Bricasti Design M1 Series II DAC Reviewed

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The $12,000 Bricasti Design M1 has been beating oligarch-level DACs exceeding $50,000 in performance since 2010. It has won numerous awards over its tenure and made it into the engineering studios of world-famous music halls and countess audiophile systems at the same time. Owners of an original Bricasti M1 have thankfully been able to upgrade their initial investment to keep it current without breaking the bank. Yet these are just a few of the reasons the Bricasti Design M1 (and now M1 series II) has been my reference DAC for over 15 years. There is much more to understand about what makes this a simply fantastic DAC, so let’s dig deeper.

The Bricasti M1 Series II DAC has a long history of meaningful yet affordable upgrades
The Bricasti M1 Series II DAC has a long history of meaningful yet affordable upgrades

What Makes the Bricasti Design M1 Series II DAC So Special?

  • Its sonic performance is hard to beat at any price. I have heard the original Bricasti M1 against DACs costing $100,000, including those from dCS and other extremely high-performance DACs from companies like MSB Technology. The dCS and MSB DACs are basically flawless. I will be the first to concede that they offer more performance than the Bricasti Design M1 series II; however, not nearly enough to for me to even remotely justify the gross difference in price. Even crazier is the fact that it takes a six-figure-priced audiophile system around these DACs to begin resolving the extremely subtle differences in sound. 
  • The M1 Series II DAC offers significant technological upgrades over the past version. It includes technological leaps such as the company’s proprietary MDx digital platform, larger independent linear power supplies, and  house-developed clocking and filtering algorithms that measurably perform as good as any demanding audiophile ever will need. 
  • All of the reported specifications of the M1 Series II are world-class. Jitter is an unbelievably low six pico-seconds, or 0.000000000006 seconds. This is important since it means that errors from jitter are a practical impossibility. Other specifications like the 0.0004 percent total harmonic distortion plus noise, and a dynamic range greater than 120dB, add up to the Bricasti Design M1 Series II’s jaw-dropping performance. 
  • The solid billet-milled chassis is crafted with fine old-world tradition in Shirly, MA, and all internal components are assembled in the USA. 
  • The optional $1,000 network player allows for seamless music library integration and high signal preservation. 
  • The M1 Series II is proven a future-proof DAC. Bricasti Design has a track record of offering affordable upgradability for their equipment. Upgrading to the series II is the fourth upgrade I have had done to my original Bricasti Design M1 in 15 years of ownership. Few other audiophile DACs can make such a claim. 
The Bricasti M1 Series II DAC installed in Michael Zisserson's audiophile rack
The Bricasti M1 Series II DAC installed in Michael Zisserson’s audiophile rack

Why Should You Care About the Bricasti Design M1 Series II DAC?

Beyond other features like the selectable filtering, selectable clock triggering, phase adjustment, and 5.2-volt output that shows the Bricasti Design M1 Series II finds its roots in the engineering/mastering world, the DAC is a proven performer from a company that actually backs-up what they say, which is a pure breath of fresh air these days. Bricasti has offered affordable upgrade after upgrade for the M1 series DAC, baking in long term and hard-to-dispute value for their customer base. For me, the M1’s upgrade path means the M1 Series II DAC has had a relatively low cost of ownership over an extended period of time. I have watched a fellow audiophile friend of mine spend more money than my total investment into my M1 Series II DAC trying to find the next great giant killer digital-to-analog converter over the years. Sadly, he never seems to find the holy grail despite his meaningful efforts and significant investment over time. 

Let me be clear, as there are many great performing DACs ranging from a few hundred bucks to a few thousand. There are also reference products like the Bricasti M1 that are much more expensive. In order for them to justify their cost/value they need to deliver, and the M1 does that in spades. 

Here's a look at the rear panel of the Bricasti M1 Series II DAC
Here’s a look at the rear panel of the Bricasti M1 Series II DAC

Some Things You Might Not Like About the Bricasti Design M1 Series II DAC 

  • The M1 Series II will not decode greater than DSD256 (quad DSD), nor will it decode MQA. This is not actually all that important, though some might be bothered by this fact. Quadruple DSD (DSD256 – native or DoP) and 24-bit decoding with a 384 kHz sample rate will decode well over 99 percent of media that is out there, and that is good enough for me. 
  • The Bricasti network player, or the new I2S board for the company’s CD/SACD player, are optional. The M1 Series II is an expensive component and those who suggest that it would be cool if such features were included in the chassis have a point. 
  • The Bricasti network player or the I2S card are an either/or option. Both cannot be used at the same time, and are not user-interchangeable. 
  • The M1 Series II lacks some functionality of new-era DACs, such as HDMI inputs. 

Listening To the Bricasti Design M1 Series II DAC…

In 2011, Anette Askvik Released the album Liberty. The Norwegian singer’s mix of eclectic instruments and synthetized overlays, a voice to die for, and a tremendous quality recording makes the title track “Liberty” reference-worthy. When compared to what I was used to hearing with my original M1, the Series II showed ultimate refinement in the most subtle details. Askvik’s voice sounded palpable and the saxophone contained all of the elements as if it were literally in the room with me. The impact of the drums was far more than transient noise. It contained all the body of the drum barrel and decayed ringing of the drum head with realistic presence. Another important aspect of the instrumentation was the interaction between the breathy, rosined bow of the cello and the vocal harmonies. Everything was perfectly etched in space, and even though the tones and harmonies of the voice and cello are similar in nature, they never interfered with each other. Finally, the ambient effects did not just extend beyond the PSB T-800 loudspeakers (review pending) I was using; rather they appeared to extend out of the room itself which was a tremendous experience. 

Janelle Monae released the song “Make Me Feel” off her 2018 album Dirty Computer Some of our Gen X and Millennial readers may recognize this song as the opening theme to the Netflix hit, Human Resources. This fun track, anchored in the Soul genre but with a modern interpretation, is a very good recording, filled with all sorts of spatial information as well as dynamic staccato vocals. The M1 Series II allowed this track to jump into the room with an immediacy to every start/stop, of everything in the song I have simply not heard on my system before. The deep bass undertones were dynamic and controlled, with zero interruption from the drums, and Monae’s voice was locked in centerstage. The M1 Series II was also able to present this track with a level of information that made it feel alive thanks to a soundstage that, again, extended beyond the boundaries of my room. Despite the high level of information and dynamics, the Bricasti Design M1 series II preserved Monae’s sultry but aggressive vocal emphasis that leaves the listener hanging on her every word. “Make Me Feel” was another listening experience that made me realize that the best component to replace a Bricasti Design M1 DAC is a Bricasti Design M1 Series II DAC.

Does the Bricasti Design M1 Series II Have Any Resale Value?

The M1 Series II DAC will certainly retain its value well in the used market. It’s proven to provide top-tier performance and is physically built to last. Be forewarned that used examples are often snatched up quick when they appear online. It is important to note it’s not of the realm of possibility to pick up a used M1 and have it factory upgraded to an M1 Series II. And to make my earlier point again, that upgrade path adds a lot of value to any DAC, but specifically to the Bricasti M1 Series II. 

Who Is the Competition for the Bricasti M1 Series II DAC?

  • The MSB Discrete DAC is a close competitor in terms of price at $12,500.  The Discrete DAC will do some serious decoding, including DSD512 and PCM 32 bits deep with 768kHz sampling. MSB is also very customer-focused and offers upgrade options for the Discrete DAC. The Bricasti Design M1 Series II cannot reach these levels of decoding, however there is no media in these formats and the M1 series II represents a single-chassis unit focused on detailed execution where it is most important for the sound.  
  • The T+A elektroakustik SD 3100 Streaming DAC is a heavyweight contender DACcosting $38,900. Aside from its all discrete design, streaming capability, and ability to reproduce DSD1024 (yes, you read that right), my colleague Paul Wilson struggled to find the SD 3100 significantly better in sonic performance than the Bricasti Design M21 Platinum Series DAC and decided to invest in the Bricasti when he has all other reference level T+A electronics. It is important to note, however, he did feel the T+A SD 3100 edged out the M21 in overall performance. The Bricasti Design M1 Series II shares much of the same hardware and is the platform the M21 is based upon without nearly as much investment needed. The question becomes: is a killer streamer and a small incremental increase in performance with higher decoding capability worth $26,900 more than the $12,000 Bricasti Design M1 Series II DAC? Only the end user can determine that, but in terms of performance, it will take a component like the SD3100 to truly edge out the Bricasti Design M1 Series II. 
High end audiophile DACs aren't as scary of an investment when they have a trusted upgrade path as Bricasti has done
High end audiophile DACs aren’t as scary of an investment when they have a trusted upgrade path as Bricasti has done

Final Thoughts on the Bricasti Design M1 Series II DAC…

The M1 Series II DAC is a continuation of the legendary, high-performance M1 DAC that has been considered one of the best audiophile-grade digital-to-analog converters money can buy for nearly 20 years now. Bricasti Designs’ thoughtful power supply upgrades and extensive digital upgrades in their MDx board have fortified the M1 series II with a dose of the modern technology that makes today’s high-end components outshine those of yesteryear. You may not get bleeding edge future-ware decoding, and some of the options need to be factory installed; however it is a very small kerfuffle when looking at the extreme performance of the Bricasti Design M1 Series II. 

I think we need to return to the original argument, though, here at the end: can the Bricasti M1 Series II be considered one of the greatest of all time digital audiophile components? With its 20-year legacy, extremely impressive measurable performance paired with sonic excellence and then stellar manufacturer’s support and $12,000 price tag that represents a value in terms of the best DACs out there, I would say the answer is a resounding yes. 

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Jerry Del Colliano

I can’t quite swing this more expensive DAC but I am working to get their one below this in to my hands for a 2024 review.

Michael owns this one. Paul Wilson bought the super-fancy one (multiple chips, filters etc…).

Jerry Del Colliano

I am fearful that one of our writer’s accounts might have been hacked thus an odd post that I just pulled.

Michael Zisserson

Not sure what’s going on over in the loony bin. Pretty crazy, and very misleading to our readers.

Paul Wilson

I’m not surprised Michael enjoyed this DAC. And since he mentioned me by name in this review let me say without question, I am still 100% satisfied with my purchase of the Bricasti M21 Platinum Edition DAC. Just recently, I had an audiophile friend over for a listening session. He likes his music a little more laid back where I prefer a more robust presentation. Changing from the Ladder DAC chip to the Sigma Delta DAC chip, and switching the filters around, made the presentation more enjoyable to my friend. When he left, I restored my original settings and all was fine. This is a significant feature most DACs do not have. Add to that the performance of this component relative to its cost, which by the way is thousands of dollars less than some competing brands and models, made the purchase of this DAC an easy decision for me. The fact that Michael was very positive about his review sample is no surprise at all. The same can be said about any of Bricasti’s products. Anyone in the market for a DAC, or other type of component, would do themselves a favor to audition any of the Bricasti products in their price range.

Jerry Del Colliano

I want one.

MY credit card says NO but I will win in the long term 🙂

Michael Zisserson

Hi Paul,
Really appreciate the feedback and support. Seems you and I have had very similar experiences.

Craig Simon

Recently had my Bricasti M1se ungraded to the M1 Series ll. It is everything you said it was and I think it is a significant improvement over the original M1.

Jerry Del Colliano

I assume “ungraded” means “upgraded” based from the rest of your context.

Craig Simon

Hahahaha. Yes, I need an edit button!

Michael Zisserson

Thank you, Craig. It does seem to be the common experience! Glad to hear 🙂

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