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Burson Audio - Soloist SL - Headphone Amplifier

100% Positive Reviews
Rated #56 in Desktop Amps

Posted

Pros: Bassy, wide and Fun sound. Natural Tone. Performance across a range of headphones. Great volume control

Cons: Slightly hesitant in projecting finer details

Two Smooth Solid State amps – Graham Slee UL Diamond and Burson Soloist SL

 

I’ve long been a fan of solid state amps, especially those with a small footprint. Both of these are ones with a smoother presentation, or as both manufacturers say in their product blurbs – ‘tube like.’

Both of these have had over 300hrs of burn in (the Slee's probably closer to 3000!) and both have impressed me but for different reasons making for an interesting comparison.

 

Burson Soloist SL £500

Little brother to the Burson Soloist. Analogue volume control rather than a stepped attenuator and slightly less power.

 

Graham Slee Ultra Linear Diamond Edition £615

Top of the range model from Graham Slee. This is designed to facilitate highly sensitive headphones more so than others in the Slee lineup.

 

 

 

 

Contents

1. Function and Usage

 

2. Sound comparison. (T1, D7k, Ultrasone Sig Pro....)

 

3. Listening Setup

 

 

 

1. Function and Usage

 

1.1 Graham Slee UL Diamond

 

This thing is small. The footprint is awesome actually which is supported well with the physical build quality. It’s not heavy at all yet stays firmly seated on the desk even when tugged by the T1’s heavy cable.

 

The volume control is very well done. It’s firm with the right amount of resistance to turning and friction on the dial. To me this is quite important for saving my hearing when the dial turns up by accident, say after I brush against it with my sleeve or something (recollection from using the Fiio E9 – excellent amp SQ wise I still think)

 

It’s £600 so you expect it to be well made and with good jacks/connectors/dials. I like the lowly lit green LED that’s on when it’s powered. Mind you, on the subject of power you might like the big and weighty PSU especially as it doesn’t require a kettle/figure 8 connection to the amp. Small amp, small unobtrusive simple AC connector (don’t know the size of the tip) but beefy, out of the way, PSU.

 

Switiching between source is well done here as well. Middle selected denotes off and up/down correspond to source1/2. I’ve had two sources at once connected and notice nothing weird going on, so it works well

 

All in all a nice looking small component that fits comfortably in a small rig (like mine)

 

 

 

1.2 Burson soloist SL

Much more weightier and larger than the Slee, but still not something I’d call big. It can sit next to my computer well enough.

 

The finish on this doesn’t look/feel as good as the slee - just running my hand over the plating and it’s not smooth. Anyway, it’s designed to be listened to more than it is to be physically stroked, so it’s not a problem.

 

I like how source switching is done with the press of a button where the LED’s have a lowish glow similar to the slee. The volume dial is very very good. Large with a nice weight, feel and resistance – better than the Slee. Really like this feature especially as it’s not a stepped attenuator which incidentally is what made me choose this over it’s bigger brother. I just can’t stand hearing them clicks through my headphones and as a result avoid all stepped attenuators.

 

 

 

 

2. Sound

 

2.1 Signatures

Each amp has it’s own kind of character (the burson much more so than the slee), which I feel is demonstrated across the headphones used in this test (Primary: Ultrasone sig pro, T1, D7k Secondary: mad dog, Ultrasone DJ, Fostex TH900)

 

The Slee feels like it’s about control and neutrality. The highs are smooth though very true to life it seems. This amp is very revealing of the source and when used with a warmer source the amp shows it in the bass and high range. Soundstage is on the smaller side though instrument placement and separation is always excellent. It’s a close and intimate sound that is presented here which always seems to hold itself together well.

 

The Burson has much more of a sound signature, if I'm allowed to say that! It’s more prominent and forceful than the slee which remains cool and almost understated in comparison. The main difference is that the burson injects a bit of fun into the sound; larger soundstage, more dynamic bass range, thicker, weightier bass/midrange notes and a more smoothed out high range. A example is this – it makes the ultrasone sig pro’s sound more like the D7k’s than anything. Compared to say a classic solid state, like the lehman black cube linear, the SL definitely has smoother highs, the same as when compared to the slee. It also sounds a fair bit ‘less’ detailed. I would't call this amp under-detailed but in terms of projecting micro details and resolution it can leave sometimes leave me sometimes searching. I’ll find them  when I search, but otherwise no. 

 

 

 

 

2.2 Headphone pairings                                                   

The Slee does well with headphones with a more recessed thicker midrange and ones that can do with a slightly more clear presentation. Presentation where greater instrument separation is desired. Stuff like the D7k, TH900 and the T1’s do better here than the burson especially because of their midrange where pushing back their midrange to me doesn’t sound good and these headphones have big enough soundstages anyway and . In this regard especially the D7k/TH900 fits the bill, though I won’t say this slee is the best amp for them that I’ve heard. The inbuilt one on the Beresford bushmaster and a musical fidelity M1HPAP both sound better as they what they do is simply wake up the TH900. It’s better than the burson though which puts it even more so to sleep!

 

The Burson likes headphones that are detailed but in want of a larger soundstage and a more cosier, smoother portrayal. Ultrasone Signature pro’s work really well with these there’s a significant difference in soundstage warmth, weight and grandure compared to the Slee. The edges are more rounded but this ultrasone responds well to it despite not being tizzy/sharp in the highs to begin with. Actually, this amp/headphone match is a downright awesome one. Talk about synergy huh?  

From what I've just said you can extract that the Soloist SL is a warm sounding amp but i'd like to warn against thinking it won’t pair well with warm sounding headphones. Mad dog’s simply sound better from this amp which although may be just as planars pair better, proves a point. It just feels like the thick bass is maintained and we benefit from the grander sound more in all places.

p.s. I use the low gain settings by the way – don’t hear a difference between this and higher gain.

 

 

2.3 Summary

Slee over the Burson

Intimate and controlled, detailed sound.

More neutral than the Burson.

Shimmer on female vocals shines through unsupressed

When thinner than thicker vocals are preferred

More air around instruments

Slightly more Prat. Faster projection

More upfron, un-recessed midrange,

The bass range is better defined. It never sounds as it if lacks detailed – a highly detailed overall amp.

 

Burson over the Slee

Larger soundstage height and width

Dynamic and impressive sound

Warmth though not without slight undue accentuations

Warmer projection like in a cosy large scale concert, shining through on OST music.

 

 

 

3. Setup

 

3.1 Testing equipment

Power: Clearer audio copper line alpha power conditioner

Transport: acer s3 (128gb samsung 840 ssd, 4gb ram, i5, W7, Silenced Fan) & Dell Vostro 1500 (128gb kingston ssd, 4gb ram, core 2 duo, custom XP, usb hub)

USB cables: Belkin, Chord silver plus

DAC's: Arcam r-dac, Musical fidelity vdacII, Beresford Bushmaster TC7530

RCA cables: Chord Chameleon vee3, QED profile, Belkin, Mark Grant g1500hd,

 

3.2 Conditions

Ambient noise levels: Home listening : <<25db (Absolutely dead quiet. I mean it!). 

Humidity and temperature: maintained 21-23c and 50-60% relative humidity

Volume matching: using test tracks of different noise levels calibrate amplifier volume and perceived loudness with headphones. Conducted at every test.

Listening Volume: Extremely important to note. Some headphones prosper/fail at high/low volumes. I listen at low to low-normal listening levels. 

 

3.3 Albums

FLAC CD Quality files.

Variety of genres, with a sample being:

Riverside (prog rock), Within temptation (rock), Amethystium (New age), Secret Garden (Celtic), Lisa Gerrard (World), Armik (Spanish acoustic), Ah Ne Ma (Acoustic/world), ATB (chillout/trance), Tycho (Electro), Game (hip hop), MJ (pop), Yo Yo Ma (Classical), Hans Zimmer (OST), Diana Krall (Jazz) and the best out of them all... Ludovico Einaudi (Neo-Classical)

Posted

Pros: Power, detailed unit, and neutral

Cons: Size, good build, but durability is a bit off. cost

Introduction:
Burson had great success with their Soloist discrete amplifier. So following this generation's niche. Let's make it smaller! And so here we have the Soloist SL. Which has one less gain, and input option than the Soloist. It is a discrete class amp. No integrated circuits, just good ole FETs and a discrete power supply. I wish to thank Burson for sending the Soloist SL to me for review and for their wonderful aftersales support which was wonderful. 
http://pandatechreview.com/1/post/2013/09/burson-soloist-sl-review.html


Build Quality:
The Soloist SL is pretty much a solid chunk of 2mm thick aluminum. Everything is bonded together nicely and it is smooth. The back and front panel don't have any build issues in terms of weird streaks, cracks or what not. The Soloist is very 'echo y' when you tap it with your hand of course. As with anything encased in aluminum near completely. Dropping it is not recommended. The buttons on the front felt solid enough as did most of the parts. The volume knobs feel when turning it is quite smooth without much resistance, but still offering some of that low end 'stopping' so that it won't turn by itself of course. The headphone output jack however on the unit I got for review does have some problems. It moves a bit and does cut out one of the channels sometimes(the fix is to turn your headphone cable a bit or to do a slight wiggle). The case's and boards are of course built to a tolerance of +- such and such mm for the volume knob to stick out so it can't be too tight fitting or else it may not fit and other issues. An internal hexagonal ring to secure the headphone jack would be nice though. This of course may just be an isolated issue as this unit is on tour and has been shipped across the entire country and to different people already.

Usability:
The SL works quite well. It has two inputs availble so that you can connect two DAC's or any analog inputs into the back and switch between them with the touch of a button. It's very simple to use, no need to read the manual even(though I did). The cables that come with it are quite thick, long and blue. They aren't speaker home theater long, but are long enough for a headphone setup. I keep my units close to the wall and the cable did have some problems as it was too thick, meaning I had to move my entire audio set forward so that the cable could have enough space to be plugged in not be hitting the wall. Some may also not like the rear mounted on and off switch. Back when I owned an Audio-gd, my audio setup made this a problem for me as the entire unit was a cm below my monitor. This caused me to have to stand up and reach around to turn on/off the unit. In my new setup, this is not an issue, but I can see how this can be a major one for some. So keep that in mind. You do need to reach to the back to turn it on and off. Having the switch on the front would have looked too tacky is what I think Burson was thinking, because the fronts of them are very minimalist.

Discrete-ness:
I am by no means an expert on electrical engineering and the stuff they teach in it like the differences between everything. Which is why I was sent this unit. But I do have some basic knowledge on IC's vs Discrete's. Discrete units separate out the units or parts such as resistors, transistors and what not into the entire PCB while the integrated circuit(IC) has many of these on the chip itself. These individual proponents means the company that makes the unit more or less has to design EVERYTHING on the unit, and can't just choose to pop in a chip made by TI or AD. This does allow for more fancy, and better units. But of course with such a huge allowance of personally designing the unit comes the risk. The engineers are making the design wholy themselves and are not using chips that have all the functions on it. This means that they must be VERY accurate in making the PCB and how the circuits interact with each other. One wrong move, and the whole prototype pcb is fried. IC units don't have these issues and are much easier to make good units as they have already tested and built IC's from other companies. Discrete designs have to be tested, engineered, tuned and have those steps repeated countless times. This creates a much higher R and D cost for discrete companies(if they don't want to copy other successful discrete diagrams that is). But when done right, can produce great sound. This is basically what Audio-gd and Burson do. The usage of a discrete power supply in the SL also allows them to engineer a low noise PSU and what not. Well there is the beginners lesson of discrete-ness. If I am incorrect in any part, let me know(with sources) please. I am by no means an expert.

Review backstory:
I do not use many high end parts. I have owned the Audio-gd NFB 12.1 and have been sent review samples of many other units. The whole point of this tour was to give people that don't use $600 amplifiers the chance to do a write up on them and what not. So this will just be my own thoughts and do not reflect an actual professional review where the reviewer would have had a plethora of knowledge and experience with units at this price point.

For this review, I used the AKG Q701 and LCD-3 and Objective 2 Amplifier. The constant DAC was the Cirrus Logic CS4398. 

Sound Quality:
Starting from the lows, I noticed that the Burson had a less noticeable low range as opposed to the O2, the extension was about the same. Whereas the O2's had more preference, the Burson layered it out and smoothed out the whole range more. The mids however were where I found it most interesting. The Burson's mids are like a pyramid where the tip was at the lower vocals and the base of the pyramid was at the upper vocals. What I am saying is that the tenacity, and presence of the vocals were more thinned out at the bottom and mids and had a more upper vocal sparkle. I personally preferred the O2's more thick vocal range as to the Burson Soloists but of course, this differs from person to person. The instruments also were more brighter on the Burson. Which I am relating to be from the upper mid focus on these. The highs are much more smoothed out on the Burson's than the O2's. The O2's were noticeably more choppy (not able to keep the pitch in a sense) when related to the Burson's. They weren't fatiguingly bright or anything which is what I prefer. I would finally say that the Burson's are more transparent than the O2. Transparency as in which makes it sound more 'real', where it sounds like you aren't listening to a unit, but to the music itself. And this would have to go to the Burson's which had a better layering than the O2's. Layering as in the separation of mids from the vocals. 

Overall:
The Burson Soloist SL is a good transparent amp for those that wish to buy it. The upper mid sparkle is not a favorite of mine, but is to many others so that's really it. It is a smooth and transparent amp that many will like.
I'd say that the Burson Soloist SL with the LCD-3 make a good combo in terms of how well the LCD-3 already layers. But there are better amps for the LCD-3 out there. 

Burson Audio - Soloist SL - Headphone Amplifier
By:
Description:

The Soloist SL is a concentrated version of the award winning Soloist. Its DNA is identical to the Soloist and it exists for one purpose only. That is to be one of the best headphone amplifiers in the world. Just like the Soloist, the Soloist SL is completely discrete in design. (IC free). It features the same 21 component Field Effect Transistor input stage and the same discrete power supply network which brought popularity to the original. Assembled with the same high end components and operating in pure Class-A, the Soloist SL carries the same sonic signature which has been described as the utmost in organic and transparent. At 14cm * 8cm * 21cm (5.5" x 3.15" x 8.26") it sits elegantly on any desktop. But with 2 Watts per channel into 16ohm, the Soloist SL is one of the most powerful headphone amps in the world. It is capable of driving most if not all headphones to their full potential. Coupled with a 2 level gain switch, it offers infinite flexibility. The Soloist SL is housed in a refined and precision folded 3 mm aluminium casing that is unmistakably Burson. This case also works as a singular heat-sink for the entire machine ensuring stable and optimized performance at all times. This case really puts the conventional 1 mm folded steel case and generic heat fins to shame. The Soloist SL features a new Variable Output Stage (VOS). It enables the Soloist SL to match well with any type of headphone. Be it easy to drive high sensitivity in ear monitors or open back moving-coil designs. It can drive anything including the latest planar magnetic headphones with ease. Combining the VOS with high quality ALPS Potentiometer, volume control is always smooth and synergy is always perfect. An athlete needs clean air to perform at an optimum standard - audio equipment needs clean power to reproduce transparent and natural music.

Details:
DetailValue
BindingElectronics
BrandBURSON
EAN0640522576982
FeatureInput impedance: 36.5 KOhms Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 - 50Khz Signal to noise ratio: >96dB 2 x gold plated RCA (line level input) 1 x headphone jacks 6.35mm
LabelBURSON
ManufacturerBURSON
MPNSOLOISTSL
PublisherBURSON
StudioBURSON
TitleBurson Audio - Soloist SL - Headphone Amplifier
UPC640522576982
Package Height8 inches
Package Length10.8 inches
Package Weight5.15 pounds
Package Width8.4 inches
PackageQuantity1
PartNumberSOLOISTSL
ProductGroupCE
ProductTypeNameHEADPHONES
UPCList - UPCListElement640522576982
Models:
Model Name/TypeMPNEAN/UPC
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