Having spent mush time with highly regarded and awarded Burson HA-160 D, it was interesting to meet the new family breed called Soloist. Soloist arrived just few weeks back to Mono & Stereo headquarters.
Burson Audio since last informal meeting stripped down the company name to Burson only. Guys from down under already made they mark upon the audio world and went with their straightforward “head” name. No complaints. It acts even more standout and “raw” positively self-assuring.
What would make Burson so self-assured? Their approach to the inner detail and the way they stepped out of the crowed already with they products so far and the way the crowded the market. And nonetheless quality…
The visual impact
New enclosure doesn't differ that much from previous one. Resonance free full sold aluminum, that acts bots as heat dispatcher and as absorber of all resonances. One thing you’ll notice at once is above mentioned shortened company name. Burson stand now loud and proud without the additional audio name and in the absence of circle around the logo. It looks much better and well versed. With the addition of second row of input gain switch, everything seem to breath more balanced giving the Soloist costlier and more prominent looks. Love the outcome.
Burson already made all the difference with their custom made op-amps. You can find my positive remarks here about their approach and sound. For Soloist Burson team went even further. They wanted to build on their successful implementation and benefit in what its most important to us; on the sound. They managed to bring down their input circuit to only 21 parts. That is quite a substantial change. I’ll report on the sound later on, but at least on the theoretical side this already promising a noticeable difference. We all know how every element in signal path can change things. In theory we could say for bad or good, but in audio usually more part translate to worst.
When “throwing” out any unnecessary element in the signal path there is no other way to determine the final outcome, but to take the long hard path of listening. It’s not that less is more always. Even good old Einstein said (to paraphrase), that things should be simple, but not simpler. We’ve seen over the years how many companies tried to use that logic and philosophy just to drag the market attention. At the end they even wanted to charge ridiculous prices for something that actually didn't even give out 10% of what usual classical design did. In this day and age it’s so easy to put a sticker and price to many brainchild and called them stand out and unique. Our ways of life are overflowing with the results of such massive nonsense and consequences are already affecting everything in general. There is always a place to respect well and greatly build things in general and with the domestic knowledge and labor under one flag. Congrats to Burson for sticking to that. So input stage FET with it’s 21 element is one at least three most important changes in this new machine.
Second change is Soloist IC free power supply. Like in previous design they put even more efforts into a lower noise and grain free. Results are in the service of transparency with the combination of FET and other new refinements.
The third most important change in new Soloist is gain selector. This clever implementation let you choose the input gain for preamplifier and set the needed load for different headphones. Double win situation. In this way Burson is closing the gap of proper gain matching for any headphone on the market (except electrostatics of course).
I didn’t expect that gain selector would also work for the preamplifier section. What a great wit addition. Now you can successfully match gain of you tube or solid state power amplifier and further fine-tuned it with the volume knob, which is actually a 24-step attenuator with chosen 0.1% metal film resistors. I highly enjoyed this additional feature, but more on that latter on. Let me set the grounds of preamplification first.
Importance or absence of preamplifier
In my past few discussion with some of the leading manufactures and hard-core audiophiles in general, there were a constant exchange of strong opinions on the importance or even basic need for the preamplifier. With an increase of DAC’s with onboard preamplifier function or even digital volume within the computer, there seems to be a pushed trend of preamplifier non-importance.
It’s ok perhaps for the budget systems to avoid the preamplifier. And it might even work and it did. Then again, when it comes to the serious listening and high-end I’m not only recommending, but urge you to try and hear the difference. It’s true, that preamp can carry the flavor as any given component, but the role of right gain powering is essential to the music. Just find the right match that is capable of all the needed duties.
Burson acknowledge this within their past product. With the Soloist they’re setting the bar even higher. Preamplifier role within this device defines Soloist existence as importantly or even more as it’s headphone section.
The sound change
HA-160D already won my heart with the analog like character. As I described it was on the warm side of analog. Very good attributes of naturally sounding system when matched properly. HA-160D is a great performer in a well-balanced system. With Soloist Burson team went even further. The change when I first inserted Soloist into to my system was so instant and recognizable, that it deserves more then just brief mentioning. HA-160D strong qualities of analog sound was still here, but the difference was in neutrality and transparency. This excursion or revealing just opened up Soloist many new doors to the hearts of musician and audiophiles. Soloist is so much more character less, that will be easily matched with much more front ends and power amplifiers.
In the preamplifier role Soloist remarkably sets new grounds for Burson and the class it belongs to (actually it belong much above). Partnered with my trusty Mactone MH-300B power amplifier Soloist prolonged my listening hours more then I would ever expected. Being a high dynamic impact nut-guy I found myself satisfied with the highest gain on the Soloist preamplifier input switch. For me without the much needed gain and dynamics, everything can quickly become pale and lifeless with music. Correct gain matching is one the most important things of any high-end audio system. I’ve seen and heard many top bucks audio systems, that sounds dull and more like hi-fi, because they failed to do this basic homework. Do not in any way overlook this standout feature of Soloist.
There is always a critical point of voicing the preamplifier between neutrality and dynamic ability. This is crucial for any audio component to get it right and one of the hardest thing for any audio designer to accomplished. Burson carved very impressive audio conjunction between those two parameters. Vladimir Lamm great LL2, that sits as reference in my system got is spot on. In comparing Burson’s Soloist is closing the gap of affordable and well versed with it’s performance. This is a class step up in both performance and value. Very encouraging for audiophile market.
Neutrality and the absence of any sound imprint is the ultimate preamplifier quest. On this path there are many obstacles and one can easily fall into the trap of certain stand out finding that comes along the R & D. In the final chapter when you need to connect all the dots and exposed a working product, more then often things collapsed in the term of sound. Burson final hours seems to been a long ones with an evident result.
Soloist let the music come and go through it with little additions. As said, for this price range, they did something that is more then just worth mentioning. In never-ending battle of bits and resolution, when we’re finally coming to an age, where digital is becoming more and more close to analog, we need preamplifiers that act as neutral as it’s possible. Everything is becoming a revelation when master tracks are being offered in 24bit 96khz and above.
Burson is making their important part in this change. It’s great seeing things evolving from companies like Burson. Such approach brings great audio technology and more important more musical bliss to the music lovers at large regardless of the labels we sometimes push so hard to stick on. Soloist is future ready so to speak.
The new FET input stage is lass fat
As this is an important part of Soloist feature let me look into it with few words. Standard IC opamp is a combination of some 50 parts, which like it or not shape the sound of anything it’s used with. Burson already cut down to 32 components with HA-160 circuit. Now with the Soloist they managed to bring only 21 components into the input stage. When you’re using IC opamp you cannot change any part. You’re trapped with the sound imprint. When going on solo and choose your own discrete component you’re making the difference.
In their new input stage with the carefully selected part they also implemented FET – Field Effect Transistor. In combination with other parts they managed to combine a new better working circuit. This was not only “a thing can be done” for Burson. The result is evident and one to congrats. It opens up the windows into to the music with much more clear day picture. It affects the natural recordings in very positive way. You can always hear the difference with both studio and live recordings when substantial changes were made in any audio component and Soloist wen further with FET with avid sonic results.
With FET Burson is stepping further in revealing what was producer or sound engineer wish when capturing the certain musical event. I see the Soloist not only as an audiophile and music lover preamp, but also as a functional tool for any musician. As already mentioned the resolution and bits are getting higher and lots of current production happened in small studios or as it called in the box. With the input gain settings for both headphone and preamplifier Soloist become a serious tool for musicians, producers and sound engineers. Barriers are crossed here.
HA-160 and HA-160 D already found many happy homes for head-fi members and cans lovers from all over the blue-green planet of ours.
Now with the introduction of three level of gain setting of Variable Output Stage (VOS), soloist is ready to drive any headphone on the market. Even the planar ones.
With the Sennheiser HD-850 or any given headphones things also changed for greater. Transparency, lower noise floor and more controlled dynamic are even of more importance with headphone listening. Every things count. With speakers based system you loose some of the information due the room anomalies. Headphone listening universe in so much more intimate and detailed and prone to changes. There is nothing that even untrained headphone enthusiasts would miss with the casually designed headphone amplifier. Either you make it right or you don’t. Or… you make it better and it shows at once.
Sense of space, the depth, natural decays and timbre. Things are elevated and with much more easiness. I could sense the finer attacks and more real life rendering of instruments; both live and studio recorded. Positioning and the blackness of background was also greater.
Soloist is a logical step up from HA-160. Let me called it a silent evolution.
With the Burson hard efforts in making their Soloist evolutional (with some aspects of revolution) they managed to create a music machine of transparency and neutrality. Cutting down on unneeded parts in the circuit let them evolve with their findings.
Like with preamplifier, things went way further that they expected. This is why they created a new product instead of just “face-lift” the old one.
Saying that Soloist is a small step up for Burson wouldn’t be fair enough. They could easily sit on the past glory. Just look round the web how many happy owners they have around the globe. I’m thrilled to see small companies like Burson pushing the technology and passion forward for all of us. One can easily spot the company dedication and urge to do things right and most importantly for me, better sounding product.
With Soloist you’re not “trapped” down to built in DAC. The possibilities are endless here. Repeating again myself; input preamplifier gain will help match your front ends in all galore. Not only different DAC’s output levels, but often needed gain increase from analog front ends. MC signals from different phono preamplifiers are more then often in need of additional gain. Soloist unique feature can assist nicely. With the increase of vinyl awareness this is an important part of preamplifier selection when you’re in the need of buying one.
Soloist adds up to the headphone listening in large way, but even more important, this is a stand-alone preamplifier that defines a class genre. With its new capabilities and neutral sound it step up and walk over boldly with as over many preamps priced much higher.
Burson Soloist is a both great headphone amplifier and serious preamplifier in a mighty aluminum package with great tools at hand. A versatile handcrafted machine at more then reasonable price.
Watch up. These guys from Burson means business… Great sounding and affordable one!
Mono & Stereo highly recommended.
Matej Isak Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine All rights reserved, 2012 www.monoandstereo.com