Bryston BR-20 Network/DAC Preamp

hfnoutstandingThis flagship, fully balanced preamplifier comes with Bryston's BDA-3-inspired DAC plus updated BDP streaming platform and full network control. It's busier than it looks!

There's so much functionality under the bonnet of Bryston's BR-20 that you might wonder where to start. I would suggest the manual – this £7500 networked USB DAC/preamplifier isn't, it must be said, the most instantly intuitive of system hubs I've ever auditioned. But the effort is worth it though, because what the BR-20 can do, and how it does it, is quite special.

Announced in October 2020, and taking the initials of Bryston president Brian Russell, who passed away in September of that year, the BR-20 becomes the third two-channel preamp in the manufacturer's current lineup. Yet it's a markedly different beast to the £4600 BP-173 and venerable £6995 BP-26 [HFN May '07], as both of those are, out-of-the-box, all-analogue models, with the option of adding 192kHz/24-bit or 96kHz/24-bit DAC boards, respectively. The lower sampling rate of the BP-26's DAC is indicative of its longevity...

Digital Hub
The BR-20 retains the modular approach of its predecessors, but integrates a 384kHz/24-bit DAC as standard, effectively offering all the functionality of the standalone £3600 BDA-3 model. And unlike its siblings, this new unit also features Bryston's networked streaming platform, as seen on the £3900 BDP-3 player. This is controlled by a web-accessed user-interface that works best on a laptop or tablet, but supports smartphone access too. The end result is a single box with a do-it-all vibe, particularly when you factor in the BR-20's built-in 'Low Z' headphone amp with its front-mounted 6.35mm output, and rear-mounted 12V trigger and RS232 connections.

No one would buy a BR-20 and not make use of its DAC talents, and there's plenty of flexibility here, with inputs comprising double sets of AES/EBU, coax and Toslink optical, and a single USB-B. For analogue sources, there are balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA inputs.


Four line ins (two on RCAs, two balanced on XLRs) are joined by two pairs of balanced preamp outs. Digital ins include wired Ethernet, USB-B, USB-A (up to four external drives), two optical, two coaxial , two AES and I2S/ARC on four HDMI sockets. Control is offered via Ethernet, USB-B, RS232 and 12V triggers

Outputs are balanced only, on two sets of XLRs, so you'll need an adapter if you want to pair the BR-20 with an RCA-equipped power amp. Not got a balanced amplifier? Unsurprisingly, Bryston's Cubed range has powerful mono and stereo options [HFN Jun '16].

More digital functionality can be added with one of the aforementioned optional extras. Bryston's £1200 HDMI board combines four inputs with one output, and caters to source switching in a wider home entertainment system, in addition to DSD direct from SACD (joining the BR-20's DSD256-capable USB DAC). There's also a £950 MM phono stage option, replacing the first of the BR-20's RCA line inputs. You can also choose between a black or silver face plate for the chassis, in standard (432mm) or oversized (482mm) versions.


Although the DAC and streaming inputs are this model's headline features, Bryston claims the BR-20's analogue preamp stage is 'a result of years of R&D'. Circuit refinements give Bryston the confidence to claim 'staggeringly low' distortion, the fully balanced signal path, 'tightly matched' components and compact circuit footprint promising a low-noise, high-purity performance.

Prosumer Products
For a company that makes some very solid power amplifiers, the relatively lightweight 5.5kg BR-20 comes as something of a surprise. However, the partnering BR-4 remote, is a reminder that Bryston still does 'chunky' very well.

Visually, the BR-20 is far removed from the slick, colour display-toting machines of companies such as Bluesound and Cambridge Audio, or the sleek, minimalist slabs of brands like Primare. Its long row of source select buttons, status LEDs for PCM and DSD sampling rate, illuminated motorised volume control and text-based LCD display are a nod to Bryston's no-nonsense pro-market leanings.

Thankfully, both the LEDs and display can be dimmed entirely – a push on the volume control accesses a service menu tree, where you can also rename and hide inputs. Speaking of volume control, this adjusts in ±0.5dB steps from a gain of +10dB to –30dB, and 1dB intervals down to –50dB. As you get to its lowest positions, the steps become larger – the final jump is from –63dB to –80dB.

sqnote A Deep Dive
At some point, deep into my listening, I had the urge to watch James Cameron's underwater sci-fi movie The Abyss. Why? Because the soundstage crafted by the BR-20 has depth in spades. Its imaging is holographic, and when you couple that with its exquisite detail reproduction, you get a component that (cliché alert) breathes new life into familiar recordings. I found it remarkably revealing, and able to turn music tracks I'd previously considered run-of-the-mill into works of art.

Bryston Ltd
Supplied by: PMC Ltd, Luton
0870 4441044