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Burson Conductor SL / Audeze LCD-3 Loaner Program Participant Impressions

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

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 Conductor SL arrived equipped with Burson's Cmedia CM6631A USB module installed. Two DAC boards were supplied as well for comparison,  the TI  PCM1793 and the ESS Sabre32 9018.


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 SL9018 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. :wink_face:




Edit: Fixed slow loading of pictures.

Edited by TrollDragon - 3/10/14 at 8:57pm
post #2 of 8

Burson Conductor SL / Audeze LCD-3

Impressions by ddcpitt


The Conductor SL by Burson Audio is a headphone amplifier/DAC combo that I’ve had my eye on for some time. Burson is a company very well known throughout the Head-Fi community and needs no introduction from me. They are known for creating very high quality, well-built, beautiful looking amplifiers and DACs that set the bar for price to performance ratio. The Conductor SL fits right into their lineup as the little brother to their flagship Conductor headphone amplifier/DAC/preamp. Burson was kind enough to send me a unit with an LCD-3 for analysis. It doesn’t disappoint.


Conductor SL 9018

The first thing I noticed upon listening to the Conductor SL for the first time was its black background. With headphones plugged in and no music playing this unit is dead silent no matter how sensitive the headphones. It delivers a neutral, very clean sound with an expansive, yet natural soundstage. Instrument separation and spaciousness are excellent as well. The highs are clear and crisp, the midrange is well-portrayed, and the bass has great texture, extension, and impact. The LCD-2 and LCD-3 brilliantly showcase the exceptional bass of the Conductor SL.


This unit pairs well with most headphones. I used it extensively with the LCD-2, LCD-3, T1, HD800, HE-500, HE-400, D5000, Mad Dog 3.0, HD600 and I used it for a little bit of time with the AD900, Momentum, DT 770, and DT 990. This amplifier packs plenty of power to drive all of these and has lots of resolving capabilities that shine through on the higher end headphones. Perhaps the highs on the T1, D5000, and HE-400 are a bit too much for me at times, but these headphones are known to be on the brighter side, especially that treble spike on the HE-400. I personally find that these three headphones work better on my personal setup (V200/Bifrost Uber) better because the treble is tamer and more subdued, but they by no means sound bad on the Conductor SL. Keep in mind, this is all personal taste as well and others may have no issues with the treble at all.


9018 vs 1793

            I find these two DACs to sound quite different and I will admit right away that I strongly prefer the 9018 all across the board, but this could be due to my musical tastes. I do listen to a little bit of everything, but primarily I am somewhere within the very broad Rock genre. The 9018 has a bigger soundstage, better PRaT, tighter bass with better impact, and a superior midrange. In fact, the midrange of the 1793 sounds very different in comparison to the 9018 and to my own Bifrost Uber. I much prefer the mids of the 9018 and Bifrost Uber to the 1793. The highs are subdued a bit on the 1793 compared to the 9018, but they aren’t recessed by any means. The 9018 also seems a bit faster than the 1793, which might be why I prefer with Rock. I don’t have a lot of classical or jazz music, but I am inclined to say that the 1793 might match up better with those genres. The 9018 is simply more exciting and lively than the 1793.


Personal Setup Comparison

            As I mentioned earlier, my own personal setup consists of a Violectric V200 headphone amplifier and a Schiit Bifrost DAC with the Uber Analog upgrade. I have been very happy with this combination and I would say the Conductor SL 9018 compares very favorably to it. The Conductor SL is faster, clearer, and possesses a wider, more spacious soundstage with better instrument separation. The V200/Bifrost Uber is more laid-back and warmer with a touch more bass body. The V200/Bifrost Uber has a soundstage on the smaller side and the instruments blend together more. The mids of both are fantastic. The Conductor SL has more treble presence than the V200/Bifrost Uber, but it is by no means overly bright or harsh. I enjoy both quite a bit.


             Overall, I give a slight edge to the faster, more articulate Conductor SL for Rock because it keeps up better. I suppose I give the edge to the V200/Bifrost Uber when it comes to the T1, D5000, and HE-400 because it tames the bright treble on these headphones and it makes them more pleasing overall to my ears. I may just be slightly sensitive to treble, though. I enjoy the pace, spaciousness, and clarity of the Conductor SL and the bass body and slightly tamed treble of the V200/Bifrost Uber. I believe the Conductor SL is closer to neutral, while the V200/Bifrost Uber may be a bit more colored, but they’re both pretty close to neutral.



            Burson’s minimalistic design philosophy and the technicalities behind it translate to a wonderful sound. The Conductor SL 9018 is a very good amp and a very good DAC combined into one unit in a beautiful enclosure with the capability of driving pretty much any headphone out there (save for maybe an HE-6 and all electrostats, obviously). It is affordable and has plenty of power to deliver a great sound that keeps up with even the most expensive headphones. This unit is a fantastic value and I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone in the market. I am very fond of the 9018 DAC module and wholeheartedly recommend it over the 1793, at least when it comes to Rock music and the like. The 1793 is not bad by any means; I just simply prefer the 9018 in every way for the music I listen to.


            Special thanks to Burson Audio for giving me the opportunity to test drive the Conductor SL along with a pair of Audeze LCD-3 headphones.

post #3 of 8

Well done guys, i totally forgot about this program by Burson. 


Currently i'm looking to add the HD800 to my collection, most of the guys enjoy it with the Burson models. :)

post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 
Hey jackwess!

A good friend of mine has the HD800's and pairs it with the Burson Conductor, he has also upgraded the attenuator to a 48 step version and just loves the pairing.
post #5 of 8
Originally Posted by TrollDragon View Post

Hey jackwess!

A good friend of mine has the HD800's and pairs it with the Burson Conductor, he has also upgraded the attenuator to a 48 step version and just loves the pairing.


Awesome, i was expecting this ;)


What kind of attenuator is he using? I saw one from parts conexion in Canada, not sure if it's the same. 

post #6 of 8
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by jackwess View Post


Awesome, i was expecting this ;)


What kind of attenuator is he using? I saw one from parts conexion in Canada, not sure if it's the same. 

Yes it's the Khozmo from PCx.

post #7 of 8

Hi TrollDragon.  I hope you don't mind me posting my thoughts on the Conductor SL in the thread you started.  I participated in the same program with Burson.  I drafted my thoughts on their gear and they suggested I add my comments to the existing thread here on Head-Fi. 


"A Fun Two Weeks With a Burson Conductor SL and Audeze LCD-3"
I was lucky enough to demo the Conductor SL, with both available boards, ESS9018 and PCM1793, from Burson themselves through a promotion on Facebook.  They also included a pair of Audeze LCD-3 headphones with the demo.   As part of the program, I agreed share my experience/thoughts for others to see.   
First, a few bits about the demo period.  I was able to use the Conductor SL and LCD-3 for a little more than 2 weeks in my own home.  I am not an audio expert, but do consider myself a head-fi enthusiast.  For my time with the Conductor SL I listened to mostly FLAC files that I ripped from actual CDs with a few lossy MP3 tracks, a few very high res tracks from HDTracks, and even fewer Rhapsody streamed tunes.  My source was my computer via USB and the digital optical out of my Asus DG soundcard.  I attempted to volume match for a good portion of my comparison (but not all) using the Smart Tools app on my Android phone.  Below, when I say I volume matched I mean I matched the volume as best I could with my equipment using using white and pink noise, but cannot say it was matched perfectly.  Further, I compared the Conductor SL to my Schiit Uber Bifrost and Lyr.  In addition to the Audeze LCD-3, I listened with my Beyerdynamic DT-880 (600), Sennheiser HD650 and HD700, and Hifiman HE-500 headphones.
The first and foremost thing to note is that music from the Conductor SL sounded great to me on the Audeze LCD-3.   The first track I played, "Plush" by Stone Temple Pilots with the LCD-3, surprised me with more powerful bass than I recall hearing previously.  Later, I jotted down that "John Coltrane never sounded so good" (to me).  I very much enjoyed relaxing with shuffle on in Media Monkey listening to songs from the Conductor SL.  I would be perfectly happy with that as my one and only external DAC and headphone amplifier.  This applied to all the headphones I tested.
When I first switched headphones, to the DT-880 (600), I was struck immediately by the increased sense of treble in "Plush".  I thought there was also less bass. . .but can't be sure if it was because there really was less, or because the treble was more powerful. . .or because I hadn't volume matched perfectly.  This is where I got curious.  I sensed a somewhat obvious change in the same song (same file), but suspected it was really mostly the headphone switch here as I feel the DT-880 have more treble than my other headphones. 
I volume matched my Uber Bifrost/Lyr to the level of the Conductor (see note above on volume matching).  With volume matched, the Conductor SL and Bifrost/Lyr sounded the same to me...which is to say very good.  This phenomenon held true for all the headphones I tried.  It didn't matter if I compared USB to digital optical on one, vice versa, or even the digital optical vs. USB inputs on the Conductor.  Using the same set of headphones, and volume matching as best I could, I could not distinguish a difference between the Schiit stack and the Conductor SL with the music I listened to.   
It took a least a few seconds to unplug the headphones from the Lyr and plug them in to the Conductor SL, and vice versa, and I cannot be sure that I volume matched perfectly.  Given that, I'm not going to go so far as to say they DO sound the same, just that I could not pick out any differences, but they both sounded excellent.     
I hesitate to offer much in comparison of the two separate PCB boards for the Conductor SL.  It took me approximately five minutes (purely an estimate) to unplug the SL, carefully unscrew and remove the casing/seated board, swap boards, screw everything back in, and plug everything back in.  I don't recall hearing a difference but also don't trust my hearing/memory to be able to confidently say that I heard a difference after that amount of elapsed time unless it were blatantly obvious.  I also didn't hear a difference when comparing the SL with either board to the Biforst/Lyr when volume matched as best I could.  That said, I did put the ESS9018 board back in to finish my listening experience. 
Even though I found the Conductor SL to provide equal sound quality to my Uber Bifrost/Lyr, there were a few features specific to the Conductor that I did like and want to mention.
1.  The Conductor SL's gain button was really handy.  I found it useful to be able to start with the low gain and move to high gain for quieter songs while still maintaining the volume knob in the volume matched location for later.    
2.  The heat. . .or lack thereof.  Previously, I didn't really mind the LARGE amount of heat that the Lyr gives off (this is normal) but switching components and moving around them I often felt the powerful heat of the Lyr but felt very little heat from the Conductor.  It stayed very cool, even to the touch.  Even something as simple as changing the Lyr volume knob can be uncomfortable when it heats up.  I'm not sure how big of a difference, energy-wise, it makes but I have to say I did prefer the cooler Conductor in this respect. 
3.  The SL footprint is smaller than that of my non-stacked Schiit gear.  Also, as it is a two-in-one, that is two less cables to worry about (RCA and power).  While not a huge factor, I see a positive difference in desk space. Also, the Conductor has much higher quality "feet" compared to the Biforst and Lyr.  I didn't feel that moving them on the desk would rip the feet off. 
There are only two negatives I can think of for the Conductor SL. 
-1.  There is no pre-out for powered speakers or other headphone amp. This is not that big of a deal for me, personally, but I do use powered computer speakers and do have other amps so wanted to mention it for others to know. 
-2.  The biggest negative, for me, is the cost.  With the difference in cost between the Schiit stack with uber board and the Conductor SL (with even only one of the PCB boards) one could buy a rather nice set of headphones (or at least put a good dent in the cost of expensive headphones).  I can't say that the three positives above make up for the cost difference.  
I consider myself extremely lucky to have had this opportunity and want to say thank you to Burson.  They trusted me with about $3500 worth of audio gear and let me enjoy it for an extended period of time to really get a feel for what it can do.  My customer service contact, Charles, was great.  He responded quickly to emails and followed up often to see how things were going.  As a customer, these are business actions that very much impressed me.  
If anybody has any questions, don't hesitate to ask.  I will try to answer them as best I can.
post #8 of 8
Thread Starter 

I updated the thread title to reflect that this is the Participant Impressions thread.

Please feel free to post your impressions here.


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