Burson’s Soloist 3X Performance has a level of raw power that made it a top pick for some of the hardest to drive headphones in the world. Not content with just having a powerful headphone amp with an incredible sound, the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer adds more power and a new level of innovation on top of the already excellent Soloist design. Do these changes add too much complexity that interferes with Soloist’s elegant simplicity, or do they take its performance and potential to the next level?
Build and Design
If you’re familiar with Burson design, Soloist 3X GT gives you all the usual stuff – the “cool case” – a rugged aluminum case that doubles as a heat sink for the device – the big smooth volume knob, a monochrome OLED screen for configuration, and all that. One new piece of the design is a huge cooling fan that wouldn’t be out of place on a gaming PC build. The fan does add one thing that the heatsink case design was designed to avoid – noise. The fan is relatively quiet in relation to its size, but it’s still not dead silent, and you’ll catch a touch of it in the background at moderate listening volumes with open-back headphones.
There are a number of input/output options, and some more advanced features like 12V trigger input and output for triggering a power on to or from other connected devices. Soloist 3X GT is a fully analog device with two RCA inputs and two XLR inputs. One potential issue with the input is that the left and right channel inputs are on opposite sides of the back panel with the channel 1 R and L inputs being very far apart, meaning that you might not be able to easily connect with some RCA cable sets. That notwithstanding, the unit as a whole is built like a tank, and has a generally intuitive interface.
The Soloist 3X GT has a few more features on top of the standard suite of options you’d expect in a headphone amp. In addition to gain controls and input output selection, there’s balance adjustments, and controls for the subwoofer option. While the design and execution is quite simple, it’s worth taking a look at the features one by one.
On the front panel, you have four configuration buttons: Input Select, Output Select, Settings, and Screen Orientation. Press Input Select to choose between which of the 2 RCA and 2 XLR channels you want to receive input form. Output select gives you the choice between using the device as a headphone amp, a preamp, or using the Head+Sub feature to run a powered subwoofer in addition to headphones. The Screen Orientation lets you adjust the main display for either horizontal or vertical orientation (Burson Cool Stand recommended for vertical orientation).
Setting has a few more options: Gain level, LR Balance, OLED Level, Crossfeed, Remote, Reset Set, and Auto Off. Gain level can be set to high, medium, or low depending on the headphones you’re using. More demanding headphones will need to use high gain, while more sensitive headphones may experience some low background noise (and less usable volume range) at high gain and will need to use low or medium. LR Balance lets you adjust whether the left or right side needs to be louder. This will probably be most useful to correct for a room when using Soloist GT with a speaker setup. OLED Level adjusts the screen brightness, and Remote lets you enable or disable the remote. Crossfeed adjusts the amount from each channel that’s blended into the other channel (more on that in our Sound section). Auto Off is a power saving feature that shuts the amp off after a period of inactivity to save energy, and Reset Set, restores all the configuration to the default setting.
While there are some small papercuts (like the volume knob being a little too sensitive sometimes), the provided controls are straightforward and easy to understand. Overall Soloist GT is a great looking unit, and a joy to use.
Strip away all the bells and whistles, and at its core, the Soloist 3X GT is all about one thing: clear, detailed, transparent delivery of pure power. As far as power goes, Soloist GT has tons of it, boasting 10W per channel of Class-A power. This means you’re not going to have to worry about whether or not your headphones have enough power, just how high to turn them up.
Soloist GT’s soundstage is expansive, presenting the music across a three dimensional soundfield, with a balance between a large sense of physical space and a presentation that delivers the details in instruments and vocals in an up close, intimate manner. The output is clear and energetic, preserving the richness of the original input while presenting it with stunning power. Sit it between a Chord Qutest and Focal Utopia, and you’ll hear microdynamics and the finest details of a song. Plug in a Meze Empyrean, and you’ll get fast, deep slam, with a heightened sense of clarity that highlights the details you might not be used to hearing from the Empyrean.
We tested a ton of headphones with Soloist GT, and it excelled across the board. With demanding headphones like the HIFIMAN Susvara, there was depth, energy, slam, and an overall feeling of a complete sound. With something more sensitive like the Focal Utopia or Clear, you’ll want to stick to Low or Medium gain, as you don’t need so much voltage, but you’ll still get that same dynamic, powerful response. With Audeze headphones, Soloist GT brought out that deep thick slam the brand is known for. In general Soloist GT effortlessly complements the speed and dynamics of both planar and dynamic headphones.
One other aspect of the sound that isn’t featured on any of the rest of Burson’s current lineup is Soloist GT’s Crossfeed feature. The Crossfeed is a fairly simple idea that mixes a bit of the right channel into the left side and mixes a bit of the left channel into the right side to help simulate live music or loudspeakers more closely. The Crossfeed can provide some enhancement to the soundstage particularly if your headphones feel like they’re not providing a true “center” in the 3D image. It’s also useful on many older recordings which made a stronger use of hard stereo panning that can sound unbalanced on headphones. I generally left the Crossfeed on Low or Medium, but turning it up to High can be useful for recordings like Cream’s Disraeli Gears where Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton are split to their respective sides, making the listening experience very headphone unfriendly without Crossfeed.
Comparison: iFi Pro iCAN Signature
The iFi Pro iCAN Signature and Burson Soloist 3X GT are two of the best headphone amps out there right now. There are some similarities between the two, but also quite a bit of difference. While Burson is the more solid state purist amp, Pro iDSD features a hybrid tube design that lets listeners warm up the sound for a smoother response.
Without turning on any of the bells and/or whistles, both amps give a similar feeling of pure unadulterated headphone power. In general, the bass on Soloist GT feels a little tighter with a little more depth, while the Pro iDSD has a bit more thickness in the mids. While Soloist GT’s transparent sound is somewhat “take it or leave it,” Pro iDSD provides Tube and Tube+ modes that provide varying degrees of warmth, mostly notable in adding a touch of smoothness to the upper registers, while increasing the thickness and weight of the mids.
Both amps also offer a Crossfeed feature. Soloist GT’s adjustment is simply high, medium and low. Pro iCAN also offers three levels, with a little more complexity to the design, which involves simulating speaker angles and distance (and also has a different function based on whether you’re using the headphone outputs or preamp outputs). The end result between the two is about the same, with both enhancing the feeling of a full 360° sound with any recording, and also filling in space in recordings that weren’t engineered with headphones in mind.
In terms of power, Pro iCAN is rated at having a bit more power (14W per channel max vs 10W per channel on the Soloist GT), but in my experience between listening to the two, Soloist GT hits harder and has more headroom. This is likely due to the Class-A design on the Soloist GT, and it’s most notable in the way the slam presents on planar magnetic headphones, with Soloist GT providing a faster, tighter feeling.
While there are a number of similar features and characteristics, the big difference comes down to Soloist GT pursuing more of a purist, solid state reference sound, while Pro iCAN Signature’s tube mode goes for something a little warmer and more musical. While Pro iCAN gives you a few more options for tweaking your sound, if you’re looking for pure, unadulterated power, Soloist GT comes out the winner.
With the Soloist 3X Grand Tourer, Burson succeeded in creating an all around improvement to the already excellent Soloist 3X Performance, with more features and options. If you need nearly speaker-level power for your headphones, with a transparent sound that balances a huge sense of space, powerful slam, and intimate delivery of detail, Burson brings it all together and delivers the total package with Soloist GT.