The Burson Audio Playmate is a headphone amp, preamp and USB/DAC that is made by Burson Audio of Melbourne, Australia.
It's a 2W Class A headphone amp with a Mic input that uses an ESS 9038 DAC chip which is able to transcode up to 32bit 768khz and DSD 512. It has Windows and MAC support as well as iOS and Android OTG support.
On the front of the unit is a headphone jack, USB-C input, volume/menu knob (multi-function) and a button to enter into your menu options.
On the back is a USB-A interface for connection to your computer, two different power supply plug options, on/off toggle switch, RCA preamp out (to amplifier or powered speakers)
The Playmate also lets you access it's internals to enable the user to swap out/upgrade the operational amplifliers in the unit. This allows the user to tailor the Playmate's sound characteristics to each individual's audio tastes. This is a BIG plus for a guy like me who likes tinker a bit and enjoys a variety of different sound profiles.
Build: The Playmate is roughly the length and width of a DVD case and about 1 3/4 inches tall. It's not that big and would fit comfortably on your desktop, underneath, or off to the side. It does generate some heat while playing, so keep that in mind. It's nicely made and housed in a steel box with a simple and elegant faceplate which reminds me of a Denon home amplifier. Both inputs (headphone and mic) are recessed into the solid metal front.
The volume/multifunction knob is well thought out and controls the blue and very readable menu screen. I'm not usually a fan of hidden menus that are hard to get to. This one, at least, is one continuous menu with the important choices displayed on the front screen. It's an adequate choice for a display an one that is not cumbersome to navigate.
The knob also works well and feels good with one small click per single digit volume adjustment. There is a button on the front and once you press it to enter the menu setting, you can scroll through with the knob and select you choice by pushing the knob down and click to confirm.
The back panel is nicely organized and equally well made with all the edges of the backplate being flush with the encasement.
I think the unit is well built like a nice piece of home stereo equipment for which I can't complain.
Usage/Ease of Use: The Playmate is basically plug and play (with a MAC). All the user needs to do is choose the Playmate in the output setting then set the output quality through USB. This worked flawlessly with Audinirvana as well a JRiver media center. The ESS 9038 DAC chip is able to decode 32bit and DSD 512, so you can let the Playmate handle the decoding. No need to downsample anything from these desktop players.
It's nice to have a headphone amp/DAC that's also a preamp. This allows you get a line out (that sounds good) out to your powered speakers or amplifier. The Playmate sounds very good in this scenario. It really brings out a nice transparent yet organic quality to the line out that's feeding your amp. Way better than hooking up a DAP with *line out function.
Sound Impressions: My version of the Playmate came with the basic 5532 op-amps installed. You can get versions with the Burson V6 series op-amps for more money (I hear those sound fantastic and hopefully I'll get a chance to try them), but even with the most basic set up, the Playmate sounds fantastic. It's got plenty of power, first of all. Power to run my Sennheiser HD650 with ease and headroom. Power to run my Dekoni Blue (like a Fostex T50 mod) with authority and strength. I don't find the Playmate lacking for power, for sure.
The amp has a very transparent quality to it. It's not muddled at all. It's very easy to hear instruments as well defined from each other. There is a nice and roomy, uncramped soundstage. The ESS DAC chip does a good job providing the amp with good information in order for the amp's internals to shine. It's quite a step up from listening to DAPs as DACs. Those are generally underpowered and sacrifice good components for size restraints. For the money, there is no comparison...this is a real amp.
The treble presentation is accurate and detailed. There's no "glass", just proper treble with authenticity.
Same with the mids...accurate, lively and realistic. Natural.
Bass is authoratative and true. Bass notes are very distinguishable and authentic sounding.
It all just sounds right. If Burson were to have soldered in the opamps that come with the basic setup, I'd have been perfectly satisfied. My impressions all come from the basic set of opamps. I am just so curious now as to how the Burson Vivids might sound in here...or Muses02...or Sparkos. So much candy in the Candy Shoppe. Burson let's you choose.
Conclusion: I think the Playmate is a very good deal for $399. It elevates so many things in the computer/audio chain and makes it all sound amazing. It's list of features are very good and each one of those are completely useful with great performance. I'd definitely recommend the Playmate.
Note: Burson provided me this amp to listen to for an honest review.