Volle Dröhnung: Burson Audio Kopfhörerverstärker und DACs

Full roar: Burson Audio headphone amplifiers and DACs

Burson Audio

Burson Audio

(Left to right: Burson Playmate 2, Burson Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP, Burson Conductor 3XR)

Small preface

Burson Audio is an audio components manufacturer based in Melbourne, Australia. Her specialty is the construction of high-quality desktop equipment such as DACs, headphone amplifiers, preamplifiers and combination devices that have it all. Burson's main philosophy is to build devices that simply reproduce the music as naturally and unadulterated as possible.

This is less a test of individual devices than a comparison of these devices:

Burson Playmate 2 Basic
Burson Conductor 3XR
Burson Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combo

Fundamental differences

If you look at the specs of all the devices, they are basically all very similar. They use the same SABRE32 / ESS9038Q2M DAC chip and have the same operational amplifiers as well. (The V6 Vivid opamps are optional on the Playmate 2). In other words, the technical basis responsible for the sound is more or less the same for both models, with slight differences in terms of frequency response, channel separation, THD, etc.

The big difference, however, is mostly in the input and output options for each device - hence the versatility AND the output power, which ranges from 3W on the Playmate 2 to a staggering 8W on the Soloist 3XP.

Conductor 3X Reference (headphone amplifier / preamplifier / DAC)

Burson Audio Conductor 3XR

Burson Audio Conductor 3XR

Burson Audio Conductor 3XR

  • 7.5 W Class A XLR / 3.75 W single ended
  • Two SABER32 / ESS9038Q2M DAC
  • Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD
  • Upgradeable op amps (Vivid V6 op amps included)
  • Frequency response ± 1 dB 0 - 58Khz
  • Channel separation 142dB @ 1kHz, 135dB @ 20kHz
  • THD + N 0.0005% at 1kHz, 0dBFS
  • USB-C plug 'n play
  • Inputs: 2 x XLR line-level input, USB, optical Toslink, BlueTooth 5.0, microphone
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR preamplifier, 1 x line-level DAC output, 1 x 6.3mm & 1 x XLR headphone connection

Playmate 2 (headphone amplifier / preamp / DAC)

Burson Audio Playmate 2

Burson Audio Playmate 2

Burson Audio Playmate 2

  • 3 W single ended
  • SABRE32 / ESS9038Q2M DAC
  • XMOS USB DSD512 @ 32bit / 768kHz
  • Upgradeable operational amplifiers (2 x NE5532, 2 x NE5534 opamps included)
  • Burson Max Current power supply
  • Frequency response ± 1 dB 0 - 35Khz
  • Channel separation 128dB @ 1kHz, 121dB @ 20kHz
  • THD + N 0.0018% at 1kHz, 0dBFS
  • USB-C plug 'n play
  • Inputs: USB, Toslink
  • Outputs: RCA preamplifier / headphone jack

Combination of Soloist 3XP and Composer 3XP

Burson Audio Soloist Composer

Burson Audio Soloist Composer

Burson Audio Soloist Composer

Soloist 3XP (amplifier / preamp)

  • 8 W Class A XLR / 4 W single ended
  • Upgradeable op amps (Vivid V6 op amps included)
  • Burson Max Current power supply
  • Frequency response ± 1 dB 0 - 48Khz
  • CLOSE FACTOR 0.0015%
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR, 1 x RCA, 1 x mic bypass
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR preamplifier / DAC, 1 x XLR headphone socket,
  • 1x SE headphone jack

Composer 3XP (DAC / preamplifier)

  • SABRE32 / ESS9038Q2M DAC
  • XMOS USB DSD512 @ 32bit / 768kHz
  • Upgradeable op amps (Vivid V6 op amps included)
  • Burson Max Current power supply
  • Frequency response ± 1 dB 0 - 58Khz
  • Channel separation 142dB at 1kHz, 135dB at 20kHz
  • THD + N 0.0005% at 1kHz, 0dBFS
  • USB-C plug 'n play
  • Inputs: USB, optical Toslink, BlueTooth 5.0, microphone
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR Pre Out / DAC Out, 1 x RCA Pre Out / DAC Out

I tested with it

  • Burson Audio Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combo
  • Burson Audio Conductor 3XR
  • Burson Audio Playmate 2
  • Empire Ears Odin (2.5 mm symmetrical via XLR adapter)
  • Empire Ears Legend X (3.5 mm single ended via 6.3 mm adapter)
  • Spirit Torino Radiante, Super Leggera, Twin Puls, Valkyria

Music selection / test playlist

Voices, midrange, acoustic guitars etc.

Tenacious D - Tenacious D - Wonderboy
Marily Manson - The Pale Emperor - Day3
Chris Jones - Moonstruck
Sara K. - Hell or High Water - I Can't Stand The Rain, Stars
Ana Tijoux - 1977 - Partir de Cero

Channel separation

Tenacious D - Tenacious D - Kielbasa
NIN - The Downward Spiral - Hurt
Johnny Cash - The Essential - Ring of Fire
Stephen Coleman - Westworld Season 2 Soundtrack - CREAM

Soundstage, treble, electric guitars etc.

Alice in Chains - MTV Unplugged - Rooster
Korn - MTV Unplugged - Freak on a Leash
Anneke van Giersbergen - Symphonized - Feel Alive
Howard Shore - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - Blunt the Knives

Dynamics, bass, subbass

The Diary - The Gentle Storm - Endless Sea | Gentle Version |
Wardruna - Runaljod: Ragnarok - Tyr
Hans Zimmer - Man of Steel OST - Look to the Stars
Hans Zimmer - Pearl Harbor EAST - Tennessee
Ice Cube - Raw Footage - Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It
Andreas Vollenweider - Vox - Enchanted Rocks

Packaging & accessories

The packaging for all Burson devices is very plain and simple - nothing fancy.

The devices come in two boxes - a plain cardboard box on the outside and a white inner box with the Burson Audio logo on it, which reminds me of car hi-fi packaging when I was looking for the largest subwoofer 20 years ago as a student. that fits in the trunk of my Corolla.

The inside of the device is very well protected by a few additional foam sheets. All in all, there is no need to worry about the carrier polluting the precious cargo.

In addition to the device itself, you get a power brick, a metal remote control, replacement opamps and, depending on the device, some additional things such as USB-C to USB-A converter, USB-C cable (Composer 3XP) and an Allen key to open the case . What is missing here is either a printed manual OR simply a QR code that points to the correct manual to download.

Since I ordered 4 devices, I had no idea which one is in which box as there is no name or description printed on the boxes. Sure, it's a borderline case as most people order 1 unit, but the boxes for Soloist and Composer are absolutely identical, even in size, and when you get them as a combo you might find yourself looking for a specific accessory later , but of course unpacks the wrong box (Murphy's Law). This has happened to me several times, so maybe Burson could at least add a sticker as an easy and cheap solution.

Build quality and design

The latest iteration of Burson Audio devices has had a design overhaul and I personally find it very appealing. The devices are clad in gunmetal-colored aluminum with clear cooling fins all around. This "cool case" helps to keep the temperatures in check and at the same time gives the devices a serious and very professional look. I like it very much!

The build quality is very good and the metal used has a reassuring thickness. I did not find any defects or imperfections in any of the 4 devices I tested. Burson only uses high-quality plugs such as Neutrik for the XLR connections, so no complaints here either.

Each device has a simple white-on-black OLED display that lets you see the most important information and navigate through the menu. I know other manufacturers have high-resolution, color (touch) screens, but I'm not particularly interested in that. I even prefer the simple screens built into the bursons.

Last but not least, there is a menu / volume button on every device. The rotary knob made of solid metal moves with a nice grid for each of the 100 volume levels. Very nice!


The basic sound signature of all tested devices is very similar indeed, which was to be expected considering that they have pretty much the same innards. In other words, they sound pretty much the same, the tonal differences are in the details. Therefore, the following descriptions apply to all tested devices, unless otherwise stated.

General tonality

The tonality can be described as neutral in the best sense of the word. Nevertheless, the result is neither "flat" nor boring, but has energy and musicality, which leads to a very pleasant listening experience. As intended by Burson, the devices process the music in such a way that as much of the original information as possible is preserved.
There's a reason I use Burson devices as my main source for testing in-ears or headphones!


The heights of the bursons are just wonderful. They are natural and silky soft and reveal every little detail in the recordings. Rest assured that the bursons are unlikely to be the limiting factor in your playback chain.

There are subtle differences between the devices: Compared to the Conductor 3XR and the Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combo, the Playmate 2 sounds a little grainy and has a little less energy. This is probably because my Playmate 2 Basic is not equipped with the Burson V6 Vivid Opamps, but with simpler ones. I assume that after switching to the V6 Vivids, the Playmate 2 Basic will sound exactly like its big brothers.


What applies to the highs also applies to the midrange. Voices are clearly defined, have a beautiful body, and sound very natural. The entire medium frequency spectrum is well balanced. I can't see any discoloration or accentuation at all.

Bass / Subbass

The bass of the bursons is fast and tight with good energy. It's the same everywhere: neutral and accurate reproduction. It's not as warm or pronounced as other devices, but that doesn't mean it lacks effectiveness or warmth. It is exactly what is there - nothing more and nothing less.


The sound stage is highly dependent on the capabilities of the headphone / earphone used. With the Focal Clear, for example, you get a nice feeling of space. This combination was by far the best in rock / metal, for example. Guns' n Roses "Appetite for Destruction" has never sounded so good to me. With live recordings, you can imagine the environment in which they were recorded. Of course, it's most fun with a good over-ear.

Channel separation / instrument separation

The channel and instrument separation is just excellent. As of the time of this review, I haven't heard anything better. You can either analyze the music or just enjoy it - it's up to you.


I already mentioned that the bursons are very neutral sources that simply reproduce what is there - provided the headphones are adequately put on.

Adaptability / Synergy

The bursons work with all types of headphones / earphones that are plugged in. Even the small Playmate 2 has an output power of 3 W, which should be sufficient for most headphones and applications. For more power-hungry headphones, either the Conductor 3XR or the Soloist / Composer combination offer more reserves when you need them. If you want to work symmetrically, the Playmate 2 is not an option anyway, as it only has single-ended outputs.

All of the tested bursons work with most headphones as they all have the option to at least choose between high and low gain. The Soloist even has a mid gain option, which makes it even more adaptable. I recommend an IEMatch if you're using sensitive in-ears with the Conductor 3XR. Otherwise there will be a significant background noise. I've tried it with various in-ears and even if it's not a problem when playing music, it's still there.

The best overall synergy was with my Focal Clears and that applies to all tested bursons. It's just a wonderful combination. As Burson Service informed me, the two companies work closely together, so it's no wonder that their products are a perfect match!

Comparison - Similarities & Differences

I mentioned earlier that all of the bursons I've tested sound basically the same. Where are the tonal differences, if there are any?

Playmate 2 vs. Conductor 3XR (6.3mm single ended out)

In single-ended operation, both devices sound very similar to my Focal Clears. The big difference came when I switched from single-ended to symmetrical on the conductor. Everything just felt more energetic and lively with the balanced output. I have already noticed this behavior with DAPs (Digital Audio Players) that I have tested in the past. It's the same here. Another factor could be that the Conductor is equipped with two ESS9038 chips, each processing one channel in symmetrical mode.

The Playmate 2 also has a much lower output power than the Conductor 3XR. (3W vs. 7.5W) so if you are using very sophisticated headphones this could be a limitation.

Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP vs. Conductor 3XR (both XLR balanced output)

The first thing you notice is a much higher noise level on the Conductor 3XR with in-ears. Even with a low gain, the Conductor 3XR produces a noticeable noise level with the Empire Ears Odin IEMs. With the Soloist 3XP, which has 3 instead of 2 gain levels, the background noise is barely noticeable. It must be noted that the Conductor 3XR was probably never made for (sensitive) IEMs, but rather for demanding full-size headphones. The Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combination gives you more flexibility here, while it manages to beat the Conductor 3XR in terms of absolute output power (8W vs. 7.5W).

The change between the Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP and the Conductor 3XR shows clear differences in the (sound) details: The Conductor 3XR has more energy overall and reproduces details with even more eloquence than the Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combination. I clearly attribute this to the use of two ESS9038 DAC chips in the Conductor versus only one in the Soloist / Composer combo. The basic sound characteristics and quality are the same, but the Conductor 3XR simply has a little more drive.

I have to note that the Conductor 3XR had already been in use for a few weeks at the time of this review and the Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP Combo only a few hours, so the differences could become smaller as the combo "played in" progressively. I believe that some energy difference will prevail as the Conductor 3XR has the technical advantage of the two DACs.

Both the Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP Combo and the Conductor 3XR sound absolutely fantastic with my EE Odins and Spirit Torino headphones. Both headphones / earphones have a more neutral coordination and are able to reveal even the smallest details in the recordings. The synergy with the bursons is absolutely wonderful and I use these desktop devices in my office replacing my DAPs.

Playmate 2 vs. Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP

Here we hear a similar result as when comparing Playmate 2 vs. Conductor 3XR, as the Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combination and the Conductor 3XR are very similar. Overall, the combination Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP is of course better sounding and offers a lot more flexibility. Nevertheless, it is amazing what the little Playmate 2 delivers!

User experience & ease of use

I finally added this section to my reviews because I feel the time has come to cover these topics with audio products as well. Also, as a UX (User Experience) designer, I consider it my "sacred" duty to do this. Burson Audio's devices will be the premiere for me, so let's go:



  • Simple overall layout
  • Tactile menu / volume selection buttons
  • Useful display with good contrast

To improve

  • Volume selector switch on the Conductor 3XR occasionally "slips" between the volume levels, the switches on the other tested devices work more reliably
  • Accessibility: The tiny displays of the Playmate 2 and the Soloist / Composer combination only allow (much too) small text. Readability is impaired for people with visual impairments
  • Cryptic symbols / missing descriptions for inputs / outputs on the back of the device, markings for left / right channels missing (left / right is correct when looking from behind, not from the front, which many users misunderstand!)



  • Simple menu layout and options
  • The option to rotate the device (and display!) 90 degrees is great!

To improve

  • Cryptic abbreviations in the menu that sometimes do not match the description in the manual (frustrating especially for newbies)

Accessories / manual


  • Including replacement opamps (for all tested devices)
  • USB-C to USB-A adapter (some devices)
  • USB-C cable (Composer 3XP)
  • Allen key to open the housing
  • High-quality remote control included (for all tested devices)

To improve

  • No printed manual in the box!
  • No QR code that links directly to the online manual
  • Manuals contain several errors and are partly out of date (on the Conductor 3XR the gain is called "HEA level" - in the manual it says "gain". I had to write to Burson to help)
  • No device names on the uniform packaging (attach at least one sticker!)
  • All in all, the tested Burson devices offer good usability. If Burson updates / improves the manuals and at least makes it easier for the user to find them (QR code), my biggest complaints have already been resolved.

@Burson : Don't think that all of your customers / users have experience with audio technology! Help newbies get on board without frustration and you will gain loyal and long-term customers.

Ease of use rating: B +


Burson Audio

All of the Burson products tested are great!

The processing quality and the design are on a very high level, the sound quality is excellent for me.

You are now wondering which product to buy? Well that really depends on your needs.

Of course, there are big price differences to consider. The Playmate 2 starts at 649 CHF, the combination of Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP and the Conductor 3XR costs over 2000 CHF.

The great thing is that no matter which device / combo you choose, you basically get the same quality of sound. Of course, the big siblings outperform the Playmate 2 in terms of detail and energy, but the Playmate 2 is very close for the price!

Reasons for purchasing the more expensive devices are:

  • Higher output power for more demanding devices / applications
  • Much more input and output options, including Bluetooth 5.0 (which works great by the way) and balanced XLR output
  • Much more flexibility in terms of the points above
  • The maximum possible sound quality (in case you really want that last bit!)

In the end there are 3 winners for me:

Price-performance: The Playmate 2 wins this point with ease.

Sound quality: The Conductor 3XR wins because of its dual DAC implementation.

Flexibility: The Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combination offers the most flexibility as it offers 3 gain levels that allow a low noise floor even with sensitive headphones / earphones. You can also easily couple both devices to other DACs / amps.

If Burson made a Soloist 3XR (Reference) with the same two DACs as the Conductor 3XR, the Soloist / Composer combo would be the last desktop solution I would ever need (and want) for me. I will definitely ask you about it, maybe you already have something up your sleeve.

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