I am going to go out on a bit of a limb here, but the Bricasti Design M3 DAC is very probably The Shape Of Audio To Come. This clever design is incredibly flexible; starting as ‘just’ a high-performance DAC, the M3 can be configured with built-in streamer and/or headphone amplifier. Rather than either produce a slew of ‘similar-but-different’ products or force users down digital audio and personal audio pathways they might not want to take, the Bricasti Design M3 DAC lets you – the end-user – take control of what features you need and what ones you don’t. In an industry that prides itself on its ‘bespoke’ approach, it’s odd that such options are so rare that they take up the introduction of a review. Maybe the Bricasti M3 learned the ‘options’ game from its BMW namesake.
The core of the Bricasti M3 is actually two cores; a Delta-Sigma DAC for PCM processing and Bricasti’s own one-bit modulator for DSD. The digital and analogue sides of the M3 (no matter what configuration) are fed by two completely independent linear power supplies. The M3 is fed by a solid array of digital audio connectors and outputs to equally solid balanced and single-ended analogue connections. If you go down the headphone amp route, there is a 1/4” singled-ended jack and a single four-pin balanced XLR socket.
Once again irrespective of DAC options you go for, there is a sophisticated level control flanked by six hard buttons on the right and a ‘read it from space’ red LED array on the left. Operation is a little ‘modal’ as a result (press input button, turn knob until correct input selected, push knob and return to base state), but navigating these modes is a lot less complex than, say, the paged menu tree on a digital camera, for example. It’s also aided by that surprisingly informative (for the relatively limited amount of text it holds) display, and any potential confusion can be either made clearer or opaquer in the thorough manual (clarity/opacity largely dependent on the user’s ability to comprehend the comprehensive).
Everything about the Bricasti M3 exudes a no-nonsense studio approach. If it were any more solidly built, it would be named after an American general and have a gun turret on its top plate. If the anodised front panel was any thicker and blacker, matter would be collapsing into it. It looks, feels, and behaves with all the assured unburstable reliability of professional equipment that leads a long and arduous life in the studio. So, the relatively pampered years a Bricasti M3 will spend on a domestic equipment stand, are little more than a breeze to this bomb-proof DAC.
We went with the full-fat M3 with all the trimmings. Well, most of the trimmings; we went with the headphone and streaming options but didn’t include the optional remote control. I think this will be the likely divide; personal audio users will use the M3 at arm’s length and never find need for a remote, while those who use it as a DAC or streamer in a system on the other side of a room will welcome that functionality... but might not include the headphone amp.
The streamer board is functional if deliberately basic. It’s a wired-only DLNA network player, being fed music by server software on another device (typically a computer running JRiver or Audirvana). It’s not a media renderer, and isn’t Roon Ready, but if you use Roon, the M3 will be detected as an End Point. While this means there is no Bricasti-designed (or third party) software to control the M3 on a network, it also means there’s no need for such software and the M3 is about as robust a network attached device as it is possible to get in audio.
The headphone amplifier is similarly ‘belt and braces’ in approach. It’s a cost option because – like the streamer – it’s an independent circuit in its own right, with a fully differential amplifier stage, commoned for the 1/4” jack socket. This version (with or without streamer) is notionally called the ‘M3H’ by Bricasti and ‘the M3 with the headphone amp’ by everyone else. It’s a £679 upgrade on the base price of the M3.