"Simply More Advanced"
Burson Audio has been busy engineering one exceptional component after another proving that a multi-functional 3-in-1 approach doesn't have to involve any compromises. Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed HA-160D comes another premium-performance DAC/preamp/headphone amp. This one is called the Conductor, and it takes the 3-in-1 design concept to the limit.
"With the Conductor DAC Burson successfully adds air, top-down illumination and lengthier decays to their signature density and meatiness. Adding more of everything – and in Burson's case brilliance and bite aka treble and transients were needed most – is the real trick," notes Srajan Ebaen in his 6moons.com review for October 2012. "It's very recognizably still the Burson sound. Now it's simply more advanced."
"I can say that I was impressed by the new creation of the Burson team. They have raised the bar once again, as Conductor remains a top class 3-in-1 solution," reports Darku in his SoundNews review for November 19, 2012.
Reference Class 32-Bit DAC
At the heart of the Conductor is the ESS SABRE32 Reference DAC chip. With patented 32-bit Hyper-stream DAC architecture and Time Domain Jitter Eliminator technology, the SABRE32 is one of the best and most expensive DAC chips in the world and is truly reference class.
While Burson Audio is certainly not the first company to use the impressive SABRE32, Burson is unique in refusing to use IC based building blocks anywhere in its circuitry. Instead, Burson aimed to unleash the full potential of this chip through the development of tailor designed circuitry. In fact, Burson didn't even use its own award-winning discrete circuitry featured in the HA-160D, since that circuitry was designed and optimized for another DAC chip. Instead, Burson started from scratch and developed a new circuit that's specific to the SABRE32. And the result is a true representation of what this amazing chip can do when it's pushed by the Burson team.
It took over 12 months to perfect this new DAC, but when it was ready, the final audition was gratifying.
To eke out every bit of performance potential from the SABRE32, Burson designed a new FET (Field Effect Transistor) output stage to support its unique sonic characteristics. With only 20 carefully selected and matched components on the signal path, this output stage amplifies every analytical output of the SABRE32 without coloration or loss. Two new low noise power supplies were also developed in combination with a customized transformer. Together they ensure that the digital and analog stages are powered separately with the cleanest power possible.
Soloist Headphone Amplifier
The Conductor also features Burson Audio's well regarded Soloist headphone amplifier. Burson had to deploy another 35-watt customized transformer to ensure that the Soloist circuitry is independent and optimized at all times. This is to make sure that its performance is exactly the same as the standalone Soloist.
The Soloist from Burson Audio is a headphone amp with a huge difference over most headphone amplifiers on the market. The great majority of these amps use standard IC opamps in their designs, because they are very cheap and easy to use. However, opamp-based designs are inferior to discrete designs, because they aren't tailored for a particular audio circuitry. They also contain many low quality and unnecessary components that can degrade audio signals.
"The Soloist takes substantial steps forward relative to the already very good Burson Audio HA-160, offering better and more refined sound, greater power, superior versatility, and exceptional build-quality, all at the more-than-fair price," reports Chris Martens in his August 16, 2012 review for Playback.
The input stage of the Soloist is a symmetrical current feedback circuit with only 21 components in its signal path (compared to a typical IC opamp containing over 50 components). The signal path is short and with little blockage, and Burson carefully matches the 21 components. This approach allows the Soloist to achieve amazing sound.
High Performance Preamp
As you might expect, the Conductor isn't your average headphone amp with an added preamp function. Burson didn't simply solder a piece of wire from the headphone output jack to create an unrefined preamp. Instead 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 Burson's FET output stage. Coupled with the Variable Output Stage (VOS), the results in uncompromising performance and versatility.
Digital and Analog Connections
On the digital front, the Conductor features a 24-bit/192 kHz Tenor TE8802 USB receiver working in Asynchronous Transfer Mode. It also accepts coaxial and Toslink inputs supporting 32-bit/192 kHz audio files. The Conductor accepts analog input via RCA and outputs in its 6.35mm headphone jack, line-level output (DAC), and variable output (preamp). With such versatility, The Conductor works perfectly with any audio system.
Variable Output Stage (VOS)
The Conductor features a Variable Output Stage (VOS), which enables the Conductor to match well with any type of headphone, from easy-to-drive high sensitivity in-ear monitors, to open-back moving-coil designs, to more difficult-to-drive planar magnetic headphones. It drives them all superbly. From a low level output of 0.18 WPC to a whopping 4 WPC, the Conductor will ensure that there is plenty of fine control for every type of headphone out there.
The new VOS provides three level of gain to the preamp function from 7 dB to 18 dB. With this level of flexibility, the VOS will match with any system from low power tube amp to high power solid state muscle amps, and from low efficiency closed box speaker to high efficiency horn loaded speaker.
For the Conductor, Burson has also redesigned the entire step attenuator volume control. Based on valuable lessons learnt from the HA-160, the company has redesigned a gain curve for the attenuator using what it considered the best instrument in the world, the human ear. Combining this new step attenuator with the new VOS, control is perfect regardless of the situation.
High Resolution Volume Control
At the time when an audio signal is passing through the volume control, it is still at its weakest. At this stage, the audio signal is very vulnerable to noise pollution and interference. A major source of such distortion is the commonly used remote volume control adopted by many manufacturers.
Burson has designed a 24-step attenuator specifically for its products. Unlike commonly available step attenuators, Burson's involves just one <0.1% metal film resistor on the signal path. The result is a total elimination of any distortions introduced by the volume control (which can vary up to 7% on a conventional pot).
The Burson step attenuator is built with premium quality components combined with its solid machined aluminum knob. It ensures a smooth and well controlled mechanical movement, giving the user a smooth control over the entire spectrum.
Just like an athlete needs clean air to perform at an optimum standard, audio equipment needs clean power to reproduce transparent and natural music.
The Conductor has taken the already fanatical IC-free power supply of the first generation HA-160 to the next level. The new generation of power supply is built around a new noise-filtering network that employs twice as many filtering stages compared to the previous design resulting in superior noise rejection. The new power supply is fed by a new custom-built low noise transformer which delivers 35W of power to the Conductor. The result is pure music against a pitch-black background.
Resonance-Free Aluminum (RFA) Enclosure
The Conductor is housed in a 6mm case constructed from high precision machined aluminum. This enclosure allows the Conductor to achieve a very high mechanical damping factor, which reduces any microphonic effects that may degrade the clarity of sonic performance. The enclosure was also constructed to act as a giant heat-sink, which allows the Class A circuitry to run cooler and remain optimized at all times.
"With the Conductor DAC Burson successfully adds air, top-down illumination and lengthier decays to their signature density and meatiness."
"What Burson achieved is a very tough balance. Maintaining or adding warmth whilst increasing resolution is perhaps the most difficult task in all of hifi system building. Comparing the Conductor to previous Bursons is the weekend crash course in how. It represents a higher octave of this balance, each side more heavily loaded. There's more mass and gravitas in the left scale, more speed and light in the right. Sweet, bitter, salty and sour. It's easy to add just one. It's just as easy to see how that would ruin a given recipe's balance. Adding more of everything – and in Burson's case brilliance and bite aka treble and transients were needed most – is the real trick. In Burson's catalogue that's the Conductor. It's very recognizably still the Burson sound. Now it's simply more advanced."
- Srajan Ebaen, 6moons.com, October 2012
"I can say that I was impressed by the new creation of the Burson team. They have raised the bar once again, as Conductor remains a top class 3-in-1 solution."
"Great extraction of details; large soundstage, extended in all directions; airy, uncluttered and liquid sound; black as night background, sounds are coming from nowhere; top class headphone amplification; neutrality, linearity, absence of a sound footprint – you listen to music, not the device."
- Darku, SoundNews, November 19, 2012