Burson Audio Buyer's Guide

Burson Audio has been creating innovatively designed audio products for the last twenty years. Two of the major technologies that they’ve championed are discrete op-amps, and more recently their Max Current Power Supply. Currently, Burson offers a line of Amps and DACs that deliver top notch sound quality with tons of power.

Burson’s discrete op-amps are included inside of their Performance and Reference Series products, and can be purchased separately as well to use with a variety of amps. For DACs and Amps, there’s quite a bit of variety in Burson’s lineup that can be tough to parse at times. Let’s take a look at their full line up.

Party Series

The Party Series features Burson lowest priced products, and also Burson’s smallest form factor. Every Burson DAC or amp features Burson’s “Cool Case” which both looks cool and serves as a heat sink for the amp. While Burson is known for their high quality discrete op-amps, the Party Series uses IC op-amps out of the box, but op-amps are easily upgradable with Burson’s design, allowing you to replace the stock op-amps with a higher quality option.

Burson Funk - $544

The Funk is a combination headphone and speaker amp. It delivers up to 3 Watts of Class A power as a headphone amp, and 45W of Class AB power as a headphone amp. Burson’s Max Current Power Supply design makes this level of Class A/AB power possible in a surprisingly small package. If you’re alternating between a small nearfield/bookshelf speaker setup and headphones, the Funk provides a high quality solution to provide amplification for both in one small package.

Burson Funk

Burson Playmate 2 - $544

The Playmate 2 is Burson’s base level DAC/Amp combo. The feature list is a little shorter than its big brother the Conductor, but it still gives you a big sound with lots of power. The Playmate 2 compares very favorably to other DAC/Amps in the $500-$800 range. The DAC is ripped straight from Burson’s Performance Series, and while the amplification stage doesn’t give you the same sense of dynamics and headroom as the Performance or Reference line, it provides ample power for many hard to drive planar magnetic headphones. 

Burson Playmate 2

Performance Series

The Performance Series features a high level of price to performance ratio, with powerful amplification and high quality DACs in the $1000-$1500 range. The Performance Series is bigger than the Party Series, but still on the smaller end for desktop amps, and still packed in Burson’s “Cool Case” which helps dissipate the heat created by the amplifier.

Conductor 3 Performance $1044

The Conductor 3 Performance is Burson’s middle tier DAC/Amp Combo with a single ended design and unbalanced outputs. It can be used as a headphone amp, preamp, or as a standalone DAC. It has RCA outputs for use as a DAC or Preamp and 6.3mm headphone output, as well as Bluetooth 5.0 input. The Conductor 3 Performance provides a great value for the money as a high powered DAC/Amp combo with loads of features and excellent sound quality.

Conductor 3 Performance

Conductor 3X Performance - $1344

The Conductor 3X Performance is just like the Conductor 3 Performance, with most of the same features and connectivity, except that it is fully balanced. This means that the 3X Performance uses XLR outputs for use as a DAC or preamp, and has both a balanced XLR and unbalanced 6.3mm output for headphones. 

Conductor 3X Performance

Soloist 3X Performance - $1144

The Soloist is a standalone amp which uses a more powerful version of the amplification circuit from the Conductor 3 and 3X Performance, but without the DAC. One benefit of the Soloist is that it provides both RCA and XLR for its input, allowing it to work with both balanced and single-ended devices. While the headphone output provides both balanced and single-ended options, the preamp output is only available through balanced XLR. The Soloist has the highest possible headphone power output in the Burson with up to 8W available through the balanced headphone output.

Soloist 3X Performance

Composer 3X Performance - $1144

The Composer 3X Performance is designed as a companion to the Soloist 3X Performance, but can be used with any standalone amp. It uses the same DAC design as the Conductor 3X Performance, but without the amp. Separating the DAC and amp provides a higher level of flexibility and eliminates potential sources of noise and interference. The Composer has RCA and balanced XLR outputs.

Burson Composter 3X Performance

Reference Series

The Reference Series are the big boys – both in terms of size and capabilities. The Reference series has improved DACs and more powerful amplification to create some of the best headphone DAC/Amps on their class.

Conductor 3 Reference $1744

The Conductor 3 Reference is basically the bigger, better version of the Conductor 3 Performance. It has more power, a dual DAC configuration instead of a single DAC, and also a larger footprint to go with it. The Reference series can also be used as a DAC and Amp together, a standalone amp, or a standalone DAC. The Conductor 3 Reference packs enough power to drive even the toughest of headphones with headroom to spare.

Burson Conductor 3X Reference

Conductor 3X Reference - $2144

Like the Conductor 3 Reference, the Conductor 3X Reference is basically an all around upgrade to the Conductor 3X Performance. It has more input/output options, a more powerful amp, and a dual DAC configuration. With its internal power, and balanced capabilities, the Conductor 3X Reference is the biggest, baddest Burson of them all.

Burson Conductor 3X Reference

 

Timekeeper 3i - $2444

The Timekeeper 3i takes a Burson Conductor 3 Reference and adds a 100w class AB speaker amp to create an all-in-one home audio monster. With 100w per channel, it can power a wide range of speakers, and you can easily switch between headphones and speakers while achieving incredible sound quality and performance with each.

Burson Timekeeper 3i

So What's the Right Burson for Me?

Burson has a lot of options, and a lot of them are pretty similar – 60% of their lineup is just DAC/Amp combos of varying power and feature levels – so how do you make that choice? We narrowed it down to a few categories to help you make that decision.

Pure Power

For a straight headphone amp, with no DAC, the Burson Soloist 3X Performance is among the best standalone amps we have ever used. With both balanced and single ended inputs and outputs, it can work with a variety of setups and headphones. And with 4W/8W of maximum power output, there's no conventional headphone that it can't drive.

Bang for Your Buck

If you're looking for simply the most DAC/amp at the best price, you're looking for the Playmate 2. While it doesn't have the same level of refinement or power as various forms of the Conductor 3, it gives you a lot in a $544 package. And, since it's easily user serviceable, you can upgrade the op-amps with something like the Burson V6 Classic Dual Op-Amps to improve the soundstage, separation, and low end response, making it an even stronger value.

Cream of the Crop

If price isn't a concern, the Conductor 3X Reference provides incredible power combined with the sound quality you'd expect from a flagship, top of the line product. In addition, its flexibility and features like Bluetooth input make it a great pick for a variety of setups and situations. The Timekeeper 3i doesn't have the balanced capability of the 3X Reference, but adds speaker outputs that expand your options.

Price

Amp

DAC

Digital Inputs

Analog Inputs

Outputs

Funk

$544

Headphone: 3.5W @ 16 Ohm

Speaker: 45W @ 4 Ohm

N/A

N/A

RCA

Front:
6.3mm
Rear:
Banana

Playmate 2

$544

3.5W @ 16 Ohm

SABRE32/
ESS9038Q2M

Digital Coax, TOSLink, USB-C

N/A

Front:
6.3mm
Rear:
RCA

Conductor 3 Performance

$1044

4W @ 16 Ohm

SABRE32/
ESS9038Q2M

Digital Coax, TOSLink, USB-C, Bluetooth

N/A

Front:
6.3mm
Rear:
RCAx2

Conductor 3X Performance

$1344

3W S/E, 6W Bal @ 16 Ohm

SABRE32/
ESS9038Q2M

Digital Coax, TOSLink, USB-C, Bluetooth

N/A

Front:
6.3mm
Rear:
XLRx2

Soloist 3X Performance

$1144

4W S/E, 8W Bal @ 16 Ohm

N/A

N/A

RCA, XLR

Front:
XLR, 6.3mm
Rear:
XLR

Composer 3X Performance

$1144

N/A

SABRE32/
ESS9038Q2M

Digital Coax, TOSLink, USB-C, Bluetooth

N/A

Front:
XLR, 6.3mm
Rear:
XLR

Conductor 3 Reference

$1744

7.5W @ 16 Ohm

Dual SABRE32/
ESS9038Q2M

Digital Coax, TOSLink, USB-C, Bluetooth

RCAx2

Front:
6.3mx2
Rear:
RCAx2

Conductor 3X Reference

$2144

3.75W S/E, 7.5W Bal @ 16 Ohm

Dual SABRE32/
ESS9038Q2M

Digital Coax, TOSLink, USB-C, Bluetooth

XLRx2

Front:
XLR, 6.3mm
Rear:
XLRx2

Timekeeper 3i $2444

Headphones:
7.5W @ 16 Ohm

Speakers:
100W @ 8 Ohm

 

Dual SABRE32/
ESS9038Q2M

Digital Coax, TOSLink, USB-C, Bluetooth

RCAx2

Front:
6.3mx2
Rear:
RCAx2, Banana