The Burson Audio Soloist Headphone Amplifier
In what seems like a relatively short time, Burson Audio has developed a reputation for making good products, and they seem to have a pretty devoted and happy customer base. These are enviable things. I had read lots of good things about Burson's products, but never had the chance to hear one, until being sent this review loaner from Burson.
Burson makes a big deal in its marketing materials about how they do not use IC's, but rather discrete components. I have heard great products designed both ways, but a discrete build does allow the designer more flexibility, even if it comes at a cost both in terms of R&D time and in cost of goods. The build quality of the Soloist is certainly very, very impressive. The in-house designed and built stepped attenuator is very nice, and I did not find the steps too course, mercifully---even my much beloved Leben is a little guilty of this.
The Soloist, at least in part, is Burson's answer to the market demand for a powerful headphone amplifier to drive the currently popular but power hungry planar-magnetic headphones. The Soloist adds the very handy feature of three gain settings, however, so all that power doesn't mean that it won't work with high efficiency headphones as well. With 4 watts available (into 16 ohms), the Soloist purports to be able to work with pretty much any headphone you would want to drive.
I had the opportunity to test that theory, by connecting the high efficiency, low impedance Audio Technica ATH-W3000ANV and Ultrasone Edition 8 headphones, as well as the lower efficiency Audeze LCD-3 and HiFiMan HE-6. So I gave the Soloist a real workout! And it was up to the task, to be sure.
If you are a balanced connection fanatic, however, you will need to look elsewhere. I do not subscribe to the theory that balanced connections are inherently superior, so this is a non-issue for me. I have standard 1/4" plugs on all my headphones, and in fact the AT and Ultrasone are only 1/4". There is also a preamp output, which adds to the value of the product, though I did not use this.
For the review, my primary source was the Red Wine Audio Isabellina Pro DAC (as included in the RWA "Audeze Edition" amp/DAC). I compared the Soloist to the amp section of the RWA AE, as well as the HiFiMan EF-6, and the Leben CS-300. Comparisons were performed level-matched using my trusty RatShack SPL meter, calibrated using pink noise to a standard listening level 80dB SPL A weighted. The above technical information now foregone, this is a subjective review, and I like to use colorful language to describe the sound of music. Let's get on with it.