Just Ask Drew: High End DACs and Media Players
Drew Baird, CEO of Moon-Audio.com explains and compares two High End Dac/Media Players, the PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC MK2 and the Bryston BDA2 & BDP2. Drew also explains their input connections, network vs. direct usb computer connection, and he also shares good choices for software to use for your digital music interface and cataloging.
1:02 An overview of the PS Audio Perfectwave DAC
2:32 An overview of the Bryston BDA-2 DAC and BDP-2 Digital Player
5:36Q: Which system does Drew prefer?
5:55 Connecting external hard drives via USB
6:59 Q: What headphone amp should I use?
7:30 Q: What software do you use with your computer?
8:30 Q: How much do they cost?
00:00:00 Hi! Welcome to the Just Ask Drew video series. Just Ask Drew is where Drew answers all your questions about high-end headphone audio. In this video, Drew covers his top picks for high-end DACs.
Hi, I'm Drew from Moon Audio and today we're gonna talk about digital media DAC players. These are two of my favorite pieces and I'm often asked many a time, "Drew, what sort of media digital interface should I connect to my headphone amp and my computer?" and these are really the cream of the crop and my two favorite pieces of gear. We've got the PS Audio Perfect Wave DAC -- and this is the generation version 2 -- and then we've got the new double stack piece from Bryston, the BDP-2 and the BDA-2. The BDA is the DAC section and the BDP is the media player section, whereas the PS Audio is all built into one chassis.
00:01:02 As I said we're on mark 2 of the PS Audio piece, and they've made a bunch of great improvements to this piece to the digital section. It sounds wonderful and it's really a staple in my system. It has the ability to not only be connected to computers via a USB, but it also has what's called a network bridge card in the back of it. This piece can be bought with or without the unit and you can add it on later to connect to your network. And essentially, instead of doing a USB connection you're now doing a cat5ng perfect data from your network into a memory buffer in the player which then goes on to the d-day conversion. As well as the network card you've got your regular digital inputs, the USB Toslink, coax, AES/EBU, and then it's got two unique inputs: I2S squared that are made out of HDMI connections as opposed to your other normal digital connections. These connections utilize an HDMI connector and this is used to connect the Perfect Wave transport, another product from PS Audio that is a transport only for playing your redbook CDs as well as a second one that we can connect to the new piece that's we're really excited about from PS audio, the New Wave phono converter. This is actually a phono stage for your turntable that will do a analog to digital conversion via HDMI that you can plug into this perfect wave DAC. So a very versatile piece indeed.
00:02:32 Over here we've got the Bryston stack. This is a two-piece implementation instead of a single box unit the PS Audio does, so they've got their media player in one box and their d-to-a converter in a separate box. The good thing about the Bryston double stack is the fact that if they make improvements or implementation changes you can change out one piece without having to change out both of them. So from an upgrade stand ability this makes a little more sense. However, PS Audio has come out with improvements where they sent you the internal boards that you could swap out and take this to the Mark 2 level, so it depends on how you look at it which is the more flexible upgrade option. But I sort of like the two chassis stance. So this this BDP-2 and BDA-1 have a whole host of inputs like the PS Audio. The only thing I'd say they're lacking is they don't have the I2S implementation, which is really a PS Audio theme. But this is also used in a similar manner in which you can connect it to a network, it's not just a USB digital input from your computer, and the benefits to this are a much cleaner, more resolute signal. I've done a comparison between the USB input and the network input on both players and hands down the network connection option always does a much better job of sounding more resolute, more detailed, and a lot more definition to the sound. So that's my pick. Of course with a network connection, things get a little more complicated. With USB you can simply plop down a computer right next to these two pieces and connect the USB cable to it, but in my two channel listening environment, or if I'm using open-back headphones I don't want noisy computers in the room with me. Typically in my house, I've got a computer room where it's my office and I've got a small desktop system, but these two pieces are on my reference system and so getting a digital signal to them from my computer via USB would be too complicated. First of all, it's a lot longer than that you would want to run. 15 feet is about where you max out on a USB cable. If your office is on the first floor and your reference systems on the third floor networking makes a lot more sense. So there has to be a little more knowledge in the software implementation for both these pieces to be able to pull and send digital to these two different media setups. I'd say the PS audio is a little simpler to implement. You're going to download an app to your Apple product, either an iPhone or your iPad, and it basically reaches out talks to the software that you've loaded up on your PC, links up the libraries, and you can use the software to basically send and retrieve all of the music from your computer to this piece. Now Bryton is working on a similar package software that you can download one of their apps and their own implementation of software but for right now you've got to use third-party apps to use the network connection on this player. So it's a little more cumbersome to set up the Bryston stuff than the PS Audio, which is a little better at plug-and-play, although I'm sure when Bryston comes out with their own software it's going to be just as simple.
00:05:36 So then I get asked, well of the two systems which do you like better? Well, it's really tough to say. Honestly, I can't really pick a favorite. I'd say from a sound signature standpoint they're on level playing fields, it just comes down to implementation. Both now have the ability to do the network and the USB digital inputs from a computer, however the Bryston has one more feature that the PS audio doesn't. You actually have the ability to hook up hard drives to it or a little USB thumb drives to it. So you don't even have to connect it to the network if you don't want to. In fact, on the new version, the BDP-2 over the BDP-1, you can now actually put an internal hard drive in this piece and have its own storage system. I haven't played around with that aspect yet. I'm waiting for solid-state drives to get a little bit larger because I'd rather have a solid-state drive rather than a conventional hard drive in this unit at this point. I have played around with the external hard drives and the USB keys and the only problem with that, based on the software that you utilize now, is it gets bogged down a little bit if you've got a huge amount of songs your hard drive. I typically have about four terabytes of music so obviously hard drives become an issue with this player in that there's just too much information that it's got a catalog. I think once they get their new software down where you can stream it from your network it's going to be a lot faster and a lot easier to control.
00:06:59 Which headphone amp do I use with these two? Well because both of them have singulated and balanced outputs it's very flexible. So I'd say my top two picks -- and this will be for a video later down the road -- I use the Bryston BHA-1 with both of these players with great results, and that's a balanced headphone amplifier. And then for a single ended headphone amplifier for both of these I use the Cary CAD300 SEI, which is a beautiful 300 B tube amplifier. It's been my reference headphone amp for years and it's my favorite piece for using with both of these.
00:07:30 I often get asked, "which software do you like to use with your computer?" Well, depending on whether you're on Windows or Macintosh computer I'd say for being able to use both software packages, the best one is probably to go with JRiver. JRiver makes a Windows version and a Mac version, so if you learn one of them you can use it on both implementations. My favorite windows-based program, though, is MediaMonkey. JRiver definitely sounds a little bit better but MediaMonkey is probably the best cataloging system software package out there. I use MediaMonkey to rip all my CDs, create all the metadata to tag all of my files, and then I'll probably use JRiver to play them. On the Mac side, I use a program called Audio Nirvana or J River. So either one has a nice implementation I can't say I love one more than the other. The Audio Nirvana is a little more simpler it probably sounds a little bit better than JRiver, but the J River cataloging system is much better.
00:08:30 So how much do these pieces cost? Well, the Perfect Wave DAC has two price points. You can buy with or without the bridge. If you buy it without the bridge it's $3,995. Adding on the bridge card to get your network capability will tack on another $795. It's a lot of money, but it's a fantastic piece and definitely one of my top picks. The Bryston BDP-2 is priced at $2,995 and the BDA-2 is priced at $2,395, so the prices of the two setups aren't that far off. And I'd say the sound quality is basically on even playing fields. You're basically paying for more real estate with the Bryston by having two dedicated, separate pieces whereas you get everything all-in-one in PS Audio. I hope you found this video informative. There's a lot to cover on these two pieces, so if you have further questions please contact me on my blog at moon-audio.com/blog