This review page is supported in part by the sponsors whose ad banners are displayed below

Writer: Vilosh Brito
Source: Sony XA 777ES CD/SACD player, Apple MacBook Pro, Apogee Duet 2 DAC/ADC
Preamp: Audio Research LS 26 Mk II
Power amplifier: Bryston 4BSS
Speakers: Martin Logan Ascent i on granite plinths
Stands: Welded metal stand with granite shelves
Powerline conditioning: PS Audio Power Plant Premier AC Regenerator, Blue Circle Audio Sillycone 12X filter
Cabling: Nordost Valhalla and Wireworld Equinox 6 Interconnects, Wireworld Equinox 6 speaker cables, Wireworld Aurora 5 Power cables
Sundry accessories: Cardas caps, Audio Exclusiv Silent plugs and Audio Revive Grounding Conditioner on preamp, Shunyata dark field elevators under speaker cables and interconnects, Audio Revive Schuman generator. Cork/rubber footers, Aurios Pro Max bearings. Laser distance finder to align speakers and Radio Shack sound level meter.
Room size: 4.9 x 3.9m dedicated listening room with brick walls and fitted carpet on concrete floor. Studiofoam wedges on rear wall (behind couch) and two on window, noise absorbing corner wedges on rear wall

Introduction. I have been an audiophile for many years and owned a variety of mid- to high-end components. My current components—CD player, preamp, power amp and speakers—have been the same for almost 9 years. But it wasn't until I moved into my current home 5 years ago that I had a dedicated listening room. This allowed me to use otherwise domestically unacceptable improvements. These include noise-absorbing wedges and panels to tune the room; and power conditioning which took the components to a much higher level of performance. Reading 6moons and having a digital subscription to the Abso!ute Sound has led me to cables and tweaks and a system which at least in my opinion is very musical and has high resolution.

I introduced the Apple MacBook Pro as a music server late last year and purchased the Apogee Duet 2 as DAC. Why the Duet 2? The Apogee is also an ADC. This has allowed me to record my daughter singing and playing acoustic guitar using Garage Band on the laptop. This short track has served as an ‘absolute’ reference whereby I determined that my system is on the warm side of neutral. I consider this a good thing since it reduces the harshness of digital and makes for long fatigue-free listening. The Apogee was always a stop-gap measure. I knew I would soon purchase a DAC with the resolution to match the rest of the system. When the Burson/Audeze reader reviews were announced, I jumped at the opportunity to review a DAC that had been awarded a Realsization award by Srajan. I was one of the fortunate ones to be selected - or should I say lucky since the names were drawn from a hat. This rather spoilt the tale I had concocted about the selection being based on my audiophile credentials. Which brings me to the point when FedEx delivered the box containing the Burson and Audeze on a sunny Friday afternoon.

The timing could not have been worse. The weekend was taken up by birthday parties and the Monday following saw the start of fairly extensive building work at my home. Trying to listen (critically or otherwise) while a digger with a hydraulic breaker is smashing concrete in the garden is impossible. A whole week went by before I finally had peace and quiet on the following weekend to begin my listening.

Preparatory work. Taking my duties as reviewer serious, I began by replacing the brace of H630 valves with matched sections in the preamp to ensure that it was at peak performance. I then selected CDs I have used over the years as my references.

For female voice I selected Natalie Merchant’s Tigerlily and Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat.  For live music I used MTV Unplugged: Neil Young Unplugged and Leonard Cohen’s  Live in London. For 70's music I used Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother and Wish You Were Here, the latter in CD and SACD to be the ‘torture test’. For compressed modern rock I used Santana’s Supernatural and Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light. I also used a selection of good old stuff like Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Legend and Tina Turner’s Private Dancer and good new stuff like Brandon Flowers’ Flamingo and Tindersticks’ The Hungry Saw. For a high-resolution download test I used REM’s Out of Time as CD, then downloaded a 24/96 FLAC from HD Tracks (played on the Apple using COG).

Burson vs Apogee. The MacBook Pro runs iTunes and Pure Music, the latter in memory play and upsampling but without dithering. The MacBook connected to the Apogee via Firewire cable whilst USB cable ran from the Apple to the Burson. The Apogee hot-wired to the ARC preamp using Apogee's breakout cable via a 1/4" to balanced converter. The Burson connected via Valhallas. I do know that the Valhallas cost more than the Burson but later on took them out of the equation so bear with me. Since the Apogee and Burson were feeding two different line level inputs on the preamp, I could easily switch between them from my listening chair. I could also control the laptop using Apple Remote on my iPhone. After a few tracks from different albums it was obvious that the Apogee was outclassed by a considerable margin. I had expected this since the Apogee was less than half the price and also is an ADC.  This brings me to a short price discussion on audiophile gear.

The ‘Letters to the Editor’ section of The Abso!ute Sound and various forums regularly discuss the high prices of audiophile equipment. The usual gripes are greedy manufacturers and reviewers out of touch with reality who only review gear priced out of reach of the average audiophile. I cannot comment on the absolute margins on audiophile gear except to say that if there was a killing to be made by selling reasonably priced gear, someone would be doing it. With regard to relative price, the situation with audiophile gear is the same as it is with any big-ticket item such as motor vehicles or consumer appliances and even more so real estate. All of us read reviews of the latest Ferrari and will avidly watch a programme on celebrity dream homes. When it comes to actually buying a big-ticket item however, the overriding constraint is price. We decide on how much we want to or can afford to spend and look at the choices at that price point. Why am I going on about this? Because the Burson’s price is critical to the conclusion I reached.

Burson vs. Sony XA 777ES. Having handily disposed of the Apogee, it was time for what I expected would be the heavyweight clash. While the Sony is elderly, it was Stereophile Class A rated when I purchased it and I had lived happily with it for many years. It also was better than the Apogee by a considerable margin. How would the Burson fare? Unlike the A/B comparison with the Apogee powered by the Apple's Firewire port, the Sony and Burson both required mains power. The 13-amp version of the PS Audio power regenerator only has 5 outlets all of which were in use by the speakers (2), preamp, power amp and Sony itself. Fully aware that I would be handicapping the Burson, I drove it off the same dreaded 4-way power bar outlet which powered the Apple. Incidentally the Burson had shipped with a European Schuko cord which I could not use in the UK. I thus defaulted to a Wireworld Aurora 5 like I had on the Sony to level the playing field in at least that respect.

With the stage set I inserted a CD into the Sony, selected the same track on the Apple and commenced the A/B comparison. A few albums later I came to a shocking and unexpected conclusion. The Burson was not just better, it was blowing the Sony away. After an hour or so there was no doubt. The Burson was superior in every respect. Even when I compared the SACD Wish You Were Here to the ripped CD through the Burson, it was far better. That SACD was rated 5 stars for sound quality by The Abso!ute Sound so it is no slouch. Without going into endless details on why the Burson was superior, I could summarise by saying that the Sony sounded woolly by comparison. The Burson stripped away many layers of opacity without sounding aggressive or bright. I mentioned earlier that I would take the Valhallas out of the equation. I put them on the Sony instead. My impressions remained unchanged. The Burson was much better than the Sony. Having established beyond a doubt that in my system and with the music I listen to the Burson was markedly superior, it was time to listen to it alone.

Living with the Burson. With the Sony out of contention, I could feed the Burson from the PS Audio. Suddenly it sounded ‘strangled’. This could only mean one thing: too much power conditioning. I disconnected the Blue Circle Sillycone filter and normal service resumed. The Burson sang again. I also found that plugging the Sillycone filter into the power bar feeding the Macbook improved the sound. This outlet is on the same circuit but further away. The Sillycone filter is more or less effective depending on where it is plugged in. The lesson learnt is that the Burson needs clean i.e. conditioned power to sound its best. I started listening to the Burson at 2pm that Saturday and continued until 7.30pm. During those hours I ripped CDs into the Macbook with great enthusiasm. Since the Apple was a relatively recent addition, the number of CDs ripped were but a tiny fraction of my extensive collection. Every album brought great pleasure, even tracks I had skipped over in the past. On HD tracks the sound took on a more relaxed presentation with more space between the instruments which was to be expected.

My analysis of the Burson is:
Musicality - The Burson is very musical. It kept drawing me into the music and I stopped listening critically and just let the music flow.
Resolution - Very detailed. Produces a big sound. On many occasions I thought I had the volume turned up too high and was risking permanent hearing damage. A check with my trusty Radio Shack sound level meter showed between 70 and 80dB which is normal for me. The Burson produces a richly detailed soundscape that makes it sound louder than is the case.
Soundstage – Well-defined rock-solid imaging. My electrostats produce larger than life images and I like that illusion. The Burson produced an extremely good left-to-right and front-of speaker soundstage. On some recordings the rear of the soundstage was also apparent but I have found that this part of the soundstage is most difficult to reproduce consistently so I cannot fault the Burson in this regard.
Dynamics - Very dynamic without being aggressive. This is finger-tapping-eyes-closed-moving-to-the-music stuff. The bass has to be heard to be believed and is not of the migraine inducing variety.
Tonal accuracy - Here am not sure. Everything I listened to was fine but I am not into Classical. If classical ensembles are your type of music, listen to the Burson before you commit to the purchase.
Ability to impress - Trophy audio is not my thing but if you do need to impress friends and have full-range speakers like I do, cue up "Amen" from Leonard Cohen's Old Ideas. An impossibly gravelly voice appears from between the speakers with periodic bass notes that appear to shake the foundations of the house. Impressive indeed.

The Burson as preamp. It was now time to test the Burson as preamp. This meant bypassing the ARC and connecting the Burson directly to the Bryston power amp. For those wishing they could get simply rid of their preamp, I am sorry to say that the results were pretty ordinary. I could even go so far as saying that it sounded terrible. End of test. The ARC was back in the loop and the magic returned. Now this was in my system and you may get different results but it did not work for me. At this point I had decided that I had to purchase the Burson and do final due diligence on pricing without revealing my assignment.

Burson pricing. In Srajan's review the Burson still listed at €980. At the daily exchange rate while I wrote this that equalled £813. Sadly the Burson was not available in the UK for that price. My first call to a dealer listed on Burson's website was disappointing to say the least. He quoted me  £1.100 and sounded remarkably disinterested. Some googling later I found Item Audio and spoke to Mark Welsh. They sell the item at £995 and offer free home auditions, which I encourage you to take advantage off. He will also knock a few quid off for a cash transfer instead of using a credit card.

The Audez’e. When I applied for this review I stated in my email "no headphones so that might be an issue". I did try to listen to the Audez’e but I am not a headphone person and not qualified to review this product. I shall leave it to the others to do so.

A prescription? Not being a reviewer I will rush in where they fear to tread. What else is available at this price? The April Music Eximus and Wyred4Sound DAC come to mind. I have not heard every DAC at this price but neither has the most grizzled reviewer. What I can say with conviction is that if you listen to the type of music I do and feed the Burson clean power, it will reward you by taking your system to a higher level. I cannot think of the last time when £1,000 resulted in such a big improvement in my system.

Conclusion. I checked my email on Friday when FedEx was due to collect the items. An email from Alex at Burson said that they had not received the address of the next reviewer yet so he would let me know when it would be collected. "Brilliant. I can keep it for the weekend". Friday pm I am in the sweet spot on the listening couch. From here I can see down my driveway over open fields fringed by trees. The rays of the setting sun bathe the scene with a golden glow, the vagaries of the weather having delivered a glorious summer day in early spring. A tap on a plastic screen and 21st century wizardry changes the track and album. A quick adjustment on the ARC remote sets the volume. Music—and it is music—fills the room. I have easy access to a seemingly endless stream. Audio nirvana? There is no such thing. Technology will continue to progress and unless we opt out, there will always be better units in the future. But on an endless journey it is the way stations which are important. Here some are better than others. In some places you temporarily lose the urge to move on. Music takes over and hifi recedes in importance. The Burson has taken me to such a place. Happy listening.