Beresford’s budget DAC proves to be a conduit to sonic thrills and spills.
HERE’S A RATHER uncomfortable fact: I’m not rolling in cash or expendable income. A quick peek into my garage will reveal an uncontroversial 2005 Nissan Wingroad, while the back part of my property resembles scenery found on shows like Life Of Grime. And there’s always another bill, unexpected costs (been to the dentist lately?) and the seemingly always spiralling upwards cost of living.
Yes, it’s tough being a fan of technology when all that fabulous gear just seems to be a bridge too far in terms of cost. Thankfully, there are budget alternatives that go a long way in sonic prowess when compared to the high end. For every Wavelength or Wadia DAC, there are myriad budget offerings such as the HRT streamers or the delightful iFi Micro iDAC (reviewed here).
Both products definitely offer a level of audio performance that seems well above their price points, and the companies that manufacture those sorts of products will prosper as the budget crunch continues its grip on the wallets (and purses) of audiophiles around the globe.
So then, the subject of this review: the Beresford Bushmaster Digital to Analogue converter. Supplied by Aussie company i-enjoy.com.au the Beresford is based in the UK but all manufacturing is done in Taiwan. Stanley Beresford runs the company bearing his name, and he is quite an active participant on various forums around the world, attracting a fair amount of controversy in the process.
That notwithstanding he is an acclaimed digital designer, having brought budget offerings such as the Beresford Caiman (and ‘Gatorized’ Caiman), much to the delight of hard-up audiophiles around the world.
A rather unassuming black box, the sturdily built Bushmaster is well featured with two optical (toslink) and 2 coaxial (SPDIF) inputs. There is no USB input, which is a bit of a shame. However, there are workarounds such as Musical Fidelity’s V-Link, the Audiophilleo2 or Halide Design’s SPDIF Bridge. That’s if you’re looking to add USB compatibility of course, and are prepared to add significant cost to the Bushmaster’s purchase price.
A decent headphone amp is built-in (hence the large volume pot), and a chunky switch-mode power supply manages the volts in a quiet and unassuming fashion. The Bushmaster can also be powered by a 12v battery source for complete ‘off the grid’ low noise performance, and Beresford has designed the Bushmaster with a power monitor LED – it’ll blink when the voltage drops below 11.2 volts, allowing plenty of time to either grab another battery or switch back to the wall wart.
I decided to use the Bushmaster in my second system, once again employing the delights of my Antique Sound Labs TX-1 DT pre/WAVE 8 tube mono power amplifiers, Omega Super 3 XRS hemp cone single driver loudspeakers, and my trusty Logitech Squeezebox Duet (using its toslink output). Along for the ride was a nifty little Pure i20 iPod dock, the iPod loaded with decent quality high res and Redbook Apple Lossless files.
Cables were Nordost Superflatline mk2 speaker, Blue Heaven interconnects and an oldish Audioquest optical cable. The spdif cable used for the i20 was Nordost’s Heimdall, complete overkill in terms of the system cost but it did look very pretty hanging out of the little Pure iPod dock, and it certainly did the business sonically. Hey, you use what ya got on hand.
It sounded very good for a sub-$400 DAC, vocals were explicit and well centred, while there seemed to be no shortage of detail on offer. Compared with the internal DACs on both dock and Duet it offered a noticeable improvement in sound quality.
‘Keith Don’t Go’, Nils Lofgren’s searing acoustic tribute to Rolling Stone Keith Richards, held all the emotion and clarity when streamed via the Squeezebox Duet. Most pleasing was the realism of Nils’ plucked and strummed guitar, which sounded extremely realistic through the Bushmaster. I could picture the performer on a stage in a small venue, giving a very intimate sonic result – the soundstage appeared well clear of the confines of the loudspeakers, while Nils’ voice appeared exactly between each speaker with superb timbre and body.
Stanley Clarke’s ‘Passenger 57 Main Title’ – from the movie of the same name – is still one of my favourite reference tracks for sheer all-out attack and dynamic swing, and the Bushmaster didn’t disappoint either, giving a breathless rendition of this exciting tune with crashing percussion, impactful synthesiser breaks and shuddering deep bass. It’s amazing this result was possible at all, considering I was listening to a pair of 3-inch full-range drivers powered by a pair of puny 8wpc tube amps.
Last track on my audio chopping block was Buddy Guy’s version of ‘Crawlin’ Kingsnake’ from his Blues Singer album. As with the Nils Lofgren track, leading edges on Buddy’s guitar sounded explicit and steely, while Buddy’s big badass voice boomed at me through the diminutive Omega speakers (that’s ‘boom’, but in a good way). There really was a sense of being at a live gig: sounds were once again emanating from well outside the speaker boundaries, and at one stage Buddy gets a bit close to the microphone while hitting a high note – resulting in a slight distortion (it’s on the recording). Just like being there.
A component costing this little shouldn’t sound so good. It’s heartening to think prospective audio junkies can tool themselves up with quality kit like this for next to nix.
Yes, I’d have liked a USB input, but there are ways and means of getting a computer connected to the Bushmaster (at extra cost, mind you).
I liked this DAC immensely, and was sad to have to pack it up and send it back. The Beresford Bushmaster carries a warm recommendation from this reviewer. GARY PEARCE