Burson Audio Playmate - Reviews
Pros: Precise and lucid sound-imaging.
Ideally balanced vocals and midrange.
Cons: Digital-hash / tension in treble without external USB-filtering
Poorly implemented volume control
Introduction and background


Burson Audio contacted me with an opportunity to review the Burson Playmate Amp/DAC combo. Although I originally had no intention of trying any recent Burson products, I decided to oblige because I'm always up for trying out new equipment. I've previously owned a Burson Soloist several years ago which was a favorable experience, but had since moved on to various tube and hybrid amps. Recently I've returned to a more solid-state emphasis with focus on balancing subjective performance with value. I went into this review with an initial slight bias against the newer Burson equipment because it appeared to be such a departure from their older design principles. However, I ended up pleasantly surprised with the Playmate.

The review-loaner unit did not include any discrete or other op-amps, so I was not able to compare op-amp changes. Also, the RCA pre-amp outputs were defective, so I was not able to evaluate it's pre-amp outputs.

I try to keep my profile generally up-to-date with past equipment owned for the context of my equipment experience. I've been in the hobby almost 10 years, having joined Head-Fi in 2011 and have attended several meets over the years to audition various equipment.


Compared equipment


Headphone:

Sennheiser HD-650 (Spider and rear-foam removal mod with 2 pieces of Sorbothane on magnets only)

Source:

Lenovo P71 workstation laptop
Qobuz streaming.

DAC/Amp Combinations:

Grace M9xx
iFi iDSD Micro (Silver)
RME ADI-2 DAC FS (4493) Headphone output
ADI-2 DAC + Headamp Gilmore Lite Mk. 2
ADI-2 DAC + Monoprice/Cavalli Liquid Platinum

Photos:

IMG_0635.JPG
IMG_0636.JPG




Impressions

I'm admittedly not the most talented with eloquent qualitative descriptions, so much of my review will deal in explaining what I personally preferred while attempting to articulate why I preferred it. First, I thought the Playmate clearly outclassed both the iDSD Micro and Grace M9xx for my preferences. The Playmate renders a spatial dimensionality to music that neither DAC/amp combo are capable of, resulting in what I find to be a more accurate rendition of music across effectively all genres. To be honest, I spent very little time comparing these two to the Playmate because I universally preferred the Playmate to both.

Adding the ADI-2 DAC to the mix is where things started to get interesting. The ADI-2 DAC retails for $1149, so it may not seem like a fair comparison to the Playmate. Comparing the two as DAC/Amps directly, the RME seems to have a superior sense of space, separation, and black background. Adding the Liquid Platinum to the RME extends the sense of space even further with deep bass extension, and adding the Gilmore Lite Mk. 2 adds precision transient definition, power, and even blacker background.

In many of the typical subjective descriptors of audio, the Playmate falls behind the more expensive combos, except for two critical areas. The precision and cohesion of the sound image, and the presence of the true midrange (i.e. female vocals). The soundstage isn't particularly large. In fact, it's much more of an "in your head" sound. However, it manages to pull off the very rare feat of presenting a lucid spherical image of sound within the mind. Yes, I realize that language sounds a bit flowery, but that's the best way I can think to describe the effect. Female vocals in particular are exquisitely presented, with just enough presence and body, being neither overly warm or too cold sounding.

This is not to say that the sound is flawless. At times, the sound can have a digital-hash/tension to the treble. My old iFi USB purifier (original model) mitigated this considerably, which is interesting because I usually find it does more harm than good with well implemented USB sections. This could indicate poor RF-noise filtering on the USB input. This is also supported by the observation that it seems to sound better later at night when the power grid typically has less load and noise. Additionally, I found the "low" PLL setting to sound preferable to high, where the latter seems to suppress some pace and microdynamics. While the bass is generally punchy, it doesn't seems to extend as low as even the RME headphone output without EQ.

With the COVID-19 pandemic as of this writing, I think I've been given more time than originally planned to review. I've gotten to spend about a month with it now. What I'm finding is that I keep wanting to go back to listening to it, even with my "fancier" equipment. This is telling, although I do think there's a strong personal preference at play here. I find the combination of lucid sound-imaging and balanced midrange presence to be addicting. I've never been one to like to overhype things, but I think I'm genuinely enjoying music more out of the Playmate than out of my other Combos. If it weren't for the fact that I've become attached to the features of the RME, I'd probably just buy a Conductor 3x just to see what it's capable of. Also of note is that all of this evaluation has strictly been with the stock 5532 op-amp. I haven't even gotten to delve into Op-amp rolling yet.

Still, I don't think this is going to be for everyone. If you have experience with past Burson Products like the Soloist and thought the treble was too harsh or Bright, you probably won't like the Playmate. It's still consistent with my past experience with the Burson house sound. I for one like the presentation, but everyone's tastes are different. I don't think it's too bad in that regard, but it's not really smoothed over either. People who prefer the sound of something like the Violectric V200 (I don't) may not like the Burson. I don't have an unlimited tolerance for treble nastiness, although my current use of the HD-650 may mask treble aggressiveness. My Hifiman HE-4xx have been collecting dust for awhile because I really dislike their treble presentation.

Overall, I'm so enamored with the Playmate, that I plan to acquire a Burson Fun for use with the RME ADI-2 DAC. I feel compelled to narrow down if the "magic" I was experiencing is related to the amp section or the DAC. I am hoping it is the former. Considering that Burson has had flagship amplifiers (without a DAC) in the past, I suspect they will eventually release something in their current Reference or Performance range (hopefully fully balanced). If the Fun and said theoretical future amp retain the positive qualities of the Playmate, I could genuinely see the latter being "endgame" for my preferences. If you're shopping for an AMP/DAC combo in the $500 range, or even up to $1,000, I suggest putting the Playmate on your shortlist, with the caveat that I think it would really benefit from some kind of USB filtering like those from iFi or similar. ~$400 USD plus shipping ~$100 for the USB iPurifier still represents are strongly competitive value for under $600.


Other (non-sound) gripes:

I've expressed this personally to Burson, but for good measure, I find the implementation of the rotary encoder used for volume control to be poorly designed or implemented. When adjusting the volume, the selection will often be confused as to whether it is reading an up, down, or it won't read a notch at all. I might have written this off as a fluke with my unit, but I've read similar reports of other units, to include the Conductor, having the same problem. In contrast, the RME has a similar-feeling notched rotary-encoder for volume control, but it's implementation is smooth, natural, and otherwise flawless. It's implementation actually enhances the user experience rather than detracting from it.

Some users have reported that it doesn't bother them too much, but I personally find it very annoying and disruptive to the user experience. I hope that this will be improved up with future models. This is really my biggest nitpick out of the whole review, so if you're most concerned with sound-quality value, and this isn't a dealbreaker, then I highly recommend it. Because I like the sound presentation so much, I would probably be willing to deal with it, simply because I don't know if I could find an acceptable alternative in another brand. On the other hand, the Fun uses an Alps potentiometer, so if I acquire one of those, then this would be a moot point anyways.
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: trellus
TiborM
TiborM
As I am reading your review, I am listening to my Playmate and Eras headphones. Vocals are simply beautiful, but I also believe it will benefit with some usb reclocking. I have V6 Vivid opamps and I didn´t even bother with the stock ones, you will definitely rate this even higher, it is that good. Thanks :)
alota
alota
I had with opamps in everest combination. Clearly a giant for the price. About usb i used with android
JWahl
JWahl
Thanks, that's what I'm hoping for once I'm able to get ahold of a Fun and try some op-amp combos. What I've read about the SparkoS and Sonic Imagery Labs op-amps sound promising as well. The RME still does a lot of "technical" stuff better, but I find the Playmate very enjoyable to listen to, despite some technical weaknesses. I'm hoping that the Fun out the RME delivers the positive qualities of both. There are also times where miss the ability to make small EQ adjustments or crossfeed from the RME.
Pros: Fantastic clarity and details. The mid range stage has excellent stage size. Notes have fantastic accuracy and precision. Plenty of power.
Cons: The treble stage could have had a bit more natural expansion. Slightly dry.
INTRO:-

Not all of us are aware of Burson audio. They don't push their products through fancy sellers and barely do much promotion on their own. But this is supposed to change as I have got a review unit from them. Hailing from Australia since 1996 their inception and they started their sales from 2005. Critically acclaimed by all the reviewers I personally haven't heard a lot of buzz about their products. They make

In their words:-

"Burson Audio is an Australian audio manufacturer making products with no op-amps and all discrete circuitry for a lavish musical experience."

Head over here to know about their circuit design:-

https://www.bursonaudio.com/about-us/discrete-circuits/

The playmate I am reviewing here is a very versatile thing on its own. It is a 2w Class A desktop headphone amp and can be used as pre amp if you pair it with some other DAC. You can connect your mobile phone through an OTG data cable.

The Playmate uses the flagship ES9038 DAC chip and you can opt for two types of op-amps. The Basic NE5532 op-amps set costs $399 and comes in only one color, Black. The V6 Vivid set costs $540 and has two color options, Black and silver. (You can always choose yours from their sets available separately).

I would like to thank Bhav from Burson audio for the unit.

Check the Playmate out:-

https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate/

I do not have a lot of DAC in the arsenal but I do have a two to compare the playmate with.

PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:-

The package of the Burson Playmate is one of the best you can find. It is nicely packed with proper padding to protect the playmate from any damages. All the cables are places inside a card board box.

The playmate is nicely placed in the middle and you will find a Type-B to Type A USB cable. There is RCA cable to connect it with other DAC amps or speakers. The last cable inside the box is thee optical toslink cable.

IMG_0804.jpg


IMG_0805.jpg

BUILD QUALITY:-

DACs used to be huge, the one I have seen in my childhood they were used with a lot of speakers but the home setups too were not small either. Most of them used to be nearly 8 times in volume of the playmate. With a dimension of 210mm x 145mm x 45mm the playmate is not huge, it doesn't hook on to a lot of speakers either, but what it does is it delivers a lot of power to very demanding headphone.

Build quality of the Playmate is very solid, it doesn't feel very dense to the hand. It is kind of heavy at around 1.5 kg and the weight is nicely distributed across the board. There are no loose parts on the body, all the bolts are tight and the Playmate feels very sturdy. The rubber shoes on the base of the playmate have very good traction and don't let it slide easily.

The digital display on the playmate is okay but could have been slightly bigger. It is hard to see the letters clearly from a distance of around 4ft.

Another complain I have with the playmate is that the volume knob doesn't respond to every step, it doesn't feel accurate as it needs extra steps to specially when moving the dial very fast, it doesn't register every time. It nit picking but yes, it's a small flaw.

IMG_0797.jpg


SPEC TALK:-

I have already mentioned that I am not a desktop kind of guy, I like to take my music where ever I go so these heavy stuff seldom manage to seduce me. But the thing about these things is that, they have the power!!These desktop things have plenty of power to handle heavy stuff like Planar and full size power hungry headphones. I have had a hard time finding a very demanding earphone as they are mostly designed to be power efficient and carried around.

I know most of us don't use their AMPs for speakers but if you have a nice set of multi driver speakers, you should invest on a DAC amp to get the best out of them. The Playmate has an impedance of 15ohm and it is on the easier side for a preamp, it preps the signal to be processed well by next stage while cutting out the noise and distortion. Smaller speakers have a lower impedance of just 4ohm and 8ohm but good quality speakers with multiple drivers will definitely respond better with refined source and more power.

Let's move on to the output most of us are going to use, the 6.5mm headphone one. And the output impedance is just 2ohm which means it can drive nearly everything to without much problem except a few very efficient IEMs. (Just to be clear, please don't but a desktop stuff for IEMs) I have tried a handful of headphones with the Playmate and they respond with more agility and precision.

Moving to the power output the Playmate does 1800mw at 16ohm, 2000mw at 32 ohm, 500mw at 100ohm, 300mw at 150ohm and 100mw at 300ohm.

The Borson Playmate can virtually drive anything with a headphone jack that can be inserted in to its port, let be your LCD XC or HD800 the playmate can drive them with ease.

The decoding power of the SABRE ESS9038 is top class. It can do 768kHz up to 32bits and can play Native DSD 64 / 128 / 256 / 512 without any problem.

Another thing which Burson Audio takes pride is in their MCPS technoloty.

In their words:-

"If the SABRE32/ESS9038 chip is the soul of Playmate, then the Burson Max Current Power Supply, MCPS, is the heart that brings Playmate to life. Debuted in the Burson Play, our proprietary MCPS overcomes the deficiencies of both traditional transformer-based linear power supplies and conventional switching power supplies. It redefines the size and performance ratio and it is the reason why Head-Fiers fell in love with the Play instantly.

With the Playmate, we have a further enhanced MCPS. It delivers even cleaner power. Tuned to Class-A, the Playmate shines from a pitch-black background."

Head over to the product page to see all the specs.

Variations:-

The playmate was available with more variations but as of now you can chose between basic NE5532 op-amp which I am reviewing the Playmate with and the V6 vivid. The V6 Vivid is fairly more expensive ($540) and I assume it delivers better clarity that the basic one. I dont have the V6 Vivid with me but one can expect a different sound signature too. Where the stock one sounds slightly cold maybe the V6 sounds more energetic and lively.

If you opt for the V6 vivid you will get a remote.

OPERATIONS AND I/O OPTIONS:-

As I said earlier the playmate is very versatile. To use it with a win 7 PC it needs the driver which can be downloaded from here. You don't need anything if you have win 10 or Apple system (I haven't tried it with MAC OS).

Let me get the portable part out here, not really portable at all but somehow portable in the sense that you can use this with your mobile phone or audio source.

IMG_0801.jpg


Connecting with front USB:-

So.. How to do that? You set your device's USB output to audio out from developer options. (IOS doesn't need anything but a simple lightening to type-c adapter) Get yourself a USB type-c to USB A cable (PD cables don't work) connect it with a OTG adapter and you are good. Now press the little button on the right side of the huge volume knob. The option is input, press the volume knob and dial it anticlockwise which is come down to USB-F (USB front) amd you are ready to go!! Yippee!! It's not transportable but you can use your portable device with it.

IMG_0802.jpg


PC Use:-

There is a socket in the back to connect a 4pin power cable found in the lot of wires coming out of out PC SMPS. You can mount the playmate inside your PC. As my unit doesn't come with any brackets or screws I assume the primary use of the Playmate is not supposed to be this.

Other options:-

You have two input and two output options with the playmate. You either use the rear RCA socket to connect it to another DAC where the playmate works as a preamp (you can use it with speakers too) or you use the front 6.5mm headphone out. Input options are either toslink or USB. It would have been out of the world to have BT connectivity with it but it is what it is.

Operations:-

First of all there is power button on the back, very very important cuz this thing gets hot!! I am in India, I dont have AC in my room and the temp can get over 45 C so.. It is not this hot but it's hot. You need to give it some rest every now and then. You can stretch it, but not here with 14 hrs days and hair melting heat.

The operation is pretty basic. Press the small button aside the volume knob and you have the whole menu at your disposal. Rotate the knob clock wise to browse through the menu and press it to enter the menu, rotate it again to see the options and press in the option you feel you would like to choose. I have made a video to show you guys the menu.


SOUND QUALITY:-

The ESS9038 chip inside the playmate is the top of the line DAC chip from Esstech, one of the most renowned audio chip makers. It has 32-bit mobile audio DAC with unprecedented dynamic range and ultra-low distortion with both synchronous and asynchronous sample rate converters. With support for up to 768 kHz PCM and DSD256 the Playmate can handle anything you throw at it.

There are a handful of options with the playmate when it comes to op-amps. If you feel that you need to change the chip to extract even more out of your Playmate all you have to do is to head over here and get yourself their upgrade op-amp chips.

The Playmate with its flagship grade components delivers fantastic clarity and details with immaculate notes presentation. It is just right on the money. The tuning is exceptionally balanced with a bit of emphasis on vocals. The tonality and timber are as neutral as it gets, maybe a bit drier than expected. If you find the tonality is slightly on the metallic side you can try changing the filter, brickwall sounds dry and metallic while reserved is slightly less. Nevertheless the Playmate has a tendency to sound dry and a bit cold which will not pair well with certain kind of headphones and DACs.

IMG_0785.jpg


BASS:-

The Playmate is fairly linear when it comes to bass response. It is not flat but is not very voluminous. The sub-bass have nice extension and the rumble is good if the track has plenty of it. The mid bass is slightly more voluminous and delivers fuller and meatier notes giving the lower end acceptable amount of weight. The decay speed is admirable for someone who likes more details, accuracy and precision over the heft. it is fast and leaves no bloating or wooliness even on a bass heavy track. The faster and more defined notes give the lower end very good resolution and clarity. What bothers a bit is the lack of body. It could have been a bit more fuller. The bass notes do not have a lot of body to them but have good amount texture. One can definitely pair with well balanced headphones like the Fischer audio M12s enjoy the delicacies with pin point accuracy but it is not much fun when trying to drive the bass inclined AKG K371.

Another point where it is slightly bothering is that the playmate doesn't really respond a lot to DSPs. Nevertheless the amount of details delivered by the playmate is top notch.

MID RANGE:-

The Burson Playmate is one of the cleanest, most transparent sounding DAC I have used before. It just delivers some of best clarity and details. It doesn't try to bring extra smoothness in expense of bite or attack. Notes have fantastic definition and accuracy. The delivery is effortless and the imaging is exceptionally precise and very clean. The clarity and transparency along with a tad faster decay do make things slightly dry. Notes have good body, the finishing is accurate and with plenty of control over the notes. Notes have nice sharpness to them but are not very energetic or sibilant. The ability of details retrieval is outstanding, if your headphone is decent you will not miss a single details, even micro details have exceptional clarity and transparency. Paring the Playmate with something prone to sibilance might kill the cat.

Vocals have fantastic clarity and definition with plenty of texture and details. Let it be male or female vocals, both have very good depth and finish. Male vocals have nice throaty feel where female vocals have nice sharpness. The upper mid range has a hair less energy but the transparency and clarity is superlative. Notes have a bit of sharpness to their finishing but it doesn't have any sibilance to worry about. Layering and separation of instruments is excellent. There is a lot of air and space between the instruments.

It would have been nice if it had a bit of fuller notes paired with slightly less sharp finishing.

HIGHS:-

After coming from mid range the treble region feels kind of dull. There isn't much emphasis here, the energy is slightly lacking and the presentation is not as forward. It kind of feels like the instruments are playing at a greater distance compared to the mid range. The directional cues are not as vivid. Notes are good with sharpness but still not up there with the mid range. Details are very good but don't come out with equally good enthusiasm. The treble extension is very good but the less than average stage size makes it sound clumsy and closed in. There is not much space or air here. It feels like it is fighting for air, doesn't matter which headphone or earphone I use it doesn't sound better than it is with the Creative E5.

The problem is not related to details or clarity but it is on the stage and energy. The stage could have been bigger, the instruments could have had better distribution.

IMG_0810.jpg


STAGE:-

When listening to the Playmate I tend to think what if it had a slightly bigger treble stage where the instruments have had better space and air between then. Things would have been even more impressive forgetting how the other sources perform. Compared to the Playmate none has bigger stage size. The mid range stage alone is big enough to subside each of them. It has fantastic air and space between instruments and the placement is very vivid. The expansion feels very natural with fantastic width, height and depth but the treble stage kind of makes the Playmate lose some points.

In general the stage size and the projection depend on the end equipment. The IEM and headphone does play a huge part but the playmate in general has good expansion outside the head. The Vocals are placed inside the head, mid range is half in half out while the treble is out of the head.

Sound altering options:-

Not many reviewers will warn you about this but in the menu there is option called "Emphasis". When it is off the notes are sharp and have more than average bite and attack. The transparency is super high. The finishing on notes is sharp and pin pointed. The whole sound quality is tuned to deliver accuracy and precision. Turn it on you will be treated with more subdued notes, losing some attack and bite.

In the Filter Menu there is another option to reduce a hint of sharpness and that is Filters. Brickwall will deliver the sharpest notes and CMFR will reduce some sharpness. Your choice, choose what you like.

For Gaming:-

The Playmate has a 3.5mm microphone socket just aside the 6.5mm headphone jack. You can attach a mic which has good clarity and details. It works fine with headsets too. The vast mid range stage helps a lot with directional cues which give a big advantage when playing MMORPG games.

Are there better options? At least for mic? yes.

IMG_0791.jpg


COMPARISON:-

VS Creative E5:-


The smaller and smarter E5 is the jack of all trades, you name it and it can do it. It doesn't have TOTL chips inside but it is not bad considering it has a exceptionally well developed software which enhances the usability and mic is built into the body of the E5 which makes any headphone game ready.

When it comes to sound the E5 has slightly bigger bass response, the sub bass is slightly rumblier with mid bass having a bit more body and slam. The mid range is clumsier and less forward. The micro details are a bit lacking while the notes lack a bit of definition too. There isn't as much texture either. Notes are a bit thicker with lesser depth which makes it sound a bit lush. Treble of the E5 has more naturally expanded stage while notes have better transparency and energy. There are some peaks that might make it a bit uncomfortable.

Functionally there is competition, sound wise there is no competition too. The E5 is a master which has all the tricks under its belt where the Playmate simply drowns the E5 with shear amount of details and clarity.

IMG_0796.jpg


CONCLUSION:-

If you are more of a purist and love to enjoy the technical bits you will love the Playmate to the core. It has the delicacies that you might not have experienced with this much of distinction. If you forgive the treble region a bit the rest of the spectrum is marvelous. The transparency and clarity is exceptional and the level of details is outstanding.

The Playmate is not for the casual user. If you like to be on the move, not much into headphones, you think you are an audiophile but don't think you need a desktop setup, please stay away. The playmate is heavy, immobile and doesn't have an easy option to connect portable devices either, so if you are not nose deep into music, please don't make yourself sweat unnecessarily.

If you love your desktop setup, you love headphones over IEMs, you love precision over fun, the playmate is tailor made for you.

Attachments

Last edited:
Pros: Great build quality, versatility in my system, clear sound, powerful headphone amp section.
Cons: Subjectively, I prefer a warmer sound. However in general I can't think of anything specifically negative right now.
This is the second Burson product that I get to enjoy and review. I enjoy their V6 Classic and Vivid op amps, and I have high hopes on this one when Carlos from Burson Audio contacted me about reviewing their latest DAC/Pre Amp/Headphone Amp. I appreciate the opportunity to receive a unit in exchange of my honest review. I feel humbled anytime anyone made such offer to me, so big thanks to the Burson Audio team.

The unit is safely nestled in a press-fit foam, on either sides were the power supply unit, RCA cables, hex key, and mounting hardware should you decide to mount it in your PC case. Definitely gives an impression of a high quality and well-thought-out product.

Upon opening, the top side of the box gives you some information about the product’s functions and features. My unit is the Basic version, where the color is limited to Black, a remote control is optional, and it is shipped with JRC NE5532 op amps. I believe the higher models were shipped from the factory with your choice of V6 Classic or Vivid op amps, and there is the option of silver aluminum finish called the ‘Everest’. Pretty cool.

Their official page does a good job providing the information you need, further supplemented by the Download and Support page in their website.
https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate/

The Playmate is built handsomely, it has brushed aluminum front and back panels, and powder-coated metal around. The RCA socket comes covered by rubber covers indicating their respective colors, the USB port and DC socket, are well made, and the on-off switch has a positive feel to it.

The sound.
Oh the sound. Clean, fast, perfect timing. It’s like chatting with the a knowledgeable, articulate, and well-mannered person on a subject you really like. You spend a lot of time with that person, you are still excited even though the macchiato you ordered is long gone, and you are in no rush to part ways.

I have not made any single change in my system ever since I got the Playmate. Usually I’ll take a component out of the system, plug it direct from the source, replace an op amp pre with a tube pre, put my DIY ones in, change a cable here, etc. None of these since I got the Playmate. Just enjoyable music listening. Ask my wife, she will testify on that, and she’s the more trustworthy one between us. *cheers*

For the longest time I have used the Muse Audio Mini TDA1543 DAC (pictured below). All you frequenters of DIY forums must have heard about this little guy. I prize it for its Non-Oversampling (NOS) which I believe lead to a non-fatiguing sound. I get ear fatigue easily, therefore additional artefacts or unnecessary upsampling (if not done correctly) bothers me. The Playmate must face this tough boy to win.

I listen, I let it play in the background, and listen some more. I read all 64 pages of the ESS9038 datasheet and tried to glean what I could. I listen, invited some friends over, and even involved my wife in a blind testing. The third method is probably the most interesting. She is a music lover, but she couldn’t care less about audio gear. I gave her a piece of paper and a pen, I asked her to take notes of her impression when the music was player through the Muse and the Playmate, nicknamed ‘Number 1’ and ‘Number 2’. I told her we cannot rely on our memory hence the importance of note-taking, and I didn’t tell her which one is which. I also allowed her to pick a song she’s familiar with to do the comparison. I dimmed the light and randomized the order of which I play Number 1 and Number 2.

My and our impressions:
The Muse has an edge on wider stage presentation and more attack. Music has presence without being fatiguing, which I really like.

The Playmate gives the sound more presence. Vocals gets fuller and takes center stage. Percussion sounds tighter, oh so good. It feels like a well-rehearsed performance, maybe this is what many would describe a ‘cold’ presentation, much like a pair of studio monitor.

On mellow, vocal-heavy music, the vocal is big and full. I wouldn’t describe it as warm though. Piano sounds natural and accurate, however, I am used to more ‘texture’ or detail in the piano sound on some tracks. Percussion and drums are presented nicely, from deep kick bass, groovy rim shots on the snare, all the way to subtle Latin percussions, very very enjoyable. A big part of my music is guitar-heavy, and I must say I find myself wanting for the crunch and bite that I know is there. That crunch and that texture would be great to have, but is it too much to ask to have them along with the easy-listening and accurate nature of the Playmate? As I said in the beginning, the Playmate will just play and play and you would just have music, you would listen and enjoy the music, although as you listen critically with the intention to review it you will notice a thing or two you’re missing.

Update: Impressions after changing the stock JRC5532 with V6 Classic and Vivid.

Having the V6 replaced the JRC5532 brings to you the last 5% that brings you to perfection. We’re talking about texture, weight, and air. I don’t know how you can use weight and air in the same sentence to describe sound, but they do! They reveal layers in records I’m familiar with, records I grew up with! I do notice details, layers, emotion, and texture that wasn’t there before.

The 5532 was (and to a certain extent- still is) the industry standard opamp. For a long time I used a genuine Signetics NE5532AN in my CMoy preamp. Objective testing shows that it is a good opamp, even compared to modern competitors. In the case of the Playmate, however, the installation of the V6 opamps is definitely an upgrade. Having the V6 Classic in the I/V stage and the V6 Vivid in the LPF stage improves the already technically-excellent Playmate by adding texture and revealing more details in the recording. Even with the increased detail, there is no harshness to speak of. It is pleasant to listen to, it provides ample detail for those who demand it, and it has enough power to drive any headphones or power amp to satisfy any listener.

Attachments

Last edited:
Pros: 1. Excellent audio specs with clean powerful output
2. Supports USB digital audio for desktop and mobile devices
3. Alternate versatile setup as integrated desktop PC audio within 5.25-inch drive bay
Cons: 1. Volume knob not sensitive, sometimes the level does not change with every click
2. Menu display is too small and not so easy to change settings with limited buttons available
Burson Audio is founded in 1996 by a team of audio engineers from Melbourne, Australia. For over 20 years, they developed premium quality audio products that define new benchmarks for the audiophile industry. Their current product catalogue includes headphone amplifiers, digital-to-analog amplifiers (DAC), and audio op-amps. For this review, Burson sent over their latest product, Burson Playmate, retailing at US$399.

Burson Playmate front viewUnboxing
The Playmate is technically a headphones amplifier, pre-amp, and DAC all-in-one. The review sample unit does not have the full retail accessories (PC desktop accessories are absent), nor does it come with user manual, though I found the PDF copy on their website.

Burson Playmate unboxing
It’s pretty clear that Burson products are not for the mainstream consumers but targeted for audio enthusiasts. They even include the hex key so that you can unscrew the case to do some legal modding, that is, to do opamp rolling (changing different opamps). Burson website also sells premium opamps. Also included is a spare replacement fuse.

There are 3 ways to receive input signals: the rear USB-B port, rear Toslink optical digital port and the front USB-C port. For outputs, there is the rear AUX-IN RCA ports and front headphone jack. For the front USB-C port, you need an OTG cable to connect to your smartphone. If you find that your USB-C to USB-C cable does not work, just use the normal USB-C to USB-A cable and plug a USB-A to USB-C adapter (found in some smartphone retail boxes like Samsung Galaxy S10).

Burson Playmate rear view
The size of the Burson Playmate plus the availability of the molex connector means it can fit in a 5.25″ drive bay of a PC desktop, although you should make sure there are proper ventilation as the Playmate heats up a lot. The review unit did not come with all the connectors, but retail version would have brackets and adapters to connect the rear USB and RCA ports to various sections of the PC.


Technical Details
Opamps, or operational amplifiers, are specialised amplifiers that works not unlike basic amplifiers. Opamp has high input impedance, low output impedance, high gain as well as large bandwidth whereas basic amplifier has comparatively low input impedance, high output impedance, moderate gain and limited bandwidth. Additionally, opamp is effective in removing noise and other unwanted signals because of differential input with negative feedback mechanism, as differential circuit amplifies the difference between the input signals.

Burson Playmate interior
The Burson Playmate utilises a unique power supply design called Max Current Power Supply (MCPS), which Burson claims can deliver high current with no noise. As they explained on their product page, MCPS resolves 2 major issues in power management: noise and resistance.

Electricity is transported over 50-60Hz sine wave which is within human hearing hence often interferes with audio playback. Burson MCPS increases the working frequency to 170 kHz, well above the human hearing, so that electricity noise is inaudible. MCPS also converts sine wave energy to square wave which charges faster hence it does not require a bigger capacitor bank.

Burson Playmate circuit board
Traditional power transformer uses long wires with high resistance which is not ideal as demand for power fluctuates rapidly during audio playback but resistance constraints supply. Burson uses transistors with less than 1 ohm of resistance, delivering electric current instantly to meet any power demand.

The Burson Playmate is also a Class A amplifier, considered the best among the classes due mainly to their excellent linearity, high gain and low signal distortion levels. The disadvantage is that they are not power efficient and so they generate heat and consumes power regardless of audio output level.


Operations
The red power switch is located at the rear. The blue LED shows the volume level, input source, output source, and playback resolution. The Burson Playmate has a menu button located at lower right of the volume knob. Pressing it brings up the menu, which is navigated by the volume knob. Select the menu item by pushing the volume knob, then turn the volume knob to toggle the options. Finally, push the volume knob to select.

Burson Playmate with Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro
The Burson Playmate uses the ESS SABRE 9038 DAC which supports a variety of digital filters. Here are the definitions:

  • Brickwall – Maximum flat response
  • CMFR – Corrected Minimum Phase Fast Roll-off
  • Reserved – Reserved for future updates
  • AP Fast – Apodizing Fast (default)
  • MP Slow – Minimum phase slow roll-off
  • MP Fast – Minimum phase fast roll-off
  • LP Slow – Linear phase slow roll-off
  • LP Fast – Linear phase fast roll-off
Generally, I could not tell any significant difference among the filters, but for certain tracks that stresses on certain frequency range, I do notice some differences. Generally, the filters do not alter the sound significantly, and if you do feel one of the filters seem to sound better, go for it.

And as recommended on the user manual, as well as common knowledge in relation to audio amplifiers, the sound of Burson Playmate improves steadily within minutes after power-up, and will continue to improves over the weeks.

Burson Playmate with cover openSound Quality
A premium digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) can bring out a lot more musical information than you never know existed. Paired with a great pair of headphones, it makes music more enjoyable. Some instruments become clearer and easier for my ears to pick up and analyse without too pushy to feel uncomfortable. The Burson Playmate truly delivers exceptional sound that makes any audio connoisseur salivate.

The first thing I do when reviewing an audio product is to determine the general audio character. I know that different headphones will sound different, which is why I tried several headphones on Burson Playmate, like the Sennheiser HD 650, Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro, Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC (passive wired mode), Klipsch X12i, Creative Aurvana Trio. I compared the Burson Playmate to several playback devices, like the LG V30+, Samsung Galaxy S10, E-MU 1820M, Chord Mojo, as well as Creative SXFI Amp.


Here are the reference music tracks that I used primarily for the review, and what to look out for:

  • Eagles “Hotel California” (live) – a standard for reviewing audio products, listen for the sound staging. Does it sound like it’s in a spacious venue, does the individual instrument and audience applause sound separated or packed together? Is the kick bass defined, the percussion shaker distinct among the mix?
  • Daft Punk “Get Lucky” – normal players/headphones would make the song sound with overpowering bass and vocals while other instruments would be less detailed, like Nile Rodger’s guitar
  • Robert Len “Brasilia” – it’s an excellent reference track to determine how the audio product handles the audio spectrum – horns for mid-range, bass for lows, guitars for mid-treble, triangles and percussion for upper treble.
  • Earth Wind & Fire “Boogie Wonderland” – use this track to test the speed of the audio response. Does it sound snappy or a little messy due to the slower decay? Also, some audio products tend to mess up the main male vocals and counter-female vocals.
  • Andrea Bocelli “Amapola” – the intro started with a more rounded strings sound, and when Andrea started his line, it should sound a little more brighter. Notice the subtle reverb after his line. Once the full orchestra comes in after his chorus, does the audio product handles the intensity well or does it sound messy?
  • Kenny G “Going Home” – this track is used to test how the audio product handles the treble with the sizzling saxophone. Also, listen to the Rhodes piano tone to see how the product handles mid-range.
On the Burson Playmate, I find that it improves overall details, space, and clarity, mostly at the upper frequency range. With more electrical power and greater bandwidth, Burson Playmate feels unconstrained in converting all the digital data into analog audio signals to the headphones.

Here is how each device sounds against the Burson Playmate:


E-MU 1820M – this is a professional audio interface for desktop PC. Both amplifiers powers all headphones confidently, but the Burson Playmate sounds slightly brighter, less midrange, while bass remains musical. Overall impression is that the Playmate sounds cleaner.

Chord Mojo (with LG V30+ as transport) – Mojo is known to deliver very transparent sound, and indeed, it sounds a little more sparkling than the Playmate. To Playmate’s credit, it sounded less harsh on the mid-treble, wider sound stage, hence less tight, with the bass is little less emphasis. For instance, when playing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” on the Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro, I can hear guitar riffs better on the Playmate, and the percussions get more space to breathe.

Samsung Galaxy S10 – on its own, the S10 appears to sound clear and detailed, but when doing close comparison with Playmate, sounded compressed. The Playmate sounded more comfortable, better headroom, better dynamics.

LG V30+ – with ESS Sabre DAC ES9218+, the V30+ achieves excellent details and depth, thanks to its overall warm tonality. Clearly, the Burson Playmate beats the V30+ with its elevated treble performance.

Creative Super X-Fi Amp – this tiny USB-C device uses AKM AK4377 DAC, so I tested it without the SXFI mode. SXFI Amp offers slightly more highs and lows compared to the V30+, but once again unable to match Playmate’s layering instrumental separation.

Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro – the Burson Playmate drives well to achieve excellent details that are not difficult to discern, be it the deep bass or the elusive percussion. Even the usually-shy midrange instruments are easily detected.

Sennheiser HD 650 – as an open-back headphones, my ears are disturbed by the ambient room noises, but its higher frequency is cleaner, matching nicely with the Burson Playmate and helping the HD 650 lose its relatively dark impression. I prefer the balance of HD650 over the DT1770 Pro, but the latter delivers more details for critical listening.

Klipsch X12i – this low impedance single Balanced Armature earphones performs great, bringing out the Playmate characteristics without exaggeration.

Creative Aurvana Trio – with a more V-shaped tuning, they sound a little harsh on the upper frequency on the Burson Playmate.

Beyerdynamic Lagoon ANC – in my separate review of the Lagoon ANC, I find the passive mode (i.e. direct 3.5mm cable without battery power) offers one of the best among the Bluetooth wireless headphones, making it a valued headphones to enjoy with even after the electrical components die off. Burson Playmate achieves tight sound, closed staging, bright treble, extended bass. It’s a versatile headphones that delivers faithful sound with cable, while the wireless mode is tuned to be a little more consumer-friendly with stronger deep bass and cleaned-up treble.

Burson Playmate with Beyerdynamic DT 1770 Pro and Sennheiser HD 650
Verdict
The Burson Playmate is proven to be a premium headphones amplifier built with quality circuitry that enhances fidelity without altering the original sound. To the casual listener, the Playmate would not turn night into day, unlike what some treble-biased headphones (like Audio-Technica M50 or Sennheiser Momentum ) could achieve. But this DAC is capable of converting loads of fine musical information, and when coupled with a great pair of headphones, you will be able to appreciate even more instrumental character in the audio tracks. I love that the Playmate can drive the headphones at high volumes yet does not sound too compressed and forceful, unlike other players mentioned above. The other positive attribute is the ability to swap the opamp to alter the sound profile.

Thanks for reading. I share my reviews on Head-Fi.org and at my blog, musicphotolife.com .
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: Simple Man
Pros: - Incisive sound
- Rich presentation
- Equally accomplished across the board
Cons: - Nothing of note
Thanks to nice folks at Burson Audio I revived a Playmate some two weeks ago. To be honest I was somewhat unaware of Burson as a manufacturer. I have heard about the name but I always connected it with fancy red/orange op-amps that are famous, never with final products such as this one. I'm glad that has changed now and I'll keep a closer eye on their products.

DSC_7061p.jpg

BUILD AND CONNECTIVITY

I quite liked this industrial, black box kind of approach. Also I was surprised finding out the whole unit can be attached in a PC case. a clever thing to do. Regarding inputs, only thing I see missing is a Coaxial. Optical is more important to me anyway so I can connect my TV to it, which I did and it worked without fuss. Volume knob has a nice tactile feeling when turned, so that's nice too. I'd probably preferred is there is a more convenient way to turn the unit on and off instead of a back switch. But than I remember this is a class A working unit so it's best to be left on for the most part anyways.


DSC_7062p.jpg

FEATURES AND SETTINGS

I found that quite a lot of things influence sound fidelity, so I'll mention the most important of them:

HP OUTPUT: You can choose between LOW and HIGH. It’s basically a low gain and high gain mode. Changing this affects both headphone out and pre-out. Repeatedly I found high gain mode to sound better and more dynamic. Interesting thing is that I can't find data about maximum voltages in each mode on pre-out.

DPLL: Is a strength of jitter rejection. By default it’s set on high for both PCM and DSD signals. I settled on low setting and didn’t notice any connection losses so far. But I did notice increased transparency and resolution of the sound. Putting this back to high introduces softness and slight muddying of transients.

EMPHASIS: It was off by default on my unit and that’s how you should keep it in my opinion. Turning it on attenuates a range of highest frequencies making Playmate’s sound artificially warm.

SOUND (PRE OUT)

I set the volume to 80 as that roughly translates to standard ~2V which makes it easy to compare to most DACs. I hooked it to my Cyrus 8vs2 and KEF LS50. It combined good energy and weight with sharp detailing. Bass notes are deep with slight warmth to them, but with a respectable amount of texture. Midrange is warm and rich, making vocals and instruments sound well focused and present. Going into higher register I found it detailed but maybe a bit soft on the edges. It makes a very pleasant listen but not the most revealing in that top register.

DSC_7030.jpg

NO ATTENUATION

I was experimenting with volume control and cranked it all the way to 99 to try and avoid Playmate's attenuation. Warmth from the upper bass disappeared leaving neat and tidy bass notes. Vocals started to sound a bit leaner but more nuances and details were revealed. Finally, some sort of slight veil was removed from highest spectrum, making everything sound crisper. Sound overall had more byte and attack on leading edges, as well as more transparency and fine texture.

A quick comparison with Topping D50s showed that Playmate is capable of digging even more micro details. It’s especially good at removing blur from some bass and mid-bass notes. It's not a world of difference but I kept preferring Playmate in my setup for it’s better attack and focus.

SOUND (HEADPHONE OUT)

I’ve decided to start with a low gain mode. It provided enough power to drive my AKG K92, Takstar Pro 82 and friend’s Byerdinamics DT990. However, once I switched to high gain mode, all of these provided livelier and punchier sound to my ears. Only some of my sensitive IEMs like Tin Audio T2 were better suited for low gain mode because of the hiss.


Basically everything said for pre-out goes here too - it's a big and rich sounding device with loads of power. Instrument separation is really good and overall sound signature is a well balanced mix of quite resolving sound with just a touch of warmth.

CONCLUSION

My sample arrived with plain NE5532 op-amps and that’s how I listened to it. I am wondering how big of a difference would op-amp rolling bring, but that’s a different story. If I get around to trying that, I’ll be sure to share my impressions. In this state Playmate managed to leave a very positive impression on me. I really liked the mix of incisive and rich sound over both types of outputs and I'll be keeping it in my main system for some time.

. . .

An even longer read can be found here.

Video review:

Pros: crystal clear sound, good separation on instruments and quality punch.
excellent mid presentation.
Powerful and good quality on Amplification, even better with V6 opamp.
Cons: small screen, power switch in back
Burson Audio Playmate DAC/Amp with V6 vivid op-amp

Product information can be found @ Burson Audio Playmate & SS V6 Opamp

Gears used:

Source PC Foobar2000
DAC/Amp Burson Playmate, Topping DX7s , Sabaj D5
Amp S.M.S.L SP200 THX-AAA-888
Headphone HIFIMAN HE-1000 V2[br/]Denon AH-D5000

Disclaimer:

Burson Audio send me this Playmate unit for my honest opinion.
I have reviewed Burson’s Swing in different Opamp model on Head-Fi @ here and here (Swing + V6x2)

IMG_1243.jpg

I will compare Playmate with Topping DX7s as they are all DAC/AMP combo design, the DAC chip on DX7s are 2x es9038Q2M, and Playmate uses 1 es9038Q2M.

Dac/Amp Burson Playmate Topping DX7s Sabaj D5
DAC chip ES9038Q2M 2 x ES9038Q2M ES9038Pro
Headphone output power 2W @32ohm, SE 690mW (SE@32ohm) 1W (BL@32ohm) 1912mW(BL@32Ohnm) 480mW(SE@32ohnm)
output impedance <2ohm < 20 ohm 3ohm
[

Apparently from above table, we can see Playmate has better parameters on Amplification design, however, Topping DX7s has balanced output on its Preout, and headphone output can go up to 1W @32ohm balanced. Balanced are not always better, but it is a plus if you have balanced headphone on hand.

(NOTE: some measurement data are from https://www.audiosciencereview.com)

Setting: headphone output at high gain

Sound Quality:
The first impression is, it is clear and very good separation of instruments in the music, which
gives me a good feeling of the stage. The clear sound seems a house sound of Burson’s gears as I have similar impression from Swing DAC. For me, the clarity on sound is not analytical at all.
For instrument reproduction, the punch on Playmate, big or small, are all in good quality, on DX7s comes a tad veil when A/B them.
Playmate sounds very good on female, male and male bass sound vocal songs, the mid is smooth and lively.
Playmate can driver my Denon AH-D5000 easily to its full potential, good dynamic and clarity.
I am surprised by my Denon headphone can punch out bass when driven by Playmate, it produces punch and extended heavy bass. Then I connect Playmate line out to my newly acquired SMSL SP200 THX-AAA-888 headphone amp to compare its amplification.
I am hit again to find out that Playmate drives harder than SP200, the same headphone, same song, when driven by Playmate I can hear bass with more extension and quantity. However, it is not as solid as SP200. But, when I replace the headphone output opamp on Playmate with Burson Audio V6 dual Vivid opamp, bass becomes well defined and quality is way better than stock opamp, actually it is quite an enhancement on overall sounding.

IMG_1240.jpg IMG_1241.jpg
For Sabaj D5 Dac/Amp that I newly acquired, its XLR output power is close to playmate, but SE is way under, and by comparison on SE, Playmate is tad better on low end just like it won over SP200.

With my HifiMan HE-1000V2, Playmate still can drive it to enjoyable level, but DX7s is a little out of it, since playmate has only single end output, I used SE cable for it, so Playmate does a better job on SE driving power, this doesn’t surprise me any more since I have experienced its driving power already.

IMG_1182.jpg

Sound stage:
Playmate has well defined stage, you can hear music with width and depth, and layering is also
good. In this department, Playmate performs in par with DX7s which equips 2 same DAC chips. I used to think that 2 chips design should be better than 1, so my collection of DAC are all two DAC chips, such as, LKS DA-003 (ES9018), and DX7s (ES9038Q2M)(sold) and Pro-ject Pre Box S2 digital (ES9038Q2M)(sold). However, Burson Audio R&D proves it otherwise, and changed my believing on this during my review of Playmate.
Actually, while writing at this, my new Sabaj D5 has arrived, which has ES9038PRO DAC/Amp.
And my DX7s was sold two days earlier. Yeah, I am no longer dual chip DAC advocate.
Sabaj D5 presents music in a space kind of feeling, that you can’t just describe it as width and length or height, just a space full of music and you are soaked in it, mid is forward, and listener is in middle of the sound field.
Playmate presents music in a clear layering manner, one can clearly figure out each instrument source and sounds are not interfere each other but blend in well, definitely not analytical if that is what in your mind from my description, D5 and DX7s have no such clear layering.

IMG_1238.jpg

Conclusion:

I enjoy Playmate more than DX7s, because Playmate gives crystal clear sound, and better separation on busy music. Actually, the more I listen with it, the more I like it.
Jobs well done by Burson Audio engineers.
Playmate has only SE output, but its driving power and quality is in par or at times surpass my SP200 THX AAA 888 amp, I wonder if that is because my SP200 is new?
There are two things to note during this review that I have been turned from dual chips DAC believer to appreciate one chip design approach, this actually could save me some money down the road, and the other is amp SE output can be really good like Playmate does.
However, I have to comment about the small screen again, when I need to adjust it, I have to put my face close to it to see those characters. A bigger screen is on my wish list for Burson Audio next product.
D5’s screen is smaller than DX7s’ but I still can see its display text without leaning forward.
Pros: Sound quality, convenience in a single DAC/AMP package that can drive any headphone to full performance.
Cons: Overpowered for some CIEMs, less bass than the Play for those that crave bass.
Poster.png


Having reviewed a number of Burson products, it comes a no surprise that the Playmate is another top-notch product offering great value and hits well above its price level. Burson just seems to have a golden touch that exudes quality and performance. Therefore, I don’t really need to tell you how good it is as you probably already know that. However, looking at their site, there is a lot of overlap between products making it confusing to know what best suits your needs. My use case and the basis of this review is to drive my headphones consisting of both full-sized headphones as well as more sensitive CIEMs. So discussing the product line and where the Playmate fits within is a great place to start this review.

Burson Product Line – The Party Series
There are two levels of quality in the product line – the reference and the party series from which the Playmate fits into the party series. The reference line is Burson’s higher-end lineup for those that are willing to pay for the higher performance. Since I have not heard any in this series, I am not able to tell you how big the gap is between the two series, but I am sure based on experience that Burson will not disappoint at any level. So, let's break down the party series to see where the Playmate sits.

Family.png

As you can tell from the product line graphic above, the bang is not meant as a way to drive headphones so it can quickly be ruled out. That being said, I do drive my LCD2.2 from speaker taps, so it does fit that special scenario, but that is not a good overall solution for the majority of my headphones. We can also rule out the Sing as it is a preamp/DAC that requires a separate amplifier to run the headphones. However, I do have amplifiers that need a DAC so in this case, it fits my needs. We can also rule out the Fun as a single solution as we need a DAC to offer a source to the Fun to drive my headphones. Again, the Swing and the Fun together make a complete solution, but for this review, I am primarily looking at the Playmate as a single DAC/AMP solution to be used to drive my headphones. So this comparison brings us down to the Play and the Playmate as the two options in the party series that best fit my needs. The Play is priced at $249 vs. $399 for the Playmate, so let’s find out what we get for the extra money.

Playmate Configuration

Back.png


Measurements.png

The keynotes here are outlined in the graphic at the top of the review – the Playmate is sporting the flagship Sabre 9038 DAC with a 2-watt power supply. In contrast, the Play is sporting the older Sabre 9018 DAC but also has a 2-watt power supply. I am not an electrical engineer to go deep into the other specs, but at a quick glance between two spec sheets, the Playmate 2-watt power supply seem stronger holding greater power across an increasing impedance workload. For example, in the 32 to 100 Ohm range where most headphones are rated, the Playmate offers almost double the wattage. So, our extra $150 pays for a better power supply and the flagship Sabre DAC, but that is obviously not the whole story.

How does it Sound
The Playmate is a powerhouse that easily manhandles any headphone offering an iron grip on the drivers. This eliminates noise and offers better dynamics allowing the headphones to work at its optimal for improved resolution and clarity. The Sabre line is known for a propensity for brightness in its implementation, but not here. This 9038 implementation offers a nice meaty character to the sound for those headphones that offer it. There is a deep black background to drive resolution and strong dynamics to drive textures offering an emotional character to the music. It is not so much that this is a colored implementation, but more that it enables the character that your headphone possesses that can be hidden in underpowered or less resolving scenarios. For me, I am seeing my headphones being driven at full potential offering the full resolution of the Sabre flagship DAC.

Comparing to the Play
The Play has the background blackness and a nice level of resolution, but the Playmate is of higher resolution. The Play is audiophile in nature staying reference while offering a fun bass where the Playmate has an emotional element to it that is not present in the Play. This makes the Playmate more fun to listen to. However, the bass is more present in the Play than the Playmate. The Play hits hard and it is a prominent feature where the Playmate focuses more on the mids and the sub-bass. This may make the Play a better choice to some that place bass as a priority, but the Playmate slams hard as well. What is interesting is that if I had to define one as warmer than the other, it would be the Playmate that is warmer where the Play is colder with more slam in the bass. The real big difference in the two is that the Playmate has more texturing and resonance with longer sustains offering a more emotional experience. So tight and precise goes to the Play and elegant and emotional go to the Playmate.

Headphone Pairings
Were the Playmate and Play comparison gets interesting is when you introduce the headphone lineup to see how they pair. Overall, the Play sounded best with warmer headphones such as my LCD2.2 where we want a little more clarity and tightness. However, overall, the Playmate won me over with the more emotional sound quality. The other interesting note was that my CIEMs unanimously sounded better with the Playmate. While 2-watts is too much for most CIEMs keeping my volume down under 10 out of 100 on average and at 1 out of 100 on some of my more sensitive CIEMs, it brought out the best in them. In all cases, the Playmate elevated the CIEMs to their full potential with a large gap between the Playmate and a DAP experience. My listening notes for each headphone are below.
  • Empire Ears Wraith CIEM: Comfortable but loud volume at 1/100, going over 2/100 is getting too loud. The SQ is so incredible, that I am willing to listen a little louder than normal, but this CIEM is very efficient leaving little headroom on the Playmate volume. At this elevated volume, the detail is through the roof and almost exotic. As I have mentioned in the threads, this re-envisioning of the electrostatic sound competes with exotics like the 009 or the Abyss – two of my favorites. The power and resolution offered by the Playmate allows the Wraith capabilities to shine. I only wish I could lower the volume a little for easier listening when I am not rocking out.
  • Empire Ears Valkyrie CIEM: Comfortable volume 10/100 but starts to get loud to my ears with no distortion at 25/100. The Valkyrie obviously like more power that the Playmate offers. As a hybrid, both the dynamic subwoofer and the electrostatic drivers like the additional grunt becoming more lively and dynamic down below and more airy, detailed, and spacious on top. The Valkyrie is a very fun and in your face headphone that exudes energy and the Playmate pairs nicely with this. I am already floored by its performance; the Playmate takes this further.
  • Empire Ears Legend X CIEM: Comfortable volume 5/100 but starts to get loud to my ears with no distortion at 20/100. The Legend X is again a wonderful pairing with the Playmate offering its full performance capabilities. Compared to the Wraith and the Valkyrie, the BA treble feels more laid back, but still very articulate and detailed. The bass really comes out to play on the Playmate making it more of a warm and fun listen without feeling bloated in any way. Like with all the other CIEMs, the X feels fuller and more textured with the powerful Playmate and offers top tier performance.
  • Lime Ears Aether CIEM: Comfortable volume 5/100 but starts to get loud to my ears with no distortion at 15/100. The Aether sounds wonderful with a deep resonant growl way down for subs, nice soundstage, natural high-resolution full-sized sound. The Aether is known for a very musical natural sound – the Playmate just boosts the Aether platform to be bigger and more effortless. The Playmate's emphasis is in the dynamics providing fuller sustain in the piano hits and surround acoustics. The added resonance adds to the Aether’s musicality. Nice pairing.
  • Vision Ears VE8: Comfortable volume 2/100 but gets loud going any higher. The VE8 is a dream signature offering full-sized instruments even at low volume with an extraordinary bass that is very realistic and takes full advantage of the Playmate's power reserves. The sound stage on the VE8 is extra large so the blackness in the Playmate plays well for the VE8 offering it to rise to full resolution while maintaining its characteristic clarity. The Playmate was the best source I had to audition the VE8 while I had it during my audition during the US tour. The VE8 on the Playmate blew my mind, not much else to say.
  • Vision Ears ELYSIUM: Comfortable volume 15/100 and gets loud over 30 or 40, but much more welcoming to volume than the other CIIEMs. As a tribrid offering both a dynamic and an EST driver complement, it enjoyed the 2-watts that the Playmate had to offer. Right now, the ELYSIUM is my epidemy of EXOTIC sound quality and the Playmate was up to the task of allowing the ELYSIUM to perform at its peak. This CIEM is mid focused driven by a dynamic driver offering the best mids that I have ever heard, and the Playmate offered more girth to the texturing and a higher level of emotion. The iron grip from that 2-watt power supply gave the dynamic driver more snap and resolution. The ELYSIUM bass is driven by a single BA that sounds like a 10-inch subwoofer and the Playmate power offered full slam. The Playmate is by far the best pairing I have for this outstanding CIEM.
  • HD800: The HD800 typically is played through my Hugo 2 > Eddie Current ZDs desktop setup that is exotic in nature, so the Playmate has some tough competition. However, the Playmate is no slouch and offers most of the sound quality from this much higher cost setup. This is saying a lot as the Playmate is a tenth of the cost. In contrast with my Hugo 2 DAC, I was finding this 9038 implementation to be less analytical and more textured. There is a higher resolution with the H2, but the Playmate was at times more musical. The ZDs, of course, is a tube amp which changes the character with tube rolling and right now I am listening to a more analytical tube so this could change with a different tube pairing. Just sayin’
  • HEX: What can I say, the HEX is the HEX. It is easily driven and sounds the same on my DAP as it does on my H2 > ZDs setup. It is a wonderful headphone and I love the signature a lot, but the only thing that changes its sound is the cable. My upgraded cable gets rid of some of the treble glare that can be prominent otherwise. However, with the cable upgrade, it sounds wonderful on any setup. If you are driving the HEX, just get the Play and save the $150.
  • LCD2.2: Now this is a picky headphone. It can be bright or warm depending on the setup. In this case, the Playmate optimizes the sound quality for a neutral warm approach that is highly textured and offers a controlled bass. The LCD2.2 does sound better with higher wattage so the 2-watt power supply works wonders. However, the LCD2.2 sounds even better on a speaker amp using speaker taps. For ease of use, the Playmate is a wonderful pairing that will make most delighted. However, I have to wonder what it would sound like using the Burson Bang mentioned above.

So reviewing my comments above, the Playmate turns my CIEMs into full-sized headphone killers. The CIEMs just seem to reach another level of performance with the Playmate. The only word of caution is that the Playmate is overpowered for some CIEMs not allowing low-level listening. The flipside to that is that harder to drive CIEMs do not seem to reach peak performance without the power that the Playmate has to offer. For my use case, the Playmate is definitely a keeper. For my full-sized headphones, it is also a keeper. This a very convenient way to listen to music compared to my H2 > ZDs option that requires turning on both and waiting for the ZDs to warm up. With the Playmate, I don’t find myself going to the H2 > ZDs very often.

Front USB Source Functionality
The front of the unit has a USB C port that offers an additional input to use your DAP or phone to source your music. However, it is not as easy as it could be to implement so I thought I would share the instructions here. Once engaged, it is very convenient and offers a method to unchain from the computer and perhaps use on your side table next to the bed for bedtime listening or next to your favorite chair.

However, to engage this functionality you have to manually change your input to the front input, use an OTG adapter, and use an adapter for your sources such as the camera kit for the iPhone or the Sony adapter for the WM1A.

Changing the Input Source
To change the input source:
  1. Push the menu button on the right of the volume knob
  2. Select input with a click by pushing the volume knob in
  3. Select USB F for "Front" by rotating the volume knob and click by pushing the knob in
  4. Push the menu button to return to volume operation.
Don't forget to repeat the process and select USB B for "Back" to go back to the original back panel source when done.

Closing an OTG cable
When connecting an iPhone or Android device to a regular USB port you will need an OTG adaptor: https://www.kogan.com/au/buy/tp-lin...Ou79Qo5l1tvGeXDpcYlVB0jeDVkkiSdxoCzaYQAvD_BwE or https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01COOQIKU/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1.

Playing the iPhone
To play the iPhone, you will need a camera kit like this one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B014VGHG0U/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin_title?ie=UTF8&psc=1

To connect the OTG cable to the camera kit on the iPhone you will need a USB male to male cable like this: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00P0E394U/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s01?ie=UTF8&psc=1

Connect the cables, select the front USB input, and now you should be able to play music.

Playing the Sony WM1A
To get a digital signal from the Sony you will need a Sony conversion cable like this: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00FF086HE/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o04_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

So far, I have not gotten this to work, will update once this is figured out.



Pictures

IMG_1674.JPG
IMG_0928.JPG


Conclusion
Those that want to bring emotion back to their music, look no further, the Playmate offers emotional performance. For those that prefer a more analytical sound with more focus on bass, the Play will save you $150. For anyone like me that needs a way to take their CIEMs to the next level, this Playmate combination of sound quality and quality power will make it a cornerstone of your listening experience. Burson does it again, a high-value performance that doesn’t break the bank. Now I am very curious to see how the reference series takes it up another notch.
  • Like
Reactions: Simple Man
Pros: Tonality, dynamism, and detail
Cons: remote should be better
1. Introduction:

Burson playmate is very close to Burson Swing / Fun pair with respect to sound signature except the missing coaxial input on Playmate.

There is not easy way to differentiate among them so that following statements are considered as the latest revision of Swing/Fun pair and at the same time my first review of Playmate.


Burson Playmate fig1.jpg

Fig.1, Playmate and Fun

However, Playmate’s headphone out is slightly different from headphone jack output of playmate. The sound is fuller and more bodied and somewhat mid centric in comparison to those pair.

I prefer Playmate-headphone amp sound signature where strings and winds are more realistic and I feel being listening to in real concert hall.

I denote that playmate headphone output sound signature portion of the review is written in italic letter.

If those reader who already my review for Swing/Fun combination review, then they can read only statement in italic.

2. Audio chain for review: Stock opamp version, Swing/Fun and Tppping Dx7s/Yulong A18 were used for this review, and headphones are hd800(S) / he-560v3 / Fidelio X2. usb stabilizer of Ifi audio nano usb3.0, are sitting between the digital source and the dac.


3. Musical genre for listening: Classical orchestral music I listened for review is entire sound track of Turandot of Puccini's opera, which has good combination of instrumentals and vocals in various scales so that layers of sounds are felt / reviewed through these chain of audio devices.

As indicated in the review of “Audiofool Reviews” - https://audiofool.reviews/2019/02/04/burson-swing/”- which is very technical for hardware, Burson’s new technology of power management makes their new products independent of DC power supply that is usual noisy SMPS. This fact proves itself when the dac is fed by low noise LPS I cannot detect any difference.

It is very appealing that the operating point frequency of their new “Max Current Power Supply (MCPS)” is set at 170khz instead of just higher than 20 khz of audio band. This might prevent any possibility of higher frequencies of harmonics from folding back into the audio band.

4. Some preliminary listening

According to my memory of Burson’s original Conductor and Soloist, they sounded smooth with details, but they didn’t have enough dynamism, whereas Playmate sounds with high dynamism with much more fun factor like rhythmical and vivid presentation of the sound field that includes those ambient sound around the music. These effects generate holographic nature of sound. I think it is due to the redesign of their new MCPS, and they returned back main stream engineering through feedback control using opamps from their minimalist approach that had been applied to those original Conductor / Soloist.

It is very interesting that single Ess9038 q2m of 2 channel chip can compete against quad or octa core channel chip version dac. I think this balancing of performances between upstream ( dac) and downstream amp, so that the total performance are added up to the equal level of amp alone performance due to fact that downstream section dominates the performance of overall system and proved as followings:
It reminds me of Schiit's claim that 32 bit resolution of dac is simply a joke when they introduced Yggdrasil dac of 21 bit supported by their special closed form filters, those combination of which surpasses many top-class dacs (of 32bit) of that time. This indicates that we are not hearing dac chip alone but every cascaded connections .ie. system.

Playmate / Fun has defined bass in good texture and extended treble in keeping graininess to the minimum.
I am not much care of staging but seems good for movie or game so that it provides enough sense of space.

Playmate headphone output has more bodied, fuller, richer, and more organic than any other pairs like Topping dx7s /Yulong A18. In comparison to Playmate (preamp) or Swing / Fun pair, highs are more refined and sense of dispersion, so that it is easier with ears.


5. More listening in some comparison:

I tried some combinations of dac / amp, like compared to dx7s and the internal amp, to dx7s as dac and Yulong.
Playmate generates sound field so vivid and spacious that it is immediate differentiating its pair among any combination except Swing / Fun.
While detailed yet maintaining minimized graininess of sound field. You can feel the surrounding around the source. It is engaging and fun and vivid
.

For classical orchestral music listening, the most important thing is cohesiveness of sound of big band music with enough details. I think Playmate meets my expectations. Especially through busy section of all the instrumental outburst of sound where all my usual dac and amp pair has its limitation, Playmate does very well.

Presentation of Strings is so realistic and natural where Swing/Fun has more energy that might mask realistic presentation.

Bass presentation in orchestral music in play of contrabass is also exceptional with sense or presence of being seated in real concert hall.

In general, the sound of Playmate/Headphone jack is more onto concert hall presence and natural, where Topping/A18 is clean / crisp but has somewhat artificial in comparison to Playmate/Headphone jack.


This reduced or dispersed or smoothed highs of Playmate allows me relistening to classical orchestral music that has balanced weight between strings and winds, one of which is symphony 7 of Beethoven. The play of the music is really appealing and amazing, where now winds are solid places on the sonic landscape of the huge orchestral instrument layout.

Now winds are distinct but harmonious among sound field.

Burson Playmate fig2.jpg

Fig.2, Other audio dac / amp for comparison


I think this balance is significant thing for those who are looking for smooth sound especially in highs of strings. But this is almost impossible to get the smoothness everywhere and every time on those areas. Because the grainy nature of the music in highs are depending on our freshness of our bio-hearing system. For example the first time listening to classical music ( maybe any instrumental music) after long time absence of wideband sonic information, the music is really grain free and buttery smooth, and this quality does not stay long enough after having fatigued in an hour or so.

That tells that seeking after smoothness or liquid quality is something difficult or next to impossible job.

However if you looking for balanced sonic quality such as balance between string and wind, then Playmate can be an answer. That balance is more stable and tangible than the smoothness of the music that may be there in some certainty but there is no guarantee that you can get it from music.

Playmate can easily resolve down to details and at the same time the outburst is listenable indeed with cohesiveness and enough energy without sense of clamping due to being congested-ness due to the unresolved outburst of big-band sound.

I tested with He-560 V3 and the result is amazing. The generic liquidity of planar is now enhanced to the highs where planar liquidity has trouble to its highest end. But with Playmate has success in that area and I enjoyed the grain free highs.

With HD800/S Playmate gives more sense of space and ambient quality around sound source with no sense of brightness compared to any other pairs. There is every detail with lushness as is felt in planar.
Tonal balance is spot on, and orchestration of big band is now vivid and detailed without grainy.

With Fidelio X2, the combination removes the sibilant nature of the phone in the upper highs which is always trouble with my usual gears. Now X2 has controlled highs or less fatiguing than any other pairs and sligtly better than Swing/Fun.

6. Audio listening with system as in a dac as a node in system:
setup audio.jpg

Fig.3, Head-fi as a system

We all hear all those nodes and links that forms audio chain, so that my comparison is limited, but Swing with what I have now is the best among my current gears.

Stock form of Playmate is so good that I want to upgrade to discreet opamps to see what degree they can push the boundary of sonic field. Because the stock opamp has known limitation for band-width and the power due to entirely current mode operation inside whereas discrete one can be optimized by external passive components which are not allowed in IC form opamp.

7. A final thought
Playmate has better and natural presentation for highs and lows, especially mids that attract me more so that it makes more organic and pleasant without sacrificing other good natures of liquidity and rhythmic nature.

The most important improvement in Playmate is getting balance in sonic field where everything can be shown layer after layer of sonic fields.

Especially large orchestral classical music, the balance nature is more important than liquidity, and edged details which are formed by emphasized high-notes. And hence high note based detailed sounding might mask the real presence of mid key based instrument.

I should put a comment that feature of the remote is so weak that it does not help much for clumsy effort to change filter / connection rather than simply volume changes.
  • Like
Reactions: fokta
fokta
fokta
Hello friend.. still using HD668b ???
Pros: extraordinary noiseless
sound quality is improved by replacing the operation amplifiers
top quality components
several power supply options
can be housed in a PC ATX enclosure
good price / quality ratio
Cons: The Basic version does not include a remote :(
Introduction
Many have shown pictures of the Burson Playmate box, its packaging, and the cables, connectors, and technical specifications that come with the Basic version, so I won't go into that.
The structure
The Burson Playmate is a DA converter based on a SABRE32 / ES9038 chip (with microphone, optical and XMosUSB inputs), which contains a Class A headphone amplifier (6.3 Jack) and a digitally adjustable output level preamplifier (RCA). https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate/
20190731_134235_m.jpg
Burson built Playmate from top quality components (Elna audio grade capacitor, Dale military grade resistor, Toshiba transistors) to enjoy it in the long run.
Burson MCPS-S2.jpg

Burson's self developed MCPS (Max Current Power Supply) power solution provides low-noise power to units quickly, which is a prerequisite for superb sound. https://www.bursonaudio.com/about-us/max-current-power-supply/
MCPS 5pcs.jpg

The Burson was not only meant for audiophile users, but also for gamers, as evidenced by the 4p MOLEX power connection (12V / 5A), microphone input and the fact that the Playmate can be housed in a PC ATX enclosure (5.25 ”drive bay).
Xmos USB card_1.jpg
Removing the XMOS USB card gives you the ability to connect an external device to the Playmate using an IIS interface.
ES9038 I2S.jpg

On the small LCD display with the menu selector button (at the bottom right of the front of the Playmate, there is a small button) plus volume rotary potentiometer (big rotary button) you can scroll through the menu and select from many options:
Input: USB-B / USB-F / OPT
Output: Headphone / Preamp
Output Level: High / Low
FIR Filter: Brickwall / CMFR / Reserved / Ap Fast / etc.
DPLL (for DSD and PCM datastream): Off / Low / Mid / Hi
Emphasis: On / Off
Reset: No / Yess
Menu.jpg

Menu_1.jpg

Menu_2.jpg

The Basic version is built with 4 pcs NE5532 operation amplifiers - in DIP8 sockets - which provides plug & play capability - depending on taste, aural ideas / expectations and your wallet - easy to replace opas.
Burson also uses the upgrades of operational amplifiers (V6 Vivid & V6 Classic) to the higher-priced Playmate (V6 Vivid, Everest V6) itself, which is also reflected in the sound quality.
Burson PLAYMATE_opamps.png

Let's see how the designers used the 4 operational amplifiers.
They split the LowPass Stage between two, so that one channel uses ½ of a dual opa in LPF and the other ½ in the booster phase. It means that two opas marked with I/V are used in the I/V section and the other two opas are used as LP / Headamp (½ for LPF and ½ for voltage amplification).
This solution allows the shortest possible signal path e.g. for I/V and LPF signal processing.
Crosstalk improves because two halves of the same opa work in different phases but share the same channel signal.
Generally, crosstalk improves by using a single opa in the same I/V or LPF section, instead of double, which is almost like using a single opa.
The use of a dual adapter (e.g. SOIC8 to DIP8) arises so you can choose which opa is used in LPF and in VAS.
mono SOIC2DIP8.jpg

Test & Sound
I started the audition with the Playmate RCA output connected to a power amplifier.
The volume can be adjusted gradually (between 99-0 in 100 steps). It can be adjusted according to our needs, taste and time of day.
However, the remote control is missing, which does not come with the Basic version. :frowning2:
At least a cheaper piece (e.g. in plastic case) could be included with the basic setup.

The source of the audio was Raspberry Pi 3 B+, the software is MoOde Audio player.
Raspberry immediately recognized the Playmate via USB, no further setup was needed.

The basic NE5532s also produced a surprisingly pleasant, audible sound when first turned on.
The sound is a bit veiled, as if it were from behind a curtain. The stage was a little blurry, but it provided a dynamic and long-lasting music experience.

The sound experience was further enhanced when the 4 pcs OPA1612s were connected.
The stage is wide, much more dynamic than the previous one, clear in height, with a slightly rumbling bass. I hear some roughness and rustling at the vocals and high tones.
Depending on the recording, brasses sometimes sound loud.

Operational amplifiers better than OPA1612 (eg Burson V5, V6) further improve the sound experience!

I could try them with LifePO4 batteries, and the stage and instrumentation got bigger after the switching power supply was replaced. However, the dynamics decreased but it could be well compensated by increasing the volume. The roughness and the rawness is gone. The change was most evident in the vocals, violin (strings) and brass.
The tone smoothed, it became more alive and subtle. It shines from a black background and is characterized by a huge atmosphere.

So Playmate produced long-listening, remarkably calm and even exciting music.

It is worth trying with a better quality linear power supply!

Test musics:
Jazz at the Pawnshop (FLAC)
Eva Cassidy - Live at Blues Alley (FLAC)
Dee Dee Bridgewater - Live at Yoshi’s (FLAC)
Filippa Giordano - Passioni (FLAC)
Rebecca Pidgeon - The Raven (FLAC)
The Doors - Riders on the Storm (FLAC)
James Carter - Chasin’ the Gypsy (FLAC)
Metallica - Nothing Else Matters (FLAC)
Tsuyoshi Yamamoto Trio - Midnight Sugar (FLAC)
Pros: + Lots of Power
+ Can be integrated in a PC build, and it doesn't get very hot
+ Warm, liquid midrange that will appeal to those looking for a musical mid
+ Linear bass
+ Full metallic build quality
+ Versatile if you take the time to replace the OP-AMPs
Cons: - Not the same signature as the original burson Play Basic, very different tuning.
- Soundstage is intimate this time around, which doesn't work well for all music styles, for example classical
- The Basic version does not include a remote
Trouble Maker - Burson PlayMate Basic DAC/AMP Review



With Class A power Amplifier, Multiple OP-AMP options, along with a sleek design, and a ton of driving power, Burson Playmate priced at 400 USD sure will be interesting to review, especially when comparing it to the original Burson Play, and to other DAC/AMPs like Feliks Echo, and FiiO Q5.




Introduction


Burson surely rings a bell as a company, as they've been very loved and appreciated by music lovers for a good few years now. They are known for designing excellent products, with amazing price / performance ratios, and Burson is also known for having designed products that withstood the test of time, as many of their products still keep their value, even years after their initial release. I actually have many friends who own a Burson Product and who've been really pleased by their build quality and reliability, not to mention the excellent service Burson provides with their products. 5 years of warranty for all Burson Products are the cherry on the cake when you consider the very pocket-friendly price they have.

It shold be noted that I have no affiliation with Burson. This review is not sponsored nor has been paid for by Burson or anyone else. I'd like to thank Burson Audio for providing the sample for the review. This review reflects my personal experience with Burson PlayMate. Every opinion expressed is mine and I stand by it, the purpose of this review is to help those interested in Burson PlayMate find their next music companion.



About me


https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/about.html



Packaging


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













I love the fact that Burson redesigned their package to a new version, that now includes more accessories, but which also comes in a cooler overall package than the original Play did.

You can find pretty much everything you'd need in the package, including the Power Adapter, cables to connect it in your PC build, and a USB cable to use the PlayMate as an external DAC AMP.


Overall, it is an excellent device in terms of package.



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


https://www.audiophile-heaven.com/p/what-to-lookl.html



Build Quality/Aesthetics/UI/Firmware


The build quality of the Play Mate is very comparable to the build quality of the original Burson Play. I invite you to take a look at my review of the original Burson Play, to get more details about how that one was like.

Burson PlayMate is a fully metallic device, very well made and assembled together. The circuit board is clean and everything was designed responsibly, with a lot of good choices indicating a device that will last the test of time.



On the outside, PlayMate has the same volume wheel as the original Burson Play, although PlayMate has a slightly better display. There is a USB Type-C on the front of PlayMate now, and the main Headphone Output is a 6.3mm jack. There is a 3.5mm Microphone input jack, which will come in really handy if you'll purchase your Burson PlayMate to be a part of a desktop computer build.

The Basic version, the one I am reviewing, does not come with a remote, but as far as I understand, more expensive versions do come with a remote, and you can always purchase the remote from Burson.

The unit gets hot while plugged in, but less so than the original Burson Play, actually now being easier to recommend it for a full desktop PC build. This being said, it is still pretty warm for me to recommend it freely to use in a computer build. On the other hand, it is just fine to use as a desktop DAC/AMP, even in a very hot environment.

As far as the digital input options go, there is a USB Type-A input, which you can use together with the cable included in the package. There is also an optical cable input, and there are two options for the power input of Burson Play, one being the power adapter that comes in the package, and the other one, if you'd want to device to use it in a computer build, you can connect Burson Play to your computer's power supply via a MOLEX power connector.




There is also an On/Off switch on the back, which you should remember to have turned on, if you will be placing Burson PlayMate in your computer build, and the best part, there are two RCA outputs at the back of PlayMate, which you can connect either directly to your amplifiers via cables, but Burson also includes a little slot card to attach PlayMate in your computer, and have the RCA outputs at the back.

If you want to replace the OP-AMPs, the unit is very easy to take apart, and the exchange operation is quick and simple, although my unit did not come with any additional OP-AMPs, so I only took photos of how it looks in the original (Basic) configuration.









While using PlayMate, I have noticed that the DAC output part is very clean and crisp, and that it doesn't have any inherent issues. On Windows it works flawlessly, and so it does on Android, the overall unit is built like a Tank, and except for the fact that it gets a bit warm during usage, there is very little to complain about.



Sound Quality


Now this part is quite complicated, because I am going to agree with what other reviewers have been saying about PlayMate, but I have a slightly different view about things.



The sound, for me, is not necessarily an improvement over the original Burson Play Basic, because I really enjoyed the quick bass of the original Burson Play, but I also liked the cold and somewhat digital sound of it, as it was very revealing and had a lot of punch. Now, the PlayMate is clearly made to sound more friendly, the bass is still just as quick, although it has a bit less punchy, while the midrange is nowhere near as cold as the original, this time the midrange being more liquid and more intimate, with the treble, although as well expressed, this time more muted and less sparkly. A pretty strange combination at first, but if combined with the right headphones or speakers, truly something that is amazing.


Starting with the bass, the bass is as quick as all Burson Bass tends to be. There is a smidgen less punch and impact than it was with the Burson Play Basic, but now the bass seems to have even better resolution. Bassheads won't be fans of this presentation, but those who appreciate a quick percussion, and a pretty revealing DAC/AMP that can keep up with Death and Black Metal, will surely appreciate the PlayMate.

Next is the midrange, which changed a lot from the original Burson Play Basic. With the original Play, the midrange was somewhat digital, but extremely wide sounding and revealing, but now, with the PlayMate, the midrange is much more liquid and organic, but not quite as revealing, and more intimate, changing some of the things that made me fall in love with the Burson Play, not necessarily for something worse, but for something pretty different. It almost feels like some of the Vivid OP-AMPs magic that was on the original Burson Play when I installed them was imbued to this new PlayMate. There is a certain way you could describe the sound as being effortless, and flowing from each musical note to the next with the PlayMate.


The treble is a mixed bag, somehow, it manages to be somewhat muted, not exactly as sparkly or as airy as the original Play, but it still is pretty bright. When most people call the PlayMate cold, they are referring to the way it portrays the relative amount of treble to the relative amount of bass, as it has a bit more treble than it has bass, but with the way the treble is presented, I agree that it is zero sibilant and zero harsh, it is a pretty tame treble, but it has a good amount of it, especially when you counter it to the neutral bass of Burson PlayMate.



Desktop Usage

PlayMate is very well designed to be used as a desktop DAC/AMP.


Starting with the build quality, it is made like a tank, it sits nicely on your desk, has enough weight to not slide away, and the rubber feet also helps with its stability. Both the USB cable and the Power adapter are long enough, to be practical, although the RCA cables are not long enough to be practical, unless PlayMate is sitting on top of your Amplifier.



The RCA cables included in the package are so short, because they were intended to be used inside a PC build, where you don't want to choke the space inside with cables, and you don't want to struggle with cable management either, but for desktop usage, as in, using PlayMate as a standalone desktop DAC/AMP, the RCA cables included in the package are too short to be truly practical.

The front display is bright and visible even in direct sunlight, which is a major plus, and all jacks are of good quality.


The fact that the unit gets pretty warm during usage, due to its pretty beefy Class-A Headphone Amplifier means that you're not very likely to use it stacked above other devices.

Overall, it is pretty excellent to be used as a standalone DAC/AMP, although you will require aftermarket RCA cables, as well as space to sit it next to a separate amplifier rather than stacked on top of it.




Comparisons


The main devices I chosen for the comparisons part of this review are Burson Play, Feliks Echo and FiiO Q5.



Burson PlayMate vs FiiO Q5 (AM03A) - Here is where the fun begins, because, although Q5 is a portable DAC/AMP, it just happens that it has a similar price to the PlayMate. Overall, there would be quite a lot to talk about in terms of size and usage differences, but I think that the point here is the sound. Starting with the driving power, Burson PlayMate has quite a bit more driving power than Q5, but Q5 does a much better job in driving IEMs, as it has a lower output impedance and presents lower hiss with sensitive IEMs. The actual signature is also different, and with headphones that are easy to drive, or that present a normal challenge for most DAC/AMPs, Q5 tends to have more impact, to deliver a fuller low end, with a more sweet-like midrange, and with a more airy treble, with a larger soundstage. By comparison, PlayMate tends to sound more neutral in the bass, it tends to have a more liquid and slightly warmer midrange, and it tends to have less treble sparkle and bite, presenting music in a more intimate fashion. Depending on your headphone and IEM selection, and on whether you need your DAC/AMP to be portable, the two are quite different devices, but still comparable in terms of pricing.

Burson PlayMate vs Burson Play - You probably have gathered a bit of information on how the two compare from the entire review, but a short recap on sound always helps, especially if you have a Burson Play and you're considering upgrading to the PlayMate. The overall design and build quality is pretty much the same, and the driving power is also pretty similar in actual usage. The signature though, is quite different. The original Burson Play has a more impactful presentation in the bass, but the PlayMate has a considerably warmer midrange, which is more liquid and sounds more analogue, as the original Play always was a pretty cold-sounding DAC/AMP with a more digital sound. The treble is actually quite different, and although both have good treble expression, the original Play extends more and is more sparkly, while the PlayMate feels like the treble, although has good quantity, is a bit muted and shifted towards a less airy presentation. The soundstage is wide on the original Play, and intimate on the PlayMate. If you're considering making an upgrade to Burson PlayMate, please note that the sound has been changed quite a bit and that you should really take your own tastes into account before upgrading to PlayMate, or at least, consider getting some of the aftermarket OP-AMPs which should really improve your experience quite a lot.

Burson PlayMate vs Feliks Echo - Now, why not compare the Burson Play with something that is still pretty similar in price. Or even complementary, to some degree. Feliks Echo is an OTL Amplifier, which means that it pairs really well with high impedance headphones, but doesn't do so well with low impedance equipment. There are zOTL AMPs out there that defy this rule, but Feliks Echo is best used with a high impedance headphone. Now, about comparing the two, you need to take into account that for 500 USD, Feliks Echo is a standalone AMP and will require a separate DAC unit to work. Furthermore, Feliks Echo is a Tube AMP and has different space requirements than PlayMate. This being said, Feliks Echo has a considerably more organic, more natural and more sparkly sound, with a wider soundstage, deeper bass, more impact and with an even sweeter and more natural midrange. On the other hand, the same could be said if you were using PlayMate as the DAC to feed Feliks Echo, which is why I pointed earlier that they are good complementary pieces of equipment, in all fairness, Feliks Echo and PlayMate work quite well together, and I would very openly recommend you to consider this pairing for a very well-priced yet excellent-sounding desktop setup.



Pairing


Since Burson PlayMate has some hiss with sensitive IEMs, it is not recommended for usage with IEMs at all, being rather good with full sized headphones, as it also has enough power to drive them. In light of this, I have chosen HIFIMAN Arya, Sennheiser HD660S, and Beyerdynamic Amiron to pair PlayMate with.



Burson PlayMate + HIFIMAN Arya - This one is rather sweet, because Arya has that huge soundstage, and can be driven really well from Burson PlayMate. In fact, Arya works so well with the PlayMate that I often just use this as a whole setup. The midrange is sweet and musical, the treble is well extended and airy, and the bass is deep yet controlled.

Burson PlayMate + Sennheiser HD660S - Sennheiser HD660S is another headphone that works quite well with the PlayMate, but this time for entirely different reasons. This pairing has a more intimate soundstage, with the music being played much closer to you, this pairing has a very tame treble, which sounds smooth and non-fatiguing, and the bass is presented in a more neutral fashion, for those who don't want a lot of lows with their music.

Burson PlayMate + Beyerdynamic Amiron - Amiron is another good pairing with the PlayMate, as Amiron usually had a slightly strong upper midrange, and the Amiron surely checks out nicely with the PlayMate, as the midrange is even sweeter and more musical, and PlayMate keeps the signature of Amiron pretty honest, with a more neutral bass, with a more liquid and musical midrange, and with a pretty tame treble.



Value and Conclusion

Reviewing Burson PlayMate has been really fun, but now it is time to judge it for its money. For sure, it is a pretty capable DAC/AMP, and especially since you can use it both as a standalone DAC, and as a high-quality headphone amplifier, but you need to keep in mind that you can't really use IEMs with it, unless you don't mind some hiss.




In terms of build quality, it is the same as most Desktop-Class DAC/AMPs, pretty much a tank. There isn't any weak spot, and the main unit is heavy enough and has rubber feet, so it won't slide around your desk. The volume wheel is not the best out there, as if you turn it really fast, it may skip a bit, but for the asking price of PlayMate, it works well enough.

The sound of PlayMate is different from the typical Burson Approach, this time the midrange being a touch less cold and digital, and more analogue and life-like, although the bass is still pretty typical of Burson, and so is the treble, although, this time even the treble is a touch smoother and more friendly towards a larger number of people, than the Burson Play Basic was. Pretty much, take everything Burson Play was, and make it even better, and you get PlayMate. This being said, the soundstage is more intimate, and the treble is more muted, along with the midrange being thicker and more liquid, making PlayMate quite different in tuning.



Today, I replace the original Burson Play with the PlayMate in Audiophile-Heaven's Hall Of Fame, as the new version earns its place and makes a new name for Burson, as a different sound, yet still with an excellent price / performance quality.



At the end of the day, if you're looking for a neutral-ish, but liquid sounding DAC/AMP, which is in Class A, and has a ton of power to drive even some of the hard-to-drive planar headphones out there, with a sleek design and lots of connectivity options, for a very pocket-friendly price, you should totally check out PlayMate, the new incarnation of the excellent budget-friendly DAC/AMPs from Burson.



Product Link (no affiliate links)


https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate/



Full Playlist used for this review

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


Tidal Playlist


https://listen.tidal.com/playlist/64555551-ec3c-4279-ae44-248fdfcf6c4b


Song List


Bats - Gamma Ray Burst: Second Date
Eskimo Callboy - Frances
Incubus - Summer Romance
Electric Six - Dager! High Voltage
Kishida Cult - High School Of The Dead
Dimmu Borgir - Dimmu Borgir
Breaking Benjamin - I Will Not Bow
Thousand Foot Krutch - The Flame In All Of Us
Gorillaz - Feel Good Inc.
Infected Mushroom - Song Pong
Attack Attack - Kissed A Girl
Doctor P - Bulletproof
Maximum The Hormone - Rock n Roll Chainsaw
Rob Zombie - Werewolf, Baby!
Escape The Fate - Gorgeous Nightmare
SOAD - Chop Suey
Ken Ashcorp - Absolute Territory
Machinae Supremacy - Need For Steve
Ozzy Osbourne - I Don't Wanna Stop
Crow'sclaw - Loudness War
Eminem - Rap God
Stromae - Humain À L'eau
Sonata Arctica - My Selene
Justin Timberlake - Sexy Back
Metallica - Fuel
Veil Of Maya - Unbreakable
Masa Works - Golden Japang
REOL - Luvoratorrrrry
Dope - Addiction
Korn - Word Up!
Papa Roach - ... To be Loved
Fever The Ghost - Source
Fall Out Boy - Immortals
Green Day - Know The Enemy
Mindless Self Indulgence - London Bridge
A static Lullaby - Toxic
Royal Republic - Addictive
Astronautalis - The River, The Woods
We Came As Romans - My Love
Skillet - What I Believe
Man With A Mission - Smells Like Teen Spirit
Yasuda Rei - Mirror
Mojo Juju - Must Be Desire
Falling Up - Falling In Love
Manafest - Retro Love
Rodrigo Y Grabriela - Paris
Zomboy - Lights Out
Muse - Resistance
T.A.T.U &amp; Rammstein - Mosaku
Grey Daze - Anything, Anything
Katy Perry - Who Am I Living For
Maroon 5 - Lucky Strike
Machinae Supremacy - Killer Instinct
Pendulum - Propane Nightmares
Sirenia - Lithium And A Lover
Saving Abel - Addicted
Hollywood Undead - Levitate
The Offspring - Special Delivery
Escape The Fate - Smooth
Samsara Blues Experiment - One With The Universe
Dope - Rebel Yell
Crazy Town - Butterfly
Silverstein - My Heroine
Memphis May Fire - Not Over Yet




I hope my review is helpful to you!



---



Contact me!












---
  • Like
Reactions: raoultrifan
Pros: Good clean immersive warmish tonality
Very low noise floor
Excellent volume control
The Emphasis filter
Upgradeable Opamps
Ability to integrate into a PC
Cons: Not the most IEM friendly
Not the most versatile in terms of I/O
Some minor accessories missing
Not for those who look for bright/analytical type of sound
Burson Playmate Basic with MCPS Technology

Introduction and Disclaimer

I have been provided this device free of charge in exchange for an honest review and a mention of the MCPS technology. I'd like to thank Burson and Carlos, the Burson representative on Head-Fi for this opportunity. I am also thanking them for their great patience as this took much longer than expected.

I will be reviewing the basic Playmate unit which is built around the SABRE32/ESS9038 DAC chip like its higher priced brethren and unlike them uses non-Burson and non-discrete NE5532 Opamps. I believe that aside from a remote included with higher priced models, the only difference between them are the (upgradeable ) Opamps.

1 - front.jpg


2 - back.jpg


Please consult Burson Playmate page and PDF manual for more complete technical specs and cleaner close up pics of the device.

Functionality, Accessories & Limitations

This a DAC with Class A headphone amp output via jack on the front and Preamp Line Out via RCA on the back. It accepts USB (on front and back) and optical (TOSLINK) input. It has no audio input other than a microphone input on the front and thus cannot be used as an amplifier only. It also has no digital output and thus cannot be used as a digital transport.

It can be used as a desktop unit or integrated in a PC by plugging it into a free optical drive bay. A number of accessories are included for both uses.

You get a standalone switching power supply unit and a sturdy USB cable for use as a desktop unit.

For PC integration, there is a PC backplate with two dual female RCA sockets, two nice single RCA cables and an USB cable plugable into a PC motherboard USB sockets. The unit has a molex socket on the back to get its power from the PC switching power supply unit via one of its molex plugs. No screws were included for securing the unit into the PC drive bay however.

You also get an Allen key to be able to open the device and what appears to be perhaps a small fuse.

3 - contents.jpg


For use with a Windows PC or laptop, driver installation is required and, although it is not mentioned anywhere, the Windows 7 XMOS Driver on the Burson download page is suitable for easy and straightforward installation on Windows XP too where it works flawlessly.

The volume control is digital with a very smooth endless scrolling wheel controlling it with excellent granularity and doubling as a mute button. I found this to be excellent as it lets you control the volume very precisely, it never goes too loud by just turning the wheel up a bit, there is a very nice amount of headroom here. It also won't suffer from channel unbalance and won't become noisy over time.

There is only a single 6.35 mm jack socket for Headphone Out, there is no dedicated socket for IEM. Using IEMs will require an adapter (which isn't supplied) and consequently will not let IEMs benefit of the lowest possible output impedance which might be an issue with BA/Multi BAs/Hybrid setups. Also, since balanced output is all the (quite unwarranted IMO) craze lately, I should mention the this device has no balanced output of any kind.

RCA Line Out on the back responds to volume control.

The control panel offers a number of settings and is very easy to use. By pushing a small button next to the volume wheel, the latter switches to control panel navigation and editing mode. You can select Input and Output (only one of each can operate simultaneously), Headphones Gain mode (Low or High), choose between 7 FIRFilters (I personally can't hear a difference between them), choose between 4 DPLL (this is related to clock jitter) settings for both PCM and DSD (Hi, Mid, Low and Off) with ouput being shut if off is selected and probably best left at the default Hi settings. Finally there is an Emphasis setting (called De-Emphasis in the manual) which is On by default and affects the tonal balance of the output by quite significantly rolling off treble as can be seen in the screenshots below, this is a very, very nice option to have IMO.

4 - Emphasis Off.png


5 - Emphasis On.png


Max Current Power Supply (MCPS) Technology

Basically, as I understand it, this makes use of current provided by external switching power supply (the one supplied with the device or the PC PSU) and further processes this current to offset/eliminate issues switched current has but keep its efficiency advantage. Since I initially had some trouble understanding it I asked Carlos about it and got answered by Dennis, a Burson technician whose email I quote here near verbatim (just corrected some typos, grammar and punctuation hopefully without betraying meaning) as I found it very helpful and a good complement to what's written on Burson's MCPS page:

Linear power supply Vs. Switching power supply

In traditional audio design, we use dual rail linear power supply (e.g. +/-12V). Compare that to a typical +12V single rail switching power supply linear power supply can provide double with the voltage switch allow for much better audio performance. That is the main difference between a car audio system compare to a home base audio system. That is why if a 100W home amplifier sounds very good and powerful a 100W car amp will sound very weak and lack the driving power. So, car audio nowadays mostly move towards Class D design which will give them a much higher power rating and sacrifices the audio fidelity.

You may be wondering why is that in such case anyone wants to make audio gear with switching power supply? Well, from an engineering perspective switching power supply has one major advantage compared to a linear power supply that is very low impedance. Low impedance means low resistance to the current rush which means more current can come through to the circuit when it is needed. But there are 2 major challenges for switching power supply in an audio circuit: noise and voltage.

The MCPS power supply uses the standard +12V switching power supply and converts that into +/-15V DC during this conversion process it regenerates its power at 170khz which is more than 8 times higher than any human hearing. This conversion process provide noise-free high voltage high current power to the rest of the system. Due to the low impedance nature of the switching power supply, you will find that the playback dynamic is much greater with MCPS compare to the same wattage linear power supply.
Testing

Most listening has been done with an old XP laptop using foobar200 and the XMOS ASIO driver. Some listening has been done via optical (TOSLINK) input using my Questyle QP1R DAP as a digital transport. I don't think I can tell them apart. Apart from lossless noise and silent files I only used 16bit, 44.1kHz, 320kbps CBR MP3s with MaxNoClip ReplayGain applied on them from both devices. Finally, I only used a variety of IEMs, mostly single dynamics, no headphones have been used. The device had 500+ hours before I started doing some real listening.

6 - setup.jpg


QP1R Optical > Playmate Basic > Flares Gold + Sony MDR-EX1000

Sound

First of all I am going to talk a bit about the noise floor. When everything is on but nothing is playing there is none I can hear/detect even pushing the High Gain volume to max. When playing a silent/empty wav file from the laptop I get some noise (which might well come from the laptop, not sure about that) but it is very low: for example, I use the Flares Pro IEM on High Gain at a volume, between 50 and 65 max depending on how loud the audio files are. When playing a silent file I can begin to hear a very faint noise at a volume of 70. This translates to all the other IEMs I tried to check out noise levels. It takes 5 to 10 clicks above the max volume I use them for playing audio for very faint noise to begin to show up when playing a silent/empty file. In all cases Emphasis filter was off which means no rolled off treble. I think this is very good.

Overall I feel this is a very clean sounding device with a warmish, thickish, deep and full, pleasing and immersive tonality this even with Emphasis filter off and akin to good vintage solid state amplifiers such as the Sansui AU series I have but just tighter, cleaner and deeper. Unfortunately my Sansuis are out of service at the moment so I could not compare them directly. I have however plugged the Playmate Line Out into my Teac A-H500i integrated power amplifier who is supposed to have a reference neutral sound and whose headphone out is deemed excellent and I found it felt indeed more neutral than the Playmate but also much less clean and of similar tightness. On older testing between the Teac and the AU Sansuis I had found the latter to be warmer, less tight and less clean.

One interesting thing is that while I knew the Sony MDR-EX1000 was very good I had never really understood its legendary TOTL status until I have listened it with the Playmate, not even with the Questyle QP1R which is (was?) my best/most technical device. Is it because the pairing with the Playmate is exceptionally good, the rolled off treble (Emphasis filter is on this time) compensating for the Sony's brightness/harshness leading to a more comfortable listening experience and ability to notice its strenghths more easily or is it because the Playmate sounds better than the Questyle DAP? Hard to say as I haven't done any direct comparisons but two things are sure here: 1) The EX1000 never struck me as so exceptionally good before and 2) The Emphasis filter is a really great feature which comes in extremely handy for pairing with brighter/harsher phones.

I have mostly done comparisons with other gear I have so far to describe sound and this last cheeky little bit will be no different. I find the bass tighter and better on my lowly Audiotrack Prodigy Cube Black Edition. Not that it is bad on the Playmate Basic, I feel it's just better on the Cube than on the Playmate Basic (better than on the Questyle QP1R too). The secret here, because there is one, is that the Cube has a Burson V5i opamp in it and that's what gave it this better bass :wink:. So yeah, while very good and I'd even say excellent sounding overall there is clearly room for improvement in at least one area I know but probably more than that with upgrading them lowly NE5532 Opamps to discrete ones.

Conclusion

Overall this has been a pleasure to use and listen to so far. Hopefully I have highlighted all the pros and cons of this device well enough to help someone make a decision, thanks for reading.

Playmate: https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate/
MCPS: https://www.bursonaudio.com/about-us/max-current-power-supply/
PDF Manual: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1B8z1Zjj8rIeOzJ8A5WPfU-aw9JgmH1i2/view?usp=drive_web
Pros: Versatility(desktop to PC drive bay usage), OpAmp rollable, supports Mic usage, great hiss-free pairing solution, full-bodied sound, great imaging and separation performance
Cons: Front USB-C output port does not work, remote control is optional and not by default, dust magnet
The universe has a fun way of placing things were they ought to be and sometimes it places things differently than what we have planned for. I was never a PC guy but with PC master race peers, I eventually ended up with building my own rig. One of the tricky things that I found while building my rig was finding a decent if not great audiophile solution for my audio needs which eventually faded and disregarded as I moved on to another hobby.

Did I say how the universe places things where they ought and not ought to be? Just when I wasn’t looking for an audiophile solution for my PC rig, the solution found me. This audiophile solution came all the way from Melbourne, Australia via Burson Audio. Burson Audio designs benchmark setting audio equipments and premium quality audio design building blocks for fellow audio enthusiasts and manufacturing partners. The Playmate unit that was used for this realview was sent over by Burson Audio in exchange for an honest take on their enhanced approached for the original Burson Audio Play and there were no monetary factors involved for the collaboration. You can check out these official Burson Audio website and the Playmate link itself for more details.

The Burson Audio Playmate offers “the best of the best with the perfect union of the highest spec’d DAC chip and the best sounding OpAmps in the world” along with “5 Max current power supplies to ensure no coil, no bottleneck with maximum dynamics” as well as “Top-quality components”. That’s quite a lot to take in for just a short read so if you’ve got some time to spare, let’s check out our newest and freshest Playmate via Audio Realviews.

Specifications and Packaging

Burson Audio Playmate:
  • Input impedance: 38 KOhms
  • Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 – 35Khz
  • THD: <0.002%
  • Output impedance (Head Amp): <2 Ohm
  • Output impedance (Pre Out): 15 Ohm
  • Inputs: USB, Toslink
  • Outputs: RCA Pre-Amp / Headphone Jack
  • Impedance - Power (Headphone Jack)
    16 Ohm - 1.8W
    32 Ohm - 2W
    100 Ohm- 0.5W
    150 Ohm - 3W
    300 Ohm - 0.1W
  • DAC Specs: Channel Separation (132dB@1KHz, 121dB@20KHz)
  • XMOS USB Specs:
    Channel Separation: 132dB@1KHz, 121dB@20KHz
    Mobile OS: iOS & Android (OTG support)
    PCM & DXD Support: PCM 32Bits/768kHz
    Native DSD: Native DSD 64 / 128 / 256 / 512
    DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256

With the ESS9038Q2M 32-Bit Stereo Mobile Audio DAC being used on the Playmate, Burson Audio has kept up with the recent trend of using up-to-date components within their systems, it isn’t from SABRE’S PRO series though. It also makes use of the XMOS XU208 module for its digital interface which assures low jitter clock system and a much improved processing capacity of up to 1000 MIPS. The Burson Max Current Power Supply (MCPS) feature is still here which was also used on the earlier Play model, this assures that the Playmate to “shine from pitch-black background”. Burson Audio also made sure to source top-quality ELNA audio-grade capacitors, Dale military-grade resistors and Toshiba transistors to ensure the circuitry isn’t compromised.

One of the notable features of the Burson Audio Playmate is its ability to be customized according to a user’s sound preference or if you are just the tinkerer type. The Playmate by default comes with the quad Texas Instruments NE5532D op amps and can be configured with Burson Audio’s very own op amps (V6 Vivid Dualx4-$649, V6 Classic Dualx4-$649, V6 Vivid Dualx2 and V6 Classicx2-$749 and the TOTL configuration of V6 Vivid or Classic dualx5 with the Burson Audio Bang-$1,248).
The Burson Audio Playmate came in a glossy black box with red accents, typical trademark Burson Audio colors with the Playmate’s build outline and minor product descriptions and the reassuring 5-year warranty coverage. Inside this very box is a black hard foam cutout where the actual Burson Audio Playmate unit rests. There are 2 black rectangular boxes beside this setup which contains all the other accessories which are as follows:

  • 6.3mm to 3.5mm adapter
  • Allen/Hex screwdriver
  • Power Supply
  • Inside computer plugs,
  • RCA-RCA stereo cable
  • Product Manual
  • Warranty Card
Build quality and Interface

The Playmate comes in either Noir (Black) or Everest (Silver) colors with anodized all-metal build. It is as edgy as can it be since Burson Audio has considered making the Playmate to be integrated in a computer case’s front drive bay panel with dimensions of 210mm x 145mm x 45mm and an approximate weight of 2kg. Despite being designed to fit in a desktop rig’s front drive bay panel, the Playmate still takes into account of it being a separate device from your rig by being an independent device that consumes precious horizontal desk space which is aided by 4 rubber feet on its bottom corners.

Front Panel
The Playmate’s front panel has a much standardized anodized finish that appears glossy and almost plastic-like, once again taking into account being integrated into a computer case’s front drive bay panel which are mostly acrylic glass to show off that “RGB is life”. Speaking of RGB, the Playmate’s lone display panel is a deep purple acrylic display (unconfirmed) which appears black on regular light with blue indicator backlights that displays all the Playmate’s settings (Volume, Input, Output and track playback format/bit rate). I would personally prefer white indicator backlights to match most desktop I/O backlights, small quirks but the Obsessive-compulsive in me kicked in.

Featuring 3 jacks upfront, the 1st being the 6.5mm output jack at the left most side next to a dedicated Mic jack because gaming, remember? Burson Audio opted to include a type-C input jack which supports both Desktop and Mobile OS (Windows, Mac, Android and iOS) systems. 4 Allen/Hex screws are also present with great ease of access in case you would are open to customizing the Playmate’s stock Texas Instruments Operational Amplifier (OP AMP).

Side Panels
Gracing the Playmate’s side panel is a lone feature which is the 2 drive bay screw sockets on each side for the sole purpose of being mounted on that front drive bay panel.

Back Panel
The Playmate’s back panel still features 4 Allen/Hex screws for the body and 3 star screws for keeping both the RCA output jacks and the Optical output jack. The main power ON/OFF switch in the usual red plastic with white marking configuration is also present on the Playmate’s back along with the dual power jacks being either the usual barrel power jack with a dedicated power supply (100-240V AC) or the 12V DC 5A Molex connector for connecting it once mounted into a desktop’s drive bay panel. The combination of an Optical and USB 2.0 Type-B (768 kHz/32bit, Native DSD 64/128/256/512 and DoP64/128/256) for input makes the Playmate ideal for indeed both desktop or drive bay panel use.

Connectivity and Stability

The inclusion of the Mic input on the Burson Audio Playmate automatically places it into a unique category of being an audiophile-grade DAC/AMP/Pre-AMP device that doesn’t alienate gamers and the gaming/streaming community as a whole. It’s ironic though that I wasn’t able to personally try the Mic function as I wasn’t able to secure a dedicate Mic for the Playmate realview, another area of improvement for the page which I’d certainly address and update on this aspect of the Playmate once the Mic comes in.
The USB 2.0 Type-B worked great and immaculate when connected to my MSI GF62 8RE laptop, no issues and connectivity hiccups. It also synced easily when using my type-C OTG cable to either my OnePlus 3T smartphone or with the xDuoo X10tii. The Optical input also worked great when paired to my trusty old PS3 Slim with no issues encountered. The USB-C input port is a whole different story though since it wasn't able to register any type of input from my use of various type-C OTG dedicated cables which worked on other type-C based devices that I have, Burson Audio needs to address this fast.

Sound Quality
Burson Audio's main line of business as far as I've seen and heard from peers are their audiophile components which gets integrated into another audio company's desired implementation making them a capable team-player oriented company right off the bat which suits the "Playmate" namesake for this specific Burson Audio model.

With all that in mind, the Playmate with its ESS SABRE DAC and Texas Instruments OpAmp configuration allowed for a variety of digital filters which are as follows:
  • Brickwall - Maximum flat response (used for the realview)
  • CMFR - Corrected minimum phase fast roll off
  • Reserved - Reserved for future updates
  • AP Fast - default
  • MP Slow - Minimum phase slow roll off
  • MP Fast - Minimum phase fast roll off
  • LP Slow - Linear slow roll off
  • Lp Fast - Linear fast roll off
The Playmate also featured a HI-LOW headphone output gain which worked great in driving IEMs (Tin HIFI T3, CustomArt FIBAE BLACK, Fearless Audio S6Rui, BGVP DM6), earbuds (Shozy BK Stardust and BGVP DX3s) and Headphones (Meze Audio 99 NEO, Sony CD900st and ATH-AD900x) alike which all came out hiss-free. The Playmate also worked seamlessly when paired with my MSI GF62-8RE laptop (Windows10 Home) with the Foobar2000 v1.4 churning out a mixed bag of 16/44, 24/48 FLAC files. I decided to roll with the Meze Audio 99 NEO for the whole realview as it was the one that I found to have complemented well with the Playmate. You can check my Meze Audio NEO realview here for a deeper insight into my own take for it but for an overall take, the 99 NEO's is a smooth sounding warm signature set of headphones.

The Burson Audio Playmate sound is all about being full and engaging with its delivery. I made sure to get the hang of it by using it as my daily driver from binge watching my favorite TV shows to my gaming marathon sessions and in return, the Playmate gave me a clear sounding midrange that is both easy to discern and enjoy, male vocals had lower midrange extension for a full sounding experience while the upper midrange performance was detailed enough. The treble delivery was soft but with great clarity which is absent of sharp peaks and not the type to trigger your choice of IEM, earbud or headphone to be sibilant. I decided to take on the lows at the last part as it was the least notable from the Playmate's most distinct qualities but the one that makes both the midrange and highs to work great. The low frequency performance of the Playmate is done with care, it isn't overpowering but has ample and tight impact delivery and a non-congesting thump, a great foundation implementation for the succeeding frequencies.

Who dares forget about soundstage, imaging and separation for an audio device which supposedly caters to the gaming community where this aspect is of paramount consideration? Burson Audio's Playmate surely does not, while the soundstage performance of the Playmate is aggressively dependent on the output medium of choice, be it a closed setup or open, the Playmate's imaging and separation was on point and distinct. Detailed and clarity is one of the Playmate's strengths.

I'm yet to try OpAmp rolling and hopefully would delve into it sooner than later especially now that I have the xDuoo XD-05 and the Burson Audio Playmate to play with which are great OpAmp rolling companions.

Conclusion
A non-functioning front USB-C output port (for now) plus not including the remote control by default for that lazy ass of mine, pardon me for I've been pampered by my Sony CAS-1 remote setup, are my biggest Playmate discomforts. Everything else about the Playmate is great, from its stellar imaging and separation performance to its full-bodied sound devoid of both hiss when switching gears and off timbre frequencies makes the Burson Audio Playmate a must have for the jack-of-all-master-of-none type of gamers and a solid must-consider DAC/AMP/PreAMP for audiophiles.
Pros: Zero Hiss for any High-End Headphones I tried so far. Super Calm, Relaxing and Organic Sound. Opamp rolling option. Sexy Looking inside Design. Easy to mount inside Tower PC Drive Bay. Perfect for Gaming/Movies/Music. Something NEW!
Cons: Do not shine out of the box, need to wait for burn-in process to complete. Small front Display(not a major issue).User interface could be much better. Too Technical to use the front UI settings for Casual music listeners. Front USB-F doesn't work with my android phones(hoping for an update).
MY REVIEW FOR BURSON PLAYMATE
IMG_20190601_121705.jpg

HEADPHONES GEARS: BEYERDYNAMIC T1, SENNHEISER HD650 sometimes ATH-R70x.

MUSIC SOURCE: TIDAL, FOOBAR(sometimes)
Music Files: High Resolution Audio Files, Flac 16bit/24bit.

FIRFILTER: MP FAST sometimes MP SLOW.


Inputs:
IMG_20190602_222541.jpg
I used the Rear Usb or USB-B Port and connected it to my Gaming System, Motherboard used for this review was Asus Maximus VII Formula and sometimes with my dell e7250.

After months later I decided to write this review for the new CLASS-A Designed BURSON PLAYMATE HEADPHONES AMPLIFIER/PREAMP which is a successor to the BURSON PLAY.

This playmate was sent to me from BURSON Audio for Review purposes.

In this review I’ll only talk about my own personal impression/opinion about this DAC mainly sound quality and how it compares to my class D headphones Amplifiers and they are SB X7 and Xduo Xd0-5(portable) and not goanna go into technical details because it’s easy to find it on head-fi or on bursons own website.

Inside Impressions:
IMG_20190528_220520.jpg
The Basic Look just like Burson Play but different design. Now for the signal chain Burson engineers decided not to use anymore SINGLE OPAMPS but instead using x2 Duals for LP STAGE and HEADPHONE OUTPUT STAGE and x2Duals for I/V STAGE.

Having this for the First time I was really Happy and excited because I never tried PURE CLASS A DESIGNED AMP before.

As far as I know that Class A designed Amp sounds superior compare to Class D.

But I never had a chance to try because I always thought that they gonna sound the same but I was wrong.

I found that playmate is one of the quietest/calmest/blackish Headphone Amp I ever tried for the first time in my life.

Out of the box with Beyerdynamic T1 and with standard op amps (NE5532) set this amp was sounding like nothing but music is playing with complete BLACK Background (zero hiss).

With default op amps everything was so smooth and music playing so nicely that I wasn’t able complain about anything but still felt like something was missing and that was clean "treble" but still it sounded warm and enjoyable but with a bit of muddiness.

After few days later I decided to roll some opamps in it.

Even though I had BURSON V6 Vivids I decided not to use them first because I knew their sound signature so I decided to use SPARKOS SS3602 for this mate.

Sound Quality After upgrading op amps with SS3602:
After few hours of listening I heard changes in SQ with my T1. The "treble" was there just like it should be and "vocals" became even more presence but was lacking smoothness. Nothing to complain about the bass cause didn’t hear any significant difference after upgrading to SS3602 but I wasn’t unhappy because the opamps were brand new and needed more burn-in time.

After 2 weeks later:
I heard more dynamics in sound and more details in sound the "treble" had more weight and with "Beyerdynamic T1" it felt like liquid dropping to my ears.

"Bass" had some extension but still wasn’t really surprised.


With T1 I felt like this headphone don’t really care about "vocal" but more with what’s been playing mainly instruments.


So I switched to HD650 and felt like the Vocal was forward but not to your face and calmer and everything else became less brighter but warmer.


With SS3602 sound was clean but was missing sweetness so I decided to roll op amps and again and this time I went for Burson V6 Vivids .

Sound Quality After upgrading op amps with V6 VIVIDS:
IMG_20190602_213034.jpg

After installing 4 V6 Vivids Dual op amps I felt like sound became less brighter/cleaner but warmer and darker with my T1.

The reason for that probably was because 2 of my vivids dual opamps were brand new so I gave some times for the new op amps to settle down or burn-in for few days inside Mr play mate system.

After few hours later with V6 Vivids:
NO nothing really changed the muddiness was still there. And I wasn’t really disappointed because I tried V6 Vivids before for my SB ZXR and it took almost a month to sound them better.

After few weeks later:
IMG_20190602_213135 (1).jpg

Felt like the sound had more emotions and the "sound stage" became even bigger than before treble became softer and cleaner.


"Bass" Yes this is why I love Vivids so much more because this op amps makes the sounds enjoyable for longer listening while giving the sweetness to the bass. I can listen all day music without having any fatigue while having Vivids in my amps.


"Vocal" had more lively and sweet vibe to the music especially when it comes to female voice nothing was harsh which I felt with SS3602 sometimes.

I think everything sounded smooth and deeply with emotion like music was revived again from the death.


I also felt like that with V6 Vivids there is a bit of coloration in music but that is what helping me to enjoy the music for longer listen. But this might not be good thing for people who just want to listen super flat/neutral based sound without feeling exciting but to listen what exactly was recorded.


Another thing I noticed is that Vivids Sounds a bit Faster than SS3602(maybe I am wrong) but gives more excitement to the music.


Sound Quality After upgrading op amps with V6 CLASSIC:

IMG_20190620_121315.jpg


After receiving the 4 samples of burson classic duals from Burson Audio I decided to try them without mixing with any other op amps on the new burson PlayMate headphone amp.

After a day or two the V6 classic sounded pure Analog to me.


Instruments sounded a bit dried and less fuller than Vivids but vocal sounded clean but not too musical like vivids.


Soundstage was more or less same like vivids yes it was huge.


Instrument separation felt same but bit more revealing than complete Vivids mod and I also heard more micro details with Classic.


Even though playmate is not a revealing headphone amp the V6 classic still did it's job.


After few weeks of trying V6 classic I had a feeling that this op amps are especially made for music producers who needs to hear everything.


I don't know what on bursons website says about this op amps but after trying them on playmate I can say that they have flat and neutral sound signature and less musical than vivids but this opinion is only valid for PlayMate(complete V6 Classic).


Sound Quality After doing V6 mod(Everest):


I felt like instruments had bit more depth and sounded fuller than Complete Classic mod.


Bass sounded original and deep also had bit more extension.


Treble had sweetness and didn't sound flat and harsh.


Vocal sounded warm and smooth and felt someone actually singing.



Soundstage didn't change but the micro details felt like more revealing and well presented like they are part of the song and not hidden details.



Everything felt truly Analog and Musical and Airy with this mod I think I couldn't find anything to complain about this mod.


Now Lets talk about why I like this Amp more than my Class D amps:

Lets talk about Sound Blaster X7, ZXR and xduoo xd05.I had these Amps and Sound Card for more than a year and I was and I am still happy with it’s sound signature because they do the job right.

But After I tried Mr Play Mate Pure Class A amp I found something new, Which is it does not excite you in your face like my "Class D Amps" but slowly to your heart by having a "Calm" and "Colorful" sound with full of "Emotion".

Sound is something that is really Personal and Difficult to explain in words for me but I tried my best to explain it by writing in this review.



More About Play Mate:
IMG_20190602_213216 (2).jpg
After more than a month of use this DAC/AMP (with V6 vivids) I started to understand it’s sound signature and I think I can call it “Warmish” and “Airy” with less “Meat” flavour(less bassy) but with clean liquid and healthy flavour and also with lot of "Vitamins" than any other commercial headphone amps (cheaper amps) and it helps me to cool down while I am listening to music and also let me breath!

In my opinion Play Mate rocks with mostly with “Beyerdynamic” High end Heaphones like T1,DT1770 pro(which I only tried) than “Sennheiser” high end Headphones like HD600,HD650 and HD800/s.


The Sennheiser high end Headphones mostly will be suitable for Tube Amps than solid state amps. How I know this? Well when I switched from Little Dot MKII to PLAY MATE I found HD650 had less “dynamic” less “air” and also less clarity sometimes felt “sweetless” and instrument had less chance to breath easily. The only thing I liked about PM+HD600/650 is “Vocal” it was more presence and a bit forward than my other headphones.

I don’t know anything about Hd800/s because I don’t have it. But once I have it i'll probably write another review about it.


But with PM+T1 everything sounded flawless! I enjoyed everything with this combo! It sounded so perfect that I have nothing to complain about it!

With T1 everything felt “calm” and “relaxed” than any other high-end headphones I ever tried so far. This is the only headphone I tried mostly with Mr Play Mate.I would recommend everyone to buy T1 if they have this amp.


High: is like clean liquid with no harshness! Guitar tones and Cymbals had warm taste and didn’t sound too bright to my ears. There is some weighty feelings to it especially with Beyerdynamic Headphones.


Low: super balanced! Especially with Burson V6 Vivids the bass had more demands and sounded more accurate than any other op amps.


Mids: it’s just perfect! with T1 vocal is not too forward like HD600/650 and super smooth. Female vocal felt really sweet and more enjoyable!


Everyhing felt so well "methodized" and felt so damn"organic" and found no way to tell that I do not like this and that bla bla bla.....

Bugs and Issues:
First thing I have noticed with this play mate is that the front "small display" keeps "flickering" but only where it says "PCM" and I found the "front size" too small to read and need to get too close to the display to read it correctly.


The main issue I had and having now is to get the "Front Usb-F "working. I tried with few android phones but none of them recognize/support play mate as a Usb DAC, I had a feeling that it might work after a firmware update so I went to check on burson website for an update and followed the steps from this page: https://www.bursonaudio.com/burson-playmate-swing-firmware-upgrade/ and so I installed the latest firmware that was released on 15/05/2019. but unfortunately this latest firmware didn't fix the problem my android phone/pc still didn't recognize mr play mate while using Usb Audio Player Pro.


I hope Burson Audio will soon bring a solution to this issues with another firmware update or make special app that will support the front USB type C port.


I also found that the "Emphasis" option is totally unnecessary for this smart DAC, and I didn’t find anything useful when I turned it on only heard rolled off "Treble". I could be really happy to know if burson just remove this option from the setting menu with a firmware update.

Conclusion:
IMG_20190601_115103.jpg
Overall I can say that this is a big improvement DAC over Burson Play and Burson really did an excellent job to bring something new to this generation. With their smart audio engineering they invented something that can surprise you with nothing but with beautiful sound that touches your soul.


Having the option to roll op amps is something that really helps you to realise how much fun you can have by playing with different sound signature.

It’s a device not only made for listening music but also made for casual or hardcore gamers like me. This is a must have DAC/AMP if you enjoy FPS games like FAR CRY 5, the footsteps, guns fire, destruction, Dialogues, water all other Effects in the game sounded breathtaking and genuine.


If only the Burn-in times for the new op amps were not long then it could surprise me out of the box but It still did after few weeks/months later.

Even though it had some Input issues with Android Smart Devices I gave it 5 because It worked flawlessly with my Windows Gaming System and with my dell e7250.


Many thanks to Mr Charles for giving me this opportunity to Review this Smart DAC/Amp called play? No now its called PLAY MATE! Many thanks to him for giving me the time to send this beautiful product from Melbourne, Australia(I will visit someday).
This was my review for now, Thank You for reading........
  • Like
Reactions: musicphotolife
Pros: Great tonal balance across FR
- Great flow and easiness
- Good kick and impact
- Awesome headphone amp section
- Good depth and a wide soundstage
- Awesome features & lots of improvements
- Best price to performance ratio tested in a DAC/Amp category
Cons: Slight muddiness on treble
- Not the cleanest treble response
Burson forges are running hot these past days. The fire just settled down around the Play, Fun and Bang, all released not too long ago, that I still consider them fresh products. In my opinion Play was an amazing all-in-one DAC and headphone amp punching way above its league. However, nothing is perfect and Play had its quirks that I mentioned in my Play review.

Play never really shined with sensitive IEMs, background noise and hum plagued it for all multi-BA IEM users, lack of a gain switch was a real pain and made it almost unusable with IEMs. Not to mention the already dated ES9018 DAC chip and did I mention that it had only one digital input? Common Burson, you can do better than that.

A big surprise came about one month ago when I was greeted with 2 announcements from Burson: a much-needed dedicated DAC – called Swing, that should be a perfect partner for the Fun, and a brand-new product called Playmate, that seems to be replacing the Play.

Burson promises to grant all our wishes with this one, so let’s take a closer look, shall we?



Build Quality

Fit and finish is quite good. Playmate is being offered in a black anodized aluminum case - called Noir or in a raw aluminum case called Everest. I have the noir version; anodized version will likely resist few accidental drops or scratches.

Device itself is pretty small and lightweight, at about 1.5kg and having just 210mm x 145mm x 45mm in size its very easy to integrate into tight spaces and small offices.

The aluminum case works as a giant heatsink so it gets warm at touch after about 20 min of run time, its warm but never hot since the amplification stage doesn’t dissipate as much power and heat compared to an integrated amp for example.



Inputs and Outputs

There are two digital inputs on the back, more exactly an USB type-B, an optical input and on the front, there is a second USB input - Type-C in case your smartphone supports OTG external devices. On the back Playmate can be powered by the external PSU or by your PC PSU (via the 4 pin molex connector), there’s an On/Off switch and a pre-amp output, at about 83 volume Playmate will output around 2 – 2.1 V Rms in case you want to use it as a dedicated DAC.

On the front plate there’s one 1/4” (6.5mm) headphone output, one 1/8” (3.5mm) mic input, an LCD screen, a digitally controlled volume potentiometer and the menu button.



Under the hood

Playmate is again an all-in-one solution not only for audiophiles, but also for the gamers in you.

It has a quite small footprint, as the Play, it can be integrated inside your desktop PC in place of a 5.25” drive bay. You have two options when it comes to powering up the Playmate: using its external SMPS power supply or using a molex connector from your PC power supply. Do note that in case you are powering it with your PC PSU, Playmate will drain 12V and up to 5A of power (roughly 60W at full power), you’ll need a powerful PC PSU, so keep that in mind.

I don’t have a drive bay on my desktop Aurora 7 so I used it as an external device, which I sincerely recommend you doing the same, not because you’ll stress your PC PSU too much, but mostly because you will rule out all electromagnetic fields and interferences inside your PC case. Noise free is the only way to go if you serious about your final result.

Probably one of the most notable changes is the upgraded DAC chip, the veteran ES9018 was used by Burson since Conductor V1 (2012!) until Burson Play (2018!) was replaced by a much newer and much more impressive ES9038 DAC chip. Unfortunately, it is not the PRO version, ES9038Q2M is a mobile version of the famous ES9038PRO. Both are currently benchmarks in terms of commercial made (non-custom) DAC chips around the globe.



On the removable USB card, a powerful USB transporter can the spotted: XMOS XU-208 – I’ve seen this particular chip in much more expensive designs, even my own 1800 USD Matrix X-Sabre Pro is using it, which I find interesting. I didn’t have any hiccups, weird noises, or any interferences using the Playmate via USB, so that is a very good sign in my book.

It is a pleasure to spot the best capacitors in the business, Elna Silmic audio grade caps are literally everywhere, they are most probably used at PSU or noise filtering, since none of them are in the signal path!

Toshiba discrete transistors can also be spotted, Dale military grade transistors…what can I say, Burson didn’t waste a dime designing this interesting piece of audio gear.





As the Play and Fun before it, Playmate is using a Burson made Max Current Power Supply. This proprietary MCPS overcomes the issues of both transformer based linear power supplies and conventional switching power supplies. These MCPS are tuned to work in Class-A for that intoxicating black as night background.

Playmate has four rollable op-amp sockets, I’m having the basic version with four NE5532 dual op-amps, all those four can be changed to your liking, Burson is also offering their own V6 Classic and V6 Vivid flavors. The most pimped-up Playmate is roughly twice the price of the basic version. Want the best? Smash that piggy bank for it!

I’m really glad Burson opted for an LCD screen on the front panel, it not only shows your volume levels, but also your selected output (headphone out or pre-amp out) and your digital stream (PCD or DSD and bitrate). Pushing the small button on the far right enters the menu where lots of setting can be accessed.

Now, I’d like to call out the biggest improvement in terms of ease of use and accessibility Burson made to make it much better.

  1. In that menu you can select 3 digital inputs (YES, 3 – compared to just 1 on the Play), you have your USB type B on the back, USB Type-C on the front panel – in case you want to connect your smartphone via OTG and an optical input – it is God sent, really! You can connect your receiver, your home console, anything you want.
  2. Selectable Gain! On the low gain my IEMs worked like a charm, no noises, no hum, no nothing. Why Play didn’t have this? We’ll never know.
  3. You can select your output: headphone output or pre-amp output. Not a must have setting for me, but what the heck, it’s there and it works.
  4. Selectable digital filters. ESS Technologies implemented on the hardware level few digital filters in their upper range DACs - in case you want to have different sound flavors. Burson was kind enough to implement them in their Playmate for us to play with…I will not list all of them, but I will say that there is a slight sound difference between them, I prefer LP Fast by a small margin and left it as it is for the rest of our tests.
  5. DPLL for DSD and for PCM data streams, the higher this setting is – the higher the jitter rejection will be, it stays on High in the default setting.
  6. Emphasis – this is the only setting I wish Burson never implemented. Nothing is wrong by putting it there, however on default “ON” position, Playmate will cut the treble response by 5dB at 10 kHz and around 8dB at 20 kHz! That is way too much. I know Burson loves that bass and midrange presence a lot, but cutting that treble by 5db can be too much at times. Be warned, this setting Is enabled by default, I recommend switching it off immediately.
All these settings were missing on Play, so thumbs-up for team Burson for keeping their word and implementing all those must-have settings that will make our life easier.

Let’s get to the most interesting part, shall we?



Sound Impressions

I. Big Improvements

First and foremost I would like to mention key aspects where I feel Playmate was much improved compared to Play in terms of usability and sound performance.

1. Playmate can now be used with IEMs - a thing that was almost impossible with the Play.

Playmate has a very convenient gain setting in the OSD menu, putting it on low is a Godsend for every IEM user. You have a much wider volume gap to play with and there is no hum or noise whatsoever. Background noise is nowhere to be found and background seems to be black as night even with multi-driver balanced armatures.

2. Playmate has lower output impedance.

Headphone output impedance was lowered from 8 Ohms to just 2 Ohms or below. I am hearing much more control with my IEMs, bass is no longer flabby with long decays, it is faster and more precise. A lower impedance output improved almost everything, transient response is first on the list and I am happy to hear a clearer image overall compared to Play.

3. Playmate is offering more power for higher impedance headphones.

With your typical low impedance headphones, the difference is negligible between the two. However, for 100 Ohm or higher impedance headphones, Playmate will be offering more juice. I could drive a pair of very inefficient 200 Ohm Audeze LCD-4 with both of them, however with Playmate I have a little bit more headroom and dynamics. More power and dynamics for the same price? Pretty please, I’m all for it.

There are also many smaller improvements that I would like to mention separately.



II. Improvements (without the Big):

Moving on from the old and trusty ES9018 DAC chip to a higher performance ES9038Q2M resulted in serious changes in the overall sound performance.

I always felt that ES9019 is a pretty good chip, but very hard to implement the right way. There are multiple designs where I felt it sounded bright and even fake. That is exactly what I don’t want to hear in my room: Fake midrange and hot treble. To some degree Conductor V1 (the one with the ES9018 inside) was like that.

ES9038 is completely another story, a merrier one. I never heard an ES9038 based design that had fake midrange or very hot treble and that is good thing.

You can screw up an ES9018 based design very easily, but you cannot with an ES9038 inside, it is just much more stable, has a better jitter rejection and doesn’t need as much power filtering (how ES9018 needed).

In my opinion there is a very clear difference in the overall sound performance from Play to Playmate. Playmate sounds even more natural, has a (much) better flow, everything just comes easily towards the listener.

Playmate is the complete opposite of digitus! ES9038 directly impacted the linearity of Playmate since it no longer has a very linear frequency response; it is more on the warmer side of things. Not by much, but there is no denying the warmness I am hearing.

Think of it like a very high-performance tube-based design, if this makes any sense to you. Playmate has still a very solid-state sound, but it also has some flow that you rarely hear on any SS (solid state) designs.

Playmate has a great midrange presence. I am starting with midrange because I feel this is the best part where I think Playmate really shines.

String based instruments have a very mood lifting zing to them, the texture of those notes appears natural and real to me. It was a pure joy listening to any instrument-based recordings.

Voices have slightly longer decays, that make you appreciate those cords vibrations just a little bit more.

Headphones that are lacking in midrange presence will partner great with this Playmate. Even my Sennheiser HD660S that are good but not great in the midrange department shined on Playmate, every point where HD660S lacked was cured by the Playmate, this was a great pairing.

The overall sub-bass and bass performance is very similar to the one on the Play, and that is a good thing.

Playmate has a good sub-bass performance, with the right headphones (Quad ERA-1) I am hearing rumbling deep bass that almost shakes my head. Playing Invisible Sun by The Prodigy at the 00:40 mark a very low 20 Hz note can be heard only on select headphones, sources and amplifiers. Playmate passed the test pretty easily.

On other test tracks by Infected Mushroom I’ve heard multiple bass layers that are always welcomed.

There is an elevation between mid and upper bass, from 80 up to 200 Hz there is a clear emphasis in this area so almost all modern recordings will have a slight bloom. Throw any EDM, Hip-Hop or electronica and Playmate will just shine.

Treble performance is good but not excellent. Unfortunately, the bite I was hearing on Play is not so obvious anymore. Playmate is calmer in this area and upper leading edges cannot be found on Playmate. That is one of the very few things that bothered me a bit.

The second least impressive aspect is that transient response was also affected. By comparison Play sounds a bit faster and hits harder (only on high impedance headphones!)

It’s noticeable especially on cymbals and double drums where Play rendered them just fine, but on Playmate there is a bit of muddiness (or mushiness) as it is not keeping up with double drums.

These are literally the only two things that bothered me when I was evaluating the Playmate.

Do note, I have the Play and Playmate in stock forms, maybe V6 upgraded ones will sound different.

Soundstage size is medium to wide, with Quad ERA-1 and HD660S it sounds wider than Play and on the same level with Fun, I appreciated the wide stage on few classical pieces.

Depth is also good and pretty much in a higher tier league comparing to other devices in the same price range (Matrix Mini-I Pro 2, Gilmore Lite mk2).

Comparisons

Well, as you can see my whole review became a big comparison between the Play and Playmate so it doesn’t make any sense to compare the two anymore from this point on. Bottom line Playmate is much better, go for it instead.



Burson Playmate VS Headamp Gilmore Lite Mk2

Playmate costs 400 USD and Gilmore Lite goes for 500 USD so there’s that, Gilmore Lite also doesn’t have a DAC section, so I call it a fair comparison.

I connected the Gilmore Lite to the Playmate pre-amp output and set the volume at 83 for a 2.1 V output.

First of all, it seems that Playmate has A LOT more power and will drive literally everything, if it drives my LCD-4, then it drives anything you want. Gilmore Lite starts clipping at around 90% volume, sadly it can’t drive my LCD-4.

Playmate has a warmer sound signature that stays on the safer side on things, you can hook it up with a wider range of headphones.

Gilmore Lite is basically a wire with gain, it almost disappears from your audio chain, if you don’t like your headphones, Gilmore Lite will make them even worse. On the other side, Gilmore Lite will sound truer to life and to the recording, it is truly a reference single ended headphone amp. It is so linear that most of the time you will hear your source and your headphones and not a coloration induced by the amp.

Gilmore Lite also has a faster transient response, it’s always nimble and light on feet, for faster music Gilmore wins most of the times.

Now, in terms of tonal balance and overall enjoyment levels I would say Playmate is better and a smile will appear more often with it. Gilmore Lite can be boring sometimes, especially if the listening music is also boring and un-engaging.

For Gilmore Lite you will need a separate DAC box, so keep that in mind.

There is no point in comparing the Playmate with a Matrix Mini-I Pro 2 since I think the later one can’t properly drive full-sized headphones and doesn’t have a real and well-designed headphone output.



Conclusions

All my requests that I urged Burson to make with their Play and many other requests were carefully listened. This is how you are listening to the community and make a logical move, well done team Burson.

I think at this very moment Playmate doesn’t have a real competitor that can drive literally every headphone you throw at it, offer multiple digital inputs, selectable filters or many other features.

For a simple desktop solution used to play music, recording or gaming Burson Playmate seems to be my top pick for 2019. It was very impressive with all my headphones and IEMs.

PROS:
  • Great tonal balance across FR
  • Great flow and easiness
  • Good kick and impact
  • Awesome headphone amp section
  • Good depth and a wide soundstage
  • Awesome features & lots of improvements
  • Best price to performance ratio tested in a DAC/Amp category
CONS:
  • Slight muddiness on treble
  • Not the cleanest treble response
Associated Equipment
  • Headphones: Audeze LCD-4, Quad ERA-1, Sennheiser HD660S, Momentum 2, FiiO FA7, FH5
  • DAC: Matrix X-Sabre Pro with X-SPDIF 2, Matrix Mini-I Pro 2, Burson Play, Burson Playmate
  • Headphone Amps: HeadAmp Gilmore Lite Mk2, Burson Play, Burson Playmate
  • Speakers: KEF LS50W
  • Cables: QED Reference, Burson Cable+ PRO, Audioquest & Kimber interconnects
  • Like
Reactions: Kommando
Onik
Onik
You said in your review that you can connect your smartphone on the usb-F but I tried my brand new Razer Phone 2 with it and this phone don’t recognise play m8.
Pros: Big power,.
Excellent dac with pro settings.
Low and high gain.
Hiss-free background.
Cons: Tiny display.
Steep price jump for higher versions.
This is a review of the Playmate, Burson Audio's newest 2W PC Class A headphone amp / pre-amp / dac featuring ESS Sabre latest ES9038Q2M dac chip. The unit has been borrowed to me by a courtesy of a fellow HeadFier in exchange for an honest review.

IMG_0249.jpg


Some eighth months ago, I have reviewed the Play headphone amp/dac/pre-amp combo and was impressed by the Play's powerful and clean current delivery, punchy and well articulated bass and smooth mids. IMO the Play played particularly well with all the Senns I paired it with.
While I liked the sound, I have noted some entries in the wish list, like:
Switchable gain, separation of HP out and Pre-amp out, choice of filter settings, support of higher resolutions when using the software upsamling and less hiss with the sensitive earphones.
Well, with the new Playmate, the Burson team has ticked all the boxes. Absolutely all users' wishes seemed to be considered and implemented now.

IMG_0250.jpg


The Playmate delivers 2W on 32Ohms and 100mW on 300Ohms, which is more than enough for any of the headphones I was testing it with. There is a switchable gain, low and high, and high gain doesn't go so loud as previously with the Play, enabling far better volume range. The output impedance seems to be much lower now, less than 2 Ohms. ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M offers a resolution of up to 768kHz / 32 bits and plays native DSD512.
The basic version featuring 4 X NE5532 op-amps costs $399 and comes without a remote control.
There are upgrade options with either full set of V6 Vivids or V6 Classics, including a remote which cost $649, and one de luxe version in Everest metallic finish with a mix of 2 Vivids and 2 Classics which goes even higher, it sells for $749. It seems to me like quite steep price jump going from $399 - 649 - 749, almost double for the top of the range version.
The latest Sabre dac chip offers a myriad settings. Some of them like the DPLL I have no clue what are they doing. I have also found that the Playmate sounds much more neutral with the de-emphasis turned off. The most interesting setting is for sure the filter menu, where you can tailor the sound to your own preferences. After some switching back and forth, I have found my favorite sound setting using the MP Fast for the Redbook files and MP Slow for high resolution content.
A welcome feature is also a switchable output between the headphone out and the line out, While with the Play I couldn't go higher than 50 with the full line out of 2V, with the Playmate it is about 80-82 for the same voltage.
There is also a display on the front which is rather small, but at least it allows you to read the infos and change the settings accurately.

IMG_0252.jpg


How does it sound:
While I was not quite happy with the steep price jump using the V6 op-amps, I was very happy to find out that the Playmate performs excellent in its basic setup. With the basic Play I always had a feeling that it could perform better using better op-amps, which finally it did, but with the Playmate I don't have such an urge for an upgrade. The Playmate sounds very natural, smooth and with far less sharp treble than the Play, which could be addressed to the latest dac chip. Everything has roundness and smoothness, the sound has some warmth without sounding muddy and the soundstage is quite respectable. Different filter settings do affect the soundstage and the transients, so there is a plenty potential to fine tune the sound.
I have used a variety of double bass, stringed and plucked bass music from jazz, over Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd to the orchestral music, especially the Mahler's symphonies and was quite impressed with the clean and articulate low and sub-bass delivery.
The mids were very smooth, detailed and vibrant, you could feel the tiniest reverberations around each instrument. The treble is much smoother and less sharp than with the Play, especially when using the MP slow filter. Also the default AP filter sounded much more rounded and smooth compared to the mostly used LP fast, which was also used in the Play.

Is it worth going from the Play to the Playmate? IMO, absolutely. There are not only cosmetic changes but substantial ones. I don't quite like very tiny display and very steep price jump for the upgraded versions, but I am very happy with the Basic Playmate, which could be the Mate to Play for many years to come. Actually at this point I feel like not giving it back easily, I would rather keep it for little longer. A year or two maybe :).

IMG_0256.jpg
  • Like
Reactions: DjBobby
Pros: Strong Build & Design, Superb Class A amp, Transparent, Great Sabre DAC
Cons: Lacks Balanced Setup, High end Headphone users might be disappointed. Stock NE5532 op-amp is definitely not great sounding.
Burson Audio is a well-known Australian brand who make amp’s and DAC’s. I came to know about them through their amp – Soloist, which was quite popular back in the day. Burson have recently releasing many budget friendly desktop devices recently, and Playmate is their latest offering. I’m posting my initial impressions on the same.

As always, I write my reviews to be understood by common public and not using overly technical terms. After all, Music should be enjoyable for all. After Burson Play which is an excellent value for the money amp/dac at 200$, ‘Playmate’ is a higher end ESS9038 Sabre powered 32bit/768khz DAC with a powerful class A headphone amplifier with 2 watts per channel power and is priced at 400$.

IMG_20190202_103635887.jpg


I really like Burson’s design philosophy when it comes to making amp’s. They always try to leave maximum customization at consumer’s end. For example - we can easily take off the top lid to access the circuit board and play around with the op-amps. One major advantage Playmate has for Gamers or those into serious PC building – The playmate can be fitted into CPU chassis just like a DVD writer, and a power cable is included in the box for motherboard connection. Playmate includes other modern features like OTG support, digitalized volume control, a mini display unit with hardware menu. A microphone input is given in the front, useful for Gamers.

Built quality is excellent. By build or design I don’t mean the simply smooth finished fancy CNC cases, but rather the components used or soldered the PCB quality, and the awesome power supply unit (PSU) quality, which has very low noise output – Burson calls it the MCPS and has 12V/5A rating.

Full specs are as follows:

Input impedance: 38 KOhms
Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 – 35Khz
THD: <0.002%
Output impedance (Head Amp): <2 Ohm
Output impedance (Pre Out): 15 Ohm
Inputs: USB, Toslink
Outputs: RCA Pre-Amp / Headphone Jack
Power (Headphone Jack)
16 Ohm - 1.8W
32 Ohm - 2W
100 Ohm- 0.5W
150 Ohm - 3W
300 Ohm - 0.1W

DAC Spec
Channel Separation: 132dB@1KHz, 121dB@20KHz
Mobile OS: iOS & Android (OTG support)
PCM & DXD Support: PCM 32Bits/768kHz
Native DSD: Native DSD 64 / 128 / 256 / 512
DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256

Playmate has a modern design, functional digital Menu option which includes

1) High/Low Gain – Most studio Headphones need high gain setting to run comfortably

2) Output: Headphones or Line – Line out is powerful 2vrms. Volume control enabled.

3) Jitter Elimination – Offers 3 settings Low/Mid/High, with 'Low' offers lowest jitter but risking unlocking the DAC.

4) Filters of ESS9038 – There are few hardware filters which slightly change the final sound signature.
  • BRICKWALL - Maximum flat response.
  • CMFR - Corrected minimum phase fast roll off.
  • RESERVED - Reserved for future updates.
  • AP FAST (default)
  • MP SLOW - Minimum phase slow roll off.
  • MP FAST - Minimum phase fast roll off.
  • LP SLOW - Linear slow roll off.
  • LP FAST - Linear fast roll off
Details on frequency response can be read in ESS’s website and datasheet.

As for the Sound Quality, I would say its very good, considering the price range of 400$. I remember few years ago when around that price, we could buy a modest mid-range amp/dac, but in recent months, I like the fact that manufacturers are getting more competitive and offer significantly more sound quality and features for the same given price range, with major improvements in semi-conductor design and implementation.

IMG_20190202_141628465.jpg


Playmate ships with 4x NE5532 by default, which kind of sound okay-ish, but definitely need swapping out. I tried out the old V5 and V5i op-amps I had with me, and the change they bring about in the sound quality is amazing. I have a lovely pair of K812 and they sound detailed, airy and transparent. There is absolutely no audible noise or distortion. I feel my K812’s are very well driven by playmate, thanks to the powerful amping. An amplifier should amplify the sound signals and deliver them to headphones without loss in transparency or sound quality, and the playmate excels!

IMG_20190202_141731307.jpg


The only thing I miss in the playmate would be the lack of balanced config, since it’s quite popular amongst audiophile and known that balanced setup offers better SQ, specifically the channel separation. There are quite few devices which offer balanced output around this price range. Overall, a very capable device, but I will try to unleash its full potential by getting my hands on the V6 op-amps. These are my initial impressions, will update on full review once I receive the V6 op-amps.
Pros: Powerful, detailed, clear, neutral and also warmish sound. Matches all the headphones with ease, no matter their impedance on sensitivity, including my 16 Ohms 103dB/mW IEMs.
Cons: The beautiful and shiny aluminium case could get scratched, so some additional care is needed, especially if placing heavy headphones with metallic parts on top.
PACKAGING:

Like usually, Burson Audio takes perfect care on ensuring the best protection for their audio device during the transportation. PLAYMATE was nicely packed into a double-case package, the inner case being filled with protective foam inside.

The power supply and the accessories pack (6.3mm jack, torx screwdriver, inside computer plugs, RCA-RCA stereo cable) are packed into different smaller cases.

I will not upload any package pics here, as other headfiers already did that, but simply put: a well-made sturdy package the doesn’t weights a lot.


LOOK & FEEL:

PLAYMATE looks very good, with it’s silver shiny aluminium case. I always felt that black anodised aluminium it’s the perfect “color” for my taste, but now I realised that PLAYMATE’s case looks better in shiny-silver than in black.

The look, dimensions and weight are very similar with the former PLAY combo, just a new small button and the nice LCD on front, also the optical input on the backside.

Design is simple and straight forward, attached pictures should be self-explaining. Just to realise its size and its beautiful look, I placed it on top of my Conductor Virtuoso 2+.


AdobePhotoshopExpress_13fdd96cb27d47ddb410589951b9cfc4.jpg

AdobePhotoshopExpress_c6ad91898ef14e5aa56de6516e4e281f.jpg


FUNCTIONALITY:

I was able to use the default operating system drivers on Windows 10 and Mac OS Sierra/High Sierra/Mojave, but I've also used the driver provided by Burson as well. I had no issue with installing drivers and process went flawless. Actually, I had installed on the same computer PLAY, PLAYMATE and Conductor, all playing at the same time by using different drivers and audio players and not even a hiccup or latency were observed on none of the three DACs, no matter if I played from Wi-Fi network or from the local disc, ASIO, WASAPI or Kernel Streaming. This is a very good thing, because good drivers and operating stability is a very important aspect from an audio equipment.

All type of files I had in my computers worked flawless: FLAC, ALAC, DSD64/128/256 (native decoding) and, of course, MP3. Not a hiccup or latency while seeking through songs, no matter I was using Burson ASIO, ASIO4ALL or WASAPI, under both Foobar and jRiver applications.

The volume can be adjusted from the big rotary knob in 100 levels. Pressing it will also make PLAYMATE to mute. The rotary knob also alters RCA output volume, not just the headphones out, making PLAYMATE to work as a preamp.

Input sources are selected from the main menu, by pressing the small rounded button from the front panel, on the right of the rotary knob. From the same button we can switch from RCA to Headphones output, but we can also change the digital filter and all other setting from the main menu, per the datasheet.

The included 6.3mm to 3.5mm jack adapter will help in connecting all kind of non-balanced headphones and the RCA-RCA cable, of a very good quality, will connect the PLAYMATE combo to an external power or headphones amplifier. The front USB-C could be used to connect mobile devices, via dedicated OTG cables. The front 3.5mm jack can be used to connect an external microphone, so PLAYMATE can be actually used inside or outside your desktop computer’s case and having the same functionalities as a computer soundcard, just a better sound quality and a much more powerful built-in amplifier.

In conjunction with Burson BANG and a low-noise computer power supply, PLAYMATE can make your desktop computer an all-in-one audiophile solution, a space saving solution as well. All you need to take care of is a really good power supply, some space left under the BANG for cooling and a very good “positive pressure” ventilation inside computer’s case.


INTERNAL PARTS, BUILD QUALITY

First of all I’d like to say that I’m thrilled when I see no opamps and no capacitors in signal path. Of course, I’m referring to PLAYMATE versions with solid-state “opamps” inside, like V5 or V6. When opamps are so cheap you need to have lot of guts to do that, and all of these just to get the best output sound. Also, lacking capacitors from signal path makes a frequency flat combo, with not even one “drop” of roll-off on the low-end (10-20 Hz bass)

WP_20190227_07_58_09_Pro.jpg

PLAYMATE share a similar USB transport card with PLAY: identical XMOS U208 chip, the USB hub chip powered from the internal low-noise (LT1085) +5V linear regulator and not from computer's USB port. I see two added LEDs that show us the state of the USB transport card: one LED lights up when connected to th USB port and the other LED when music starts playing. firmware can be future upgradable via the 3 volts 4Mb 25P40VP serial flash memory: M25P40 Serial Flash Embedded Memory - Micron Technology, Inc.

WP_20190227_07_58_25_Pro.jpg


There’s an additional USB hub on the USB transport card: 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.

The chip responsible with the digital to analogue decoding is ES9038C2M, that is 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 129dB and a THD+N of -120dB. It has also a 32-bit 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. The DAC chip is powered from a dedicated LT1085 low-dropout & low-noise linear regulator, 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).

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:


POWER SUPPLY:

PLAYMATE has powerful 65W/12V low-noise SMPS power adapter, similar in size with a laptop adapter. Even the power plug might be similar with one from a laptop’s power adapter, we should never try to connect a laptop adapter into the PLAYMATE, because of different voltages involved (laptops work around 19-22V)!


There are five low-noise boost-regulators inside the PLAYMATE, dedicated for digital and analogue electronic circuits inside: XL6007 for the positive rails and TPS5430 for the negative rails. Separating digital and analogue power rails will lower the background noise, increase the dynamics and minimize interference from the digital parts, like volume control or relays coils. Also, worth mentioning that the DAC chip and the USB transport are powered from two dedicated linear low-noise regulators.


AMPLIFIER:

Output stage is created around the powerful Toshiba 2SA1930/2SC5171 complementary bi-polar transistors, two pairs for each channel. The Class-A biasing is done via Toshiba 2SA1930/2SC5171 transistors, kept tight together to have same temperature. The output transistors are having an absolute maximum operating power of 20 Watts each for heatsink temperature lower than 25C, so driving headphones will be piece a cake for them, as long as we’re not speaking about headphones needing more than 2W/32 Ohms. All the output transistors are connected to the bottom aluminium base via normal screws, so heat dissipation from the output stage is done on the bottom. Output DC-voltage is very low and it’s backed-up by a dedicated protection circuit (UPC1237HA) on the output jack to protect the headphones if wrong op-amps are installed/swapped or in case of defects that could possible inject DC-voltage on outputs. However, keep in mind to not connect/disconnect your headphones when music is playing! This could cause damage to the inside amplifier (same applies to all stereo jack plugs).

WP_20190227_07_59_11_Pro.jpg

Polymer polarised long life and high quality Japanese ELNA capacitors and metalized Dale resistors can be seen across the board, to further minimize the output noise on signal path, but also to further lower power AC ripple.

WP_20190227_08_01_00_Pro.jpg
WP_20190227_08_01_30_Pro.jpg

The internal gain switchable from the main menu via the rotary knob and the LCD panel can be adjusted in two positions: Low and High.

On the Headphones-Out:
- High-Gain has a max. output voltage of 10V RMS
- Low-Gain the max. voltage will be 1.05V RMS

For the RCA plugs:
- High-Gain has an output of 5.3V RMS
- Low-Gain the max. output voltage will be 530mV RMS

Given the high RMS voltage for the High-Gain on the RCA plugs, this makes the PLAYMATE having an outstanding dynamic range for a non-balanced audio equipment, of course, if your amplifier is able to accept such a high input voltage of 5.3V RMS. Otherwise, please stick with a volume setting of 82% on the High-Gain, where the 2V RMS will be achieved (tested with 1KHz 0dB sinewave).

Notice: If unsure of the max. input voltage of your external amplifier, just stick to a max. of 82% volume setting when connecting an external amplifier, just to be sure you'll not drive your amplifier into clipping or damage its input stage! Of course, when switching PLAYMATE from Pre-Out to Headphones-Output, ensure that no headphones are connected, because 82% volume setting will most likely damage your ears and headphones! So first lower the volume, then switch from Pre-Out to Headphones-Out, for your own safety.

Headphones, but also the output stage transistors are protected by an output relay that gets activated in case of high-DC voltage (usually if a defect appears). If something gets defective inside, the relay will not let any DC-voltage passing onto the headphones.


HOW DOES IT SOUNDS?

After few dozens of hours of burn-in (not a must, but still recommended) I did a listening test, because I want it to hear how the bass sounds on the new PLAYMATE, compared with PLAY and Conductor Virtuoso 2+ (CV2+). After all, these three audio devices are sharing a similar output stage done by eight identical powerful transistors, only differences consisting in higher voltage rails provided by a high-end PSU and a dedicated preamplifier with digital volume control inside the CV2+. With my A/B testing device, after a careful output power match done with my oscilloscope, it was difficult to impossible to find a clear winner between the three devices. I was alternating Hifiman HE-560 and Fostex T50RP-mk3 planars and tried to identify the best low-end impact and quality, but I couldn't; it was simply tie, because all the three were sounding the same to my ears, with great impact, lot of kick, exactly like a subwoofer does when it's added into a room.

Beside my regular test tracks from Chesky and several other Jazz songs (with lot of micro-details inside), I had tested PLAYMATE for the bass and sub-bass with:

Various Artists - Bar 25 - Greatest Hits

Dirty Doering - I Would (Edit)
Marcus Meinhardt - Endjoy
Benno Blome, Rachele - Go Loose (M.In & Chriss Vogt Remix)
Animal Trainer - Wunderland
Philip Bader, Nico Stojan - Rootsa
Niconé, Sascha Braemer - Thänk You (Radio Edit)

For identifying the best soundstage from the three devices above I choose songs with more voices, women and male, to cover the midrange better, but also with instruments. When using Everest opamps (SS V6 Classic and vivid) instead of the default NE5532 I got an increase in soundstage and voices accuracy, it's like you got a step in front, more close to the stage. I find Everest opamp combination as being very good for classic music, jazz, rythm & blues. Chesky drums tests was sounding on Everest like placing the listener inside the recording room, with extreme accuracy and soundstage, all the details abounding into the ears. I assume the micro-details I hear are coming from the Vivid solid-state opamps that are acting as Low-Pass filter and headphones Voltage amplification inside the PLAYMATE. In micro-details and soundstage I an inclined to give my vote to PLAYMATE Everest, while PLAYMATE Basic is sounding about the same with PLAY and CV2+ on all songs tested.

While Conductor Virtuoso has a lower THD figure, this was not actually felt by my ears during A/B tests, so most likely headphones THD was more important here than DAC/headamp's THD. Between the three combos, the best price/performance and price/features ratios are making PLAYMATE Basic a winner for IEM's or very sensitive headphones (high SPL dB/mW), and for high impedance headphones and planars PLAYMATE Everest is the winner, given the match lower price vs. the CV2+.

Worth mentioning that PLAYMATE Basic combination has a lower background noise vs. Everest and if using very sensitive IEMs (16-20 Ohms, >100 dB/mW or >115dB/V) perhaps Basic might fit you better. Also, Everest is having a lower background noise then Conductor Virtuoso 2+, while PLAYMATE Basic has a lower background noise than PLAY. Hope that helps for those looking for a DAC/headamp combo for sensitive headphones.

Bottom of line, soundstage is very good with a great separation of instruments and voices. Overall sound is non fatiguing, a tad on the warm side perhaps (per my liking) but completely neutral.

Several digital filters are built-into the PLAYMATE DAC section (inside the ES9038 chip), to better accommodate our ears to the most pleasant sound we might like. How PLAYMATE measures, based on the different filters settings, could be read here: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/new...hangeable-opamps.894619/page-15#post-14782397.

Headphones used for the listening test:
- AKG K550
- AKG K701
- Beats Solo2
- Beyerdynamic DT880 (600 Ohms)
- FOSTEX T50RP-mk3
- FOSTEX T60RP
- Grado SR60i
- Hifiman HE-560
- SUPERLUX HD381F

Opamps used for the above tests:
- NE5532P
- JRC2114D
- LME49720
- MUSES 01/02/8920/8820
- SS V5
- SS V6 Classic & Vivid

MEASUREMENTS:

Maximum temperature readings measured with IR thermometer (22-23C room temp.) after several hours of intensive listening:
Top case: between 36-38 C
Bottom case: 39-40 C
Power supply: 33 C
IV: 72C
LPF/Gain: 69 C
XMOS chip: 57 C
PCB components: < 50C
Power regulators: < 50C
Output transistors: < 50C

Linearity starts bending visible at 0.00002mV (around -94dBV), then at around 0.000012mV (around -98.5dBV) it starts bending enough to consider the above voltage as being the lowest one accurately represented by this audio equipment.

PLAYMATE-Linearity-98.5dBV.png

Second and third harmonics are located somewhere around -100dB away from the fundamental, which makes them impossible to get listened by audience. Background noise is very low and makes it really hard to identify it with my sensitive 103dB/mW (121dB/V) 16 Ohms IEMs.

PLAYMATE_THD_1KHz_EMPH-ON.png

THD seems the be around 0.00187% @1KHz, a bit lower than manufacturer states. Between 70Hz and 2KHz THD is somewhere around 0.002%, then increases slowly, depending on the frequency.

JITTER.png

Jitter


PLAYMATE_before_clipping_98volume.png

Max. output voltage in 600 Ohms (before clipping)


PLAYMATE_noise.png

PLAYMATE noise (max. 59uV RMS)


PLAYMATE-THD_over_Frequency.png

THD vs. Frequency

PRO:

Powerful, detailed, clear, neutral and also warmish sound.

Matches all the headphones with ease, no matter their impedance on sensitivity. Even it’s such a powerful headphone amplifier, I can comfortable listen to very sensitive IEMs (16 Ohms, 103dB) with a volume level between 15-25%, because of the way the built-in digital volume operates, more like a logarithmic volume potentiometer, but without the channel imbalance on low-volume and without the scratchy noises that might occur during the time on the analogue potentiometers. Switching to HE-560 planar cans will make me increase the volume rotary knob somewhere between 50-70%, depending on the music and my mood.


CON:

The beautiful and shiny aluminium case could get scratched, so some additional care is needed, especially if placing heavy headphones with metallic parts on top.

The EVEREST opamps combination (Classics in I/V and Vivids in LPF/Amplifier-gain) might "sound" too expensive for some, but with these opamps I got the best soundscene possible, musicality and microdetails. However, LME49720 in I/V combined with NE5532 in LPF/Headamp-gain worked like a charm for me too, punchy powerful bass and lot of microdetails. Nevertheless, with 4 x NE5532 from the BASIC version, sound is perfectly neutral and without background noise.

Note: The 8KHz spikes are generated by my measurement ADC (ASUS U7); sometimes it's simply there and I can't get rid of it, so the THD+N is also a bit higher due to this fact.
Pros: Great dac, with many adjustable settings.
Powerful headphone class A headphone amp.
Switchable hp out / pre-amp out.
Wide concert hall soundstage.
Cons: Fonts on the menu screen too small.
Online manual very sparse.
Playmate 3.jpg


After reviewing previously the Play, Fun and Bang trilogy by the Burson Audio Company, they sent me their latest headphone amp / preamp / dac called Playmate, in exchange for an honest review. The Playmate is intended to be strongly upgraded version of the Play, where Burson listened and reacted to the wishes of the users community. I am actually impressed that the Burson ticked all the boxes on my Play's wish list, and implemented so many substantial modifications.

I would rather skip the specs which you can read on Burson‘s website: https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate/

Here are main changes, modifications and upgrades from Playmate‘s predecessor:

- three digital inputs instead of one: two usb inputs on the front and back + optical
- switchable headphone and preamp-out
- two gain stages. There is a new low gain setting which is perfect for sensitive IEMs. The high gain is also much better implemented, the volume control being much better spread, not so steep as with the Play.
- latest ESS Sabre dac chip ES9038q2m + newer XMOS usb controller offering the resolution of up to 32bits / 768kHz for PCM and 512 for native DSD.
- adjustable dac settings, including choice of the filters, dpll settings and de-emphasis.
- updated, dead silent power supply. Gone is the slight hissing and PSU noise with the sensitive headphones, now exchanged for dead black background.
- lower output impedance.

Playmate 2.jpg


The Playmate has the same appearance as the Play, Fun and Bang, making it perfectly stackable with other Burson units on the desktop, although Burson‘s main idea was rather to fit it in the PC tower, making it interesting for the gamers. There is a microphone input included. The front plate is quite good looking, made from a brushed aluminium, the rest of the case is rather simple and industrial looking.

The first and most welcome feature is the inclusion of a two gain stage. While the previous Play was rarely usable from the volume 50% and up having too high gain, now the Playmate allows you to use a much wider scale for the volume control. Also there is new a real preamp-out with much lower and better usable voltage. The Play had very high voltage, if you wanted to get a standard 2V over RCA you had to set the volume to only around 48 / 49 %. Now with the Playmate there is lower voltage on the preamp output which allows for going much higher up with the volume. Also the Play had the headphone amp and preamp running at the same time. That was not so ideal in case you wanted to use the Play as a pre-amp and forgetting to unplug your headphones. With the pre-amp and headphone out being separated and switchable, it got much safer.

The standard version comes with 4 x NE5532 dual op-amps, wich can be upgraded by either Burson‘s V6 Vivids or V6 Classics, or a combination of both.
For $399 for the basic version with NE5532s you get a 2W on 32Ohm and 100mW on 300Ohm of clean power, latest ESS dac chip and highly adjustable menu, but not the remote control. The remote control is included only with the higher versions of the Playmate.

Playmate 1.jpg


The manual can be downloaded on Burson‘s website and there comes my first criticism: it is too sparse and almost cryptic. Some more explanations about the effects of different settings for less experienced users would be much welcome.

Here is what it reads:

INPUT: USB-F /USB-B* / OPT

OUTPUT: HEADPHONE* / PRE OUT

HP OUTPUT: HIGH* / LOW

FIR FILTER: BRICKWALL / CMFR / RESERVED/ AP FAST* / MP SLOW/ MP FAST/

LP SLOW/ LP FAST

DPLL (DSD): DPLL OFF / LOW / MID / HI*

DPLL (PCM): DPLL OFF / LOW / MID / HI*

DE-EMPHASIS: ON* / OFF

RESTORE SETTINGS: YES / NO

  • Default selection marked with*

All the menu settings appear on the new screen, where my second criticism point comes: it is on the small side. The volume level digits are the only easily readable on the screen, all other menu fonts much less so.

While the experienced users will be very happy to tweak the sound to their preferences, some other might be lost with this cryptic code names, leaving the Playmate on default settings, which in my opinion would be a mistake.

Let‘s start witht the choice of the filters, and how I understand them:

  • BRICKWALL - as the name says. One of the oldest filters around.
  • CMFR - Corrected minimum phase fast roll-off, also known as Hybrid.
  • RESERVED - ESS datasheet states only reserved, probably for the future firmware updates.
  • AP FAST (default) - Apodizing linear fast roll-off.
  • MP SLOW - Minimum phase slow roll-off.
  • MP FAST - Minimum phase fast roll-off.
  • LP SLOW - Linear slow roll-off.
  • LP FAST - Linear fast roll-off - standard filter used in most CD players.

You can read more about single filter characteristics on pages 55 - 58. of the ES9038 data sheet: http://file2.dzsc.com/product/18/05/25/829029_170233543.pdf

I wish the Burson would include few more lines explaining the filter charasteristics. In the meantime, according to my subjective listening tests, the default filter AP fast was definitely not my preferred filter, actually it was quite back on my list. You might find one or another filter sounding better, kudos to Burson for leaving this choice to the listener.

The next setting called DPLL regulates different bandwidth limiting and jitter rejection ratio to dac locking capabilities. Although you can find more about it in the web, some more information about it in the manual would be more welcome. Generally, lower the DPLL higher the jitter rejection, but higher the risk of dac unlocking. Changing the DPLL setting might effect the sound quality.

Now most intriguing setting is the de-emphasis and the question is why is default setting ON. There is small percentage of CDs mostly classical, from the earliest days of the CD production, which were recorded with the pre-emphasis. The pre-emphasis is comparable to the RIAA equalization, or earliest Dolby, where the recording were made with elevated treble to fight the background noise. During the playback de-emphasis would be applied, bringing the treble and the hiss down. While most CD players have automatic de-emphasis detection, the trouble is with the ripped FLACs, because the USB does not transmit the emphasis flag. The recordings made with the pre-emphasis would therefore sound horrible with aggressive treble if not de-emphasised. Some dacs offer automatic de-emphasis detection but only through the SPDIF, it doesn't work through the USB. For such recordings, the Playmate offers manual de-emphasis - assuming that you know if the recording is made with the pre-emphasis or not. If your recording sounds terrible, you might try the de-emphasis. But since over 90% of the recordings are made without the pre-emphasis, this setting IMO should be by default on OFF. If you leave this setting on default ON, you might end up with rolled-off treble and mudded sound.

Burson 4.jpg


How does the Playmate sound:

I have tested the Playmate as a preamp connected to the Bang and also as a headphone amp using AKG K701, Senns HD650 and Beyers T90.

The Playmate features huge soundstage with great instrument separation. Transparent, effortless, mellow and without any glare so common to other Sabre implementation. I am writing about the implementation and not about the dac chip itself, because I have heard horrible sounding ES9038s and spectacular sounding ES9038s, depending how well was it implemented. The treble is sparkling and fresh but not harsh, the mids are very expressive and the bass well defined and punchy. There is a slight sibilance when listened cold out of the box, which diminishes when the unit is properly warmed up. Listening to Dvorak Symphony „From the New World“ with Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony, there were so many micro-details that made me rediscovering the old recording over and over again. Listening to Martha Argerich playing Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto, brought one of the most realistic piano sound I ever heard, with natural and warm decays. Listening to the album Blue Train by John Coltrane in hi-rez 24/192 made the band appear almost holographic in the room. The overall sound is on very neutral side.

Burson 5.jpg


The Playmate sounds a way above it's look. If packed in some fancy high-end looking box and with somewhat better user interface, it could easily sell for triple the price. I am pleasantly surprised how well the Burson techs listened and responded to the customers wishes.
From my previous experience with the V6 op-amps I know there is even more potential there for an improvement, and my next step would be upgrading it with the V6 Classics.

My main criticism is the sparse manual, something which could be easily corrected since it is offered online as pdf. The second point is the screen being too small, unless you have the eagle eyes. All this is easily forgotten once you get to the sound. Once carefully adjusted, the Playmate plays or rather sings in the high-end league.

All criticism notwithstanding, it is still a great bargain. Another great one by Burson.
Pros: Great separation and detail, high-resolution sound, rich in nuances and transparency.
- Power the virtues of connected headphones.
- Two gain modes, facilitates volume accuracy and reduces background noise.
- Level of construction, quality of materials used.
- Used proprietary technology (MCPS).
- Quality accessories.
- ESS9038 Sabre DAC with several filters implemented.
Cons: The remote control is not supplied as standard.
- When it is turned on, the volume is reduced. Any change in the options attenuates the volume.
- OpAmps installed in the most economical option are very basic (NE5532).
Playmate 01.jpg


Purchase link:


https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/playmate/

Introduction:

Burson Playmate is a headphone amplifier, pre-amplifier and DAC. It is capable of delivering 2W at 32 Ω. It uses the DAC Sabre 9030, is able to decode DSD 512 and is compatible with Windows. IOS, OSX and Android.

One of the main features of this amplifier is the power supply used by Burson Audio: the Max Current Power Supply (MCPS), totally designed to reduce the problems related to the transformation of AC to DC. First, Burson has eliminated the use of transformers, to eliminate the impedance they imply, and has replaced them with transistors, achieving an impedance of less than 1 ohm. This means that all the necessary current can be delivered instantaneously.

Playmate 02.jpg Playmate 03.jpg

The other problem associated with power supplies is noise. Power supplies convert 50-60 Hz AC to DC. Burson increases the working frequency to 170kHz in order to prevent the noise from being audible or interfering in any way with the final sound. Thus, the final result is a more dynamic and precise sound, which can reveal more micro details, in addition to offering a sensation of greater power than other more powerful amplifiers.

The Burson Audio Playmate uses, in its basic version, 4 operational amplifiers NE5532, which can be replaced by the v6 Vivid Dual or v6 Classic Dual, exclusive of the brand. But it should be remembered that the components responsible for the amplification of the signal are 8 transistors configured in class A. This means that the output signal always circulates in all periods, eliminating any possible zero crossing distortion, as the entire full wave is amplified.

The best components, Japanese Elna capacitors, American military grade Dale resistors and Japanese Toshiba transistors have been used to manufacture the Playmate.

Another particular feature of the Playmate is that it can be integrated into a PC box, as it has the precise dimensions for this, as well as a Molex connection to be powered.

Playmate 04.jpg

Specifications:
  • Input impedance: 38KΩ
  • Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 - 35Khz
  • THD: <0.002%.
  • Output Impedance (Head Amp): <2 Ω
  • Output Impedance (Pre Out): 15 Ω
  • Power 16 Ω: 1.8 W (SNR 96 dB, 99% Separation)
  • Power 32 Ω: 2 W (SNR 97 dB, 99% Separation)
  • Power 100 Ω: 0.5 W (SNR 98 dB, 99% Separation)
  • Power 150 Ω: 0.3 W (SNR 96 dB, 99% Separation)
  • Power 300 Ω: 0.1 W (SNR 96 dB, Separation 99.5%)
  • Channel Separation: 132 dB @ 1KHz, 121 dB @ 20KHz
  • THD+N: 0.0018% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS
  • Desktop OS: Win XP, 7, 8, 10 Mac OSX
  • Mobile OS: iOS* & Android (OTG support)
  • PCM & DXD Support: PCM 768kHz up to 32bits
  • Native DSD: Native DSD 64 / 128 / 256 / 512
  • DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256
  • Inputs: USB, Toslink
  • Outputs: RCA Pre-Amp / 6.3mm Headphone Output
  • Weight: 2kg
  • Dimensions: 210mm x 145mm x 45mm
Packaging

Playmate 05.jpg Playmate 06.jpg


The Playmate comes in a black cardboard box, which opens like a briefcase. After opening, a white foam protection covers the top of the unit, which is embedded in a custom mold, a compact black foam, higher density. The unit is located in the middle of the box. On both sides there are two elongated boxes, which contain the rest of the accessories. In the box on the left is the power supply. In the box on the right you will find the rest of the components.

Content:
  • Burson Playmate
  • Power supply 12v 5a
  • 0.5m RCA Cables
  • USB data cable for PC connection
  • 8-pin USB cable for connection to the pc motherboard
  • RCA board to connect to the PC
  • Warranty card 5 years
  • 3.5mm to 6.3mm adapter
  • Allen key 2.5mm
The content is quite complete, it has all the accessories to be able to connect it both externally, and internally, inside the PC. I especially liked the RCA cables, because they are of very high quality. Although they are short to connect externally to an amplifier, I think they are intended for connection to the RCA board, for use inside the PC case.

Construction and design

Playmate 07.jpg Playmate 08.jpg


The design is relatively simple and resembles the previous "Play" model. In this occasion the previous screen has been replaced by another type LCD, which offers more information and facilitates the task when selecting the different options from the menu. In addition, a USB Type C connector has been added on the front for connection to a mobile phone, for example. The rest remains the same, the volume control, the headphone output, the microphone input, the menu button, the rear USB input, the power connectors, the power switch and the RCA Pre-OUT outputs.

The dimensions are also equal and allow installation in a PC bay of 5 ¼.

The construction is quite solid, proof of it is its weight, 2Kg. Both the chassis, the front and the rear plate are highly rigid. The front and back plate are shiny, burnished and slightly mottled. While the chassis is matt

The interior is simply a delight for the electronics, both for the components used and for the design itself.

As always, the ease with which Burson can change OpAmps is remarkable. This time they are located almost in the center of the plate. They can be replaced by the OpAmp V5i Dual, V6 Vivid Dual or the V6 Classic Dual. The model supplied for testing comes with 4 NE5532.

Playmate 09.jpg Playmate 10.jpg

Connectivity and operation

The Playmate has 3 connection modes, two USB, one rear and one front, and a Toslink input.

If you connect via USB, as the manual says, for OSX, iOS and Android, no additional driver is required. For Windows, however, it does. To do this, it will be necessary to install the Xmos-USB driver available on the website: https://www.bursonaudio.com/downloads/

After the installation, for example, to use it from Foobar2000, you should choose as device the option ASIO: XMOS USB.

The volume goes in steps, from 00 to 99, and with each step of the potentiometer, one point is increased or decreased.

At the bottom right of the front of the Playmate, there is a small button, which after being pressed, allows access to the options menu. They are summarized below:
  • INPUT: USB-F /USB-B* / OPT
  • OUTPUT: HEADPHONE* / PRE OUT
  • HP OUTPUT: HIGH* / LOW
  • FIR FILTER: BRICKWALL / CMFR / RESERVED/ AP FAST* / MP SLOW/ MP FAST/ LP SLOW/ LP FAST
  • DPLL (DSD): DPLL OFF / LOW / MID / HI*
  • DPLL (PCM): DPLL OFF / LOW / MID / HI*
  • DE-EMPHASIS: ON* / OFF
  • RESTORE SETTINGS: YES / NO
The options marked with * are the default options.

Once the menu button is pressed, to navigate between the different options, the volume must be rotated. Once the parameter has been selected, click on the volume button to change it. Again, by turning the volume, you can switch between the different options. To set the option, simply press the volume again. Pressing the menu button returns to the main screen.

When the Playmate is turned on, it remains at the same volume point that it was turned off, but does not sound at the same volume. For protection, the volume is attenuated, and it will be necessary to move the potentiometer to reset it.

The Playmate can be used as a pre-amplifier, normally connected to a power amplifier. In this mode, the volume modifies the level of the output signal. The gain mode also affects that level.

Playmate 11.jpg Playmate 12.jpg

Measurements

Frequency Response:

The following shows the voltage measured over the entire frequency range at different impedances. To take the measurements, pure tones coded in FLAC 24 bits 96 kHz have been used, making a sweep from 20 Hz to 35 kHz. A Fluke digital oscilloscope was used for the measurement.

The following measurements have been taken at low gain, Fir Filter Brickwall, DPLL (DSD) HI, DPLL (PCM) HI, at volume 99.

Playmate FR.png


As you can see, the frequency response with the De-Emphasis OFF, is very flat, offering a very slight drop starting at 15 kHz, a drop that is practically undetectable.

De-Emphasis filter ON, performs its low-pass work. The filtering starts from 1 kHz and at 20 kHz the voltage has decreased by half.

Output impedance, measured at low gain:
  • 0.73 Ohms / 32 Ohms / 1KHz
  • 0.78 Ohms / 100 Ohms / 1KHz
  • 0.83 Ohms / 320 Ohms / 1KHz
Output impedance, measured at high gain:
  • 0.623 Ohms / 32 Ohms / 1KHz
  • 0.676 Ohms / 100 Ohms / 1KHz
  • 0.828 Ohms / 320 Ohms / 1KHz
Sound

All sound tests have been performed at low gain, up to 99 steps of volume, or at high gain, below 60 steps of volume. De-Emphasis in OFF mode and Fir Filter in AP FAST mode.


After a few days of testing the Playmate, there are several adjectives that come to mind to describe its sound: soft, analogical, musical, defined, friendly, contrasted, transparent...

It is soft and delicate, kind to the music, all ranges are reproduced harmoniously and none stands out in presence or virtues over the other. The analogue capability of the system produces a very realistic feeling in the tonality of the sound.

The linearity of the frequency range is quite good: from 20Hz to 15kHz, the difference is less than 1% in voltage, while up to 20kHz is well below 2% of the total voltage. This is why it can be said that the Playmate has a completely flat sound, without altering the signal at all.

Normally the softness or delicacy of the sound associates it with the reproduction of the high frequencies. In this case, apart from that area, where I have noticed the most such characteristic has been in the lower zone. Comparing, for example, the low zone of the Playmate against the Sabaj DA3, (previous equalization of volumes measuring output voltages, using pure tones for it) the Playmate offers much more real and delicate lows, while the DA3 executes this zone with greater aggressiveness and roughness, getting to cloudy comparatively the voices with respect to the Playmate. And certainly the voices sound with greater clarity and definition, in front of a light veil that presents the DA3. The treble takes advantage of the analogical quality of the system to run cleanly and without any hardness.

But the qualitative step, among the rest of models that I own, is revealed in the greater precision and resolution that Playmate offers, providing a great musical contrast, being able to perceive its low background noise. These characteristics affect the reproduction of a very clean and detailed sound, with great definition. And yet, very kind to my entire headphone collection. Because another of the great features of the Playmate is that it is able to bring out the best in each of them, enhancing their virtues rather than their defects. This makes it clear that finding a good synergy is something very simple between the Playmate and the rest of the headphones. It should be remembered that this model has an output impedance lower than 1Ω (according to my own measurements), this means that it will not modify the frequency response of the connected headphones.

In relation to dark background, other parameters that take advantage of this are: sound separation, transparency, dynamics, scene and stereo image. It is very easy to locate the origin of the sounds and all their nuances, as these qualities are enhanced in the connected headphones. Actually, Playmate makes all the headphones I own better and makes listening very pleasant, highly musical, full of dynamics and details.

Playmate makes the negative impact of the source as minimal as possible, causing the connected headphones to sound their best.

Playmate 13.jpg

Conclusion

Burson Playmate is the way to go, a solid platform on which to build to continue improving, both electronically and connectivity, with the point of view set on maximizing sound quality. For this, the basic pillars are: choosing the best components, transistorized amplification in class A and the use of the best technology of their own design: OpAmps V6 and Max Current Power Supply (MCPS).

All this finally translates into its high quality sound. Quality that can be improved by changing the OpAmps.

$ 399 ...? Does the competition offer something better at a lower price? Let me try it.

Headphones used during analysis
  • Anew U1
  • NiceHCK M6
  • Ikko OH1
  • Soundmagic HP150
  • Tasktar Pro 80
  • iBasso IT03
  • Jerry Harvey TriFi Special Limited Edition
Playmate 14.jpg
raoultrifan
raoultrifan
I'm glad you did these measurements! BTW, lowering thevolume after power cycle is a feature and not a lowlight, so I'm happy that Burson did hat to protect our ears; several manufacturers did that in the past, based on customer's request.
  • Like
Reactions: cqtek
cqtek
cqtek
It is true. And I've written that it's a measure of protection, but I personally do not like it. Thanks for your words :wink:
raoultrifan
raoultrifan
I measured myself about the same output impedance as well, on PLAY, FUN and PLAYMATE. Of course, with 1KHz sinewaves. I am happy someone else confirms my measurements too. :)
  • Like
Reactions: cqtek
Top