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Daniel Ballman, Basel: I was the lucky first participant of the Burson Audio HA-160D & Audeze LCD-3 loaner program. It was the very first time in my life that I won anything. Now I couldn't keep it. Murphy's law at its finest! Each participant got to use the combo for two weeks. I made the most out of it. I lived with the two devices during this time and I mean that literally. Marathon listening sessions of up to six hours weren't uncommon. The review began in my office where I have a desktop setup with Event Opal active studio monitors widely regarded as the best two-way monitors currently in production. The music came from an iMac using the latest Amarra version as audio engine. Playing back files up to 24-bit/96kHz worked flawlessly and I didn't experience the problems that Srajan described in his review. Afterwards I used my main system which consists of the Piega Coax 70 loudspeakers and the Rowen Absolute Two power amps.

Burson HA-160D: From the very beginning the Burson HA-160D played at a very high level as it was already fully burned in. The first thing I noticed was how the music flowed. The English acronym PRaT—Pace, Rhythm and Timing—is completely unknown in the German language. Here people talk more about transients, attack, decay, impact and exactness of timing. In the British sense the Burson indeed had incredible PRaT. Let's start with pace.

One impression the Burson gave me was as if the music was playing a little bit faster than usual. I'm talking about microscopic differences here. Many people are not aware of the fact that weaknesses in an audio chain can produce errors which suggest that the musical pace has become slower. This leads to a boring listening experience as the reproduction loses its drive. One aspect of my impression that the music was flowing certainly came from its pace then. What about rhythm?

While good rhythm is a key aspect of both live and reproduced music, it is not easy to analyze. It's as though the act of focusing on the details of a performance blinds one to this parameter. The subjective awareness of rhythm is a continuous event, registered by the whole body and recognized in a state of conscious but relaxed awareness. Once you've learned that reproduced sound can transport that vital sense of music making as an event—that the impression of an upbeat involving drive can be reproduced again and again—you can't help but pursue this quality throughout your listening experience.

The Burson does just that. This is another aspect that leads to the flow of music I mentioned. On the other hand it must be said that the Burson doesn't focus so much on the details as other amps I've already heard. Don't get me wrong here. The Burson shows all the details on the recording and much better so than inferior devices. They are just less apparent. This is where transients and decay come into the game. I have heard amps that render transients more apparent than the Burson. If the Burson is slower than those amps or if it is simply the frequency response which doesn't focus so much on the treble I can't know for certain although I'm inclined to  believe the latter. The same applies to the decay of sounds. For my ear they simply don't vanished quickly enough and therefore there was a less dark background between sound events. I have to mention that I am a fan of analytical and revealing equipment. Although I don't like edginess or sharpness, I do love to bathe in a sea of details and I love being surprised by things I've never heard before - even after the 100th time of listening to a song. Therefore I usually seek out equipment that meets those demands.

The Burson HA-160D surprised me nonetheless because for the first time in a long time did I not pay so much attention to details as I did to listening to music. I must have heard about a hundred albums during those two weeks. Everything had to be tested: Jazz, R&B, Fusion, Classical, Metal, Rock, Pop, electronic music and Blues. Today I am certain that the Burson is not limited to specific genres. It works well with everything. There are two genres though which I normally dislike hearing reproduced even if the audio chain is very revealing. These are classical music and rock. No matter how well the audio chain presents the soundstage, gives air around instruments or places them in panorama - classical music and rock mostly sound boring (especially classic rock from the 60s or 70s). The Burson turned my prejudices upside down because it made exactly those genres shine. It gave them more energy in the lower octaves, more drive, better PRaT, better tone density and better immediacy.
What makes the Burson also sound so musical is the total lack of distortion. One component which certainly helps to keep the distortion low is the stepped attenuator. Some people complain that 24 steps are not enough and that they wished for a finer scale. For me it was perfect. The haptics of the knob and the clicking noise give off a very nice aura of quality. The whole chassis has an incredible built quality. There is no fan and all the amp's walls become evenly warm unlike so many amps that become so hot on top that they could be used as a stove. I personally would have wished for an optical output and analog XLR outputs so that the Burson could be better used with active studio monitors. Nonetheless it is a great device especially for its price. Sadly I had to send it to the next participant. Otherwise I would have kept it.

+ The Burson HA-160D is exquisitely built
+ It has incredible PRaT
+ The bass is very energetic, controlled and detailed
+ The mids sound harmonic, full and rich
+ The treble extension is good
+ The Burson presents the music as a whole
+ Great headamp
+ Preamp function as good as top standalone preamps

- No optical output
- No analog XLR outputs / not balanced
- Transient rendering / decays could be quicker

The Audez'e LCD-3: When I started listening to these I was mightily disappointed. This was it? A $2.000 headphone which didn't sound better than my old Sennheiser HD650? The sound was flat and veiled, there was not as much bass as I expected and it wasn't controlled either. I doubted my own hearing capabilities and let the headphone burn in for 24 hours. The next day I was in for a surprise because the foil diaphragm had already loosened up significantly. The bass now had the impact I was missing before but not only that, it was rendered in a way which I had never heard before in a headphone. Some people believe that the LCD-3 renders bass that's not on the recording. That's nonsense of course.

Photos of LCD-3 from HeadRoom

Most headphones simply don't have the power or control to deliver really deep and precise bass. Speakers can do better in that area but with them there will always be the problem of room modes. Room modes with anomalies of +20dB are no exception and can therefore destroy the whole bass presentation. With an acoustically treated room and equalized bass this problem can be solved. Other solutions are double-bass arrays or open baffle speakers. The most exceptional bass I have yet heard from speakers was from the Jamo 909 and Quad ESL 2905. 

The LCD-3's bass was exceptional and reminded me very much of the Quad ESL 2905, only that the LCD-3 can play louder - much louder. Being able to play louder normally also means less distortion and more headroom. In the LCD-3 this is true across the entire frequency range. After the foil had loosened up, the HD650 sounded like a toy by comparison. It felt like comparing a supercharged 4-cylinder 1.6-liter engine to a 5-liter V8 block. The little engine delivers power and speed but is straining much more to do so. The big V8 gives a feeling of reserve and smoothness that a small engine simply can't.
Although the LCD-3 is an open headphone it feels more closed than the Sennheiser HD650 and HD800. The LCD-3 sounds more intimate, less airy and the music seems to be closer to the head. As I already have mentioned, I love audio devices that are analytical and show a lot of detail. Therefore you might think that the HD800 should be my preferred headphone and it would be if it wasn't for that sharp metal-like ringing in the treble and the lack of bass. In my opinion the HD650 has better bass than the HD800 although it is not as precise.

With every day that passed the LCD-3 became better. What seemed to be a lack of dynamics in the beginning turned out to be something else entirely. Many transducers are less transparent when listening at low levels. The separation of instruments suffers from this and instruments playing quietly are lost in bigger bands or orchestras. This is probably due to our hearing which follows the Fletcher-Munson curves and transducers distorting so much that they simply smear quieter instruments. The LCD-3 renders all sounds so clearly that instruments playing 20dB lower than others can be heard just as easily as the rest of the band. Also when there's a big jump in dynamics many transducers compress or distort which is unpleasant and generates stress. This stress often is misinterpreted as something positive like DJs that are only happy when the PA is playing above max SPL. The LCD-3 makes no fuss about big dynamic jumps much like a Jaguar makes no fuss about driving 150mph. In a Jaguar you don't feel the speed because the car doesn't vibrate. With an LCD-3 loudness doesn't hurt because there's no distortion.

The LCD-3 is incredibly fast across the frequency range. I have raved about the bass but that doesn't mean the rest lacked. A few times I jumped in my chair because of hyper realistic sounds that came out of nowhere. Of course the LCD-3 is more laid back than the HD800, it focuses more on bass and midrange than on endlessly expanded treble. It is much like sitting in a damped recording room (LCD-3) rather than sitting in a large concert hall (HD800). In other words they sound drier. Many manufacturers overemphasize the treble to get a show-off effect that I find unnatural. I have heard the band Nik Baertsch's Ronin live many times and found their live album much more realistic with the LCD-3 than HD800. This band simply produces tons of sexy bass which the HD800 doesn't deliver. Yes the HD800 has a better soundstage but if I want that, I just unplug the headphones and listen to my speakers.

The LCD-3 in my opinion is the best dynamic headphone in the world. It is exceptionally well built, very comfortable and easy to drive. The combo with the Burson HA-160D delivers very good control, incredible tone density and a full and rich sound. Is it worth the price? I don't know because I have never heard the LCD-2. For my wallet it's a lot of money but I had a hard time parting with it - with both components in fact. Sadly it was a loaner and not keeper program.

+ Incredible headroom
+ Incredible speed
+ Incredible instrument separation
+ Best bass of all headphones
+ Beautiful mids
+ No overemphasized frequencies
+ Beautiful sound balance
+ Very good for long sessions

- Price
- Voices could be more immediate