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Writer: Mikael Johansson

At home I have a rather divided listening situation. Since I work and spend a lot of time on my computer, that’s my preferred listening spot by far. In addition I have a full-range stereo in the living room that’s often running in the background and also works as sound source for our home theater. For practical reasons I prefer one combined system without the need for separate setups in my three different listening positions. An equally important part of why I prefer one system is that I'd rather spend my money on one good system then three mediocre ones.

My current system consists of a Lavry DA11 DAC/preamp/headfi amp connected to my Audionet AMP-IV power amp. I really like the component category of DAC/preamp/headphone amp in one single chassis. It's a combination I believe is becoming more common but I still feel that I have not yet found a sufficiently competent machine that has prioritized the in my opinion important parts at a moderate price. I like my Lavry DA11 but find its headamp section somewhat lacking in quality. That’s why, through Google, I discovered the to me unfamiliar Burson brand and their loaner program. Their HA-160D on paper had everything I wanted. It's plug and play for USB, qualified to work as a competent preamplifier and above all attaches priority to what I value most - its headphone amp section. Because this looked as though I’d identified the optimal product for my fairly complex requirements at least in theory, it was not only with pleasure that I anticipated this package from the loaner program. There was also significant concern that the products would not live up to my high expectations. Unless the Burson performed well, I’d once again be at square one trying to identify a new prospect.

I already own an Aude’ze LCD-2 and am familiar with the somewhat special sound these planar magnetics emit. When for the first time I fired up the Burson and put the LCD-3 on my head, I felt a very big relief surge through me when the first song came on. It sounded good. I listened to that song, then another one. The more I listened the more I fell in love.

I listened to everything from the sprawling James Blake’s Dream Theater to the swinging Roy Orbison. No matter what I fed the combo, everything sounded stunningly good - incredibly soft and pliable yet with such control of the music. No record was too complex for this duo.

Since I had my LCD-2, I took the opportunity to occasionally switch them in to see whether the LCD-3 seemed worth twice the price. At first I felt that it was mostly about another character of distinction, that they sounded different yet that I liked them both for their different ways of presenting the music. I still partly agree with that looking back. The LCD-2 is more direct of tone, a little harder if one may say so (not necessarily in a bad way). But in addition to these character differences, I fell more and more for the LCD-3 as I listened longer. It had the ability to remove the sound of the headphone itself. Its sonic transparency made me feel that the earpieces had disappeared.

As mentioned earlier, to me one of the superior features of the HA-160D is that it can act as preamp. Unfortunately I was in the middle of an apartment change when the loaners came to me. This sadly meant that I could not fully enjoy all of the HA-160D's potential under the proper acoustic conditions. But I still connected it to my full-range system to at least get some indication of what it might do.

Given the still echoing room after only a very quick calibration of the system, it was impossible not to be impressed by the presented sound. Spreading from the speakers I had the same musical brilliance as when playing through the headphones before. This had me sit on the couch for a long time. In comparison with my own Lavry DA11 I liked both machines when it came to full-size stereo listening. I felt the Lavry had a little more clarity and was a little more ’correct’ while the Burson seemed a little more musical which I appreciate. The little I was able to use the HA-160D with my speakers I thought the match a very smooth agreement.

In summary, it is a fact that both companies have created very successful products here. In my opinion Burson’s combined DAC/preamp/headphone amp is a truly complete machine that has all the features I could want. The sound quality on both the HA-160D and LCD-3 is outstanding. They possess incredible musicality. What impressed me most was how they got the headphones themselves to completely disappear and only highlight the music. I think that is the most important property for any headphone/headamp combo to have - to completely neglect all technical concerns and instead present simply good music. It’s something I would hope everyone will experience who gets to listen to these extraordinary products!

Audez'e website
Burson Audio website