"The Best Sounding Solid State Amplifier I've Listened To"
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.
In 2009, Burson developed the HA-160 headphone amplifier. Instead of using standard IC opamps on the signal path, Burson designed tailor-made circuitry using high quality discrete components. This approach allowed the company to reduce components on the signal path to optimize its operation. It offered higher resolution and superior dynamics to common IC based designs, and yet it presented a midrange intonation that many people thought would only be possible from top-tier tube amps. Many in the industry saw it as a benchmark.
Applying what they learned from designing the HA-160, the geniuses at Burson developed circuitries that could realize more of their ideals. A new headphone amp named the Soloist was the result.
"The tonality, the power, and the musicality of the Soloist makes it the best sounding solid state amplifier I've listened to," raves Mike at Headfonia.com for July 25, 2012.
"Greater Power, Superior Versatility, And Exceptional Build-Quality"
"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.
"In my book then the biggest overall change of Soloist versus HA-160 is value. It was high already. Now it's become even more... valuable," notes Srajan Ebaen in his 6moons.com review for June 2012.
"The solid-state amp has the richness of a vacuum tube design, with the clarity and power of solid-state designs," observes Steve Guttenberg in his CNET.com post for September 9, 2012.
New FET Input Stage
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.
Variable Output Stage (VOS)
The Soloist features a new Variable Output Stage (VOS), which enables the Soloist 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 Soloist 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 Soloist, 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 Soloist 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 employed 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 Soloist. The result is pure music against a pitch-black background.
Resonance-Free Aluminum (RFA) Enclosure
The HA-160 is housed in a 6mm case constructed from high precision machined aluminum. This enclosure allows the HA-160, 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.
"This isn't a sound trying to be like tubes. It's recognizable but refined solid-state sound. It's a transient tracker for on-the-ball grippiness with excellent definition of shapes and high separation of individual events."
"The Soloist is a case officer of simpler equals more signal purity equals more not less tone. It's not about add-ons for strategic voicing. It's about less interference."
"If you've been amongst those who've long since applauded Burson's house sound and value-for-money approach, the Soloist won't seem that different. By improving on something that was very good already, one doesn't rewrite history. It's a hard-earned victory of a few won points. Call it clear family resemblance but greater maturity. That translates to more substance. And it's not like the Soloist doubled the HA-160's tariff. Its pricing remains in the same general vicinity as though to stress 'I'm newer and better but not radically different'. And that's both true and admirable for the admission.
"Aside from the sonic blossoming into richer tone, the Soloist throws in more features. Where the HA-160 had a single input, the newcomer gets three plus a line-out. There's more power to drive anything and deliver more gumption into high-impedance cans. There's the clever three-position game no gain changer. There's a superior preamp. In my book then the biggest overall change of Soloist versus HA-160 is value. It was high already. Now it's become even more... valuable."
- Srajan Ebaen, 6moons.com, June 2012
"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 of $960. For what it is and does, the Soloist is a bargain, and a versatile one at that."
- Chris Martens, Playback, August 16, 2012
"The solid-state amp has the richness of a vacuum tube design, with the clarity and power of solid-state designs. A high-resolution 96/24 download of Paul Simon's So Beautiful or So What? album had a remarkable sense of space. I could not only hear Simon and the band, I could hear the acoustics of the room they were playing in."
"If you have already invested in a great set of headphones you really should consider moving up to a dedicated headphone amp, like the Burson Soloist."
- Steve Guttenberg, CNET.com, September 9, 2012
"We all agree that the Soloist is the best amplifier that we've heard the HE-6 with so far. The application however is not limited to the HE-6, as the tonality, the power, and the musicality of the Soloist makes it the best sounding solid state amplifier I've listened to."
- Mike, Headfonia.com, July 25, 2012
"Maybe that's the most impressive thing: All of this great sound the Soloist provides doesn't come at a stratospheric price. Great sound and build quality doesn't come cheaply, but the Burson seems to me to provide a strong value for dollar in terms of price/performance. I hope Tyll will be able to measure the Soloist at some point - I would be willing to bet its measurements are first rate- - it certainly doesn't give any audible reason why they wouldn't be - far from it. It was never less than a pleasure to listen to, and sometimes it was transcendent. When audio gear can make me get lost in the music, I know it's doing something right, and this happened frequently with the Soloist." >/p>
- Skylab, InnerFidelity.com, October 4, 2012
"Soloist adds up to the headphone listening in large way, but even more important, this is a stand-alone preamplifier that defines a class genre. With its new capabilities and neutral sound, it steps up and boldly walks over many preamps priced much higher.
"Soloist is a both great headphone amplifier and a serious preamplifier in a mighty aluminum package with great tools at hand. A versatile handcrafted machine at more then reasonable price.
"Watch out. These guys from Burson means business… Great sounding and affordable!"