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A comparison of the following opamps: NJR NJM5534D, Burson V6 Classic Single, Burson V6 Vivid Single, Sonic Imagery Labs 992Enh-Ticha and SparkoS Labs SS3601

  • Opamp rolling with the Burson Fun

    Overview

    As a follow-up to my review of the Burson Fun, here is a comparison of various discrete opamps to replace the stock IC opamps with. The Burson Fun houses two single opamps in DIP8 sockets.

    01b Top (cropped, single).jpg 01a Side (cropped, single).jpg 01c Bottom (cropped, single).jpg

    From top to bottom:
    The review Fun came with the stock NJR 5534D opamps. Later, Burson provided two V6 Classic Single for this review. The other discrete opamps I purchased myself.

    The discrete opamps came with sockets to protect the pins during transport.

    02 Sockets (cropped).jpg

    From left to right: SparkoS Labs, Sonic Imagery Labs, Burson.

    Look, Mum, no opamps!

    03a Burson Fun (cropped).jpg


    Test Setup

    I used the review unit and my own to install two different pairs of opamps at the same time. The volume was level matched after changing opamps, though this turned out to be unnecessary.

    I mostly used FLAC files purchased on HDTracks.com, and Spotify Premium. FLAC files were played with foobar2000 via the WASAPI (event) output.

    Hardware: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 > iFi iDefender > 6 ft AmazonBasics USB A-to-B cable > Schiit Yggdrasil (USB gen 5, Analog 2) > 3 ft Kabeldirekt stereo RCA cable > Burson Fun > 6 ft DUM cable, 6.35 mm TRS > MrSpeakers Ether C Flow 1.1


    NJR 5534D

    01a Top (cropped, single).jpg

    02a Burson Fun (cropped).jpg

    My Burson Fun review already represents my lack of love for this configuration, but I had to establish a base line, so I gave them another listen.

    Amber Rubarth - Novocaine
    Sounds thin, partially harsh

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill
    Sound stage a bit wider than head, but not deeper

    Black String - Seven Beats
    Not unpleasant, but a bit soft, lacks impact, tinny

    Billie Eilish - Bury a Friend
    Veiled


    Burson V6 Classic Single

    01b Top (cropped, single).jpg
    01a Side (cropped, single).jpg
    01c Bottom (cropped, single).jpg

    The two V6 Classic Single were shipped many weeks apart, which might explain the two different designs. The internals are also slightly different, which I discovered when the plastic housing came undone while being uninstalled:

    03a Old Design Front (cropped).jpg 03b Old Design Side (cropped).jpg 03c Old Design Back (cropped).jpg

    04a New Design Front (cropped).jpg 04b New Design Side (cropped).jpg 04c New Design Back (cropped).jpg

    I hope that the differences do not affect the sound.

    Let's install these puppies and do some listening.

    02a Burson Fun (cropped).jpg


    Compared to NJR 5534D:

    Amber Rubarth - Novocaine
    Sounds more lively, voice slightly grainy, clearer, less muffled, more resolving

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill
    Voice now comes from slightly in front of my head, better dynamics, smooth and pleasant

    Black String - Seven Beats
    Much more vivid, more detailed, more slam

    Billie Eilish - Bury a Friend
    Crisper highs


    Burson V6 Vivid Single

    01b Top (cropped, single).jpg
    01a Side (cropped, single).jpg
    01c Bottom (cropped, single).jpg

    As luck would have it, one of the opamps came apart when removing it from the amp:

    03a New Design Front (cropped).jpg 032 New Design Side (cropped).jpg 033 New Design Back (cropped).jpg

    Installed in the Burson Fun:

    02a Burson Fun (cropped).jpg


    Compared to V6 Classic:

    Amber Rubarth - Novocaine
    Slightly better imaging

    Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go
    Better imaging, sharper transients. Boring with Classic.

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Smooth & Groovy
    Sharper transients. Classic softens the guitars too much.

    Nicki Minaj - LLC
    Classic makes her sound tame. Bass lacks impact with either.

    Rainsford - Up in the Air
    More slam from the Vivids, slightly more bass impact

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
    Classic: dull bass, everythings sounds a bit too soft
    Vivid: better dynamics, more details


    Sonic Imagery Labs 992Enh-Ticha

    01b Top (cropped, single).jpg

    01a Side (cropped, single).jpg

    01c Bottom (cropped, single).jpg

    Look at those! By far the widest of the bunch. That makes them tricky to install, but they are also tricky to remove because the pins are not soldered in place. Rather, the pins are long, with two discs close to the center, and a thin plastic sheet pushed into the gap between the pins. This finicky construction can easily come apart and is tricky to reassemble.

    01d Pins (cropped).jpg

    These are too wide to be installed next to each other, but using a socket as a raiser allows them to overlap:

    02a Burson Fun 1 (cropped).jpg

    Installation.gif

    02a Burson Fun 4 (cropped).jpg


    Compared to V6 Vivid:

    Nils Lofgren - Keith Don't Go
    With the Vivids, this is just an interesting test tracks, showing off their technical superiority over the Classics.
    But swap them for the 992s and what you'll get is just... music! Instead of just noticing individual aspects of the sound, the 992s get real and deliver a compelling experience that allows me to stop thinking and analyzing. Instead, I'm just listening and enjoying myself. Delightfully organic.

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
    The Vivids add a slight glare to the piano and the vocals that is hard to notice except in direct comparison. The result is a bit of tension, while the 992s allow me to relax. Instruments have a natural decay instead of somewhat awkwardly fizzling out like with the Vivids.

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Smooth & Groovy
    A lovely, rich experience with the 992s. The Vivids simply sound less refined in comparison.

    Deftones - Prince
    Grating cymbals with the Vivids, harsh vocals, somewhat mushy bass line, drums blend with the rest a bit.
    With the 992s, a hint of harshness remains, but it's much more enjoyable. The instruments are easier to tell apart and more detailed. This noisy song is a challenge, but the 992s do very well here, with little room for improvement.

    Vindata, Skrillex, NSTASIA - Favor
    Controlled, impactful bass with the 992s without impacting the vocals. There is even a subtle melody in the background that I haven't picked up on before.
    With the Vivids, the bass is less controlled and impactful than with the 992, and the squeaky high melody has some added harshness, obscuring subtleties that are discernable with the 992s.

    Duke Ellington - Three J's Blues
    Just groovy with the 992s. Everything gels together. Very rich, engaging and enjoyable. Don't want to stop listening.
    With the Vivids, there's a slight, unpleasant glare in the highs that just causes me to "squint my ears" a little bit, if you will. With the 992s, my ears are wide open.


    SparkoS Labs SS3601

    01b Top (cropped, single).jpg

    01a Side (cropped, single).jpg

    01c Bottom (cropped, single).jpg

    Just a bit wider and taller, these discrete opamps are almost as unproblematic as IC opamps.

    02a Burson Fun (cropped).jpg


    Compared to 992Enh-Ticha:

    Alexis Cole - Whippoorwill
    The SparkoS Labs opamps have better dynamics and reveal more of the instruments' texture.

    Black String - Seven Beats
    Visceral, lively, believable. Where the 992s delighted by mastering decay, the SS3601 conquers attack. Every delicate drum stroke is reproduced with the appropriate immediacy, making this the most engaging sounding opamp of the lot.

    Cécile McLorin Salvant - If A Girl Isn’t Pretty
    Lots of lingering notes here - can the SS3601 keep up with the 992 in the decay department? Yes - the 992 is a bit more laid back due to the softer attacks, helping with harshness in the recording, but the SS3601 seems more honest and revealing.

    Sarah Jarosz - Green Lights
    Definitely a recording prone to glare, this is a useful test track. The 992 masks some of it, while the SS3601 hits hard, in a way that sounds honest to the recording rather than distorted.

    Marian Hill - Talk To Me
    SS3601 hits harder, sub bass a tad more discernible.

    Deftones - Rocket Skates
    More raw and visceral with the SS3601, including the meatier bass, but I could see some prefer the softer attacks of the 992.

    Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys - Smooth & Groovy
    Very enjoyable with the 992s, even more visceral with the SS3601s

    Tomasz Stanko Quartet - Soul of Things, Var. 1
    Enjoyable with either, the faster attacks of the SS3601 make a huge difference here, adding to the sensation of live music being played.


    Conclusion

    All tested discrete opamps are a marked improvement over the stock IC opamps and a worthwhile investment.

    In the Fun, I prefer the V6 Vivid over the Classic in every way. The Vivid has markedly better imaging and reproduces transients more accurately instead of softening them.

    However, both of Burson's V6 opamps are clearly topped by the Sonic Imagery Labs 992Enh-Ticha and the SparkoS Labs SS3601. The 992Enh-Ticha is very musical and its slightly softer attacks make it more forgiving than the incisive and dynamic SS3601.

    I decided to leave the SS3601 in since they put the biggest smile on my face, but I can see myself using the 992Enh-Ticha instead every now and then. I see no reason to go for the Burson V6 opamps, even taking the price into account.

    Winner: SparkoS Labs SS3601
    Runner-up: Sonic Imagery Labs 992Enh-Ticha
alota, ladavid, yavormoskov and 6 others like this.

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