Panda ManReviewer at Headphone.Guru
- Apr 9, 2011
Burson Audio is one of the most recognized makers of audio amplifiers in the industry. From my humble beginnings in 2010, Burson was always a company that made great products and stood by them. They were at one point the unreachable throne that I wouldn’t be able to reach. But alas here we are in 2018 with my third review of Burson’s products.
Today, Burson is offering me a chance at reviewing the FUN which is their new standalone headphone amplifier with some nifty features. This was released alongside the PLAY and BANG which are a headphone amp/DAC combo and a stereo power amp respectively. We’ll be focusing on the FUN Basic ($299) for this review which comes with the 2x NE5543 op amps.
Build and Usability:
The first thing that stands out about the FUN and its sister units is the color scheme. Gone are the days of that sleek aluminum look and in are the days of black. The FUN is also not as ‘tall’ vertically compared to their older units and the reason is because there is a trick up its sleeves.
The FUN doubles as a slot-in desktop PC amplifier as well! It conforms to the 5.25” bay standard and allows you to slide this unit in to most desktop PCs. I tested it with my Corsair 300R and it was easy to get it inserted even with the top cover still installed on the FUN. There is a slight protrusion of the faceplate on the PC’s grille and while annoying is not the end of the world. On the inside of the PC chassis, you can feed the FUN power directly through a Molex connector. This makes it safe and easy to provide power to it than putting the AC adapter through the case which isn’t safe.
You can provide audio input through the RCA interconnects on the back or a 3.5mm cable on the front. This is a bit more tricky when using the FUN mounted inside the PC but still doable with most PC cases which leave space for liquid cooling cables. Some good cable management and you’re off to the races! I can see this being beneficial if you have a PCI/E sound card with an onboard DAC line out. You can then simply whip up a cable and slide it through one of the extra PCI/E slot vents or Liquid Cooling punch holes (on enthusiast PC cases) and connect that to the back of the FUN. The microphone input (on front of unit) and microphone output (on rear of unit) are direct passthroughs to support using the FUN while mounted in the PC. It acts as a clean way to have both an audio and microphone connection next to each other and is thoughtful on Burson’s side.
Personally, I prefer the FUN as a standalone desktop unit next to my dedicated DAC on my desk. There is no reason to use the FUN in the PC case if your DAC is a model that sits on a desk. It’s a nifty and cool feature but I would not call it as anything critical in this day and age especially as PC sound cards are a dying breed; this is especially true amongst audiophiles. My typical setup involves my AK4396 DAC connect to the FUN using RCA and a direct headphone out on the front. Another RCA cable goes from the FUN’s pre-amplification output to a set of Audioengine A5+ speakers. Note that the Line-in on the front of the FUN is auto-sensing and has signal priority. This means that if your RCA is connected in the back and playing music and you plug your DAP into the front line-in, the FUN will cut off the connection to the back and amplify whatever you input on the front. Auto-sensing is also available on the primary quarter-inch headphone output and upon removal of that plug, the FUN will engage the pre-amp and output to the speakers.
I love how the FUN works as a central amplifier to my setup. The old days had me swapping cables from my DAC to either my primary amplifier or speakers. Now with the FUN, I can connect all at the same time. Plug in my headphones and the audio diverts to that port. Unplug them and it goes back to playing music through the speakers. Your next question will undoubtedly be about the state of the quarter inch connector from doing this long term. Well, the FUN’s got 5 years of warranty on it which is some of the longest I’ve seen. Else you can just pop off the cover and tighten up the quarter inch clamps yourself or DIY replace it.
The FUN is powerful and versatile. These are key things you should keep in mind for the rest of this review. The FUN has enough brute power to drive whatever headphones I have thrown at it with more juice in reserve. It’s not the low quality ‘pushing power’ that some get by using speaker components in headphone gear. It stays clear throughout the entire knob ramping process (or torture) and has aided both my planar magnetics and desktop speakers in really giving them the power they need. On the other end of the spectrum, the FUN’s also pair well with sensitive IEMs. I was able to use my 6 driver In-Earz Audio Euphoria CIEMs with the FUN without any noise, obvious distortion, or channel imbalance (the big one) despite the volume knob being just a centimeter from the bottom. Versatility in one box. It works with my needy full size headphones, sensitive CIEMs, and my desktop speakers.
Signal integrity is superb on the FUN. In this modern age, setting up a company and selling gear could not be easier and this has also led to a mass increase in competition both in the USA and overseas. One of the first things I do to pass or fail an amp is if it can maintain its signal throughout its entire input switching scheme and daily usage. This means no EMI, random noise, buzzing, clipping, or pops on plug insertion. You would be surprised how many amps and DACs fail this these days. The Burson FUN is incredibly integrated and does not have any sudden popping when I swap between inputs and have it switch between speakers to headphones. The sound from the amp is always clean and requires no worry on the user’s part, it’s just serious fun from here!
The FUN has more soundstage and general clarity than an Objective 2 and leans more towards a mild delivery of the mid-range and reduction in the upper high frequencies edges. This amp is laid back but still surging with energy in its delivery of the instrumental and backing tracks. I’ve found that it smoothens the sharpness of cymbals and snares so that they are not directly in your face but this also leads to a reduction in upper range brightness as well which some prefer.
Listening to Bubbles by Yosi Horikawa, which has become an audiophile stable test track, I found the FUN to have ‘good’ transparency and clarity and average with detail. The scene sounded wider and less stuffy or compressed offering a clearer ‘picture’ of the events. However the FUN is still mellow with its mid-range production and doesn’t fully sell it when it comes to the finer details. You could hear the balls falling down around you well but the ‘snap’ and crackle did not sound distinct and independent enough.
Next up is a popular song that has come to the forefront of music again these past few months: Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Freddie’s vocals are smooth and while lacking edge, take it home with how consistent they are. There aren’t spikes in the mids as it drops down or peaks back up. It’s a simple and clean reproduction of a classic song. Another point would be that the bass on the FUN is quite contained despite what I assumed from its name. The low frequency production isn’t enhanced by any means and chooses for a more neutral take on this range. Other amps had more ‘bloom’ and spread on the sub-bass but the FUN holds it together and doesn’t let the bass unleash itself. Modern hip-hop listeners or those that want a bit more meat down there take note.
This amplifier is universal with its musical preferences and like its name chooses the route of pleasureful ‘fun’ listening to active confrontation or laid-back indulgence. It doesn’t directly engage the listener but rather chooses for the listener to come and join in as they please.
I personally found that I preferred the FUN when watching TV series and movies in stereo. The sharp attack attack path with explosive detail everywhere that Hi-Fi amps tend to go for is the bain of my existence when I wish to relax and watch some TV or video media. Over the last month, watching anime and high quality Youtube instructional videos with the FUN has honestly been a treat. I used to always be fatigued by the bright, pulsating, and spikey vocals when using other amps but since moving to the FUN, I can enjoy more content. Japanese female voice actresses dominate anime and let me just say that Hi-Fi equipment that seeks to accentuate a more ‘brilliant’ forward and detailed mid range destroys my ears; it’s like driving spikes in! The FUN and I have become best buds on my path to enlightenment as I catched up on all the series in my backlog. Seriously consider the FUN if you like to use your gear in this situation as well.
The Fun’s audio performance is in line with what is to be expected around the price and although good, will not make any waves by itself. Burson offers upgrade op-amps to this unit that you can install yourself. My review is of the base unit with 2x NE5543.
The Burson Audio FUN has been one of the most enjoyable amps I’ve used over the past year. The reasoning for this is how well its integrated into my life and the qualities its sound signature has with the media I play most commonly. The pure audiophile sound quality on the base FUN unit is above average but by itself is within what a sea of other devices from China do as well. My take on this is that in the grand scheme on things at $299 (base), it is not a device that the summit tier of headphone audiophiles will be using for pure music listening. Rather, this is the tier that someone that wants a ‘versatile’ and ‘powerful’ device packed with features would choose to take on whatever their life and needs provide. The Burson Audio FUN is for those that have a multitude of audio devices and the budget and room for only one amplifier to rule them all.
Price:$299 Base Unit
Comparisons with Burson V6 Vivid Single x2
Price: FUN + V6 Vivid Single X2 is $399
Mid frequency is even smoother and offers greater 'transparency' in the sense that it 'glides' across and packs less background baggage with each note. Sound isn't as sharp and has more roll-off though as well. Mids are warmer and have a decrease in sibilance and even more reduction in edge as well. The general sound signature is more 'cohesive' and unified with its ideal of being a mellow driver of sorts.
The JRC 5534D Op Amps carry more 'weight' in the background and have a thicker sound to them compared to the V6 Vivid Singles.
As much as the FUN Basic already isn't "in your face", the FUN with the V6 Vivid Singles completes its final form and near completely takes it OUT of your face. Imagine sailing in the Mediterranean on a summers day with a nice breeze. That's the Burson Audio FUN with the V6 Vivid Singles.
The V6 Vivid Singles with the FUN don't completely change the game up. With the stock JRC 5534Ds, the FUN is still a rockin unit. The V6 Vivid Singles just bring about a different type of fun to the table.
For those that want to roll the stock JRC and V6 Op Amps I've got a tip for you. When you get the V6's, remove the 8-pin socket adapter on the bottom of the V6. Use a tool to gently remove the JRC from the FUN. Now place that 8-pin socket onto the holes of the PCB while carefully matching the notch correct. Now Press down.
Here you can place back the JRC and do some A/B testing. The little 'dot' on the JRC faces and points towards the white Burson logo on the front of the unit. Putting in the V6 Vivids, align it so the face with the logo and words on it point towards the 'right' of the unit towards the PC-180-201X-X revision PCB number as my photos shown.
It seems it is cheaper to buy the V6 Vivid/Classic Single X2 Op Amps individually than to buy it pre-installed with the FUN. You save some cash and get to have two sets of op-amps (the FUN Basic's JRC and the V6). The picture in that link shows the V6 Vivid Dual and not Single so if you are interested, I would message that store and make sure its the Single first.