Gap Between Analog, Digital Audio Narrows

A listening session shows a quality digital system can rival the performance of a top-notch analog system.

Bryston demonstrated its BDP-1 digital music player at CES 2011 in Las Vegas. The solid-state piece of equipment relies on its plug-and-play functionality for delivering gorgeous-sounding tunes. Users can connect a hard drive full of music that has been ripped or downloaded.
Robert Archer · February 16, 2011

One of my favorite public relations professionals in the industry is Micah Sheveloff of WIRC Media. Micah and I are Bostonians who grew up listening to the city’s eclectic music scene. We both play instruments - he plays the piano, I play guitar - but he’s 100 times a better musician than myself.

Micah recently invited CE Pro editor Jason Knott and I down to his suburban Connecticut home to check out Bryston’s BDP-1 digital music player and companion BDA-1 digital-to-analog converter (DAC), along with THIEL’s new SCS4T loudspeakers.

He also volunteered to play his personal analog system, which consists of a Krell amplifier, Conrad-Johnson tube preamplifier, THIEL CS6 floorstanding loudspeakers and VPI turntable.

We started with the digital Bryston gear, Bryston BP60 integrated amp and THIEL SCS4Ts listening to 44k files, such as Foreplay/Long Time from Boston’s debut album and some 96k files, including Livingston Taylor’s version of Isn’t She Lovely.

It was stunning to hear how obvious the differences between the file resolutions were and how the combination of the Bryston and THIEL gear was able to resolve these differences so effortlessly. The most discernible difference was the openness of the 96k files. Bryston’s BDP-1 player is one of the few components - maybe the only player - on the market that natively handles high-resolution audio files and renders the music with plenty of air and midrange accuracy, while maintaining the music’s dynamics and full transient capabilities.

Photos: High-Performance Audio Demos at CES

Conversely, the 44k files sounded flat with limited dynamic range and clarity, while the 96k files had a good amount of weight and texture, which are hallmarks of a good analog system.

On the analog side of the spectrum, we listened to a variety of albums from everyone from Barry Manilow to Ozzy Osbourne. Both Jason and I were completely impressed with Micah’s enormous vinyl collection and catalog vinyl database, and how well his system combined detail, depth, tonal balance and impact.

Assessing the experience of both systems I could easily live with either system without any second thoughts. Looking specifically at the digital gear, I think manufacturers like Bryston and THIEL are quickly narrowing the gap between the performance levels of analog and digital systems.

Before the music industry starts offering 96k files to the masses, the components must be set up and integrated into living rooms across the globe to get the proper experience. This means the ball is in the manufacturers’ court to ensure dealers are aptly trained to deliver the potential of this exciting new format.

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  About the Author

Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). Bob also serves as the technology editor for CE Pro's sister publication Commercial Integrator. In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass., and he also studies Kyokushin karate at 5 Dragons in Haverhill, Mass. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Robert at robert.archer@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics

Speakers · Amplifiers · Blogs · Analog Audio · Demo · All Topics
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