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Headphone Amplifiers item created by YoYo JoKeR, Jun 7, 2016
Pros - Low THD, Metal Shielded, Small, Lifetime Warranty
Cons - Slightly lower SNR at high gain (20 dB) as compared to other Op-Amps in the test.
Op-Amp is a very popular component in almost any electronic equipment these days. A small and versatile amplifier chip for various applications including audio. Different amplifier design resulting different amplifier characteristic such as noise, THD, slew rate, etc. The different characteristic translates to a different sonic characteristic in audio applications. Therefore, each op-amp has their own sonic signature.
There is a long debate over op-amp as a small chip amplifier over the larger discrete amplifier circuit that uses discrete components. Both have their own pros and cons, and I personally don’t really care much about it. As long as the amp gives good measurement result and sounds good, it doesn’t really matter whether it is in a form of a chip or discrete circuitry.
Before I continue with the review, I would like to say a very big thanks to Burson Audio for providing me with review sample of the V5i Supreme Sound Op-Amp!
Burson V5i is supposedly the miniaturized version of their V5 discrete Op-Amp, therefore it is expected to share the sound signature of its bigger brother the V5. While Burson V5 is a fully discrete Op-Amp, V5i is a hybrid audio opamp, which is both partially IC and discrete. The FET circuitry has been integrated in IC form while some other components are discrete.
Let’s get to the summary before we discuss it in more detail:
Consistent low THD in both low gain (0 dB) and high gain (20 dB).
Metal shielded for better EMI immunity.
Smaller size than the fully discrete V4 and V5, easier to fit in tight spaces.
Cheaper than both Burson V4 & V5.
Slightly lower SNR at high gain (20 dB) as compared to other Op-Amps in the test.
Found to be not compatible to replace NJM2114D on the DAC I/V stage of Creative Sound Blaster X7.
Suggestions for Improvements:
Improve SNR at high gain.
Clarity, speed, and transparency are the main sonic signature of V5i, therefore when improvement in detail and clarity department is desirable, V5i is recommended. V5i is a neutral sounding Op-Amp. If a certain type of coloration is desirable, such as adding warmness to the sound quality, V5i may not be the right choice. But when reducing coloration from the sound quality is the goal, V5i is a good choice. For example when a system sounds too mellow, veiled sounding, and lacking speed and clarity, swapping the existing Op-Amp with V5i may give it an extra zest, and improve the overall transparency.
For those who have some knowledge about Op-Amp and its characteristic, it is recommended to read the datasheet of the V5i Op-Amp:
Check the followings before replacing any Op-Amp in your equipment:
Number of channel of the existing Op-Amp, single or dual channels Op-Amp.
Supply voltage of the existing Op-Amp should be within the operational range of the V5i Op-Amp (between ±5V to ±16V)
During the test, I found that V5i was not stable (hotter than normal) and exhibit a high level of noise when it was used to replace NJM2114D on the DAC I/V stage of Creative Sound Blaster X7. But it worked well replacing the LME49710, which is at the differential to single conversion stage of the SB X7 DAC. Only one case so far, therefore I cannot jump into conclusion that V5i is not suitable for DAC I/V stage until it is proven so with more than just 1 DAC. And I don’t have other DAC with replaceable Op-Amp on the I/V stage to test it. So this is just a precaution if V5i is to be used on DAC I/V stage.
Op-Amp performance is highly dependent on the circuit design, power supply, etc. Therefore there is no straight answer if a certain Op-Amp will perform well in a given setup or equipment. The same Op-Amp may perform differently in a different circuit, therefore read Op-Amp reviews with a grain of salt.
I did Op-Amps comparisons in the past, and the latest one was when I reviewed Creative SB X7:
To avoid overly lengthy review, I limit the comparisons of V5i to some well known Op-Amps. I also borrowed Burson V4 and V5 from a friend of mine for comparison.
Initially, I planned to use 3 equipment for V5i review:
Violectric HPA V200
Creative Sound Blaster X7
In the end, I used only the Fiio E12DIY and HPA V200 for listening test, as the headphone output of those amps is noticeably quieter than the SB X7, therefore it is easier for me to observe minute differences with a quieter background. For headphones & IEMs, I used mostly Beyerdynamic T1 (1st gen.) as monitoring headphones, DUNU DN-2000J, DUNU DK-3001, and AK T8iE Mk2 are the 3 most used IEMs during the comparisons.
To be honest, comparing the sound quality of Op-Amps is not easy, at least for me. The differences that we need to observe are tiny, and usually, it is more of an accumulation of impressions over time. So please bear in mind that differences described below are in the order of small degree of differences.
Burson V5i can be considered a neutral sounding Op-Amp with almost no noticeable coloration in the sonic character. Clarity, transparency, speed, and instrument separation are the main sonic characters of the Op-Amp. There is a tiny bit of emphasis on treble sparkle and ‘s-es’ on vocal, giving the impression of enhanced clarity. As expected, sibilant on the vocal recording will also very slightly more emphasized, just very slightly, and nothing to worry about it. I don’t perceive V5i as having super silky smooth treble, but also not the harsh and grainy type. In comparison to V4 and V5, both have a tad smoother sounding treble than V5i. Bass and mids are neutral sounding with good speed and texture. V5i has fast transient, and it seems help to improve the detail and resolution. I really like the fast transient of V5i, especially for percussions. Hits and attacks of the percussion instruments sound more realistic than other chip Op-Amps in the test, and bass note has good texture on V5i. Detail resolving capability is very good, therefore it is quite a revealing Op-Amp. I think what important to take note here is the treble character. If reducing sibilant is the goal, V5i may not help. But as mentioned earlier, when improving clarity and transparency are the objective, V5i is highly recommended.
Comparisons to Burson V4 and V5
Thanks to my friend Siu who lend me Burson V4 and V5 for comparisons. As mentioned earlier, differences in sound quality between Op-Amps are not very easy to be observed. In general, Burson V4, V5, and V5i to my ears sound pretty close, especially between V5 and V5i. They share a lot of similarities, like transient, resolution, and dynamic which are pretty close in my observation. All three of them have the clear and transparent sonic character, and not the warm and mellow type. Compared to V5i and V5, V4 has a tad thicker and fuller sounding mids and bass. V4 can be perceived as slightly more organic sounding, while V5 and V5i may be perceived as having slightly more clarity and resolution. The V4 and V5 may sound slightly more dynamic than V5i, while v5i may sound as having a tad higher level of clarity and also slightly sound snappier. V5 sounds like it has the dynamic of V4 and the clarity of V5i. IMHO V5 is probably the better one of the three, excellent dynamic with good resolution and sounds quite refined. But to be honest, the differences are very subtle, at the level that I may not pass a blind test to differentiate the three. More like of an accumulation of impressions after listening to them for a long period.
My personal preference based on the equipment that I used to test them, I like the V4 and V5 more than V5i for analytical sounding headphones and IEMs, where they benefit from the smoother treble of V4 and V5. But with warmer sounding headphone and IEM, V5i performs really good and might be the preferred Op-Amp of the 3.
Comparisons with other IC Op-Amps
AD797 is probably the closest to V5i clarity and transparency. It is fast, snappy, and transparent sounding. To be honest I had a hard time to differentiate the two. V5i is still a bit better in instrument separation, especially in a busy and congested track, I can hear slightly better separation with V5i. Also on percussions, V5i sounds slightly faster and more realistic. In general they both shares many similarities in sound signature with V5i wins by a slight margin, especially in transparency department. Personally, I do prefer V5i in comparison to AD797.
OPA627 sounds smooth and neutral. The perceived bass and midrange ‘fatness’ or ‘fullness’ are similar between OPA627 and V5i, both are not fat sounding Op-Amps, for example, in comparison to OPA827. The difference between OPA627 and V5i is more on the treble quality where OPA627 sounds a tad smoother than V5i, while V5i has a more lively sparkle on the treble. OPA627 treble is actually pretty close to V5 treble. V5i also sounds a bit faster and snappier than OPA627, transient and attack are more pronounced on V5i. I perceived OPA627 as smoother and more polite sounding, while V5i is a bit more aggressive and dynamic in comparison. My personal preference is more on the V5i.
OPA827 is one of my favorite Op-Amp especially for matching with analytical IEMs. It is pretty much OPA627 with fatter and fuller bass and midrange. Treble may be perceived as a tad softer and smoother than V5i, with fuller mids and fatter bass. When a system needs a little bass boost, OPA827 might be a good choice. As expected, V5i wins slightly in the transparency department.
OPA604 is the most polite sounding from all the Op-Amps I tried, treble is very smooth and perceived as softer than other Op-Amps that I’ve tested. I perceived OPA604 as a tad mellow sounding, kinda the opposite of the lively and sparkling V5i. For long session listening OPA604 sonic signature probably helps to avoid ears fatigue, but sometimes may sound less lively. Those who prefer smooth and intimate sounding vocal might like the OPA604 sound signature. But as always, the overall result is always depending on system matching and personal preference.
I need to make a disclaimer here that my measurement shouldn’t be considered as accurate as manufacturer measurement, therefore it is not to be compared with manufacturer specification or other measurements. The objective of the measurement is only to compare the V5i with other Op-Amps, measured in the same system using the same equipment. Besides that, the performance of the Op-Amp will also greatly affected by the circuit design where it is installed. Basically, a particular Op-Amp might give different measurement result when it is installed in different circuit or equipment.
For the measurement equipment, I use QuantAsylum QA401 Audio Analyzer:
Fiio E12DIY gives the best measurement result, generally lower THD and higher SNR than HPA V200 and SB X7, therefore measurement result from Fiio E12DIY will be used for the THD and SNR comparison between Op-Amps. The supply voltage for the Op-Amp in Fiio E12DIY is ±11V (Total 22 volts). I will also share some measurement result from HPA V200 and Sound Blaster X7 for observation purposes.
Since the measurement is from the headphone output of the headphone amplifiers, I use DIY coaxial cables with 33 ohms resistor terminated inside the 3.5mm jack, to simulate headphone load.
There are many parameters that can be measured from an Op-Amp, and it requires lab grade measurement instruments and lots of time to measure them all. Therefore, due to the limitation of my measurement instrument, and not to make this review a long and detailed lab report, I only did THD and SNR observations on 0 dB and 20 dB gain, at different output level of the 1 kHz signal, which I think is good enough to see some fundamental differences between the Op-Amps.
Before we get into the number and graphs, here is the summary of the observations:
V5i THD performance is good, consistently low THD on both low gain (0 dB) and high gain (20 dB). This means that we can expect consistent sound quality from low to high gain application.
SNR at high gain is slightly lower than other Op-Amps in the test. Therefore for high gain and low noise application, V5i is not the best option.
SNR Table (SNR measurement is ‘A’ weighted):
200mV, 50mV, and 1V Measurement
The first measurement is comparing THD and SNR between low and high gain at the same output voltage, which is 200mV. 200mV is roughly around the moderate listening level for easy to drive headphone like Audio-Technica ATH-M50, Shure SRH840, etc.
The second measurement is comparing THD and SNR of low gain at 50mV output, and high gain at 1V output. 50mV is around the moderate listening level for sensitive IEMs (110 dB/mW sensitivity or higher). What we would like to observe at this sensitive IEM playing level, is the hissing noise, or SNR at 50mV. A quiet output should have >85 dB SNR for the hissing noise to be practically pretty low to be easily audible. Therefore >85 dB SNR at 50mV is kind of my standard for a quiet headphone amp for sensitive IEMs. Some DAPs I tested have their headphone output with lower than 85 dB SNR at 50mV, and hiss noise is audible with sensitive IEMs. While 1V measurement is just for comparison of THD and SNR at near the line level. There is no standard for audio SNR measurement, but some company uses 0dBV or 1V rms for their standard SNR measurement, so I just follow for easy comparison. 1V is also around the listening level of high impedance headphones, so still a value within headphone listening level.
Below are some screenshots from the measurement using QuantAsylum QA401:
200mV at Low Gain (THD measurement):
200mV at High Gain (THD measurement):
50mV at Low Gain (THD measurement):
1V (0 dBV) at High Gain (THD measurement):
Violectric HPA V200
HPA V200 has 2 replaceable Op-Amps per channel. One at input stage using NE5532 (dual) and the gain stage using NE5534 (single). I couldn’t replace the NE5532 with V5i due to the 36V supply that is too high for V5i. The NE5534 supply voltage is actually a bit too high as well at 33.4V, but I took the risk to install the single channel V5i to replace the NE5534, and it works quite well so far. I read somewhere in the forum that V5i can actually take 34V supply at Max, that’s the reason for me to take the risk, to use V5i in my HPA V200. And I’m glad I did, as it is now permanently replaced the NE5534 in my HPA V200. Using the stock Op-Amp (NE5534), HPA V200 sounds rather dark, with the treble perceived as too smooth, soft, and lacks sparkle. V5i helps to improve the transparency of HPA V200, and improves the clarity and treble brilliance.
I did some measurement by using V5i only on the Left channel, and other chip Op-Amps on the Right channel. I notice that the noise floor is slightly higher on the V5i as compared to the stock Op-Amp NE5534.
Noise floor, Burson V5i A Left - NE 5534 Right - Headphone Output with 33 ohms termination:
The low-frequency harmonics shown above seems coming from the transformer inside the HPA V200. Sometime I observed similar low-frequency harmonics as shown above from other desktop equipment that has a transformer inside. The noise floor on the Left channel with Burson V5i is showing -87.5 dBV, while Right channel with NE5534 is showing around -91.6 dBV. The value fluctuates a bit, but generally, the noise floor is a few dB higher on the V5i.
At 1V output level, measurement results are quite similar between V5i and other chip Op-Amps. From the measurement of Fiio E12DIY, we know that the Op-Amps has lower THD and noise than what are shown below. So I guess the similar measurement result is due to the whole system THD and noise that are relatively higher than the Op-Amp THD and noise.
Burson V5i A Left - NE 5534 Right - Headphone Output with 33 ohms termination:
Burson V5i A Left - AD797 Right - Headphone Output with 33 ohms termination:
Burson V5i A Left - OPA627 Right - Headphone Output with 33 ohms termination:
Creative Sound Blaster X7
As mentioned earlier, I didn’t do much measurement on SB X7 due to compatibility issue when V5i was used on the DAC I/V stage. Another reason is that the noise level of the headphone output of the SB X7 is higher than Fiio E12DIY.
Just for your observation, this is the output of SB X7 with stock and V5i Op-Amp:
Headphone output measurement at around 67mV (couldn’t it set closer to 50mV due to the step of the digital volume) with stock Op-Amps without V5i:
V5i Op-Amp only on the DAC I/V stage:
V5i Op-Amp on both the DAC I/V stage and the differential to single stage:
V5i Op-Amp only the DAC differential to single stage:
Hopefully, those measurement result from various equipment can give us the idea of how an Op-Amp perform on different equipment. I’m quite happy with V5i for the improvement it brings to my headphone amplifiers. The single channel V5i will stay permanently in my Violectric HPA V200, proofing that it does improve the sound quality of the well known HPA V200. And I plan to use the dual channel V5i to replace the OPA2604 inside my Yulong Sabre A28 headphone amplifier. But since the 2x OPA2604 are soldered to the circuit board, I have to desolder the OPA2604 before I can test V5i on the Yulong A28. In my opinion, V5i is certainly a good sounding hybrid Op-Amp. When used in the right and compatible application, V5i may give a nice improvement in the overall clarity and transparency of the system.
Equipment used in this review
AK T8iE Mk2
DAC and Amplifiers:
Creative Sound Blaster X7
iFi micro iDSD
Violectric HPA V200
QuantAsylum QA401 - 24-bit Audio Analyzer
Some recordings used in this review:
Pros - Good Cost/performance
Detailed Bass and Mids, vocals sound natural
Cons - Highs seem rolled off compared to Sparkos SS3601 and SS3602 (Twice the cost of the V5i)
Burson V5i op amp upgrade for Creative Sound Blaster X7
Link to the Bursonaudio.com site for the V5i
Disclaimer: I was contacted by Charles from Supreme Sound (Burson Audio), provided (2) single op amps and (2) double op amps, for my honest opinion of their product.
What is it:The Burson V5i is a hybrid op amp. It has an integrated chip, which is what most op amps are in entirety, but also takes some parts, and separates them, adding some high end discrete components. This is to improve performance while maintaining a small form factor. This is how they can shrink down the V5 into the much smaller package, while retaining the sound signature of the full blown V5. I have not heard the regular V5, but this was their design principle in making the V5i. The V5i is much smaller and “should” be a drop in replacement for most op amps.
What does it do: Operational Amplifiers main job is to amplify a signal, typically a voltage (can also be used to amplify current, voltage to current, or current to voltage). If you are interested in learning more about op amps, I found this website to be beneficial. The math may seem simple, but in real world components, achieving the best performance can be difficult. It is striking a balance between performance, size, cost, tradeoffs, etc. Each company will use a different design with certain design goals in mind.
Why me: As many of you may already know, I purchased the complete X7 op amp swap, Sparkos Labs SS3601 and SS3602 op amps, shortly after I purchased the X7. My review is located in my signature. I have used those op amps for many months, and have been very happy with their performance. They greatly improved the sound quality of the X7, and I still believe that op amps are a great way to get more out of such a versatile DAC/Amp/VSS unit. Before that purchase, I did not believe that op amps could make that much of a difference. I have gladly changed my tune, and will continue to suggest op amp upgrades for equipment that can have them swapped. Most IC op amps seem to have to make sacrifices, and fully discrete is the best way to go (audio as the end goal of the op amp, as they have MANY different uses).
Starting point: Upon receiving the Burson V5i op amps, they were burned in for roughly 150 hours, as Burson suggests 100 hour burn in period. Now I did listen and use the X7 normally during this burn in period. I did notice that as time went on, the V5i op amps did seem to change over time. When I first received them, I was not impressed with them. Coming from the Sparkos, they didn't seem as clear, and they weren't as efficient (volume dial needed to be turned up more for the same volume). I went back to gaming and watching movies, listening to music, but not analytically.
Critical Listening post burn in: The V5i op amps do have some nice qualities. They produce clean and tight bass, a very musical mid range, but do seem rolled off in the highs compared to the Sparkos. Soundstage, instrument separation, and overall clarity are very good, much better than the stock op amps that come with the X7. These are a definite upgrade, and for $120 for the complete swap, not a terrible price to pay for a noticeable change in sound. The Sparkos, which I believe to be the best op amps available in a small form factor (they're also fully discrete), are double the cost at $240 for the complete swap.
Setup/Equipment: I tested the Burson V5i op amps several different ways. I used just the X7 and it's amp, as many will be using the X7 in this way. I also used the RCA outs to connect my Linear Tube Audio MicroZOTL 2, which has a much "blacker" background, and overall very good sound quality. The X7 was connected to my PC via USB, using Foobar2000 updated to the latest version. For Headphones, I used Hifiman HE-X V2, Fostex TH-X00 Ebony, Monoprice M1060, Beyerdynamic DT990 SE 250ohm. I also listened through my 2 channel setup, which consist of X7>MZ2>Marantz SR8500 AVR>Vienna Acoustics Mozart Grand speakers.
Overall Thoughts: I know the Sparkos very well, and they will remain my op amp of choice for the X7. The entire frequency response with the Sparkos is crystal clear and matches my headphones of choice, perfectly. At $240 though, you are pretty close to Modi Multibit, which you can use with the X7 through the optical out (and still use the Virtual Surround Sound (SBX). Even just switching out the Duals, which make a larger difference to sound quality, will set you back $160 before shipping for the Sparkos. The V5i, will be $80 for the Dual swap. That is a much easier amount to swallow, especially if you are trying to keep your setup simple with an all in one solution.
The Sparkos require less power to output at the same spl level. I noticed this in my Sparkos review, that they played much louder than the stock op amps. The Sparkos during this review were usually at 11:00-11:30 on the MZ2. The Bursons to achieve the same volume, sat around 12:30-1:00 on the MZ2 volume dial. The Bursons are more efficient than the stock op amps, but do not match the Sparkos. Another thing I noticed is that the Bursons got HOT during use. I would say they were within the 60-80 degree Celsius operating range at all times. This could be due to the metal enclosure on the V5i, and there not being a case on the Sparkos. The bottom cover will NOT fit on the X7 with either the Sparkos or Bursons installed. IMO this is very minor and no big deal. Neither projects out from underneath, they are just a mm or two larger than the cover can manage.
Without a direct comparison between the two, I really didn't notice the V5i as lacking. They sounded great when they were the only op amps in the X7 for a few months. Gaming, Movies, and Music all sounded great and I was happy. Ignorance can be bliss, and without swapping back and forth between the Sparkos and the Bursons, I grew to really enjoy the V5i op amps. One area where I think they can really help people, is with headphones that are V or U shaped where the highs can become fatiguing. The Bursons brought down the highs enough to make a few of my headphones more enjoyable for extended listening. Particularly my TH-X00 and DT990. The slight drop in highs really helped the DT990 for music, and they were still great for FPS gaming, with plenty of the detail that is needed to hear the sounds you do want to hear. The Bass and Mids were truly good, very comparable to the Sparkos, and I would have to nit pick to find any differences in these areas. I cannot change the op amps fast enough to get a true comparison of the differences in Bass and Mid range (hearing memory is extremely short!). Both excel in this area. My two main headphones are Planar (HEX and M1060), which both recess the highs naturally, and the Sparkos really help those headphones in this area. Headphones with an edginess to the highs, may sound better with the Bursons for music. I know for me, I preferred the DT990 with the V5i op amps.
As you may know, the X7 does have a built in EQ, so you can change the sound however you want. All of my listening was completed with a flat EQ, and if you aren't against it, you can dial in the V5i op amps by bumping a few decibels here and there. I realize that some are COMPLETELY against EQ, so this review is with the V5i straight into the X7 without any help.
Burson (critical listening) with comparisons to Sparkos:
Led Zeppelin "Whole Lotta Love", FLAC rip from remastered CD. Very low background noise, Robert Plant's voice is extremely clear and natural sounding. Snare drum sounded impactful and decayed well. The Top Hat is where I noticed a difference between the Sparkos. It sounded slightly recessed, and not as clear as the Sparkos. Overall this song sounded great and natural.
Live "White Discussion", FLAC rip from CD. This is one of my favorite songs to test all kinds of gear. When the band jams, it gets loud and congested with heavy guitar and drums, and they can overpower the rest of the instruments and singing. The V5i performed very well, where each instrument is clearly heard when listened for, and the overall sound was better than I expected. The guitar was not as clear on the V5i compared to the Sparkos, but without knowing this song as well as I do, this could be missed by many listeners. The V5i IMO do a very good job of keeping the impactful changes, with great bass and mid bass. I did not like this song with the stock op amps.
Metallica "Master of Puppets", FLAC rip from CD. Alone the V5i do a very nice job on this song. Another song with a lot of things going on, and the only notable difference I could tell was the drums didn't sound as clear versus the Sparkos.
The Who "Love Reign O'er Me", FLAC rip from CD. Love this song, the beginning with the rain and piano, is one of my favorite starts to a song ever. The Bursons did not disappoint. Everything was clear, impactful, and Roger Daltrey sounded very lifelike. The Sparkos are better, but it isn't as obvious on this track.
Black Sabbath "War Pigs", FLAC rip from CD. Sounded great, another one of my favorite demo songs. I did notice a big difference in clarity of the symbol crashes and their decay. The Sparkos really show their muscle here, my notes on the Sparkos: "Symbols decay FOREVER". This really stuck out when the Sparkos were installed, and there was a noticeable difference when the V5i were installed. The symbol decay was still very good on the Bursons, but clearly not as good as the Sparkos. Everything else, like drums, guitar, vocals, all sounded very good.
Arcade Fire "Reflektor", FLAC rip from CD. This is a bass heavy song and really the reason I chose it. There is some good percussion, male and female vocals, and a song I really like. The V5i sounded very clear with bass and vocals, but again lost to the Sparkos.
The bass and mids performance of the Burson V5i was very good with all of my listening. Vocals sounded clear with both Male and Female voices. Really the one note that kept coming up, was a lack of clarity in the upper ranges. The highs seemed a few decibels down compared to the Sparkos, and finer details just weren't there against it's twice as expensive foe. The V5i did excel with everything else, and compared to stock, this is a very nice upgrade, at a price that I think is worth it. I would call the Burson V5i a "warm" sounding op amp compared to the Sparkos. This may be exactly what you are looking for, especially if you are trying to tame the highs of certain headphones.
Pros - Airy, wide soundstage, slightly warm
Firstly I would like to thank Burson for sending me these op-amps for review, as always I will try to write and honest review. These received over 100hrs of burn-in as is suggested by many users.
Topping D30 > A30 > German Maestro GMP8.35d / Dita Dream / Hifiman RE2000 and more.
Op-Amp Rolling, Packaging and Build:
First off I have done some op-amp rolling in the past with cmoy type amps, and believe op-amps make a small change in sound, and it can be for better or worse depending on the circuit and headphones being used.
I recently got the Topping A30 which is a fantastic budget amp, and I wanted to see how good it could sound. Burson were really helpful, and the A30 needs the dual op-amps, as the stock ones are OPA2134, they are a drop in replacement, and the A30 has sockets in it for easy op-amp rolling.
PLEASE BE CAREFUL TO INSTALL THE OP-AMPS THE CORRECT WAY AROUND, YOU WILL KILL THEM OTHERWISE (instructions on the Burson website)
The V5i come in a small plastic box with the op-amps snugly in place in the foam inlay. They are very well protected.
The V5i are well built, they are well put together and are slightly wider and taller than normal chip op-amps so they may not fit in all designs.
Now as stated before I believe in small differences between op-amps, but putting this in was the biggest difference I have heard between op-amps.
Instantly I was surprised at how the sound opened up compared to the slightly closed in sound of the OPA2134. The soundstage got more holographic and accurate, the bass also gained a little body and now digs deeper and has more realistic punch.
There is more air around all instruments and overall just a more defined and realistic sound.
Now this really was quite a big difference in sound from the OPA2134 and this little amp is now even better value.
These will set you back around $70 which is quite a lot considering the amp is not a lot more, but op-amps are a key part of the circuitry and these brought some very welcome changes that enhanced my listening experience. To be honest I was shocked by how good they made the amp sound, so if you can afford them, depending on your amp, they can bring some welcome differences.
Sound Perfection Rating: 8/10 (excellent upgrade in my amp, adds a small amount of warmth)
Pros - Power, emotions, rich of obertones
Cons - Nope
I've tried different combos with my toys, and having spent enough time listening with Burson v5i Dual, I can safely recommend OPA for those of you who, like me, loves Muses02 .. you will not be disappointed .. for vocal music,I still prefer Muses02, but for other genres Burson is really impressive!Good job!Recommended.The taste of sound differences is an important component of emotional involvement for the music lover, and Burson fully gives me a full sense of it .. And it's worth it, thanks.
Pros - Airy and exciting, big full bass, nice vocals but really shines in imaging, staging, clarity and striking details
Cons - Some people may find it fatiguing in some devices
Work in Progress.
This is my mini-review of Burson Audio Supreme Sound V5i op amp. I use it in two devices. First is my Matrix M-stage HPA-1 desktop amp using Tidal HiFi into a Schiit Bifrost Uber. The 2nd device I use it in is a portable Dap/amp the Walnut Hi-Fi V2. My other higher priced opamps I have are the Sparkos SS3602 and the Muses 8820. I have a handful of other inexpensive more commonly used opamps.
I really enjoy the V5i. It just raises the airiness, clarity and details to another level compared to my other opamps. I never really got into home speakers but all my life I have been into car stero so Imaging and Staging has always been two of my main focuses in what I consider good sound. Normally audio stuff never meets my hopes when I first listen. My original plan was to install it in the Walnut which I had the Muses 8820 in and then let it burn-in the recommended 100 hours. The V5i made my jaw drop when I stuck it in the walnut. Width and depth of soundstage, I admit I am not good at making comparisons of but the the improvement in the imaging was kinda of shocking with the placement and air between instruments. I dont hear that level of staging or imaging with my Sparkos or Muses opamps. I am not saying the V5i is better than the Sparkos but I certainly enjoy the V5i more than the Muses. The Sparkos and Muses both seem to me to lean more towards a smoother more organic presentation while the V5i seems a tad more digital with more clarity and with striking apparent detailing. Actually, I think owning the V5i and Sparkos are a good combination. My M-Stage, a warm amp, combined with my favorites: HD600s, VE Zen 2.0 Blacks, and Westone 4s which are all neutral to warm makes for a little of a tame presentation. The V5i really adds some airiness, life and zest to those combinations. If I decide to use one of my hotter and brighter items like my grados, my mojito earbuds or a few of my iems the Sparkos makes for better synergy. I just leave the top unscrewed and I can change them out in like 2 minutes.
Pros - Small size, Good build quality, audiophile grade sound
Cons - Pricey when compared to ICs, Doesn't sound as good as it's bigger brother V5
Burson v5i in Cambridge 651p phono preamp
Amplifier Stage and RIAA Stage
In RIAA Stage,
The v5i sounded very full in a right-in-your-face way. There is good detail.
V5 lifted a veil, and brought the voice forward. Opens up the soundstage and takes it to a personal concert level.
Simply put, if your system can fit the v5, use it. If not, then v5i for the next best thing. As you can see, I have the circuit board jacked up on it's base, and insulated with a piece of cardboard.
V5 costs double that of v5i. In my opinion, well worth it.
I will try to update later when it is in the Amplifier stage, and compare it to other opamps.
Pros - transparency, details, neutrality, compatibility
Cons - price, case size may still be too large for some tight packed portable devices
This review focuses on portable devices, especially the Little Bear B4 Portable Vacuum & Valve tube headphone amplifier. I recently got my hand on a Burson v5i op amp and tried it in the B4. Executive Summary: Recommended!
My test setup was using an iBasso DX90 as source, later changed it to a Shanling M1 and a Zishan DSD for DSD128 tests. My test songs (FLAC except the DSD) include the Driving Towards The Daylight (Joe Bonamassa) album, Into the Electric Castle (Ayreon), Star One (Arjen Lucassen), Endless Forms Most Beautiful (Nightwish) and the DSD recording of Beethovens 5th (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Manfred Honeck, Reference Recordings). I used Music Maker TK13s IEMs, Shockwave III IEMs and Phonon SMB-02 monitors headphones. Disclosure: The v5i was provided by Burson audio for review. I certify that this review reflects my true thoughts about the v5i. I have no connections to Burson audio, beside receiving a test sample from them.
I previously replaced the B4s stock op amp (TI NE5532) wih an OPA2107 and notice a significant improvement. The OPAs and especially the 2107 come with a likeable, but slightly 'laid back' sound signature.
This changed completely when I plugged the v5i in the B4. The op amp transformed the B4 and opened up the signature, both in the areas of transparency and sound stage width. Details that previously were lost, appeared like a light was turned on. What I really like is that the v5i didn't make listing tiring, it just removed a veil that I previously didn't realize was there. Especially with the Shockwave, the wider sound stage is glorious. And at the same time it did not negatively impact on the 'tube' characteristics of the B4.
As an op amp upgrade the v5i-D (for Dual) did work in anything I plugged it in. Its seems to be a quite uncritical op amp in regard to gain and voltage supply. It gets slightly warm during operation, but nothing to call home about, which makes it a good candidate for portable devices.
In the Walnut V2 portable player the v5i works equally well. Please check out http://www.head-fi.org/t/828315/walnut-hi-fi-v2-wav-mp3-player-by-wt-screenless-budget-killer-combo-dap-amp/2580#post_13405139 for a detailed view.
Sadly in the Zishan DSD I cannot try the v5i as its size (height) does not fit into the PCB sandwich. Its works (and sounds quite good) in a dry run but I cannot close the case, so I omitted the Zishan from my tests. That's also my main criticism, its still too large (for certain portable devices).
Baseline: I can recommend the v5i for amp rolling of your portable device (if its fits in physically). Even a puny little cmoy will likely benefit from it.
Pros - Details, transparency, cleanliness, soundstage, imaging
Cons - Nothing I could find, maybe the fact that it isn't a whole new amp upgrade?
Little Dot 1+ op-amp upgrade with the Burson V5i
Creative Soundblaster X7 as DAC with 2x Sparkos SS3601 single op-amps, 2x Sparkos SS3602 dual op-amps, Hifiman HE400i, AKG K712 Pro, Fostex TH-x00 PH, Fidelio X2, Little Dot 1+ with Mullard M8100 tubes and of course the Burson V5i op-amp.
The LD1+ was already using a different op-amp, the dual op-amp that I swapped out of the Creative X7 was being used which already made for a clear upgrade from stock. The X7 op-amp upgrade seemed to give the sound a more neutral signature, while also lowering the noise floor with the LD1+.
Because of this, I wasn't expecting to have as noticable of an improvement with swapping in the Burson V5i, but I was happily mistaken.
The differences aren't as large as swapping all for out of my X7, but they were immediate. The LD1+ is not by any means an expensive tube-amp (well, maybe to those who don't use these forums!) However, the sound didn't improve in one area - it was improved all around, while retaining the neutrality I noticed with the X7 op-amp upgrade.
Details, transparency, cleanliness, soundstage, imaging, and a blacker background were all improvements I could notice on all of my headphones. Some more than others, such as the K712 Pro and HE400i seeing as these are harder to drive headphones I could only assume.
The Fidelio X2 still had some background fuzz when the volumes were at pub-style band performance levels but this is a reasonably low impedance, easy to drive headphone.
I'd also like to point out exactly what I mean by "cleanliness" because this was a very appreciated change.
I like to EQ, some are are against this, I am not. For example: for the X2 or TH-x00 I will EQ in a little bit of mids, and I will EQ some low-end into all of my headphones.
The LD1+ with the warm, buttery mullard M8100 tubes would become syrupy sounding while running high levels of bass (only as high as what the X7 as my amp would reproduce cleanly).
Now with the V5i op-amp, the bass was no longer thick and syrupy sounding, so creds for this.
Overall, this is an upgrade I could easily recommend if you are a owner of the Little Dot 1+ and want to go a little farther with your amp, without shelling out for a whole new tube amp.
I have not used the V5 to compare, but the V5i having a smaller footprint is a positive in this case as closing the LD1+ with the backplate remains possible.
Pros - Exciting and dynamic sound
Cons - had to use 10db gain instead of 20db in my lehmann amp
I was lent two trial v5i opamps to test out for my honest impressions and here they are:
I used the v5i in my hattor preamp with speakers and with my lehmann headphone amp in a vinshine audio dac-r2r-ref dac/amp.
Replacing the Burson V5 opamps with v5i in my opamp didn't yield much perceptible change, they share a sound signature so sounded extremely similar with the fully discrete V5 edging out the V5i in blackness of background.
Replacing the stock TI opa2134pa opamp with the v5i in my lehmann headphone amp yielded night and day dramatic differences. The stock 2134pa has a super neutral and clinical sound, not emphasizing any particular aspect of the music and doing a good job of being a very low noise and distortion free baseline, probably making it good for pro audio applications. When I installed the v5i I immediately noticed a change in sound signature in a different direction. The v5i presents a more dynamic "fun" type of amplification. Subjectively it has a W sound signature, being the opposite of boring neutrality yet not emphasizing a single frequency range. It seems to emphasize treble, mids and bass to bring the music to you for a front row seat near the stage in a small club type experience. The 2134 was more like listening to studio monitors while the band played on the other side of a glass window. The change was definitely complementary to my HD800 headphones which while extremely detailed, especially in treble and soundstage, don't have the most impactful bass or mids.
TLDR summary: major upgrade for any headphone amp! close enough to the V5 that I'd just get v5i if they fit better
Here's a pic of a v5 and v5i in my preamp to demonstrate their size difference
equipment used to compare: Vinshine Audio Dac-r2r-ref dac and lehmann type headphone amp https://www.vinshineaudio.com/product-page/dac-r2r-ref
Hattor Small Active Balanced Preamplifier http://hattor.com/
Pros - Soundstage, clarity, pleasant tonality, quality, design, metallic shielded case
Cons - Size, compatibility, max. voltage
Thanks to Charles from BURSON I've done some tests with my ASUS Essence One MUSES BURSON MKii DAC by upgrading existing opamps with V5i received recently from BURSON (thank you BURSON for providing me the chance to make this test).
- WASAPI was used instead of ASIO (don't trust ASIO for this test)
Music used for the tests:
- Kenny G.
- Best of Chesky
- Head-Fi And HDtracks
- Ultimate Demo Disk
Headphones used for the tests:
- AKG K701
- AKG K550
- Beyerdynamic DT880/600ohms
- Grado SR60i with L-cushion
- Apple/Beats Solo2
- When using 2 x V5i in Low Pass Filter and 2 x V5i in Voltage Amplification Stage (from headphone amplifier) difference was noticed from the very first second:
first impression was like volume is louder than before (which is not, measured three times with my scope and with RMS-multimeter)
stage is larger and layering is better
bass seems a bit more "rounded", with better definition, a good improvement for "bass shy" headphones (ATB bass and imaging can really shine with V5i opamps!)
Kenny G.'s saxophone stands out a bit more with V5i and layering is way better, same I can say about staging/imaging
The V5i dual op-amps could be also used in output buffers too with great success; I couldn't find a real difference to talk about here, although it's been a small difference in sound tonality that can't explain it very well (nice pleasant warm sound).
There was no overheating for V5i, actually when used in the output buffers and in the gain stage V5i were barely warm to touch. When used in low-pass filter stage the V5i were about the same temperature as by MUSES01 from the I/V stage are (a bit over 45C with case open).
I've also attached some pictures to reflect that using V5i opamps in LPF, VAS and also in output buffers is not inducing any oscillations or odd harmonics (tough I don't have access to Audio Precision equipment, I've used a decent scope to test this). Screenshots where taken while using my PicoScope 2204A connected to MacBook Pro laptop with default probe connected to Essence One headphones output, -3dB test signals and volume button to about 10 o'clock.
No oscillations up to 10 MHz bandwidth while 1 KHz signal applied
20 Hz applied, 24 KHz bandwidth, no strange harmonics occurs
1 KHz applied, 24 KHz bandwidth, no strange harmonics occurs
20 KHz applied, 24 KHz bandwidth, no strange harmonics occurs
Those V5i solid-state opamps are looking so beautiful!
- Sound neutrality
- Brings more details upfront
- The outside metallic case acts like a EMI/RFI shield (for the SS V5 opamps you needed to purchase additional copper foils and ground it separately, but that's not the case for the V5i opamps)
- Size is a bit bigger than a regular DIP8 opamp and may not fit everywhere.
- It would be great for BURSON to create these opamps for devices having +/-18V on the rails. Right now V5i are designed with +/-16V in mind, but a native V5i able to be powered from +/-18 would be great if we could all have it in the future (like the older SS V4 that can be powered up to +/-20V).
- May not be compatible with all devices out there, some people reported on Head-Fi some hiss/noise issues when used in voltage amplification stage. This happened to me with Matrix HPA-3B when using gain of +5dB, though when using +10dB or +20dB the V5i were shining and singing with great soundstage and lot of details. So, dropping one star because of that.
Regards and happy modding,