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Burson Audio Play

  1. cskippy
    Burson Play - Mid-Fi Excellence
    Written by cskippy
    Published Aug 31, 2018
    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

    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:

    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.


    Singxer SU-1>Yggy Analog 2/Holo Spring L1>EC Aficionado/ECP DSHA-1>PMx2, Utopia, Elex, HD650, HE-500
    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.
      trellus and C-Bass like this.
  2. Cinder
    Good Headphone Amp, Great Pre-Amp
    Written by Cinder
    Published May 20, 2018
    Pros - Great resolving sound, premium construction and materials, great accessory set, fits in a 5.25' storage bay, good amplification range, great DAC, format compatibility, versatile tuning options
    Cons - Power button is inconvenient to reach, no optical in
    Burson Play Review: Good Headphone Amp, Great Pre-Amp

    Burson builds audiophile-grade DACs and amps. Based in Australia, they use their technical expertise to build high-grade amplification and source devices nearly entirely out of discrete components, a trait that Burson says improves the performance of their products. They’ve recently released a DAC/Amp called the Play: a device that can be used as a part of your audio stack or even slotted into a 5.25in bay in a PC!

    You can find the Play for sale here, ranging from $300 to $550 depending on the configuration you order. The cheapest option comes with a basic opamp set and no remote, while the most expensive one comes with two sets of Burson’s premium opamps and a remote.

    About My Preferences: Heads up, I’m a person! As such, these words are my opinion, and they are tinged by my personal preferences. While I try to mitigate this as much as possible during my review process, I’d be lying if I said my biases are completely erased. So for you, my readers, keep this in mind:

    • My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, mid-bass.
    • I have a mild treble sensitivity.
    Audio Stack
    • Motherboard -> USB -> Burson Play -> Sherwood AD230B -> JBL 990X
    • Motherboard -> USB -> Headphones
    All testing was done using the Classic opamps.

    Tech 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
    Sound Signature
    Performance and Pairing

    The Play has a very subtle warmth to it but is otherwise completely transparent. It is incredibly resolving and lets you get the most out of your lossless file formats if that’s your thing. The amplification range of this thing is great, and it pairs much better with my AD230b than my HiFiME 9018 or my PC’s line-out. Gone is the anemic, thin, sound of old. In its stead is a much more balanced and fully weighted tone that’s much improved the quality of my sound system’s stack.

    The Play also handles IEMs fairly well. Very sensitive ones will have an audible noise floor, but the majority of IEMs that I tested had a negligible noise floor if one at all.

    Using it with more demanding headphones like planars suited the Play much better, and it really sang. No noticeable noise floor hear either.

    Packaging / Unboxing
    Construction Quality

    The Play’s build is top notch. Every inch of it is finely machined and free from flaws. It is assembled with careful hands, as each removable component came tightly and securely fixed to the chassis.

    The volume knob is milled from metal and has a very tasteful metallic ring around the front. It’s free-rotating, so there’s no limit to the degree to which you can twist it. It has a satisfying bump for each adjustment of the knob and is satisfying to crank up. Pressing it in mutes the device.

    Besides the volume knob is an analog volume display that lights up in blue to show you what your current volume level is. Further besides that is the 1/4in jack out and the microphone-in.

    On the rear is the line in, power adapter socket (for if the Play is being used discretely), a Molex power socket (for if it's being used in a PC case), the power switch, and the RCA out.

    Speaking of being used in a PC case, the Play has grooves milled into its chassis that make it easy to install into a PC case with an empty 5.25in bay. Having a DAC/Amp in the front of my PC was super handy for the week I tested it there, especially while gaming. Connecting and disconnecting different headphones and mics (some are better than other for online shooters) was a breeze, at least when compared to having to reach being my PC and yank the cables out from my motherboard.

    Depending on your model, the Play will come with a remote. It features a volume up, volume down, and mute button. Each is milled from a reflective metal and feels incredibly premium to the touch. Its weight gives it a near-perfect heft. The remote works really well and has a good range. There’s no point in my (admittedly small) room where it can’t reach the Play unit.

    And good news for opamp junkies: the Play makes it easy to swap in your own opamps. Just remove the top half of the case and bam, you have access to the fully-discrete internals of the Play. All you need is the included hex-wrench and a couple minutes. Its so easy, even an idiot can do it! I’m living proof, after all.

    There’s a lot to unpack in the Play’s box! So in my unit, which is the “ Play with V6 Classic”, you’ll find:

    • 1x set of V6 Classic opamps
    • 1x set of V6 Vivid opamps
    • 1x set of RCA interconnect cables
    • 1x USB cable
    • 1x power brick
    • 1x Molex power adapter
    • 1x motherboard header adapter
    • 1x remote
    • 1x set of rubber adhesive feet
    • 1x 1/4in adapter
    • 1x RCA passthrough slider
    The utility cables are pretty par for the course, exempting the RCA cables. Those are premium Burson stock. The cable is thick, but pliable, and has high-quality and aesthetically pleasing terminations.

    This accessory set is comprehensive. It gets the job done and does so with style (where applicable). Its almost a shame to have all this nice-looking hardware tucked away inside a PC case! But if you’re like me and have a need to show off your cool things, then just take it out and plug it into a wall outlet: it’ll work all the same!

    The Play is a DAC/Amp with an innovative take on form-factor. Allowing users to install it into a PC case or use it discretely, the play reflects a flexibility not often found in audiophile hardware. Good format compatibility, strong amping, relatively low noise floors, a highly resolving presentation, and the ability to freely mix opamps in an out represents an unprecedented level of tinker-ability for those with restless hands, at least if you’ve got the cash. So if you’re in the market for a competent DAC/Amp and have a knack for swapping opamps, the Play is for you.

    As always, happy listening!
    1. Dobrescu George
      Really liking those photos :)
      Dobrescu George, Aug 1, 2018
      Cinder likes this.
    2. Cinder
      Cinder, Aug 1, 2018
      Dobrescu George likes this.
  3. BulldogXTRM
    Great Headphone Amp/DAC
    Written by BulldogXTRM
    Published Feb 23, 2019
    Pros - Price, sound and build quality, mounting options
    Cons - Sound stage could be a bit wider
    Review Of Burson Play
    Reviewed by Mike Brunner – Lead Guitarist of RĪvul

    Purpose of this review

    I’m a gigging musician (lead guitar/backup vocals), a forensic audio analyst, a wireless communications technician, a novice sound engineer, and an avid music lover with a wide taste in music. Being a forensic audio analyst is a plus when reviewing audio products simply because I know what bad audio sounds like and usually know how to correct it. My experience allows me to be familiar with the limitations of my own ears and the equipment I’m using.

    My perspective for all my reviews is based on these things. I don’t try to sugar coat things or bloat things to be better than they are. I’m just like everyone else and I want good value for the money in any product.

    I’m fair to the manufacturers as well. I always give them an option to respond to any concerns such as quality that I have during my review. I contact them directly and do so before my review is published to allow them to address any issues. I want to provide an honest and tangible review for prospective customers without being unfair.

    The Burson Play was provided to me free of charge for the purpose of this review by @Barra and Burson and will be returned upon completing my review.

    Now on to the good stuff.

    The Burson Play is a very sturdy build, with a metal casing. The versatility of the design is that it can be mounted either on the desktop or mounted in the case in any PC computer case with front mount openings. This versatility allows for a wide range of usage scenarios. The LED level indicator is bright and fully visible on the front of the unit. The digital volume knob large and very responsive.

    The overall build and design of the unit is well above average. Simple and effective.

    The real good stuff! This is what all of us audio geeks/audiophiles want to hear about. So when I first started this I decided to give myself a baseline using my pro audio gear. I first listened to my desktop DAW interface (Sapphire 2i4) and Midas M32. Both are designed to give pristine audio with no coloration at all. My monitors of choice this time were my 64Audio A18t and InEarz Euphoria. The 64Audio pairing is for technical listening with musicality, whereas the InEarz is for ease of listening.

    After setting up the baseline through listening to each interface for an hour the break down was the Burson Play is a very clean DAC/Amp. There was little to no noticeable difference to my ears. After listening to the Burson Play the transition back to my pro audio sources were nearly transparent.

    Across the entire audio spectrum the Burson Play seemed very flat. I actually hooked both the headphone out and the RCA outputs to my DAW to analyze the frequency response. In the lowest frequencies, the Burson Play showed a slight dip below 20Hz, and a slight dip above 20KHz. This simply put, in the audio range, the Burson Play showed a perfectly flat frequency response. Whatever you put in you get out. Near perfection for $299? Wow! Comparable to the output of a $4000 pro audio mixer? I was very surprised at this. Even though on the frequency analyzer I saw no issues, I did notice that the soundstage didn't seem quite as wide as my pro audio interfaces. There was no cross talk between the channels and after about 10 minutes of switching to the Burson it wasn't noticeable, after a quick switch, the staging was just slightly narrower.

    Real world application/Features
    I used the Burson Play for approximately 2 weeks as a DAC using the RCA output into my Midas mixer for playing music, practicing guitar and for playback. It never once had any issues and the audio remained crystal clear. Although for my usage I would like to have seen an input for my guitar, I see no issues for the average audio enthusiast.

    When trying to gauge value in any product I look at many areas, build quality, performance in real world situations and any shortcomings. As for shortcomings I saw no issues other than I would have liked the sound stage stereo width to be a little wider and an analog input for my usage would've been nice.

    All together the Burson Play was great DAC/Amp. It had no problems powering and I noticed no coloration to my IEM's. Outstanding product and value, a definite upgrade to normal computer audio and near perfect audio frequency reproduction.

    Good job Burson.
      trellus likes this.
  4. Barra
    Kicking $299 Audio Expectations to the Curb
    Written by Barra
    Published Jan 18, 2019
    Pros - Price and performance at top notch, huge bang for the buck.
    Cons - Could be a little wider in the sound stage if I split hairs
    Play Overview.png

    To be honest, at a price point of $299 compared to my $2700 Chord Hugo 2, I wasn’t expecting much. I was just expecting to beat my computer’s ASUS motherboard built-in upgraded audio which is lackluster at best and to be more convenient as a permanent attachment to my computer. Mission accomplished! However, I am finding the PLAY to be way more capable than that and has opened my eyes to new possibilities.

    What I didn’t expect was that the PLAY standalone through USB is driving my LCD2.2, my HD800s, and my extensive collection of CIEMs to their full potential. Yes, there are different flavors and better equipment, but if I didn’t mention that the sound wasn’t coming from my much more expensive gear, listeners would assume it was. This is not a dig at my more expensive gear, but a complement to a very capable Burson PLAY.

    The PLAY (basic) was built with PC gaming in mind to bring rich audio to gameplay. My hope was to install it into an open DVD bay and to have easy access to good sound without having to set up my more expensive chain. The PLAY as a modular design that is meant to either sit nicely on a desk or to be slipped neatly into a computer case and powered by the PC. As you can see from the back panel image below, there is a standard PC power plug allowing it to be powered from the case.

    Play Back.png

    As you can see from the model options below, the PLAY comes in configurations ranging from my Basic $299 configuration to the upgraded Opamp options V6 Vivid or Classic at $549. This review is based on the Basic $299 configuration, so as you can imagine, I am very interested to hear what the upgrade can offer.

    Play Options.png

    The Burson Play features the SABRE32/ESS9018 DAC chip and Xmos USB receiver chip. Both are technological benchmarks in the audiophile industry. To minimize distortion, the Play is tuned to operate in pure Class-A. Outputting 2000 mWatt per channel, it is over 20 times more powerful than the next best soundcard. To top it off, the Play features a high-performance mic input and fits into any PC case elegantly.

    For this review, I have the PLAY set up on my desktop across from my computer using a longer USB cable to reach my audio table next to my Hugo 2 and my Eddie Current ZDs tube amp. I have the required XMOS driver installed from the Burson website. My plan is to pair my library of headphones and CIEMs with the Play as well as try using the PLAY DAC with my ZDs to see how those two play together.

    How does it Sound
    To put it simply, it sounds like an audiophile headphone DAC/amplifier. The 9018 DAC chip is a well-known performer in audiophile circles….. when implemented correctly – and the implementation is outstanding in the PLAY. The key theme for the PLAY sound signature is a detailed, dynamic, and black background. While there is no color, there is a welcome richness to the bottom end offered through the highly dynamic quality. The dynamics and the bottom end offer a richness to the detail with gobs of texturing. The colorless black background is almost eerie and abyss like that provides superb spacing between the instruments. The soundstage is nice, but not the widest that I have heard. It feels deeper than wide offering great layering. While the detail is the star of the show, the texturing offers a natural organic feel to the resulting sound.

    What is important about the Play sound is that there is no sound or signature, the play gets out of the way to allow you to listen and enjoy your music. Often equipment offers a mix of results that sound great with some genres or songs, but not with others. Not with the Play. It is a very neutral and flat response with full-sized instruments, much like listening to a good speaker system. While neutral and flat may sound boring, I assure you that this is not the case, the Play offers a very dynamic, textured, and detailed window with a large sound stage.

    How does it Pair
    For the most part, I listened to the Play using my HD800. However, I have a wide variety of CIEMs and HPs to try. I even added my Eddie Current ZDs tube amp to the mix to determine how the DAC scales with higher-end equipment. Here is what I found:

    • Sennheiser HD800: To dial in my HD800, I use SonarWorks True-Fi adding what I need to be truly satisfied with the HD800 signature – more texture, dynamics, and bass/sub-bass. This is the same setting I use when I listen through my Hugo 2 or my Hugo 2 > Eddie Current ZDs setups. When just listening to the Play without a direct comparison, there is little to notice as I don’t feel like I am missing anything. In fact, the Play feels like it has a little more power than the Hugo 2. Either way, the HD800 feels like it is giving all it can give leaving nothing to be desired from any of the three setups. The Play is a great pairing with the HD800 offering lots of power to drive the headphone’s higher 300-ohm impedance. Often on lesser setups, the HD800 can sound congested in busy passages or bottom out with big bass booms – but not happening on the Play. Lesson devices can sound noisy that detracts from the gobs of HD800 detail – again, not so on the Play. Great pairing.
    • HiFiman HEX: There is nothing unexpected here as the HEX sounds good on anything including an iPhone. However, there is the occasion that a cheap source can make the HEX sound bright. This is not the case with the Play, as it is a very nice pairing providing everything the HEX is famous for.
    • Audeze LCD2.2: The LCD2’s are known for gobs of godly bass and always deliver including with the Play. However, this is my least favorite pairing as the LCD2 can be particular in the source to offer its best. While the LCD has clarity and slam with the Play, it doesn’t have the larger soundstage that some setups have to offer….that is until I add the EC ZDs. Now I am hearing what I am after. The Hugo 2 ZDs goes wider in soundstage, but without a direct comparison, the Play is good enough.
    • 64 Audio A18 CIEMs: Booooom….wow, this is the biggest I have heard the A18 bass. While it is almost too much stepping on the mids a little, I am enjoying it very much. Moving to songs with less bass, the dynamics get very snappy but very controlled with no slop. The snaps are crisp, the guitar is very plucky. If I have any complaint, it would be that the sound stage on the A18 is compressed a little compared to the Hugo 2 source it usually is paired with. While this is a great pairing, I like the Mason pairing better. However, I have to say that the a18 is sounding very big and full sized which is "mucho" fun. Moving to the Play > ZDs, there is a big noticeable upgrade in a18 performance as it is liking the ZDs tube sound better.
    • Empire Ears Legend X CIEMs: The LX says hell ya to the Play. It sounds wonderful. The LX is known for its dual subwoofers which are very tight and controlled with the Play. These sit on top of the Empire Ears famous Zeus SQ to provide a complete audiophile home stereo sound. The dynamics are very punchy while the black space in between the instruments stays very dark and clean. This is a wonderful pairing. This pairing is bringing the voices front and center and offering a lot more emotion to the mix. Like the a18, my only complaint is that I have heard a wider sound stage on other gear, but I am being fussy. Moving to the Play > ZDs, I trade some of the blackness for euphonics and richness. I also get some of the soundstage back. Both ways, the details are intense.
    • Unique Melody Mason V3 CIEMs: The Mason is my favorite CIEM for voice – male and female - and is a wonderful all-rounder that grows on you over time as does the HD800 (implemented correctly). They offer gobs of detail and texturing with black space and sound stage galore. This plays into all the strengths of the Play as the pair very well together. In fact, this is the best I have ever heard the Mason sound.
    • Eddie Current ZDs Tube Amp: When pairing with the ZDs, I am focused on the SABRE 9018 DAC implementation. My comparable is the Hugo 2 which is a much more expensive custom DAC so we are not comparing apples for apple price wise, but it is interesting anyway. By itself, the 9018 implementation disappears into the ZDs tube goodness as it should offering intense detail, black space, and texturing that is enhanced by the ZDs. The pairing is wonderful allowing the ZDs to provide a very lifelike and compelling dynamics and texturing that brings out the nuances that are available in your music selection. There is nothing lacking in this matchup and the results are spectacular. However, in a direct A/B comparison (via source selection switch on the ZDs panel) with the Hugo 2, there are some subtle, but noticeable differences that make the Hugo 2 better….. surprise. Regardless, they are subtle and without a direct A/B comparison, only the most advanced audiophile may notice. The advantages the Hugo 2 offers for the additional $2500 is a slight increase in the soundstage with a bit more of the holographic goodness that the Hugo 2 is known for as well as a smoother treble integration. As a result of this comparison, I will likely keep the Play connected to the ZDs to free up the Hugo 2 for mobile duties as it has an internal battery.
    IMG_0372.JPG IMG_0373.JPG IMG_0374.JPG IMG_0375.JPG IMG_0376.JPG IMG_0377.JPG IMG_0378.JPG

    As the title says, this audition kicked my $299 expectations of the Play to the curb. For 99 percent of the music listeners out there, the Play is good enough – no need to go any further. Most will not be able to tell the difference in quality in direct comparison to my $2800 Hugo 2. However, for us 1 percenters that want to see how much further we can go…. the V6 Vivid or Classic upgrade kit is shown in the table above may prove to be irresistible. What does that extra $250 have to offer? I may have to find out so I can offer an update.
    1. NymPHONOmaniac
      Gotta love 9018. Nice review.
      NymPHONOmaniac, Jan 28, 2019
  5. rvcjew
    Review of the Base SKU of the Burson Play.
    Written by rvcjew
    Published Nov 24, 2018
    Pros - Packaged very well during shipping.

    Good Power on the amp side. Clean sound.

    Good USB Chipset.

    Comes with everything needed for case mounting including the RCA bracket for expansion slot and the internal USB header.

    Simple design with only an LED face, quarter jack headphone output, 3.5mm mic input and volume knob with push to mute. All power and input hookups in the back.

    Sound can be changed to how you prefer with any compatible opp-amps.

    Does not distort at higher volumes.
    Cons - IEM usage has slight hiss on the noise floor.

    No kind of gain adjustment.

    No S/PDIF in, only USB. Con for some.

    Next revision should use a SATA VS MOLEX power connector IMO.
    I'v purchased some Burson products in the past and so they offered to let me evaluate the Burson Play in its lowest stock form. I naturally took the opportunity as I'm very happy with their opp-amps in my current setups. I initially heard they were a good upgrade to the Xonar Essence STX so I picked up some V5 Dual's and was blown away how it sounded compared to the stock JRC2114. After that I got the XD-05 for portable use that I am happy with using a V5i Dual in it vs the Ti OPA1612 it came with. I also have the 2015 version NFB-11 with USB 32v2 and the TXO upgrades. I put the Play against all of these in it's stock form.

    First the specs:

    Second the Packaging, Accessories, Build and Looks:

    It comes with a tool to open it (I just used my own driver with a H2.5 for the front face and a T9 for the back), some very nice looking and feeling RCA cables, a USB cable for desk use, a USB cable for PC case use that terminates into a USB 2.0 header to go straight into the motherboard, and a bracket for the PC expansion slot that is a pass through of the RCA to the inside of the case and unit.
    It feels very solidly built with only 4 screws (2x front/2x back) that need to come out to make changes to the opp-amps in it. It uses a hook and slot shape on the top cover so that it can only fit one way on the unit and stay secure on the sides. nothing feels loose on the outside.
    Looks wise it is very subtle with a clean face that is all black when off and when on only shows the volume level in blue LED numbers. The sides have a slight slight indentation of lines to break up some the flat look. The sides also have 4 holes for mounting within a 5.25" bay. The back has a USB B, RCA preouts, large power switch, a barrel connector for desk power and a MOLEX connector for PC power use which I really think should be SATA as not many devices use MOLEX besides some pumps nowadays. The bottom has four rubber feet that you could remove for case use if needed.


    Desk use: It is a very nice size for a desk as it is the size of a standard optical drive. You only need to have the USB and and power from the included adapter rated for 12V-6A which are both in the back for good cable management.

    Internal Use: It just mounts like any 5.25" device then you power it with a PSU MOLEX connector and use the USB B to USB 2.0 Header cable to plug it directly into your Motherboard. If you will be using the preouts then you will need to also install the rear slot pass-though bracket and plug that into the RCA's on the back of the unit. You want to mount it where it gets good airflow as it will get as hot or hotter then a HDD.

    The volume wheel is a infinite spinning digital wheel that can also be pushed for mute.

    Driver Setup:
    For a Windows machine you only need to use the driver from there support site (https://www.bursonaudio.com/downloads/). Once you have that you can turn on and setup the device in your playback devices appropriately. I used 24Bit 44.1Hz for all my OS testing and for music it was WASAPI in Jriver MC 24 with no DSP's.


    Stock: While Stock compared to my NFB-11 which is pretty wide in sound-stage and slightly bright I would say the Play is narrow (a good thing for gamers) and neutral making imaging excellent. If you are a gamer and want to do some serious FPS gaming and want to hear just footsteps ect, it will work very well. The Play is just as detailed as the NFB-11 as well.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Opp-amp Rolling: This is one of the key features of the Play in my opinion because if you have either Bursons or another companies opp-amps in an older unit already and just want a solid hardware platform to switch to and experiment with the implementation of the XMOS chip in this one is very OS friendly.

    Power: While having no gain control I would say all my current headphones (M50, PortaPro, K7XX, TH-X00, M1060) are pretty easy to drive but it still has plenty of room to spare for some higher impedance ones. I mostly spend on the 10 mark and 16 mark if the AC is on. This is out of 99. It does not distort at the higher volumes either and seems clean in the whole range.

    My IE80 is my only go to IEM for use today but it and my M300s have a small bit of static on the noise floor of this amp so I would expect all lower impedance ones would. This can probably be minimized depending on the opp-amps used in the unit but I was asked to review it stock so that's what I heard. Even with the louder noise floor it was still clear though at all volume levels.

    Since Black Friday I snagged some AF180's will will update on whether those have the same noise floor or not when I test them.

    Overall The product is excellent and I have not had any short comings with it and it's trick to be in a case is going to be be a must for some specific people and a great desk combo regardless that has that Burson build and quality sound.

    I again would like to thank Burson for letting me evaluate a part of there market I did not even realize they were in.


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      trellus likes this.
  6. icsterm
    Burson Play review
    Written by icsterm
    Published Sep 3, 2018
    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


      raoultrifan likes this.
    1. selvakumar
      Hi whats the USB passthrough you are using is it hum eliminator
      selvakumar, Sep 20, 2018
    2. raoultrifan
      PLAY has no volume control for its internal amplifier, the volume knob only adjusts internal DAC's volume. Not sure a Line-In would help much here, unless you want to use its internal 2.5X-gain amplifier as a "PA" (around 5V RMS) or add an external pre-amplifier to control the output volume. I think FUN would more appropriate to be used with an external DAC, as FUN has dedicated volume adjust control.
      raoultrifan, Oct 16, 2018
  7. ngoshawk
    Let's go to the Play-ground
    Written by ngoshawk
    Published Aug 23, 2018
    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.



    · 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


    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.


    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


    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


    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.


    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.



    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.”


    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.

  8. Wiljen
    Burson Play - one extremely versatile DAC/Amp !
    Written by Wiljen
    Published May 20, 2018
    Pros - Very Versatile DAC/AMP with good power and tuning opportunities
    Cons - USB Only, no optical or coaxial inputs, AC adapter not as robust as rest of unit.
    I was loaned the Burson Play as part of the review tour and would like to extend a very heartfelt thanks to the crew at Burson Audio who really went above and beyond the call to make sure we had a working unit for the tour. I won’t elaborate here, suffice it to say other organizations might have decided to end the tour early rather than go through hoops to make it happen but Burson stuck with it and sent out another unit to finish the tour.

    The Play is an interesting critter. On the surface, it can be seen as an entry level DAC/AMP since at the heart of it, that is what it is. Beyond that, the Play is designed to fit in a PC bay normally reserved for a CD Rom drive. In PC speak, the Play fits in a standard ½ height 5 ¼ inch drive bay. The upside being, most full-sized desktop and tower configuration PCs have at least one available bay of this variety. The downside, is maybe not for much longer as direct download of software and use of USB drives have all but hammered the last nail in the coffin of the CD. Because of its design, the Play has both a connection for an AC adapter and a 4 pin Molex connector again designed for a standard CD power connector (12 and 5V DC power). I did not mount the play in my PC during the review tour but did use a 650-Watt PC power supply instead of the provided AC adapter for a good bit of the testing to simulate PC use.

    The play came shipped in a well labeled black box that while subtle, conveyed the needed details. Upon opening the box, two smaller boxes surround the main unit which sits in the center. The boxes contain the power brick and connecting cables as well as adapters for use of the play inside a PC case. Overall, nothing fancy about the packaging but nothing left lacking either. Well packed for travel and a good set of accessories and tools needed to mount the unit either as a standalone or inside a PC case. The unit also sports a stick remote which comes in handy as raising or lowering the volume in large increments is easier with the remote than the dial.

    The front of the unit has a 6.3mm jack for headphones, a 3.5mm jack for a microphone, a two-digit numeric display built into the face plate, and a large volume knob. The volume display is extremely well done with cutting the holes through the metal face rather than simply exposing the entire component. Some will complain about it being too bright for bedroom use but for most gamers who tend to adorn PCs with neon anyway, I suspect no such quarrels will be heard.


    A hex head screw adorns each corner of the case front and rear and allows for near complete disassembly of the unit in very rapid fashion if desired. It should be noted that while the front and rear screws are the same thread pattern and take the same Allen wrench (provided in the accessory kit) that the heads are enough different between front and rear that they need to be kept separate when taking the cover off the unit.


    The top cover is keyed so it cannot be installed backward as shown below, and tolerances are very tight so careful alignment is needed to get the unit back together.

    rail1.jpg rail2.jpg

    The rear of the unit is a bit busier than the front with a USB input on the far left, then the AC input, the 4 pin Molex DC input, a power switch, and a pair of RCA pre-outs at the far right.


    The sides have screw holes placed at the appropriate locations for mounting the unit while the top and bottom are solid metal painted a nicely subdued flat black.

    The paint job is susceptible to scratches so once used inside a PC case, the unit will likely sport a few battle scars and may need to be repainted if you later decide to use it as a stand-alone.

    The unit is designed to be opened by the end user as changing op-amps is not only possible but expected. The good news is sockets are well spaced to make replacement of op-amps very easy to do without having to worry about bumping a cap or resistor in the process.

    A diagram on the inside of the top cover shows clearly the proper orientation of the 5 replaceable op amps (3 doubles for the DAC side and 2 singles for the headphone amp).


    This is critical as mounting an opamp backwards not only wont work, it has potential to destroy the op-amp and the unit. My advice is take photos before removing the existing op-amps the play ships with. Be certain that all photos clearly show the proper orientation of the op-amp in the socket and have enough detail of the area around the socket to clearly identify each one. Once you have the new op-amps installed, compare to the photos just to make certain all alignments are correct before powering on. This helps prevent mishaps. (As a side note, when using the V6 Burson op-amps, the three doubles should have the label facing away from the center of the unit and the two singles should have the labels pointed toward the rear of the unit. When using the V5i, you have to watch the U notch placement as label orientation is less helpful as a reference since it is on top of the unit.)

    classicfront.jpg classicback.jpg withadapter.jpg withoutadapter.jpg

    The AC Adapter is probably the weakest link in the build as it is a standard laptop style brick with a barrel connector. Some conversion has to occur inside the unit as the power supply is only capable of 12V at 5A. While I understand use of this component as a cost saving measure and it worked fine (as did the 650 Watt PC supply I used to test), it is clearly not aesthetically of the same quality as the rest of the unit and appears to have been a bit of an afterthought.

    When using inside a PC case, make sure the Power supply can handle the additional draw the Play will demand. The AC Adapter is capable of providing 60 watts so that is a realistic estimate of what needs to be available from a PC power supply in addition to the other demands placed on it. Most gaming rigs have pretty hefty power supplies and should handle the play with ease. Small desktop PCs designed for office use probably will need an upgraded power supply to handle the addition of the Play to the case.

    The play came with V6 Classic Opamps installed in both the DAC and pre-amp sections and a pair of V6 Vivid Singles for use in the pre-amp stage. I had previously tested the Burson V6 and V5i and found my preference to be for the V6v for rock and blues rock and the V6c to be better suited to Jazz and vocal pieces where the extra energy of the vivid was a bit over the top for me. For that reason, I did my testing first with the unit as it arrived (V6 Classics in all slots). I then went back and replaced the two single op-amps in the output stage with the V6 vivids and did my listening tests for a 2nd time.

    In order to test the sound of the DAC independently of the built in amp, I used the pre-outs to connect to my Asgard2 and a first generation Valhalla. I then listened to all the same selections using the Asgard2, the Valhalla, and the internal Amplifier of the Play using several different provided Op-amps. (I wrote up the Burson Op-amps previously here).

    File types supported natively include all the expected varieties (FLAC, ape, etc…) at up to 384kHz and 32 bit depth. DSD is supported at 64,128, and 256 both natively and as DSD over PCM if desired.

    The play has good extension on both ends with good slam and authority in the bass and sub-bass with both the Classic and Vivids. I don’t see the Play as being bass-forward but did find that use of the Burson V6 Vivid op-amps did add a bit of coloration to the bass. Mids are well rendered on both sets of op-amps but are a bit more forward on the Classic than the Vivid. Treble sparkle is a bit more pronounced on the Vivid but both have good extension and air. I cannot fault the extension on either end with either set of the op-amps but can say conclusively that both add a bit of their own color to the sound.

    The Classics deliver an intimate sound stage with great separation and really fantastic imaging that is best seen on small ensemble pieces. I can see where this would be a great choice for gaming as the imaging really is spot on. Even audience noise appears to come from the opposite direction as the instrumentation which is quite a feat. Instrument separation is good on both but better on the Vivid which handles large ensemble pieces and exceptionally busy pieces with a bit more aplomb than the Classics.

    The play also handled busy tracks without getting muddy or thick and was able to maintain realistic timbre for both bass guitar and vocals (particularly so with the Vivids) which can be difficult to do. In the overall, I found the Play to be at least as good as any other DAC I have in the house at the moment. (Mojo, Bifrost, Audio-GD). Overall, an impressive showing for a $549 setup.

    I expected to find more differences than I did between the internal amplifier of the Play and the Asgard2 or the Valhalla external amps as having read the specs for the Play I was a bit concerned that output power dropped pretty radically as impedance went up. I was particularly puzzled by the listed 8 Ohm output impedance of the headphone jack on the play which would, under accepted theory, suggest a minimum headphone impedance of 64 Ohm combined with a power output curve that was obviously geared toward headphones 50 Ohms and under. It has since been pointed out that measured values show the output impedance at <1 Ohm when using 32 Ohm headphones which makes much more sense so this is probably simply a matter of documentation needing an update on Burson's site. Again, this is not a criticism necessarily as a quick survey of headphones aimed at the Gaming market found nothing over about 32 Ohm. The Play has more than enough power to drive anything under 300 Ohm and handled Oppo and Fostex planars without any problems. I also found it odd that the advertising for the Play all shows it with a volume set to 89. I suspect this was more to highlight the display than anything as even with notoriously power-hungry cans like the Fostex T50rp a volume setting of anything over 40 is going to do hearing damage and 89 is going to rupture your eardrums and cause brain bleeds in short order. I absolutely recommend you never set the Play at any volume above 20 before putting on your headphones and adjusting once you know what the output level is.

    The 00 to 99 granularity of the Play’s volume control is nice to have but makes large adjustments a slow process as it can take several turns of the knob to dial in the desired level. The remote control is faster for doing large adjustments as one can simply hold the down arrow and not have to twist the knob repeatedly to accomplish the same adjustment.

    I currently own a Bifrost/Asgard combo and can say without doubt that I could trade both units for the play and never miss either of them.

    While the play lacks the portability of the Mojo, it has better mids and delivers more power to hungry cans. This is a tough comparison as the two form factors are so different. On sound alone, the play is better.

    When compared to the Modi 2 /Magni 2 uber I use at the office, I can say again that the Play would make an equally compact and more versatile solution with the only downfall being a slightly lower output power. Since most of us don’t use our ultra power-hungry planars at the office anyway, I’m not sure that loss would even be noticed.

    If you want a small package capable of big things, you would be hard pressed to find a better way to spend your money than the Play. The Play offers more customization options than any of the other single units available at anywhere near its price point and offers the budget conscious a way to buy in stages.

    For those on a tight budget, the $299 entry price provides a great starting point and then as funds avail themselves one can add the Classics or Vivids (or dare I say Muses, Burr-brown, or someone else’s op-amps) to alter the signature as desired. Stepping up to $399 you get the V5i throughout which offers 95% of the performance of the fully discrete op-amps at 73% of the price. It is hard to argue with the math on that and would be the configuration I purchased if in the market today. For many, it will be an end-game PC sound system with fantastic dynamics, staging, and imaging for gaming as well as audio. For those where audio is above all else, they will find either the V6 Classic or the V6 Vivid (or some of both) to be to their liking and again, for the $549 asking price, It would be tough to find a better value. For those who haven’t yet played with a Burson product, I highly recommend you take this one out for an audition. Somewhere between the base model and the V6 Classics, you are bound to find a sound you like.


    1. internals2.jpg
    2. opamps.jpg
      raoultrifan likes this.
    1. raoultrifan
      When used with 32-ohms headphones, PLAY's output impedance is <1-ohm (feel free to measure by yourself); probably when using 8-ohms cans the output impedance would be much higher! Also, don't forget there're no resistors or capacitors in signal path at the output of the output stage, there're just the output transistors and the protective relay.
      raoultrifan, May 21, 2018
    2. Wiljen
      Probably just a case of Burson needs to update the verbiage as it didnt seem likely that those figures fit.
      Wiljen, May 21, 2018
    3. ThomasHK
      Output impedance is independent of load...
      ThomasHK, May 22, 2018
      Baten likes this.
  9. ostewart
    Powerful and fun DAC/Amp
    Written by ostewart
    Published Oct 18, 2017
    Pros - Op-Amp rolling, versatility, power and overall sound quality
    Cons - no analogue or optical inputs
    Firstly I would like to thank Burson Audio for selecting me as the first member of the UK tour, I made sure to give the unit plenty of hours of play before the final review.

    *disclaimer: This sample was provided on loan for the purpose of writing a review, no incentive was given to write a favourable review. All opinions expressed are my own subjective findings.

    Gear Used: HP Laptop > Curious USB cable > Play (V6 Vivid and Classic op-amps) > German Maestro GMP400 / Ultrasone Edition 8 EX and others...


    Tech specs:
    Extensive info can be found on the product page: https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/play/

    Play Basic - NE5532 X 3, NE5543 X 2 - $299

    Play with V5i - V5i-Dual X 3, V5i-Single X 2 - $399*

    Play with V5 - V5-Dual X 3, V5-Single X 2 - $475*

    Play with V6 Vivid - V6-Vivid-Dual X 3, V6-Vivid-Single X 2 - $549*

    Play with V6 Classic - V6-Classic-Dual X 3, V6-Classic-Single X 2 - $549*

    *All models above the Basic come with the remote. Prices include shipping and are in USD.

    Build quality and Accessories:
    As this is part of a tour, it did not come in retail packaging I don’t think, as it came in a clear plastic box. The unit itself is quite industrial looking, with an all black chassis that feels hefty and solid. On the front you have the volume knob, LED volume numbers, 6.3mm headphone output and also a 3.5mm microphone input. On the back you have the regular power input, a power input for jumpers from a PC PSU if you want to mount it in your PC, RCA outputs and a USB input. Everything is extremely well finished and put together with tight sockets and minimal play.

    Accessory wise you get a USB cable, remote control and RCA cables. This is a tour unit so additional V6 Classic op-amps are included, the V6 Vivid are pre-installed in this unit. With the retail version you get a panel for the back of your PC with RCA jumpers so you can still use the pre-amp output whilst mounted in a PC.



    This Amp/DAC is aimed at those who want the best sound out of their PC, hence why Burson made it the size it is, so you can mount it in a PC case. It also has a dedicated microphone input, which is again aimed at gamers, and provides a high quality microphone input.

    I will be using the Play as a regular Amp/DAC with headphones for music playback. Now the Play is a full class A amp (runs warm) with built in DAC, it has no analogue inputs to allow you to only use the amp section. It also only has USB input, which is a shame as an optical port would have made it even better.

    Now this Amp/DAC can output a lot of power, so should be able to drive most headphones out there with ease. It also has RCA outputs so you can use it as a DAC/Pre-amp, the RCA volume is changed with the knob and is not a fixed line-out.


    You get a remote control which allows you to control volume along with muting the device; you can also mute it by pressing the volume knob in. The volume control is digital and has 99 steps, the gain is fairly high, as is the output impedance (8 Ohms) so it is really made for full-size headphones and not sensitive IEM’s.

    One major feature of the Play is the ability to roll op-amps with ease; the unit comes with a hex key to open it up and allows you easy access to change the op-amps. Also the circuit is designed to get the most out of Bursons own series of op-amps.


    V6 Vivid:

    The Burson play leans more to the fun side of sound with the Vivid op-amps, not being a purely reference amp. It has plenty of power and punch yet also finesse; the finer details are not smeared or hidden. It is a dynamic and punchy sounding amp, allowing you to hear excellent detail without sounding overly harsh. Separation is excellent and the soundstage is very enveloping allowing you to easily pinpoint instruments within the soundstage.

    There is never any sense that you are missing out on anything in the recording, there is plenty of air around instruments without sounding detached. With the V6 Vivid the sound is transparent but not strictly flat and neutral, it doesn’t want to be either. It wants you to enjoy the music without trying to analyse it.

    As I said with the V6 Vivid it is a more dynamic and punchy sound, more direct and fun adding a little bottom end presence which works wonders with my GMP400’s.


    V6 Classic:
    With the V6 Classic vocals are upfront and intimate, you get a bit more of an intimate sound with a bit less air but you get a little extra smoothness. Again the details are there, but not as up front and exciting as the Vivid, the sound is a little more laid back but intimate. The bass is smoother and has less visceral punch, instead stays more in line with the recording. Vocals are the focus here.

    I find the V6 Classic to sound more linear and balanced but with a little added smoothness, the soundstage is still wide but instruments have a softer edge to them, the highs are not as exciting but still extend effortlessly.

    I find the V6 Classic to be less exciting but more towards my preferred sound, it has a very detailed and well balanced sound with a hint of smoothness, they work well with all genres and sound excellent.

    Microphone input: The input works really well and is excellent quality, no issues here and an excellent feature for gamers: https://vocaroo.com/i/s0pisjvHvJpL


    Well what can I say; it does what it says on the tin but with added functionality that other DAC/Amps do not offer for this price. The amp section is extremely powerful and can be tuned with different op-amps and offers an excellent platform for people looking to test various op-amp configurations. It has a microphone input on the front for gamers, and can be neatly mounted in a PC tower.

    With the V6 Vivid op-amps you get a very dynamic and crisp sound that is extremely fun to listen to, with the V6 Classic op-amps you get a more neutral sound but still with a hint of smoothness and intimacy that is more in line with my personal preferences.

    The Burson play really is an excellent DAC/Amp, that is versatile and works really well with most full-size headphones. For the price it is a highly recommended product for those looking for a desktop DAC/Amp. I personally would have liked to have seen optical and analogue inputs, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

    Sound Perfection Rating: 9/10 (no analogue or optical inputs)
      raoultrifan and selvakumar like this.
  10. Fasterball
    Burson Play Basic - I love this thing!
    Written by Fasterball
    Published Oct 12, 2018
    Pros - Mic Input, Build Quality, Burson Customer Support, Unrivaled Sound in its Price Range, clear and fast sound, Op-amp rolling, Digital Volume Display, Big Volume Adjustment Knob, Phenomenal Sound Stage, tons of power (easily drives everything I have)
    Cons - drivers, no ability to pair a different dac with it
    This is the first review I have ever attempted to submit. I'm a fledgling audiophile - I'm still working on the ability to hear and describe all the things I'm hearing like you folks often articulate so well. I love great sound and believe I can appreciate the subtle nuances I hear between different dac/amp offerings. I'm coming from the quintessential Schiit Stack and the Audioquest Dragonfly Red - my sense is that the "Burson Play" outclasses both of these dac/amp offerings. [​IMG]

    Some Stumbles at the Starting Line

    I ordered the Burson Play directly from Burson Audio online. I almost immediately received a "thank you for your purchase" email but I did not receive any information about when shipping would occur. I didn't even receive an invoice number or purchase order number. The only thing I had to even reference my order was the paypal transaction number but that was provided by paypal. It wasn't until 3-4 days later that I received an email from Burson regarding shipping and tracking info. Once that hiccup was out of the way, shipping was relatively quick despite the fact my shipment was dispatched from Hong Kong. It was shipped on September 29th and arrived on October 09th. Dang Amazon has me getting impatient on any package I have coming my way. I feel it necessary to note here that Burson's early lack of communication was not at all indicative of their overall customer service. It was, as the heading states, just a stumble.

    Once my package arrived I was impressed by the clean-all aluminum-industrial look of the device. I know Burson designed this device to be placed in a standard drive bay of a computer but it looks really great out on the desk. Some folks have complained about the heat this device puts out. I have been running it now for 24 hours straight (I'm listening to it as I type this) and it feels no warmer than the Magni 2 I have after a few hours of use. That being said, I am a freak about my pc temps and I would not want this extra heat inside of my pc. That's especially true since it looks so good out of the case.

    Another stumble was the shear lack of documentation that came with the device. So many cords come with the device but only 2 are pertinent to setting up the device if you have it outside of the case and that is the USB cord and the power cord. The remainder of the cords are utilized when you install it inside of the case. There are no instructions explaining how to go about installing the device inside of a pc case. There is nothing to let you know that a driver is needed for the device to work as it should. When you go to their website they suggest that there are two drivers you need for windows 10. I learned from Burson that for the play I only needed the xmos driver. This was after several hours trying to install the cmedia usb 2.0 driver. Windows 10 seems to have its own xmos driver now but at the time of typing this it was still having issues and device manager would say the device did not have a driver so I decided to use the driver provided by Burson. As I was figuring this all out Burson's customer service was on point. They were quickly returning my emails and answering my questions as I was struggling to learn how best to set it all up. I think much of our back and forth exchange could have been limited if Burson included some instructions or even a card saying go to this website for a manual.

    The last gripe I have or stumble is the included usb cord is impossibly short. I have mine currently sitting on top of my pc chassis because it will not reach my desktop. Now granted this would be a none issue if my pc was on my desktop but it sits under my desk so the shortness of the included cable was painfully apparent. It would be nice if they could include a slightly longer USB cable.

    Setup Complete - How's it sound?

    For the Play Basic Burson recommends a burn-in period of 50 hours. This burn-in period is very important to accomplish prior to resting on any final decision about the Play. When I first got it set up and started jamming out to music and watching youtube videos I was fatigued by the harshness of the slippery S sounds. The device was sibilant and very bright by my estimation right out of the gate. It didn't help that I was listening with a pair of headphones that had a cable made from canare quadstar cable that is on the bright side. This sibilance and brightness became more subdued after the burn-in period was complete. The Play warmed up nicely, more bass came out of it then was previously there. Even after the burn-in period it remained on the bright side but it wasn't as in your face about it as it was before. I have really enjoyed the combo of my rather dark Audioquest Nighthawks and the Burson Play. I feel like they complement each other really well although the Play has way more juice than is needed by the Nighthawks. I routinely listen with the volume level at 15 with these headphones.

    The headphones I used to test the Play out are as follows: Audioquest Nighthawks, AKG K712 Pro, Hifiman HE 400i, and Audio Technica AD900X.

    The playlist I used to evaluate the Play is as follows: Riding for a Fall by Chris Ledoux, Thunder Rolls by Garth Brooks, Hotel California by the Eagles, Bubbles by Yosi Horikawa, Mr. Bojangles by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Dragonborn by Jeremy Soule, Forgot about Dre by Dr. Dre, In the Air Tonight by Phil Collins, Hallelujah by Pentatonic, and The Master's Call by Marty Robbins.

    The thing that stood out to me the most in running through the above playlist with each of my headphones is how the sound seemed livelier, more energetic, and faster than when I listened to it on the modi/magni and dragonfly red. I'm not sure what accounts for this but the music was more engaging and for me fun to listen to. The drum riff in In the Air Tonight dang near got me up out of my seat with a "hell yeah" it was so awesome.

    The sound stage on the Play is unreal. I included some songs in my playlist just to test the sound stage. Yosi Horikawa's Bubbles was so cool to listen to. With the clarity and sound stage the Play offers I felt like little balls were bouncing all around my head. At one point I even turned to look, slightly freaked out by how real the directional audio felt. Gamers will love the Play for the mic input as well as the solid directional audio that can be experienced while using it. The Master's Call sounded awesome too as the recording has the back up vocals coming from one direction and the instruments coming from another with Marty Robbins coming at you from the center. I felt transported to the Opry Stage as I listened to this track.

    The mids and highs are clear and detailed and after burn-in, not overemphasized. The bass is a little lacking but becomes more apparent after burn-in. Listening to my playlist with my HE400i's, the planar magic really shines through as the amp supplies really clean and effortless power to them. I love how that planar bass sounds so smooth on the Play despite not having the greatest sub bass extension.

    The included mic input pairs really well with my Mod Mic. Previously I've had to enable onboard audio or use a cheap usb dongle with mic input to use my Mod Mic. This is no longer the case as my high quality amp/dac is now also my mic input. I love this feature. I love that I can have audiophile grade sound quality with a class A amp and my mic input all in one place. It makes my mic sound so much better than before as well! The Play has it all for a gamers and music lovers alike.



    I love this device! This is my end game... for now... lol! To me it's beats out the Schiit stack and the Dragonfly Red. I know at $299 the Play comes in at about $100 more than these two options, but it's really not even close in my mind. To me it is absolutely worth the extra $100 in sound quality alone but then when you throw in the mic input and the clarity it gives your voice then the raw value here becomes clear. I am excited about the prospect of opamp rolling. I'm satisfied for now but I know the upgrade bug will surely hit me soon and when it does instead of buying new hardware I can buy some opamps.
      trellus likes this.