The Soloist SL is a concentrated version of the award winning Soloist. Its DNA is identical to...

Burson Audio - Soloist SL - Headphone Amplifier

Average User Rating:
4.375/5,
  • 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.

Recent User Reviews

  1. vaibhavp
    5.0/5,
    "Best value in headfi right now"
    Pros - transparent refined sound, flexible gain stage lets you use from iems to planars
    This is review of mk 2 version of this amp. I bought it from directly from Burson Australia. 
     
    Ordering Experience:
     
    Ordering experience was great from Burson. They had a clearance sale going on at that time where it was listed for $400 which is still going now. Product listing showed mk 1 but they sent me mk 2. Extra points for making me happy. I asked them what was shipping cost and they said shipping was included. I thought maybe they will use some cheap shipping method but nope. It was simply best import experience I ever had. They used fedex and amp reached me in a week total. From Australia to India including customs halt which can normally take a month, thanks to superior service by fedex. My guess is it costs Burson around $100 to ship it but they don't make a big deal out of it in their marketing. Understated and classy. I like that. This makes it close to $300 for amp alone, thats close to ifi ican or schiit asgard. You can now probably understand why I called it best value in headfi right now.
     
    Build and packaging:
     
    Amp is shipped in card bord box with generous foam cutouts to keep amp safe. It includes power cable and rca chords of good enough quality. You can use fancy cables if you like. Power chord is iec type, ones that are used in computers. It has on board power supply and does not use power brick. Build quality is stellar and high quality. Its made out of brushed aluminium thats smooth to touch. Not too big or heavy and you can transport it easily from one room to another or safely in its box if you plan to take it to a meet. It looks great in pictures and in real life its as good as marketing shots we see on burson site. (something I cant say about all products, ahem schiit modi/magni) It comes with 2 inputs on back and 2 gain stages switchable by relays. This makes it feel more upmarket than say dip switches. Burson branding is engraved on front face plate and looks cool. Overall stying of amp is understated and classy. One thing I liked better on mk 1 of this amp is chunky volume knob. On mk 2 they have made it a little small. It works well and rotates smooth though. Allows you to make fine adjustments easily even if you listen to iems. ( something I cannot say about portable amps with hard to rotate volume knobs and aggressive gain stages like my fiio E12.)
     
    Sound Quality:
     
    SQ wise I consider it worthy of using with high end hps like Sennheiser HD700, say in $800-1000 range. Its an upgrade over entry level solid state amps like ifi ican or O2. When using AKG K550 and Sennheiser HD700 on something like ifi ican, I can't justify spending more on HD700. But on burson, HD700 pulls ahead enough so that it becomes a clear upgrade. By upgrade I mean more fleshed out instruments, more meat around bones. Clearly you get closer to live performance. 
     
    On bringing something like Sennheiser HD800 in mix, I feel benefits of using higher end hps diminish slightly. HD800 offer superior resolution but not enough to be a huge upgrade. So if TOTL cans are on your shopping list I suggest you look into its elder sibling Soloist, perhaps. For high end hps (under TOTL hps) this is a perfect match and imo you are not spending disproportionately on your rig either on hps or amps.
     
    Or if you have a set of mid fi cans like AKG k550 or philips fidelio X2 that you love and want an amp that brings out all that hp has to offer, this is a good bet.  
     
    Tonal Balance:
     
    Its transparent as far as I can tell. Presentation is on lighter side. Bass is strong and punchy. Mids are resolved and clear. Highs on hps like HD700/800 are well controlled and not at all harsh. Maybe even brighter cans it will be troublesome but with a well balanced hp like HD 700 (it has some warmth) its a stellar pairing. I also loved it with audeze lcd 3. Excellent drive and bass. Creamy mids and gobs of detail without getting harsh. On ethereal cans like AKG k550 or Beyerdynamic iDX200IE, sound is not harsh but ligher character of hp can make it too crystalline. I prefer to use warmer source when using K550 with it.
     
    Overall its transparent enough to allow full character of hp to come out. HD700 sounds even warmer, AKG K550 sounds crystal clear, Sony XBA A1 sounds warm but still clear. Whatever is tuning on your hp it will come out like that.
     
    Special note on IEM usage: if you thought iems have no soundstage and too in-your-head feel, try listening to them on burson soloist sl. It makes my $100 Sony XBA A1 sing. Being hybrid iems they dont have great soundstage so I thought. On burson it sounds like full sized hps. Sound comes from in front of you even when IEMs are tucked in your ears. This has increased my respect for IEMs and its those tiny amps that are at fault and not IEMs.
     
    Soundstage wise its well layered from front to back. Hps with great soundstage like HD700 will benefit immensely from it. Has more depth than width and pin point front to back layering. Bass has its own layer and brings out multiple bass layers out very well if your hp is capable of it.
     
    Value and conclusion:   
     
    As I have already said, its exceptional value considering its $400 shipped. And shipping method is best I can have as well. Its performs on high level and together with HD700 is hard to put down combo. My no of hours I listen to music increased after I got burson cause its so hard to put down.
     
     
    Special note:
    I am including this note on request of Shetzu as he does'nt writes reviews.
    I took it to my friends place Mr Aniel goes by handle Shetzu on headfi who used chord mojo to drive his HD800. He instantly ordered one after hearing it and its price to be used as mojo-burson-HD800 rig. That rig is best I have heard. Very transparent, amazing detail on vocals, completely alive image with great microdynamics and detail. To him biggest difference was soundstage that only proper big desktop amps can offer.
    LikeABell and trellus like this.
  2. saxelrod92
    3.5/5,
    "Great amp, but only if you like the sound signature"
    Pros - Small, Good amount of power, Great build quality, Natural tone
    Cons - a bit dull sounding, Can't drive planar dynamic headphones to full potential, Noise floor heard on high gain around 2-3 o'clock
    I don't want to ramble too much in this review, but I want to give a slightly counter perspective to the majority of reviews for the soloist sl. I used it with a schiit bifrost uber using the usb input, and with my audeze lcd 2 headphones as well as my denon d5000 headphones.
     
    So the first couple days of use the sound was great, basically sounded just like most of the good reviews it has gotten. If you want to know what that sound is like then just read those other reviews because I want to speak about what happened after a couple days. Starting on the third day of use (and by third day I really do mean like 24+ hours of total use by that point) the sound started to lose a little edge, and little liveliness, a little grip. I gave it a few more days, tried every usb port, tried the optical port, switched headphones, used different songs/media players, but the sound remained consistent. It was subtle at first, but it just felt like your brain was having a hard time trying to latch onto the music, if that makes sense? the edge was gone, it always felt like something was missing in the sound, as if it was blurred over slightly or dulled. The bass was still great, the mids were still great, and the treble was still properly detailed, but as a whole the tone seemed to just dull the edges too much, which made the sound feel much less dynamic than it should, and after a while it just hurt my brain because it was being teased with details that just would not appear. The final straw for me to sell it though was the fact that it just did not provide enough power for the lcd 2 (the late 2013 pre-fazor version). Even on high gain I had to put the volume around 2 o'clock to hear the whole frequency range properly, but it always ended up being too loud after a while, but sounding as if it was too quiet. Like it would be too loud for your ears, but you kept making it louder because it seemed like it was missing aspects of the sound. Like the bass was good, but it obviously felt like it needed more power behind it, and the mids were great, that never seemed wrong, and the treble just sounded dull and lacked some detail. It just felt like if there was a bit more power, then I could keep the volume lower while having the sound be properly filled out. Compared to the soloist sl where it definitely felt like it was struggling to get the lcd 2 sounding right. With my denon's it had the proper amount of power, since they are very sensitive headphones, but that dulled sound made the denons pretty bad in the mids. See the denon d5000 already has a slight v curve frequency response, but the burson just made that v-curve even more v shaped. bass was stronger and tighter, treble was brighter, but the mids were too recessed. The lcd 2 sounded a bit better simply because it has a much more linear frequency response to this slight mid recession doesn't impact them nearly as much, but the dulled sound definitely does. On top of all this, the neutral/natural tone of the soloist sl just makes the dulled sound even worse because now it was lacking solidity and fullness, just brighter and dulled. it's a strange combination, but that's its sound signature no matter what you plug them into, or plug into them. Some people like that sound signature, their ears just enjoy that kind of thing, but for me I just really did not like it at all. I am looking at the violectric amps as my choice instead. Also to give some proper information about the soloist sl out there about its power output, it puts out about 650mW into 50 ohms. The 2 watt rating they advertise so much is only at 16 ohms, even my denons which are at 25 ohms only get close to a watt if using high gain, which is a lot for them, but 650 mW for the lcd 2 is only just barely enough to make them listenable and sound good, but very quickly you will feel like it just isn't enough.
     
    So I will advise to definitely listen to a burson product first before you buy, this is not a company that makes products that you can safely buy blindly and enjoy. On youtube there is a guy whose channel name is headphoneaddictdotcom and he also agrees with me on this burson sound signature annoyance when he used a burson conductor for a few months. He also preferred violectric amps or just something more along those lines of sound signature. I have similar tastes to him, as in we like the audeze house sound, pre-fazors, denon dxxxx line, fuller and thicker sounding amps, neutral dacs, etc. If you feel you have a similar taste preference to this, then you might not enjoy the burson products in general. I just don't see that many negative reviews for their stuff, and thats why I originally bought the sl, and was very disappointed as I mentioned above, and just wanted to make sure people have all sides available to them before buying.
    slankoe and feelingears like this.
  3. CantScareMe
    4.5/5,
    "Burson Soloist SL vs Graham Slee Ultra Linear Diamond Edition"
    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 more so than the slee), which I feel is demonstrated across 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's 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 more smoothed out highs. I guess 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 and the same can be said 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 sometimes leave me searching. I’ll find them  when I look, but not otherwise. 
     
     

     
     
    2.2 Headphone pairings                                                   
    The Slee does well with headphones with a more recessed thicker midrange and ones that benefit from a slightly clearer presentation. Presentation where greater instrument separation is desired. Stuff like the D7k, TH900 and the T1’s do better with this than the burson especially because of their midrange where pushing back their midrange just doesn’t sound pleasant. These headphones have big enough soundstages anyway. In this regard the D7k/TH900 especially fit the bill, though I won’t say this slee is the best amp I've come across for them. The inbuilt one on the Beresford bushmaster and a musical fidelity M1HPAP both sound better as what they do is simply wake up the TH900. It’s better than the burson though which puts it even more 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 as there’s a significant increase in soundstage warmth, weight and grandure compared to the Slee. The edges are more rounded but this ultrasone responds well to it despite the highs not being tizzy/sharp 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 down to planars pairing better, does prove a point. It just feels like the thick bass is maintained and we benefit from the grander sound across all dimensions. 
    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)
    PeterCraig likes this.

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