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Headphone Amplifiers item created by ozirux, Jan 28, 2011
Pros - Meaty sound, sturdy build quality, and provide one box solution.
Cons - Static sound at volume pot
I always love how 160D present the "meaty sound", it give "warmness" to vocal and other music instrument so I can feel more "life-like sound" from them. While the treble is little bit laidback, but it's still clear and have good separation and detail (though you can find other gears provide more detail in this price range, but you will miss the full-bodied sound from Burson)
The sound is forward, warm, full bodied and has good focus, everything seems so coherence and perhaps that's why 160D is famous for their PRaT. Soundstage image isn't so wide, but it has good depth and height.
Two headphone socket with different gain is a nice thing too, for low imp cans, the low gain channel really suitable, no hiss to speak here.
Exterior wise, this thing is quite sturdy, the monoblock aluminium does the job really well, though if we talk about design, they just classical box shape, nothing fancy here.
Static sound in volume control is a little bit annoying, and if Burson want to develope 160D more, I think this is the first thing to get attention. (Yes, I know static sound in discreate volume pot is a "normal" problem, but still, it's not really convenient) -- Later I realize that we can remove that annoying static by regularly using contact cleaner to volume pot. It's really effective!
Overall, as a one-box-solution (we get the pre-amp too), Burson HA160D is really a great product and worth to buy.
Pros - Excellent price/performance ratio, very "analogue" sound for solid state
Cons - Lacks some air and clarity when compared against the Beta22
Introduction Burson Audio are quickly making a name for themselves as purveyors of solid state amplifiers with a difference. Namely, introducing the ephemeral quality musicality into the transistor domain, a sphere previously dominated by somewhat derogatory terms such as "analytical", "clinical" and "sterile". Only a few years ago, the world of high-end audio was neatly split into two camps; those who cherished a valve amp's ability to recreate natural tone and timbre, and those who preferred solid state's low noise floor, transient speed and frequency extension. Combining both traits usually required very deep pockets, and was a pinnacle that only the very best (and most expensive) high-end amplifiers could aspire to.
Enter Burson Audio, whose all-discrete designs seem to be aimed more at the tone-obsessed music lover than the detail-fanatic-critical-listener-audiophile (rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it?). When I first discovered Burson Audio, I was intrigued by their design ethos and keen to give a local company some exposure, so I contacted them via email to introduce myself and inquire into the possibility of borrowing one of their amplifiers to review. A demo HA-160 unit quickly followed, and I was not to be disappointed (you can read my HA-160 review below):
A year later, and Burson have added a new creation to their line-up; the HA-160D amplifier/dac/pre-amp, building on the success of their standalone headphone amp. Naturally, I wanted to try one A few short emails later, and the generous folks at Team Burson had agreed to send me a demo unit. 300hrs of factory burn-in later, and my review sample HA-160D was on its way.
Packaging and build quality One thing that Burson Audio has definitely improved on with the HA-160D is the quality of their packaging. The unit arrived covered in a seemingly waterproof outer layer of plastic, underneath which was a layer of bubble wrap. Within that was the product’s cardboard box, and within that was fitted Styrofoam surrounding the amplifier. Furthermore, the HA-160D itself was also double-wrapped within the Styrofoam, once with plastic and then with microfiber cloth. Nestled inside this innermost layer was also a large pack of silica gel, just in case some iota of moisture manages to make its way through all the above. Geez.
Included in the box is a user manual, and every kind of cable that could be conceivably needed with the HA-160D; a set of RCA interconnects, a USB cable, a coaxial digital cable, and a power cable. This was a welcome surprise, as I was only expecting the obligatory power cable and maybe a USB cable with the device.
In comparison to the somewhat spartan HA-160, the "D" version offers a plethora of connectivity options. It features both a high and low gain headphone jack (which are actually labelled on the HA-160D, unlike its predecessor), three sets of switchable RCA inputs, an RCA preamp output, and both coaxial and USB digital input. The inclusion of coax is of significant benefit to me, as it means I don't need to have a laptop on hand that's been correctly configured for bit-perfect audio. I can tote the Burson along to a mate's place and potentially turn any crummy CD player into a high-end rig. Swish.
The unit itself feels marvellously solid and well-engineered. The brushed aluminium case looks very striking in person and is a definite improvement over their earlier sand-blasted cases in my opinion.
Another notable improvement is the stepped attenuator on the HA-160D. Gone are the heavy mechanical clicks of the early HA-160 amplifiers; the 160D’s attenuator operates smoothly and easily, turning with just the right amount of pressure and inducing no audible artefacts or distortion while music is playing.
Review Setup For this review I decided to focus on the “D” side of the HA-160D, as I’ve already covered the amplifier section in my HA-160 review. The following equipment was used in my listening tests:
Headphones: HD600, HD800, LCD2 Rev1, LCD2 Rev2
Amplifiers: HA-160D, balanced (4-channel) Beta22.
Sources: HA-160D, HeadAmp Pico DAC, Twisted Pear Buffalo 32S DAC
FLAC lossless music was played via Foobar, using WASAPI to generate bit-perfect output for the various DACs being compared.
Some of the albums I used as testing/reference music include:
Art Vs Science – The Experiment
Enigma – The Screen Behind the Mirror
Infected Mushroom – Vicious Delicious
Loreena McKennitt – The Book of Secrets
Matchbox 20 – Mad Season
Metallica – Black Album
Michael Buble – Self Titled
Michael Jackson – Number Ones
Paramore – Brand New Eyes
Porcupine Tree – In Absentia
Rasputina – How We Quit the Forest
Shpongle – Tales of the Inexpressible
Sting – Sacred Love
The Presets – Apocalypso
Tool – Lateralus
Listening Impressions: HA-160D Vs the HeadAmp Pico I've owned the HeadAmp Pico DAC for many years (and before that, the Pico Amp/Dac). It remains my benchmark for the best price/performance ratio source available in the sub-$500 category. As an upsampling dac based on the Wolfson WM8740 flagship chip, its most notable sound characteristics are smoothness and a non-fatiguing nature, while remaining quite resolving of fine detail.
I had initially planned on doing a track-by-track comparison of the Burson Vs the Pico, listing the pro's and con's of each, but it quickly became apparent that this approach wouldn't work. Why, you ask? Because the Burson adamantly, vehemently refused to exhibit any "con's". In direct comparison with the Pico, over many hours of critical listening, there was not one track where I preferred the Pico over the Burson in any respect. The HA-160D forsakes the smoothness of the Pico in favour of a more, for want of a better term, analogue presentation. Tonal accuracy and texture is noticeably increased over the Pico, with vocals in particular rendered in a more vivid, palpable way. There is a minor gain in detail retrieval and frequency extension to be found in the Burson, as well. Although the differences were slight in the overall scheme of things - I've always found different headphones and amplifiers to have the biggest impact in overall system sound - the presentation was decidedly more natural and convincingly rendered on the HA-160D.
Listening Impressions: HA-160D Vs the Buffalo 32S "Sabre" DAC Alright, if the Burson can so handily defeat the little overachiever from HeadAmp, it's time to enter the ring versus a more accomplished opponent. The Buffalo 32S is based around the mighty ESS Technology ES9018 Sabre Reference chip, and is considered one of the best DACs available by the DIY community. The particular Buffalo 32S that was used for this review belonged to Johnwmclean, so he will be able to provide further input to the specific build if requested.
Four of us from the Sydney head-fi community compared the Burson's dac section against the Buffalo, in a quiet room at the recent Blue Mountains meet:
The DACs were compared by connecting the Buffalo to one of the Burson's RCA inputs, and plugging both DACs into Johnwmclean's Macbook. During audio playback, we switched back and forth between the two by option-clicking on the volume bar of the Mac and then toggling between the RCA and USB input on the Burson.
The results of this comparison were truly surprising. Neither Johnwmclean nor Nattonrice could find any noticable difference between the Burson DAC and the Buffalo 32S - and both have been Buffalo DAC owners for some years now. Wink and myself both thought we could detect minor differences - Wink found the Burson's leading edges to be slightly harsher than the Buffalo, and I found the Burson to add an iota of deep bass detail while lacking an iota of midrange creaminess - but I would be very hard pressed to tell the difference in a blind test.
The reason for this startling similarity may be simply a result of the finer nuances of the Buffalo being masked by a lack of resolution in the Burson's headphone amplifier. Or it may be that both are very resolving, neutral DACs and the differences between them simply aren't detectable under meet conditions. Whatever the case, the HA-160D can seemingly stand in the same lofty leagues as the Buffalo 32S.
Some notes on headphone synergy During my loaner period with the HA-160D I've had the pleasure of listening to the unit as an all-in-one solution with a number of fine headphones, notably the Sennheiser HD600, HD800, and the Audeze LCD2 (both revisions).
I've noticed that Burson have added a picture of the Audeze LCD2 combined with a HA-160D to their homepage, and think it's a very smart move to be marketing themselves that way. The HA-160D + LCD2 combo sings. It provides all the lush tonal richness I could ask for, as well as producing a very 3-dimensional and accurate (albeit small) soundstage. The combo makes music; that's the best way I can phrase it.
The HA-160D also lends itself excellently to Sennheisers, providing the necessary drive to open them up, at the same time as adding weight and conviction to their presentation. But even the HD800 pales in comparison to the LCD2 when driven by the HA-160D, in my opinion. The former presents a more immediate sense of detail, and provides a larger soundstage (which can be ideal for complex, layered music). But the LCD2's tone makes the HD800 almost sound artificial in direct comparison. The HA-160D's innate finesse in the domains of tone and presence mate perfectly with the LCD2's natural inclinations in that direction, providing an overall frighteningly real reproduction.
However, it is at this point that I feel compelled to make one major criticism of the HA-160D as an all-in-one solution. Compared against truly top-tier amplification like Johnwmclean's balanced Beta22, the Burson definitely lacks in terms of air and soundstage expansiveness. The balanced LCD2 being driven by the Beta22 provides a noticeably clearer picture into the music than the LCD2 driven single-ended by the Burson, with greater air and more sense of space.
That being said, the HA-160D can match the balanced Beta22 in all the core qualities I look for. Comparing the LCD2 out of both systems, I never thought it lacked in the all-important domains of tone and timbre accuracy, frequency extension, and overall conviction. The HA-160D + LCD2 system did not lack; the Beta22 + LCD2 system simply added. And at a considerably higher cost for the Beta22, it comes as no surprise that it should.
Summary In my opinion, the HA-160D exemplifies Burson's goal of combining the best qualities of vacuum tube tonal richness with solid state's inherent accuracy and speed. The all-in-one solution provides a very high level of resolution and performance while still making music, and does so in an affordable and aesthetic single brushed aluminium chassis. I recommend it highly for anyone who, like me, considers musical immersion to be the highest goal in this hobby.
Pros - Very well-constructed, smooth & warm sound, impactful PRaT, great value product.
Cons - Some may prefer a colder, more analytical sounding DAC/Amp combo.
I first encountered the Burson HA-160D about six months ago when browsing Mike Ting’s website,Headfonia. Around that time, one of my goals was to get some new headphones to enhance my enjoyment of listening to music. Though I owned, and still do, the Sennheiser HD 25-1, I wanted to upgrade, and I asked Mike for some headphone system recommendations based on my music-listening preferences. For a DAC/Amp, he recommended something like the Burson HA-160D or the Lavry DA11.
My current main headphone-listening setup now comprises of the Lavry DA10 and Audez’e LCD-2 rev2. That combo has come closest what I was looking for in a headphone system, which is one that would reproduce what sounds natural to me. By natural, I mean the sound of what I hear when I’m at a live concert performance or listening to high-end studio monitor playback. The DA10/LCD-2 combo doesn’t sound exactly the same as natural – it’s a headphone system after all – but it comes rather close. The DA10 is the most transparent-sounding DAC/Amp I’ve yet heard, and the DA10/LCD-2 combo presents recordings with much clarity and sonic impact and a tonal colour that I hear as ever so slightly brighter than natural.
When I read Mike Ting’s recent post about Burson issuing a HA-160D loaner unit to selected individuals, I immediately emailed him to register my interest. I was still very interested in hearing the HA-160D, especially in comparison with Lavry DA10, and more so with the LCD-2, which I have read has great synergy with the HA-160D. A few weeks later Mike informed me that I’d been selected for the loaner program. Yippee!
I have now had the loaner HA160D for almost a week, and have been enjoyably listening to music with/and it for many hours. Here are my impressions of the HA-160D.
Packaging, build quality, and setup
The loaner Burson HA-160D was securely packaged inside two cardboard boxes with everything separated mostly by packing foam. As soon as I unpacked the HA-160D, it was apparent that it was and is the most solid and well-constructed piece of hi-fi gear I've yet handled. The HA-160D is enjoyable to operate and feels built to last, probably for a lifetime. Weighing in at around 7kg, the HA-160D isn’t the most portable DAC/Amp on the market, so if you want a DAC/Amp you can travel with, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.
The aluminium-cased HA-160D has a boutique aesthetic that looks solid, focused, and sharp, with a smooth overall finish, which is also how the HA-160D sounds to me; but more on its sonic performance later.
On the front panel of this unit, the input selector switch on the right feels a little wobbly to the touch and delicate to operate, but also feels robust. It feels satisfying to plug my headphones into either of the two headphone input jacks – the left one gives more level for high impedance headphones; the right one give less level for low impedance headphones – and when doing so the Burson stays put on my desk. The volume control of the HA-160D is the centerpiece of the front plate and turns in increments with a solid click, each turn increasing the volume of the LCD-2 rev2 by what sounds to me like 2 dB.
On the rear of the unit there are a variety of inputs and outputs: 1x USB and 1x coaxial input to the DAC, 3x L/R RCA inputs, and 1x L/R preamp output. There is also a power switch with which to turn the unit on and off. FYI: the loaner unit has a clear top that reveals the inner circuitry of the HA-160D, and the retail model has a metal top matching the rest of the casing.
The manual, a basic guide to setting up the HA-160D, is printed on thick paper that feels solid to handle, just like the HA-160D does. The manual states that Burson are a dedicated team who aim to create audiophile products that facilitate maximal musical enjoyment and satisfaction for the listener. I particularly enjoyed that part. I did notice one typo in the text, but overall the manual does its job nicely. More detailed info about the HA-160D and its components such as their opamps and the volume control can be found on the HA-160D page of Burson’s website.
The loaner unit wasn’t supplied with a power cord, probably due to the different countries the loaner unit would circulate though, but according to the manual, a power cord is usually supplied with the HA-160D. Each of the included ‘JSJ’ cables – 1x USB, 1x dual RCA, and 1x coaxial – are cast in a blue plastic covering and feel pleasantly pliable. Their smell reminds me of getting a new plastic toy as a child.
I found the HA-160D very simple to set up. Plugging it in and switching it on, connecting it to my laptop via the supplied USB cable, selecting the Burson USB DAC in my system’s audio preferences panel, plugging in headphones, and pressing play in iTunes was all it took me to start hearing music with the HA-160D.
My descriptions of the sound of music with/and the HA-160D will be in relation to what sounds ‘natural’ to me, based on around 15 years experience as a performing and recording musician – more info here – and with the Lavry DA10 DAC/Amp, which I've mainly used with the Audez’e LCD-2 rev2 headphone. FYI: here’s what I thought of the LCD-2 rev1, which I enjoy less than the rev2.
For the following impressions, unless stated otherwise, all music played was in Apple Lossless file format played in iTunes and a MacBook Pro. The Burson HA-160D was connected the Mac by thestock USB cable; the Lavry DA10 was connected to the Mac via a JPS Ultra Conductor Toslink Optical Digital cable. The main headphone in use was the Audez’e LCD-2 fitted with its stock cable.
General impressions on the tone of the HA-160D
When I began listening to music with the HA-160D, I noticed that recordings generally sounded warm, lushly and euphonically so, and instruments had a more natural tone than with the DA10; after many hours listening with the HA-160D I still find that to be true.
The HA-160D is revealing of what’s on recordings and presents sonic information in a very palpable way, which frequently makes me move to the music, but I find the warm tonal character of the HA-160D, particularly in the treble region, to mystify some of the musical details on recordings, making the HA-160D seem geared less towards purely analytical listening and more towards musical enjoyment.
Sonic specifics of the HA-160D: PRaT, Soundstage, Bass, Mids, and Treble
Since I have limited time with the HA-160D, I’m mainly going to listen to my favourite music. I often listen to a wide range of musical genres/styles and I definitely appreciate well-recorded music, so this review will reflect that. I’ll include some tracks from a playlist I created for headphone testing a few months and also some music that is quite new to me. Let’s begin.
R&B – Funk/New Orleans R&B - The Meters – Rejuvenation
The Meters are one of my all-time favourite bands and I often really enjoy hearing them, largely due to the grooves of their drummer Zigaboo Modeliste who is, in my opinion, one of the funkiest drummers of all time. The first thing I noticed when listening to this album through the LCD-2/HA-160D combo was the great visceral impact the music was presented with, even though this recording sounds leaner than many contemporary R&B recordings I’ve heard. As I type this listening to Jungle Man, I realize that I’ve been rocking my head and upper body back and forth as well as moving my feet to Ziggy’s beats for most of the album – Toetaptastic!
Hearing Ziggy go for it on tracks such as It Ain’t No Use is really enjoyable. During his floor tom playing at 10:40 on that song, the drum sound is full and weighty with the HA-160D and slightly less so with the Lavry DA10, which emphasizes the upper frequencies more. At the end of the same floor tom phrase the recording clips; it’s more noticeable when listening with the Lavry than the Burson, which recreates that detail more smoothly, making it sound less rough.
Listening to Rejuvenation it occurs to me that although the Lavry and Burson are similarly performing products in a similar price range, the Burson seem geared more towards listening to music casually, rather than listening from a more critical perspective, such as that of a mix-engineer, where being able to hear the smallest sonic details of a recording is very important. But it is certainly possible to peer into the minute details of recordings when listening with the Burson HA-160D.
Pop/Rock – Soft-Rock/Jazz-Rock – Steely Dan - Aja
Here’s a classic album featuring immaculate performances and production throughout. I have heard this album on various systems and it has always sounded quite lean overall, sonically, with a much more analogue presentation than the Dan’s noughties studio recordings, Two Against Nature andEverything Must Go.
Through the Burson, the album still sounds very analogue and it is presented with great PRaT. In this album’s title track, drummer Steve Gadd’s kit around 4:35 and 6:35 sounds warm and every note is clearly distinguishable with palpable impact. The Lavry also exhibits great PRaT in these sections, but it sounds less weighty and slightly leaner than the Burson. The Lavry makes the recording sound brighter overall and there is clearly more treble presence, which makes Gadd’s drums sound slightly colder with the resonance of the top/batter head more apparent.
Peg, the second track from this album, is a great showcase for the warmth of the HA-160D/LCD-2 combo. Chuck Rainey’s bass-playing sounds quite liquid and the lushly creamy sound of the guitar solo at 1:45 definitely deserves a listen.
Pop/Rock – Experimental – Captain Beefheart – Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)
I pulled out this CD from the depths of my collection a few nights ago. Listening to this album is enhanced by the synergy of the HA-160D/LCD-2 combo, which gives a full, deep, warm and smooth presentation that is a treat to hear, especially on songs such as Tropical Hotdog Night and You Know You’re a Man. I definitely rocked more to this album with the HA-160D than with the DA10; the lushly euphonic bass presentation of the HA-160D had me smiling and made me want to turn up the volume.
Pop/Rock – Contemporary Rock/Soft Rock/Jazz-Rock – Donald Fagen – Morph The Cat
The overall tonal presentation this album is very smooth and slick. Hearing the song H-Gang, the warmth of the HA-160D is clear, and many of the nuances of Donald Fagen’s vocal track can clearly be heard.
In this album many songs feature layered vocal harmonies, during which the different vocals blend together, closely creating a cozy backdrop for the lead vocal to resonate with. At such times, I couldn’t seem to hear the details of the lead vocal with the Burson and found myself plugging the LCD-2 into the Lavry to get a closer look at the image, and though I was then able to see deeper into the mix with the Lavry, the overall tone was slightly rougher than with the Burson. It seems to me that the smooth vocal blend of this album was a mixing choice and not just the result of the tone of the HA-160D/LCD-2 combo, which also has that effect on recordings.
Pop/Rock – New Orleans R&B/Contemporary Blues – Dr. John – Tribal
On the opening track, Feel Good Music, panned to the left side of the soundstage is the hi-hat, which seems to be played with a stick on the bell of the top cymbal. This creates a higher-frequency sound than when hi-hats are played in the middle or nearer the edge of the top cymbal. There is also a bell sharing the same frequency range on the left side of the soundstage, so there’s a quite lot of treble information occupying that part of the recording.
With the HA-160D, I could clearly distinguish between the hi-hat and the bell, as I could with the DA10, which definitely provided slightly more treble energy than the HA-160D. But I found that the timbres of the bells presented by the Burson were easier to differentiate between at that time than with the Lavry, mainly due to the warm impact the Burson presents sonic information with, which gave the bells relatively more weight and body in that instance.
Jazz – Jazz-Funk/Soul-Jazz – Freddie Hubbard – Red Clay (live)
I recently acquired this track, recorded live in 1971. It’s a bonus track from the CD version of Freddie Hubbard’s album Red Clay, and I’m going to use it as a reference point to talk a bit about soundstage.
The soundstage of the HA-160D is slightly wider than that of the DA10. Johnny “Hammond” Smith’s organ playing seems positioned further to the left of the image I’m hearing with the Burson; similarly, Stanley Turrentine’s tenor sax seems positioned further to the right with the Burson. The soundstage of the Lavry is slightly narrower, but I want to make it clear that the difference between the soundstage width of the two all-in-one DAC/Amps is very slight.
With the Burson, Ron Carter’s bass playing has slightly more forward sonic impact and body than with the Lavry. At times I noticed myself wanting for the extra treble extension that the Lavry gives, and when I switched to the Lavry, it provided just that, though at the expense of the slightly more natural tone of the Burson.
I’m finding the Lavry combo to be like a glossy computer screen whose reflection can be a distraction from what’s on display, whereas the Burson combo is like the anti-glare film that adds a warmer tone to the images on display and is more relaxing for casual browsing. But if you want to see the minutest details clearly, you have to adjust your vision to see them; they’re still there, just not with as much crystalline clarity as with the glossy screen-like Lavry gives.
Jazz – Post-Bop/Avant-Garde Jazz/Free-Jazz – John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
This album is one of my all-time favourites and it’s often cited as one of the best jazz albums ever. The music on this recording is timely and timeless, but I don’t think that it’s optimally suited to the HA-160D/LCD-2 combo, great as it is. With the HA-160D/LCD-2, the instruments sounded boomier than natural in the bass region, to the point that it slightly obscured what they were playing, such as bassist Jimmy Garrison’s passing notes during the intro to A Love Supreme Pt. 2: Resolution. I preferred the DA10/LCD-2 combo for this recording; it more clearly revealed the musical conversation occurring.
At this point, just out of curiosity, I decided to plug my HiFiMAN RE-ZERO IEMs, a balanced universal-fit IEM with prominent treble extension, into the Burson. The treble was definitely more extended than with the LCD-2 and much of the LCD-2’s bass weight was missing. I found the sonic balance to be less neutral than with the LCD-2, so I switched back to it, and then to the DA10.
HA-160D users who listen to many acoustic jazz recordings, such as this one, and use the LCD-2 as their primary headphone, may benefit from buying an aftermarket cable for the LCD-2 to tune the sound to their liking, perhaps to create a leaner and more precise sound, especially in the bass region; they may even prefer a different headphone for music of that type.
Electronic – Jungle/Drum and Bass – SquarePusher – Hard Normal Daddy
I thought this album would be a great challenge for the Burson’s ability to clearly and impactfully present intricately detailed musical passages spanning a wide frequency range.
The sub-bass impact on Fat Controller was delicious and extended very low and I welcomed it muchly. The DA10 still presented plenty of sub bass but slightly less than the HA-160D did. However, as great as the Burson’s bass impact and clear delineation of musical lines was with this album, I found treble detail slightly lacking at times, especially when ultra-detailed musical events occurred. At such times I was drawn to the Lavry for the intricacies it revealed in the recording. If you often listen to music that is ultra-detailed, the HA-160D may not be the best choice of DAC/Amp; a more analytical DAC/Amp may be required.
Rap – Kanye West – Late Registration
This recording is a great showcase for the prominent sub-bass of the HA-160D with which the beats of this album were very full sounding and the vocals sounded smooth; with the DA10 the beats were thinner sounding and there was more midrange and treble presence on the vocals, even a touch of grain at times.
If you enjoy listening to Rap and like your beats big and vocals smooth, then the HA-160D/LCD-2 may be just the combo for you.
Classical – Orpheus Chamber Orchestra – Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (Soloist: Sarah Chang)
FYI: I downloaded this recording from iTunes and the tracks are each encoded at 320 kbps.
With the HA-160D/LCD-2 combo, instruments on this recording had a full-bodied warm tone. Sarah Chang’s violin sounded very smooth throughout.
I seemed to listen to the orchestra as a whole more when using the HA-160D and found the slightly brighter and more detailed presentation of the DA10 better suited to picking out the minutest of details, such as more of the squeaking of Sarah Chang’s bow against the strings of her violin. For some reason the imagery with the DA10 appeared to me more vivid, perhaps due to the additional treble information.
With the LCD-2 and this recording, the HA-160D presented instruments such as the harpsichord with a full and warm sound in both the bass and midrange frequencies. The DA10’s presentation of the same instrument had more treble energy and was slightly thinner-sounding in the bass and mids.
The Burson HA-160D is a really well made DAC/Amp combo that makes recordings sound full and impactful, and adds a touch of lush, euphonic warmth to them. It is a great product for music-listeners who want a quality all-in-one boutique DAC/amp, and who listen to recordings casually and/or more closely. The HA-160D may not be for you if your listening habits are of a very analytical nature geared towards hearing every detail on a recording e.g. if you are an audio engineer. That said, the HA-160D is no slouch for details and can still induce a very clear picture of the information on a recording, just with less precision than a more revealing DAC/Amp can.
Again, it’s a bit like having a glossy computer screen and finding that although the images are very detailed, the glare can be draining and a little annoying at times, so you buy some anti-glare film. With the film applied to the glossy screen, viewing the screen is less fatiguing, but some of the onscreen images are a bit blurry and appear less clearly than they did before. At times you may want to remove the screen film to experience the increased clarity of the images of glossy screen, so perhaps you remove the film and turn the brightness down, or just leave the film on and readjust your vision or turn up the brightness. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Thank you Burson, and Headfonia, for the opportunity to experience such a wonderful product (can I keep it?). Well done!
A top choice for solid state amplification. Build quality is second to none, and it sounds great to boot. Drives LCD-2s very well indeed.