The B.audio B.DPR EX DAC/Preamplifier /Streamer Part 1
By Roy Gregory
France has a long history of digital innovation and class leading products, from the likes of Micromega to EERA , Metronome Technologie to Neodio– and that’s before you even get to the likes of Devialet! Just a brief look at that cast list should tell you that there’s nothing ‘in the box’ about French digital audio engineering. They have a knack of fastening on what’s important and building it into capable and often affordable products whose performance eclipses the competition. B.audio is just such a company. Less than 10-years young, it combines the talents of brothers Cédric and Sébastien Bermann to produce a small, distinctive, outwardly minimalist, internally sophisticated yet strangely familiar range of audio electronics.
B.audio produce two, parallel but almost identical ranges, the Référence line and the more affordable Série One line and, as with all digital companies, the heart of each line is the DAC – the B.DAC or the B.DAC ONE (nobody said the naming protocol was as clear or clever as the products). Either DAC can be initially configured with or without an analogue pre-amplifier that includes both balanced and single-ended inputs and/or a streamer/server module. Add the pre-amp module and your unit gets a DPR suffix: add the streamer/server module and it gets an EX suffix. Add them both and you end up with alphabet soup… In addition, the Référence line offers a choice of stereo or mono-bloc amplifiers, Série One the option of a stereo amp or all-singing, all-dancing integrated – although the latter gets it’s own Alpha One designation.
More than meets the eye…
Even a basic chassis count turns up six different components plus options, which is impressive for a small company that’s so young and still growing. At first glance it is easy to assume that the various units share common chassis components to ease production, but look a little closer and you realise that appearances can be deceptive. Yes, each different product employs a variation on the same single elegant theme. They all use the same soft-touch grey casework and pale aluminium front-panel. But beyond that things start to diverge pretty quickly. They all have the same full-height display at the left-hand end of the fascia and a flush-mounted circular button for power in the lower right corner. They all use one or two large rotary volume controls sunk into their front-panels. They all use the same IR remote control handset. But that’s far from the whole story.
That consistency starts to unravel when you get to the power amps. No display, not even a dummy screen, so a blank front panel: Venting in the top plate, so a different sleeve: The power button in the TOP right corner of the fascia. If you were really going modular you’d vent every top plate (or solve the heating problem some other way), you’d use a dummy display on the amps and you’d sure as shootin’ keep the power switch in the same place. All of which suggests a degree of cost control – but not at the expense of design limitations or aesthetic considerations. Eliminating venting from the DAC chassis aids shielding from external interference. You don’t shift the power button on the amps unless there’s some internal or design logic at work. And why no dummy display? It’s almost like there’s an engineer’s reluctance to include spurious elements for purely cosmetic reasons, residual purist tendencies emerging . There comes a point where creating a genuinely universal/modular chassis either compromises some aspect of performance or adds significantly to the cost. B.audio are treading a fine line here, minimising cost while maximising visual coherence. It’s both an object lesson in cost efficient engineering and an effective exercise in establishing an instantly recognisable brand identity. It’s hard to mistake a stack of B.audio boxes for anything else.