Burson Conductor SL / Audeze LCD-3
Impressions by TrollDragon
When Burson Audio of Melbourne Australia posted on their Facebook page for Head-Fi'ers to apply for the Conductor SL & Audeze LCD-3 loaner program, I gladly jumped at the chance to try these two top tier products. Well I was selected for this round and have spent a glorious 3 weeks with the Conductor SL and LCD-3's reliving all my music through this amazingly well paired combo.
The boards were extremely easy to change after the cover was removed. Locate and remove the 4 screws holding the DAC board in place, lift straight up and away. Line up the pins on the new DAC board with the sockets on the main board and push down till it seats. Check that the pins are inserted properly, reinstall the 4 screws and close up the unit.
I enjoyed the sound of the ESS DAC quite a bit better than the TI. The ESS was very clean, crisp and detail oriented to my ears which gave it an nice overall neutrality. The TI DAC on the other hand has a much warmer sound and I only listened to it for a day in the unit. The sound was close to that of my FiiO E17 with none of the ESS's neutrality and since I was already familiar with that similar sound, I wanted more time with the ESS.
The design of the Conductor SL is quite unique, all the parts are modular. If you wanted to change out the Alps volume potentiometer with a stepped attenuator it should probably be easy to do since everything plugs onto the main board. You will notice from the pictures that it's all discrete FET's (Field Effect Transistors) which Burson says gives the amplifier a transparency that cannot be achieved with opamps.
Dual power output controlled by the front panel gives 0.18W per channel in Low and 2W per channel in High, which in turn will allow you to drive anything from 5Ω IEM's to 600Ω beyerdynamic's. Power to spare while driving the 45Ω LCD-3 and my 250Ω beyerdynamic DT880 with the volume control at 10 & 12 o'clock respectively.
Three types of input, USB, Toslink and RCA allows you to connect the Conductor SL to just about anything. The only thing I would like to have seen included with this unit is a line stage, but I understand that is available on the higher model. A Line Out option into the Little Dot MK IV would have been a good test of the two DAC boards through some nice Soviet 6Ж5П driver tubes.
Over all the Conductor SL with the ESS9018 DAC is a very clean crisp detailed amplifier providing more than adequate power for the two headphones I have tried with the unit. At a friends house we also tested a pair of Denon HP700's but quickly put them away and didn't speak again of that...
The Audeze LCD-3's arrived in their rugged IP67 rated SKB travel case with a custom molded foam insert that keeps the headphones nicely protected. I have one problem with most all cases that the manufacturers provide for headphone storage. Why do they build them in such a way that you have to fully retract the yokes in order to put them back in the case? I do not want to adjust my headphones every time I take them out or put them back in the case. Craft the foam insert so the cup area is the same as the current insert, but allow a wide cut out for the headband to fit regardless of yoke position. Upon lifting these from the case I was immediately blown away by the weight of them, after you've handled the LCD-3's for a while the DT880's feel like a set of Porta Pro's. The LCD-3's are not something you would want to swing your head around while wearing as they would fly off your head and seriously hurt someone near you. :)
Luxurious leather pads and headband give the LCD-3's a very comfortable fit considering the weight of them.
I found the DT880's to be one of the most comfortable headphones I have tried but these are just that much more so. Some listeners have felt the weight of them was hard on the neck but I didn't find this to be an issue at all and I have some long sessions with these.
I am not going to attempt to try to describe the LCD-3's sound in detail, since there are many reviews on Head-Fi from those who are quit a bit more fluent in sound speak than I could attempt. I have only compared these to the DT880's and to my ears there is a night and day difference between the two headphones. The DT880 is a great neutral headphone who's sound I enjoy across a wide spectrum of genre's. Listening to the same music through the LCD-3's was amazing in my opinion, every quality the DT880's have, the LCD-3's has in spades above them. I find the DT880's a little lacking in the bass department, the bass is there but for any type of electronic music I'd rather listen to my Ultrasone's. Then you listen to the same electronic music through the LCD-3's and bass is there very strong and deep. Acoustic, Metal, Progressive Rock, World Music and so on, there wasn't a genre that I could throw at the LCD-3's that wasn't reproduced in a very enjoyable way. The LCD-3's are quite a bit more open than the DT880's, and I don't have a "Perfect" listening environment so when you crank up the power, there is no peace and quiet for anyone around you or even in the next room. The recommended from Audeze is 1-4W of power to properly drive them and they will take a momentary burst of 15W if only for a few milliseconds, which is incredible considering the DT880's maximum power rating is a very tiny 100mW.
The LCD-3's were auditioned with the Little Dot MK IV. A pair of Soviet 6Ж5П's or the Hytron 6CS6 tube's pictured below, brought a very warm and liquid smooth sound that solid state amplifiers do not provide.
Here are a few pictures of the Burson Conductor SL9018 and Audeze LCD-3, all copper stands pictured are my own DIY creations.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Burson Audio of Melbourne Australia for the opportunity of experiencing the Burson Conductor SL and Audeze LCD-3. It was a glorious 3 weeks that went by way too fast, now I want to hear the T1's, HD800's, LCD-2's, LCD-XC's and as many as I can.
Edited by TrollDragon - 12/5/13 at 1:25pm