Time to stop for a quick reality check. The B.DPR EX is keeping some pretty exalted company here. It’s playing in the big leagues with a budget that might struggle in the minors – so any absolute criticism needs to take that caveat and the price/performance equation into account. At the same time, we need to be realistic about the situations and systems in which the B.audio is going to find itself. High-end vinyl replay is a pretty unlikely scenario. Occasional replay of an existing/rump record collection is way more probable – and for that the analogue inputs are perfectly acceptable. Secondly, genuinely capable, ‘drive anything’ line-stages are few and far between. Performance of the B.DPR line module and volume control is going to depend to a larger extent on what you hook it up to than with the likes of expensive, dedicated units such as the CH Precision L1 or VTL TL-7.5. Input characteristics of the matching power amp are going to influence the results and, although I used a couple of different amps, that’s hardly an exhaustive sample. It would be especially interesting to hear the B.DPR driving B.audio’s own amplifiers, while prospective purchasers need to assess the unit’s performance driving their own power amp. It might just surprise you – and me!
With enough inputs and versatility to suit most systems and a single box format (with all the associated savings that implies) the performance of the B.DPR module certainly justifies its price. All of which makes it an elegant, high-value solution. In absolute terms, it might sell the B.DAC short, but no more so than any other option at or around the price. Which in a bizarrely ironic way simply serves to underline just how good the DAC itself is. The DPR module isn’t as good as the TL-5.5, but then it doesn’t cost nearly as much. The DAC, on the other hand is better than either of them!
The USB input
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, just as there’s more than one route to file replay. The EX module allows you to use the B.DPR as a network player and I’ll report on that separately, but before I go there, let’s just examine how well the B.audio’s USB input performs – because it’s well worth the attention. I ran the USB input from both the Roon Nucleus and the Wadax Ref Server, spending more time with the latter – simply because the results were so impressive. Normally, I don’t expect USB replay of any source to approach the quality of optical disc, but in the B.audio proved the exception to that rule. As a source of musical entertainment, the USB proved more than proficient, whether playing locally stored files or streaming from Qobuz. It made me wonder just how good it was, occasioning direct comparison to disc replay via AES/EBU. Playing a 24/96 locally stored FLAC file of the Kleiber/Beethoven 7th, I compared it to the MQA CD of the same recording (Universal UCCG 40069). It’s a performance I know inside out and, sure enough, the optical disc produced all of the familiar poise, artistic tension and dynamic authority that I’m used to. The surprise lay in just how close the file replay got…