Burson Audio The Conductor digital processor and preamp

17.09.2013..

I am testing the Burson Conductor, a headphone amplifier, preamplifier and DAC: a cutting-edge all-in-one device like the North Star Fluxio and the Asus Xonar Essence Plus , which I had the pleasure to test recently.

 

With just one apparatus, the enthusiast can:

  • get the interface for the streaming music by connecting it to the PC, that is using it as a DAC (in this case at 32 bit)
  • always as a converter, update an old CD player with a good optical tracking mechanism.
  • use it as a preamplifier matched to a power amp or to an integrated amp with a pre out / main in separation
  • use it to control amplified loudspeakers
  • use it as headphone amplifier.

So many chances! Some old enthusiasts can think that single devices for every single function are preferable. But, after the listening sessions, I can affirm that also this kind of machines can give good performances, unthinkable in a recent past. As headphone amp, the Conductor reaches very interesting levels of performances. To be honest I must say the same for the Fluxio. Then, you have to consider less devices, less cables and the price? That must be the reasons of the increasing spread of this typology of audio gears. Anyway, also within this category you have to pay attention in distinguish the good designs, almost always well performing, from the less accurate ones as far as the sound outcome is concerned.

Burson Audio is an Australian company become famous, at first, for the Op-Amps and some boards like the Low Jitter Clock, loved by the DIY and by who loves making modifications. Later it has been appreciated also for products like the DAC DA 160 and the Soloist headphone amp. The Conductor is a fine object. Its no-frills line is essential and rigorous. The case is quite small, 26,5 x 25,5 x 8cm, but its weight of 6 kg is still reassuring for the audiophile. The DAC is based on the Sabre 32 Reference chip, one of the most recent, most updated, most expensive and best performing chips available on the market. It boasts the so-called Time Domain Jitter Eliminator technology. All good prerogatives against the audiophile anxiety. Burson has appositely developed for this Sabre 32 chip a new proprietary circuitry with single discrete devices, without integrated op-amps, which, for many people, included me, cause a great sound degradation. The Australian company states that such circuitry is not the same of the HA -160 D model, but is new, since the Sabre 32 has different features. Speaking of the USB digital input, the Conductor includes a 24 bit /192 kHz Tenor TE8802 digital receiver that operates in Asynchronous Transfer Mode. The classic digital input accepts coaxial and Toslink inputs supporting 32 bit/192 kHz audio files. On the analogue front, it accepts analogue input via RCA and outputs in 6.35 mm headphone jack, line-level output (DAC) and variable output (preamp).

The Headphone Amplifier is the Soloist, that is the best Burson headphone amplifier already sold as separate device, in our case inserted in the Conductor. To assure the same performances of the standalone Soloist, another 35 W customised transformer has been added. So, the circuitry for the headphones is independent and optimised at best.

 

The preamp is a very standalone piece. The preamp output has been extracted from the voltage gain stage before the current gain section, to create a preamp that reflects the full potential of our FET output stage.

 

The selector has three different output voltages to increase the versatility of connection. Its name is VOS, Voltage Overscaling Selector, and features - on the front - three small buttons that activate yellow LED lights for the L, M, H, outputs (Low, Medium, High).

Absolutely to be mentioned is the volume potentiometer: not the usual Alps - although good, especially in the blue version - but a 23 steps attenuator, since always and properly considered more neutral under a sound point of view. The steps are quite hard, therefore not very good if you want to turn down the volume quickly.

 

The 6 mm case is made in high-precision machined aluminium and has great mechanical properties both to damp and to dissipate the heat produced by the two well dimensioned transformers.

 

The writing of the five inputs and VOS are very very subtle: I personally prefer this way, but they are not very readable and consequently less functional.

 

Listening impressions: I think we need to split the topic in three parts. I start saying what recaps the whole: it performs really well. As a preamp, as a headphone amplifier, as a DAC. I want to stress this point: it performs really well. Actually, it is not very correct to speak about the sound of an object in absolute. Any hi-fi object plays within a chain, within a system: source, cables, amplification, again cables, loudspeakers, room. Everything affects the sound, for better or for worse. It is about a balance between all the parts, a difficult game of interfaces, synergies, electrical and sound compatibilities. Saying: "this amp performs better than this other one" is too simple. In every listening room, it performs differently, so distrust who has absolute certainties on the sound of a component.

 

Some features, anyway, stand out in an object like transparency or dynamics. But transparency, in some audio setups, can generate a sound more real than real, therefore something counter-productive. This is one of the reasons of the disaffection of many hi-fi enthusiasts: they have not got or no one has explained them that an amp that costs 5,000 euro not always performs better that an amp that costs 3,000, that a well-refined loudspeaker not always performs better than an ugly one. In the end, what counts is that what you insert in your system must be compatible with the other components and with your listening room!

 

Back to the Burson Conductor. Connected to different systems it never shows up for a too much evident feature, it never worsen the sound, also when it has replaced standalone DACs of good level and, also as headphone amp, it gives excellent performances. I do not like it only as a replacement of my hyper-transparent NuForce P8S preamplifier. Obviously, I am speaking of the performance with my system. I can say that the Burson is a clear sky at midday, the NuForce is the same sky at eight in the morning.

I feel like saying that the Burson headphone amplifier, preamplifier and DAC can make part of many systems. In all the occasions, the sound is correct. It does not have any problem in matching, it does what he has to do in an effective way, it does not cost too much, and it is well made. Burson Audio has proved to be coherent and serious. I really do like the Conductor, because concrete, no-frills. It does not make promises it cannot keep. Probably in Australia, they act like that!

 

 

Official technical specifications:

Measurement
Input impedance: 36.5 KOhms
Frequency response: ± 1dB 0 - 50Khz
Signal to noise ratio: >96dB
THD: <0.03% at 30ohm with 1W ouput
Channel separation: >73dB
Output power: 4W at 16Ohms
Input impedance: >8KOhm @ 30 Ohm, 1W
Output impedance: <1Ohm @ 30 Ohm, 1W
Power dissipation: >45W, internal, regulated power supply

 

DAC Specification

Channel Separation: 140dB @ 1KHz, 130dB @ 20KHz

THD+N: 0.0005% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS

COAX & Toslink / SPDIF : 32bits / 44.1K, 48K, 88.2K, 96K, 176.4K, 192KHz

 

USB Specification
OS Requirement: Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Mac OS X
USB : 24bits / 44.1K, 48K, 88.2K, 96K, 176.4K, 192KHz
Support up to 24bit @ 192Khz with 10ppm low jitter clock
Asynchronous Transfer Mode

 

Inputs
1 x USB Connection
1 x Coaxial RCA (Support up to 24bit @ 192Khz)
1 x Toslink / SPDIF (Support up to 24bit @ 192Khz)
2 x RCA line level input

 

Outputs
1 x headphone jacks 6.35mm
1 x RCA Pre Amp output
1 x RCA DAC direct line out

 

General
Weight: app. 6 kg
Colour: silver anodized aluminium
Dimensions: 265x255x 80mm

Package content
1 x Conductor Headamp / Pre Amp / DAC
1 x Power cable
1 x RCA pair input cable
1 x RCA Coaxial cable
1 x USB cable
1 x User Manual (including 24 months warranty registration information)

 

Official Italian dealer: to Audio Azimuth website

Official current price in Italy: 1,770.00 EUR

Associated equipment: to Ulisse Pisoni's system

 

 

by Ulisse Pisoni
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