The Conductor 3X Performance is part of Burson Audio’s Performance Series, more budget – and space – friendly versions of their flagship products. The Conductor 3X Performance takes the Conductor 3X design and shreds it down, and while it doesn’t possess the full power of the Burson Conductor 3X, the 3X Performance captures its spirit in a smaller package.
The Build and Design
The Conductor 3XP retains the core Burson style with the distinct aluminum “Cool Case” – named as such because it looks cool and it functions as a heat sink to regulate the amp’s temperature. Otherwise the design is very minimalist – a knob, a small monochrome display, a couple buttons, and the necessary inputs for your headphones. The unit is designed so that the user can perform basic servicing functions, like replacing op-amps or other components, which is a nice bonus for tinkerers in our world of increasingly obfuscated technology which requires special tools and expertise just to get the case.
In terms of its construction, the Conductor 3XP is basically the audio equivalent of the Nokia 3310. For most personal audio equipment, your biggest concern when moving it is that if you drop it, you might damage the equipment. Burson went another way with it. My biggest fear when carrying the 3X or 3XP is that if I drop it, I will destroy something else with it – be it my foot, the floor, or anything else unlucky enough to get in its way.
The buttons and knobs all feel solid and have nice tactile feedback, and while many users might plug it in and never need to use anything other than the volume knob, you can also tweak various settings to maximize the sound and performance. While managing settings on a tiny screen takes a little getting used to, it’s not something you need to do very frequently, and it’s generally pretty intuitive.
At its core, the Conductor 3XP wants to be all things to all people. It provides a clean, reference output using a variety of sources, to a variety of outputs, and has a number of settings for everything in between. You can use USB, Optical, Toslink, Bluetooth, and Coaxial connect to a source, and it can be used as a standalone DAC, standalone amp, or combination DAC/Amp. It can output through balanced 4-pin, or unbalanced 6.3mm. The output can switch between high and low gain so that you can have enough juice to power high end planar magnetic headphones on the one hand, but then also run in low gain mode to maintain a very low noise floor with sensitive balanced armature IEMs. It also provides support for DSD audio playback at up to 38bit/786khz resolution.
Once you have your various connections sorted, you can also adjust various aspects of the digital signal processing to suit your tastes. The Conductor 3XP provides eight different FIR filters which control the specific nature of the signal processing and can make the output feel a bit faster, smoother, or somewhere in between. The filters define what processes the DAC uses to convert the digital audio into analog – and how it fills in the gaps. Because of this, with very high quality sources you won’t hear much of a difference because there are more data points available for creating the analog waveform, and there is less need for extrapolation and filtering.
The Burson Conductor 3XP shares its two most defining audio characteristics with the Conductor 3X. The first being an output that is natural and clear. The other being the feeling of ample space and headroom. Having tested a number of DAC/Amps, ranging from budget friendly mobile units, like the iFi hip-dac and AudioQuest’s Dragonfly series, to top end units like the Burson Conductor 3X and Chord Hugo TT2, something that stands out about the Conductor series, with 3XP included, is that I’m never thinking about the DAC or amp itself, only the headphones. I know that there are stacks of advanced audio filters and various electronic components processing the sound, but it feels like nothing is there at all – just the music, and my headphones. Honestly, I think that’s the highest praise you can give a DAC or an Amp, “It’s so good, I can’t even tell that it exists in my signal chain.”
Overall, the sound and experience of using the Conductor 3XP is very similar to that of a 3X, and without extensive listening and A/B testing, you’re going to have a hard time telling the output of one from the other. There is perhaps, a little bit less of a sense of space, and slightly less resolution than the 3X, but that’s like saying that it’s slightly less wet than the ocean: the 3XP still absolutely excels in all of these areas. It should be noted that the 3X, in addition to having more processing power for the DAC, has more power per channel for both the balanced and unbalanced outputs. So, if you’re using power hungry headphones like the HiFiMAN Susvara, you’ll want the extra wattage provided by the 3X.
The Bottom Line
The Burson Conductor 3X Performance is a great DAC/Amp in its own right, with clear, accurate output and huge soundstage. It also happens to be a great choice if you’re familiar with the Burson Conductor line, and want the Conductor 3X sound at a lower price point and with a smaller footprint. With the Conductor 3X Performance, Burson has done a great job of delivering an absolute monster of a DAC/Amp combo in a slimmed down package.