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Burson Audio Play

  1. raoultrifan
    Probably the best DAC/headamp for inside PC use!
    Written by raoultrifan
    Published Jan 22, 2018
    Pros - Able to play WAV, APE, MP3, FLAC etc. but also DSD x64, x128, x256 formats natively, without any clicks when switching between source format
    - Need no drivers for OS Sierra nor for Windows 10 (however, Burson is providing dedicated custom drivers for Windows 10)
    - Very good, detailed and neutral sound, especially when using audiophile headphones
    latest generation USB transporter chip followed by a very detailed Reference DAC connected to a very powerful Class-A amplifier makes it easy to use most headphones out there, even planars
    - One of the best DAC/headamp combo for opamp rollers
    - Headphones protection circuit with relay (for DC-output, but also if you connect dual instead of single opamps in the pre-amplification stage)
    - Able to get the power either from included PSU, either from the PC's PSU (only the +12V)
    Cons - Take care when pairing the PLAY with sensitive IEM
    - Volume/gain could be a bit higher when pairing with sensitive 16-32 ohms headphones, so notch down the volume knob to somewhere between 5 to 10 before connecting the headphones!
    - If choosing the V5/V6 solid-state op-amps version of PLAY, then price could be a bit on the higher side, but the Basic version of PLAY is definitely a very good alternative, getting the most juice from your money.

    I received this wonderful DAC/headamp combo a couple of weeks ago from BURSON-Australia to give it a listen and write a detailed review here, many thanks to Charles for that. This is what I did actually, I gave it an over 200 hours of burn-in combined with intensive listening tests, mostly Jazz (oldies, but also contemporary), Blues, Rock, Classic music and Club hits as well, so I did covered most genres of music I usually listed to.

    Photo: BURSON courtesy

    For me, as a computer engineer, but also an electronics-hobbyist, it's very important what's "inside the box" and how the device measures, but also what kind of components manufacturer is using when building the final product.

    Well, I was amazed that inside the PLAY Burson was using same high-quality components like in a high-end device: Dale resistors, ELNA Silmic II and ELNA Tonerex capacitors. Given the 5.25" form factor and Burson recommendation this DAC/headamp combo was designed with PC users and PC gamers in mind, so given the "target audience" I wasn't really expecting such audiophile-like components inside.

    Inside components view

    Powerful Class-A transistors amplifier

    Gold-plated plugs and protection circuitry

    Backside view of the PCB (see the ground-plane)

    Now I'm going to dig into this baby a little bit.

    The USB module is connected to the mainboard through a 7-pin adapter, so it's easy to take it apart and swap it for another module, in case of RMA for example. Also, this modular design makes possible a future upgrade, in case BURSON might think there's place for improvement. Who knows, maybe an USB 3.0 card or a SPDIF or RIAA converter or perhaps a newer XMOS chip or...just my imagination? :) The inside firmware can be future upgradable via the 3 volts 4Mb 25P40VP serial flash memory: M25P40 Serial Flash Embedded Memory - Micron Technology, Inc.. Entire USB module is getting the +5V power from a dedicated LT1085 low-noise regulator, so no power noise & ripple should get injected from the PC's power supply.

    XMOS USB module

    There's a low-power USB hub controller on the USB module, GL850G connected to onboard dedicated 12 MHz crystal. This has an 8-bit RISC processor inside that quickly responds to USB host requests. This USB hub should minimize PC's USB host ripple and noise and also to power the USB chip via the internal low-noise regulators.

    The USB transporter is a XMOS XU-208 chip from the latest generation on the market, xCORE-200: XU208-256-TQ64. This is a 32-bit chip powered by 8 x real-time logical cores running at a frequency of 500 MHz. It gets the clock from the onboard 22 MHz and 24 MHz oscillators.

    By the Digital-to-Analog conversion is taking good care the Reference DAC chip developed by ESS, ES9018K2M, getting the clock from the onboard 100 MHz oscillator. This is a high-performance 32-bit, 2-channel audio D/A converter able to natively decode both PCM and DSD formats with a dynamic noise up to 127dB and a THD+N of -120dB. It has also a digital volume control and an internal DSP with built-in "click-free" soft mute feature to suppress any possible popups when switching between PCM and DSD or vice-versa.

    ESS DAC and the low-noise power regulators

    The DAC chip is powered via the supplied +12V power source that is later lowered to +5V by a dedicated LT1085 low-dropout & low-noise regulator (different LDO than the one used to power the USB module), then gets lowered again to +3.3V by the ultra low-noise CMOS linear regulators ADP150 made by Analog Devices (9uV RMS across 10 Hz to 100 KHz).

    Moving from the XMOS USB interface and ES9018K2M DAC further till headphones output plug, the PLAY version with SS V5/V6 opamps included is probably the only DAC/headamp combo designated for use inside a PC case that is using from head to tail only discrete components. Yes, transistors and high quality passive components, without any integrated chips in signal path, because the SS V5 and SS V6 operational amplifiers are 100% discrete and not regular IC chips! Also, I was unable to identify any capacitors in signal path either, by the DC output voltage is taking care an additional protection circuit that acts a relay on headphones 6.3 mm plus.

    Microphone mono 3.5 mm jack is connected to the HS-100B chip which acts as Analog-to-Digital converter in this scenario. This is a 48K / 44.1KHz Sampling Rate Analog to Digital converter that convert signal getting from the microphone to digital PC format. It actually measures very well for a input source for microphone:

    Microphone/IN frequency response

    Microphone/IN signal response for 1 KHz signal

    The output sound of the PLAY is having a pristine clarity, a very good soundstage, clear and upfront voices with extreme details in instrument reproduction. While listening to DSD Scott Hamilton - Ballads for Audiophiles I was able to detect on my headphones the correct positioning of every instrument on the scene, it's like being able to listen to all micro-details properly and to enjoy the music in a large soundstage. I was also amazed by how saxophone sounds while listening to more DSDs with Coleman Hawkins and Charles Lloyd; this is actually the best DSD DAC player I have at home at the moment and I really think the sound of the DSD format on the PLAY is awesome. I was specifically listening to jazz and sax because I'm very sensitive to this type of music and if doesn't sounds right then my ears are easily getting irritating (not the case with PLAY!).

    PLAY measures very well too, perhaps a little bit better than the original specs; I've found no channel imbalance and a perfectly flat frequency response, combined with a neutral sound on both RCA and 6.3mm plugs:

    Frequency response

    Dynamic range & noise levels

    1KHz frequency response


    Impulse response

    The 2-Watts Class-A inside amplifier is able to easily drive both dynamic and planar headphones, from up to 600-ohms. As you can see from the below picture, I was able to push it to 7.4V RMS with 1KHz signal/30-ohms, meaning 1.825W/30-ohms of power on each channel. In case you're wondering how can it get about 2W/channel from a 12V PSU: no, it actually can't, so there are inside a couple of converters able to pump-up +/-15V to the opamps and to the transistors from the output stage.

    1 KHz perfect sinewave

    Nevertheless, this is one of the best Hi-Fi equipment for PC's where opamp rollers can successfully test their preferred opamps in I/V, LPF and Voltage Amplification stages. I've successfully tested myself lot of opamps without issues: BURSON SS V6 Classic & Vivid, BURSON SS V5, BURSON V5i, NE5532, LM4562, LME49720, NJM2114, OPA2132, OPA1652, OPA1602, AD8599, AD8672, MUSES8820, MUSES8920 etc. However, you need to take very good care of opamp "polarity" (pin1 should connected correctly) and try not mixing single with dual opamps or vice-versa (respect Burson's included schematic).

    Variable volume control makes possible interconnection with active monitors/speakers, so I've took the opportunity to connect my Mackie MR6mk3 monitors and the MR10Smk3 subwoofer. Besides the volume potentiometer no other adjustments were needed, just plug and play and output sound was perfect into my ears, no EQ or DSP filters needed...it just sounded right from the 1st second. However, volume level was setup around 42% to get the desired 2V RMS on PLAY's RCA outputs, so I can correctly feed my Mackie speakers.

    Using SS V6 Vivid in all DIP8 sockets sound gets more upfront, especially women vocals, but also the cymbals. If low-bitrate MP3 are going to be listen then prepare to hear every little encoding imperfection, because these opamps are more crispy and detailed oriented, but without harshness.

    The SS V6 Classic are a bit more laid-back, with a detailed and a bit larger scene, totally neutral and very good for monitoring. The SS V6 Classic I liked most in the pre-amplification stage, so I intend to use them from now on all my devices on voltage amplification stage (already using with success it in my Matrix M-Stage HPA-3B).

    Remote control is slim and fits nicely in my hands and the battery is easy to replace, based on the backplate that is kept in place by the 4 small magnets:

    Remote control

    There are accessories to connect the PLAY inside the PC case with ease, just unmount your PC, mount the below bracket, connect the included USB cable to your motherboard USB port. The included RCA-RCA cables are short and meant for use inside your PC to connect the RCA plugs of the PLAY to the RCA output bracket.

    PC connection kit

    Included gold-plated RCA cables

    PLAY has a very good instrument separation, very neutral and with a good soundstage, not huge but also not very intimate. The final sound can easily get changed by swapping the opamps, so feel free to add your own flavor here.

    CONCLUSION: Probably the best and the only DAC/headamp combo designed to fit inside a PC case that is using a XMOS chip for USB transport and a fully discrete Class-A amplifier. At least I'm not aware of any other manufacturer providing such a powerful amplifier for a PC soundcard/combo. Most manufacturers are relying on integrated opamp output buffers, which is fine, of course, but under no circumstances would compete with a 2W Class-A transistors output stage.

    Note: I don't have a perfect tool to do the noise measurements, but my good old ASUS U7 has a really low-noise ADC (around -110dB).

    Latter Edit #1: I am adding a new image with the new PLAY version created by BURSON: PCB revision 2.2. In respect with some of us that prefer listening to very sensitive 16-32 ohms cans, BURSON was able to create new PCB revisions (v2.1 and v2.2) that are having a lower background noise to better accommodate with sensitive headphones.

    IMG_1341 copy.jpg

    I've also tested the Basic version of PLAY (rev. v2.2) that costs only $299 and I realised that this is the best buck for the buck at this moment. Actually, I'm not aware of any other external USB DAC with such a powerful Class-A headphone amplifier at <$500, hence my initial rating of 4.5* is getting upgraded to a clear 5*. Great job BURSON!

    Latter Edit #2: In the past couple of weeks I was testing latest available std. version of PLAY with Hifiman HE-560 headphones and I must say that lot of synergy is there. The powerful solid-state output stage can easily drive these planar cans even when listening at lower volume. When moderate-to-high volume is used, bass is striking with authority, but without impacting the mid-bass or the midrange in any ways. Seems than both planar cans tested in my review (Fostex TP-50RP MKiii and Hifiman HE-560) are a 110% match with PLAY, so I can strongly recommend the PLAY for use with planar headphones, because it is able to drive them at least as well as it does with dynamic cans too.
      DarKu, shigzeo, pedalhead and 3 others like this.
    1. pedalhead
      THIS is how to do a review. Great stuff, cheers.
      pedalhead, May 22, 2018
      raoultrifan likes this.
  2. newdoughboy
    Burson Play /w V6s Discrete Opamps - Daily Driver
    Written by newdoughboy
    Published Jan 14, 2018
    Pros - Build Quality, Value, Fun Factor, Audiophile Prowess
    Burson Play Review
    I’ve had the Play for over 15 days, and this is my review. The unit was originally sent with JRC IC opamps. I also ordered some V6 Classics to have 3 Dual and 2 Singles for the ultimate setup. Discrete Opamps will go through a 50 hour burning period.


    Equipment wise, I own/have owned HT Omega Claro Halo, K702, HD650, K550, Beats Studio, SE535 Reshelled (CIEM), Xiaomi Piston 2, TTPOD T1-E, Xuelin ihifi960, Blox BE03, Brainwavz S5, Bravo Audio Ocean, PreSonus HP4, Racoon SG-300. AT120usb, Denon 110 MC cartridge, Cambridge Audio Azur 651p


    My newer equipment tend to lean more towards speakers equipment.Pro-Ject 9.1, Gram Amp 2 Special Edition, Anthem Integrated 225, Totem Forest, Hifiman HE400i, Burson Air, Chord Mojo, and AK120.


    So I get a good sense of what I can get in terms of sound quality for the extra cost. My favourite combination is Anything going into my Anthem 225 and coming out of Totem Forest. Source is very important, and most of my music is in FLAC, and I am slowly building up a decent vinyl collection.


    Since the Burson Play is made for the PC market, I am going to approach this product from 2 directions.

    1. Gaming and Movies
    • Game will be World of Tanks

    • Movie will be Fate of the Furious
    1. Opamp switching audiophile grade DAC + Amp
    • Songs from different genres using V6 Classics Vs.

    • || Chord Mojo

    • || Conductor Air
    Songs tested were in FLAC unless otherwise stated


    Play with V6Classics vs Chord Mojo

    FLAC - Foobar - DAC/Amp - K702 with new foam earpads and new mps x-7 cable.

    MIA - Paper Planes

    The bass is tighter and deeper in the Play

    The detail retrieval is very similar from both units. They both present the gunshots, finger snaps, cash register noise etc. very realistically.

    The soundstage/presentation is definitely better coming from the Play. The spatial imaginary is more accurate while giving this song an intimate/close presentation. The play removes a veil that is present on the Mojo.

    Evanescense - Tourniquet

    After repeated listenings, I keep coming back to the same findings from Paper Planes.

    Fleetwood Mac - Dreams (Alternate Mix)

    The Play has a significantly blacker background, which contributes to a clearer soundstage.

    The Mojo makes Stevie Nicks sound a little softer, which is perceived as a little more vulnerable. That attribute is actually my favourite part of her voice.

    The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall - Wishing you were here again

    The quieter backdrop really gives the song a better presentation and more detail. One thing I noticed on the Play and not on the Mojo as much/at first was that I can hear the singer take her breathe before every strong part.

    I find that the play is significantly better than the Mojo, therefore; the Play will replace the Mojo as my daily driver.


    I decided to put the Mojo into Line-Out and use the Burson Soloist as the headphone amp to see if that helps with the sound. It absolutely did by opening up the soundstage, and improving the details. This in my opinion put the 2 units on equal footing with the Mojo/Soloist producing better background notes and synth spark/shine/pop, and the Play producing the most lush focals.


    Play with V6C vs Conductor Air

    Eagles - Hotel California in dsd64

    The resolving power of both units are very similar. The difference I can find between the 2 units is that the Play can produce bass better. The bass guitar sounds much more prominent, instead of hiding behind rest of the instruments. The bass drum also punches harder and deeper.

    David Guetta - Sexy Bitch Ft. Akon

    Katy Perry - Dark Horse Ft. Juicy J

    To support the findings above, I listened to some bass heavy songs. There is definitely greater bass extension from the Play. The only way to add more bass is to increase the overall volume, which increases rest of the spectrum to ear bleeding levels.


    So I did test the Play in gaming and movie performance. To be honest, I have never valued audio in gaming very much. This test did reveal that the Play is significantly better than my Alienware laptop’s on-board DAC, which we all would’ve assumed. Explosions and ammo ricochets were more realistic in World of Tanks. However, that did not significant enriched my gaming experience. Since I'm not a FPS gamer, I cannot fully judge how well the Play can produce fatigue-free 3D positioning for hours of gaming. In Fate of the Furious, I had similar findings. I even bore myself writing about it. The Play makes everything sounds better, but I look for amazing visuals and story line in movies. In musicals, that would change everything; I would be looking at it from an audiophile perspective. Since I have the privilege of owning a home theatre setup, I like to enjoy big action films with the thundering roar of a subwoofer.

    So from an audiophiles perspective, I honestly believe that the Play with V6Cs are a great value, near end game DAC/headphone amp combo. I’m sure that systems that cost several thousand dollars can beat it, but how many of us working Joes or budding audiophiles or students can afford those? For me, these will be my daily driver because I do not own a better combo. I guess I shouldn’t conclude the review without discussion how good I think the unit looks. It’s simple, and elegant in my opinion. The black goes well with all my existing audio equipment, and the interior build quality just looks confidence inspiring.

    I will post my findings about the V6Vivids when I get a chance in the future.


    It’s the future guys, and Im here to compare the Vivid to the Classic in the Burson Play

    Taylor Swift - Enchanted


    Very analytical, the instrument separation is very good, and detail is incredible. Very 3 dimensional. It does in a way make all the parts a little distracting.

    V6V Duals and V6C Singles

    Right away I noticed the detailed guitar notes are pulled back to let the vocals shine. Just a better presentation. Somehow the volume is quieter than all V6Vs.

    V6C Duals and V6V Singles

    The better matchup with very good detail and intimate vocals. Similar detail, witch a more cohesive presentation.


    Lacking a little detail, good vocals with absolutely no fatigue. Soundstage is still good.

    The Cranberries - Ode to My Family


    Most detail to instruments. Percussion detail is just mesmerizing. Hard to just enjoy the music

    V6V Duals and V6C Singles

    More bass than all V6C

    V6C Duals and V6V Singles

    Gives more details and energy to guitar. Opens up the soundstage. Vocal layering more noticeable. Slightly louder. Vocal more fatiguing than all V6C


    Very intimate vocals, with good guitar accompaniment. Warmer presentation. Smokey lounge feel.

    Massive Attack - Angel


    Deep and powerful bass, Piercing details.

    V6V Duals and V6C Singles

    Slightly less powerful bass than all V6V.

    V6C Duals and V6V Singles

    Good details, warms it just enough to soften the parts that would cause listening fatigue


    Just a veil that removes too much energy from the music.

    From the above 3 songs, I have determined that I definitely want the V6V singles in my Burson Play. I also decided that I don’t want All V6V or V6C, I’m going to try to find the best combination.

    Next, I listened to a few songs to determine which duals I will use.

    After introducing Modest Mouse - Float On, and The Killers - Somebody Told Me into the rotation; I began to see whether I want the V6V in I/V Stage and V6C in LP Stage, or Vice Versa. So my conclusion is that I prefer the V6C in IV Stage and V6V in LP Stage. I love detail, but with All V6V Duals, it is just a little too harsh in comparison. So with the V6C in I/V Stage, I get all the details while rounding out the highs to enable longer listening sessions.

    One thing I noticed with the Play is that if you have one opamp not fully plugged it, there’s a little relay inside that prevents it from running.
      llamaluv and raoultrifan like this.