I 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.
The 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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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,
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.
- Bryston BDA-3.14 DAC / Streamer / Digital Preamp ($4,195)
- Bryston BDA-3.14 Product Page
- Bryston BDA-3.14 Manual (2.2MB PDF)
- Bryston BDA-3.14 Brochure (900 KB PDF)
- Bryston Manic Moose Manual (5.6 MB PDF)
Where to Buy
- Source: QNAP TVS-872XT, Aurender W20SE, CAPS 20
- DAC: EMM Labs DV2, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha DAC RS3, Schiit Audio Yggdrasil
- D-to-D Converter: Sonore Signature Rendu SE (optical), APL HiFi DNP-SR, CAPS 20.1, Berkeley Audio Design Alpha USB
- Amplifiers: Constellation Audio Mono 1.0 / Monoblock Power Amplifiers
- Preamplifier: Constellation Audio PreAmp 1.0
- Loudspeakers: Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2
- Digital Signal Processing: Accurate Sound, HQPlayer
- Remote Control Software: Roon Remote, JRemote, Aurender Conductor
- Remote Control Hardware: iPad Pro
- Playback Software: Roon, JRiver,
- Network Attached Storage (NAS): QNAP TVS-872XT
- Audio Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Interconnects (XLR & RCA), Transparent Audio Reference 110-Ohm AES/EBU Digital Link, Transparent Audio Reference Speaker Cables, Gotham GAC-4/1 ultraPro Balanced XLR Audio Cable (40')
- USB Cables: Transparent Audio Premium USB Cable
- Power Cables: Transparent Audio Reference Power Cables
- Power Isolation: one 4kVA and one 5 kVA 512 Engineering Symmetrical Power Source
- Ethernet Cables: Transparent Audio High Performance Ethernet Cables
- Fiber optic Cables: Single Mode OS1-9/125um (LC to LC)
- Acoustic Room Treatments: Vicoustic Diffusion and Absorption, ATS Acoustics Bass Traps
- Network: Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 24, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 8-150W x2, Ubiquiti UniFi Switch 16 XG, Ubiquiti UniFi Security Gateway Pro 4, Ubiquiti UniFi AP HD x2, UniFi FlexHD AP, Ubiquiti FC-SM-300 Fiber Optic Cable x2, UF-SM-1G-S Fiber Optic Modules x6, Commercial Grade Fiber Optic Patch Cables, Calix 716GE-I Optical Network Terminal, CenturyLink 1 Gbps download / upload
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.