BURSON Soloist 3X Performance - Class A Headphone/Pre Amplifier

That song cannot be mentioned without also addressing the B*tthole Surfers.

Their biggest hit:

Bonus points for Green Jelly’s Thee Little Pigs, from when claymation was a big deal.

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Wasn’t that Who Was In My Room? Both are great.

Looks like I made a rod for my own back here. Now I’ll be listening to this stuff all night. Not that this is a bad thing…

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Was always more of a Spooky Tooth fan myself

How big is your knob? Just the standard sized one?

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Bryston BHA-1 vs Burson Soloist 3xp

BHA-1 Specs: (From bryston.com)

Power Output (per channel): 2W @ 32Ω
Input Impedance: Unbalanced 10KΩ
Balanced +15kΩ/-5kΩ
Sensitivity:
HI (approx 20 dB) setting: 70mV in = 100 mW out into 50 Ω (500mV in = 5V out)
LO (approx 14 dB) setting: 140mV in = 100 mW out into 50 Ω (500mV in = 2.5V out)

Features:

  • · 3 stereo inputs: RCA, XLR, and 3.5mm TRS
  • · Fully Class A discrete operational amplifiers.
  • · Low distortion, high power output
  • · Balanced output
  • · Switchable gain
  • · Fully convection cooled means no noisy fans
  • · Machined and anodized aluminum enclosure and dress panel
  • · Legendary Bryston 20 Year Warranty

Soloist 3xp Specs: (from bursonaudio.com)

Power Output (per channel): 32 Ohm. 4 / 2W
Input impedance: 35 KOhms
Output impedance (Headphone Amp): 0.5 Ohm
Output impedance (Pre-Out): 25 Ohm

Features:

Inputs:
1 x XLR
1 x RC
1 x Mic

Outputs:

1 x XLR Preamp/DAC
1 x XLR Headphone Jack
1 X SE Headphone Jack

  • · Three levels of feedback based gain, matching headphones from 60db to 108db sensitivity.
  • · Burson proprietary Max Current Power Supplies eliminating noise and unveiling micro-details.
  • · High current Class-A and fully discrete circuitry, achieving incredible sound.
  • · The same MUSE72320 based volume control used in ultra-high-end preamps, achieving phenomenal channels balance and soundstage.
  • · Headphone power amp mode to remove volume control from the signal path and reach even higher transparency.
  • · Opamp rolling to tune Soloist 3X to your preference.

Build Quality:

The BHA-1 is a Bryston product, home of the legendary warranty, and it feels like it. The grain and texture of the silver is lovely to the touch, the knob spins with pleasant feedback, the switches feel authoritative, easily clicking into position, with no confusion as to the current state.

Operating temperature was in the range of 94-96 degrees Fahrenheit, measured in a room that averaged 78 degrees during testing.

The Soloist’s case is a handsome finned aluminum rounded rectangle, with a screen for displaying volume and navigating the menu. The screen looks great in flat orientation, but I can’t figure out how to make it rotate when you put the amp on its side. The menu system is not fun to navigate when you have to, using the volume knob[1]as a jog dial and accessing the enter / select function by pressing the knob in. The aluminum case is finished nicely. The remote is a aluminum stick about the size of a fat crayon, and provides input and volume control from the listening position.

Operating temperature was in the range of 103-107 degrees Fahrenheit, measured in a room that averaged 78 degrees during testing.

Listening . (via ZMF Autuer and LCD2.2 – pre fazor)[2]

Testing consisted of several days of listening to one, then the other, then some A/B testing}, and finally, randomly swapping back and forth while typing this sad excuse for a review. Specific track sampling included at bottom of review.

The story here is not one of major differences. These are two excellent solid-state amplifiers that have both earned reputations as standouts in their price range. Conclusion: Need a remote? Buy the Soloist 3XP. Don’t? Buy the BHA-1.

Seriously. This stuff is really close to each other. You won’t be upset buying for a feature on one or the other that makes your day. They both have pre-outs, both only balanced. The Soloist has an interesting configuration where you can run it as an amp only controlling volume with an upstream component. The Burson has remote. The Bryston has more inputs. The Soloist 3XP runs 10 degrees hotter than the BHA-1 but is 1/3 the size.

The Soloist 3XP is just ever so much sweeter in the treble. Maybe richer. Maybe lusher. The BHA-1 has a way with everything below about 250hz though. The Hegel boys claim their amp magic is due to dampening factor. Maybe that’s part of the situation here, as the BHA-1 just seems to control the drivers a little better, resonance is full, but stops before overhang. This results in a slightly silent-er silence between notes, which creates the illusion of more impact and dynamics. Level matched, the BHA-1 seems louder. But up from there, in the vocals zone, The Soloist holds its own with a slightly mellower take on things, which if you listen to a bunch of crap recordings (as we all should, it’s where some of the best music is) can be a welcome touch. If your values tilt the other way, the BHA-1 has greater capability create order out of chaos and is clearer when it gets congested. Someone will show up to tell me this is about transients, or that it can’t possibly be true. All this reviewer knows is what he hears, and that he promised @ProfFalkin to never use the term PRAT in a review again.

Which leads of course, to the section of Pace, Rhythm and Timing. The BHA-1’s excellence with the space between notes and the bass makes it a more compelling amp. If you get deep into the bourbon, the BHA-1 is more likely to present a version of Mr. Blue Sky that has you stripped to underpants and ready to burn down a town. Not that the Soloist 3XP is languid. the Caroline Shaw / So Percussion collaboration moves and shimmers and hammers as it should, however, the finale of Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” lacks the same degree of urgency in comparison.

Vocals: That tiny bit of extra happy happy in the Soloist 3XP is best heard with a female vocalist that can slip to bright on the wrong gear. Listening to Joni Mitchell’s “California” for example. it can take just a tiny bit off the edge. Again, this is splitting hairs, it isn’t the BHA-1 is bright, just that the Soloist keeps the edge at bay a little longer.

The Autuer is not a great sound staging can. the amps kind of have to fight their way through the can’s tendencies. The presentations looked a little like this:

Via the Audeze LCD 2.2, the imaging was much more cohesive and expansive on both amplifiers. However, the separation was better on the BHA-1.

Ultimately what we have here is a pretty decent 2 amplifier illustration of the bathtub curve. To plot a bathtub curve, you put price on a vertical axis and performance on the horizontal, and then draw a relatively flat line that curves up to almost vertical with the curve existing in a very small range.

As you progress through the range of performance available, you come into ever decreasing rates of performance to dollar. The BHA-1 retails for roughly double the Soloist 3xp. Yes, I like it better. You’ll need to decide if it is better enough for you.

Some Sample Tracks:

World Saxophone Quartet: Holy Man
Miles Davis: Someday My Prince Will Come
Woody Herman: 23 Red
Iron & Wine: Father Mountain
Elgar: Cello Concerto. (DuPre & Barenboim)[3]
Brahms: Ein deutsches Requiem
Shaw / Attacca Quartet: Orange
Gillian Welch: Revelator
Black Pumas: Black Moon Rising
Tom Petty: Grew Up Fast
Ben Folds: Late
Passenger: Sword from the Stone
The Flaming Lips: Brother Eye

[1] If you have one. My Soloist (purchased direct from Burson) came without a volume knob attached. The unboxing of a new toy is a sacred time, and to have that experience sullied by a major missing piece is unforgivable. It’s the biggest missed opportunity I’ve ever personally seen. There have been QC issues with this amp reported, I did not personally experience anything other than the missing volume knob.

[2] Level matched, balanced in, balanced out, pi2aes-> tt2 → amp; blah blah blah. Not blind. Highly caffeinated.

[3] All others are crap. Please play the first movement at my funeral, followed by the recessional hymn, for which I request “Kick out the Jams”.

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Sweet comparison, love the drawing!

Did you try this mode by any chance w/ your TT2 used as volume? I’m curious if some more performance can be squeezed out using a high performing pre-amp.

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I didn’t, as I am a dinosaur, and believe volume should be controlled in the analog realm.

(I have tried the tt2 preamp in other settings and have always preferred a different pre-stage)

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Nice review! Easy to follow and digest. Good stuff.

I think that deserves an explanation. Prat, as a term, is pants-on-head stupid. 3 synonyms for the same thing. I’d like to point out that if an amp is delivering the pacing, rythm, and timing of the music faster or slower than recorded, then technically something is very wrong. As an abstract concept (not taking each word literally) to describe an intangible quality of the music, I feel it’s still just too vague and ill defined. As a British swear word, it’s much more acceptable. So don’t be a prat, people. :stuck_out_tongue:

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Those who know me understand my similar feelings about, or near hatred of that f**king term/acronym/word. Well put.

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Timing issues in production are far more obvious and transformative than anything that happens during playback. Even the cheapest playback devices have good timing.

The Sugarcubes Birthday is perhaps the most extreme example I know of intentionally bad timing. Pink Martini also turned intentional timing issues into a hit. Willie Nelson’s singing tended to drag and wander versus the band on many of his later releases too.

Great write up! We’re lucky to have so many great options these days but it’s also hard to choose between them sometimes. I’m sure this will help a few people.

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Really great comparison @mfadio. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. The accompanying illustrations were, were… great. Thanks.

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That’s what I was thinking that you meant, the British swear word. Lol. I’m way behind. You could in fact call me a bit of a Prat. :sweat_smile:

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Nice and original review!

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You can add me to the list of people experiencing issues with static at start up or occasionally after a long period of silence of no audio playing. Though I haven’t heard any unusual popping like @Phil_Bog did.

Unfortunately for me, I bought my unit second hand. I’ll report back later on what support Burson will give me.

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Hi everyone I’m a long time lurker but fairly new to the community. I ended picking up a soloist 3x and love the sound of this amp but I was pretty unimpressed with the noise floor. Has anyone else noticed this? Is it normal to hear a hum/his on medium gain with lower sensitivity headphones (hd660s). High gain is where things get really noisy I don’t feel like I can use high gain even for my heddphones since it has so much background noise which gets progressively worse as I turn the volume up until I hit 50 and then it drops back down to as if the volume was set to 0. For reference I also have a iha6 and can’t personally hear any noise floor even on high gain when hooked up the same way as I currently have my soloist hooked up.

I guess I’m just wondering if this is normal for others who own a soloist? I got in touch with burson and they told me the noise floor was expected especially on high gain but it’s hard to understand why it would be so much louder than my iha6 which is also a powerful amp.

Hey welcome to the forum!

I do get a bit of hiss from med gain when using a Focal Clear, for example. But it’s not audible during music playback so it doesn’t bother me. In any case, I would go right back to low gain if it did. I’ve never needed to use high gain on any of my headphones–it’s too much output for me.

Hope that helps a bit.

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@Pepneck

I have one the soloist’s relatives, a Conductor 3XR. No (significant) issue with noise floor.

Did you try changing interconnects?

I have noticed it with the Focal Celestees on medium gain but it seems silent on low gain and that is plenty of power for the Celestees as well as the Clear MG/OG. So yes there is noise, but with the “proper” gain setting it’s not an issue. I don’t remember noticing noise with the HD6xx/medium gain but I also wasn’t checking for it so I might as well have missed it.

Thanks for the help. Ya i agree when music is playing on medium gain its not noticeable but it does bug me if I have my music off for a bit but keep my headphones on. Even during playback on high gain it can bug me. My Hedds can get close to maxing out medium gain on a quiet track sometimes in the 90s so I’d really like to use high gain for them but don’t like the sound with the noise floor.

Yup I tried different interconnects or even having my amp running while the source is turned off and the noise floor remains so I think it has to be the amp causing the noise.

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