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

No noise at all? I always had to use an IEmatch with my Dorado MK1 on any DAP. So the 2020 version is not so sensitive anymore?

I didn’t notice any noise. But that’s just me of course.

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I would like to update everyone on the issue that you should not plug-in and plug-out headphones when the device is turned off. I asked Burson service about it and they told me the following:

"Hi Tom,
We recommend unplugging the headphones after powering off. Plugin the headphones before powering on. We never recommend hot plugging headphones while the machine is on."

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So many great reviews/impressions.

@PaisleyUnderground, your review makes me want this even more! I think the Soloist would probably pair very well with the Schiit Saga+ as a preamp (SE only, unfortunately). I love that you can use the Burson as a ‘pure’ amp. I’ll be keeping an eye out for when they come back into stock. Every time I check they’re out!

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Really? I can checkout a soloist just fine; doesn’t say they’re out of stock…

Ahh, yeah I meant domestically (Bloom Audio).

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Speaking of which, does anyone have any experience with Hifi Heaven?

https://hifiheaven.net/shop/Burson-Audio-Soloist-3X-Performance-Balanced-XLR-Headphone-Amp-Preamp?language=en&currency=USD

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I bought an LCD-X from them years ago. They were good to work with then imo.

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Soloist / Burson gear reviews update

I got the new V6 opamps for my Soloist. So nothing stands in the way of writing my promised comparison… nothing aside from one last new and yet unreleased IEM that I am reviewing WITH the Soloist right now. :sweat_smile:

As I hope to finish the review today, I will then focus on the Bursons. However, my main headphone of truth, the Focal Clears are still in repair, so it’s a bit hard to do an amp review with IEMs alone.

I will see what I can do anyways…

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I’ve purchased Metrum and Sonnet gear from Hi-Fi Heaven and also used their Trade In service. I didn’t have any problems with the transactions.

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Thanks @Rhodey and @splayname. I think I might give them a shot. :+1:t4:

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I purchased my Soloist from hifi heaven last month. They were great. I even called and chatted with them to make sure it was in stock. They shipped it the next day.

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Thanks @ValentineLuke . It’s good to have you back. I missed reading the words of encouragement that you regularly offer to everyone.

Regarding the Soloist, I just ordered it straight from the store on their website. I can’t remember why, perhaps the dealers weren’t offering the Black Friday price.

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Looks like this amplifier is really worth your attention!

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Burson review / comparison coming later today. I finally managed. :blush::sweat_smile:

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Burson Audio Comparison

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

Intro

Burson Audio is an audio-components manufacturer based in Melbourne Australia. Their field of expertise is building premium desktop equipment like DACs, headphone amps, pre-amps and combo-devices doing it all. Bursons main philosophy is trying to build devices that will simply let the music through as natural and unadulterated as possible.

This review is not so much a review of single devices but rather a comparison of those:

Burson Playmate 2 Basic - 544US$
Burson Conductor 3XR - 2144US$
Burson Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combo - 2288US$

Specifications

Looking at the specs of all devices, they’re basically all very similar.
The share the same SABRE32/ESS9038Q2M DAC-Chip and feature the same opamps too. (For Playmate 2, the V6 Vivid opamps are optional). In other words, the technical foundation responsible for the sound is more or less the same for each model with slight differences in terms of frequency response, channel separation, THD etc.

The big difference however lies mainly in the input- and output options for each device - hence - the versatility AND the output power varying between 3W on the Playmate 2 and a staggering 8W on the Soloist 3XP.

Conductor 3X Reference (Headphone Amp / Pre Amp / DAC)

  • 7.5 W Class A XLR / 3.75 W Single ended
  • Dual SABRE32/ESS9038Q2M DAC
  • Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD
  • XMOS USB DSD512
  • Upgradeable Opamps (Vivid V6 Opamps included)
  • Frequency Response ± 1 dB 0 – 58Khz
  • Channel Separation 142dB @ 1kHz, 135dB @ 20kHz
  • THD+N 0.0005% @ 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 Pre Amp, 1 X Line Level DAC Out, 1 x 6.3mm & 1 x XLR Headphone Jack

Playmate 2 (Headphone Amp / Pre Amp / DAC)

  • 3 W Single ended
  • SABRE32/ESS9038Q2M DAC
  • XMOS USB DSD512 @ 32bit / 768kHz
  • Upgradeable Opamps (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% @ 1kHz, 0dBFS
  • USB-C Plug ‘n Play
  • Inputs: USB, Toslink
  • Outputs: RCA Pre Amp / Headphone Jack

Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combo

Soloist 3XP (Amp / Pre Amp)

  • 8 W Class A XLR / 4 W Single ended
  • Upgradeable Opamps (Vivid V6 Opamps included)
  • Burson Max Current Power Supply
  • Frequency Response ± 1 dB 0 – 48Khz
  • THD 0.0015%
  • Inputs: 1 x XLR, 1 x RCA, 1 x Mic Bypass
  • Outputs: 1 x XLR Preamp/DAC, 1 x XLR Headphone Jack,
    1x SE Headphone Jack

Composer 3XP (DAC / Pre Amp)

  • SABRE32/ESS9038Q2M DAC
  • XMOS USB DSD512 @ 32bit / 768kHz
  • Upgradeable Opamps (Vivid V6 Opamps included)
  • Burson Max Current Power Supply
  • Frequency Response ± 1 dB 0 – 58Khz
  • Channel Separation 142dB @ 1kHz, 135dB @ 20kHz
  • THD+N 0.0005% @ 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

Disclaimer

My review consists solely of my own thoughts, opinions and impressions of the product. I paid for the tested product, it was not given for free. All pictures were taken by myself unless stated otherwise.

Review gear

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

Empire Ears Odin (2.5mm balanced over XLR adapter)
Empire Ears Legend X (3.5mm single ended over 6.3mm adapter)
Focal Clear (XLR, 6.3mm)

Music selection/Testing 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 - C.R.E.A.M.

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 OST - Tennessee
Ice Cube - Raw Footage - Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It
Andreas Vollenweider - Vox - Enchanted Rocks

Packaging & Accessories

The packaging for all Burson gear is very plain and simple - nothing fancy here.
The devices arrive in two boxes - one outer plain cardboard box and a white inner box with the Burson Audio Logo on it which reminds me of car-hifi packaging when I was a student 20 years ago looking for the biggest subwoofer to fit in the trunk of my Corolla.

The device inside is very well protected by some additional foam-sheets. All in all you will not need to worry about your carrier messing up the precious freight.

Beside the device itself you get a power brick, metal remote control, replacement opamps and, depending on the device, some additional stuff like USB-C to USB-A converter, USB-C cable (Composer 3XP) and a hex wrench to open the housing.
What’s missing here is either a printed manual OR simply a QR code pointing you to the right manual to download.

Since I ordered 4 devices, I had no clue which is in which box as there is no name or description printed on the boxes. Sure enough, it’s an edge case as most people will order 1 device, but the boxes for Soloist and Composer are absolutely identical even in size and when you get them as a combo, you might look for a certain accessory later, but of course dismantle the wrong box (Murphy’s Law). It happened to me several times, so maybe Burson could at least add a sticker as a simple and cheap solution.

Build quality & design

The latest iteration of Burson Audio equipment has gone through a design overhaul and I personally find it very appealing. The devices are clad in gunmetal-colored aluminum with distinct cooling-ribs all around. This “Cool Case” helps to keep temperatures at bay and at the same time gives the gear a serious and very professional look. I do like it a lot!

Build quality is very good and the metal used has a reassuring thickness. I did not find any flaws or imperfections on all 4 devices that I tested. Burson uses high-quality connectors only like Neutrik for the XLR ports, so no complaints here too.

Each device features a simple white-on-black OLED screen where you can see the most important info and navigate through the menu. I know other manufacturers feature full-color high-res (touch)screens but I don’t care much. In fact, I prefer those simple screens built into the Bursons.

Last but not least you get a menu dial/volume knob on each device. Made from massive metal, the knob moves with a nice rasterization for each of the 100 volume levels. Very nice!

Sound

The basic sound signature of all tested devices is indeed very similar, which was to be expected considering they share pretty much the same innards. In other words: They sound pretty much the same, the sonic differences are in the details. Hence the following descriptions are valid for all tested devices unless otherwise stated.

Overall tonality

The tonality is easily described as neutral in the best possible sense. Nevertheless, the resulting output is neither “flat” nor boring, in fact there’s energy and musicality making for a very enjoyable listening experience. As Burson intended, their gear processes the music retaining as much from the original information as possible.
There’s a reason why I use Burson gear as my main source for testing in-ears or headphones!

Treble

The treble on the Bursons is simply wonderful. Natural and silky smooth, revealing the last little detail in the recordings. Rest assured, the Bursons will hardly be the limiting factor in your playback-chain.

There are subtle differences among the devices: Compared to the Conductor 3XR and Soloist 3XP / Composer 3XP combo, the Playmate 2 sounds a little grainy with a bit less energy. This is probably due to the fact that my Playmate 2 Basic is not equipped with the Burson V6 Vivid opamps but more basic ones. I assume when you change to the V6 Vivids, it sounds the same as the bigger brothers.

Midrange

Same that goes for treble is true for the midrange. Vocals are outlined clearly, have a nice body and sound very natural. The whole mid-frequency spectrum is well balanced. I can’t make out any coloration or emphasis at all.

Bass/Sub-bass

The bass on the Bursons is fast and tight with good energy. It’s the same story all over: Neutral and true-to-the-recording reproduction. It’s not as warm or pronounced as on other gear but that’s not to say it lacks impact or warmth. It’s just what is there - no more and no less.

Soundstage

The soundstage is very much dependent on the capabilities of the headphones/earphones you are using. With the Focal Clear for instance, you get a nice sense of space. This combination was THE best by far for Rock/Metal for instance. Guns ‘n Roses”Appetite for Destruction” never sounded this good to me before. Live recordings let you imagine the setting they were recorded in.
Naturally, you will enjoy this the most with some good over-ears.

Channel separation/Instrument separation

Channel- and instrument-separation are simply excellent. As of the time of this review, I have not heard better. You can either analyse the music or simply enjoy it - it’s up to you.

Neutrality

I already mentioned that the Bursons are very neutral sources that will just give you what’s there - provided your head-gear is sufficient.

Matchability/Synergy

The Bursons will work with all kinds of head-/earphones that you plug in. Even the little Playmate 2 sports 3W of output power which should be sufficient for most headphones and use cases. For more power-hungry headphones, either the Conductor 3XR or the Soloist/Composer combo will give you more reserves shall you need them. When you plan on going balanced, the Playmate 2 is no option anyways as it has single ended outputs only.

All Bursons tested will work with most head-gear as all have the option to select at least between high- and low gain. The Soloist even has a mid-gain option making it even more adaptable. I recommend an IEMatch when using sensitive in-ears with the Conductor 3XR. Otherwise you will get a noticeable noise floor. I tried with various in-ears and even if it’s no issue when playing music, it’s still there.

The best overall synergy was with my Focal Clears and that goes for all tested Bursons. It’s just a wonderful combination. As Burson service told me, the two companies are working closely together, so no wonder their products are a perfect match!

Comparison - Similarities & Differences

I already mentioned that you will basically get the same sound of all Bursons I tested. Now where’s the differences soundwise if there are any?

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

In single ended, both devices sound very close to each other with my Focal Clears. The big difference came when switching from single ended to balanced on the Conductor. Everything just felt more energetic and alive with the balanced output. I noticed that behavior when I tested DAPs (Digital Audio Players) in the past. It’s the same here. Another factor might be that the Conductor is equipped with dual ESS9038 chips handling one channel each in balanced mode.

The Playmate 2 also has a much lower power output than the Conductor 3XR. (3W vs. 7,5W), so if you might be using very demanding headphones, that might be a limitation.

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

First thing noticeable is a much higher noise level on the Conductor 3XR with in-ears. Even on low gain, the Conductor 3XR produces a noticeable noise floor with the Empire Ears Odin IEMs. On the Soloist 3XP having 3 gain levels instead of 2, the noise floor is hardly noticeable. It must be noted that the Conductor 3XR was probably never made for (sensitive) IEMs in the first place, but for demanding full-size headphones. The Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP combo gives you more flexibility here while managing to beat the Conductor 3XR in absolute power output (8W vs. 7.5W).

Switching between the Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP and Conductor 3XR shows noticeable differences in the (sound-) details: The Conductor 3XR has overall more energy and renders details with even more eloquence than the Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP combo. I clearly attribute this to the use of two ESS9038 DAC chips on the Conductor vs. only one on the Soloist/Composer combo. The basic sound-signature and -quality is the same, but there’s just that bit more drive on the Conductor 3XR.

I have to note that, at the time of this review, the Conductor 3XR has been used for weeks and the Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP combo only for hours, so the differences could become smaller with ongoing “burn-in” of the combo. I believe some difference in energy will prevail as the Conductor 3XR has the technical advantage of the 2 DACs.

Both the Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP combo and Conductor 3XR sound absolutely amazing with my EE Odins and the Focal Clear. Both head- /earphones have a rather neutral tuning and are able to reveal even the slightest details in the recordings. The synergy with the Bursons is absolutely wonderful and I find myself using those desktop devices when in my office, effectively replacing my DAPs.

Playmate 2 vs. Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP

Unfortunately, I cannot test this combination as my Focal Clears are still in repair and I am still waiting for an adapter (2.5mm to 6.3mm) to use my in-ears with the Playmate 2. I expect the outcome to be similar to the Playmate 2 vs. Conductor 3XR comparison as the Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP combo and Conductor 3XR are very similar. When I get the Clears back, I will try to update this paragraph.

User Experience & Usability

I finally added this paragraph to my reviews, because I feel it’s about time to look at those topics for audio products too. Also, as a UX (User Experience) designer, I consider it my “holy” duty to do so. Burson Audios devices will be the premiere for me, so here goes:

Hardware

Good

  • Simple overall layout
  • Tactile Menu/Volume dials
  • Useful display with good contrast

To Improve

  • Volume dial steps on Conductor 3XR occasionally “slips” between volume levels, the dials on the other tested devices work more reliable
  • Accessibility: Tiny displays on Playmate 2 and Soloist/Composer combo only allow for (much too) small text. Readability is compromised for people with visual impairments
  • Cryptic symbols/missing descriptions for inputs/outputs on the device’s backsides, markings for left/right channels missing (Left/right is correct when looking from the back, not from the front, which many users are getting wrong!)

Software

Good

  • Simple menu layout and -options
  • The option to turn 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

Good

  • Replacement opamps included (for all tested devices)
  • USB-C to USB-A adapters (some devices)
  • USB-C cable (Composer 3XP)
  • Hex wrenches to open housing
  • high quality remote included (for all tested devices)

To Improve

  • No printed manual in the box!
  • No QR code to point you directly to the online manual
  • Manuals have several errors and are sometimes outdated (in the case of the Conductor 3XR, gain is called “HEA level” - the manual says “gain”. I had to write Burson to help me out)
  • No device names on the uniform packaging (Put at least a sticker on it!)

All in all the tested Burson gear offers a 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 will be addressed already.

@Burson: Don’t think all your customers/users are experienced with audio tech! Help newbs to get started without frustration and you will win faithful and longtime customers.

Usability Rating: B+

Verdict

All tested Burson products are great. Build quality and design are on a very high level, the sound quality to me is outstanding.

Now which one to get, you may ask? Well, that depends on your needs really.

Of course, there’s big differences in the price to consider. The Playmate 2 starts at $544, the Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP combo and Conductor 3XR go for over $2000.

Great thing is, no matter which device/combo you choose, you will basically get the same sound quality. Of course the big siblings outperform the Playmate 2 in details and energy, but the Playmate 2 is oh-so-close for the price!

Reasons to get the more expensive gear are:

  • Higher power output for more demanding gear/applications
  • Lots more input- and output options including Bluetooth 5.0 (which works great btw.) and balanced XLR output
  • Much more flexibility given the above mentioned points
  • The maximum possible sound quality (In case you really want the last bit!)

In the end, for me there are 3 winners:

Price/performance: Playmate 2 wins this one easily.

Sound quality: Conductor 3XR takes the crown due to its dual DAC implementation.

Flexibility: Soloist 3XP/Composer 3XP combo offers the most flexibility by adding 3 gain levels that allow for a low noise floor even with sensible head-/earphones. Also, you can pair both devices with other DACs/Amps easily.

If Burson cares to make a Soloist 3XR (Reference) with the same dual DACs like the Conductor 3XR, the Soloist/Composer combo for me would be the last desktop solution I’ll ever need (and want). I will ask them about it anyways, maybe they have something cooking already.

16 Likes

What a fantastic review.

Out of interest, are you able to use the Conductor as a DAC to feed the Soloist? I wonder how that would compare to using the Conductor by itself, since the Soloist is meant to have a slightly better amp, but as you say, the DAC in the Conductor is better. (Sorry if you wrote about that and I missed it. I’m so sick of looking at this forum on my phone.)

I agree with all your observations of the Soloist, particularly the treble. It appears to have more treble than my other amps but without any harshness or brightness. I’ve always thought of myself as treble-sensitive, but maybe I’ve just never experienced well done highs like this.

The only criticism I have is the usability of the screen and volume control when switching between the gain settings. It takes too much time to go into the menu and then turn the volume up or down, in my opinion, compared to the simple flicking of a switch on a Schiit amp.

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Spectacular review @Tom_Ato ! :clap:

One thing I would like to add about the build…the front part is more delicate than I thought. I accidentally dropped my headphones about 3 or 4 in. and it dented the front of my Soloist–it’s tiny but still there. No damage whatsoever to the headphones and I got so mad at it for being so sturdy. lol (even thought it was my fault)…it was the audioquest nightowl for those wondering (I was craving something unique that day which prompted me to use those infamous headphones). On a side note, the synergy between the nightowl and soloist was actually really good. It still had sucked out mids but everything else was aligned pretty well, to my surprise.

Yeah, my one main complaint is that the volume steps seem to be inconsistent. When I want to turn it one step up, the volume goes down. lol

Huh, I didn’t know they work closely together–good to know! The synergy with the Clears is indeed great! By the way, for your listening did you use med or low gain on the Clears?

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Thank you very much for the compliment!

I thought about connecting Conductor 3XR to Soloist too. :wink: Was too lazy to try though. But yes, it should work. :+1:

The internals are the same so the sound should then be the same.

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Thanks for the info with the front cover. And thanks for the compliment!

I used medium gain on the Soloist for the Clears.
That’s like low gain on Conductor btw. For using IEM’s, Soloist is probably the better choice.

Burson service mentioned the two companies have good connections which I find cool. It’s nice if two companies can share knowledge and make their products better.

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