Burson Audio Play

Rating:
4.76471/5,
  1. icsterm
    Burson Play review
    Written by icsterm
    Published Sep 3, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Fast, clear and articulate Sound

    Spread out and out of your head experience

    Tons of power, watch your volume settings

    Great build quality and simple industrial design
    Cons - Would like a line-in as well to use it as a separate headphone amp
    I borrowed a Burson Play from one of my friends and was quite impressed by it that I decided to do a dedicated review for it.

    First of all this is my first contact with Burson Audio gear, I never listened to any of their upper class stuff but this little fella is looking really good.

    I’m coming from smaller DAC/Amps made by FiiO so for me Play seems in completely another league.


    [​IMG]

    I really like its very simple look and design, its almost industrial looking.

    I also like that it is a whole package as a DAC and a headphone amp, you just plug your headphones are you are done, you need nothing more.


    Looking at specs I really was impressed by the power ratings and finally this is my first time listening to an ESS Sabre DAC chip.


    I am using it for about 2 weeks now with my laptop running Tidal Hi-Fi, driving a pair of Sennheiser HD660S.


    [​IMG]


    Now lets cut to the chase shall we?


    Well, so far I listened to my HD660S only from lower tier DAC/Amps so this is really my first contact with a higher quality stuff and the difference is quite big.

    I know HD660S is not top of the line, but nor the Burson Play is that.

    However there is a really big difference between my FiiO E10K and Burson Play.


    Everything sound clearer, I hear more nuances in my favorite songs.

    Like little new notes that I never thought were there I am hearing them for the first time.

    [​IMG]


    Besides that there is A LOT MORE power on tap compared to my small E10K.

    I mean there is no contest; Play just smashed the E10K on every aspect.

    If on E10K I am going almost full volume to hear better dynamics and impact, on Burson Play I cannot go higher than 30 out of 99! It is very powerful indeed.


    Rock music sound punchier and somehow faster, its like I upgraded my HD660S to some Audeze planars or something like that. Listening to electronica is also enlightening, a really amazing experience.


    [​IMG]


    Overall Burson Play has this kind of bold and big sound, hard to explain. The sounds are almost outside of your head and not inside it. Some people call it soundstage however its hard to tell there is something like that on headphones as well.

    Its first time I hear a 3D sound effect on regular DAC/Amps, I checked again all the specs but I don’t see any gaming DSP or something like that, its just Burson Play by default sounds like that. Especially on very well recorded music everything sound crystal clean and spread out, almost like a 3D sound recording.


    Out of curiosity I played some binaural recordings and I felt like I am tripping, wow, such an amazing experience.


    What can I say Burson Play really impressed my not only by its technical specs and build quality, but especially but it bold and big sound.

    I always felt like I was using a super-car when listening to Play.

    Everything is faster, hits harder to a point you feel you might damage your hearing…


    I left impressed and too bad I should give it back to its original owner, I am already thinking if it is worth buying one and I think it is. Definitely worth it, who I am kidding as I am saving for one already.

    Looking forward on trying the Fun in the next weeks.


    [​IMG]

    :
    1. selvakumar
      Hi whats the USB passthrough you are using is it hum eliminator
      selvakumar, Sep 20, 2018 at 1:23 PM
  2. cskippy
    Burson Play - Mid-Fi Excellence
    Written by cskippy
    Published Aug 31, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Small footprint, excellent sound
    Price to performance ratio is hard to beat
    Can power most headphones easily
    Cons - Can run warm, might be an issue inside a computer case
    Limited I/O, only has USB input and single ended preamp outputs
    Some noise with very sensitive headphones/IEMs
    Burson Play
    https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/play/

    The Burson Play is quite the competent product! It only has one input, USB, and preamp outputs that can be used with a power amp or active monitors.
    It's meant to be an AIO device that can be placed in a computer bay drive to integrate with your desktop in a sleek and minimalistic way. It can also be used as a standalone AIO solution.
    Power is provided by an included power brick or SATA cable connection to your computer PSU. There is also a mic input on the front for a microphone for chat and online gaming. I did not try this feature.

    One of the features of the Burson amps is Opamp rolling. I'm not sure which Opamps are in this particular model but assume they are the NE5532 X 3, NE5543 X 2 from the PLAY Basic option. I will try and find out.

    Yup, my unit is basic option:
    [​IMG]

    So, how does it sound? In a word, correct. It doesn't do anything to draw you in or have a crazy 3D sound stage, tube bloom or enhanced attack or extended decay. It just sounds correct.
    It's funny, because I'm going back and forth between my main headphone rig and the PLAY and it's very enjoyable.

    [​IMG]

    Singxer SU-1>Yggy Analog 2/Holo Spring L1>EC Aficionado/ECP DSHA-1>PMx2, Utopia, Elex, HD650, HE-500
    vs
    Burson PLAY>headphones

    Listening was done at ~75dB with each headphone. I'll provide volume level used for each headphone.
    (A note, as I saw some people saying they used vastly higher volume numbers, I do have Windows xCORE USB Audio 2.0 at 100%)

    With PMx2, the sound is very clean. Bass is extended, without bloom or added mid bass. Midrange is present and voices and instruments are placed appropriately in the mix.
    The highs are well integrated and sound clear but never harsh or brittle. Imaging is very good, layering is lacking compared to Multibit DACs but is more comparable to RME ADI-2 DAC. Volume at 5.

    Paired with Utopia, you get a very reference sound. Sound stage with Utopia collapses a bit but you are left with not a window but a clear opening that lets you hear the music.
    It's staggeringly clear and uncolored. Bass might be a little light for some with this pairing but it is well extended and fast.
    Utopia can tend to have a forward sound and the PLAY does a good job of controlling this so music doesn't become fatiguing.
    I did note some very slight noise with Utopia but it is one of the most sensitive headphones out there so this shouldn't be an issue. Volume at 5.

    Elex didn't fair as well with PLAY. It's certainly not a bad pairing, but it didn't have that music engagement that Utopia and PMx2 were capable of with PLAY.
    Treble was the biggest issue, being slightly unrefined with a couple hot spots at 6, 9 and 12kHz (These harmonic frequencies are present in Elex, Clear and Utopia to varying degrees.).
    The overall sound was listenable but you might opt for warmer op amps than the ones I had in my PLAY. Volume at 6.

    HD650M, like Elex was just passable on PLAY. It presented the music in a more mid focused/forward manner, which meant both bass and high frequencies were lacking a touch.
    The sound stage was clear and well presented, a nice theme is seems. My HD650 is modded, thus the “M” designation, with custom rear damping and coin mod to remove the foam in front of the drivers.
    This makes them have a little less bass than stock as well as a brighter/slightly more forward sound. I think a stock HD650/HD6XX would pair well with PLAY. Volume at 8.

    Listening with HE-500, I start noticing a trend. There's that mid focus again. Bass and treble take a back seat. I wonder if this is a current limiting issue?
    Compared to the DSHA-1 and Aficionado, power supply size is severely lacking. This isn't a fault or criticism of PLAY, it's just a fact.
    Due to the size and features Burson wanted to incorporate in PLAY, compromises had to be made. Volume at 8.

    I briefly tried using the PLAY as a preamp >Vidar>speakers. As soon as I turned it on, there was noise from the USB, a hash and digital sound that is the pest of digital audio.
    I have heard very few systems that didn't have some level of noise, and only a few DACs and DDC converters have true isolated inputs.

    I was worried when I read that Burson chose the SABRE32/ESS9018 DAC chip as previous implementations I've heard have been bright and unmusical.
    Burson has done an excellent job of tuning the PLAY around the SABRE chip. I'm sure the pure Class A topology has a lot to do with that. The Xmos USB drivers are rock solid for me.
    No stuttering or drop outs even when streaming music and playing games. Unfortunately, I can't isolate the DAC from the amp, so no impressions of how the amp performs with my other DACs.
    It would be fun to try some of Burson's other dedicated amps to hear that Class A sound in all of it's glory.

    For the price, the Burson PLAY is hard to beat. An AIO system that can integrate into your computer, with a preamp output, and accept mic input all while having clear and fatigue free sound, that's quite the feat for $300.
  3. ngoshawk
    Let's go to the Play-ground
    Written by ngoshawk
    Published Aug 23, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Excellent build.
    Multi-usage ability.
    Sound of which benefits audio and gamers.
    Powerful enough for most headphones.
    Cons - Can get a bit warm (but taken care of in a PC with a fan.
    Low-level noise with sensitive IEM's.
    No balanced out (but not unlike it's peers).
    Not much else.
    Burson Play Classic (with Vivid Op-Amps included)- $549 https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/play/ 5-year warranty.



    There has been a lot of fuss surrounding the Play. Released several months ago, the Head-Fi thread is still very much alive and kicking (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/new-burson-audio-play-amp-dac-2w-16ohm-op-amp-rollers-dream.860882/). I will admit, I do not know much about Op-Amp rolling, but from what I have read, it is another way that manufacturers can “fine tune” the sound of their wares. This can be done readily by the user and can run from inexpensive to QUITE expensive. As this unit has moved through several hands, Burson included the single Op-Amp Vivid module as well as the included Classic modules. You can go “as low” as $299 for the basic model, and purchase the modules separately, or opt for the higher line Classic or Vivid. From my readings, the Classic is tuned more towards a bass-oriented sound, with natural sound (and I concur). The Vivid provides a more “lively” analytical sound for those who wish that. Coming with a 5-year warranty says something about the confidence Burson has in their product. Good for them.


    Burson Audio, an Australian company, is known for making very good amps. The Soloist and Conductor are two that have sold very, very well. With the Play, the company went a slightly different route. One can certainly plug-and-play (pun intended), but for those who wish to fine tune, that is where the different Op-Amps come in. Something that many audiophiles are turning to. Personality of their own gear. I’m in, for the first time.


    I will thusly admit that I was looking forward to rolling amps. This is a nice alternative to changing cables, or tip rolling; which allows the user to personalize or fine-tune to their desired sound. What I can say is that right now through my MacBook Pro using the Simgot EM5, on Damian Marley’s Here We Go, there is more than enough bass to satisfy me. I am not a basshead but do enjoy a nice rumble with my sound. I do like what the Burson has provided so far.

    [​IMG]

    Specs:

    · Input impedance: 35 KOhms
    · Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0–35Khz
    · THD:<0.02%
    · Output impedance (Head Amp): 8 Ohm
    · Power Supply: 100–240V AC
    · Output impedance (Pre Out): 35 Ohm
    · DAC: SABRE32/ESS9018
    · Channel Separation: 132 dB @ 1KHz, 122 dB @ 20KHz
    · THD+N: 0.0015% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS
    · Native DSD: 64 / 128 / 256
    · DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256


    Unboxing/Finish:

    Since this was a tour unit, there was already some wear and tear on the box. That said, the innards were well protected using foam all around and the two accessories boxes on the sides. Included was the amp itself, a power cord (with AC/DC adapter), remote, Vivid Op-Amps (and tool used to open the chassis), dual RCA into single RCA cable for use as a Pre-Amp, a 6.3mm to 3.5mm jack adapter, a standard USB to USB (?) cable for connection to your source, and the necessary cable to use within your PC tower (and a different back plate for use in PC). Touted for gaming, the Play has been received well in the gaming community for its clarity and detail. Something necessary for active games and role-playing games.

    [​IMG]

    Since I do not have a PC, I will focus upon the Classic and Vivid Op-Amps and connection to my devices. That said, the vast majority of my time was spent hooked to my MBP, utilizing several different IEM’s and the Focal Elear.


    The build quality of the Play is as expected, top notch. A basic black box, with a welcome digital volume readout on the front as well as a rotating volume knob (not the most accurate if you spin fast), a microphone jack (for headphones with mics), and 6.3mm jack. The back (L to R) has the USB jack for connecting to your source, power plug, an on/off red toggle switch, and the RCA L/R channel connection. Not much there, but with the innards as the main course one need not worry about different connectivity. Sitting innocuously on one’s desk, it could be almost overlooked as a time piece, or external hard drive. And, I do like the understated nature of that plain black box. This is not one for flash.


    I will state that on this copy, the volume knob does not represent one-click per number. I often find raising or lowering the knob one at a time will result in the number jumping up/down the desired amount, then returning one number up/down. I don’t think the calibration of the knob/digital readout is precise enough. That said, is may well be that this unit has gone through several hands and most likely hundreds of hours. That could be the case as well.


    Comparison gear used:

    MacBook Pro
    Opus #2
    Shanling M3s

    iFi xDSD
    iFi Micro iDSD Black Label

    Focal Elear
    Unique Melody Mason V3
    Unique Melody Mentor V3
    Unique Melody Maestro V2
    64Audio U8
    Simgot EM5
    Kinera iDun

    [​IMG]


    Songs used:

    Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

    Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
    Coldplay-A Message
    Coldplay-White Shadows
    Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
    Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
    twenty one pilots-Trees
    twenty one pilots-Car Radio
    twenty one pilots-Heathens
    Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
    Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
    Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
    Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
    Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
    Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
    Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado


    Sound:

    I will admit that for the vast majority of time, I had the Classic Op-Amps in. I enjoyed the bass note, which the Classic provided. Still with good detail, Damian Marley’s Medication sounded just as it should. Bass line to die for, cymbal detail of almost hissing quality (a good thing here…) and vocals, which were clear and prominent. This was becoming a nice treat from the get go. This was not some shout in your face look what I can do amp. No, this was a well-played laid-back sound, which grew on me. That is part of the reason I am having a very hard time putting into words what I heard and felt. It just played, providing a solid enjoyable sound.

    I must say that while any IEM I plugged into the Play sounded quite good, enhancing their respective sound, it wasn’t until I hooked my Elear in that the Burson showed its true worth and value. Harder to drive than most of my headphones, the Elear was taken to 35 (from 20-25) on the Burson in order to get the near-same volume of the IEM’s. In doing so, the Play did not start to shout at me, no it delivered a crisp, full, detailed sound worthy of inclusion in any conversation regarding the Elear. It was good, very good. Decent-enough bass to keep me interested, as well as mids, which complimented both ends without taking front and center. Vocal sound, which while not the best I have heard from “portable” amps (I do like my Black Label), certainly entertaining enough to make you appreciate what Burson has done to make an affordable desktop amp. Especially when you start comparing the Play to more expensive amps. Several reviews noted that the Play could easily be put into a conversation when talking about amps twice the price. I do think it can hold its own in that conversation.

    When one purchases such an amp as the Burson Play, half the fun is the tuning ability, which can be provided. Going from the Basic $299 model to all manners of this version at $549, you can fine tune with the Op Amp rolling. Unfortunately, I am not the best in which to decipher the finer points, so I will leave that to those with more expertise as in on the Burson Play thread, which still keeps going. I am simply not the best judge of that and will analyze from the amp stage only.

    Not having the Burson hooked up, due to vacation callings, I returned with anticipation at finishing this review. One does need dedicated space for such an endeavor and that was not conducive to traveling. But, a high point in selling the Play is its ability to be utilized in a desktop computer, using one of the 5 ¼” slots. Almost a novelty of a bygone era to me. Touted as a gaming amp for its accuracy, I can only recommend that the Play is indeed true of sound, with excellent instrumentation and separation.

    While providing me with that warmer sound of which I love, the detailed separation is not lost in that aspect. Touted in the gaming community for good reason, it is. With the detail of Mark Knopfler’s drummer in Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes, it is clear to the point of almost hearing the air movement of drum stick. I exaggerate a bit, but it is quite nice. On par with my iFi Black Label, which coincidentally falls into the same price point. I would point out that the Burson has decent enough treble for the audio enthusiast and gamer as well.

    Succinct, and accurate is what I would call that treble. Pleasant to my treble-sensitive ears. Want more? Switch to the Vivid Op Amp and you have it. Many a better ear than mine have espoused the virtues of the Vivid modules, and with what I could hear, I would agree. Changing is easy, except if you use the Play within your computer. That “lack of treble” to me in the Classic mode is all but thrown aside though, when Corazon Espinado comes through the Elear from Santana. Superb male vocals highlight the song, with Carlo’s sumptuous guitar emanating from one’s ear. The support drum instrumentation providing that push up top to very acceptable levels in my mind. Just a superb rendition of a voluptuous song. The Elear approve.

    [​IMG]

    Follow that with See Dem Fake Leaders from Ziggy, and the bass line draws you completely in, while the supporting horn line prods at your ear for full attention of the important message purveyed. Ziggy’s vocal harmony is the icing on the cake, and I can say that the Play is about as good as any amp in which I have listened at this price point. Versatile I would call it.

    Alpha & Omega from Jah Shaka sounds full, inviting, almost decadent in its hidden trippy sound. The Burson allows that trippiness to “play” through unimpeded, giving full meaning to the song. Follow that with Heathens from a perennial favorite of mine twenty one pilots, and you complete that trip ‘round the Play. I could auto-repeat those two songs happily for hours. And the Play would be a good companion in that pursuit of musical bliss.

    [​IMG]

    Comparo/Pairings:

    Close on the heels of the above paragraph, Van Morrison belting out Take It Easy Baby beckons me into that Jazzy haunt of a basement dive, wrought with drink and companionship. This is a sound, which escorts very well with whatever thrown its way. I will state again, that the Elear rose quickly to the head of the class in use as most of the IEM’s thrown its way were simply not at their best.

    As stated The Elear/Play combo yielded a full robust if slightly warm sound emanating from within. As that is my preferred sig, I did not mind. From day one of my auditioning the Elear, I knew it was the open headphone for me. And as luck would have it, when the Clear came about, many jumped on that bandwagon singing that this is what the Elear should have been!! Well, not to diss any of them, but I call bunk. The Elear is an extraordinary example of a high-end headphone at “affordable” prices. Those who jumped ship to the Clear do have that right, but I say good riddance. The Elear/Play combo simply fortified my belief in the above. And I was glad. Running Tidal through my MBP, the sound was rich, vibrant and full. With enough detail (MBP after all…) to keep me interested, this was a worthy addition to my desktop sound.

    Moving to the “portable” aspect, I hooked my Opus #2 up and gave a listen. Providing more detail than a MBP could ever provide, I streamed Tidal with even better results. What the MBP lacks in upper end, the #2 provided. Still utilizing the Elear/Play, I was quite happy with the result. Almost thinking, OK…how could one make the Play a portable option?...The Opus provided the air between notes, which the MBP could not. From that added detail, came more clarity and paired separation of instruments. While not my perfect set up with the Play, it was a very pleasing set up, which as mentioned yielded the most detail. Quite acceptable, indeed.

    Harkening back to the IEM-mode, I switched to the UM Mason V3/Mentor V3 pair I had on hand. Immediately I was met with some hiss (and if I can hear it, well then…) during pause. But, once the song started, there was no hiss. And as others have mentioned those with high impedance may face the same. But, as I said once the song started, the bliss returned. The V3 iterations are a true marvel, and a worthy step up from the V2, to which I have espoused every review. But, while the Mason/Mentor sounded quite good, there was to me a slight miss here. The Mentor still had that deep reach of bass, that the Mason lack in my opinion, but the sound was just not as satisfying to me. That said, take the Play out of the equation, and run a side-by-side of the Elear/Mason/Mentor through the #2, and there is that sumptuous quality of both again. As some have mentioned, some items simply do not pair with others. Take that as a “*” because the sound was still very acceptable to me, but behind the Elear.

    Running the Kinera iDun through my Shanling M3s and the Play raised both up a “level.” While the pair without the Play is quite a stunning pair of their own merit, here the Play raised the “qualities,” which make each good. Better detail was again wrought through the iDun, which has pretty decent detail with which to start. And as we know, the Shanling provides that warmer sound from the get-go. So, again the Play made the items plugged into each end “better.” Or maybe a more apt description would be “raised.”

    [​IMG]

    Finale et al:

    So…what is one left with when considering the Burson Play? For those who would like an affordable desktop/PC-worthy amp you can start with the Basic ($299) or v5(i) for $475/399. Then as needed, add the OP-AMP of choice. With the one on hand, we are lucky enough to have the Vivid modules and the Classic; and it was a treat.

    At that Basic-level price of $299, you are faced with the iFi xDSD in the portable realm as well as some others. While the xDSD retails for $399, and comes with more features, you can get the Play knowing you are getting a desktop amp, with the options to add modules later. That would of course bring you in line with the iFi price. A hard choice, whether to go portable with more features or simple and desktop worthy with that future upgrading capability. To me, they occupy two different realms, so it would be easy to get both.

    When we move upscale as this one is, then the comparison falls to the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label ($599) in my mind (plus I own one). With many more tuning options for sensitive headphones, and MOAR POWER; one must balance that against what you get with the Play. I call the BL transportable as it is quite large to take with you often. As such, it stays quietly on my desktop awaiting use. Here is where the decision would be again whether you want future upgrading (and in the same price) or immediate tunability without much loss in sound. I will state that for “pure sound,” the Play is a smidge ahead. But for fine tuning the sound, the BL is well ahead, and easier to modify on the fly.

    For the dedicated gamer, the Play would be an exceptional upgrade to their existing PC, short of those who have spent several thousand dollars. Add to that the “reality” of sound and placement some have mentioned (and in personal convos with others recently), and that was enough to sell them on the virtue of adding the Play to their gaming-unit. A nice two-fold win for Burson in that regard. Add in that while Op-Amp tuning is great, once a gamer settles on their preferred sound, the Play will most likely stay inbound on the PC and you have a very worthy addition to existing computers, which pretty much blow out of the water the existing DAC/amp in most. Again, a great marketing tool for Burson.

    So, it comes down to what exactly are you looking for in an amp. Will this be a long-term relationship, where one can upgrade to new OP-AMPs or portability? This is the real draw of the Play to me. You can start with a very good amp, and upgrade when funds become available. OR, opt immediately for the higher priced model and be quite satisfied. The Burson is a very good amp with which one could easily listen and own for a good long time, without being drawn into something “new and glittery.” And after all, isn’t good quality sound what we are after in a long-term relationship, anyway?

    I want to thank Burson for my extended time and listen. Without that extended time, I would not have been able to compare to some incoming gear, which aided my overall evaluation. And, they should be very proud of what the Play can achieve. Excellent sound at either end…the entry price or full-blown desktop amp. You can’t go wrong either way.

    [​IMG]
  4. NCSUZoSo
    HL: Burson Play DAC/Amp vs. ES9038P + FUN01 XMOS
    Written by NCSUZoSo
    Published Aug 5, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Ability to upgrade at a later time to a higher end rig.
    High mobility/portability due to a very compact design.
    Entire chassis acts as a heat sink and entire chassis is grounded.
    Excellent quality audio for the cost. The Play is able to compete with ES9038PRO DAC and even win a few of the tests.
    Plenty of power using the internal amp, powered by two single-DIP op-amps.
    Ability to slide the Play right into a PC 5.75″ drive bay.
    Ability to listen to RCA and headphones outputs simultaneously.
    Uses I2S to communicate with XMOS.
    Can be powered a variety of ways.
    Has a remote and a few other included accessories, sounds small, but an important detail.
    Cons - Can get fairly warm, but these are the realities of a Class A amplifier and the components can handle it.
    Not as good at rejecting noise as the ES9038PRO DAC can. The FUN01 also plays a role in the cleaner signal. (Note: this opinion is after fixing the USB ground issue.)
    Unable to get a Play that uses the Amanero, although you can easily get one that fits if you want one, just not stock.
    The Play’s display could give us more info and the inclusion of a simple menu would be nice. Just give us a few filter selections and a few other basics menu options (as seen on the ES9038P’s screen).
    There can be a digital noise issue because of the fact there are two paths to ground in the Play if you leave the USB cable’s GND connected. I disconnected mine as advised on Head-Fi and the digital noise stopped. Still have to list this as a con though, the average consumer might not want to cut into a USB cable or de-solder something.
    Hallman Labs©: Burson Audio's Play DAC/Amp vs. ES9038P + FUN01 (Singxer SU-1 Clone | XMOS)

    Originally posted here: https://hallmanlabs.com/review-3-burson-play-dac-amp-vs-es9038pro-dac-fun01-v1-1-xmos-su-1-clone/

    At the request of Burson Audio I am sharing my latest review to date. This is between the stout Burson Play w/ 5x V6 Classics and the ESS ES903Pro w/ 4x Sparkos Labs SS3601/SS3602 and the FUN01, a clone of the Singxer SU-1 without the power supply part. I up the ante even more when I came back to add Black Gate™ "F" capacitors all around on the FUN01. This heightened the clarity of the FUN01 even further than before, after a few weeks of burning in. Nothing in this review was rushed and I tried to verify what I heard more than once before sharing it. I wasn't paid to do this review, but I was provided review hardware.

    K. Hallman (Owner - Operator of Hallman Labs©)




    [​IMG]

    My review today is focused on Burson Audio’s “Play”, a potent DAC/Amp combo available in a variety of prices. Dependent on the op-amps chosen from Burson Audio, the price varies from $299 (no remote) up to $549 (with 5x discrete V6-OPA “Classic” op-amps + remote, the setup shown in this review)! The Play uses an XMOS chipset for USB/digital audio in and it has a full pre-amp and headphone amp, offering both ¼” and RCA outputs. You can run the ¼” output and the RCA output together/at the same time. This is similiar to how the ES9038P can do XLR and RCA out at the same time from one pre-amp.


    [​IMG]

    I confirmed with Alex at Burson that the XMOS unit talks to the main DAC using I2S! This is why you are able to play DSD128 with ease on foobar2000! The 64-pin ES9018K2M seen on the primary PCB (under the XMOS unit) is responsible for converting this I2S into analog wave-forms. We have a ton of different op-amp sockets to “Play” with (5 in total), yet it will still fit into a CD/DVD 5.75” drive bay in a PC case. I will be using the V6-OPA “Classic” line from Burson across the board inside the Play for this review. Burson Audio includes a standard 12V Molex power connection on the rear of the unit as well as a microphone input on the front. The 12V Molex connector allows for an easy power connection when the Play is inside your PC’s 5.75” drive bay. All of these features come together to give you the whole package in one very mobile footprint!

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    The microphone is powered by a small C-Media HS100B (thanks to Head-Fi.org for this correction). After connecting USB, most computers will see the ES9018 output and list it as a generic USB device. This ES9018 output is not meant to be used, so disable it. If you don’t choose the XMOS device (default) named “XMOS-XS1-U8 MFA (ST)”, you’ll never get any sound output. You can find the XMOS driver for the Play directly on Burson Audio’s website in the download section (found here https://drive.google.com/file/d/1RwVLfyNDo0u79erR3KaETreUnlemVhjn/view).

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    Competition Hardware Descriptions:


    While looking at the hardware below keep in mind that the Play can do everything (except maybe DSD256) that the discrete rig below can do. By discrete, I mean we have dedicated components: DAC, USB Interface/XMOS, Power Amplifier, etc. This is one of the huge plus categories for the Play, cost effectiveness. For HiFi on a budget the $299 Play is hard to beat, especially knowing what you can get it to do with discrete op-amps!

    Update: 6/25/18:

    I have managed to run down 6 replacement capacitors for the Nichicon Muse stock caps below in the FUN01 XMOS module. Interested in finding out how this can/or if it will cause a change in the sound signature or quality. I found some Rubycon Black Gate™ “F” Series 100uF 25V (exact replacements to those installed below). I have never bought any Black Gates™ before because the cost of entry is usually so high, but I did once find some of the Non-Polar X (NX) versions for about $35 each, which is really good (same rating as these). Still looking for a good place to use those insanely good capacitors, but non-polar caps are pretty rare these days in digital audio circuits.


    I really lucked out on this latest seller, because I found out that despite the fact they have been soldered in a PCB before, it was never used. They removed the capacitors from new circuit boards and as a result, besides testing, the capacitors are all new! These carry a price tag around $50-$100 on Ebay for NOS or New (Other) or New, expect about a 50% price drop for used. Or you can do like I do and sit and wait, always looking but only buying when you truly spot something worth your money. New Black Gate™ F Series capacitors for $20 a piece? Sure! Read a little more here.


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    I am providing some stout competition for the lonely “Play”. I will be utilizing my ES9038Pro DAC by ESS + “FUN01” v1.1 XMOS module (identical to Singxer’s SU-1). To keep this as even as possible, I will be making almost all head-to-head headphone comparisons using a single amplifier, when I’m using the internal Play amp I will notify the reader. The amp used on most parts is my S.M.S.L. “sAp-10” (a completely balanced headphone amplifier). Offering 2x 3-Pin XLR in + RCA in, with 1x 4-Pin XLR out and ¼” out. All loudspeaker comparisons will be made using my Pioneer “VSX-919AH” (4-Star WhatHiFi Winner) or my Yamaha “RX-V863” (I try both in the review), powering a pair of Wharfedale’s “Diamond 220” bookshelf speakers (5-Star WhatHiFi Winner). Throughout the review, Burson Audio’s impedance matching RCA-to-RCA Cable+™ will be connected between my modded Kenwood C-2 pre-amp (more on that here) and the power amplifier in use.

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    I will confirm observations I hear over the loudspeakers with my Audeze “EL-8” planar magnetic headphones; to make sure there is really a tonal shift, or distortion, etc. The EL-8 “space-age material” diaphragms (thinner than a human hair) lay above the Uniforce™ voice-coils, which give what Audeze calls, “near zero distortion”, making the EL-8s a perfect choice for reviewing high-end hardware where reference quality and flat frequency response is required!


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    The EL-8 also uses “patented Fluxor™ Magnet Arrays giving near double the power driving the diaphragm for even less distortion” along with Fazor™ elements as waveguides for a more “accurate waveform”. That is not to say the Wharfedale “Diamond 220” speakers are anything but exceptional, blowing away my Polk ”70s” in fidelity.

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    We want flat frequency response because anything other than that is in effect, an EQ on the incoming signal. In reality there is always some amount of EQ from the speakers or headphones, especially the speakers. As the Art of Digital Audio says, transducers, especially in loudspeakers, are what hold back audio the most from the next leap in innovation.

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    The “sAp-10” is a new device at Hallman Labs in a category of products I have been researching, balanced headphone amplifiers. This sAp-10 is an impressive piece of hardware, especially for only $199 (Amazon in May of 2018). The sAp-10 uses twin TI TPA6120A2 headphone amps, a TRIAD (FP24-500) US built transformer on board (and shielded), JRC NJW1195 four channel digital volume control with balanced phase, 2x Panasonic TQ2SA-3V Relays to prevent clicks/pops in output, 10x EPCOS (Siemens) film coupling capacitors, 3300uF Nichicon FW power supply capacitors and a lot more name brand parts.

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    This is a step up from my Schiit Audio “Magni2” ($99 at launch) and a good fit for this review since the amplifier in the Burson Play is so strong (with V6-OPA Classics). Running a dedicated amplifier ensures that we are only reviewing the DACs. As long as your DAC combo has analog outputs, such as RCA or XLR jacks, you can always bypass the internal amp. For the purposes of being fair/unbiased, I will be using RCA outs on both DACs since the Play doesn’t have XLR, also known as “balanced” outputs like the ES9038 DAC. This also keeps the exact same wiring for both DACs, including the Burson Cable+™ RCA-to-RCA cable.


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    The only difference between the two setups is the fact that the Play uses I2S (Inter-IC Sound, the latest and greatest) from the USB module and the ES9038 is still using coax from its XMOS. This was remedied before the review was finished, but not too long before. For the majority of the time all tracks in DSD were down-sampled to DSD64 (in foobar2000) because that is the maximum that the FUN01 can handle over Coax with the ES9038Pro using DoP (DSD over PCM). Note, this is how the review was run the majority of the time, even though it was corrected towards the end of the review.

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    Review Hardware Info: v2.0 vs. v1.6 Burson Audio Play

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    Burson Audio sent me a new revision of their Play’s primary PCB which is now v2.0 vs. v1.6. The primary upgrades were an increase in filtering by an increase in the number of ELNA SILMIC-II capacitors on-board. They replaced both Bourns trim pots with fixed Dale resistors (all other non-surface mounted resistors are Dales). For the -15V rail of the DAC/Amp, the v1.6 used an XL6008E1 while v2.0 uses an XL6019E1 IC. For the +15V rail of the DAC/Amp, the v1.6 used an XL4005E1 while the v2.0 model uses an XL4015E1 IC. The last two changes I noticed were the inclusion of an inline + removable 5A miniature-fuse with the 12V Molex connector and the 5W cement resistor was replaced with dual 2W carbon comp resistors in parallel. As you can guess from the names, most of these IC changes are newer revisions of the previous model (thus should be higher performing parts). From my conversations with Burson and what I have read, the main focus was lowering the noise floor without losing power. Increasing the quality of the power components will surely help out in this area.



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    I talked again with Alex from Burson Audio on the topic of what was changed from v1.6 to v2.0 (to confirm my observations) and as I thought from inspection, it mainly has to do with the ICs used for the power delivery of the positive and negative op-amp voltage rails. Burson also wanted to remove the trim-pots due to Dale resistors being less likely to cause noise in the signal path. This latest revision has excellent depth characteristics that shine during my PC gaming sessions. Surely a lower noise floor can help give the listener the purist audio possible (free of audible noise). I was also told that Burson is no longer making the v1.6 Play, so I stopped my detailed comparison between the two from a sound standpoint. If enough people want this comparison, I’ll bring it back.


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    Digital Noise/Mouse Distortion + Solution & Dedicated PC Power Supply: Fix that Hum Yourself!


    I have not noticed any pops, cracks, echo distortion (distortion that follows right after original sound) or other general distortion. There was one issue with digital noise that increases in decibel with mouse movement. This is a very old issue with digital audio, especially for the PC users. Luckily the community at Head-Fi.org found a fix, rather quickly in fact! New user “Dżonel” first suggested this simple mod and a handful of other users confirmed the fix works, including myself (you can find more on that here). The DAC still has a ground, it’s either from the 12V Molex or the normal DC power input, whichever you are using gives the +5V in its return path to ground (there must be one by KVL, Kirchhoff’s Voltage Law). This mod simply negates a 2nd (and thus optional) ground from the system. If you cut open your USB cable and clip the black ground wire, this noise will cease, or at the very least, drop in decibel by 75%. Some XMOS modules require the GND from the USB cable, usually those without a grounded chassis, so pick the cable you cut up wisely! You can also kill the USB ground at the DAC, but this is a more permanent option.

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    The issue of mouse induced noise/artifacts is an issue that I have brought up to companies like Creative before the X-Fi series ever launched (over a decade). I am of the opinion that it has to do with high amperage draw GPUs and CPUs. There is the possibility that a noisy AC line/outlet could contribute as well. You can minimize this chance by minimizing the number of active components in your PC (and in your audio signal chain, start with a small, but high quality system). With regard to minimizing the number of components, I am speaking about the non – system critical hardware (as in don’t remove your CPU/RAM/Mobo/PSU). When we are dealing with high res audio, this noise usually isn’t an issue, but when dealing with a lower quality (like streaming) it sometimes is. I have also picked up on similar distortion when converting multi-channel audio to stereo with the Play. When noise on the digital line is an issue, the ES9038P is almost always the winner. According to “The Art of Digital Audio 3rd Rev.”, the ability of a DAC to reject noise/jitter/artifacts/aliasing/etc.. is the “greatest measurement of DAC performance”. But as we have already mentioned, it was simply a ground issue and was easily fixed, so not everything is so cut and dry.


    I’ll do more tests using compressed audio tracks vs. high res audio to see if I can duplicate it. I found out that the ES9038P is able to do gain compensation dynamically and as a result, lower the THD (Total Harmonic Distortion). I am building a 2nd PC for Hallman Labs, nearly identical to the main PC except this one has an i5 3570K de-lidded (heat spreader removed and higher quality paste added) w/ Cooler Master V8 GTS + ASRock Z77 Extreme6 + G.Skill DDR3 2133MHz 16GB (4x4GB) + Corsair HX750 (750W/62A) + Corsair 650D rig, running the Linux tailored to Hi-Fi, Audiophile Linux (“AP-Linux” link here). This will allow us to see if this is an OS related issue, or truly just a hardware grounding problem (well, in theory it should allow us).

    From the ESS datasheet “(The ES9038P has) Programmable THD compensation to minimize the THD caused by external components” and “Full-Scale manual/auto-gain calibration reduces device-to-device gain error.” This is exactly what Burson Audio said is causing the noise over a digital signal, gain offsets between devices. Alex said the next revision of the Play will be able to adjust this manually. Now we know after troubleshooting, the cause of our digital noise has to do with the ground in the USB cable.

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    I also had to use a standalone power supply from a computer with a 24 pin lab PSU module with an on/off switch to give the 12 V Molex on the Play its power. I used a Corsair HX750 (high end PC PSU) for this to ensure the cleanest possible power (nothing else is drawing power, even the fan only runs when necessary). To make a long story short, I had a bad power brick and I ended up preferring how the PC power supply sounded over the replacement I got. I estimate having over 400 hours of use on the new revision of the Play. Even when putting it up against stout competition, the Play’s V6-OPA “Classic” op-amps really shine, especially as the amplifier. In fact, doing a direct comparison with just the Play and its internal amplifier vs. the entire other setup, the Play isn’t that far behind (using its own amp vs. the ES9038P on RCA out to sAp-10)!

    Opening Thoughts on Voicing of Burson Play vs. ES9038Pro + sAp-10:


    Switching from the SMSL sAp-10 + ES9038P + XMOS FUN01 combo to the Burson Play DAC/Amp combo has a noticeable tonal shift. I first noticed a high frequency extension of what seems to be an upper-mid to high frequency focused lift found in the Burson Play’s voicing (w/ V6-OPA “Classics”), not heard as prominently as in the other combo. I checked this with both DACs, the ES9038P + sAp-10 has slightly better low frequency extension and a mid-range lift vs. the slightly higher and a tad more detailed lift on the Burson Play DAC/Amp. I matched the volumes as close as possible without having to hook up the oscilloscope or multi-meter, by using the modded Kenwood C-2 (which has 2x V6-OPA-D “Vivid” op-amps running in the EQ amp and Flat Amp + 4x replaced stock 18V diodes with 16V Zener diodes). I also tried running 2x V5-OPA-S in the flat-amp using an adapter and flexible DIP-8 extensions. I ended up preferring the tone of the dual V5-OPA-S over the single V6-OPA-D “Vivid”.


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    The Kenwood C-2 has been instrumental in this review, matching volumes with its 4-gang ALPS potentiometer and matching voicings through its above average tone controls (running on 2x V5i-D op-amps). When we flip the ES9038P from RCA to XLR in the later parts of the review, we find that the RCA outputs are darker, with less sparkle. I bring up small details like this to ensure I give an unbiased and clear opinion.

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    The Burson Play’s performance in a movie or TV show usually comes off as more engaging, the upper-mid to high frequency extension causes environmental effects to echo/reflect around the room easier when using loudspeakers. In headphones they help give sound that extra sparkle and high frequency detail. Others may find the higher frequency focus as a distraction from the ideal flat line response, but at a time when High Resolution audio is king, I can understand the voicing selection.


    We are also talking about Burson Audio V6-OPA “Classic” (5 of them) in the Play vs. Sparkos Labs SS3601 and SS3602 (two pair) in the ES9038P. Every single op-amp selection/swap is going to change the overall tone of the sound when used in system critical positions, like these components do. As I learned after the initial review was written, the digital interface used and whether or not you are using balanced or unbalanced inputs/outputs, all have an impact on voicing and sound stage. I was surprised to learn that XLR (balanced) vs. RCA (unbalanced) had more of an impact on sound quality than Coax vs. I2S did.

    Listening Tests Streaming (Pt 1):

    (ES9038 on Coax & RCA)

    One of the things I have learned from doing multiple reviews is not to weight music too heavily. The people who do want to know about the music performance want to hear it across a broad range of different genre. The majority of people will use their hardware to do a lot more than just listening to music and the Play is focused on this fact. The main reason I can see to include a microphone is for the gamers and pod-casters, it allows you to have everything you need included in a plain 5.75” drive bay!

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    While listening to some streaming off of Netflix through a Windows 10 PC, I noticed I preferred the Burson Play over the other combo (while using Coax and RCA on the ES9038P). This tells me that depending on what you are using your device/s for, either of my combos could be on top of the other, fidelity wise. Hell if you blindfolded me and started switching DACs, I would be hard-pressed to guess right much over 50%, because they are honestly that close in fidelity, especially through my Diamond 220 bookshelf speakers. There are minute details (yep, that is how you spell minute) that come out with the ES9038P that sometimes get lost in the gain of the Play. This isn’t always true and depending on the situation, I would pick the Play.


    When I am checking the differences between my two DAC combos I always turn off the tone controls of the Kenwood C-2 pre-amp so I can hear their voicing through just the flat amp of C-2 (where one of the Burson V6-OPA-D “Vivid” discrete op-amps are). The “Play” has this crispness to the sound, without being edgy and thus not fatiguing on the ears. The bass is also prominent and free of distortion. Usually when dealing with lower quality DACs you have to sacrifice either bass or treble to boost the other. This is not true with the Burson Play DAC/Amp combo, it seems both ends of the spectrum are here equally, as well as the mid-range. The Burson Play just has this lively feel to it that is truly musical in its qualities. One of the things I always try to keep in my mind is how the hardware sounds compared to being in person at a concert.


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    When I switch back to the ES9038P combo, the first thing I hear is the mid-range clarity of the speech and when there is nothing being played, the noise floor is seemingly non-existent (Note: through the ES9038P’s XLR outputs, there is no noise floor, period). I have mentioned this fact before that the ES9038P + FUN01 seems to deal with digital noise better than the Play and its XMOS through the use of hardware demanding oversampling and noise filtering. The FUN01 has the ground plane split between the digital and analog sides of the board, something not usually seen on budget to mid-range priced USB digital interfaces. The FUN01 connects the analog and digital sides through digital isolators.



    System Critical Note: The FUN01 (clone of Singxer’s SU-1) requires power on both the digital/USB side AND on the analog side (5V power supply with center pin positive). This means you can’t use things like SBooster’s “VBus2” that kills the ground and power pins of the USB cable. The best you can do with a design like this is with something like AudioQuest’s “Jitterbug”. The Jitterbug is said to improve clarity and dynamics, bringing an overall more solid and precise sound. I was testing with and without, I’ve never been able to find any negative changes to the fidelity, so I usually run it. We are also Unable to use the modified USB cable for the Play (with the ground removed) with the FUN01.


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    Oversampling is a crucial part of a modern DAC, especially the ES9038P which uses 4x oversampling in stereo or 8x in mono mode. The ES9038P has shown its ability to filter out noise that the Play allowed through. Now we know this digital noise has been brought on by having 2 paths to ground, one in the USB cable and one through the chassis ground (supplied by the power supply ground). Oversampling helps to push noise/distortion outside of the audio band, especially with modern filtering/shaping on top of oversampling. With specific shaped filtering you can filter out 50% more or so of the quantization noise than with a plain filter (Source: Art of Digital Audio)


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    In simple terms oversampling means to sample at a higher rate than is required by the Nyquist Rate (a little over two times the top input frequency). Quantization (signal processing) error happens when going from analog to digital (ADC). This involves taking a continuous signal and segmenting it into “boxes” or “bins”. “Such errors are an inevitable result of the classification of continuously varying analog voltages into discrete digital bins. This quantization necessarily adds this noise at the level of ½ LSB (Least Significant Bit).” Pg.694 Art of Electronics Lab Manual 3rd Edition Luckily for us, the entire process is digital, from the hard drive to the XMOS and then to the ES9038P (or ES9018K2M for the Play), where digital is then turned to analog (DAC).

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    Often after conversion from digital to analog (DAC), flat lines will have a roughness, also called “steppy edges”. This error can be smoothed out using a quality, low-pass filter. If you look on the back of the Play, this is what the “LP” means in the diagram. A common use of discrete op-amps, includes being used as high quality, low-pass filters with little effort.


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    Sampling Rate: In simple terms, sampling involves breaking the waveform/graph into smaller and smaller chunks. However, the sampling rate must be taken across the horizontal/time axis. Note: In audio, when signal frequencies begin close to zero, the highest frequency simply is the bandwidth. This tells us the sampling required for a given signal must be dependent on the highest frequency in the analog wave. If the wave is made up of more than one frequency (such as in audio), it is the highest frequency that we are concerned with (lower frequencies are much easier to sample). So, if you buy a high res PCM/FLAC album that is rated at 96 kHz, the highest frequency you should see on an oscilloscope of the DAC outputs should be right around 96 kHz.


    Listening Test Music (Pt 1):

    (ES9038 on I2S + RCA out & Play using internal amp)


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    Adele Live at the Royal Albert Hall Blu-Ray (DTS-HD MA 5.1 to LCPM 2.0)

    I have to admit I am a fan of Adele, she is one of the most powerful and spine tingling voices still with us. This Blu-Ray is an excellent showcase of her talents, from the power of “Don’t You Remember” to the country melody of the cover “If it Hadn’t Been for Love”, Adele never leaves you disappointed with this live album. I start out on the Burson Play using the internal amp into my EL-8s and there isn’t even a hint of distortion, noise, pop, cracks, etc. The EL-8s are so transparent on this album with the Burson Play, yet they maintain the body and depth of a live album. From the realism of the Royal Albert Hall echoes (time for a note to decay) captured, to the texture of her voice, this album transports you to London. Accurate imaging and timbre of the instruments intertwined with the powerful vocals, make this one of my favorite “reference” albums.


    On the track “Turning Tables” we are greeted with a very rich and textured voice, thanks to Adele. The piano on this track seems to surround the vocals of Adele on both sides and the violins come in from what seems to be higher (off the ground) than the vocals and piano, like birds swooping in from on high. Switching to one of the higher paced tracks, “Rumor Has It” brings the bass and body without losing the precision of this album. This is one of the best tracks to hear the dynamic range and the snap/speed of transient response of the album. (Transients as defined by Head-Fi “the leading edge of a percussive sound. Good transient response makes the sound as a whole more live and realistic.”) In contrast, a bad transient response would come off smeared or muddy.

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    I switch over to the ES9038P + FUN01 and finally the ES9038P is able to pull ahead in the upper-mid to high frequency territory. I think the ES9038P has a better balance on this album than the Play does (tone controls are off on C-2) and it has better low level detail. At the top of the SPL (Sound Pressure level) the sound has a warmth and texture to it that is slightly lacking on the Play. It’s like you dialed the presence knob up when going between the Play to the ES9038P. To those who don’t play guitar, presence means how “close” the sound seems to you. Neither setups are really lacking, but we are doing a comparison here, which is far from easy with how strong each of the setups are.

    I flip to the cover, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” and from the first note you feel like you are standing there watching her. The sweetness of her voice shines through on this track while maintaining pitch across her unbelievable vocal range. Only a few artist before her could even compete with her capacity and vocal stamina, such as Aretha Franklin or Whitney Houston. The overall realism of this album is up there with some of the best, from the echo of her voice around the hall to the crowd singing on the track “One and Only”. The dynamic range could be glass shattering, yet I don’t feel my ears getting tired/fatigued (when played at a reasonable level). Now we go back to the Play and cue up the song “I’ll Be Waiting”, as if on cue the chills go down my spine. It’s very hard to describe these changes in sound quality. It’s almost the way it “feels” vs. how it sounds, people use the word “musicality” to describe this sensation. The Play seems to have slightly more body to the sound, the small details seem more focused or just come out with less effort.

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    I noticed when I was playing the album over DTS-MA 5.1 (into LPCM 2.0) I kept hearing what sounded like sibilant distortion, but when I flipped to Dolby 2.0 it stopped instantly. This tells me that this issue has to do with down-sampling 5.1 into stereo using PowerDVD 17 Ultra. For whatever reason, this issue doesn’t seem to bother the ES9038P combo as prominently. Once I had that issue figured out I was left with a hard decision to make, deciding which DAC wins this section. There is a small downside for the Play, it lacks the complete blackness of the ES9038P’s background, even in between notes you can hear this difference. However, this is not a detail that you’d notice right off the bat, maybe not even the first few times playing the album. Still, for this reason I have to give this section to the ES9038P. If not for this little difference I would have called it a tie.

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    Listening Test Music (Pt 2):

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    Tedeschi Trucks Band Live from the Fox, Oakland (96kHz/24-bit FLAC)

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    I have seen Derek Trucks in both of his former groups, The Derek Trucks Band (twice live) and The Allman Brothers (four times live). I am going to see Tedeschi Trucks Band for the first time in July (in the town of my old engineering school, Raleigh, NC!) and I am excited to hear this duo finally in person! Basically, I know how Trucks sounds when he plays live and I have listened to his studio work for hundreds of hours, maybe thousands (car trips add up fast). Without further ado, these are my thoughts on the performance of these components during this excellent live high res album.



    We begin with the ES9038P + FUN01 going into a SMSL sAp-10 balanced headphone amplifier, although we are using RCA for fairness sake. I have considered comparing balanced (the hardware interface) out of the sAp-10 once I have the “Blue Dragon” cable and EL-8 connectors from Moon Audio to a 4-pin XLR from Neutrik. This is the balanced output from the sAp-10 that is offered alongside the ¼” jack.


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    Back to the music at hand, this is one of the most lively and upbeat live albums I have had the pleasure of listening to in a while. This will be my first opportunity to listen to this album, for the sake of the review! From the start of the first track we hear the crowd noise tumble into our sound field, the drum rolls left to right, everything seems just how you want it. Flat curve with complete neutrality throughout the frequency spectrum and even though they jam out hard at The Fox, it’s not fatiguing. I know that my EL-8s definitely help in that area, though, also having the Kenwood C-2 really is a life saver and worth every penny. The C-2 comes alive further when we take the time to mod it for modern discrete op-amps! Giving the tone control the V5i-Ds from Burson Audio was an easy call, these tone controls are a crucial part of my rig. Each album has its own EQ and I have an EQ that I want to create for my system, so a pre-amp caters to this need. At least if you get one with decent tone controls like we have on the C-2. All final impressions are done with the tone neutrality (tone controls disabled/off).


    The guitar is placed right in the center of the sound stage, the crowd seems to encircle the guitar during the track “Keep on Growing”. If you listen, close your eyes and really listen, the crowd is all around you and the instruments come from dead center, if the stage was a 360 sphere in front of your face. We get to the bluesy, slower “Bird on a Wire” piano opening, which I love. Growing up with Aretha Franklin and Led Zeppelin, creates an eclectic ear. An ear that loved Zeppelin’s “Trampled Underfoot” because of the keyboard solo! This album hits so many genres without having to try, it transplants you. Then in comes Susan Tedeschi, who delivers all the vocal sweetness and texture like the great ones from the past. Ever since I heard her sing “Midnight in Harlem” at Eric Clapton’s 2010 Crossroads on Blu-Ray, I was sold. The fact she married one of the top touring guitarist in the world, was definitely a plus! “Bird on a Wire” is such a powerful track, Tedeschi gives a soulful and church hymn inspired tune a modern feel, with her own special touches at every chance she gets. The sound of Tedeschi coming in the EL-8s compared to the piano, drums and backup singers, almost seems to be coming from “above” you, like an angel singing down

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    It’s time to switch over to the Burson Play after I have a good sense of the ES9038P and its performance on coaxial. I can’t deny it, I listened to “Within You, Without You” twice, once with the ES9038P + FUN01 and once with the Play (both setups were using the SMSL sAp-10 headphone amp into the EL-8 open-backs). I put the Play on and closed my eyes, in order to imagine this sound field and pick up on the details I noticed a change with. The first thing was the jump in decibel (which I had to correct obviously), but it is worth noting that the Burson Play overall has so much more gain than my ES9038P, maybe 4x. The Play is loud enough to easily damage your hearing, especially when you are using things like a pre-amp with a power amplifier. Be safe with your gain levels and protect your hearing!

    What I noticed first was the goose bumps on my arms when using the Play, honestly. The first time I played the first track, it was like I was actually there (when I closed my eyes and focused on the sound). I’m doing it now with the track “These Walls”. The guitar seems to originate from some ancient stone cave due to the sound of the instrument and the echo captured, but there is a large crowd of people around too. This strange instrument being played, not one I can name (sorry guys/gals), it seems to grab your attention and sort of tickles your brain with a melody almost hypnotic in its timing. Derek Trucks starts to play along with them, sounds like he is using a slide guitar on this track. The drum comes in, slowly at first, with a jazz type sound and all of a sudden we have Susan singing again. This is a song I absolutely love, titled “These Walls”. It’s so easy to pick out each instrument when you open your ears and just sit and focus on the track. The Play has so many strengths and I’m not just saying that for the purpose of this review, I plan to prove it actually. We will eventually put the Play and the ES9038P + FUN01 into RightMark and my oscilloscope to see what is going on!


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    This will probably be the longest listening test of this review because this band means a lot to me and I hope this review will help to expose this album as one of the few great modern releases by a real rock band. They always say, write about things that are meaningful to you, well here you go! Susan Tedeschi is able to build up the momentum of the track so well, but then we transition to a slower paced slide guitar and what sounds to be an acoustic slide of some sort. Then Derek Trucks is just playing normally, he just sounds like that on a normal guitar. The man is a genius when it comes to playing, you can quote me on that.

    The Play comes away here really cementing the way I feel about how it stacks up. I only hope this continues once the ES9038P is running on I2S also! That will be something that should interest people who may not be interested in the overall review topic! Is I2S that important where a DAC/Amp combo can compete against using all discrete components? The placement and dynamics that the Play is able to achieve, really creates an impressive sound field to get lost into. The track returns to what it opened up with and then it closes out as smoothly as it came in. I’d probably have to give the Burson Play the win (while the album was playing through coax on the ES9038P setup).

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    A Short Note on Converting PCM to DSD with Foobar2000:


    I tried playing the Tedeschi Trucks album with DSD64 using SDM Type D (best of the available Foobar2000 DSD converters) from its native 96 kHz PCM and I ended up hearing what sounded like clicking coming from random locations. I tried both DSD128/48 and DSD128, I didn’t experience this artifact using these settings and the overall sound signature seemed livelier. I am listening to more of the same Tedeschi Trucks album in DSD128 and it truly sounds remarkable. “Don’t Drift Away” in particular draws emotion out of you like Otis Redding can in songs such as “Cigarettes and Coffee” or even “Chain Gang”. Perhaps you are more into Aretha doing “The House that Jack Built”? Anyone who enjoys those tracks will enjoy this live Tedeschi Trucks album in my opinion, it’s definitely worth checking out. The jam out track “Ali” brings in a lot of brass instruments that really help to open this album up to a huge audience, between the excellent trumpet work and the always groovy playing of Trucks, you are in for a treat!


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    Just for the sake of pointing it out, I switched back to DSD64 on a track that was clear during DSD128 and sure enough, the clicking had returned. As soon as I switched over to DSD128, before even hitting apply, the clicking was gone! So there must be a limitation of DSD64 with this up conversion that still needs to be ironed out with foobar2000. For now if you are going to convert PCM into DSD on foobar2000, stick to DSD128 or DSD128/48.


    Balanced vs. Unbalanced: Understanding the ES9038’s Performance

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    I think the huge difference in unbalanced vs. balanced sound quality needs to be pointed out. This is an advantage that stacks up in favor of the ES9038Pro for the no-holds bar patrons of HiFi HW (large budgets). Sadly it is true, in order to get an amplifier with XLR in will cost a pretty penny. There are a few exceptions to this rule, especially if you go with used equipment (I do this, see Pioneer VSX-919AH) or DIY.


    When using my XLR/balanced setup the sound stage seems to expand by at least 2 fold, it’s immediately noticeable if sitting near the sAp-10 with both RCA and XLR hooked up from the ES9038P (switching between the 2 inputs because the ES9038P can output both). It’s not only sound stage size that changes, the texture of the highs and lows have more detail. The dynamic range seems to be better too, the XLR input from the ES9038P seems louder on the sAp-10 by a few decibels, nothing crazy. Just the change in the details you can pick up on, like someone hitting a mic stand or the pianist foot tapping against the ground while playing brings an old album alive again.


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    When we are comparing brass instruments you might as well lay down the cards on balanced audio, it’s not even close, especially on the high frequency side. The RCA output of the ES9038P is a tad darker, even when running through the C-2 with V6-OPA-D “Vivid” op-amps for the flat amp. Perhaps this is why I kept hearing a high frequency shift with the Burson Play for most of the review (because of the darker RCA signature).


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    Perhaps the ES9038P has a darker signature on the RCA outputs than the XLR or, it could also be how the sAp-10 handles the two input types. Sadly I only have one amp that can take XLR in, so I can’t confirm this observation. I do have another XLR DAC on the work bench (see DSC1 article). Over the days following the release of this review I will be making measurements trying to get all of these audible claims to show up on an oscilloscope or in RightMark, so keep an eye out for the update.

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    Adding I2S Input To ES9038 DAC:

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    The job of putting I2S into the ES9038P DAC enclosure is no small feat. The mod takes someone who can use both soldering irons and power tools! Most decent CAT6 jacks will require a 6/7” to 1″ hole in the back of the DAC to fit the jack. Then you need to remove the stock pin header from the DAC PCB so you can hard-wire the I2S line (in my case, using Belden Catsnake™ CAT6A) between the I2S header location and the punch down/keystone jack found on the Neutrik plug. Using a keystone jack makes it easy to change the order of the wires, if ever needed in the future.


    Not all XMOS/Amanero units have the same I2S output order, even just leaving a pin out can wreak havoc on your Hi-Fi experience (if you don’t adjust the order to match)! Once you punch down the CAT5/CAT6 you can hook up your CAT6 cable between your XMOS/Amanero module and the DAC’s CAT6 jack you just installed. Congrats, you now have a custom DAC (takes just one mod to qualify for the word “custom”)! If anyone has questions about why I did something or how to apply this information and the info found in the I2S Catsnake™ article, please email me at keith@hallmanlabs.com for more info.


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    I2S opened a huge door for the ES9038P across the board (RCA or XLR). The highs are better, more transparent signature, less fatigue on an already low fatiguing setup. Then of course the ability to now play DSD256 or 32-bit FLAC at 352.8 kHz+ adds to our High-Res options!


    Before, running the ES9038 on coax was a little unfair, but not by a stupid amount. I apologize as the majority of this review was written with the ES9038 setup running on coax, but I will be including listening tests where the ES9038 is also on I2S (like the Play is by default). I hope this little “change in our program” will go to showing the strengths of XLR + I2S vs. RCA + Coax. This will give us a sub-review in the main review; as I will distinguish Coax tests from those made on I2S and see what differences or similarities exist.

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    DAC Audio Performance Measurements


    Frequency Response: White & Pink Noise Testing

    There are a handful of different types of “colored” noise, white noise has equal dB across the entire frequency spectrum (limited in how high the range is in frequency by the track/album used). While “pink” noise has a perfectly flat line in the audible range with a -20dB drop (at varying slopes/shapes) after 20 kHz.


    A perfectly flat line (on the FFT) is what we want to see on this first test (white noise is up first), and both DACs come very close using this method to “flat”. Pink noise is what you see below the first two photographs. Sadly I don’t have equal quality digital files (such as DSD256 as I do for each frequency vs. a sweep or colored noise that I only have in CD quality).


    ES9038Pro DAC – White Noise Test:

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    Burson Play: White Noise Test:


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    Now let’s look at how a 96kHz 24-bit FLAC pink noise and how this shows us the high frequency roll off.

    Burson Audio’s Play:

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    ES9038Pro:


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    Now, with the ES9038Pro, you can change the behavior/shape of the high frequency roll-off using FIR filters found in the menus. Each of the 10 or so filters have a noticeable impact on the shape of the FFT. This is one of the examples that show the flexibility of the ES9038P. We can see just from the last two scope captures that the Burson Play does indeed have a higher dBV value at parts of the higher frequency end of the FFT than the ES9038P (this matches what I noticed listening).

    Note: I am working on doing frequency response using discrete frequencies as I have them in DSD256. However, I have run into some difficulties getting a fair score on both DACs. I am also working on THD, SNR, Jitter, etc.

    Thanks for being patient!

    Closing Remarks: Burson Play Comes In First In Its Weight Class:

    These two setups turned out to be much closer in fidelity than I would have ever guessed from the start of the review. We were able to gauge how much of a difference I2S has over Coax and then I compared balanced outputs to unbalanced outputs. Most reviewers would never change something so dramatic during a review, but I found it insightful to do so. Without switching to I2S or balanced outputs, I would have probably rated the Burson Play slightly too high. The Play is definitely an excellent choice for those who want your DAC/Amp together in a mobile package, but still want the option of rolling op-amps. The Play is a unique piece of equipment that shows us that size can be deceiving and is an excellent value for the money. The sAp-10 amplifier alone is larger than the entire Play, much less if we take into account the DAC and XMOS unit that make up the other combo.


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    Overall I have been thoroughly impressed by the performance and fidelity of the Burson Play, both from a DAC standpoint and as a separate amplifier. When you think about how the Play is laid out, the single-DIP op-amps each power one channel (L/R) of the headphones amp and the pre-amp out (that can be run at the same time as the headphone ¼” out). Throwing in a decent quality mic input powered by an ES9018K2M, gives the gamers everything they need in one enclosure. This is a solid rig all around and with just a little tweaking it can be a great rig! I can easily recommend this for anyone who admires simplicity and quality for a budget conscious price, wrapped up in a compact package. Burson Audio has really found something special here with the Play and 5x V6-OPA Classics!


    • Overall Performance in Music: 9/10
    • Overall Performance in TV/Movies: 9/10
    • Overall Performance in Streaming: 8.5/10
    • Internal Amp Performance: 9.5/10
    • DAC Performance w/o Amp: 8.5/10
    • Ability of DAC to Reject Noise: 7/10
    • Ease of Use: 9/10
    • Performance per dollar: 9/10
    • Performance of Headphone Out: 9.5/10
    • Performance of RCA/Pre-amp Out: 8.5/10
    • Customer Service of Company: 10/10


    Overall Rating: 90/100 = A-
    (not an average of the above scores)


    Hallman Labs Award Winner for Best DAC/Amp in 5.75″ form factor!


    Pros:

    • Ability to upgrade at a later time to a higher end rig.
    • High mobility/portability due to a very compact design.
    • Entire chassis acts as a heat sink and entire chassis is grounded.
    • Excellent quality audio for the cost. The Play is able to compete with ES9038PRO DAC and even win a few of the tests.
    • Plenty of power using the internal amp, powered by two single-DIP op-amps.
    • Ability to slide the Play right into a PC 5.75″ drive bay.
    • Ability to listen to RCA and headphones outputs simultaneously.
    • Uses I2S to communicate with XMOS.
    • Can be powered a variety of ways.
    • Has a remote and a few other included accessories, sounds small, but an important detail.


    Cons:

    • Can get fairly warm, but these are the realities of a Class A amplifier and the components can handle it.
    • Not as good at rejecting noise as the ES9038PRO DAC can. The FUN01 also plays a role in the cleaner signal. (Note: this opinion is after fixing the USB ground issue.)
    • Unable to get a Play that uses the Amanero, although you can easily get one that fits if you want one, just not stock.
    • The Play’s display could give us more info and the inclusion of a simple menu would be nice. Just give us a few filter selections and a few other basics menu options (as seen on the ES9038P’s screen).
    • There can be a digital noise issue because of the fact there are two paths to ground in the Play if you leave the USB cable’s GND connected. I disconnected mine as advised on Head-Fi and the digital noise stopped. Still have to list this as a con though, the average consumer might not want to cut into a USB cable or de-solder something.


    Thanks for reading the 3rd review at Hallman Labs! On deck is Part 2 of my Discrete Op-Amp Showdown and I will be adding technical aspects to this article as time goes on, such as performance measurements.



    Copyright © 2018 Hallman Labs™, All rights reserved. No material written or photographed on this site may be replicated/copied/quoted/etc. without written permission from the site author/owner of Hallman Labs.


    Announcing Burson v1.6 Play Giveaway by Hallman Labs. Winner drawn on September 1st, 2018! See more info here.
  5. Dobrescu George
    Burson Play - Desktop Power
    Written by Dobrescu George
    Published Jul 31, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - - Price/Performance Ratio exceedes most products in the 300USD Price Range
    - Textures Quality is impressive
    - Soundstage is both deep and wide, very holographic, but doesn't spread unnaturally, basically an excellent presentation of a large soundstage
    - Tonality is Spot-On, without any coloration, or any kind of tilting, it is neutral, natural, energetic and vivid
    - Dynamics are top notch
    - Excellent amounts of control over the sound, even at very high volumes, with both easy to drive and very-hard-to-drive headphones
    - The overall sound is quick, textured, punchy, indicating both a really impressive impulse response, and a really nice power delivery solution
    - Detail and resolution are also very impressive, some of the best there can be at this price range, outdoing most 300 USD competition with ease
    - Full Metal, Trustworthy build quality
    - Firmware is as stable as it can be, no crashes, no random disconnects, it simply works
    Cons - - The unit gets warm while in usage, meaning that if it is used inside a desktop PC build, it needs some cooling around it, not an issue if it is used on a desk
    - High output impedance leads to hiss with very sensitive In-Ears, especially with IEMs lower than 16 OHM in impedance
    - High output impedance also indicates that it will perform slightly different across certain IEMs, especially relevant for IEMs which have their impedance lower than 16 OHM, or those which are sensitive to output impedance
    Burson Play - Desktop Power

    Burson is a large company working in high-end Desktop Audio components, including those which can be incorporated in a Desktop PC build. Burson Play is one of their highest-rated DAC/AMPs which can do way more than the price tag or the name implies, and we're going to also put it against much more expensive portable products, to tempting you to go desktop soon.

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    Introduction

    Burson Audio is an excellent example of a high-end audio company. They have a 5-year warranty for their products, which by itself is amazing, but they also note on their homepage a lifetime-warranty for their OP-AMPs, so you know you're in for a treat working with a company which trusts their products this much. Their public relations people are also native in English and will provide you with utmost care in service along with good advice in picking the product best suited for you from their offer. They will also be taking care of you with their warranty, and make the process as easy and hassle-free as possible, for five years after purchasing their products, but having seen the quality of their products, we don't feel you'll be needing warranty any time soon.


    It should be noted that I have absolutely no affiliation with Burson Audio, I am not receiving any incentive for this review or to sweeten things out. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by Burson Audio or anyone else. I'd like to thank Burson Audio for providing the sample for the review. The sample was provided along with Burson Audio's request for an honest and unbiased review. This review will be as objective as it is humanly possible, and it reflects my personal experience with Burson Play. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Burson Play find their next music companion. This review is part of a mini-tour organized by Burson Play and this unit will also be reviewed by other reviewers during this tour.



    About me

    https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/p/about.html



    Packaging

    First things first, let's get the packaging out of the way:


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    Burson packaging is not quite as fancy as some might expect, in the sense that the outer box is a simple black cardboard box, thing which may seem a little disappointing at first, but we'd like to remind everyone that Hard Disks come in plastic bags, and as Burson Play is marketed as, and can be treated as a Desktop computer component, this rather simple presentation isn't quite that unusual.

    After you open the initial package, you see the mastery of Burson products, as everything has its own compartiment, and the Burson Play unit itself is seated quite nicely in its own cutout. In the lateral compartments you can find all the accessories you'll be using to enjoy and have fun with Burson Play.

    The unit comes with a plethora of accessories, including cables, Power adapters, and other miscellaneous which you will surely find handy when along the way.


    Here's a full list of those accessories:

    Burson Play Unit
    PC Connection Cable Set
    Remote Control (optional)
    6.5mm to 3.5mm Socket Adaptor
    RCA Cable
    2.5mm hex key
    Power Supply
    100-240V AC


    There's not much we could have wished for to be included in the package really, they really thought of everything, and there are even small silicone feet to attach to your unit if you plan on having it sit on your desk and such.



    What to look in when purchasing a high-end DAC/AMP

    https://audiophile-heaven.blogspot.ro/p/what-to-lookl.html



    Technical Specifications

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    Build Quality/Aesthetics/UI/Firmware

    The build quality of Burson Play is as good as it gets, which is like a tank. We're talking about a medium-sized device which is mostly a heavy metallic unibody. There is no flex if you press on the unit from any direction, the whole thing feels like it can withstand a serious amount of stress and pain, although, being a desktop device, this probably won't be the case.

    There is a volume wheel on the front, which is a digital controller for the volume, which works great. You can even press on the button to mute to unit, and you don't need to be too careful with it, as it is made really well.

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    There is a 6.3mm plug on the front, which is just lovely, as it will be quite helpful in using some serious Desktop Headphones, and since you have a 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter included in the package, you really can fit any headphone with Burson Play. There is a Microphone jack as well with the unit, so you don't need to worry about plugging in your favorite mic at the back of your computer.

    There's a lovely display on the front of the unit, which displays the current volume in a deep blue, made of small LED lights. This gradual volume is in perfect sync with the volume wheel, as the volume wheel does not rotate freely, but has small dents which let you know when you increased or decreased the volume with a unit. This volume goes from 1 to 99, but for most headphones, IEMs and even if you connect a Speaker with RCA cables from the back of the unit, you're most probably going to stay within the first 42 steps of volume, unless you have some really power hungry headphones.

    The aesthetics of the unit are pretty cool, our review unit being black, with a stylised Burson logo on the front, and with most of the unit being made out of a matte metal.

    At the back of the unit you can find a USB plug for connecting Burson Play to your computer, a Molex Power Adapter, to feed power from your PSU to your Burson Play, a On/OFF Switch, and a Power Plug for connecting the outer power adapter to your Burson Play, which is used if you use Burson Play on your desk rather than in a desktop computer build. On this note, Burson included even a cable to route Burson Play from a USB Header from your Motherboard, so you really have all the bases covered, provided the case is a normal or larger sized desktop case.

    Now, a few notes about the build, Burson Play was thought to also be used as part of your dream multimedia PC, so it is constructed in such a way that it would fit in most computer cases just fine, providing an even better ergonomic and comfort than if it was constructed as a standalone desktop unit only. Even so, at Audiophile Heaven we mostly rely on iTX cases, which simply do not have the space necessary to install Burson Play inside, but we feel that it is a beautiful device to have on your desk while working or listening to music.

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    The firmware and UI are very simple, or rather, not needed. Burson Play works natively with multiple desktop computers we have in our office, and it simply doesn't mind what kind of signal it is being fed. The drivers install easily on windows, and you can just enjoy listening to music as soon as you plug it in. It is capable of decoding PCM signals up to 384kHz / 32Bit (Highest there is), and DSD up to DSD 256, including Native and DoP. Basically, it covers anything you're likely to have around. The best part is that it even works on Android and iOS, and also MAC, so you have one device you can use with any other devices you have, from a Tablet, to the most powerful desktop setup.

    The output impedance is rated at around 8 Ohm, which means that some lower impedance IEMs will have some hiss, and that some very efficient, low impedance IEMs might also sound a little different on Burson Play than they do on most other sources. This means it is more of a Headphone AMP than of a IEM AMP. There are iFi products on the market, like iEMatch, which can help alleviate this.


    Other than that, Burson Play hasn't made any kind of issue for us, over the course of a few weeks of serious testing, it hasn't restarted or disconnected once, so we can say it is as stable as a device can be.

    At the end of the day, the build quality, the aesthetics and the Firmware are all within what we consider a Golden Level.



    Sound Quality

    The sonic signature in this review is measured with the default OP-AMPs, and we also measure the sonic performance of Burson Play's DAC, as we had the chance to connect it to our speakers, as the main DAC unit in our main listening setup in our office.

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    There are a few other setups with different OP-AMPs, and we are going to look into those in a follow-up review as well, but right now we'll be talking about the least expensive, base configuration.

    The main way to describe its sound neutral. So dear neutral that it makes slightly warm sources like Opus #1s or Cayin N5ii sound quite warm in direct comparison. Other things that can be said about the sound of Burson Play is that it is powerful. The control and authority it has over sound is absolutely incredible, and we heard the flagships in terms of portable audio before, so we are accustomed to a really well-controlled sound, but Burson Play is totally incredible, especially when we consider the fact that it costs about 300 USD, which is roughtly the same price you pay for an entry-level to midrange Digital Audio Player.

    Bass


    The bass of Burson Play is very deep, and very revealing, but most important, very controlled. There is no real trace of warmth or coloration in the bass, being absolutely neutral, but that is pretty much desirable from a source, especially from a desktop DAC/AMP, being one of the more important things when you own a larger collection of headphones and IEMs and you want to have something to drive them all without coloring their signatures. The bass goes as deep as you can imagine, but most importantly, it is very controlled, quick, can explode extremely quickly and recover just as quickly. Without much coloration to talk about, the bass can come off as very agile and able to bring the best your headphones and IEMs can do, especially for a DAC/AMP at this price point. When it comes to a desktop DAC/AMP, there are characteristics like the slew rate of the amplifier which may be quite a bit better than a similarly priced counterpart, but that is mainly because the physics of a desktop component allow it to be physically larger, thus allowing for higher quality components.

    Midrange

    The midange of Burson Play makes itself remarked once again by how transparent and colorless it is. The textures are fairly good, and everything feels right into its place, although, if we were to name something that really stands out, that is the amount of detail Burson Play has. The fact is, most high-end Portables reach this level of raw detail in general, and not most midrange devices, and since the most prominent two Players from the midrange price bracket we reviewed have been Opus #1s and FiiO X5-3, and we liked both of them, this is saying quite a bit about Burson Play. You can hear details, micro-details, textures and micro-textures if your Earphone, Headphone or IEM is able to reveal them. Burson hides nothing and acts exactly like an ideal source should, it colors nothing, hides nothing, simply presenting the listener with an accurate representation of the music that is being played.

    Treble

    Now, the treble, is a story which we love, but which we understand will change with other OP-AMPs from Burson. The treble is really well-extended, energetic and neutral, a touch bright and cold, akin to how most ESS-family devices were described to sound in the past. This means that the sparkle in the cymbals of most songs will be very alive and lively, there is a stunning clarity all-around, and there is no smoothing or toning down of the treble. This doesn't say very much on its own, when we consider that most sources are supposed to sound this way, but it does say a bit about how universally match-able Burson Play is. Since it is so neutral, it won't color Headphones, so it provides a fun, punchy, sparkly and interesting experience with very different headphones, like Audeze LCD-MX4, Ultrasone Signature DXP, and Beyerdynamic Amiron. The treble texture is normal, it isn't very smooth nor very grainy, mostly within what we'd consider a natural treble texture, the IEM or Headphone doing most of the work to give it a tilt either way.



    Soundstage

    Now the soundstage is something that differs widely between devices, sources, DACs and AMPs. Here, Burson Play is a good performer. The soundstage has a good size and depth, a generally pleasant layering, with enough layers for instruments to each play on its own, but it doesn't expand unnaturally, so instruments which are supposed to sound closer will be closer and forward, while instruments playing in the background will stay in the background. All in all, the width and height, along with the depth of the soundstage, are what we'd consider to be amazing for 300 USD, and good for any price range.



    ADSR/PRaT

    The ADSR / PRaT are probably the other interesting part of Burson Play, since we first established that it doesn't really color sound much, and that it has a good soundstage, so the only remaining part to review (besides comparisons), is its ability to render textures. Here, we feel it does a good job. The macro textures are rendered with good clarity and expression, Masa Works Design and Mindless Self Indulgence both sounding pretty vivid and lively, while micro textures are well defined, but not brought very forward in an more revealing way. While they surely are in the sound, and you can hear them with IEMs and Headphones prone to revealing them, they aren't quite as revealed as the macro textures. We're quite curious how the other OP-AMPs will affect this part of the sound, as Burson markets the Vivid Burson Play as being able to really bring a lot more of the textures and micro-textures forward. We will acquire a set of the higher-end OP-AMPs to review them in a future article as well.



    Desktop Usage

    This is the place where we'd have our Portable Usage section, if we had one. At least for this review, it would make no sense to discuss how portable Burson Play is, as it is transportable at best. This is a full fledged Desktop Amplifier unit, so we can study other parts of it in the process.


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    First thing, there is no cable or microphonic noise in Burson Play. We noticed that some users mentioned this being an issue with certain DAC/AMPs from other companies, so we did a little study to see if Burson Play has any, but there's no trace of such a thing. We're quite glad to note that we noticed it being dead silent regardless of where it was placed, including if it was placed on top of our speakers, so we can say that it is also well shielded from EMI or electromagnetic interference.

    The heat is another aspect we need to discuss about, as Burson Play gets pretty warm during usage. It won't get hot to the touch, but it gets fairly warm to the touch, close to how warm an iFi iDSD Black Label Micro can get while it is in usage, indicating that it may not be the best idea to place Burson Play within a desktop build, unless you can ensure that there is a good amount of airflow around it, or if you can point a fan towards it to make sure it stays nice and cool. This isn't a big issue while it sits on a desktop though, we can't notice that it is warm to be honest, unless we need to turn it off, thing which also needs to be mentioned. Burson Play needs to be turned off by either plugging out its power source, or using the button in the back. In a Desktop Computer build, this wouldn't be an issue, as it would turn off when the computer is turned off, but in a desktop usage, you need to flick the switch at the back to turn it off.

    You can always engage the volume button to mute the sound, by pressing on it, and this works fairly nice.

    There is a microphone 3.5mm input, although we haven't had a chance to test a lot about it, it works with our simpler microphones just fine.

    Now, we also have used Burson Play as the DAC unit in our desktop setup, and we need to note that it is doing an amazing job. It is better than other devices we had from this price point, connected in the same manner, like HIDIZS DH100, which we were using before connecting Burson Play, and once we had Burson Play in place, we realised just how great of an implementation of the DAC inside Burson has, since Burson Play manages to bring out far more detail to the ears of the listener, and to have a much better treble extension, feeling more natural and wider.

    This might also be because Burson Play also has the 2xRCA outputs which are designed for it to work as a DAC for a pair of speakers with their own AMP, while DH1000 is designed to be a DAC/AMP only, without a Line Out.


    Another thing we've noticed during our time with Burson Play is that it simply works. It doesn't matter which one of our machines it was connected to, it simply works, it never disconnects, never restarts, simply put, there is nothing to stop you from enjoying music while using Burson Play, and we consider this a true virtue for a device, and a really pleasant first experience with Burson Devices.



    Comparisons

    Most comparisons have been taken with Edifier S1000DB, Audeze LCD-MX4, Dita Truth, Hifiman RE2000, Ultrasone Signature Studio, Hifiman RE800, Sennheiser ie800, Beyerdynamic Amiron, Ultrasone Signature DXP and iBasso IT04.

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    Burson Play vs FiiO Q5 (AMP5) - Here's a tricky one, as, if you've been following our articles, you probably know how much we love FiiO Q5 and its price/performance ratio, offering virtually the same sound as FiiO X7mkii, for as little as half of the cost. Starting with the build quality, both devices are fully made of metal, both devices have a volume wheel, and both devices have a build quality that can take a beating and come back for more. Both devices are shipped with all the extras you could ever require to drive them, including all the cables, connectors and accessories to take full advantage of them. The differences start to appear when you consider each of their intended usage scenarios. FiiO Q5 is a stack-able DAC/AMP which you can strap to your smartphone, to have the sound of a high-end DAP, while Burson Play is a midrange-priced DAC/AMP supposed to sit on your desk or inside your desktop computer build. This means that you can only use Burson Play while inside, while you can take Q5 on a trip on a mountain, or when biking and such. The differences in sound are smaller than you might expect, and they are in the advantage of Burson Play. By Power Rating alone, Burson Play can drive virtually anything that is on the marketing at this moment, save for that one or two headphones that need a little more push. From IEMs to most Planars, it wouldn't have an issue to drive Audeze's heavy artillery Headphones, but it can also work well with IE800 from Sennheiser. FiiO Q5, on the other hand, is also extremely potent, being able to drive almost anything, starting with IE800, up to Audeze LCD-MX4, which it drives incredibly well. Now, the largest difference between the two isn't in the detail, or in the tonality, as both are pretty neutral, and their detail levels are similar. When it comes to their textures, Burson tends to express a little more detail in the macro and in the micro textures, showing a little more of what is going on within the texturization of a musical instrument, and having a larger power source, it makes sense since it has improvements in slew rate and impulse response, which simply aren't quite as possible within a portable, battery powered-device. Of course, this also increases the noise floor a tiny bit, since batteries are a tad quieter in terms of noise floor generally speaking. There is also a difference in how controlled and in how much authority Burson Play has, thing which can be heard even with something smaller and easier to drive, like Ultrasone Signature DXP. Especially at louder volumes, Burson Play keeps a better overall punchiness and impact, along with better control especially over the lower frequencies, but then again, FiiO Q5 was already excellent in this aspect, just imagine adding a bit more topping over an already excellent thing. Since the two setups are priced similarly, with Q5 costing a bit more, we can say, that despite those facts, both are excellent value for their money. This is because Burson Play requires more to be enjoyed, as you can just strap Q5 to the cheapest smartphone on the market and go on a trip, bus ride, or a walk and enjoy its quality, while Burson Play, by nature, is a desktop device, so although sonically it can sound even better than Q5, you can't listen to it while on-the-go, which was Q5's main focus. Adding to that the fact that Q5 also has Bluetooth, and you can see that if you require a portable device, Q5 is really an excellent choice, while if you don't need it to be portable, then Burson Play is going to provide an even better experience.

    Burson Play vs iDSD Micro BL - We considered iDSD Micro BL to be one of the best DAC/AMP devices we tested back when we tested it, and we even considered it to be the pinnacle of DAC/AMP technology. At that point, the title was actually well deserved by iDSD Micro BL, there was barely anything better on the market, and even if there was, it costed more than 4 times more, so we considered it fair to give iDSD Black Label the title of the pinnacle. Now, Burson Play probably won't be the pinnacle of desktop DAC/AMP technology, and we most certainly believe that the improved OP-AMPs can get it closer to this title, but when it comes to Burson Play vs iDSD Micro BL, the fight is one of the most interesting we've seen in years. As you might expect, both devices are really well built, both feel and look astonishing, and both make excellent value. Now, iDSD BL doesn't come with all the cables one needs to enjoy it, missing the OTG cable it needs to connect to a typical smartphone. Happily, iFi makes such cables now, although you have to order them with the unit, for a little price. If you plan on enjoying Burson Play with a portable source, like a smartphone or a tablet, you should order those cables for it as well, as it doesn't come with an OTG cable either, and you need one to connect it to most Android-based devices. Now, let's split the comparison to both the DAC and the AMP parts. This is because iDSD BL and Burson Play both can be used as a standalone DAC, and as a DAC/AMP. On the DAC side, iDSD BL surely features a more complex, more recent and better overall DAC Unit on paper, but as always, the implementation is the most important aspect of a DAC unit. Here, both companies have done a great job at implementing their DAC units the best they could, both DACs having extreme amounts of detail and resolution. iDSD BL has a touch more detail, but its textures are slightly smoother, with a similar depth to the sound on the DAC side. Burson Play has a slightly wider sounding DAC with more emphasis on textures and texturization. On the Amplification side, iDSD BL has somewhat more power than Burson Play, and it is a portable unit, but in sound it comes off as quite the other way around, iDSD BL being more gentle in certain areas. iDSD BL has a deeper sound, with a more realistic soundstage, while Burson Play comes off as wider, more energetic, providing a more revealing texture, although it doesn't necessarily have a better resolution on the overall level. Both devices sound very effortless, both devices have an excellent sonic performance in every way imaginable, and both are great to listen to. Areas where iDSD does better than Burson Play are also in the fact that it can be used portably, although it still isn't quite as portable as FiiO Q5 or HIDIZS DH1000, both of which are smaller and easier to match with portable devices. The other aspect where iDSD is a clear winner is in its performance with very sensitive, very low impedance In-Ears. iDSD BL is able to keep its signature consistent across all impedances, and it is able to provide a hiss-free sound due to the fact that it has the iFi tech for hiss reduction already built-in. Now, when it comes to their price, Burson Play is almost half of the price of iDSD BL in its base configuration, so Burson Play is surely lighter on the wallet, the basic differences between the two being that Burson Play has a more energetic and more textured sound, with a similar resolution as iDSD BL, while iDSD BL provides an added portability, higher power rating, and a more consistent performance, with less hiss, with very low impedance In-Ears. The choice here depends a lot on your budget and also on your usage scenario, but if you're considering iDSD BL at this point, we also suggest reading our upcoming review on xDSD from iFi as it is much smaller physically than iDSD Micro Black Label, if you wanted it for portability. As for Burson Play, we surely recommend it at its price and sonic performance, and most importantly, if you don't require to listen to it while on-the-go.

    Burson Play vs HIDIZS DH1000 - The main factor for us including this comparison is the fact that the two devices are priced similarly, so one who has around 300 USD may have to decide between the two. The package is more complete for Burson Play, with more devices being included, especially when it comes to interconnects needed for usage with their intended host devices, Burson Play being mainly a desktop device, with most of its connectors being prompted towards a Desktop computer or laptop, while DH1000 is made for a portable usage, so it is made to connect with a smartphone or music player rather than a computer. The build quality is great on both, we don't have any complaints for either device. The firmware of DH1000 could use an upgrade which made it turn off while not receiving any signal, but the same can be said for Burson Play, as both devices stay on even without any input. For Burson Play, this doesn't make much of an issue, but for DH1000 it is something you need to look out for since if it stays on at all times, it will drain its battery and it won't be ready for your next trip in time. The sound is quite a bit different. First thing you need to take into account is that while both FiiO Q5, iDSD BL Micro, and Burson Play can act like a standalone DAC, DH1000 can not. Another thing you need to take into account is the power rating. We compared Burson Play to two more expensive devices, but since DH1000 is an excellent example of a 300 USD DAC/AMP, you need to consider that for 300 USD, Burson Play has considerably more power as a DAC/AMP than most of its direct competitors, being able to drive Headphones that are considerably more power-hungry than DH1000 or most of its direct competitors can. DH1000 has a Balanced output, which Burson Play doesn't have, and DH1000 can play music from both its balanced output and its single ended output at the same time, although we still aren't quite sure if this was intended, or if it is a bug. The tonal signature is quite different, DH1000 is smoother, more relaxed, less revealing, while Burson Play makes itself remarked with a considerably better extension in the treble, a better detail level, having more resolution and more control, authority, and sounding more vivid, wider and deeper. If there is one area where DH1000 does have an advantage, that is in how it drives easy-to-drive IEMs. Burson Play has a high output impedance of 8OHM, which doesn't work quite that well with IEMs, especially with sensitive IEMs, hiss being audible with very sensitive IEMs, while DH1000 is silent in terms of hiss. Another aspect you may want to take into account, again, for IEMs, is that DH1000 doesn't change its signature with low-impedance IEMs, while Burson Play can get a tad brighter with extremely low impedance IEMs due to its relative high output impedance. Between the two, if you're going to use any IEM with the impedance above 32 OHM, or any headphone, and if you don't need a portable device, Burson Play sure looks like a dominant thing in the market, while if you only have IEMs with the impedance below 32 OHM, and if you need something portable, then DH1000 makes an interesting choice. If you have only low-impedance IEMs, but if you don't need portability, then Burson Play may still make a better choice due to its better detail and resolution, and taking into account that hiss can be silenced with iFi products, it surely doesn't seem like a bad deal, but if you need something to take on a walk, or anywhere, DH1000 instantly becomes more appealing. DH1000 also has a 2.5mm Balanced output, which Burson Play doesn't have, but at the end of the day, the two devices are quite different and this comparison shows quite well how Burson Play is such a great buy at its price of 300 USD, if you don't require to listen to it while on a walk.



    Pairing

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    Burson Play + Ultrasone Signature DXP - This is one of our favorite pairings with Burson Play, as it gives Signature DXP both an excellent width for its soundstage, but also an incredible amount of energy and impact. Signature DXP is generally quite a dynamic headphone, and with Burson Play driving it is even more dynamic and impactful, which works well with their U-shaped signature. It is hard to have this setup on your head and not start headbanging even if you were just working on writing on something.

    Burson Play + Audeze LCD-MX4 - Although LCD-MX4 is Audeze's line of very portable Headphones, they still show an interesting improvement from being powered from a strong source like Burson Play. We can describe the sound as being incredibly detailed, vivid, forward, wide, very textured and incredibly dynamic. The impact of this pairing is also quite something to see for yourself, especially since we generally recommended adding a few dB's of Sub-Bass and Treble to Audeze LCD-MX4, with the control and authority the Burson Play has over their bass, this need being smaller than with most portables, like Hiby R6, where we felt LCD-MX4 needed more bass and treble.

    Burson Play + Beyerdynamic Amiron - This is another pairing you fall in love just by hearing it. Amiron is probably one of the most gentle and comfortable headphones we heard, an excellent example of a relaxing headphone you can simply lean back with and forget about anything that was bothering you before plugging them in. The pairing provides a bit more width, to Amiron's already nice depth, and it also provides a slightly more textured sound, making Amiron feel even more dynamic.

    Burson Play + Sennheiser IE800 - Sennheiser IE800 is an interesting IEM because although it has a pretty low impedance and high efficiency, it surely isn't affected much by hiss nor by Burson Play's rather high output impedance. The sound is as interesting as IE800's sound always is, dynamic, well separated, well layered, detailed, with a strong and well-controlled bass, sparkly treble, and clear midrange. Everything feels in its place, and as a bonus, the sound is wider than IE800's sound usually is, and it also feels more dynamic than it usually does.


    Burson Play + iBasso IT04 - While our review on IT04 is still on the way, we want to give you a little peek on how it sounds like. It is a natural and well-balanced IEM, with a touch more sparkle in the treble than what would be dead neutral, it has a very quick sound with an excellent PRaT, and they sound very wide in their soundstage, especially compared to most IEMs in their price range. Although they are very open-sounding, they do isolate very well and leak very little, making them an excellent choice for on-the-go listening, or for blasting death metal while reading obscure books in a library. When it comes to their pairing, Burson Play does show some hiss with IT04, and the sound has slightly less bass than with most other source, but they also gain a very quick impulse response, an even wider soundstage than they usually have, and they also sound considerably more impactful than they usually do. Quite an excellent pairing on the overall level, if you're not bothered by hiss, although that can easily be solved by adding an iFi iEMatch to the setup.



    Value and Conclusion

    We reached the end of our review, and we have to say, Burson Play has been one heck of a device to listen to and review. We also still need to review the higher-end OP-AMP for it, as soon as we can get our hands on a pair.

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    Burson Play is priced at roughly 300 USD in most places of the world, which is quite an interesting price point. Fighting is intense at this price point for most Headphones and In-Ears, but most portable players from the high-end area are priced higher, while most entry-level ones are priced lower. This doesn't mean that Burson Play doesn't have a lot of devices it needs to overcome in this price, and quite on the contrary, since it is a desktop device, it needs to bring something more than more expensive portables do, to justify its price.

    Starting with the build quality, we have a medium-sized device made entirely out of metal. It doesn't just look like a tank, it is a tank. You'd have a very hard time doing anything to it, the casing is made out of thick metal, and it is one of the best we've seen to date. Not to mention that its volume wheel is also well designed, and all jacks are tight and well fit, so you really would have a hard time not giving it a golden rating for its build quality.


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    The firmware is as solid as it can be, it never crashes nor disconnects, being one of the most stable devices we've tested to date.

    If anything physical about it should be mentioned as a negative, that is that it gets quite warm physically, while in usage, especially important if you're going to be using it inside a desktop build, as you will need to have a fan pointing to it to keep it cool.

    The sound is as impressive as one would expect from a company as renowned as Burson, it is very vivid, dynamic, punchy and has an excellent resolution for 300 USD. Most important, it has a lot of power, and an excellent authority and control over anything connected to it. The only downside is that it has a bit of hiss with In-Ears, and it has a slightly high output impedance, so it doesn't match quite that linearly with In-Ears, but this isn't a big issue, and we had an excellent time using Burson Play with Sennheiser IE800 and iBasso IT04.


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    All in all, if you're looking for an excellent desktop DAC/AMP, which can provide lots of enjoyment for you, both through headphones, or even acting as a desktop-grade DAC, Bursin Play makes a very compelling purchase, and not only it will drive your High-End Audeze Headphones, but it will also do it with an excellent degree of authortiy and control, providing what we consider an excellent overall experience.



    Playlist used for this review

    While we listened to considerably more songs than those named in this playlist, those are excellent for identifying certain aspects of the sound, like PRaT, Texturization, Detail, Resolution, Dynamics, Impact, and overall tonality. We recommend trying most of the songs from this playlist, especially if you're searching for new most, most of them being rather catchy.


    Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead
    Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir
    Obscurcis Romancia - Sanctuare Damne
    Breaking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow
    Manafest - Impossible
    Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us
    Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.
    Infected Mushroom - Song Pong
    Doctor P - Bulletproof
    Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
    Eskimo Callboy - Frances
    Incubus - Summer Romance
    Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw
    Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!
    SOAD - Chop Suey
    Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory
    Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve
    Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop
    Crow'sclaw - Loudness War
    Fall Out Boy - Immortals
    Green Day - Know The Enemy
    Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge
    A static Lullaby - Toxic
    Royal Republic - Underwear
    Astronautalis - The River, The Woods
    Eminem - Rap God
    Stromae - Humain À L'eau
    Metallica - Fuel
    Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable
    Masa Works - Golden Japang
    REOL - Luvoratorrrrry




    I hope my review is helpful to you!


    Stay safe and remember to always have fun while listening to music!



    Contact us!



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      snellemin likes this.
    1. snellemin
      Great review man!
      snellemin, Jul 31, 2018
      Dobrescu George likes this.
    2. Dobrescu George
      @snellemin - Thank you! <3

      Really glad to help bring this one little gem to the surface, for 300 USD, it is a killer device :)
      Dobrescu George, Aug 1, 2018
      snellemin likes this.
  6. DarKu
    Burson Play – The Playful One
    Written by DarKu
    Published Jul 30, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Great kick, impact and speed on all tunes
    - Natural sound with a great flow
    - Quite linear with no dips or rises across all frequency response
    - Very potent and powerful headphone amp section
    - Spread soundstage and quite deep as well
    - Quality construction, 3 in 1 device, versatile and easy to use
    - Best price to performance ratio I have ever tested in a DAC/Amp
    Cons - High output impedance is not that great with IEMs and other low impedance headphones
    - Slight hum in very sensitive earphones
    You know what? I have a soft spot for Burson Audio gear. And that’s because 7 years ago I was publishing my absolutely first review on www.soundnews.ro and that review was for my own Burson HA-160D. I loved that thing very much, it actually kickstarted my career as a reviewer.

    Later on I tested and written about their future designs like HA-160DS, Soloist, Timekeeper, about their powerful op-amp testing station Lycan and of course about Conductor. The later one I again purchased and used for the following years and it was my go to audiophile headphone testing machine just before moving into the balanced land with a separate balanced source and amplifier.

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    My life was easier that time, much easier. I had my 160D and later my Conductor, two pairs of headphones and that was it. Sound was great; life was moving on, no worries about quality RCA cables or other quibbles.

    Fortunately Burson Audio was not sleeping all these years and released a plethora of new devices and I really do love their kind of back to the roots vibe, especially their new Burson Play is exactly that: a simple DAC and headphone amp combo. Besides the Play, Fun and Bang were also released; Fun is a dedicated headphone amplifier and Bang is an integrated speaker amplifier. Hopefully I’ll do reviews at least for two of those devices.

    For now my review is concentrated around the Play, which I was immensely enjoying for the last 3 weeks or so.

    It not only brings back good memories about inception of my career but I actually started to remember the Burson sound signature, if you are wondering if this type of thing really exists in the Burson family.

    As it’s name suggests Play have a very joyful and mood lifting sound signature designed not only for audiophiles but this time for gamers as well.

    Truth to be told I game myself too when time permits, I’m a Blizzard fan so I play mostly their Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch games.

    I will test the Play both as an audiophile hub powering my hungry planar magnetics and as a gaming audio source powering the same headphones.

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    Under the hood

    So what do we have here is a very good build DAC and headphone amp combo plus a dedicated preamp for a power amp.

    Please do not be fooled by its small-ish footprint. Actually its shape and design was made around the 5.25” PC drive bays, so Burson Play can be integrated in any tower gaming PC or in regular small, mid tower or full tower cases that have at least one 5.25” drive bay. In this case it can be powered by a single molex 4 pin cable that goes directly from your PC power supply and you really should not worry about the quality of your power supply because Burson already thought about that in advance and integrated a voltage regulator inside so that your PC’s power supply will have a minimal impact on sound quality.

    Play can also be used as an external device as I was planning to do, being powered by a simple SMPS external power supply.

    Under the hood the DAC chip used is the veteran ESS 9018 capable of decoding PCM material up to 32 bit / 386 kHz and DSD material up to DSD256 (DSD x4).

    The USB receiver is a quality XMOS one, gone are the days when I was losing USB connection due to poor USB implementations and drivers. XMOS is much easier to implement and sounds pretty good too, way to go Burson.

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    Of course the stars of the show are the Burson developed ICs always working in the magical class A circuitry powering the headphone amplifier that are fed by three sets of revolutionary Max Current Power Supplies (MCPS) developed by Burson, the Play is really one of the most powerful headphone amplifiers in the world.

    And I can attest that, if it can power a set of Audeze LCD-4 and it did, then it can power any headphone in the world.

    Play as again its name suggests is an op-amp rollers dream as you can literally play with a ton of different op-amps and tune it to your liking.

    The Play is being sold in 4 variants: the basic one that uses NE5532 op-amps, the one that uses Burson branded V5i op-amps, the one that uses much more advanced discrete op-amps such as V6 Classic or V6 Vivid. The latter two are also offered with a heavy-duty remote control.

    I have the basic, skinny, Eastern-Europe friendly Play but please don’t worry, in it’s stock form it already impressed me enough.

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    Play with me

    Lets get to the most interest part shall we.

    First and foremost I was a bit in awe that it can properly drive with authority with lots of headroom to spare a pair of Audeze LCD-4 and believe me that is not an easy task.

    At around 70-80 volume I can play even jazz and classical pieces with ease, past that and it becomes painful to listen. It surely has enough drive and power reserve for a vast majority of headphones.

    I have the latest revision (Rev 2.2) that also works great with IEMs. First revision had few problems with noise and clean background but I can safely say those issues are gone and it works as intended.

    My FiiO FH5 hybrid IEMs have a faint, low-pitched hum but only in complete silence, after I press play I cannot hear it anymore. In absolute terms there is a very slight hum but it is not something that should bother an ordinary listener.

    Powering the FH5 volume sits between 7 and 12, more than that and it’s painful, again it has a lot of power reserve.

    Output impedance is a bit high at 8 Ohms so low and ultra-low impedance headphones will have a looser sound with a weaker control over the drivers.

    Other headphones that were tested were Audeze LCD-4Z (the low impedance ones) and Sennheiser HD660S, both performed good with flying colors under all circumstances.

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    Besides the power output that impressed me, this whole thing as a DAC/Amp works surprisingly well, the sound overall is clean and clear with a wide soundstage, with a great depth and great control over the headphone drivers. I almost forgot how good a small DAC/Amp can sound.

    The Burson sound signature is certainly here because not a single hint of shrillness or brightness can be heard. I know there is an ESS Sabre inside it and still it sounds natural, easy on the ear with a good flow and a rich tone to it.

    And I am testing the basic version here; I’m already imagining how good the full-fledged V6 Vivid/Classic should sound then.

    What also made me happy is the revealing nature and easiness of every song heard on Play. I enjoyed all music genres with no apparent weaknesses whatsoever.

    Adam Agee & Jon Sousa – Paddy Fahey’s sounded incredibly natural, very enjoying, every little nuance in the song, like the soft toe tapping that moved so little air was easily heard, the mix of violin and guitar never seemed crowded or muddy. The midrange really shined on this song and I believe the strength of the Play is exactly in the midrange section where it shows lots of textures and meat to the bone.

    Lara Ruggels – Snowflake showed lots of depth around all the notes, an evenly spread soundstage and a natural tone to it.

    I believe Play have a quite good tonal balance showing not only a meaty and full of substance sound but also subtleties and micro-details hidden in the mix.

    The voices and guitars again sounded astonishingly good and there is truly nothing to reproach on this song.

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    Moving on to something much more energetic like Infected Mushroom – Becoming Insane showed me the real strength of the Play and that is a strong impact into my eardrums and great speed and kick that it is capable of. It never stays out of tempo; it keeps up even with such a fast and crowded track.

    Pair the Play with a nice pair of planar magnetic headphones and a headbanging becomes inevitable on electronica.

    Layers and sub-layers of bass hit me, what’s why I believe the pace, rhythm and timing are on a high level on the Play.

    Although Burson designed the Play mainly for gamers, believe me with music it works really well, better than I anticipated.

    Moving on to W.A. Mozart – Serenade No.13 in G Major (Allegro) – showed a wide spread soundstage that I can walk by easily with my imagination, depth was also good, I was easily appreciating the distance between the orchestra and me. Trebles were crisp and biting without bothering me too much, so no harshness whatsoever could be found on all test tracks I tried it with.

    Launching Heroes of the Storm and Overwatch and activating the “headphone mode” made me appreciate my games even more because of great localization of my friends and more importantly of my foes. I’m actually lowering volume setting in those games because Play hits really hard on every shot or special effect and it distracts me too much with its strong kick into eardrums.

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    Comparison with my Gilmore Lite Mk2

    Burson Play Basic costs 300 USD and the HeadAmp Gilmore Lite Mk2 goes for 500 USD, also the Gilmore Lite is only a headphone amplifier without a DAC section, so its not a very fair comparison however its an enlightening one showing the true capabilities and nature of the Play.

    Both have the same footprint and both are working in Class A circuitry for the best possible sound quality.

    Burson Play has a LOT more power, at 70% volume it powers my LCD-4 and that is astonishing, Gilmore Lite goes out of power with LCD-4 and starts clipping and heavily distorting. However when powering very sensitive earphones like my FH5 hybrids, Gilmore Lite is much better having no hiss at all and also presents a better control over the drivers.

    For dynamic headphones, Burson will have a stronger kick and a somewhat more natural sound making every track easy to listen with no listening fatigue. Gilmore Lite however is like a magnifying glass showing every good or bad in a recording, it sounds also more linear and kind of boring sometimes and a bit fatiguing due to its very revealing nature.

    So in the end it’s a draw, depending on your tastes or mood one is better than another; I like both for what they are. Strictly in terms of SQ, Gilmore Lite is more technical but weaker, Play is more musical and much more powerful. Pick your poison my friends.

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    Conclusion

    To say what I was mighty impressed by the Burson Play would be a great understatement because it showed me that great sounding gear should not cost a fortune and many times it made the rethink my strategy regarding audio gear in general, because of the aberrant prices most of the gear is selling for.

    For a simple desktop DAC/Headphone amp used to play music, recording or gaming Burson Play gains my highest recommendation to this date. It is that good and some more.

    PROS:
    • Great kick, impact and speed on all tunes
    • Natural sound with a great flow
    • Quite linear with no dips or rises across all frequency response
    • Very potent and powerful headphone amp section
    • Spread soundstage and quite deep as well
    • Quality construction, 3 in 1 device, versatile and easy to use
    • Best price to performance ratio I have ever tested in a DAC/Amp
    CONS:
    • High output impedance is not that great with IEMs and other low impedance headphones
    • Slight hum in very sensitive earphones
    Equipment used for review purposes:
    • Headphones: Audeze LCD-4, LCD-4Z, Sennheiser HD660S, Momentum 2, FiiO FH5
    • DAC: Matrix X-Sabre Pro with X-SPDIF 2, Burson Play
    • Headphone Amplifiers: HeadAmp Gilmore Lite Mk2, Burson Play
    • Speakers: Audio Physic Tempo Plus
    • Integrated Amps: Hegel H190, Cambridge Audio Azur 851A
    [​IMG]
      snellemin and raoultrifan like this.
  7. snellemin
    Hifi-Basshead approved!
    Written by snellemin
    Published Jul 17, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - One of the best desktops amps available today.
    Cons - No analog input
    I received this unit for evaluation purposes and to post my opinion on this forum and such.

    20180612_093111.jpg

    From day one the Burson Play sounded great from the get go. After 24 Hours it sounded it even better and finally settled after a few more days. Funny how that works at times.

    The unit gets pretty warm, but that is to be expected for it being a class A unit. Even the volume knob gets a bit warm after a while. I can see that you will need a well ventilated PC chassis, when using this amp inside a PC.

    Build quality is pretty good. Fitment issues here and there are minor, which is ok for the price range. But at the higher price range with the other opamps being offered, I would expect better QA. This is me being picky and having high expectations in my work environment.
    20180611_223843.jpg 20180611_223813_HDR.jpg

    I don’t hear any of Sabre “Glare” that I have heard before with other units using the same DAC. Sound is well rounded and I don’t feel an opamp upgrade is really necessary to enjoy this amp unit. Subbass is bottomless and controlled. Midbass is tight. Midrange is clean and the high-end is proper to my ears. I don’t hear 17 kHz and up as well anymore, so in my regular audio setup that range is a bit boosted to compensate for my natural roll off in the higher frequencies. But as far as I can tell, the topend sounds really really good. This amp is HiFi-Basshead approved!

    Compared to my Parasound desktop setup, I feel the “Play” can hang with the best of them out there on the market. Even with the so called high-end home units, when it comes to the Dac department. 20180612_093106.jpg 20180612_091453_HDR.jpg 20180612_091611.jpg 20180612_091641.jpg




    The sound is basically perfect using my favorite JVC SZ-2000. Power to spare and zero lack of dynamics. Streaming Funx radio stations, the sound coming from the Play is impressive. Totally different from my older Dac/amps. My volume is set around 16 out of 99, unless I go a bit crazy with the subbass and then the volume goes up. Playing DSD and Flacs the sound gets more impressive. Quite astonishing what Burson has done within this small platform and price range.

    The sound with the installed NE5543 and NE5532 has the Burson sound signature already. Upgrading opamps after that is pushing out the absolute best out of the amp. And that is where you enter the HiFi audiophile level and the money pit starts to get deeper.

    The output coming out of the RCA connection provided in the back are not fixed, but variable. So you could hook up the Play to an external amplifier or the Burson Bang.

    The motherboard has a well thought out clean layout.
    20180626_100605.jpg 20180626_100801.jpg 20180626_100821_HDR.jpg 20180626_100834.jpg 20180626_101045.jpg

    Preference:

    I really like the sound signature of the FIIO Q5 AK dacs over the Sabre, but by a very small margin. I mean if the Play offered changeable Dac filters, it would have been perfect in that aspect.

    Instead of changing filter settings on the Dac itself, Opamps rolling is offered for changing the sound signature to your liking.

    It’s like me upgrading my Dac chip inside my Ibasso D7 to Wolfson 8741. The sound improved over a big margin and I am perfectly happy with it. It’s still in my rig and gets used quite often. But the newer stuff sound even more analog vs the 8741. It comes down to sound signature preference now. There is no better Dac per se. This is good news for us.



    Wishes:

    That the Play did offer an RCA input like the Burson Fun unit. But this Play is geared towards PC users and not really desktop usage.

    That the remote be included even for the basic unit and not use for the ones with the opamps upgrade already installed.


    Other user’s comments;

    User #1

    The Burson Play has more impact and is more forward sounding. Sounds really good with Rock music. Very enjoyable to listen too. He can only imagine what an opamps upgrade would do to the sound. Says it sounds as enjoyable as his Sony PHA-3


    User #2

    Sounds so natural as opposed to the “digital” sound that he is used too.


    User #3

    Very interesting sound. None fatiguing and smooth. Not crazy about the looks of the chassis. Would’ve liked a nicer looking power supply, instead of the supplied power brick.


    User #4

    Loves the sound and is impressed with the “guts” of the unit. Interesting power stage and board layout. He would’ve liked a “balanced” output as another feature.

    20180612_091746.jpg 20180612_092108.jpg
      Dobrescu George and sunneebear like this.
    1. Dobrescu George
      Very nice review!
      Dobrescu George, Aug 1, 2018
  8. Mij-Van
    All About That Bass
    Written by Mij-Van
    Published Jun 10, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Power and muscle.
    Cons - No real line-out. Matt finish case.
    This is a review of Burson Play Basic.

    Long time lurker here, I’ve learned quite a lot from reading on HeadFi and comparing reviews with my personal impressions. Therefore I was quite delighted when the fellow HeadFier @DjBobby lent me the Play for 2 weeks to test it. I wouldn’t like to repeat the specs and technicalities which are stated and reprinted in almost every review, but focus more on my personal observances.

    Trivia
    The Burson Play doesn’t have serial number. It can be used in the PC case or on the desktop with 4 adhesive silicone rubber feet attached. It comes with high quality RCA audio cable, actually two of them. You get one mono cable for each channel of aprox. 55 cm lenghth, which is very convenient for desktop use. Connecting headphones doesn’t mute the pre-out. It get's quite warm. The case in matt-metallic finish isn’t quite ideal, being a magnet for dust and fingerprints.

    Although in the Qobuz online review it was stated that the Play doesn’t work with IOS devices - it does. You can read the review with a help of Google translate here:
    https://www.qobuz.com/be-fr/info/hi-fi/bancs-d-essai/burson-audio-dac-play-v5i-un-petit180626
    I’ve tested it with all my iDevices and it worked without any problem. Using hi-rez audio on both Onkyo HF and Dan Leer’s Flac player, the Play had absolutely no issues, so I can’t understand why didn't the Qobuz team make it. What I didn’t get was playing DSD256 files. DSD64 and DSD128 had no issues but with DSD256 it always switched to PCM352.8 Khz.

    1.jpg 2.jpg 3.jpg


    Sound impressions
    I am late 20’s music lover with special affinity for double bass, meaning I am listening predominantly to deep but clear bass sound. Not only the bass of course, but this is very tricky area for many dacs. Quite often you get just rumbling, double bass sounding like moving the furniture around your house and it is not easy to follow the pitch. Listening to the same recordings on the vinyl gives you mostly better pitch control, more layering and better instrument separation.
    The music I was using was the album „London Double Bass Sound“ feat. Gary Karr, „From Kirk to Nat“ with Rufus Reid, Miles Davis’ „E.S.P.“ with Ron Carter and a bunch of other pop, electronic and some classical music. Listening was done mostly with the Senns HD25 and HD598.

    All About That Bass:
    Short version - this is one of the best bass performances I’ve ever heard from the dac/amp combo. It’s punchy, clear, meaty, juicy, you name it. It was a joy listening over and over again through old recordings sounding being juiced up. The timbre was there, the pitch was easy to follow and and there was an overall authority to the low bass sound. The instrument placement was very realistic and palpable with lot of spatial information. Interestingly even on Senns which are already on the dark side, the Play never sounded mudded. There was richness to the upper mid-bass with nice transition to the lower mids.

    Mids
    The lower mids were very rich sounding, almost euphonic and tube like, with nice color to the lower male voices. Going higher up it started to sound somewhat grainier and slightly rougher and there were times I was thinking about how better opamps would have contributed here.

    Treble
    Very detailed and with lot of sparkle, maybe sometimes too much sparkle. On certain bad mastered recordings the treble sounded thin and acidic, with Sabre glare coming clearly through. Again maybe different opamps would have mellowed the treble.

    Soundstage
    The soundstage is wide and moderately deep, with instruments sounding somewhat distant. It works great with big orchestral music. With some simpler acoustic music like Nora Jones, I would have wished being closer to the stage. Or the musicians closer to me.

    Conclusion:
    For $299 for the basic version, you can hardly get the cheapest Chinese no name dac/amp combo. If you find it, it still would be no comparison to Burson's excellent build quality and a 5 yr guarantee. It’s all about that bass and that bass is great. No brainer 5 stars.
      DjBobby likes this.
  9. DjBobby
    Addictive Play
    Written by DjBobby
    Published Jun 3, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Huge amount of power, warm and smooth sound. Possibility for opamps rolling.
    Cons - No gain switch, no selectable dac filters.
    This is a review of the Burson Play Basic headphone amp and preamp, made by the Burson Audio company. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Burson Audio for sending me the unit to test, review and play with it.

    The basic version uses NE5532 X 3, NE5543 X 2 opamps with 4 additional upgrades which can add up to $250 of costs, depending of your configuration. There are quite a few reviews of the Play mainly with different opamps like Vivid and Classic, but much less of the basic version.

    It comes in a big box, safely packed, togehter with RCA audio, USB digital cable, 6.5mm headphone jack adapter, 12V/6A AC/DC adapter and a slot to fit into a PC case. The dac section features Sabre’s ES9018 with 32bit/384khz dac with possibility to play DXD and DSD256.

    Burson Play 1.jpg


    Power:

    The amp section is pure Class A with no ICs on the signal path, pumping 2W into 16 Ohms and 1W into 32 Ohms.
    You can feel and hear that the Burson Play pumps quit a lot of power, and has more than sufficient current for most of the inefficient headphones out there. Although the scale goes up to 100, it was almost impossible to use it with more than 30 with any of my cans. For the rock and pop music I was moving around 12-15 with 30 reaching on some quieter classical slow tracks like Mahler’s Adagietto from the 5th symphony. The gain is insane, so maybe my first thought is going to be about the non-existent gain switch. With such a high gain and such big power, it’s kind of useless having a scale up to 100 which is impossible to be ever used. For that, the inclusion of low/high gain switch would have been welcome.

    While the Play pumps plenty of current into the lower impedance headphones, its ac/dc adapter is rated at only 12V, so I am not quite sure how much voltage is Play able to provide for the high impedance cans like Beyers DT880 with its 600 ohms impedance.

    Through the RCA out, the Play acts as an active preamp, with incredibly high output. If you want to use it with the normal amp, you need to be carefull not to blow your speakers. Play’s voltage output at the rca much exceeds the standard industry level of +-2V on line out and I was using it at about 50% to match the level of my other dacs.

    Burson Play 2.jpg

    Sound impressions:

    The music for the review included recordings, mostly hi-rez, by ZAZ, Diana Krall, Miles Davies, John Coltrane, Bob Marley, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Harry Belafonte, Daft Punk, Debussy and Ravel string quartets, Mahler 5th Symphony, Dvorak 9th, Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony and Copland's Rodeo suite.

    My general sound impression was that the Play sounds warm, with smooth treble and cultivated bass. The soundstage is very wide and gives you an impression of sitting in the 10th row of a big concert venue. There was a slight feel of the veil to the sound, which was actually welcome in many bad mastered recordings. My first thought was that by rolling opamps, it could be substianitally bettered. And there we come – the Play is incredible bang for buck, to my knowledge the best you can get for this money out there, but it makes you wanting for more. Once you start the opamp rolling journey it could turn to addictive – and well more expensive.

    Play vs SMSL M8a + Little Dot Mk2 (Mullard):

    With a lower impedance headphones Play sounded crisp, precise and with a well definded bass. The soundstage was wide and high and everything sounded bigger than through M8a+LD combo. There was a certain veil to the sound, which I suppose could be bettered by upgrading the opamps. The instruments sounded a little bit more distant than with the LD. Going for high impedance cans like T90 with their impedance swinging from 300 ohms to over 700 ohms, LD sounded much more in command with deeper bass, more body around the notes and efortless dynamic. I had a feeling that high Z cans which prefer bigger voltage swing than the Play can provide, would be happier with some OTL tube amp.

    Play vs Chord Mojo:
    Althoug the Play showed considerable ammount of detail, courtesy of Sabre dacs, compared to Mojo it sounded simpler, a little bit flat, with less colours and somehow more congested. The Mojo has an ease to its sound, more layers in the bass and sounded calmer and more in command than the Play. I guess this goes more to the advantage of the Mojo dac section which was a clear winner. The Play however, has much more power and is much more desktop solution than the battery powered Mojo.

    Burson Play 4.jpg

    Play with Senns HD650
    Listened to HD650 through the LD and the Play, Burson was a clear winner here. Although I have believed for long time that HD650 need an OTL amp to sing, the Play pleasantly surprised me with its punchy bass, detailed imaging lifting the famous Senn vail and an impressive soundstage. Great combo.

    Play with Beyers T90
    Here the LD sounded more holistic, more intimate and the voices had more human colours and far more emotions than through the Play. The main difference was the dynamic which was much clearer pronounced with the LD. I guess it has to do with much higher voltage swing of he LD. I had a feeling that the Play, despite huge current reserve was struggling to deliver efficient voltage.

    Play with AKG K702
    Here the Play was a clear winner, it smoothed K702 agressive treble, there was litteraly no sibilance, the bass was nice and easy to follow and the soundstage was just a textbook. Bob Marley's I Shot The Sheriff had something addictive to its bass through this combo, I literary couldn't stop listening it over and over again. Paired with the K702, the Play was much ahead of the LD.

    Burson Play 5.jpg

    Play as preamp (dac function):
    I’ve connected the Play through rca to an external Marantz amp, but had to be carefull about the volume. Play doesn’t have fixed output level, typically 2V, but acts as a preamp with a way to high level. Set to 50% I got the level close to the output of my other dacs. In this function it sounded surprisingly rich, with nice imaging and well defined soundstage and just a tad brighter, which is a trademark of Sabre dac chips. But this gave me a clear idea that with using different opamps, the Play could substiantially opens up and lift the slight veil which is now present in the basic setting.

    Burson Play 6.jpg

    Conclusion:
    There are more resolving dacs out there like the Chord Mojo, there are possibly fuller sounding dacs and more neutral headphones amps around, but what the Play brings into one box is definitely best bang for the buck I experienced since my headfi journey started. Already in its basic version it is unbelievable well made product, which makes you wondering how much potential is out there when you go to upgrade the opamps. The Burson Play will clean up my desktop and move some of the dacs and amps I have there to lower drawers, and take the place as my No.1 daily companion. And yes, rolling opamps will be the next step -)

    What I like: warm, smooth sound, with big reserve of power. Well built, looks nice on the desktop. The blue light looks great during night listening.
    What would I like to see: gain switch, selectable dac filters.

    And for the end - in this price category don't look further, IMHO it is one of the best all-in-one solutions. Clear 5 stars.
      Mij-Van and raoultrifan like this.
  10. WilliamLeonhart
    An audiophile amp in disguise
    Written by WilliamLeonhart
    Published May 29, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Audiophile sound in a sturdy build at a very attractive price. Plenty of power for high-impedance cans. Great upgradability and flexibility via op-amps rolling. Slick-looking remote control.
    Cons - Run warm and thus is not quite suitable to put in a gaming case.
    I could still years ago, when I went to my classmate's – who also happened to be an audiophile that got me into this hobby – and had a go with the HD650 and the DT880. I didn't quite like the Beyer, but I specifically remember falling in love with the HD650. I wanted it for my Carpenters, my Celine Dion and my Bee Gees.

    But I never bought the HD650. First thing: it costed around $400, and before there was an official distributor in Vietnam, it costed 1.5 times as much. Second: the amp might even cost more. I had numerous "run-ins" with the HD650, and each and every time I love it more only to realize that the cans were being driven by an amp even less affordable than the headphones themselves.

    Among those were the Burson HA-160 that I encountered at a meet a few months later. Yes, of all the "forget it you won't afford it" amps that I've seen, I specifically remember the HA-160 because, let's be frank, how often do you see an Australian equipment maker pop up on the map?

    30994619_2063710323883910_77459890_o.jpg
    The toys used to be out of reach...

    Fast forward to 2018 and I still live with my parents because it's the way of life in Vietnam. I'm now what the company calls "engineer level 3", I'm married with one little boy. So, while my budget has definitely increased, the likes of Burson Conductor or Woo Audio WA7 remain out of reach. (Well I did once decide to spend around $1000 on a Chord Hugo but never could bring myself to justify the price, so I sold it).

    Thankfully, it's 2018 and this headphone hobby has become more accessible. In 2016, Massdrop collaborated with Sennheiser to produce a $200 version of the HD650. Needless to say, I joined in.

    The most accessible Burson

    Yet the amp problem remains. It was the same thing that happened to my AKG Q701, which I got from Amazon for just $100. The headphones have become cheap, now how much must I spend on the amp?

    33784837_2063659723685518_1007702582950363136_n.jpg

    Here comes the Play, which start at $299. Having blown away by many of Burson's accessories (including the V5 op-amp and the Cable Pro+), I had always hoped to have a chance to review a full Burson amp. The engineering student me was amazed at the HA-160 driving the HD650; the engineer me was amazed by the Conductor driving the LCD3 Fazor. Even better: Burson is having a trial tour for the Play, the result of which is this very review you're reading.

    Let's run through some details first. AFAIK, at $300 the Play is the most accessible "completed product" from Burson. The specs are quite good: the DAC chip is SABRE32/ESS9018; the amp is pure Class A and can output 2000 mWatt per channel. You can play DSD256 with the Play, and you can also use it to output directly to headphones or pre-amp your speaker system.

    33765866_2063659753685515_6026623957136834560_n.jpg

    It also stands out as somewhat of a "pro" audio solution for gamers: while the Play looks just fine as a standalone unit, its design also allows for easy installation inside a ATX case. It also has a microphone input for streamers – ain't nothing as interesting as getting Chicken Dinner with your audiophile equipment, right?

    Unboxing and setting up

    33890817_2063659780352179_1259400890700267520_n.jpg

    As I had to pick up the Play at the airport that's 1 hour away, I actually unbox it on the bus home. The box looked good enough for any $500 product, and inside there's 2 smaller boxes that contain the accessories. I have the V5i version, so there's this sleek-looking remote control. There're also a 6.5-3.5 jack and some accessories to install the Play inside a PC case. The included USB and RCA cables are way more decent than those "gifted" with Chinese DAC/amp.

    Setting up the Burson Play to use with my PC was a breeze. Just plug it in, turn it on and Windows automatically installs the drivers. Technically it's all Plug and Play. However, if you intend to achieve the best sound available, get ASIO drivers from Burson. You can also remove the Windows default driver and force the OS to use the XMOS driver inside that package, but I honestly can't tell if there's a difference.

    Looking industrially sharp

    33808830_2063659797018844_3289869322951852032_n.jpg

    In comparison to all the other amps that have ever sit on my busy desk, the Play looks somewhat unique. The chassis is obviously rectangular and falls in line with the DVD Drives that you forsake years ago to get yourself a Wi-fi router instead. To make that shape less industrially ugly, Burson use a matte-metallic finish and add some lines on the top and its 2 sides. The result is an incredibly well-built, industrially-sharp looking unit. Everything about it screams "I'm going to last longer than your taste in Metalcore, urgh".

    There's no way I can overstate the build quality of the Play: while it's not as striking as the Conductor Play or the WA7, every detail feels premium. The knob, the gold-plated sockets, the way the upper lid fits into the lower chassis, and most of all, the volume indicator. I think at this point the volume indicator lights have become Burson's trademarks: on the industrial Play, it tones down the industrial look just a bit.

    As the Play is a review unit I'm not allowed to install it in my gaming case. Regardless, I strongly recommend everyone to use the Burson Play as a standalone unit – it'll be a worthy addition to your desk and it'll be much more convenient this way.

    The Burson sound

    33773361_2063698223681668_6998581253859442688_n.jpg
    Burson in Burson.

    Before going into the sound, I'm going to mention another special feature of the Play: it's built for a very easy op-amp rolling experience. Burson even includes a screwdriver and an extra set of 4 screws in case you ever lost one. Kudos to this company for going extra lengths to serve their customers, even those of their most accessible products.

    Naturally the first thing I did after I had spent a whole long listening session with the Play was open it and roll op-amp. After trying different combinations of Burson’s V6 Vivid, V6 Classic, V5i as well as Sparkos and MUSEs (and a bunch of cheaper options from TI), I’ve decided to stick with the Vivid dual and Classic single opamps. Yes, 3 Vivid will bring the sound much closer in line with the other, more high-end Burson amps that I've had the chance to experience in the past.

    With the HD540

    33806389_2063662863685204_8317673123298148352_n.jpg

    Let's start with the HD540. I think it's one of very few 1980s-made headphones that still have an active following on Head-fi. I have a 300 Ohm version which is really hard to satisfy: just get the wrong amp and it gives you all the symptoms of an underpowered mess: bass is muffled, highs get "broken" into sharpy pieces and the mids is shouty.

    How will the Play help? To be honest, at first I didn't like the Play with my HD540: while volume was quite easily reached at 25-30, most of the time the HD540 had a robotic feel to it. But that was with the Sparko opamps. With the V6 Vivid combo, there's an elegant bass boost that totally change the tonal picture. The highs and the mids get smoothed out, as if there's a thin version of the famed Sennheiser veil put on the HD540.

    Surprisingly enough, it was around 2 years ago that I did get the chance to enjoy this euphoric sound on my friend's HD540 & Mjolnir combo. I bought a pair for myself only to almost never find it again on my Little Dot I+, which still gives enough volume but never could recreate the magic again. I always thought it was because of the Chinese pads that I had to put on the HD540 (Sennheiser no longer produce parts for these oldies). I was wrong. I just needed a more powerful amp.

    Naturally the HD540 has become my go-to pair for all my Jazz & Fusion stuffs. I suspect the same would happen if I had a HD580 or HD600 here, but this full-bodied bass and organic rhythm must be hard to find on all other amps, especially with the "neutral" craze that has gone on for too long on manufacturers’ websites.

    With the AKG Q701

    33923746_2063659683685522_2802933564750954496_n.jpg

    Here in Vietnam we have a saying that’s roughly translated to “1 buck to buy the chicken, 3 to feed it”. Unsurprisingly, the phrase gets uttered a lot at local meets where any AKG 7-series model is present.

    Once again, the Play comes to the rescue. Burson sent me the V5i version, but I find the MUSE 8920/8820 and OP27 (bought in Japan, costing me ~15 bucks in total) to be more than adequate with the Q701. With Florence and the Machine on, many times I felt that the AKG came this close to tearing my ears off, but it never did. After a few songs, the fear of sibilance was silenced and I could focus on the details of my favorite Indie records. Treble feels extended and natural. Mids feel engaging but not glary. Strangely, all these details are presented in an extremely organized manner.

    Coming back to my favourite Jazz live album, Blues for Tony, all that exceptional drumming and bass-ing couldn't prevent me from doing my favorite thing: counting notes. While the difference with the K7xx (which is much warmer) is still night and day, the depth and more prominent presence of the bass also helps to tone down the somewhat-artificial soundstage. It's still the spacious sound AKG is known for, but it no longer feels like you're sitting in a room with weirdly-positioned speakers.

    (PS: Despite the cheap op-amps performing well and very Burson-like, I still prefer the all-V6 Vivids version to add even more warmth to the sound).

    With some Grados…

    33865517_2063659623685528_8922510213425135616_n.jpg

    Every amp has its pitfalls, and so did the Play. Many in the Play thread have pointed out that the Play v1.0 requires impedance-matching accessories to work with IEMs, otherwise there will be a constant hissing sound. I tried matching the Play with some low-impedance headphones only to find that the hiss *might* also happen on these.

    Thankfully there’s a new version to the rescue. I received the new version just last week and tested it with my Grados. The hiss is gone at all volume levels. Choosing the right op-amp combination makes the Play a pretty good choice with mids-centric headphones from Grado and Audio Technica. The downside is that upgrading from the orginial Play costs $100 (new version start at the same $300). I don’t really hear any difference on harder-to-drive cans, so if you solely rely on those, there’s no need to update.

    How is the sound? On my Grados, the Play generally improve the soundstage and clarity: the Audioengine D1 and all mobile devices/laptop will sound extremely muddy in comparison. Op-amp rolling also helps. Grados are famously colored so a set of more neutral op-amps in the Play will the best clarity for my iGrado (think of it as a more claustrophobic version of the SR60 when it’s plugged into your laptop). With the Alessandro MS2e, which is practically a tuned SR325e, a set of V6 Vivid will tame down the highs in old recordings.

    With the HD6xx

    33813957_2063662943685196_3444987023239151616_n.jpg

    Words cannot express how happy I felt that day, when I got my HD6xx. I spent hours listening to my favorite albums again, as if I were re-discovering them all over again.

    The thrill is there because the “wow factor” is not. It’s been years since I first got into this hobby, I’m no longer easily impressed by things like a supernaturally wide soundstage or “edgy” sound sig. The HD6xx has none of that. It seeks to impress no one and instead wows the true audiophile with timeless elegance: a refined, smooth and coherent sound that only a few can deliver.

    Well the Play and the HD6xx deliver. The Burson HD650 sound, years later at a fraction of the prize and an unexpected bonus: while the level of awesomeness is as much as I remember it to be, I’ve found out that HD6xx doesn’t come off as “veiled” like the HD650 used to. With the veil gone and the HD6xx giving out more details than I’d expected, I can roll opamps to tune the HD6xx to sound good on almost any genres. Putting all 5 V6 Vivid inside and there’s plenty of bass to go with your favorite Hip-hop or even Vocals-focused EDM track (like Reality by Lost Frequencies). Put V6 Classic into the single slots and the dynamics improve, making it great for Bon Jovi or any other 80s rock band.

    33870861_2063828717001952_190481176807342080_n.jpg

    A V5 in LPF and 4 V5i in I/V and single slots give me the most mellowed-out sound of all combinations: there’s not so much (dominent) bass but there’s still enough warmth and smoothness pasted all over the edges. From Spotify’s excellent Coffee Table Jazz playlist and Peter, Paul & Mary’s In Concert to my favourite album of all time, Carpenters’ Ultimate Collection, this is truly the combo to enjoy music with.

    With the HD800

    Patient readers would have noticed that I’m a sucker for colored sound – I could just go on and on about the HD800 sound as driven from my tube amp. But while the V6 Vivid brings a lot of warmth, the Play is at its core a solid-state amp. It gives more than enough volume and sound imaging on the HD800 is still crazily eyes-opening as usual, unfortunately the neutral sound really, really puts me off.

    Which bring us back to the HD800’s classic debate: is this actually the sound intended by recording engineers? If "utterly neutral" is your sound of choice, perhaps you'd be happy to get the Play to drive the famed Sennheiser (and remember to get some clean op-amps). It's just not my sound though.

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    Regardless the Play functions perfectly as the DAC/preamp for my tube unit. I’m of the opinion that coloring should be left to amps and headphones, and that everyone should appreciate a truly neutral, clean-sounding DAC. The remote control is an added bonus, too.

    The real added bonus: Home Audio

    With the Play fitting quite well with my Aego M, I figured I could pair it with my powered speakers set: Klipsch KG4 driven by Sansui 707. Lovers of vintage audio equipment knows that clarity isn't their strong suit, so the Play's resolution certainly helps here: the sound is just so clean at times I thought, maybe I should get worse-quality cables to add some vintage-y feel to it.

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    With a dedicated laptop.

    It's here that the Play's remote control really shines, as finding a compatible for these amps most of the time is a pain in the @ss. The Play's remote control and a wireless mouse G900 will help bring about a complete couch experience. Else, you could use Spotify, which strangely doesn't allow volume control when remote playing on anything other than an Echo.

    With this view of the Play, I also share the opinion that it should come with more input options (optical, coax and aux in). However my main source of music is Tidal/purchased AAC on laptops dedicated to playing music so the lack of optical/coax doesn't really bother me.

    But the Burson Play v1.0 is not perfect for Playing (Games)

    Even though the name is “Burson Play”, I’d like to think of this amp as “Play with Op-amp” rather than “Play games”. On practically all headphones I’ve tried except for the HD800 and Q701, the sound is still way too stereo rather than surround.

    That being said, I'm still somewhat skeptical of how surround headphones help with gaming. In 2016, I did a review on one of the top gaming headsets, the Logitech G933, only to find that while they're convenient and comfortable, the 7.1 surround sound didn't really improve my K/D. If I really wanted to, I could pinpoint enemy players' position either on my Aego M, provided the satellite units are placed properly. I can also do that with any of my headphones, but for long gaming sessions, I do prefer speakers simply for the fact that they don’t rest on my head.

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    This binaural combo is great for gaming. But the cost....

    Some games do have surround virtualization. However, that still cannot make the Play a truly gaming-first product. At its heart, the Play is a quality audiophile product – the added microphone jack and the form factor are only bonus for those headphones lovers that also play games. I count myself among those: with the Play driving my Aego M and my Q701, I got so caught up in Battlefield’s excellent soundtrack that I felt bad when the match actually started.

    Even the Play's design to fit into a gaming case would not be suitable for all users. After around 30 mins of use the Play "feels" around 40*C/104*F (which is around the degree I warm my baby's milk to). This is actually not bad for a Class-A headphone amp per se, but in a gaming case with all the excessive heat generated by the GPU and CPU it's going to be much higher. Thus I will always recommend using the Play as a standalone unit, with audiophile headphones.

    The affordable Burson doesn't dissapoint

    A few months ago, I did write a small article comparing various amp/DAC around the $500 price range. If you want the most intimate (but NOT congested) listening experience, the Burson Play with V6 Vivid op-amps would serve you better than all those DAC/amps mentioned. If you want something a bit more elegant, V6 Vivid duals with V6 Classic singles is the way to go.

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    Opamp rolling = unprecedented flexibility.

    If budget is a concern, the stock version will not disappoint, especially at the $300 asking price for a powerful amp/DAC unit like the Play. As others in the Play thread have pointed out, there are many cheap op-amps to roll (I quite like how $15 spent on 8920 and OP27 could turn a Play into a "reference" unit). Of all versions, I do believe it's the V5 version that will bring the famed "Burson signature sound" to you at a fraction of what the Conductor or the HP-160D costs. We're talking about a lot of possibilities via op-amp rolling, and I'm sure that no version of the most affordable Burson will disappoint.

    I view this as Burson's natural progression. Years ago, when I could only dream of the HD650, Burson started as a high-end amp maker that won awards left and right. At the moment, when the HD650 is no longer out of reach and we headphones lovers have a plethora of choices at the $200 range, Burson has introduced a $300 DAC-amp that you can easily tune to your liking. Yes, it might not have the surround virtualization that you might need, but the Play is a bona-fide audiophile DAC-amp that your music deserves.
      raoultrifan, Eiffel and Fearless1 like this.