Burson Conductor 3XP: Burson just keeps producing winners
Pros: Burson quality
Cons: Not mine
Meant for desktop, and it would be a shame to hide it
Burson Conductor 3XP ($1344): Burson just keeps producing winners
Having reviewed the Play, Bang and Fun along with various OpAmps from Burson when the opportunity came through as tour to review a ware of the Conductor variety, I jumped. And if it was anything like the other fine wares of Burson, it would not only be a treat but worth a good long listen. From what I had read of the others in the line, the reviews were good, very good. And upon my initial listen, I can concur with those findings. Read on for the in-depth report.
I thank @Barra for the tour, and @Burson for the use and review of their product. The sample will be sent to the next reviewer after my time. I have not monetary gain from this, and I spent a total of approximately 100 hours of listening through the devices listed below.
|Input impedance:||39 KOhms||Conductor 3X Ref.|
Model # M180X
|Frequency response:||± 1 dB 0 – 58Khz||Remote Control||OTG Adaptor|
|THD:||<0.0015%||Power Cable||24V Power Unit|
|Output impedance (Headphone Amp):||0.5 Ohm|
|Output impedance (Pre Out / DAC Out):||1 Ohm / 25 Ohm|
|Inputs:||USB, Optical Toslink, BlueTooth 5.0, microphone||Weight:||app. 3 kg|
|Outputs:||1 x XLR Preamp/DAC|
1 x RCA Preamp/DAC
1 x 6.3mm Headphone
1 x XLR Headphone
|Dimensions:||200 X 250 X 60mm|
|Impedance (Headphone Jack)||Power XLR / SE||Signal to Noise Ratio||Separation|
|16 Ohm||6 / 3W||96db||99%|
|32 Ohm||3 / 1.5W||98db||99%|
|100 Ohm||1 / 0.5W||95db||99%|
|DAC Spec||Asynchronous Isochronous USB Spec|
|Channel Separation:||142 dB @ 1KHz, 135 dB @ 20KHz||Desktop OS:||Windows XP, 7, 8, 10 Mac OSX|
|THD+N:||0.0005% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS||Desktop OS:||iOS* , Android (OTG support)|
|COAX & Toslink / SPDIF :||up to 24bit 192K||PCM Support:||PCM ? 768kHz @ 16, 24 or 32bits|
|Native DSD:||Native DSD 64 / 128 / 256 / 512|
|Bluetooth Input||Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD (Qualcomm CSR8675)||DSD over PCM:||DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256/Dop512|
|Model||Retail Price||Dimensions (mm)||Digital||Analogue||Power Supply||Others|
|Conductor 3XR||2,199USD||255 x 270 x 70||ESS9038Q2M DAC X 2||7.5Wpc XLR / 3.5Wpc SE||MCPS X 5||Analogue Inputs X 2|
|Conductor 3R||1,799USD||255 x 270 x 70||ESS9038Q2M DAC X 2||7.5Wpc SE||MCPS X 5||Analogue Inputs X 2|
|Conductor 3XP||1,399USD||200 X 250 X 60||ESS9038Q2M DAC X 1||6Wpc XLR / 3Wpc SE||MCPS X 3|
|Conductor 3P||1,099USD||200 X 250 X 60||ESS9038Q2M DAC X 1||4Wpc SE||MCPS X 3|
In the box: see above
iFi Pro iDSD
Shanling M6 Pro
XDuoo X10T ii
Verum Audio Verum 1
Empire Ears Legend X
Mr. Speakers Aeon Flow Closed
Dave Matthews-Come Tomorrow, Away From The World
Big Head Todd & The Monsters-Beautiful World, Midnight Radio
twenty one pilots-Blurryface, Trench, Regional at Best
Van Morrison-Three Chords & The Truth
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Stevie Ray Vaughn
Whatever my fancy of the moment
It’s a Burson, its packed and protected well, and it has what you need: The Conductor, a remote, the power cord. What more do you want? Or need? Use your own cables.
The Burson as per other models has a small footprint, which belies what goodies lie inside. What is different is that this is not your typical black box. No, this one is styled to showcase your desk at work, your workstation, or your listening area. With a multitude of connecting options, the Conductor would and does fit well pretty much everywhere.
In place of the typical aluminum black box, the case is replaced with what Burson calls the “Cool Case.” The whole case of electroplated space gray colored aluminum acts as a unified heat sink for the pure Class-A amplifier. Not really a novel idea, as this has been used for pretty much decades on high-end stereo amplifiers. But here, it not only looks good, but serves a purpose. Substance and style formed together to make a worthy desktop addition.
As per the Burson line-up, changing OpAmps is not only acceptable, but easy and is done in under five minutes just like the others. Burson now carries not only their OpAmps on the company website, but worthy options from other manufacturers can be purchased right next to the fine Burson ones. It’s kind of like having a tube amp from a manufacturer and getting various options of tubes as well. Or going to the Kit Kat factory and having a Reese’s Peanut butter Cup for sale right next to it. A cool idea, and it works.
Other inside notables are that this would be considered the “competition” version of the range, as opposed to the luxury version (the 3XR). Think of a stripped SCCA Miata versus the one “with the works” and you get the point. But as with the Miata examples, the main components, the ones that matter, are still there: power, control and a good amount of connectivity. Just not every version in the book, unlike the 3XR and the iFi Pro iDSD. In thinking and analyzing that, I’m OK with that because it worked with what I wanted, and it worked as well or better than some here. More connectivity is a good thing, but not if “it adds weight.”
This is probably the best sounding version of a SABRE chip I have heard as well. The 3XP uses the SABRE32/ESS9038Q2M DAC and XMOS USB receiver chips with a customized USB driver by Thesycon in Germany to ensure low latency bit-perfect audio playback. It just works, and it sounds fabulous from the off. Variations from the 3XR include a different power source (which the more I get into this makes a big difference in how the power is delivered to the amplifier end, just ask anyone on the tube side of things…), no analog inputs and a bit less power. But just like the stripped SCCA Miata, it does not seem to matter. Anything I listened to through the 3XP sounded good, without sounding underpowered in the least. I expected this, and it came to fruition time and time again. Starting along with the Vivid OpAmps, the 3XP lacked only those extra inputs, which come on the 3XR. As listed below though, it still had plenty and runs BT aptx HD, which is as good as it currently gets. Alas, no MQA is had within the confines of the 3XP. But, in my opinion that should not necessarily discount the purchase of said unit, for the sound will indeed make up for it in other ways.
|Inputs:||USB, Optical Toslink, BlueTooth 5.0, microphone|
|Outputs:||1 x XLR Preamp/DAC|
1 x RCA Preamp/DAC
1 x 6.3mm Headphone
1 x XLR Headphone
The 3XP is built exceptionally well, as one would hope for the price and level and I saw no flaws. It is also a good-looking unit, with the aesthetics working well together. On the front, you have the small on/off button furthest left. A bit small for my tastes, it worked, nonetheless. Next to that is an XLR connection, which I personally was looking forward to using. Starboard of that you have the 6.3se and 3.5se jacks. Then a reasonably large LED display, which gives a decent look at the sub-menus changeable from the volume knob with a push.
The owner uses the small button on the far right to access the menus, and by pushing the volume button, the “active” sub menu can be changed by then using the volume button like you would raise or lower the volume. Not entirely intuitive, but once through my fumbling, I was able to change filters, input and other options easily. The back contains the connections and is easy to decipher. This is a good-looking, workable unit.
I will mesh sources and headphones throughout this section, as I feel the freedom of listening outweighs the efficiency of organizing what I used and on what source.
Starting with the MacBook Pro & ZMF Eikon, I was immediately impressed with the clarity and rich nature of the sound. I will note that the unit arrived with the volume set at “1,” and Bill recommended I start it there, especially with sensitive IEM’s. Since I started with harder to drive headphones, I settled on about 15, raising it to 20-25 for some hard-working songs as I jammed. Not having MQA on Tidal was a bit of a letdown, but no matter; the sound was superb.
Sometimes things such as “balanced” or “MQA” might seem to sway people with “better” sound, but the 3XP seems not to care about fancy words (except balanced). For you see it just plays. Throw on a different filter for an effective change in tonality and it works. Automatically reading the recording frequency (as most do…), it just plays. Richness exudes from pretty much any song played through the combination. Nicely detailed as well, the mids do sing a nice song. And to top that off, the treble has a pleasant sound without being overwhelming or grating. Not really sparkly either, it satisfies these ears just right. I do not feel cut off or of any hiding up top either. Again, the overall signature emits a wonderful synergy that if one were to be truly picky and pick apart might be different.
But the 3XP must (and should) be taken as a whole entity. Too often of late a source may sound fabulous at some level, or individual tones, but fail to sway at the overall picture part. Here thankfully, the 3XP promotes, provides and permeates a full-on richness of signature that is detailed, crisp and has a certain cleanliness that not many can match.
Bumping the volume to 40, I relish the sound from Feynman in 1-800MYLOVE. The artificial trap set, and vocals are healthy and vibrant up top without being strident. The piano-chords hold the mids as the clapping comes in, and the bass drum and bass hold the bottom together without being boomy or loose. There is a tightness to this song anyway due to the instruments of choice, but the detailed piano chords lend a naturalness (even if artificial) to an otherwise artificially produced song.
Soundstage is about as even a box as I have heard of late. Not huge, but certainly not minuscule either, the width is about ideal for the songs played. As is height and depth. A bit taller than deep, I do wish for a bit more depth with this setup. Then Air comes on and all is pretty much well. Recorded to be more forward and higher of reach it does make me reach for the volume, lowering it 6 slots to 34. Still magnificent of presentation, the 3XP is growing well on me.
Moving to the LCD3 next, I found the song a bit brighter. More of a mid-centric than the Eikon, it did take a bit of time to adjust. Until the bass hit. The Audeze bass is near-legendary in the planar world, and the 3XP was glad to oblige and aid in repping it well. Almost a bit too forward before adjusting to the sound, the LCD3 quickly became one of my favorites on the Burson. I could see someone listening to this combo and realizing, “yep, I made a great purchase,” with regard to either the Burson or Audeze they fit together so well. The mids do seem a bit too elevated here, but it could just as well be the song. Due to circumstances, I did not accumulate nearly the same amount of time listening to this pairing as the Eikon (family and not wanting to intrude…). But I did have two full evenings of listening to verify what I heard. This is a magnificent duo. Repeatedly listening to Billie Eilish’s wish you were gay, I found her voice intoxicating and coming from a spot inside my head, which was all but sensual. The bass kicking in made the song go over the top in the best possible way, and her verbiage of words made for a satirically sad song all at once. She is such a hugely talented artist, that even after listening to many of her songs over and over, I still feel that I do not understand her enough to warrant decent conversation. She is phenomenal.
Switching to the more familiar to me Implicit Demand For Truth, I stopped writing, kicked the volume up, grabbed my Logboat Brewing Bobber Missouri Lager and listened. A cacophony of sound emits at the 1:35 point, which could be troublesome for many sources (it is complicated by nature), but the 3XP just plays. Discerning small differences does not matter, for the complicated song is meant to be enjoyed as a cacophony of calcitrant concentration. I stopped again.
Switching to the Shanling M6 Pro via BT, the sound noticeably dropped. One would expect that to happen due to BT limitations, but I can happily report that gap continues to shrink. I did note some drop out in the sound as well. If this were to be used as a desktop setup with a dedicated DAP, I would add the correct connectivity to accommodate what should be a wonderful addition to the sound stream.
Burson Conductor 3XP ($1344) vs XDuoo TA-30 ($799):
After hearing @Wiljen ‘s TA30, I arranged for my own from Linsoul at a reduced price in exchange for a forthcoming review. Needless to say, the TA30 is a fabulous unit with the ability to change tubes at a moment’s notice. That is the fun of having a tube amp, besides the sound of course.
There is a level of detail, which accompanies that tube-richness that is hard to beat in the TA30. It is such a fine amp at an “affordable” price that one would be silly not to look at it when trying to find a fantastic amp. I will admit that the mids are more forward than the 3XP, which can make the TA30 sound either too far in your face, or sound unnaturally “better” when comparing back-to-back. But when you listen, that overzealousness combines with the Mullard tubes up front to present a brilliant synergy.
Turning 1-800MYLOVE up, I relish the sound. Without the bass push of the 3XP, but the added rich layers make for an impressive sound. I do appreciate the mids more in the Burson, as they seem better held in control than the XDuoo. That could very well be down to the tubes used. While the Mullard’s are wonderful with a rich bass few tubes can provide, they do seem to push the mids a bit up and forward. Not that I mind, just different than the 3XP. Seriously, I’m quibbling over small bits of “error” between two fantastic amps. Listening to the XDuoo again makes me appreciate why I purchased it.
Where the Burson bests the XDuoo (and should, really) is in the cleanliness of sound. Playing Air over and over, I am amazed at the almost surgical quality of the sound. Think of the most precise drummer out there, technique-wise and that could very well be the Burson. Think of the XDuoo as the more fun-loving street drummer, who still has tons of precision in their repertoire. Just not on the level of the Burson.
Burson Conductor 3XP ($1344) vs iFi Pro iDSD ($2200ish):
The iFi is most likely the highest priced amp I will ever purchase. And for good reason. It has multi-connections like no one’s business, can be run as either a hybrid, full solid state or genuine tube, and can drive everything I have sent its way with aplomb. Not always the best match for some I have used with it, but that can be overlooked based upon what it DOES sound good with: the vast majority of my headphones and higher-tiered IEM’s, as well as the sources of which I prefer.
It is for that reason, after listening to it, I purchased the model sent for review. And I do not regret it. Deep reaching rich bass exudes from the sound chambers, but without being overly drippy or dank. There is no overriding tonality of cover here, just a warmth, which can be heard from a manufacturers TOTL, which happens to have that tubey sound of which I love as well.
Almost a more “delicate” sound is wrought from the iFi when comparing to the others, until you listen. That delicacy is detail. And detail of the near-highest order. This is an incredible amp with which to listen. Yes, it may seem to be full of gimmicks, but those are all necessary to wring the last amount of detail from a song. Don’t confuse politeness with shyness of quality. One need only turn the volume up to realize that the Pro can compete with the big boys and do so on their level.
That said, is it worth nearly twice the price? Well, that 2x price comes with more options than the 3XP has, along with a reference-level of sound, but on the warmer side. I still value and relish my listening through the iFi and it is just about the perfect complement to the XDuoo. Maybe, just maybe there is room for the Burson as well, due to the differing qualities of all three…
It seems more and more often in today’s audio world, that more is better. More options, more power, more technology, more cost. Well to a certain degree that is correct. When one spends for premium gear, your expectations reach a certain zenith. A certain level above the “common gear.” That is not unfounded either. But here is the beauty of the Burson Conductor 3XP. It does cost a good penny or two, and in this day may seem unattainable. Or even frivolous. But one should still consider the 3XP, because when placed against similar items costing up too many times more, the 3XP simply goes about its business like the pure SCCA Miata mentioned above. It excels. It has the power. It has enough connectivity to make your system worth it. And, here to me is the best part; it has the sound to back all of that up. As stated above, this is the finest iteration of this SABRE chip of which mine ears have listened. This is one fine critter, even to these tired ears. And I would respectfully add that this is becoming a trademark (become?) of Burson products. Starting “years ago” with the Play and moving upscale, Burson has added that offense to the scheme, which should have the other manufacturers scrambling. This is not like the 1-year-spectacle known as the “Greatest Show On Turf,” no. This is more like the long-term excellence of the New England Patriots (love them or hate them you cannot deny their greatness, which pains me to say, and the simplicity of their dominance is something at which to marvel) or the newer breed of the Kansas City Chiefs (hopefully). Modifying one’s schema takes great courage, and perseverance to rear successfully. And here, is where Burson shares that characteristic with the Patriots and the Miata. Sometimes simple is better, and it works long term. The Burson Conductor 3XP is a patented picture of that perseverance and dedication to providing the end user (you and me) with the best they know how. And doing it in a fairly simple manner (which is most certainly not a knock on them, for it works), which is about as high a compliment as one can offer.
I thank Burson and @Barra for the opportunity to use as my own an extremely fine product. One in which had I the need, I would not hesitate.