From our 2010 archives: Bryston BCD-1, Hi-fi News, Andrew Harrison, Jason Kennedy – and a Marantz SA11-S1

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Readers letters

Dear Mr. Popeck

Although I had been a regular subscriber to HiFi News for several years, I gave it up in January 2007 out of exasperation (what with all the changes and the, at the time, rather evident lack of leadership, etc.). On a recent trip to the UK I did pick up an issue, however, and noted that things have tightened up considerably. Making me think ... well perhaps I should ...

The reason for this 'aside' is that I see on your web page a reference to the current issue which includes a review by A. Harrison of the new Bryson BCD-1. It appears to be a put down (as compared with what is a very opposite view by Jason Kennedy in HiFi Choice).

Now I too have respected Harrison's reporting and evaluation, which fact contributes to my uneasines, given that on Sunday I placed an order for the bloody machine, which is meant to replace my current Marantz SA11-S1!!

Hence my rather cheeky question ... can you give me any details of Harrison's review? The magazine does not so far list the issue on their Website (November is the latest, along with an awards issue), I have not found a page for A. Harrison, and the online edition, run by Zino likewise does not yet display the current issue.

[I had been toying with purchasing the considerably more expensive Resolution Audio Opus 21 ... but the few reviews till date of the Bryston, the sheer dependability of the company, the fact, too, that I use their BP 26 preamp (along with the phono preamp), tipped the balance in favor of the machine in question.]

Any assistance, personal commentary, whichever way it runs, would be dearly appreciated.

Best wishes

EMS

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Hello EMS.

Thank you for your communication. I'll try to help. I have now thrown away that particular copy, so I'll have to rely on memory a bit. Well, a lot, actually.

I'm not personally familiar with the models under consideration by you. My personal experience is limited, in no particular order of importance to Musical Fidelity, the Nagra DAC, Meridian, LFD, North Star, Accuphase and Copeland.

The lingering impression I have of the BCD-1 review is that although competent in every respect, it was outstanding in none. I can't recall what AH uses as his reference. However as is usually the case, imported equipment is rated against home grown. It is only the truly outstanding (and very expensive) imported equipment which tends to stand out against UK makes when reviewed over here. For example, the top of the line Nagra, Accuphase, North Star. Taking quality home grown products in the less expensive price band from say Naim, Rega and Meridian, imported equipment is automatically at a disadvantage when pure value is evaluated.

I guess that a review of the Bryston in its home country compared to say a Meridian at Canadian prices would give reviews possibly at complete variance to the UK one where value is concerned.

I can only speculate on what you can do now. Personally, knowing the reputation of your SA11, it would have to be a very compelling reason (such as unreliability) to make me want to change. In my experience, the quality of CD reproduction versus their plummeting prices means, and I believe I am correct in this, that a machine at £1000 today is equal to most, if not all machines available at say 5 years ago.

My friend Dr Richard Bews (founder and chief design engineer at LFD) during a long, informal and informative face to face discussion earlier this month expressed the view that while CD reproduction has latent potential, the public could no longer reasonably expect significant incremental changes. By this I took him to mean that improvements in the home, rather than inside the lab, will be gradual. Meanwhile the price of great, rather than extraordinary CD reproduction is falling.

Regarding Mr. Harrison, I personally would like to see more of his writing. However, as always with these things, the Editor’s word is both final and, I guess, rarely questioned. Editor Miller inherited a difficult (I choose my words carefully) situation.

Re their website, one can only speculate as to why that site is such a disincentive to purchase the paper based version. My impression is that it is deliberate – in that it is very rare in my personal experience for a paper-based publication in any hobby area to make money from an online presence. This might be their major consideration. Curiously, Stereophile seem to be the exception. They seem to take the view that by publishing reviews online that appear concurrently in the paper based version is a useful ‘bait’ to entice buyers off the news stands. Only selected Stereophile reviews are published in this way, but sensibly these include some of the more intense and intellectually demanding ones.

However it must be said that the level of professionalism at Stereophile and attention to detail (to say nothing of the comparative freedom their writers have to write at length rather than be constrained by word-count) is the yardstick which I believe the UK audio publications don’t even acknowledge, let alone try to measure themselves by. Or if they have, then they’ve failed – so far.

I hope this helps.

Sincerely

Howard Popeck.

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