PC focused Dac/Preamp/Headamp combo unit

Burson Play

Average User Rating:
4.5/5,
  • Alright! Time for an in-depth review of the Burson Play folks. Before I get into the details I'll tell you a bit about myself and my preferences. I've been into headphones and my quest for improved sound started when discovering my trusted FiiO E11 + Galaxy S combo. This combo is still alive today, somehow.. From there I've evolved through many sets of headphones, gear and grown here with Head-Fi as a skilled cable builder. On the audio front my preferences have matured and I've grown to become very discerning in what I require out of my gear.

    Currently my must have traits in a headphone rig include versatility, detail retrieval, soundstage/accuracy, realism, engagement and instrument separation. I do not care for smearing or alteration of sound.. You can read on my profile my past preferences, however currently I prefer AKG K702s powered by an iDSD BL because of the performance they provide. Often I will test a setup in a competitive FPS game simply because it will expose poor soundstage placement and accuracy immediately. From there of course lots of music across several genres is how I put new gear that lands in my hands through the gauntlet. Also, my hearing is good...for now.. :)

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    Lets start with a look at Burson's Play. The Play is a 5.25" bay compatible DAC/Preamp/Headamp combo making this a truly PC based solution that also plays nice with HTPCs. It includes a nice feeling aluminum remote just for that purpose. Also included is a power brick, USB cable and rubber feet for external use. For internal installation of the Play a PCI bracket w/Pre-Out hookups is included along with internal USB header cable, adapters and other goodies. All boxes checked on this one so far when it comes to features. The Pot has a great display and features the same design look as the Conductor v2+. Volume scrolling has a satisfying click and has the nice touch of muting when pressed in. This is hands down the nicest volume pot I've used. If I could nitpick the design at all I'd say that I would prefer a display dimming option, however that is just my preference. As-is the display isn't utterly blinding or anything.

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    The Play features the ability to roll Op-Amps, heck they even encourage it. I've found some solid sonic benefits that fit my preference from rolling in my STX. The Play features 3 dual opamps in the Dac I/V section and two singles in the amp path. My rolling journey with the STX ended with the Burson V5 so I now have the Play equipped with the V6 Vivid. The improvement they've made is impressive with these Op-Amps and clarity is through the roof while still retaining the engaging Burson signature sound. I will mention that I did prefer Burson Op-Amps over the Muses I've rolled in the past so I've stuck with them. When it comes to these Op-Amps specifically there are two choices from Burson, Vivid and Classic. Vivid is all about detail retrieval, transparency and accuracy. Classic is said to bring the performance forward upping engagement for a relaxing and more euphoric experience.

    I plan on trying the Classic in the future for those sessions however for this review and the main purpose of the Play for me I'll be using the Vivid. Swapping is as simple as removing the top 4 lid screws and removing the top panel. There is a handy diagram on the bottom of the lid even for which Op-Amp type goes where. A quick swap and you are up and running in moments with a different sound signature. It is worth mentioning the obvious, never swap while the unit is powered on.

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    If you've made it this far it is time to be treated with the meat and potatoes! I know, the appetizer was a big salad with a long wait.. worry not! The meal is worth it. I always start my analytics with the FPS test. The current go-to is a game by the name of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. This game features 100 players scavenging supplies and taking each other out in a tactical fashion. High quality sound is key so that you can discern the distance of gunshots and footsteps of other players to gain the competitive edge. One notable situation is in the staging area before a match begins. As all the players wait, jump/run around etc inferior gear will present sound as overlapping and muddy due to the sheer amount of audio information. My old Schiit gear I would say is the worst offender of soundstage depth alternation. The play pulled this test off presenting sound accurately, had excellent layering and a holographic sound. I mean, if you're going to advertise your gear gaming capable you'd best deliver as I'd verbally tear it to pieces otherwise.

    A frequent notation I had for the Play is that the sound was more realistic than with the iDSD. Gunfire was harrowing and impactful. Footsteps had a more crisp and realistic crunch. If I was a guessing man I would attribute this to the amp section in the Play being superior. As far as detail goes, both units were equal and I did not feel I was missing out either way. I would also like to share that a high quality 2ch headphone setup provides top notch positional audio. I've tested three surround sound headphones in my day and I prefer a quality 2ch for gaming and VASTLY prefer it for music, just my opinion.

    Musically the Play puts up a strong showing. My musical preferences have grown as I have and in this evolution I've found that some genres I've liked in the past are no longer compatible with my new gear. EDM specifically or really any other treble hot recordings are no longer in the mix. However, playing songs like Ed Solo's Egyptian Horns on the Play brings a huge smile across my face. An enveloping sound is laid out in front with great soundstage and detail retrieval. Bass from the Sabre ESS9018 DAC fed through the V6 Vivids is strong, layered and punchy. Mids are liquid around the edges with all of the detail at heart. Highs are prominent with sparkle that takes you to that edge tight shouldered yet avoid being fatiguing. I've been able to put hours on the Play at a time without fatigue through my pairs of headphones, a feat in its own.

    My first thought was maybe the treble is rolled a bit, however I've found that it is simply not hiked forward like on a lot of gear I've owned in the past, giving the illusion of increased detail. I performed quite a few detail retrieval tests to confirm this and found the Play left nothing behind. Switching up genres Radiohead was also enjoyed in all its greatness as was surprisingly enough some poorly recorded Megadeth I threw into the mix. The Play is forgiving yet still resolute on recordings with plenty of information to provide. Dynamic range on the Play was excellent and I didn't feel a pinch in either direction. The background is black and the Play was dead silent all the way to max on a pair of IEMs I tested. During some torture burn-in with an unrealistic load the Play got moderately warm, however during normal listening with inefficient headphones I'd call it 'barely warm at all'. Soldering work was also excellent.

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    When it comes to PC audio lets be honest for a minute. All in pc solutions up until now are fairly par compared to other options out on the market today. Onboard sound has come a long way, sure.. I'll agree there... still unacceptable though. PCI/e based solutions inched that forward into viable. Can they compete with offboard solutions? No, not even close. Burson however has bucked this trend and set a new benchmark in my opinion with the Play. It has taken the top spot as my go-to daily driver from a performance standpoint alone before even considering its capability as a PC based unit. The implementation is solid and I struggle to find fault with the Play, it's that good. For my purposes and in my opinion it outperforms the gear I've owned to date. For the money Play is a no brainer compared to current soundcard prices. The V6's cost a little extra however these can be added down the road. After my experiences with rolling Op-Amps I'd just rather cut to the chase though and get the V6's. Thanks for the read I hope you enjoyed!

Recent User Reviews

  1. ostewart
    4.5/5,
    "Powerful and fun DAC/Amp"
    Pros - Op-Amp rolling, versatility, power and overall sound quality
    Cons - no analogue or optical inputs
    Firstly I would like to thank Burson Audio for selecting me as the first member of the UK tour, I made sure to give the unit plenty of hours of play before the final review.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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    Features:

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

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

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

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

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

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    Sound:
    V6 Vivid:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sound Perfection Rating: 9/10 (no analogue or optical inputs)
    selvakumar likes this.

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