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The Conductor offers three gain levels on its preouts just like it does for headphones. Although it seemed like a great idea for optimum flexibility, in my system anything but the lowest gain level translated to unacceptable noise levels. My electrical system in the new house is far from optimized but the HA160D never sounded as noisy as the Conductor at mid and high gain levels. Although some of that noise could be heard through headphones, it was far less obvious. The plague of high-efficiency speakers really is too much gain in the chain. Hence the 7dB setting was the only one for me.

At $1.200 the preamp section of the HA160D was a free gift that worked surprisingly well. I'd say that's still the case for the Conductor although as price went up, expectations for a preamplifier increased in turn. Whilst the total layout of the package is still insanely low for what it delivers, I feel that as a dedicated preamp this machine could offer a touch more dynamics and soundstage width as well as greater operational silence. Those are certainly areas team Burson will have to consider if they think of going further upmarket with a similar concept. As Srajan pointed out, the Conductor truly shines as a headphone amplifier. I don't have his wide choice of cans but my AKG K701 are quite demanding when it comes to drive and bass power from an amplifier. Anything but the best will make them sound quite pale. The Conductor and its three gain levels made it very easy to find appropriate drive for these cans and they came truly alive, even better than they had with the predecessor. Somehow the changes made to the output impedances and associated feedback-adjusted gain structure which creates those three settings in the first place allowed for an even better match with the AKG where I did not expect that much of a difference.

It is fairly easy to appreciate how Burson took an already good component and turned it into a top performer - perhaps not best in class in every detail but certainly an excellent performer in all three of its functions. The company did so without sacrificing their fundamental house sound. To me that ability to advance the Conductor significantly forward on sound quality without giving up on their sonic aesthetic is their greatest achievement. So where then do I disagree with Srajan as our assessments of the Conductor's qualities match so exactly? He decided not to grant the Conductor a Blue Moon award despite the fact that the $1.850 machine was every bit as good as the Eximus DP1 as a DAC and preamplifier and better as a headphone amplifier for almost half the money. Considering the DP1 walked away with an award, what was not to love about the Burson?

Srajan ran into synchronization issues between Conductor and his Cambridge Audio iPod/iPhone docks resulting in clicks and dropped music. Although I understand his logic, for the first time in almost 7 years of collaboration I disagree with it. First the issue has since proven to be that his docks' S/PDIF delivery fell outside the Conductor's jitter specification. This forced the DAC to drop its lock having to resync regularly. The reason was Burson's decision for a more stringent set of performance specs over more flexible ones to achieve better sound. Srajan's contention was that a component like the Conductor should be compatible with the type of entry-level gear that it will more likely be associated with. And that's where we diverge. Isn't this akin to saying that had Burson priced their Conductor at $3.000 instead of $1.850 to therefore limit their appeal to pair with entry-level gear, it would have been award-worthy? That's the first time I would see an award denied on the ground of a product being priced too low.

I'd agree had the problem been more pervasive but I couldn't reproduce it. Granted I don't own an iPod dock but I do have two cheap Blu-Ray decks and a 20-year+ old Accuphase CD player which all locked fine through coax and optical. Even the optical output of my Mac mini (famously crippled by jitter) locked without problem. This leads me to believe that the jitter performance of those docks must be way out of range to create any issue. Finally, although it's easy to forget the Conductor's price in light of the amazing value, I don't believe that a newcomer to audio will settle for a $1.850 DAC/headphone amp when ‘similar’ machines can be had for a few hundred elsewhere. Somebody who buys a Conductor has done their homework and knows they are getting a truly special piece of audio gear. The chances of that person pairing the Conductor with a very high-jitter source are slim. As long as Burson highlights that risk on their website, I hardly see a reason to withhold our award. So while the Conductor walked away without one, it certainly gets my highest recommendation not just as a headfi amp/DAC but also a bone fide DAC/preamp that won't sound out of place in all but the most demanding systems - all at a price that cannot be matched by any comparable component I know of today.
Burson website