Burson Conductor test review

An audiophile lifestyle and music lover hub

In past two years something fresh is happening to the high-end audio scene and audiophile community. We've seen a strong comeback of life-sytle high-end audiophile products. Simplicity, connectivity, computer playback, headphone amplifier, preamplifier... All in one box! No additional cabling, no fuss, but quality build and great performance. In past we to often connected life-style products with hi-fi, but in the times when even Dan D'Agostino is working of lifestyle components it's time to rethink the approach and see it in the new light. Burson already proved right with their HA-160D concept and now carries their glories to the future.


You can go separate ways in any way you want go nuts with all the cables, preamps, DAC's etc. While this open up endless options, it also creates the frustration camping. Just yesterday I discussed the matter of synergy with a friend who's both music lover and distributor of high-end gear. We talked about system approach and mix-matching. Now, you really have to have mileage of equipment going through your system and some sort of logical notes storage to make sense all of the infos and you can still go wrong. And there is a third open option to work with. The luck! Sometimes you'll have a lucky star above you that might help you find a heavenly match with components, but relaying on it will cost you crazy funds and nerves. I think you're seeing where I'm heading...  It can be depressive and morph into life long search to get the things right. Looking back to the life-style the concept of one box quickly become promising and Burson made all the efforts to make it right. Read on...

The looks

Soloist took the new turn in the book of Burson Audio aesthetics. New logo announced just the sole name Burson. Bold statement? Not at all. Company already established their strong presence among head-fi crowd, audiophiles and music lovers. They become a synonym for great quality and sound above its price range and with true audiophile and music DNA under the hood. They need no flattering at that tells more then enough. Importantly they put their offers not only on the inside but in the chassis appearance.

New aluminium chassis is further refined. One can both see and feel the quality of finish. Whole design  and aura of Conductor is both unique and elegant. You don't want to hide it one your audio rack or table top. Conductor aesthetics are captivating and contemporary minimalistic. It blends seemlesly with my Apple arsenal of computers and it finds it confident spot on audio rack.

For me, the looks are of high importance when it comes to the high-end gear. Yes, first thing is the always the sound, but with the integration of our bellowed audio products within our living environments, seamless design becomes an integral part of the whole product appearance. I feel that in present times it's almost a must to get industrial design done right. In past few years we've seen, that clever companies do pay attention to this. Burson is on the right path along others. Love them for that!

No sleep t'il Brooklyn

It's few months around and team of Burson seems not to sleep on their medals and pedestals. Another new comer and upgrade to the already great Burson HA-160 D that I review here and loved it for it's analogue like character and custom design. Elaborate take on preamplifier and headphone amplifier was later introduce by Burson in the form of stand out Soloist. You can find my ravings remarks in my review here. With Soloist team Burson went ahead and addressed many things inside and outside. But most importantly, the sound was such a step up, that it took Burson to the high-end performance. While Burson HA-160 D was great device, Soloist took things further into the realms where things suddenly make giant leafs towards stand out musical reproduction and where all little things become to be of the top importance.


Soloist already proved how refine approach and less is more works out great at where it matters most. The music! Now, when it comes to the digital to analogue conversion things do get more complicated. Many grinned when I said how balanced digital playback requires at least so much fine tuning and settings as with high-end vinyl reply. But it does! Just take into account playback software, USB protocols, storage devices (flash drivers vs HD), memory, USB cables etc. In the current market situation with vast and overgrowing DAC's there must be something special to catch the attention of audiophiles and music lovers at larger scale. Demand for quality is out there. Mediocrity is not enough anymore even for entry level. Burson know this and they went all along to pursue great performance and what we all expected after having the "revelation" of the past products and especially the latest Soloist.

DAC section

Now, all that Burson managed to refine with Soloist is included within Conductor with completely new DAC and few other upgrades. HA-160 D performed above it's price range and build in DAC showed that Burson knows how to implement things at right pace, but with Soloist they made few steps further. Both preamplifier and headphone section of Soloist were serious step up. There is no doubt when going through specs how John, Alex and whole team worked hard to achieve another milestone in the company heritage. Read on. Conductor goes even further.

Burson Conductor DAC uses ESS SABRE32 Reference DAC chip. 32-bit Hyper-stream DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator technology ensure a reference performance. SABRE32 is on the premium pricing and it was chosen considerably for its sound.

Burson team is know for the absence of any IC based building blocks anywhere in their circuitry. They avoid them like a plague for a reason. With Soloist DAC section they went back to the draw board and designed completely new circuit for the SABRE32. Like with DCS and many upper echelon DAC manufacturers the discrete approach is an only way to go. It's great to see company as Burson pushing the limits of the given price range. This is what makes contemporary high-end audio such a great place to be. It feels that massive production 80's are being transformed into the high quality high-end small manufacturing outlets giving their hearts, funds and knowledge into the products that us mere mortals are worthy of affording. And it's not about money only, but what makes all this fun. Music listening and enjoying. Burson paid their respects over and over again with the way they work and create.

DAC sound

While 160 D DAC warm sound and close nature to analog sound kept owners happy, many hankered for the higher resolution and perhaps more open sound. With new 24/192 asynchronous TE8802 USB transceiver Conductor step ahead and I'm sure most of the wishes for transparency are now fulfilled. I'm still ready to sacrifice some of it for analog warm character Burson is know for. With Conductor Burson managed to keep the right warm feeling and add resolution. Recent releases of high-resolution digital masters are more then welcomed with Conductor. Burson got up to date with tech and specs. No worries needed about serving present and upcoming high res releases.  

As written many times I prefer a touch of the warmth and a bit darker sound when it comes to the digital to analog conversion. Wait! Warm and dark? Transparency police? I repeatedly stated and talked about the real nature and colour of instruments and vocals. Real acoustic guitar or singing a live verse of a song prove an instant result. There are some inherited darkness and warmth in the timbre and sound of real the instruments. Many modern preamplifiers and DAC's fails to carry out this basic role of reproduction. There are also many upper echelon high priced products doing the same failure. I'm not sure if the reason for this is in the designing without critical listening or simply wrong assumptions and understanding of the nature of audio - sound. 

Burson Conductor carry the flavour of natural warmness with adding the dynamic simplicity and ability. What the...?!? I liked HA-160D dealings in conversion and the way it sounded. Basics were done in the right way. With Conductor everything just evolved to the different plane. Conductor suddenly became a hefty dangerous threat to the $3000 and plus competition. As said in my listening notes about Soloist, this is no entry level budget product, but full blown three in one MACHINE that is complex and in a potent way performs beyond what people might expecting. A quick look under the hood makes things clear instantly. Separate power supplies, discrete topology etc. This is no generic big boy wanna be, but a matured, well thought and refined product. All those enriched upgrades within the Conductor DAC section are as great as upgrades with preamplifier and headphone amplifier section. 

Soloist vs Conductor

There are quite some hidden internal changes with Conductor over the Soloist. If I have to summarised it in the terms of sound, then balancing and sophistication are the words. The correctness of dynamic simplicity comes even more avid with Conductor. Those little nuances creating the feel and and sense of atmospheric space, shape of three dimensional instruments, correctness of timbre and pace of timing are more complete with Conductor. Quiet night listening notes remarks noted those attributes clearly and repeatedly.  

Conductor is full blooded Burson by nature, but further sophisticated and elaborated product. It's great to see the red line or continuing audio DNA in the progression of development. Way to often high-end audio manufacturers loose their recognisable imprint (or lack of) and create the changes just for sake of them. Burson team work with consistency and progression without loosing their mojo. They know what they are doing and dealing with. It's the right knowledge and acquired mileage that set apart seasoned audio designer who travel on it's ego and skilled, wit and potent one. As noted many times. One can have a full electronic knowledge and great simulation skills. At the end of the day when sound check comes in many of strict book and so called knowledge followers simply fails in the term of high quality audio reproduction. This is where hi-fi and high-end goes in separate ways.

Burson managed to moved expertly into the finer grounds of high-end audio with Soloist and they maturely continue to expand their horizons. Conductor is a prime example. It's worth noting, that Burson could go bonkers with pricing and perhaps some sort of exotic over priced chassis. Thanks God for their sanity and right minded quest. At given price its not exactly cheap, but it's bargain comparing to many generic and of the shelf OEM used offerings. Burson created impressive heritage and following of new generation of audiophiles. Take look at head-fi or some of the Burson customers. They know and understand how the machinery works.

Many are saying how high-end is a dying beast, but they failed to see the new bread of open minded and broad visioned audiophiles coming from all over the world. They might started as music and headphone or desktop enthusiasts, but gradually they grown into the full blooded and educated listeners who knows exactly what they want and what they're paying for. No BS, fair dealings, transparency, quality of manufacturing etc. are on the top of demand with them. As few other companies Burson already captured the hearts and minds of those people by strong reasons. For me this is the path to the safe and friendly high-end audio society that expand with mutual benefits and not milking the cow on one side only. 


Soloist preamplifier section is even at sole function such a step above and worthy considering for this feature alone. Now with added DAC Conductor becomes even more interesting. As stated above, Soloist and Conductor are purchase safe alone based on preamplifier section. As you know already it doesn't stop here. You'll not only get great sounding preamplifier with step attenuator, but another great additional feature. Three level VOS output stage! This is adjustable from 7 - 10 dB! This means you're having on you hand a carfeul matching gain switcher for you desired power amplifier. I tried it with great result and have had great synergy with Mactone 300B, Sanders Magtech amplifier, YBA Passion 640 power amplifier, Eximus S1S mono blocks etc. 

Having Robert Koda Takumi K-10, Lamm LL2, Arte Forma Perla, Eximus DP1 and few others on my hand at the time of review, I had a great opportunity to compare Burson Conductor as preamplifier with them. 

Ok it's not fair to go head to head with Takumi K-10 yet some of the most important attributes were clearly shown with Conductor preamplifier. Step attenuator might be a tricky choice at first sight in the competition where IC remotes seems mandatory. For me as with Takumi K-10 I would sacrifice the luxury of remote in heart beat for the quality of sound reproduction. I feel the same with Burson Conductor. Even with upper echelon step attenuators you'll have to deal with occasional clicks on the turn of the volume, but the directness of sound and the way it involves you with the music let you quickly forget about it. With computers becoming a audio front end there is always some sort of software audio control that can be used as a virtual remote. Perhaps not the ultimate solution, but programs like Mac OS X Decibel or Audio Nirvana Plus are offering adjustable gain with more or less of sophistication. If you're in desperate need of remote then you have a working and well implemented gain feature.

Burson Conductor is among few solid state preamplifier I can happily leave with. With adjustable gain it becomes a great tool for reference test preamplifier and the signature Burson warm liquidity is in favour of music. I cannot see how one can go wrong with it. 

Headphone amplifier

Headphone amplifiers are already became the separate entity in the world of high-end. Many audiophiles even got off the big two way speaker stereo systems and find their happiness with headphone rig. What?!?!? Over the years I boldly stated and still stand strong on the subject matter how clever setup and great headphones can give the run to many high-quality high end speaker based system. In creating really well balanced speaker based system, there are so many variables to consider. From room acoustics, cables, system component matching etc. I'm not saying how it's all easy within realms of headphone high-end audio setup. It's still hard work to find right synergy in creating the ultra fidelity system, but again its much much easier and more wallet friendly. For few thousand dollars you can build and impressive music headphone system that will shock even experienced two channel speaker high-end audio enthusiasts.

With Conductor Burson is offering everything in one box for a headphone enthusiast on the quest of audio nirvana. You'll just need a quality (or few to be considered real head-fier) headphones and digital or if needed analog front end. With Burson Variable Output Stage (VOS) Conductor became a dream machine for any headphones. It will drive anything from IEM (in ear monitors) to big planar headphones. In this way you're having on the hand a real digital-analog hub ready to explore the vast universe of intimate listening. 

I had no problem driving either IEM's, standard dynamic headphones or even exotic ones. As with Soloist, performance was such a shift up from HA-160D that is worthy of considering for everyone already owning one. Music coming from Conductor through headphones become more competent and complete. There is certain feeling about sound reproduction that sets Conductor to even more satisfying headphone listening. As noted Burson did few additional upgrades. And they are instantly recognisable. It's hard to talk about liquidity in music, but regardless of listening to Dirty Projectors or Bach suites the flow of the music is more effortless and natural. There is not a hint of listening fatigue and for me the connection to the music is right on. It locks as quickly as the USB lock to the computer drivers :). Fun aside, I still feel that at least 30 minutes are a must to get the consistency in the sound of Conductor or if used earth language to warm up. On the other hand best way is if for sure if you dare to leave it on 24/7. I don't think there are technical worries, but more natural, like storms :).

Conductor is as complete as Soloist yet with few jokers under the sleeve. This makes Conductor without a doubt not only the best company headphone amplifier so far, but best overall product that came from the house of Burson. There is no way you could or should avoid Conductor if you're serious about you headphone listening. This is not only an audiophile product, but a stand out reference for professional monitoring. And last but not the least, it's a device for music lovers who prefers headphones. 

Looking retrospective through high-end audio in general way, I cannot see a better time and place to be for high-end headphone listening. Burson paid their tribute to this "phenomena" with stand out headphone amplifier and combined preamp + DAC. This is no brainer to recommend for anyone with the thrill of using headphones in their bellowed music listenings.

No compromise even with 3 in one

I already elaborate about the "whole" package approach in the Synergy paragraph. I'm all for it when done in the right way and strongly against when packed with mediocre solutions. If things are done half way and with general universal solutions, you're better on with the separate units. You'll enjoy better performance and quality or replay then with the high-promised all in one box. In the world where everything is counted with the speed, pricing and instant availability I simply love the pace that Burson usually take when creating or refining their products. Musical enthusiasts and audiophiles who work hard for their money have an option of mature product with fair pricing.


For such a complete solution and with the separate modules (preamp, DAC, Headphone amp) that works so seamlessly together Conductor is a clear winner.

I don't give much of nominations and awards, but as all of you requested so often last year I'm starting with them. I cannot see a better product to fit Mono & Stereo VALUE and SOUND award as Burson Conductor. You'll have to work hard to find a competitor that comes even close to the performance of Conductor. More or less you'll have to pay twice the price.

Burson is continuing to refine and create products that brings high-end audio to the crowd of music enthusiasts and true audiophiles across the globe. Unlike many, Burson is not overcharging for what they do. With each new product one can clearly see the dedication and time spend for the new product. This gives confidence and keep the old customers loyal.

I'll end with how I started. Burson Conductor is a true fully blooded audiophile lifestyle and music lover hub for even the most demanding listener.


2012 www.monoandstereo.com Matej Isak Mono and Stereo ultra high end audio magazine All rights reserved, 2012 www.monoandstereo.com None of the original text, pictures, that were taken by me, links or my original files can be re-printed or used in any way without prior permission!