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Bricasti Design Model 1 USB DAC Review

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Bricasti-M1-2

Review Setup

The Bricasti M1 happened to be in my system at a time when I had the Tannoy Canterbury GR speakers, the Pass Labs Xs300 monoblocks and the A.R.T. Super SE power, interconnect and speaker cables in for review. This enabled me to hear the M1 in very different setups, which also included Electrocompaniet amps, Tara Labs Zero Gold interconnects, Silent Source cables, a range of other power cords, and various additional tweaks. I can tell you that the Bricasti M1’s character and quality came through in every system, even though the presentations obviously differed somewhat.

My principal DAC comparison was with my MBL 1611F, which is a custom version that includes a remote-controlled analog volume control. Though the 1611F (currently) supports only PCM out to 96kHz/24 – no 176.4 or 192 or DSD – it upsamples all PCM to 5.6mHz internally. It doesn’t have any PCM glare or edginess, and the soundstage maintains its integrity.

I did also briefly compare the M1 to the Wadia PowerDac Mini and a 2004 Sony EP-9ES DAC, but it was immediately obvious that they were nowhere close to being in the Bricasti’s league, much less being near the top of that league.

Finally, a note on power cords and footers. One of the pleasant things I noted about the Bricasti M1is that it sounded very good with a range of PCs. In addition, the existing feet of the M1 do a great job on their own. I eventually opted against using any aftermarket cones or discs. This can really make it easier to justify the purchase. I did not need to search for a “perfect” matching power cord or footers, both which would add considerably to the overall cost.

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Finally – The Sound

So, let’s go back to what I was starting to say when discussing my first impressions. I have not historically been very fond of what I characterize as “ethereal” DACs. Let me explain. Between 2004 and 2009 I spent a great deal of time listening to high-end DACs since I was in the market. During this time I bought and sold several well-regarded DACs and developed the opinion that audiophile DACs fell into one of two camps: (1) fast, excellent PRAT, “detailed” sounding (although that’s not a good description, as we will see) and “ethereal”; and (2) powerful, dynamic, full-bodied and somewhat impressionistic. In this context, “ethereal” means that the listener gets an impression of highly detailed music that sounds somewhat thin – like it’s coming from disembodied, ghostly musicians. Badly implemented DACs in the first category sounded thin and etched with a digital glare. Badly implemented DACs in the second category did not have good PRAT. At the time I concluded that there was no DAC that sounded “ideal” to me and that no matter what, I would need to design the overall system to address each DACs shortcomings. However, I found that so long as I could improve PRAT, it bothered me more when bass sounded too thin and the presentation lacked body – “ethereal”. Thus, I was not a fan of dCS or Meitner, which at the time were in that camp. They sounded very “detailed”, but had very little body.

By the time I finally landed on the DAC I have now, the MBL 1611F, I had developed a prejudice that ethereal/detailed DACs were not for me, and I did not do any DAC reviews for 2 years. When I next seriously listened to a range of audiophile DACs I began to notice a blurring of the line between the two DAC camps. DAC designers were increasingly adding body to DACs in the detailed/ethereal camp and bass definition and PRAT to the full-bodied camp.

In my system the Bricasti M1 completely obliterates the distinction between these two DAC camps. Upon close listening, I’m not sure it is actually more detailed than the MBL 1611F, but it sure sounds like it is. Every note of every instrument on the soundstage comes across distinctly, but there is nonetheless an overwhelming feeling of wholeness to the overall presentation. At no time did the sense of detail detract from the overall presentation. To the contrary, it resulted in a richer tapestry, but none of the threads felt emphasized or out of place.

The Bricasti M1 also produced full-bodied bass in spades. Both the Pass labs Xs300 and the Electrocompaniet Nemo received a signal that made the bass as fat as it should be (e.g. Bela Fleck’s Cosmic Hippo) or as fast as it should be (e.g. Jaco Pastorius on any piece from Jaco Pastorius). Moreover, every bass nuance was reproduced with fabulous speed and PRAT, just like you hear it live in a good venue.

The tonality of every difficult instrument to reproduce – pianos, violins, cymbals, etc. – was excellent. Every instrument, including vocals of every type, sounded natural. Tony Bennet, Diana Krall, Pavarotti, Mick Jagger, Patricia Barber and every other famous voice I played sounded very good and lifelike. At no time did anything sound like something else, and there was no confusion between upper standup bass and the lower registers of the cello, electric bass and electric guitar, mellotron and organ, etc. Quite refreshing.

When you have the ability to produce accurate tones and nuances throughout the entire audio spectrum, the only remaining questions are whether you can reproduce dynamics, both in the overall scale and volume of the music as well as in microdynamics. I’m more of a rock and roll fan, but the Bricasti did such a stellar job with Tchaikovsky’s Daydreams On A Wintry Road and Holst’s Mars, The Bringer of War that I may need to reconsider that preference. The Talking Heads’ Nothing But Flowers is a piece with abundant musical detail, where virtually every individual instruments acts to propel the rhythm of the song, and it builds over time with a combination of large and small scale dynamics. I’ve never heard it in my system with the level of intensity provided by the M1.

 

Conclusion

I actually cut an entire page of additional detail that I wrote about the Bricasti M1. After I reread the draft review it seemed like the additional information actually detracted from the main point: the Bricasti M1 is an elite DAC regardless of price. Instead, I was looking for an analogy outside the audiophile world. I came across a review of the Bricasti where the reviewer stated that “the M1 is an understated performer, one that doesn’t necessarily scream for attention.” I understand exactly what he meant, though I would add some clarification. The Bricasti M1 is “understated” in the sense that Jackie Robinson made baseball look easy and Stevie Ray Vaughn made playing blues guitar look easy. They may have made it look easy, but you knew you were in the presence of greatness. That’s the Bricasti M1.

3 Responses to Bricasti Design Model 1 USB DAC Review


  1. Jeff Lauver says:

    Ed
    Can you give me your impressions on how the M1 compares with the Empirical ODSE which you also liked so much. I have the M1 and like it alot but am considering the next level. Is the ODSE a step up in layering and refinement like some suggest over the M1?

  2. Howard says:

    When you tested the Bricasti M1 DAC, did you run it direct into a power amplifier or did you use a pre-amplifier? What are the sound differences, if any, between using the power amplifier only vs. the pre-amplifier?

  3. Saadat Shahidullah says:

    :)… it would be wonderful to enjoy if we can emit pre amp from our rig. but in reality its a lie, so do the saying ‘no pre is the best pre’. i used Wadia 16i and bricasti M1 for quite long time without a pre, even introducing a non matched pre like Marklevension no326S smoked M1’s pride on the first take with my MBL 9008A mono’s. you got to have a pre, why i don’t know but it did make two things do very prominently, first the sound will gets its maturity based on you taste with the aid of your preference of cables, secondly it will push your your POWER AMP to its limit, if only(likely) when you hooked up with same brand pre with power, preferably higher grade pre with lower grade power AMP.

    M1 is slightly have a higher noise floor but in returns of higher resolution and musicality, M1 shine amazing with Cardas clear reflection and clear light and ofcorse with Cardas clear SPDIF rca. silver AC power cords will take you to the next level, avoid Cardas Ac power for insane magic M1 hold to showoff, Wireworld Platinum electra or Siltech ruby hill will certainly go well, based on my experience. M1 is highly analog sounding gear with extreme musicality for rock based music.

    Now playing directly with m1 with 9008A, playing superbly, waiting for my 6010D, lately used with 5011, very convincing reproduction. compression? with SIM650D/820S, Wadia16i, Nad M51, MBL1611F and Gryphone Kalliope and Esoteric 01X. my M1 feed with MBL1621A redbook CD only.

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