. Bryston offers great service, and does upgrade their stuff from time to time.
     

    The sound is great! It was not a streamer back then.

     

    However, I could not reliably read the small labels next to the bright LEDs. I know most of you have no issues with that, but I did.

     

    Had a good year, and moved up to the Bricasti M12. Big, readable display, and big labels on the buttons. Replaced pre-amp, DAC, and microRendu (etc.).

     

    I moved HDMI switching to the TV, and send all sound from that from TV to M12 with an optical cable.
     

     

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    I was interested in BDA-3.14, but passed on it for the outdated  interface. It felt like it belongs to 20 years ago, and just looking at it made me feel old. I hope Bryston launches a new dual AK4499 DAC just as Roon endpoint with DSD 512, but without too many other features. 

    Share this comment


    Link to comment
    Share on other sites


    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now



×
×
  • Create New...