Burson Play: Let’s go to the Play-ground

Let’s go to the Play-ground
Written by ngoshawk
Published 5 minutes ago

Pros – Excellent build.
Multi-usage ability.
Sound of which benefits audio and gamers.
Powerful enough for most headphones.

Cons – Can get a bit warm (but taken care of in a PC with a fan.
Low-level noise with sensitive IEM’s.
No balanced out (but not unlike it’s peers).
Not much else.

Burson Play Classic (with Vivid Op-Amps included)- $549 https://www.bursonaudio.com/products/play/ 5-year warranty.

There has been a lot of fuss surrounding the Play. Released several months ago, the Head-Fi thread is still very much alive and kicking (https://www.head-fi.org/threads/new-burson-audio-play-amp-dac-2w-16ohm-op-amp-rollers-dream.860882/). I will admit, I do not know much about Op-Amp rolling, but from what I have read, it is another way that manufacturers can “fine tune” the sound of their wares. This can be done readily by the user and can run from inexpensive to QUITE expensive. As this unit has moved through several hands, Burson included the single Op-Amp Vivid module as well as the included Classic modules. You can go “as low” as $299 for the basic model, and purchase the modules separately, or opt for the higher line Classic or Vivid. From my readings, the Classic is tuned more towards a bass-oriented sound, with natural sound (and I concur). The Vivid provides a more “lively” analytical sound for those who wish that. Coming with a 5-year warranty says something about the confidence Burson has in their product. Good for them.

Burson Audio, an Australian company, is known for making very good amps. The Soloist and Conductor are two that have sold very, very well. With the Play, the company went a slightly different route. One can certainly plug-and-play (pun intended), but for those who wish to fine tune, that is where the different Op-Amps come in. Something that many audiophiles are turning to. Personality of their own gear. I’m in, for the first time.

I will thusly admit that I was looking forward to rolling amps. This is a nice alternative to changing cables, or tip rolling; which allows the user to personalize or fine-tune to their desired sound. What I can say is that right now through my MacBook Pro using the Simgot EM5, on Damian Marley’s Here We Go, there is more than enough bass to satisfy me. I am not a basshead but do enjoy a nice rumble with my sound. I do like what the Burson has provided so far.

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Specs:

· Input impedance: 35 KOhms
· Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0–35Khz
· THD:<0.02%
· Output impedance (Head Amp): 8 Ohm
· Power Supply: 100–240V AC
· Output impedance (Pre Out): 35 Ohm
· DAC: SABRE32/ESS9018
· Channel Separation: 132 dB @ 1KHz, 122 dB @ 20KHz
· THD+N: 0.0015% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS
· Native DSD: 64 / 128 / 256
· DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256

Unboxing/Finish:

Since this was a tour unit, there was already some wear and tear on the box. That said, the innards were well protected using foam all around and the two accessories boxes on the sides. Included was the amp itself, a power cord (with AC/DC adapter), remote, Vivid Op-Amps (and tool used to open the chassis), dual RCA into single RCA cable for use as a Pre-Amp, a 6.3mm to 3.5mm jack adapter, a standard USB to USB (?) cable for connection to your source, and the necessary cable to use within your PC tower (and a different back plate for use in PC). Touted for gaming, the Play has been received well in the gaming community for its clarity and detail. Something necessary for active games and role-playing games.

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Since I do not have a PC, I will focus upon the Classic and Vivid Op-Amps and connection to my devices. That said, the vast majority of my time was spent hooked to my MBP, utilizing several different IEM’s and the Focal Elear.

The build quality of the Play is as expected, top notch. A basic black box, with a welcome digital volume readout on the front as well as a rotating volume knob (not the most accurate if you spin fast), a microphone jack (for headphones with mics), and 6.3mm jack. The back (L to R) has the USB jack for connecting to your source, power plug, an on/off red toggle switch, and the RCA L/R channel connection. Not much there, but with the innards as the main course one need not worry about different connectivity. Sitting innocuously on one’s desk, it could be almost overlooked as a time piece, or external hard drive. And, I do like the understated nature of that plain black box. This is not one for flash.

I will state that on this copy, the volume knob does not represent one-click per number. I often find raising or lowering the knob one at a time will result in the number jumping up/down the desired amount, then returning one number up/down. I don’t think the calibration of the knob/digital readout is precise enough. That said, is may well be that this unit has gone through several hands and most likely hundreds of hours. That could be the case as well.

Comparison gear used:

MacBook Pro
Opus #2
Shanling M3s

iFi xDSD
iFi Micro iDSD Black Label

Focal Elear
Unique Melody Mason V3
Unique Melody Mentor V3
Unique Melody Maestro V2
64Audio U8
Simgot EM5
Kinera iDun

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Songs used:

Too bloody many to list all, but you want songs, so there you go:

Coldplay-All I Can think About Is You
Coldplay-A Message
Coldplay-White Shadows
Dona Onete-Sonos de Adolescente
Los Lonely Boys- Heaven (en Espanol)
twenty one pilots-Trees
twenty one pilots-Car Radio
twenty one pilots-Heathens
Damian Marley-Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
Damian Marley-So A Child May Follow
Damian Marley-The Struggle Discontinues
Ziggy Marley-Lighthouse
Ziggy Marely-See Dem Fake Leaders
Mark Knopfler-Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes
Santana w/ Mana- Corazon Espinado

Sound:

I will admit that for the vast majority of time, I had the Classic Op-Amps in. I enjoyed the bass note, which the Classic provided. Still with good detail, Damian Marley’s Medication sounded just as it should. Bass line to die for, cymbal detail of almost hissing quality (a good thing here…) and vocals, which were clear and prominent. This was becoming a nice treat from the get go. This was not some shout in your face look what I can do amp. No, this was a well-played laid-back sound, which grew on me. That is part of the reason I am having a very hard time putting into words what I heard and felt. It just played, providing a solid enjoyable sound.

I must say that while any IEM I plugged into the Play sounded quite good, enhancing their respective sound, it wasn’t until I hooked my Elear in that the Burson showed its true worth and value. Harder to drive than most of my headphones, the Elear was taken to 35 (from 20-25) on the Burson in order to get the near-same volume of the IEM’s. In doing so, the Play did not start to shout at me, no it delivered a crisp, full, detailed sound worthy of inclusion in any conversation regarding the Elear. It was good, very good. Decent-enough bass to keep me interested, as well as mids, which complimented both ends without taking front and center. Vocal sound, which while not the best I have heard from “portable” amps (I do like my Black Label), certainly entertaining enough to make you appreciate what Burson has done to make an affordable desktop amp. Especially when you start comparing the Play to more expensive amps. Several reviews noted that the Play could easily be put into a conversation when talking about amps twice the price. I do think it can hold its own in that conversation.

When one purchases such an amp as the Burson Play, half the fun is the tuning ability, which can be provided. Going from the Basic $299 model to all manners of this version at $549, you can fine tune with the Op Amp rolling. Unfortunately, I am not the best in which to decipher the finer points, so I will leave that to those with more expertise as in on the Burson Play thread, which still keeps going. I am simply not the best judge of that and will analyze from the amp stage only.

Not having the Burson hooked up, due to vacation callings, I returned with anticipation at finishing this review. One does need dedicated space for such an endeavor and that was not conducive to traveling. But, a high point in selling the Play is its ability to be utilized in a desktop computer, using one of the 5 ¼” slots. Almost a novelty of a bygone era to me. Touted as a gaming amp for its accuracy, I can only recommend that the Play is indeed true of sound, with excellent instrumentation and separation.

While providing me with that warmer sound of which I love, the detailed separation is not lost in that aspect. Touted in the gaming community for good reason, it is. With the detail of Mark Knopfler’s drummer in Laughs And Jokes And Drinks And Smokes, it is clear to the point of almost hearing the air movement of drum stick. I exaggerate a bit, but it is quite nice. On par with my iFi Black Label, which coincidentally falls into the same price point. I would point out that the Burson has decent enough treble for the audio enthusiast and gamer as well.

Succinct, and accurate is what I would call that treble. Pleasant to my treble-sensitive ears. Want more? Switch to the Vivid Op Amp and you have it. Many a better ear than mine have espoused the virtues of the Vivid modules, and with what I could hear, I would agree. Changing is easy, except if you use the Play within your computer. That “lack of treble” to me in the Classic mode is all but thrown aside though, when Corazon Espinado comes through the Elear from Santana. Superb male vocals highlight the song, with Carlo’s sumptuous guitar emanating from one’s ear. The support drum instrumentation providing that push up top to very acceptable levels in my mind. Just a superb rendition of a voluptuous song. The Elear approve.

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Follow that with See Dem Fake Leaders from Ziggy, and the bass line draws you completely in, while the supporting horn line prods at your ear for full attention of the important message purveyed. Ziggy’s vocal harmony is the icing on the cake, and I can say that the Play is about as good as any amp in which I have listened at this price point. Versatile I would call it.

Alpha & Omega from Jah Shaka sounds full, inviting, almost decadent in its hidden trippy sound. The Burson allows that trippiness to “play” through unimpeded, giving full meaning to the song. Follow that with Heathens from a perennial favorite of mine twenty one pilots, and you complete that trip ‘round the Play. I could auto-repeat those two songs happily for hours. And the Play would be a good companion in that pursuit of musical bliss.

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Comparo/Pairings:

Close on the heels of the above paragraph, Van Morrison belting out Take It Easy Baby beckons me into that Jazzy haunt of a basement dive, wrought with drink and companionship. This is a sound, which escorts very well with whatever thrown its way. I will state again, that the Elear rose quickly to the head of the class in use as most of the IEM’s thrown its way were simply not at their best.

As stated The Elear/Play combo yielded a full robust if slightly warm sound emanating from within. As that is my preferred sig, I did not mind. From day one of my auditioning the Elear, I knew it was the open headphone for me. And as luck would have it, when the Clear came about, many jumped on that bandwagon singing that this is what the Elear should have been!! Well, not to diss any of them, but I call bunk. The Elear is an extraordinary example of a high-end headphone at “affordable” prices. Those who jumped ship to the Clear do have that right, but I say good riddance. The Elear/Play combo simply fortified my belief in the above. And I was glad. Running Tidal through my MBP, the sound was rich, vibrant and full. With enough detail (MBP after all…) to keep me interested, this was a worthy addition to my desktop sound.

Moving to the “portable” aspect, I hooked my Opus #2 up and gave a listen. Providing more detail than a MBP could ever provide, I streamed Tidal with even better results. What the MBP lacks in upper end, the #2 provided. Still utilizing the Elear/Play, I was quite happy with the result. Almost thinking, OK…how could one make the Play a portable option?…The Opus provided the air between notes, which the MBP could not. From that added detail, came more clarity and paired separation of instruments. While not my perfect set up with the Play, it was a very pleasing set up, which as mentioned yielded the most detail. Quite acceptable, indeed.

Harkening back to the IEM-mode, I switched to the UM Mason V3/Mentor V3 pair I had on hand. Immediately I was met with some hiss (and if I can hear it, well then…) during pause. But, once the song started, there was no hiss. And as others have mentioned those with high impedance may face the same. But, as I said once the song started, the bliss returned. The V3 iterations are a true marvel, and a worthy step up from the V2, to which I have espoused every review. But, while the Mason/Mentor sounded quite good, there was to me a slight miss here. The Mentor still had that deep reach of bass, that the Mason lack in my opinion, but the sound was just not as satisfying to me. That said, take the Play out of the equation, and run a side-by-side of the Elear/Mason/Mentor through the #2, and there is that sumptuous quality of both again. As some have mentioned, some items simply do not pair with others. Take that as a “*” because the sound was still very acceptable to me, but behind the Elear.

Running the Kinera iDun through my Shanling M3s and the Play raised both up a “level.” While the pair without the Play is quite a stunning pair of their own merit, here the Play raised the “qualities,” which make each good. Better detail was again wrought through the iDun, which has pretty decent detail with which to start. And as we know, the Shanling provides that warmer sound from the get-go. So, again the Play made the items plugged into each end “better.” Or maybe a more apt description would be “raised.”

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Finale et al:

So…what is one left with when considering the Burson Play? For those who would like an affordable desktop/PC-worthy amp you can start with the Basic ($299) or v5(i) for $475/399. Then as needed, add the OP-AMP of choice. With the one on hand, we are lucky enough to have the Vivid modules and the Classic; and it was a treat.

At that Basic-level price of $299, you are faced with the iFi xDSD in the portable realm as well as some others. While the xDSD retails for $399, and comes with more features, you can get the Play knowing you are getting a desktop amp, with the options to add modules later. That would of course bring you in line with the iFi price. A hard choice, whether to go portable with more features or simple and desktop worthy with that future upgrading capability. To me, they occupy two different realms, so it would be easy to get both.

When we move upscale as this one is, then the comparison falls to the iFi Micro iDSD Black Label ($599) in my mind (plus I own one). With many more tuning options for sensitive headphones, and MOAR POWER; one must balance that against what you get with the Play. I call the BL transportable as it is quite large to take with you often. As such, it stays quietly on my desktop awaiting use. Here is where the decision would be again whether you want future upgrading (and in the same price) or immediate tunability without much loss in sound. I will state that for “pure sound,” the Play is a smidge ahead. But for fine tuning the sound, the BL is well ahead, and easier to modify on the fly.

For the dedicated gamer, the Play would be an exceptional upgrade to their existing PC, short of those who have spent several thousand dollars. Add to that the “reality” of sound and placement some have mentioned (and in personal convos with others recently), and that was enough to sell them on the virtue of adding the Play to their gaming-unit. A nice two-fold win for Burson in that regard. Add in that while Op-Amp tuning is great, once a gamer settles on their preferred sound, the Play will most likely stay inbound on the PC and you have a very worthy addition to existing computers, which pretty much blow out of the water the existing DAC/amp in most. Again, a great marketing tool for Burson.

So, it comes down to what exactly are you looking for in an amp. Will this be a long-term relationship, where one can upgrade to new OP-AMPs or portability? This is the real draw of the Play to me. You can start with a very good amp, and upgrade when funds become available. OR, opt immediately for the higher priced model and be quite satisfied. The Burson is a very good amp with which one could easily listen and own for a good long time, without being drawn into something “new and glittery.” And after all, isn’t good quality sound what we are after in a long-term relationship, anyway?

I want to thank Burson for my extended time and listen. Without that extended time, I would not have been able to compare to some incoming gear, which aided my overall evaluation. And, they should be very proud of what the Play can achieve. Excellent sound at either end…the entry price or full-blown desktop amp. You can’t go wrong either way.

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