ConclusionThe BDA-3.14 is a great DAC with an excellent streamer section on board. This seemingly simple addition is actually so well implemented that it leads to a better result than with the best server + renderer combo I currently have available. And that says it all!
The first listening session with the Bryston BDA-3.14 took place after a long day at work and without prior comparisons. At that time the Magicos were connected with the Aqua La Diva CD transport as source.
The Antipodes combo is still working faithfully but lately your editor is back in the CD mood. That way, you stay busy as an audiophile, huh!? Anyway, the BDA-3.14 sounded immediately fantastic! We may be accustomed to a DAC from the very highest regions, but the Bryston gave no reason to be cranky. Everything was perfectly balanced and you immediately get involved.
The timbre is also very natural, Bryston never has a synthetic sound at all, and the DAC has a pleasant combination of sonorous robustness, impressive dynamics and a rich midrange with smooth highs without any sharpness.
Although the BDA-3.14 has that Bryston-typical V12 motor-like “drive”, there is also a high degree of refinement and versatility so the sound never gets dry. And when a component sounds smooth and supple with the Magicos, you can be sure that it does. If there is sharpness or a loud edge, they let you hear it right away.
Now it was time to switch to the Antipodes CX + EX music server to compare the USB and RJ45 inputs. Your editor immediately took this opportunity to make a comparison between the server and the CD transport. Starting with the CX + EX combo as server and renderer, connected to the Bryston BDA-3.14 with a Final Touch Audio Callisto USB cable, we immediately recognized the Antipodes-typical sonore robustness. This was a clearly fuller and more colorful sound than with the CD transport. However, the BDA-3.14 also showed perfectly that the server does not have the same level of tautness and impulsiveness as the Aqua CD transport. In comparison, the sound of the server is a bit more static.
The CX can also perform both server and renderer tasks on its own and sounds tighter and faster but also a bit less magical. An sich it approaches the sound of the CD transport but the sound image becomes more compact and with less feeling of depth image. But what we missed the most is the sonorous and robust fullness in which the EX excels. Which reproduction is the most neutral we leave in the middle but what is certain is that the BDA-3.14 shows these differences in a very fine way.
After connecting the Antipodes CX directly to the BDA-3.14 with an Ethernet cable, the sound suddenly reminded us of the Bryston BDP-3 media player. Tighter, faster, better articulated and also more direct. Now the server sound came much closer to the sound of the CD transport and while maintaining the lyrical power, call it the magic. It seems that the physically more direct connection actually results in a more concrete (and better!) sound.
When judged with the music server via USB or the CD transport via coax, both the Aqua Formula xHD and the Denafrips Venus reach an even higher level of transparency and resolving power. Both DACs use a discreet NOS R2R topology which makes them sound “cleaner”, without the subjectively often pleasant warmth and forgiveness of most other D-A converters. In absolute terms, we would say that both components expose more of the recording than the comparatively warmer and more robust sounding Bryston.
Of course, this is also a matter of taste, but in the case of the Aqua, it’s no disgrace anyway, as this DAC costs no less than 13,670 euros. In the case of the Denafrips it’s a bit different as the Venus is more or less in the same price range as the Bryston. In that case one has the choice between a pure DAC with a strictly speaking more audiophile sound and a DAC with an extremely good sounding streaming input and the largest selection of inputs that we have seen so far on a DAC.
But the most important factor is that with both other DACs you also need a streaming endpoint. And as the tests soon showed, you don’t have one, two, three really top sound with a server/streamer. This is where the Bryston BDA-3.14 comes into its own, making it perhaps unbeatable as a complete solution in its price range.