768kHz. Audirvana promptly recognized my new device as BursonAudio USB Audio 2.0, declared it 768.0 ready and compatible with exclusive access, direct and integer modes. With Audirvana at max power-of-two upsampling, the Conductor 3X's display locked to 705k and I was in business. In low-gain mode, our pre-fazor HE1000 sat at 70 to work over Kalya Scintilla's Remix Archives Vol. 1 dub compilation at club levels. Whilst our customary red KingRex double-header USB cable had been sidelined by the USB-C port, Burson's short generic leash worked perfectly without stutters or dropouts across the bandwidth added by 16 x upsampling. This was truly plug'n'play, then set'n'forget. Time to play at transistorized tubes and roll discrete operational amplifiers. After all, that's a very distinctive feature of Burson's circuit architecture.

Nomen est omen. The silk screen of the orange chaps was on a different side relative to the pins. This increases likelihood of mistakes if users go by that to repeat the orientation of the reds. The Classic came with detachable DIP sockets "to facilitate DIYers who often de-solder their IC opamps, then solder the DIP socket onto the PCB to roll opamps including ours with ease."

In insert, Classic with DIP sockets. Once removed, they look identical to the Vivid on the other side.

Sonically I had instant explanation why les oranges were called 'Classic'. They did move things back into the classic Burson sound as I remembered it. They made the presentation bassier, darker and clearly more soft and fuzzy around the edges. To stretch for emphasis, if red signifies a Magico/YG Acoustics aesthetic, orange represents Harbeth/Spendor. These brands are equally popular, just with different listeners. Tuning with these opamps can compensate for a system's overall voicing or deliberately add to it. Being able to split the difference by going mixed colors adds customization options. To my ears, the stock opamps color-matched to the circuit boards were the correct choice.

3 x 3X: adding up the evidence. The unique sales proposition of Burson's latest Conductor is being one of the most powerful headphone amplifiers made which includes a high-res DAC. Rolling opamps is another rare wrinkle, particularly with the company's own. Flipping orientation with a matched display is more nicety, the stylish small metal remote yet more. The Chinese brick switcher only acts as DC converter for the internal supplies. That upshifts 50/60Hz sine-wave linear power to quieter 170kHz square-wave switching, netting lower impedance and faster capacitive response times. For those reasons, even Manley's Absolute all-tube headfi amp runs a Bruno Putzeys custom SMPS. Slightly more divisive could be USB-C—"the whole world is moving towards it so we're just moving with the tides"—and digital volume. On the latter, I'll quote Mario Canever from my review of his ZeroUno DAC-HPA: "With 16-bit volume control bypassed, a 16-bit/44.1kHz track renders at full resolution. With each 6dB of signal cut, you sacrifice one bit. At -6dB, you work with just 15 bits. But at -30dB to -40dB of attenuation which is typical in the home, you throw away a full 5-6 bits of resolution. Now lowering the volume increases your S/NR. And digital noise is ugly because it is random, uncorrelated with the music signal, so easily heard and disliked. Without argument, 16-bit digital volume is inferior to any analog pot.

"But with 32-bit digital volume, a 16/44 track moves its music samples into the upper parts of the 32-bit words. Now you have 16 bits of extra resolution. As long as you attenuate inside those, you don't bit-strip the original signal. 16 bits of extra resolution afford us 96dB of lossless attenuation. That's more than enough for any possible scenario. Now 32-bit digital volume beats any analog pot on S/NR. But there are more gains. With digital volume, channel tracking is perfect today and will still be 10 years down the road unlike moving brushes in an oxidizing pot. Also, analog pots insert in the middle of the signal path where everything leaves its finger print. ESS's on-chip 32-bit digital volume is just an algorithm which doesn't touch the original sample of the streamer or PC. In my ZeroUno DAC Plus with two added analog inputs, the digital section is identical to the HPA. Then I add an analog input stage with its own power supply. In the middle is an analog CS3308 on-chip volume control. Comparing that to the ZeroUno models with digital volume, the performance is identical."

Sonically, Burson's now fourth Conductor—the pater familias carried a different name—modernizes the company's signature tone density and bottom-up bass perspective with new-found resolution and speed. Compared to decks which prioritize detail, the core difference will be slightly reduced treble energy and less focus on space. In very fair trade, 3X then improves their gravitas, dynamic shove, color saturation and physicality and shifts the focus on in-room hereness. For many listeners, I expect Burson's balance as they set it with their stock 'Vivid' opamps to be ideal. Those wishing to move back to the company's olden days a bit more have the clearly named 'Classic' opamps. With either two or four of those, that 'time travel' will get one to two different virtual dates.

Either way, it'll be your dream date.

Postscript: 45 days past publishing the above, this news items hit.

"More thunder from Down Under. Burson announce stripped-down Performance takes of their Conductor 3/3X models. Dimensions shrink a bit in each direction. The two ESS9038Q2M DAC chips become just one. The MCPS power supplies reduce from five to three. The analog inputs disappear. And the power rating scales down just a bit. But so does pricing – more than just a bit. The C3X-P sells for $1'300 with a time-limited pre-order special of $1'119; and the C3-P is $1'099/899."

If the actual item reviewed was overspec'd for your purposes because you don't need any analog inputs, the C3X-P could have your number for significantly less cashish?