Preamplitude. Wiring up 3X's variable outputs marked by a clear symbol, I had control over Sabre's on-chip attenuator. With Burson's second output being fixed not variable, I couldn't wire up our Zu Submission subwoofer. But our standard XLR/RCA adapters wouldn't have worked safely with Burson's direct-coupled XLR and opamps in the first place. The manual explains that one needs a transformer-based Iso-Max type. So Mr. Sub remained quiet. Owners of subwoofers could wish that both of Burson's outputs were variable. Alas, Burson prefer to dedicate one output to fixed, one to variable mode. I asked Alex whether there is any signal path difference between DAC mode and preamp mode in max volume. "The DAC outputs are a standard line-level 2V with the volume control on the ESS9038 disabled. The preamp out has it enabled." Also, l/r channel markers were MIA and the manual didn't know which sockets were left and right. "I apologize. We'll amend our manual asap to include these details. The top row is for left channel i/o, the bottom for the right channel." Most brands use engraved, silk-screened or color-coded chassis markers.

Sonics mirrored the first headphone showing. They again emphasized robust physicality over airy dimensionality and sheen. Once more there was little payment in perceived speed to enjoy gains in density, tone and color intensity. Standard levels for our 84.5dB all-aluminium Dutch monitors with Mundorf AMT tweeter and ScanSpeak mid/woofer sat at 70 out of 100. The volume numbers were big enough to easily read from the seat. "3X for preamp" was definitely a well-funded campaign. To map what type buyer would prefer the Aussie deck to the champagne-colored Italian standing by, I compared them as variable converters. The Gold Note sells for €2'495 so just a bit more. In high-gain mode, its TI-based but modified IC headphone circuit produces 5 watts. That makes it another Susvara power lifter.

My sonic comments to follow didn't separate preamp from converter functionality. I didn't run Burson's analog outputs into the Gold Note or vice versa. All I compared was one box against the other, into amplifiers or headphones, with the Burson running its standard four dual 'Vivid' opamps. I'd leave rolling for the final sessions.

Functionally, here Gold Note exceeded Burson with app-enhanced network streaming, more comprehensive remote and DAC adjustments plus SE/XLR paths on the same fully balanced machine. The Conductor went heavier on headfi with three headphone ports. Conceptual differences were analog vs digital volume and IC-based vs discrete headphone gain. Cosmetics are in the eye of the beholder but few should dispute that Gold Note's display was of higher resolution, slicker and without Burson's subtle flicker. At the end of the day alas, a comparison on features, specs and price would call it a draw between DS-10 and Conductor 3X to make sonics the primary decider. How about those in preamp and headfi mode respectively?

Audio Physic magnetic decouplers beneath the stands' front footers create perfect rake to aim the tweeters' central axis directly at my ears. Firm bolting of stands to speakers makes slippage impossible.

The 3X upheld a more bottom-up autumnal rendering of richly saturated colors. The DS-10 opened the virtual sky lights to let light fall in from above. That meant a more informative filigreed treble with all that entails. Think more air, greater venue decays and presence halos for enhanced mapping of space, deeper separation and more pronounced high percussive events like triangle and cymbal strikes. For textures it meant that Burson played the more matte to Gold Note's greater shining (hello Jack). Overlap agreement occurred on innate relaxation. Unlike readings which emphasize extreme dynamics, locomotive propulsion and keen incisiveness, this made for easy listening slightly on the voluptuous side. If we rephrase this in presence terms, Burson was more about teleporting the virtual players into my bedroom. Gold Note's greater spatial cues transported me more into the studio or original venue. Either perspective has its fanciers. This is simply about knowing what you prefer.