Sonically Refined, Hand-Assembled DAC
The HA-160D 3-in-1 component has been warmly received by fellow audiophiles since its introduction in 2010. Since then, developing a stand alone DAC based on the DAC section of the HA-160D has always been on the minds of the wizards at Burson Audio. After taking into account valuable suggestions from the audiophile community, Burson has developed the DA-160, which is fully discrete, more refined in sound, and features better compatibility and connectivity.
"Who is the DA-160 for? That appropriate question is best answered with a counter question," notes Srajan Ebaen, 6moons.com. "Would you rather listen to an affordable analogue or digital source? If your idea of a better time is a $1.000 turntable over a like-priced CD/DVD player or PC audio setup, the Burson belongs on your list."
The DA-160 is a 24-bit, 192 kHz DAC with 96 kHz USB input and Variable Output Buffer (VOB) that ensures a perfect impedance match with any system. It boasts a discrete 'Class A' output stage for high resolution sound and a low noise power supply. It has two USB inputs, one coaxial digital input, one Toslink optical input, and two RCA analog outputs.
Fully Discrete Design
Burson has long been dissatisfied with IC based building blocks such as IC opamps and three-pin power supply regulators. The DA-160 is completely free of such cost-focused building blocks. Instead the company built the entire DAC with idealistic circuitry designs and top quality discrete components. The focus of the discrete approach was purely to enhance performance.
Although the DA-160 is based on the DAC section of the HA-160D, as a stand alone DAC it had more freedom for further optimized performance. Burson decided to tweak the power supply network into a constant current source power supply and use two power transformers to lower the noise. The result is a more mature sound with even richer micro dynamics and substance.
The new DA-160 is designed to be the heart of an audio system. So connectivity is a must. Burson added two sets of USB inputs to make sharing the DAC between two PCs or wireless player easy. Apart from the standard RCA S/PDIF, an additional optical toslink connection was added. Two sets of RCA outputs running parallel make it possible to share the outputs of DA-160 between the two systems (for example, headphone amplifier and integrated amplifier).
Burson HD Audio DAC
While most DAC marketing centers on the DAC chip, the output stages are in fact the most critical stages in any audio DAC design. They are not getting the 'air time' that they deserve because properly designed output stages are complex and expensive, and the concept is harder to sell to a customer compared to simply citing a DAC chip model number.
After the digital signals (0s and 1s) are converted by the DAC chip into stereo signals, a chain of output stages is needed to reconstruct, preserve, and amplify the very weak analog signals. Any distortion and signal loss during these stages is irreversible. Unfortunately, this is where many audio companies cut their costs, and it is common to see an output stage designed around a $20 IC opamp.
The DA-160 has fully discrete output stages that are independently powered. Operating in 'Class A,' they ensure the highest level of signal preservation. The result is higher resolution audio playback with a completely transparent sonic signature.
High Density (HD) Construction
Conventional PCB designs often haphazardly squeeze components close together and stack one densely populated board on top of another without due consideration of the overall effect. Burson's HD construction actually achieves a smaller footprint without crowding components, while enhancing sonic performance by lowering noise and unwanted capacitance. When the company designs an audio circuitry, it painstakingly positions each component to ensure that it is as close to the next component as possible while maintaining symmetry. The entire process must be done by hand, one component at a time and one millimeter at a time. But the sonic benefits are worth the added effort: less noise, minimal capacitance, and a smaller footprint.
By minimizing and optimizing the signal path, Burson is able to reduce any EMI noise that may be picked up with a longer and less optimized signal path. Less parasitic capacitance is another benefit. Thanks to HD construction, capacitance is minimized, allowing our circuit to operate in a more ideal condition. Space is luxury. The HD construction enables a bigger sound from a relatively smaller package. The DA-160, for example, would be four times larger if Burson were to use a standardized component layout.
Higher Definition Performance
The function of opamps at the output stage is as important as the lens on a movie theater projector. Regardless of the analytical capability of the audio gear, an inferior opamp will halve a machine’s performance and distort every dB of sonic imagery. Just like Burson Audio's acclaimed HA-160D, the DA-160 features the company's HD Audio Opamp. It enables the DA-160 to reproduce music in superior resolution and accuracy.
The foundation of the HD Audio Opamp is a sophisticated voltage differential amplification network. The entire opamp is constructed from audio graded transistors and resistors. Such a design will ensure minimal coloration and maximum dynamics, but this design feature also posed a great challenge to production; without rigid component matching, it would be easy for sonic imbalance to occur.
Burson only uses 1% tolerant resistors. Before soldering them onto the PCB, Burson puts them through a component burn-in module. After 50 hours of burn-in, each resistor will then be retested and matched before proceeding to our assembly line. The result of such a quality control process is a further 10% of component rejection. This strict and very expensive burn and match process ensures the stability of the circuit. It ensures a perfect balance of sonic imagery across the entire frequency spectrum. It also guarantees a stable and realistic sound stage between the speakers.
Burson also insisted on a top quality lead free solder and temperature controlled soldering process. This was the only solution to reducing heat stress on components and minimizing short circuits caused by a soldering bath used in large-scale production. Cost focused manufacturers would never adopt such an approach due to the significant increase in production costs. Burson Audio, on the other hand, knows that only its level of quality control can produce opamps worthy of the company name that are among the best on the market.
Perfect Impedance Matching
Burson understands how critical it is for a DAC to match well with different down stream equipment (for example, a headphone amplifier, preamplifier, and passive preamp, including solid state or tube designs.) In 2007, Burson introduced the AB-160 audio buffer to resolve this precise issue. In the DA-160, Burson designed a Variable Output Buffer stage to allow better impedance matching with all downstream equipment.