Exclusive interview with Dieter Burmester & Matej Isak



Where and how did all started for Burmester audio?

Before I started engineering school I toured as guitarist with a professional rock band. And it was my passion for music that let me abandon the development of electronic measuring devices for the medical profession and start my own business as designer of high-end audio equipment. A damaged Preamp and the fact that there was no replacement with an advanced concept induced me to convert one of my medical measuring devices. The resulting Preamp is a central element among our Burmester components up to the present day.

In 1977 I started my own high end company in Berlin. I was surprised how quickly the company rose to the top of the German high-end industry. Today, it is one of the most respected names among manufacturers of highest-quality stereo and music systems worldwide.

Would you consider yourself an audiophile?

I would consider myself a music lover. Listening to music creates emotions, and this is what it’s all about.

You're a great musician. It's my personal believe that only those who are deeply connected with music can convey this to the amplification.  Would you agree? Can you elaborate?

For almost 50 years I have been making music. During my professional training as a radio and television technician I designed my first tube amplifier. The experience of live music is the ultimate yardstick with which I measure the performance of my audio designs. The optimum of sound is achieved when you stop thinking about where the music is coming from.

Burmester is not only luxury worldwide known brand, but highly respected manufacturer of solid state amplifiers. It's very demanding task to jointly combine those two qualities. Was is hard to achieve it?

I have spent more than 30 years now working for this. The brand Burmester is well known among music lovers and audiophiles around the world because we have always followed our claim to create the perfect combination between substantial sound, technological innovation and timeless design.

Your chrome finish is outstanding and instantly recognizable. Many tried to copy it, but it seems that you're a step ahead in finish and quality. What is the secret and why chrome?

I believe, we have been the first audio manufacturer to use chrome front panels and aluminum housing design, a worldwide trend ever since. I was inspired by the furniture design of the 1930s and by old-timer cars and music instruments. Apart from designing aspects, chrome is regarded as a material which retains its value almost unboundedly.

Why you didn't choose tubes?

I use tube amplifiers when I play guitar, because the distortion creates an individual sound. But for listening to music I prefer the sound of solid state amplifiers, because of the accuracy. When I play bass guitar, I also prefer solid state amps because of the better damping of low frequencies.

How do you see the difference among tube and solid state?

Solid state amplifiers offer a much higher damping factor for a better control of the speaker woofer.

Some say that with solid state technology you loose musicality and natural timbre, but I found quite opposite in Burmester. You came as close to neutral and musicality as technology allows it. How did you manage this?

In order to achieve the extraordinary Burmester sound, we use the latest technologies and finest electronic components in combination with the results of longstanding research and developments added by our uncompromising quality requirements. Finally, apart from technological perfection, the human ear is still the most crucial criteria. Only when a newly developed device has passed the last authority – the skilled ears of our staff – the undiluted listening pleasure is guaranteed.

Can you tell us more about x-amp technology?

X-amp technology is a kind of extremely balanced operational amplifier that we have designed and produce for our own electronics.

Do you think that pure class A is the ultimate for high-end?

No, there are several possibilities to achieve a good result.

You brought balanced technology to high-end audio, that was prior only used in pro music technology. Why? What are benefits?

I introduced balanced circuitry to the high end industry, because you receive a positive and a negative signal path, independent from ground. The only function of ground is the shielding aspect.

In your opinion, what sets Burmester audio design above typical solid state amplifiers?

Amplification technology has been one of Burmesters’ core competences from the very beginning. Like all amplifiers from our high-end manufacture, the power amps are fully balanced and completely DC-coupled. Their characteristically high damping factor in combination with a wide class-A range allows every connected loudspeaker to perform at its very best. The frequency response is from DC up to a few hundred kHz.

All Burmester stereo power amps can easily be bridged into mono operation by the use of external Burmester mono adapters. If desired, the power amps can be delivered as mono-version ex factory, meaning internally bridged.

What is your approach to power supply and how important it is in your view?

The performance of our amplifiers depends on the quality of the power supply.

You're offering one of a kind upgrade/service for almost all previous models. Why?

Even the most advanced technology is subject to constant improvement due to new research and developments or the availability of better component parts.

The possibility of future upgrades is element of our long-term concept. Our customers are able to profit from future technological advances by factory-set upgrades. For several customers, Burmester Modification has been a crucial argument for the purchase, as it grants listening pleasure on the highest level for decades.

It seems that even Rondo series carries the Burmester quality that higher models imply? How did you manage to do that?

All Burmester product lines are united in their claim to fulfill highest requirements concerning sound quality, technological innovation, manufacturing quality, functionality as well as design aspects. They may vary in terms of features and capability characteristics, but never with regard to their quality commitments and to their ultimate musical performance.

What would you say that is the biggest difference between entry level line and the reference?

Our Reference Line asserts the claim to set the benchmark worldwide in the fields of sound quality, innovations and manufacturing quality. This extraordinary product line aims to demonstrate the state of the art whatever the effort or the required use of materials may be. Rondo Line components are subject to the identical high standards as all other Burmester appliances. Exceeding musicality, perfect manufacturing quality, technological innovation and attractive design are immediate requirements in the Rondo Line as well. The Rondo components profit from developments from the Reference or Top Line. Technologies, which have been generated for these high-class product lines are deployed in a condensed form for the Rondo Line components.

How much of Burmester you're getting for example with 051 amplifier? 

The Rondo Line integrated amplifier 051 seamlessly joins in with the league of Burmester integrated amps. Resulting from the Burmester X-Amp circuit technology, adopted from the 032, the 051 operates with a wide class-A range and is as a result extremely resistant to distortion. So even with our Rondo Line amp you will receive a full-blooded Burmester.

Are outboard power supplies a must or?

Our Reference Line CD Player and Preamp are available with or without external power supply. As we use very effective shielding in our one unit products, it is not a must, but an option to even enhance the sound quality of your system.

It's said that like with building great guitars, you have to choose the right materials and imply them with knowledge to achieve a perfect instrument. How does this analogy works with building an amplifier?

The sum of all well solved details result in a good product.

Where is the border between exotic audio parts and right implementation?

The most important element is that all parts are well adjusted to each other.

Burmester x-amp incorporated op-amp in their topology. Many are skeptical about their use in high-end audio, but you seems to manage to avoid the any imprint of them. Can you elaborate on your approach to op-amp's in Burmester amplifiers and preamplifiers and how did you go beyond any (if there are) shortcomings?

Our X-amp technology is a discreet build-up operational amplifier design with extremely high performance and the integrated operational amplifier is only for offset purpose. Again: I am very sure that in roundabout 95% or more of all studio equipment you will find integrated op-amps in the signal path, even for the production of analog records.

There is always something more to do. How do you stop and say that's it. This will go into production?

When everyone involved in the project is completely satisfied with the result, it goes into production.

There is ongoing trend that strives for dynamic, resolution, soundstage etc., but they're forgetting about music. How does Burmester stay out of this raw specifications trap?

Regarding the quality, all our specifications are state-of-the-art. But this alone is no guarantee for the transfer of emotion via the reproduced music.

Burmester 099 is bringing the digital audio and preamplifier in one box. Years ago you already introduced digital inputs on 051, 061, 001 etc. What is the difference with 099?

Special about the 099 is the quantity of digital and analog inputs. It is perfectly suited for integrating your TV, several set top boxes and gaming consoles.

Do you think digital is the future or is it already here?

I believe, more than 95% of all recordings and of the technology used in recording studios is digital and balanced.

Your belt driven CD player. Many said that this was only a statement. Can you tell us more why exactly did you use similar technology that is used with turntables?

The reading out of the information is very smooth without any phase jitter. There are no vibrations or resonances from the motor influencing the readout process.

You're still holding to CD players. Do you ever plan to produce SACD player?

No, SACD is not better than CD with oversampling. SACD was only introduced because the industry wanted to get new licenses and prevent copying as a 1:1 copy is not possible with SACD because you do not have a digital output.

I guess you also don’t think that CD are obsolete?

Not at all. Most recording studios work bit parallel.

Your upcoming phono 100 preamplifier sets another milestone to high-end audio. Please tell us more what is so unique and why did you choose to build it?

The 100 is a reference to the successful 838 Phono Preamp from the 80’s. The final result is a return to  the roots of Burmester’s story of success, combined with state of the art technology from the 21st century. It is probably the world’s most comprehensive Phono Preamp available. One of the key features is the ability to professionally digitalize analogue records. Another one is the unprecedent Auto Adjust function.

Burmester turntable? Will this ever happen?

There are so many excellent products on the market that there wouldn’t be a real need for a Burmester turntable. We are working very closely with some of these companies and use their products for demonstrating for example our 100 phono preamp.

How do you see the state of vinyl and analog revival?

I am happy about anyone who enjoys listening to music.

How close can one get with digital reproduction in comparing to analog in your opinion?

I believe that more than 95% of all recording studios work with digital technology. Many old analog tapes are digitally remastered for the production of the new analog records.

Do you produce everything in house or do you employ subcontractors?

All our loudspeakers and electronic equipment is handmade in Berlin by our skilled personnel. 95% of the Burmester constructed case parts are purchased from German manufacturers. All PBCs are assembled and soldered in our company. Electronic parts are thoroughly tested and partly selected before they are built in. An extensive series of tests follow the assemblage. Power Amps for example have to pass almost 300 measurements before they are allowed to carry the seal of approval “Made by Burmester”. Burmester keeps a full history record of all units ever manufactured since the founding year 1977. The test protocols of every delivered piece of equipment are kept in our files for future reference in case of a modification or a repair.

Did ever form follow function in designing Burmester components?

Yes, and I am also influenced by Bauhaus architecture.

Do you still believe in traditional German quality?

Absolutely. “Made in Germany” is regarded as a quality seal throughout the world.

Where do you see Burmester among other high-end companies?

We are one of the most established high end companies worldwide. I think our special position is based on the fact that we have reference titles in all product categories. In the automotive sector we managed to set the benchmark as well.

What markets are the strongest one for Burmester?

Our strongest market is Germany and the rest of Europe, though the market in Asia has been constantly growing. Especially in China “Made in Germany” is regarded as a quality seal.

What would you say that is typical Burmester customer?

There is no such thing as a typical Burmester customer. They are all music lovers, but can come from very different backgrounds. Some spend a lifetime saving for their Burmester system, others order their Reference Line system fully gold plated.

What is that sets Burmester audio from competition?

We were the first to introduce fully balanced circuitry design, completely DC-coupled signal path from analog turntable cartridge to loudspeaker. We invented the belt-drive technology, active power conditioners and several other pioneering technologies.

Many companies are starting to use PWM class D amp's. What are your thoughts about it? 

Up to today, I believe that there is no high end performance with PWM class D amps up to today.

What is the secret of your strong presence in high end audio world?

Tradition and innovation.

How many people Burmester employ?

Around 50 employees build all Burmester electronics and loudspeakers in Berlin.

How do you see current high-end society?

I hope they are all music lovers and they get a lot of emotions from music to enrich their lives.

Would you say that high quality is more affordable today or you have to pay premium price for best components and sound?

In 1972 when I was a student I owned a Quad high end system that had the value of a Mini Cooper (4.500,- DM). Today, a well-equipped Mini Cooper can cost up to 50-60.000,- €. So nothing has changed.

Where does hifi stop and high end comes in for you?

There is no real border.

What is the goal of Burmester audio?

My aim as musician and engineer is to make music enthusiasts forget that they are listening to their music via electronic equipment. When you reach the point where nothing disturbs your enjoyment of music you are able to dive into the music.

What is the future of digital audio and where do you see Burmester in it?

Until now, we always managed to accept and to rise to all challenges as we are passionate engineers.

What is your reference when designing and testing new products?

In order to achieve the extraordinary Burmester sound, we use the latest technologies and finest electronic components in combination with the results of longstanding research and developments added by our uncompromising quality requirements.

Finally, apart from technological perfection, the human ear is still the most crucial criteria. Only when a newly developed device has passed the last authority – the skilled ears of our staff – the undiluted listening pleasure is guaranteed.

When I play recordings made in my recording studio at home on our system they have to sound exactly like they did when I recorded them.

As a musician, do you think that live musical event can be reproduced in a listening room?

I am aware that a live concert experience is very hard to duplicate by home audio systems. And in any case should music lovers visit every concert they can. However, I have experienced myself that not every concert visit is as satisfying as one would expect. Visiting a concert requires long-term planning, not knowing what mood you are going to be in or what kind of music you would like to listen to that night. Compared to that, listening to music via electronic equipment has the ability to adjust the music in harmony to your mood. You choose the performing artist, the concert date and the number of encores of your individual concert.

Furthermore, with a Burmester sound system, you can let legends arise back to life. Recordings by Elvis Presley, the Beatles or other extraordinary artists will fill your living room with the spirit of music which is lost for the stages of the world.

Any last thoughts for our readers?

I am a full blood creative engineer, but it is not the technical aspect that counts, but the emotional element of the products’ sound. The technology behind it is only a means to an end. For me perfection has a high emotional value. Therefore I am striving for perfect shape, perfect quality, perfect function and perfect sound. I also hope that our products provide access to the enjoyment of music to many people.

www.burmester.de



Matej Isak: text
Mono & Stereo high-end audio magazine
September 2010, All rights reserved
mi(at)sgn.net
matejisak(at)gmail.com