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Bricasti M1 DAC

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

 

This is a mini-review. For 3 years I have been listening to my LA7000 balanced headphones using a Meridian 808.2i CDP as source. I felt so lucky to have been able to purchase a B-stock unit new for way below MSRP, and after the warranty service replaced the disk drive, it worked flawlessly and made beautiful music.
 
But I was missing the digital age of high-res, so in December 2011 I finally bought the Berkeley Alpha DAC2 and USB interface, widely reported to be one of the 2 or 3 very best high-end DACs.  Driven from a PC laptop loaded with JRiverMediaCenter, reported in TAS as the best software for PCs, the Berkeley DAC2 revealed strikingly fine details with refinement and sophistication, from CDs ripped to WAV or from downloaded FLAC files at 88.2 or 24/96 from HD, Linn or Chesky using JRMC. And I could drive it using the digital out from the Meridian, which while playing Red Book CDs upsamples to 176 and outputs SPDIF at 88.2.
 
But no matter what data I gave it, I found the SQ of the DAC2 emotionally lacking, not quite analytical but not really alive. In fact, I much preferred the SQ that the Meridian produced from CDs to the SQ of the DAC2.
 
I had read and kept the first column on the Bricasti M1 DAC by John Marks and then the review by John Atkinson in Stereophile last year, and when I digested the very clear recommendation in the second John Marks column in the March 2012 issue, I knew it was time. (If you haven't read these, then I highly recommend you do - just google "bricasti stereophile".) On the Bricasti dealer webpage, I found the name of a high-end audio dealer I knew and trusted, Jim Riddell of Sounds Real Audio in Colorado, and it turned out he had a demo unit I could audition. Well, the short story is, he never got it back. And I am enthralled!
 
The Bricasti M1 is the best piece of audio electronics I have ever heard. It was designed to make music. The entire unit is balanced dual-mono --- the two channels have separate power supplies, separate dual differential DACs, separate clocks (which are synced by a SPARC) that are virtually jitter-free (~6ps), separate balanced and unbalanced analog output buffers, and so on. The music that emerges is completely detailed and completely alive --- totally transparent, utterly micro-detailed and micro-dynamic, liquid and smooth as can be, vibrant, palpable and more realistic than I have ever heard before.
 
When it arrived, it had only the linear filters described so well by John Marks and John Atkinson. When I emailed info@bricasti.com with a couple of routine questions, I heard back from one of the owners, Brian Zolnar, who spent a considerable amount of time educating me on how to use the M1. For example, I was making a serious no-no feeding the DAC a half-interpolated SPDIF data stream from the Meridian, and when I followed his recommendation and fed the M1 straight 44.1 SPDIF from a 20yo Rotel CDP I had in the closet, the SQ was enormously improved. And finally, I was hearing music from Red Book CDs that was of VASTLY higher quality than the Meridian produces. The DAC2 was left in the dust (and has already been sold). 
 
AND THEN .....
 
Brian told me he had an upgrade chip with some new "minimum phase" or apodising filters. It arrived here a few days later, installed itself easily, and suddenly the SQ of the M1 became even BETTER --- in fact WAY BETTER, better timbral detail, better depth and realism, better decay and ambient details, and most of all better punch and dynamics, which was the only thing a friend who had visited had said it lacked (he likes electronic rock at 100dB!).
 
In addition, it now has a front panel digital level control (from 0 to -60dB, and Brian says the internal calculations are at such a high resolution that there is no bit-loss until it gets beyond -24dB) and phase inversion. Brian says an IR remote with these capabilities, along with filter selection, of course, could be available as early as June. I can't wait!
 
Currently, I am enjoying hearing for the first time all of the music hiding in my favorite disks in a very large CD collection. Really. And really enjoying them! For example, the EMI Great Artist re-release with Hans Hotter singing "Ich habe genug" (Bach Cantata Nr. 82) sounds fresh and and deep and stunningly real, and it's easy to hear the greater vitality in his great voice in the Brahms Lieder that he recorded earlier in the 1950's, and even more clear in the version of Brahms Requiem he recorded with Karajan, Schwarzkopf and the VPO in 1947 (which with the M1 is just breathtaking, esp. Schwarzkopf). Or, the Sony CD of Schubert's Great C Major Symphony with G Szell (whether you call it 8th or 9th), which I've listened to with the M1 already 3 times - unbelievable presence and clarity and such sforzando! Most amazing is the way the M1 presents the female voice or an a capella choir -- I have been thoroughly enjoying re-experiencing Robert Shaw's many disks (esp "O Magnum Mysterium"!), as well as re-living the original heart pangs I felt (x10!) when I first heard Cecilia Bartoli's initial recital CD or Sophie Karthauser singing Bocccherini's Stabat Mater (oh wow).
 
Here's my 2 cents on the many filter choices that the M1 now offers --- after much comparison listening, using the same 2-3min tracks with every filter, I decided to forego the various improvements in stage proximity and perspective that are available, because I felt that the best overall balance and the most complete presentation is consistently produced with Minimum-Zero, and I leave it there all of the time. While listening, I use the front panel for level adjustment, which follows in real time with no lag and without clicking "enter". And I'm listening with Beyer T1's (re-cabled by Peter at DoubleHelix with RS UP-OCC, which opened up beautifully after ~400hrs use) driven by the "quad-mono" Rudistor RP010B, using JPS Aluminata i/c's on loan from thecableco (and I will HAVE to shell out for these!). 
 
SUMMARY --- IMHO, the Bricasti M1 is the best piece of audio electronics I have ever heard. To my ears, it produces realistic SQ and deep musical enjoyment that is at least as sweet as, and in several aspects far exceeds, any analog system I've ever heard, including the vinyl rig that now sits in my closet. I hope you find an opportunity to hear it soon. It has honestly changed my audio life, and I am incredibly happy being able to experience extraordinary music with the M1 out here in the Sonora desert. It's like having a prime seat in Avery Fisher Hall or the WDCH every night! Absolute top recommendation!!!
 
Happy Listening!
///
 
post #2 of 12

Nice review. I got to hear the Bricasti on Saturday at the NY audio show at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel.  The Bricasti made really nice music with Harbeth speakers, and was my choice for best sound of show.  I'm sure Wilson Sasha speakers would have blown away the Harbeths but overall, the Bricasti-Harbeth combo did it for me.

 

Brian was an engaging presenter and I had fun listening to his explanations and comparing a few filters (I don't know if he had the minimum-phase/apodizing filters at the show, and I didn't hear any discussion of minimum phase while I was in the room)................After reading your review, I wonder which filters I was hearing (I think we were on 1-2-3 which were various bandwidths, 19khz rolloff +/-.

 

I wonder if the best sounding settings with cans would be different from the best setting for speakers?

post #3 of 12
Thread Starter 

Hi. Thanks for the note. I see you are using Stax. I need to hook the BH/009 up to the M1 to see how well they sing together. Probably quite well.

 

Glad to hear you liked Brian's presentation. He has a lot of experience, having worked for Lexicon for 20 yrs. I would guess you heard minimum phase filters 1, 2, 3, or higher -- they have increasing rolloff and stage perspective. He has told me he prefers those rather than minimum-zero for speakers. I have a pair of small monitors (Vienna Haydn) set up in my den in parallel with the headphone rig, and they sound great near-field with Min-0, but from the other side of the room more filled out and "disappearing" with Min-3. As with all audio, YMMV. And that's the beauty of having so many choices -- it provides the flexibility to adapt to different settings and ears.

 

Best of show, eh? I'm sure he would like to hear that!

 

post #4 of 12

Thanks for the review on the Briscati M1 vs. the Berkeley DAC 2.  I don't have access to hearing either of these units and it is time to up-grade from my ML 360S.  Did you try the Berkeley with the Rotel player too or just from the Meridian? I'm wondering because maybe the Berkeley had the same problem with the Meridian's data stream too.

post #5 of 12
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by soolooslover View Post

Thanks for the review on the Briscati M1 vs. the Berkeley DAC 2.  I don't have access to hearing either of these units and it is time to up-grade from my ML 360S.  Did you try the Berkeley with the Rotel player too or just from the Meridian? I'm wondering because maybe the Berkeley had the same problem with the Meridian's data stream too.

Hi. Thanks for your appreciation. Yes, after I learned this from Brian, I did indeed back up and do a fair and direct comparison - with several listening sessions. The Berkeley SQ was smoother on its own than using the Meridian's 88.2 SPDIF, but using either the straight 16/44 from the Rotel or using JRMC to output 16/44 from a ripped CD or JRiver's upsampled 24/176 for USB conversion by the  Berkeley converter (much nicer than 192), the DAC2 was still less enjoyable than the Meridian's upsampled 176 version. I made very sure that this was my opinion, because a local audiophile friend wanted the DAC2 as soon as I decided. And as I indicated, the M1 left them both in the dust. IMHO.

post #6 of 12

Nice write up. I read a review of the Bricasti on one of the speaker forums and the reviewer echoed most of your views.

post #7 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by dercius View Post

Nice write up. I read a review of the Bricasti on one of the speaker forums and the reviewer echoed most of your views.

 

 

link?

post #8 of 12

I totally agree with your review. It was time for me to upgrade from my Wadia 27 and get into computer audio and Hi-Resolution. I almost went with the Berkeley piece but after reading the Stereophile reviews and finding out bout Bricasti pedegree of Madrigal's brands I decided to with it without even listening to it.

 

My risk paid off big time. The M1 is physically bautiful. The fit and finish is exceptional and the sound just amazing. In the early hours of burn-in I notice (to my ears) a slight peak of energy at the top of the middle range that was making some of the old recording a littl ebit fatiguing BUT around the 400 hours the M! jus totally smoothed out and becuase a very musical piece. To be honest I have never heard my system sounding this good. Very detailed but without being analytical, the soundstage very layered and holographic, the bass very fast, tight and impactful, the midrange very natural sounding and the high frequencies just crisp and clean.

 

Last Saturday I was listening to Joanne Shaw Taylor (great blues guitar player and signer) and I just could not believe what Iwas hearing even my wife who does not care about this hobby made a comment about how good the sound was. Joanne sulrty voice was to die for. It was like she was rgith there in front of me signing and playing her guitar. I coul deven hear her fingers going up and down the strings making the whole experince very real.

 

I have two system in the house and in the other one I have a PWD MkII with The Upgrade Company upgrades. Well, I like the M1 so much that I will be selling the PWD sicne I just ordered a second M1, it is that good!

post #9 of 12

I want to do a follow up on my experience with Brian Zolner and his Bricasti M1.

As mentioned before dealing with Brian is a total pleasure he is very helpful and very responsive with his communications and delivery.

 

Like so much the performance and sound of the M1 that I also sold my PS Audio PerfectWave MkII and ordered a second M1 unit. About a week and half after I ordered the I received a call from Brian letting me know that my units was ready but was wanting to ask me if I would be willing to wait 2 or 3 more days to install an upgrade he has made and was wanting me to try. He said he was very surprised by the effect of the upgrade in the sound.

 

At that point he did not want to discuss the upgrade so it would be a surprise. Being the way I am I immediately said yes but I told him that is I like the sound he will have to upgrade my first unit. He laughed and said not to worry because the upgrade can be done by the user I the field.

 

I received my second unit Friday of that week. As soon as I got home I removed the top to replace the stock fuses this time with a set of Gold AMR fuses (the first unit has HiFiTuning Supreme) and saw the change. The M1 has 3 internal power supply units one for each analog channel and one for the digital section. In my first unit the analog power supplies have toroidal transformers and are linear while the digital section has a different power supply non-linear with a stack transformer. The second unit has a different digital power supply now very similar to the analog ones with a toroidal transformer.

 

I immediately called Brian to let him know I saw the change. He confirmed that the change was replacing the old digital power supply unit with now a linear version. He told me that him, another customer in NYC and me were the only ones with a unit with the upgrade and wants our opinion of the change in sound before implementing the change in production and offering the upgrade to current customers.

 

As soon as I finished replacing the now 3 internal fuses (there is another one outside near the IEC inlet) I connected the unit in my living room system. Right out of the bat with no burn-in period this second unit sounded better than the already well burnt in and great sounding first unit. What was the change in the sound? Well, the noise floor got even lower so the sound is coming out from a totally black background, there is more air and separation between instruments and voices, the bass got deeper, faster and tighter, the midrange sounds cleaner and totally natural and the high frequencies are detailed and perfectly defined. I was surprised and very happy with the change.

 

I emailed Brain with my findings and found out they matched exactly his. I also connected with his other customer and the results were also the same. I told Brian that the change was so significant that he should think about releasing it as a “M1 MkII” or “M1.2” or something similar.

 

About a week later I received the new power supply for my first unit. The upgrade was a breeze. You just have to remove 4 connections and 6 screws to remove the old power supply. The new one drops in exactly in the same position in the unit. It is attached by the same 6 screws and you make the same 4 connections. Voila! It is upgraded and sounding even better.

 

If you read April’s Stereophile you will see that the Bricasti M1 is in the A+ category among digital converters. That classification is with the old digital section power supply. With the new one is even better. Unfortunately Stereophile does not have a higher rating than A+ but in my book the unit is now A++.

post #10 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by musicman59 View Post

I totally agree with your review. It was time for me to upgrade from my Wadia 27 and get into computer audio and Hi-Resolution. I almost went with the Berkeley piece but after reading the Stereophile reviews and finding out bout Bricasti pedegree of Madrigal's brands I decided to with it without even listening to it.

 

My risk paid off big time. The M1 is physically bautiful. The fit and finish is exceptional and the sound just amazing. In the early hours of burn-in I notice (to my ears) a slight peak of energy at the top of the middle range that was making some of the old recording a littl ebit fatiguing BUT around the 400 hours the M! jus totally smoothed out and becuase a very musical piece. To be honest I have never heard my system sounding this good. Very detailed but without being analytical, the soundstage very layered and holographic, the bass very fast, tight and impactful, the midrange very natural sounding and the high frequencies just crisp and clean.

 

Last Saturday I was listening to Joanne Shaw Taylor (great blues guitar player and signer) and I just could not believe what Iwas hearing even my wife who does not care about this hobby made a comment about how good the sound was. Joanne sulrty voice was to die for. It was like she was rgith there in front of me signing and playing her guitar. I coul deven hear her fingers going up and down the strings making the whole experince very real.

 

I have two system in the house and in the other one I have a PWD MkII with The Upgrade Company upgrades. Well, I like the M1 so much that I will be selling the PWD sicne I just ordered a second M1, it is that good!

 

I am happy to hear you are still enjoying the M1. I will wait for the new power supply version before I give it another listen. Just thinking out loud, for the price of two M1s, you could have gotten the MPS-5 or Klimax DS/1, both of which IMO sound better than the M1. Klimax DS will allow you to leave the computer in another room using your wired/wireless network. CD audio up-sampled to 24bit in Jriver and served over DLNA and played over Klimax DS/1 will rival just about anything, analog or otherwise.
post #11 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by chesebert View Post

 

I am happy to hear you are still enjoying the M1. I will wait for the new power supply version before I give it another listen. Just thinking out loud, for the price of two M1s, you could have gotten the MPS-5 or Klimax DS/1, both of which IMO sound better than the M1. Klimax DS will allow you to leave the computer in another room using your wired/wireless network. CD audio up-sampled to 24bit in Jriver and served over DLNA and played over Klimax DS/1 will rival just about anything, analog or otherwise.

I have two independent systems so I need two DACs. I also don't like the reliability of the wireless networks so I prefer much more to be hard wired also i don't like windows based computers and JRiver for Mac is in its infant state right now.

So, for my aplication the way I have it set up is they way that works the best for me. I know you said you did not like the M1 and I respect that but to me is the best DAC I have heard and I am very happy with it... apparently the people from Stereophile also agrees with me biggrin.gif.

post #12 of 12
Thread Starter 

> musicman59,

 

I agree 100%. The new digital PS is a fantastic upgrade. I wish I received this much value for every $150 I spent!

 

Sorta reminded me of tuning in an audio SSB radio signal with a vernier control. When you've got it centered, the signal just snaps into focus.

 

I immediately hear better timing, transients, clarity and depth, and surprisingly, even more complete timbre and decay. Smooth music, and stunning realism.

 

A BIG S/O to BRIAN ZOLNER. Thank you very very much!

 

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