Burson Play

Rating:
4.8/5,
  1. Mij-Van
    All About That Bass
    Written by Mij-Van
    Published Jun 10, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Power and muscle.
    Cons - No real line-out. Matt finish case.
    This is a review of Burson Play Basic.

    Long time lurker here, I’ve learned quite a lot from reading on HeadFi and comparing reviews with my personal impressions. Therefore I was quite delighted when the fellow HeadFier @DjBobby lent me the Play for 2 weeks to test it. I wouldn’t like to repeat the specs and technicalities which are stated and reprinted in almost every review, but focus more on my personal observances.

    Trivia
    The Burson Play doesn’t have serial number. It can be used in the PC case or on the desktop with 4 adhesive silicone rubber feet attached. It comes with high quality RCA audio cable, actually two of them. You get one mono cable for each channel of aprox. 55 cm lenghth, which is very convenient for desktop use. Connecting headphones doesn’t mute the pre-out. It get's quite warm. The case in matt-metallic finish isn’t quite ideal, being a magnet for dust and fingerprints.

    Although in the Qobuz online review it was stated that the Play doesn’t work with IOS devices - it does. You can read the review with a help of Google translate here:
    https://www.qobuz.com/be-fr/info/hi-fi/bancs-d-essai/burson-audio-dac-play-v5i-un-petit180626
    I’ve tested it with all my iDevices and it worked without any problem. Using hi-rez audio on both Onkyo HF and Dan Leer’s Flac player, the Play had absolutely no issues, so I can’t understand why didn't the Qobuz team make it. What I didn’t get was playing DSD256 files. DSD64 and DSD128 had no issues but with DSD256 it always switched to PCM352.8 Khz.

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    Sound impressions
    I am late 20’s music lover with special affinity for double bass, meaning I am listening predominantly to deep but clear bass sound. Not only the bass of course, but this is very tricky area for many dacs. Quite often you get just rumbling, double bass sounding like moving the furniture around your house and it is not easy to follow the pitch. Listening to the same recordings on the vinyl gives you mostly better pitch control, more layering and better instrument separation.
    The music I was using was the album „London Double Bass Sound“ feat. Gary Karr, „From Kirk to Nat“ with Rufus Reid, Miles Davis’ „E.S.P.“ with Ron Carter and a bunch of other pop, electronic and some classical music. Listening was done mostly with the Senns HD25 and HD598.

    All About That Bass:
    Short version - this is one of the best bass performances I’ve ever heard from the dac/amp combo. It’s punchy, clear, meaty, juicy, you name it. It was a joy listening over and over again through old recordings sounding being juiced up. The timbre was there, the pitch was easy to follow and and there was an overall authority to the low bass sound. The instrument placement was very realistic and palpable with lot of spatial information. Interestingly even on Senns which are already on the dark side, the Play never sounded mudded. There was richness to the upper mid-bass with nice transition to the lower mids.

    Mids
    The lower mids were very rich sounding, almost euphonic and tube like, with nice color to the lower male voices. Going higher up it started to sound somewhat grainier and slightly rougher and there were times I was thinking about how better opamps would have contributed here.

    Treble
    Very detailed and with lot of sparkle, maybe sometimes too much sparkle. On certain bad mastered recordings the treble sounded thin and acidic, with Sabre glare coming clearly through. Again maybe different opamps would have mellowed the treble.

    Soundstage
    The soundstage is wide and moderately deep, with instruments sounding somewhat distant. It works great with big orchestral music. With some simpler acoustic music like Nora Jones, I would have wished being closer to the stage. Or the musicians closer to me.

    Conclusion:
    For $299 for the basic version, you can hardly get the cheapest Chinese no name dac/amp combo. If you find it, it still would be no comparison to Burson's excellent build quality and a 5 yr guarantee. It’s all about that bass and that bass is great. No brainer 5 stars.
      DjBobby likes this.
  2. DjBobby
    Addictive Play
    Written by DjBobby
    Published Jun 3, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Huge amount of power, warm and smooth sound. Possibility for opamps rolling.
    Cons - No gain switch, no selectable dac filters.
    This is a review of the Burson Play Basic headphone amp and preamp, made by the Burson Audio company. I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to Burson Audio for sending me the unit to test, review and play with it.

    The basic version uses NE5532 X 3, NE5543 X 2 opamps with 4 additional upgrades which can add up to $250 of costs, depending of your configuration. There are quite a few reviews of the Play mainly with different opamps like Vivid and Classic, but much less of the basic version.

    It comes in a big box, safely packed, togehter with RCA audio, USB digital cable, 6.5mm headphone jack adapter, 12V/6A AC/DC adapter and a slot to fit into a PC case. The dac section features Sabre’s ES9018 with 32bit/384khz dac with possibility to play DXD and DSD256.

    Burson Play 1.jpg


    Power:

    The amp section is pure Class A with no ICs on the signal path, pumping 2W into 16 Ohms and 1W into 32 Ohms.
    You can feel and hear that the Burson Play pumps quit a lot of power, and has more than sufficient current for most of the inefficient headphones out there. Although the scale goes up to 100, it was almost impossible to use it with more than 30 with any of my cans. For the rock and pop music I was moving around 12-15 with 30 reaching on some quieter classical slow tracks like Mahler’s Adagietto from the 5th symphony. The gain is insane, so maybe my first thought is going to be about the non-existent gain switch. With such a high gain and such big power, it’s kind of useless having a scale up to 100 which is impossible to be ever used. For that, the inclusion of low/high gain switch would have been welcome.

    While the Play pumps plenty of current into the lower impedance headphones, its ac/dc adapter is rated at only 12V, so I am not quite sure how much voltage is Play able to provide for the high impedance cans like Beyers DT880 with its 600 ohms impedance.

    Through the RCA out, the Play acts as an active preamp, with incredibly high output. If you want to use it with the normal amp, you need to be carefull not to blow your speakers. Play’s voltage output at the rca much exceeds the standard industry level of +-2V on line out and I was using it at about 50% to match the level of my other dacs.

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    Sound impressions:

    The music for the review included recordings, mostly hi-rez, by ZAZ, Diana Krall, Miles Davies, John Coltrane, Bob Marley, ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Harry Belafonte, Daft Punk, Debussy and Ravel string quartets, Mahler 5th Symphony, Dvorak 9th, Mendelssohn Scottish Symphony and Copland's Rodeo suite.

    My general sound impression was that the Play sounds warm, with smooth treble and cultivated bass. The soundstage is very wide and gives you an impression of sitting in the 10th row of a big concert venue. There was a slight feel of the veil to the sound, which was actually welcome in many bad mastered recordings. My first thought was that by rolling opamps, it could be substianitally bettered. And there we come – the Play is incredible bang for buck, to my knowledge the best you can get for this money out there, but it makes you wanting for more. Once you start the opamp rolling journey it could turn to addictive – and well more expensive.

    Play vs SMSL M8a + Little Dot Mk2 (Mullard):

    With a lower impedance headphones Play sounded crisp, precise and with a well definded bass. The soundstage was wide and high and everything sounded bigger than through M8a+LD combo. There was a certain veil to the sound, which I suppose could be bettered by upgrading the opamps. The instruments sounded a little bit more distant than with the LD. Going for high impedance cans like T90 with their impedance swinging from 300 ohms to over 700 ohms, LD sounded much more in command with deeper bass, more body around the notes and efortless dynamic. I had a feeling that high Z cans which prefer bigger voltage swing than the Play can provide, would be happier with some OTL tube amp.

    Play vs Chord Mojo:
    Althoug the Play showed considerable ammount of detail, courtesy of Sabre dacs, compared to Mojo it sounded simpler, a little bit flat, with less colours and somehow more congested. The Mojo has an ease to its sound, more layers in the bass and sounded calmer and more in command than the Play. I guess this goes more to the advantage of the Mojo dac section which was a clear winner. The Play however, has much more power and is much more desktop solution than the battery powered Mojo.

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    Play with Senns HD650
    Listened to HD650 through the LD and the Play, Burson was a clear winner here. Although I have believed for long time that HD650 need an OTL amp to sing, the Play pleasantly surprised me with its punchy bass, detailed imaging lifting the famous Senn vail and an impressive soundstage. Great combo.

    Play with Beyers T90
    Here the LD sounded more holistic, more intimate and the voices had more human colours and far more emotions than through the Play. The main difference was the dynamic which was much clearer pronounced with the LD. I guess it has to do with much higher voltage swing of he LD. I had a feeling that the Play, despite huge current reserve was struggling to deliver efficient voltage.

    Play with AKG K702
    Here the Play was a clear winner, it smoothed K702 agressive treble, there was litteraly no sibilance, the bass was nice and easy to follow and the soundstage was just a textbook. Bob Marley's I Shot The Sheriff had something addictive to its bass through this combo, I literary couldn't stop listening it over and over again. Paired with the K702, the Play was much ahead of the LD.

    Burson Play 5.jpg

    Play as preamp (dac function):
    I’ve connected the Play through rca to an external Marantz amp, but had to be carefull about the volume. Play doesn’t have fixed output level, typically 2V, but acts as a preamp with a way to high level. Set to 50% I got the level close to the output of my other dacs. In this function it sounded surprisingly rich, with nice imaging and well defined soundstage and just a tad brighter, which is a trademark of Sabre dac chips. But this gave me a clear idea that with using different opamps, the Play could substiantially opens up and lift the slight veil which is now present in the basic setting.

    Burson Play 6.jpg

    Conclusion:
    There are more resolving dacs out there like the Chord Mojo, there are possibly fuller sounding dacs and more neutral headphones amps around, but what the Play brings into one box is definitely best bang for the buck I experienced since my headfi journey started. Already in its basic version it is unbelievable well made product, which makes you wondering how much potential is out there when you go to upgrade the opamps. The Burson Play will clean up my desktop and move some of the dacs and amps I have there to lower drawers, and take the place as my No.1 daily companion. And yes, rolling opamps will be the next step -)

    What I like: warm, smooth sound, with big reserve of power. Well built, looks nice on the desktop. The blue light looks great during night listening.
    What would I like to see: gain switch, selectable dac filters.

    And for the end - in this price category don't look further, IMHO it is one of the best all-in-one solutions. Clear 5 stars.
      Mij-Van and raoultrifan like this.
  3. WilliamLeonhart
    An audiophile amp in disguise
    Written by WilliamLeonhart
    Published May 29, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Audiophile sound in a sturdy build at a very attractive price. Plenty of power for high-impedance cans. Great upgradability and flexibility via op-amps rolling. Slick-looking remote control.
    Cons - Run warm and thus is not quite suitable to put in a gaming case.
    I could still years ago, when I went to my classmate's – who also happened to be an audiophile that got me into this hobby – and had a go with the HD650 and the DT880. I didn't quite like the Beyer, but I specifically remember falling in love with the HD650. I wanted it for my Carpenters, my Celine Dion and my Bee Gees.

    But I never bought the HD650. First thing: it costed around $400, and before there was an official distributor in Vietnam, it costed 1.5 times as much. Second: the amp might even cost more. I had numerous "run-ins" with the HD650, and each and every time I love it more only to realize that the cans were being driven by an amp even less affordable than the headphones themselves.

    Among those were the Burson HA-160 that I encountered at a meet a few months later. Yes, of all the "forget it you won't afford it" amps that I've seen, I specifically remember the HA-160 because, let's be frank, how often do you see an Australian equipment maker pop up on the map?

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    The toys used to be out of reach...

    Fast forward to 2018 and I still live with my parents because it's the way of life in Vietnam. I'm now what the company calls "engineer level 3", I'm married with one little boy. So, while my budget has definitely increased, the likes of Burson Conductor or Woo Audio WA7 remain out of reach. (Well I did once decide to spend around $1000 on a Chord Hugo but never could bring myself to justify the price, so I sold it).

    Thankfully, it's 2018 and this headphone hobby has become more accessible. In 2016, Massdrop collaborated with Sennheiser to produce a $200 version of the HD650. Needless to say, I joined in.

    The most accessible Burson

    Yet the amp problem remains. It was the same thing that happened to my AKG Q701, which I got from Amazon for just $100. The headphones have become cheap, now how much must I spend on the amp?

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    Here comes the Play, which start at $299. Having blown away by many of Burson's accessories (including the V5 op-amp and the Cable Pro+), I had always hoped to have a chance to review a full Burson amp. The engineering student me was amazed at the HA-160 driving the HD650; the engineer me was amazed by the Conductor driving the LCD3 Fazor. Even better: Burson is having a trial tour for the Play, the result of which is this very review you're reading.

    Let's run through some details first. AFAIK, at $300 the Play is the most accessible "completed product" from Burson. The specs are quite good: the DAC chip is SABRE32/ESS9018; the amp is pure Class A and can output 2000 mWatt per channel. You can play DSD256 with the Play, and you can also use it to output directly to headphones or pre-amp your speaker system.

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    It also stands out as somewhat of a "pro" audio solution for gamers: while the Play looks just fine as a standalone unit, its design also allows for easy installation inside a ATX case. It also has a microphone input for streamers – ain't nothing as interesting as getting Chicken Dinner with your audiophile equipment, right?

    Unboxing and setting up

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    As I had to pick up the Play at the airport that's 1 hour away, I actually unbox it on the bus home. The box looked good enough for any $500 product, and inside there's 2 smaller boxes that contain the accessories. I have the V5i version, so there's this sleek-looking remote control. There're also a 6.5-3.5 jack and some accessories to install the Play inside a PC case. The included USB and RCA cables are way more decent than those "gifted" with Chinese DAC/amp.

    Setting up the Burson Play to use with my PC was a breeze. Just plug it in, turn it on and Windows automatically installs the drivers. Technically it's all Plug and Play. However, if you intend to achieve the best sound available, get ASIO drivers from Burson. You can also remove the Windows default driver and force the OS to use the XMOS driver inside that package, but I honestly can't tell if there's a difference.

    Looking industrially sharp

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    In comparison to all the other amps that have ever sit on my busy desk, the Play looks somewhat unique. The chassis is obviously rectangular and falls in line with the DVD Drives that you forsake years ago to get yourself a Wi-fi router instead. To make that shape less industrially ugly, Burson use a matte-metallic finish and add some lines on the top and its 2 sides. The result is an incredibly well-built, industrially-sharp looking unit. Everything about it screams "I'm going to last longer than your taste in Metalcore, urgh".

    There's no way I can overstate the build quality of the Play: while it's not as striking as the Conductor Play or the WA7, every detail feels premium. The knob, the gold-plated sockets, the way the upper lid fits into the lower chassis, and most of all, the volume indicator. I think at this point the volume indicator lights have become Burson's trademarks: on the industrial Play, it tones down the industrial look just a bit.

    As the Play is a review unit I'm not allowed to install it in my gaming case. Regardless, I strongly recommend everyone to use the Burson Play as a standalone unit – it'll be a worthy addition to your desk and it'll be much more convenient this way.

    The Burson sound

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    Burson in Burson.

    Before going into the sound, I'm going to mention another special feature of the Play: it's built for a very easy op-amp rolling experience. Burson even includes a screwdriver and an extra set of 4 screws in case you ever lost one. Kudos to this company for going extra lengths to serve their customers, even those of their most accessible products.

    Naturally the first thing I did after I had spent a whole long listening session with the Play was open it and roll op-amp. After trying different combinations of Burson’s V6 Vivid, V6 Classic, V5i as well as Sparkos and MUSEs (and a bunch of cheaper options from TI), I’ve decided to stick with the Vivid dual and Classic single opamps. Yes, 3 Vivid will bring the sound much closer in line with the other, more high-end Burson amps that I've had the chance to experience in the past.

    With the HD540

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    Let's start with the HD540. I think it's one of very few 1980s-made headphones that still have an active following on Head-fi. I have a 300 Ohm version which is really hard to satisfy: just get the wrong amp and it gives you all the symptoms of an underpowered mess: bass is muffled, highs get "broken" into sharpy pieces and the mids is shouty.

    How will the Play help? To be honest, at first I didn't like the Play with my HD540: while volume was quite easily reached at 25-30, most of the time the HD540 had a robotic feel to it. But that was with the Sparko opamps. With the V6 Vivid combo, there's an elegant bass boost that totally change the tonal picture. The highs and the mids get smoothed out, as if there's a thin version of the famed Sennheiser veil put on the HD540.

    Surprisingly enough, it was around 2 years ago that I did get the chance to enjoy this euphoric sound on my friend's HD540 & Mjolnir combo. I bought a pair for myself only to almost never find it again on my Little Dot I+, which still gives enough volume but never could recreate the magic again. I always thought it was because of the Chinese pads that I had to put on the HD540 (Sennheiser no longer produce parts for these oldies). I was wrong. I just needed a more powerful amp.

    Naturally the HD540 has become my go-to pair for all my Jazz & Fusion stuffs. I suspect the same would happen if I had a HD580 or HD600 here, but this full-bodied bass and organic rhythm must be hard to find on all other amps, especially with the "neutral" craze that has gone on for too long on manufacturers’ websites.

    With the AKG Q701

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    Here in Vietnam we have a saying that’s roughly translated to “1 buck to buy the chicken, 3 to feed it”. Unsurprisingly, the phrase gets uttered a lot at local meets where any AKG 7-series model is present.

    Once again, the Play comes to the rescue. Burson sent me the V5i version, but I find the MUSE 8920/8820 and OP27 (bought in Japan, costing me ~15 bucks in total) to be more than adequate with the Q701. With Florence and the Machine on, many times I felt that the AKG came this close to tearing my ears off, but it never did. After a few songs, the fear of sibilance was silenced and I could focus on the details of my favorite Indie records. Treble feels extended and natural. Mids feel engaging but not glary. Strangely, all these details are presented in an extremely organized manner.

    Coming back to my favourite Jazz live album, Blues for Tony, all that exceptional drumming and bass-ing couldn't prevent me from doing my favorite thing: counting notes. While the difference with the K7xx (which is much warmer) is still night and day, the depth and more prominent presence of the bass also helps to tone down the somewhat-artificial soundstage. It's still the spacious sound AKG is known for, but it no longer feels like you're sitting in a room with weirdly-positioned speakers.

    (PS: Despite the cheap op-amps performing well and very Burson-like, I still prefer the all-V6 Vivids version to add even more warmth to the sound).

    With some Grados…

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    Every amp has its pitfalls, and so did the Play. Many in the Play thread have pointed out that the Play v1.0 requires impedance-matching accessories to work with IEMs, otherwise there will be a constant hissing sound. I tried matching the Play with some low-impedance headphones only to find that the hiss *might* also happen on these.

    Thankfully there’s a new version to the rescue. I received the new version just last week and tested it with my Grados. The hiss is gone at all volume levels. Choosing the right op-amp combination makes the Play a pretty good choice with mids-centric headphones from Grado and Audio Technica. The downside is that upgrading from the orginial Play costs $100 (new version start at the same $300). I don’t really hear any difference on harder-to-drive cans, so if you solely rely on those, there’s no need to update.

    How is the sound? On my Grados, the Play generally improve the soundstage and clarity: the Audioengine D1 and all mobile devices/laptop will sound extremely muddy in comparison. Op-amp rolling also helps. Grados are famously colored so a set of more neutral op-amps in the Play will the best clarity for my iGrado (think of it as a more claustrophobic version of the SR60 when it’s plugged into your laptop). With the Alessandro MS2e, which is practically a tuned SR325e, a set of V6 Vivid will tame down the highs in old recordings.

    With the HD6xx

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    Words cannot express how happy I felt that day, when I got my HD6xx. I spent hours listening to my favorite albums again, as if I were re-discovering them all over again.

    The thrill is there because the “wow factor” is not. It’s been years since I first got into this hobby, I’m no longer easily impressed by things like a supernaturally wide soundstage or “edgy” sound sig. The HD6xx has none of that. It seeks to impress no one and instead wows the true audiophile with timeless elegance: a refined, smooth and coherent sound that only a few can deliver.

    Well the Play and the HD6xx deliver. The Burson HD650 sound, years later at a fraction of the prize and an unexpected bonus: while the level of awesomeness is as much as I remember it to be, I’ve found out that HD6xx doesn’t come off as “veiled” like the HD650 used to. With the veil gone and the HD6xx giving out more details than I’d expected, I can roll opamps to tune the HD6xx to sound good on almost any genres. Putting all 5 V6 Vivid inside and there’s plenty of bass to go with your favorite Hip-hop or even Vocals-focused EDM track (like Reality by Lost Frequencies). Put V6 Classic into the single slots and the dynamics improve, making it great for Bon Jovi or any other 80s rock band.

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    A V5 in LPF and 4 V5i in I/V and single slots give me the most mellowed-out sound of all combinations: there’s not so much (dominent) bass but there’s still enough warmth and smoothness pasted all over the edges. From Spotify’s excellent Coffee Table Jazz playlist and Peter, Paul & Mary’s In Concert to my favourite album of all time, Carpenters’ Ultimate Collection, this is truly the combo to enjoy music with.

    With the HD800

    Patient readers would have noticed that I’m a sucker for colored sound – I could just go on and on about the HD800 sound as driven from my tube amp. But while the V6 Vivid brings a lot of warmth, the Play is at its core a solid-state amp. It gives more than enough volume and sound imaging on the HD800 is still crazily eyes-opening as usual, unfortunately the neutral sound really, really puts me off.

    Which bring us back to the HD800’s classic debate: is this actually the sound intended by recording engineers? If "utterly neutral" is your sound of choice, perhaps you'd be happy to get the Play to drive the famed Sennheiser (and remember to get some clean op-amps). It's just not my sound though.

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    Regardless the Play functions perfectly as the DAC/preamp for my tube unit. I’m of the opinion that coloring should be left to amps and headphones, and that everyone should appreciate a truly neutral, clean-sounding DAC. The remote control is an added bonus, too.

    The real added bonus: Home Audio

    With the Play fitting quite well with my Aego M, I figured I could pair it with my powered speakers set: Klipsch KG4 driven by Sansui 707. Lovers of vintage audio equipment knows that clarity isn't their strong suit, so the Play's resolution certainly helps here: the sound is just so clean at times I thought, maybe I should get worse-quality cables to add some vintage-y feel to it.

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    With a dedicated laptop.

    It's here that the Play's remote control really shines, as finding a compatible for these amps most of the time is a pain in the @ss. The Play's remote control and a wireless mouse G900 will help bring about a complete couch experience. Else, you could use Spotify, which strangely doesn't allow volume control when remote playing on anything other than an Echo.

    With this view of the Play, I also share the opinion that it should come with more input options (optical, coax and aux in). However my main source of music is Tidal/purchased AAC on laptops dedicated to playing music so the lack of optical/coax doesn't really bother me.

    But the Burson Play v1.0 is not perfect for Playing (Games)

    Even though the name is “Burson Play”, I’d like to think of this amp as “Play with Op-amp” rather than “Play games”. On practically all headphones I’ve tried except for the HD800 and Q701, the sound is still way too stereo rather than surround.

    That being said, I'm still somewhat skeptical of how surround headphones help with gaming. In 2016, I did a review on one of the top gaming headsets, the Logitech G933, only to find that while they're convenient and comfortable, the 7.1 surround sound didn't really improve my K/D. If I really wanted to, I could pinpoint enemy players' position either on my Aego M, provided the satellite units are placed properly. I can also do that with any of my headphones, but for long gaming sessions, I do prefer speakers simply for the fact that they don’t rest on my head.

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    This binaural combo is great for gaming. But the cost....

    Some games do have surround virtualization. However, that still cannot make the Play a truly gaming-first product. At its heart, the Play is a quality audiophile product – the added microphone jack and the form factor are only bonus for those headphones lovers that also play games. I count myself among those: with the Play driving my Aego M and my Q701, I got so caught up in Battlefield’s excellent soundtrack that I felt bad when the match actually started.

    Even the Play's design to fit into a gaming case would not be suitable for all users. After around 30 mins of use the Play "feels" around 40*C/104*F (which is around the degree I warm my baby's milk to). This is actually not bad for a Class-A headphone amp per se, but in a gaming case with all the excessive heat generated by the GPU and CPU it's going to be much higher. Thus I will always recommend using the Play as a standalone unit, with audiophile headphones.

    The affordable Burson doesn't dissapoint

    A few months ago, I did write a small article comparing various amp/DAC around the $500 price range. If you want the most intimate (but NOT congested) listening experience, the Burson Play with V6 Vivid op-amps would serve you better than all those DAC/amps mentioned. If you want something a bit more elegant, V6 Vivid duals with V6 Classic singles is the way to go.

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    Opamp rolling = unprecedented flexibility.

    If budget is a concern, the stock version will not disappoint, especially at the $300 asking price for a powerful amp/DAC unit like the Play. As others in the Play thread have pointed out, there are many cheap op-amps to roll (I quite like how $15 spent on 8920 and OP27 could turn a Play into a "reference" unit). Of all versions, I do believe it's the V5 version that will bring the famed "Burson signature sound" to you at a fraction of what the Conductor or the HP-160D costs. We're talking about a lot of possibilities via op-amp rolling, and I'm sure that no version of the most affordable Burson will disappoint.

    I view this as Burson's natural progression. Years ago, when I could only dream of the HD650, Burson started as a high-end amp maker that won awards left and right. At the moment, when the HD650 is no longer out of reach and we headphones lovers have a plethora of choices at the $200 range, Burson has introduced a $300 DAC-amp that you can easily tune to your liking. Yes, it might not have the surround virtualization that you might need, but the Play is a bona-fide audiophile DAC-amp that your music deserves.
      raoultrifan, Eiffel and Fearless1 like this.
  4. Cinder
    Good Headphone Amp, Great Pre-Amp
    Written by Cinder
    Published May 20, 2018
    4.0/5,
    Pros - Great resolving sound, premium construction and materials, great accessory set, fits in a 5.25' storage bay, good amplification range, great DAC, format compatibility, versatile tuning options
    Cons - Power button is inconvenient to reach, no optical in
    [​IMG]
    Burson Play Review: Good Headphone Amp, Great Pre-Amp

    Burson builds audiophile-grade DACs and amps. Based in Australia, they use their technical expertise to build high-grade amplification and source devices nearly entirely out of discrete components, a trait that Burson says improves the performance of their products. They’ve recently released a DAC/Amp called the Play: a device that can be used as a part of your audio stack or even slotted into a 5.25in bay in a PC!

    You can find the Play for sale here, ranging from $300 to $550 depending on the configuration you order. The cheapest option comes with a basic opamp set and no remote, while the most expensive one comes with two sets of Burson’s premium opamps and a remote.

    About My Preferences: Heads up, I’m a person! As such, these words are my opinion, and they are tinged by my personal preferences. While I try to mitigate this as much as possible during my review process, I’d be lying if I said my biases are completely erased. So for you, my readers, keep this in mind:

    • My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, mid-bass.
    • I have a mild treble sensitivity.
    Audio Stack
    • Motherboard -> USB -> Burson Play -> Sherwood AD230B -> JBL 990X
    • Motherboard -> USB -> Headphones
    All testing was done using the Classic opamps.

    Tech Specs
    • Input impedance: 35 KOhms
    • Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0–35Khz
    • THD:<0.02%
    • Output impedance (Head Amp): 8 Ohm
    • Power Supply: 100–240V AC
    • Output impedance (Pre Out): 35 Ohm
    • DAC: SABRE32/ESS9018
    • Channel Separation: 132 dB @ 1KHz, 122 dB @ 20KHz
    • THD+N: 0.0015% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS
    • Native DSD: 64 / 128 / 256
    • DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256
    Sound Signature
    Performance and Pairing

    The Play has a very subtle warmth to it but is otherwise completely transparent. It is incredibly resolving and lets you get the most out of your lossless file formats if that’s your thing. The amplification range of this thing is great, and it pairs much better with my AD230b than my HiFiME 9018 or my PC’s line-out. Gone is the anemic, thin, sound of old. In its stead is a much more balanced and fully weighted tone that’s much improved the quality of my sound system’s stack.

    The Play also handles IEMs fairly well. Very sensitive ones will have an audible noise floor, but the majority of IEMs that I tested had a negligible noise floor if one at all.

    Using it with more demanding headphones like planars suited the Play much better, and it really sang. No noticeable noise floor hear either.

    Packaging / Unboxing
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Build
    Construction Quality

    The Play’s build is top notch. Every inch of it is finely machined and free from flaws. It is assembled with careful hands, as each removable component came tightly and securely fixed to the chassis.

    [​IMG]
    The volume knob is milled from metal and has a very tasteful metallic ring around the front. It’s free-rotating, so there’s no limit to the degree to which you can twist it. It has a satisfying bump for each adjustment of the knob and is satisfying to crank up. Pressing it in mutes the device.

    [​IMG]
    Besides the volume knob is an analog volume display that lights up in blue to show you what your current volume level is. Further besides that is the 1/4in jack out and the microphone-in.

    [​IMG]
    On the rear is the line in, power adapter socket (for if the Play is being used discretely), a Molex power socket (for if it's being used in a PC case), the power switch, and the RCA out.

    Speaking of being used in a PC case, the Play has grooves milled into its chassis that make it easy to install into a PC case with an empty 5.25in bay. Having a DAC/Amp in the front of my PC was super handy for the week I tested it there, especially while gaming. Connecting and disconnecting different headphones and mics (some are better than other for online shooters) was a breeze, at least when compared to having to reach being my PC and yank the cables out from my motherboard.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Depending on your model, the Play will come with a remote. It features a volume up, volume down, and mute button. Each is milled from a reflective metal and feels incredibly premium to the touch. Its weight gives it a near-perfect heft. The remote works really well and has a good range. There’s no point in my (admittedly small) room where it can’t reach the Play unit.

    And good news for opamp junkies: the Play makes it easy to swap in your own opamps. Just remove the top half of the case and bam, you have access to the fully-discrete internals of the Play. All you need is the included hex-wrench and a couple minutes. Its so easy, even an idiot can do it! I’m living proof, after all.

    Accessories
    There’s a lot to unpack in the Play’s box! So in my unit, which is the “ Play with V6 Classic”, you’ll find:

    • 1x set of V6 Classic opamps
    • 1x set of V6 Vivid opamps
    • 1x set of RCA interconnect cables
    • 1x USB cable
    • 1x power brick
    • 1x Molex power adapter
    • 1x motherboard header adapter
    • 1x remote
    • 1x set of rubber adhesive feet
    • 1x 1/4in adapter
    • 1x RCA passthrough slider
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    The utility cables are pretty par for the course, exempting the RCA cables. Those are premium Burson stock. The cable is thick, but pliable, and has high-quality and aesthetically pleasing terminations.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    This accessory set is comprehensive. It gets the job done and does so with style (where applicable). Its almost a shame to have all this nice-looking hardware tucked away inside a PC case! But if you’re like me and have a need to show off your cool things, then just take it out and plug it into a wall outlet: it’ll work all the same!

    Summary
    The Play is a DAC/Amp with an innovative take on form-factor. Allowing users to install it into a PC case or use it discretely, the play reflects a flexibility not often found in audiophile hardware. Good format compatibility, strong amping, relatively low noise floors, a highly resolving presentation, and the ability to freely mix opamps in an out represents an unprecedented level of tinker-ability for those with restless hands, at least if you’ve got the cash. So if you’re in the market for a competent DAC/Amp and have a knack for swapping opamps, the Play is for you.

    As always, happy listening!
      Niyologist and raoultrifan like this.
  5. Wiljen
    Burson Play - one extremely versatile DAC/Amp !
    Written by Wiljen
    Published May 20, 2018
    4.5/5,
    Pros - Very Versatile DAC/AMP with good power and tuning opportunities
    Cons - USB Only, no optical or coaxial inputs, AC adapter not as robust as rest of unit.
    I was loaned the Burson Play as part of the review tour and would like to extend a very heartfelt thanks to the crew at Burson Audio who really went above and beyond the call to make sure we had a working unit for the tour. I won’t elaborate here, suffice it to say other organizations might have decided to end the tour early rather than go through hoops to make it happen but Burson stuck with it and sent out another unit to finish the tour.

    The Play is an interesting critter. On the surface, it can be seen as an entry level DAC/AMP since at the heart of it, that is what it is. Beyond that, the Play is designed to fit in a PC bay normally reserved for a CD Rom drive. In PC speak, the Play fits in a standard ½ height 5 ¼ inch drive bay. The upside being, most full-sized desktop and tower configuration PCs have at least one available bay of this variety. The downside, is maybe not for much longer as direct download of software and use of USB drives have all but hammered the last nail in the coffin of the CD. Because of its design, the Play has both a connection for an AC adapter and a 4 pin Molex connector again designed for a standard CD power connector (12 and 5V DC power). I did not mount the play in my PC during the review tour but did use a 650-Watt PC power supply instead of the provided AC adapter for a good bit of the testing to simulate PC use.


    Packaging:
    The play came shipped in a well labeled black box that while subtle, conveyed the needed details. Upon opening the box, two smaller boxes surround the main unit which sits in the center. The boxes contain the power brick and connecting cables as well as adapters for use of the play inside a PC case. Overall, nothing fancy about the packaging but nothing left lacking either. Well packed for travel and a good set of accessories and tools needed to mount the unit either as a standalone or inside a PC case. The unit also sports a stick remote which comes in handy as raising or lowering the volume in large increments is easier with the remote than the dial.


    Build:
    The front of the unit has a 6.3mm jack for headphones, a 3.5mm jack for a microphone, a two-digit numeric display built into the face plate, and a large volume knob. The volume display is extremely well done with cutting the holes through the metal face rather than simply exposing the entire component. Some will complain about it being too bright for bedroom use but for most gamers who tend to adorn PCs with neon anyway, I suspect no such quarrels will be heard.

    front.jpg


    A hex head screw adorns each corner of the case front and rear and allows for near complete disassembly of the unit in very rapid fashion if desired. It should be noted that while the front and rear screws are the same thread pattern and take the same Allen wrench (provided in the accessory kit) that the heads are enough different between front and rear that they need to be kept separate when taking the cover off the unit.

    screws.jpg


    The top cover is keyed so it cannot be installed backward as shown below, and tolerances are very tight so careful alignment is needed to get the unit back together.

    rail1.jpg rail2.jpg

    The rear of the unit is a bit busier than the front with a USB input on the far left, then the AC input, the 4 pin Molex DC input, a power switch, and a pair of RCA pre-outs at the far right.

    rear.jpg

    The sides have screw holes placed at the appropriate locations for mounting the unit while the top and bottom are solid metal painted a nicely subdued flat black.
    side.jpg

    The paint job is susceptible to scratches so once used inside a PC case, the unit will likely sport a few battle scars and may need to be repainted if you later decide to use it as a stand-alone.

    The unit is designed to be opened by the end user as changing op-amps is not only possible but expected. The good news is sockets are well spaced to make replacement of op-amps very easy to do without having to worry about bumping a cap or resistor in the process.
    sockets.jpg


    A diagram on the inside of the top cover shows clearly the proper orientation of the 5 replaceable op amps (3 doubles for the DAC side and 2 singles for the headphone amp).

    PlayInternals.jpg


    This is critical as mounting an opamp backwards not only wont work, it has potential to destroy the op-amp and the unit. My advice is take photos before removing the existing op-amps the play ships with. Be certain that all photos clearly show the proper orientation of the op-amp in the socket and have enough detail of the area around the socket to clearly identify each one. Once you have the new op-amps installed, compare to the photos just to make certain all alignments are correct before powering on. This helps prevent mishaps. (As a side note, when using the V6 Burson op-amps, the three doubles should have the label facing away from the center of the unit and the two singles should have the labels pointed toward the rear of the unit. When using the V5i, you have to watch the U notch placement as label orientation is less helpful as a reference since it is on top of the unit.)

    classicfront.jpg classicback.jpg withadapter.jpg withoutadapter.jpg

    The AC Adapter is probably the weakest link in the build as it is a standard laptop style brick with a barrel connector. Some conversion has to occur inside the unit as the power supply is only capable of 12V at 5A. While I understand use of this component as a cost saving measure and it worked fine (as did the 650 Watt PC supply I used to test), it is clearly not aesthetically of the same quality as the rest of the unit and appears to have been a bit of an afterthought.

    When using inside a PC case, make sure the Power supply can handle the additional draw the Play will demand. The AC Adapter is capable of providing 60 watts so that is a realistic estimate of what needs to be available from a PC power supply in addition to the other demands placed on it. Most gaming rigs have pretty hefty power supplies and should handle the play with ease. Small desktop PCs designed for office use probably will need an upgraded power supply to handle the addition of the Play to the case.


    Sound:
    The play came with V6 Classic Opamps installed in both the DAC and pre-amp sections and a pair of V6 Vivid Singles for use in the pre-amp stage. I had previously tested the Burson V6 and V5i and found my preference to be for the V6v for rock and blues rock and the V6c to be better suited to Jazz and vocal pieces where the extra energy of the vivid was a bit over the top for me. For that reason, I did my testing first with the unit as it arrived (V6 Classics in all slots). I then went back and replaced the two single op-amps in the output stage with the V6 vivids and did my listening tests for a 2nd time.

    In order to test the sound of the DAC independently of the built in amp, I used the pre-outs to connect to my Asgard2 and a first generation Valhalla. I then listened to all the same selections using the Asgard2, the Valhalla, and the internal Amplifier of the Play using several different provided Op-amps. (I wrote up the Burson Op-amps previously here).

    File types supported natively include all the expected varieties (FLAC, ape, etc…) at up to 384kHz and 32 bit depth. DSD is supported at 64,128, and 256 both natively and as DSD over PCM if desired.

    The play has good extension on both ends with good slam and authority in the bass and sub-bass with both the Classic and Vivids. I don’t see the Play as being bass-forward but did find that use of the Burson V6 Vivid op-amps did add a bit of coloration to the bass. Mids are well rendered on both sets of op-amps but are a bit more forward on the Classic than the Vivid. Treble sparkle is a bit more pronounced on the Vivid but both have good extension and air. I cannot fault the extension on either end with either set of the op-amps but can say conclusively that both add a bit of their own color to the sound.

    The Classics deliver an intimate sound stage with great separation and really fantastic imaging that is best seen on small ensemble pieces. I can see where this would be a great choice for gaming as the imaging really is spot on. Even audience noise appears to come from the opposite direction as the instrumentation which is quite a feat. Instrument separation is good on both but better on the Vivid which handles large ensemble pieces and exceptionally busy pieces with a bit more aplomb than the Classics.

    The play also handled busy tracks without getting muddy or thick and was able to maintain realistic timbre for both bass guitar and vocals (particularly so with the Vivids) which can be difficult to do. In the overall, I found the Play to be at least as good as any other DAC I have in the house at the moment. (Mojo, Bifrost, Audio-GD). Overall, an impressive showing for a $549 setup.

    I expected to find more differences than I did between the internal amplifier of the Play and the Asgard2 or the Valhalla external amps as having read the specs for the Play I was a bit concerned that output power dropped pretty radically as impedance went up. I was particularly puzzled by the listed 8 Ohm output impedance of the headphone jack on the play which would, under accepted theory, suggest a minimum headphone impedance of 64 Ohm combined with a power output curve that was obviously geared toward headphones 50 Ohms and under. It has since been pointed out that measured values show the output impedance at <1 Ohm when using 32 Ohm headphones which makes much more sense so this is probably simply a matter of documentation needing an update on Burson's site. Again, this is not a criticism necessarily as a quick survey of headphones aimed at the Gaming market found nothing over about 32 Ohm. The Play has more than enough power to drive anything under 300 Ohm and handled Oppo and Fostex planars without any problems. I also found it odd that the advertising for the Play all shows it with a volume set to 89. I suspect this was more to highlight the display than anything as even with notoriously power-hungry cans like the Fostex T50rp a volume setting of anything over 40 is going to do hearing damage and 89 is going to rupture your eardrums and cause brain bleeds in short order. I absolutely recommend you never set the Play at any volume above 20 before putting on your headphones and adjusting once you know what the output level is.

    The 00 to 99 granularity of the Play’s volume control is nice to have but makes large adjustments a slow process as it can take several turns of the knob to dial in the desired level. The remote control is faster for doing large adjustments as one can simply hold the down arrow and not have to twist the knob repeatedly to accomplish the same adjustment.

    Comparisons:
    I currently own a Bifrost/Asgard combo and can say without doubt that I could trade both units for the play and never miss either of them.

    While the play lacks the portability of the Mojo, it has better mids and delivers more power to hungry cans. This is a tough comparison as the two form factors are so different. On sound alone, the play is better.

    When compared to the Modi 2 /Magni 2 uber I use at the office, I can say again that the Play would make an equally compact and more versatile solution with the only downfall being a slightly lower output power. Since most of us don’t use our ultra power-hungry planars at the office anyway, I’m not sure that loss would even be noticed.

    Conclusions:
    If you want a small package capable of big things, you would be hard pressed to find a better way to spend your money than the Play. The Play offers more customization options than any of the other single units available at anywhere near its price point and offers the budget conscious a way to buy in stages.

    For those on a tight budget, the $299 entry price provides a great starting point and then as funds avail themselves one can add the Classics or Vivids (or dare I say Muses, Burr-brown, or someone else’s op-amps) to alter the signature as desired. Stepping up to $399 you get the V5i throughout which offers 95% of the performance of the fully discrete op-amps at 73% of the price. It is hard to argue with the math on that and would be the configuration I purchased if in the market today. For many, it will be an end-game PC sound system with fantastic dynamics, staging, and imaging for gaming as well as audio. For those where audio is above all else, they will find either the V6 Classic or the V6 Vivid (or some of both) to be to their liking and again, for the $549 asking price, It would be tough to find a better value. For those who haven’t yet played with a Burson product, I highly recommend you take this one out for an audition. Somewhere between the base model and the V6 Classics, you are bound to find a sound you like.

    images

    1. internals2.jpg
    2. opamps.jpg
      raoultrifan likes this.
    1. raoultrifan
      When used with 32-ohms headphones, PLAY's output impedance is <1-ohm (feel free to measure by yourself); probably when using 8-ohms cans the output impedance would be much higher! Also, don't forget there're no resistors or capacitors in signal path at the output of the output stage, there're just the output transistors and the protective relay.
      raoultrifan, May 21, 2018
    2. Wiljen
      Probably just a case of Burson needs to update the verbiage as it didnt seem likely that those figures fit.
      Wiljen, May 21, 2018
    3. ThomasHK
      Output impedance is independent of load...
      ThomasHK, May 22, 2018
      Baten likes this.
  6. alighill
    My Impressions
    Written by alighill
    Published Apr 14, 2018
    5.0/5,
    I listened to 3 songs on AK120, Burson Play IC and Burson Play V6C, and recorded my impressions below.

    Linkin Park - Hands Held High

    ak120 - this dev ice had a lot of clarity, especially in the richer tones of bells and violins, and the snare felt very distinct.

    Burson Play IC- the music seemed a bit duller, but the vocals were more prominent. overall, the music seemed to blend a bit more, with the vocals out in front.

    Burson Play V6C - This was a wonderful listening experience. the tones merged together without overpowering each other, the organ and bass were as clear and distinctive as the violins and the drums while complementing them in perfect harmony. made me think of the first time i listened to this album.

    Won't Back Down - Eminem ft. P!nk

    ak120 - Once again, this device was able to show a lot of clarity in the treble ranges. it was a little less effective in the bass, but the overall effect was good.

    Burson Play IC - the listening experience for this track was better then the first one, however, it would appear to mostly have to do with the increase in bass used, as this device seems to have a greater ability to convey good bass than anything else.

    Burson Play V6C - once again, this was the best listening experience of the 3. you could believe you were in the room with the instruments, not listening to a recording. instruments are distinct and well defined.

    If my heart was a house - Owl City

    AK120 - great listening experience. clear sound.

    Burson Play IC - overall, this was the best of the 3 listening experiences with this device, but still did not compare to the others overall. the sound quality was good, and this particular song felt great, but just lacked that extra little something.

    Burson Play V6C - this felt like magic. the clarity was goosebump inducing, and highly enjoyable.
  7. Admiralcreamy
    Fantastic DAC for PC Gamers
    Written by Admiralcreamy
    Published Mar 16, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Convenient
    Excellent Sound
    Great Value
    Highly Customizable
    Cons - Too-Bright Volume Indicator
    Introduction

    There are already some great, incredibly detailed reviews of the Play on here, so I’ll try to provide a different prospective. I’m a newbie to premium audio, and the Burson Play was the first high-end non-mobile DAC I’ve listened to. I currently own a Yulong U100 and have previously experienced the Chord Mojo. I paired the Play with my HD580s and Bose QC35s.


    Features

    What really interested me about the Play was the ability to finally make some use one of those 5.25” drives on the front of my computer. The unit can be inserted into any standard bay and is powered via Molex. There are additional adapters you can purchase to route the RCA jacks to the back of your PC using a single PCI slot.

    I used the Play both with the included power supply and through my PC’s power supply (Cooler Master RS850). I did not notice any difference in audio quality or volume between the two.

    One of my favourite features of my Yulong U100 is the convenience of having one unit as a DAC, AMP, and source for my desktop speakers (Paradigm Micro V3). The Play is a direct upgrade to every one of these aspects.

    The chassis is plain, but still attractive. The volume knob clicks nicely and everything about it speaks quality. There are a couple minor annoyances, however. The volume indication doubles as an on light and is a little bright for my taste; you’d have to turn the Play off every night if your PC is in your bedroom. The Play also got significantly hotter than my Yulong U100, but this isn’t much of an issue for a desk unit.


    Gaming

    The Play is marketed as a gaming peripheral, so I though I’d cover that first. All gaming tests were done with my HD580s.

    Battlefield 1

    An incredibly immersive experience. The Play brought isolation, soundstage, and agility to DICE’s legendary audio. I was able to comfortably hear everything I needed to without blowing my eardrums. Gunshots has satisfying punch and explosions were exciting without being overpowering. Compared to the U100, the Play provided a significant extra layer of detail and clarity.

    Forza Motorsport 7

    Audio is incredibly important to me in a racing game, and the Play did not disappoint. Engine growls, tire squeals, and the wind rushing passing me were all delivered beautifully. Again, the addition detail led to a deeply immersive experience; a cut above the average U100.

    Wolfenstein II

    Kneecapping Nazis has never sounded so sweet. The Play lent its power in the low end to push my HD580s beyond what I thought they were capable of. Gunshots were meaty and the soundstage was expanded to add realism and immersion. Sneaking was genuinely easier compared to the U100 as I was able to hear every little rustle and whisper.


    Music

    After experiencing what the Play could deliver with gaming, I was very exited to try out my favourite songs. For these tests I used my HD580s as well as my QC35s. I’ll be comparing the Burson to my Yulong U100 and the Chord Mojo.

    Touch by Daft Punk Ft. Paul Williams

    The Play’s outstanding detail was evident with the orchestral sections and general atmospheric quality of this incredible track. Sound was mostly level, with a (very welcome) more pronounced low-end on the 580s compared to the U100 and Mojo. The Play was superior to the U100 in every aspect, as expected. The Mojo, however, won me over with its warm, exciting mid-range, which was more detailed and pronounced than the Play. Even when paired with the more mobile-focused QC35s, the Play delivered quality, managing to expand the soundstage of these closed-back headphones.

    Sunflower Seeds by Bryce Vine

    Once again, the extended low-end on the Play was a boon to somewhat lacking 580s. The unique, mellow beat was smooth and crisp, with Play easily outpacing the U100s lackluster low-end and detail. The Mojo fell behind on this track as I felt the Play provided a more open soundstage and sweet low-end. The Play’s slightly emphasized lows did not feel overpowering at all on my QC35s, which sounded much closer to what their price tag should suggest.

    Under the Water by Aurora

    This track hits with an unexpected, dominant drop, and the Play performed beautifully. The drums were punchy and exiting. Aurora’s vocals were detailed and magical. The Play was a cut above the U100 here, although the Mojo provided more clarity.


    Conclusion/TL;DR

    The Play really seems like a no-brainer for PC Gaming enthusiast with a little cash to spare. Its ability to hide in your PC saves valuable desk space and the customizability really speaks to the target audience. The Play doesn’t skimp on audio quality either, with incredible detail and an extended low-end sure to please. I’d heartily recommend this to anyone thinking of getting into the audiophile world or just looking for an upgrade to an entry-level DAC.
      snellemin and raoultrifan like this.
    1. llamaluv
      Which version of the Play are you using?
      llamaluv, Mar 30, 2018
      selvakumar likes this.
    2. newdoughboy
      He was using 2 vivid dual and singles and 1 classic dual in the i/v stage :wink:
      newdoughboy, Apr 18, 2018
  8. raoultrifan
    Probably the best DAC/headamp for inside PC use!
    Written by raoultrifan
    Published Jan 22, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Able to play WAV, APE, MP3, FLAC etc. but also DSD x64, x128, x256 formats natively, without any clicks when switching between source format
    - Need no drivers for OS Sierra nor for Windows 10 (however, Burson is providing dedicated custom drivers for Windows 10)
    - Very good, detailed and neutral sound, especially when using audiophile headphones
    latest generation USB transporter chip followed by a very detailed Reference DAC connected to a very powerful Class-A amplifier makes it easy to use most headphones out there, even planars
    - One of the best DAC/headamp combo for opamp rollers
    - Headphones protection circuit with relay (for DC-output, but also if you connect dual instead of single opamps in the pre-amplification stage)
    - Able to get the power either from included PSU, either from the PC's PSU (only the +12V)
    Cons - Take care when pairing the PLAY with sensitive IEM
    - Volume/gain could be a bit higher when pairing with sensitive 16-32 ohms headphones, so notch down the volume knob to somewhere between 5 to 10 before connecting the headphones!
    - If choosing the V5/V6 solid-state op-amps version of PLAY, then price could be a bit on the on the higher side, but the Basic version of PLAY is definitely a very good alternative, getting the most juice from your money.
    BURSON PLAY

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


    Photo: BURSON courtesy

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

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


    Inside components view


    Powerful Class-A transistors amplifier


    Gold-plated plugs and protection circuitry


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

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

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


    XMOS USB module

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

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

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


    ESS DAC and the low-noise power regulators

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

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

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


    Microphone/IN frequency response


    Microphone/IN signal response for 1 KHz signal

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

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


    Frequency response


    Dynamic range & noise levels


    1KHz frequency response


    Jitter


    Impulse response

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


    1 KHz perfect sinewave

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

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

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

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

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


    Remote control

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

    PC connection kit


    Included gold-plated RCA cables

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

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

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

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

    IMG_1341 copy.jpg

    I've also tested the Basic version of PLAY (rev. v2.2) that costs only $299 and I realised that this is the best buck for the buck at this moment. Actually, I'm not aware of any other external USB DAC with such a powerful Class-A headphone amplifier at <$500, hence my initial rating of 4.5* is getting upgraded to a clear 5*. Great job BURSON!
      shigzeo, pedalhead, snellemin and 2 others like this.
    1. pedalhead
      THIS is how to do a review. Great stuff, cheers.
      pedalhead, May 22, 2018
  9. newdoughboy
    Burson Play /w V6s Discrete Opamps - Daily Driver
    Written by newdoughboy
    Published Jan 14, 2018
    5.0/5,
    Pros - Build Quality, Value, Fun Factor, Audiophile Prowess
    Burson Play Review
    20171220_154458.jpg
    I’ve had the Play for over 15 days, and this is my review. The unit was originally sent with JRC IC opamps. I also ordered some V6 Classics to have 3 Dual and 2 Singles for the ultimate setup. Discrete Opamps will go through a 50 hour burning period.

    20171220_154512.jpg

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

    20171220_160352.jpg

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

    20171220_154541.jpg

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

    20171220_160842.jpg

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


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

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

    • || Chord Mojo

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

    20180116_111637.jpg

    Play with V6Classics vs Chord Mojo

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


    MIA - Paper Planes

    The bass is tighter and deeper in the Play

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

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


    Evanescense - Tourniquet

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


    Fleetwood Mac - Dreams (Alternate Mix)

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

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


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

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


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


    **************************************
    20171223_122343.jpg

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


    **************************************


    Play with V6C vs Conductor Air


    Eagles - Hotel California in dsd64

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


    David Guetta - Sexy Bitch Ft. Akon

    Katy Perry - Dark Horse Ft. Juicy J

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


    ***************************************


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

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


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

    ***************************************

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


    Taylor Swift - Enchanted

    V6V

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


    V6V Duals and V6C Singles

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


    V6C Duals and V6V Singles

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


    V6C

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


    The Cranberries - Ode to My Family

    V6V

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

    V6V Duals and V6C Singles

    More bass than all V6C

    V6C Duals and V6V Singles

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

    V6C

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



    Massive Attack - Angel

    V6V

    Deep and powerful bass, Piercing details.

    V6V Duals and V6C Singles

    Slightly less powerful bass than all V6V.

    V6C Duals and V6V Singles

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

    V6C

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


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


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


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


    One thing I noticed with the Play is that if you have one opamp not fully plugged it, there’s a little relay inside that prevents it from running.
      llamaluv and raoultrifan like this.
  10. ostewart
    Powerful and fun DAC/Amp
    Written by ostewart
    Published Oct 18, 2017
    4.5/5,
    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...

    DSC_9043.jpg

    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.

    DSC_9052.jpg

    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.

    DSC_9056.jpg

    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.

    DSC_9060.jpg

    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.

    DSC_9061.jpg

    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

    DSC_9046.jpg

    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)
      raoultrifan and selvakumar like this.