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

Frederic Beudot
Financial Interests: click here
Digital Source: Mac mini, Burson HA-160D, Burson Conductor [in for review], Metrum Hex [in for review], Audioquest Carbon USB cable, Ocellia USB cable
Analog source: Acoustic Solid Classic Wood, AS WTB211, Dynavector DV20X-2, Esoteric E03
Preamplifiers: Burson HA-160D, Burson Conductor
Amplifier: FirstWatt F5, Yamamoto A08s
Speakers: Zu Essence
Headfi: Burson HA160D, AKG K701
Signal cables: Zu Varial, Genesis Absolute Fidelity (Speaker), ASI Liveline
Power Cords: Zu Mother, Genesis Absolute Fidelity (Power), ASI Liveline
Powerline conditioning: Isotek Nova
Sundry accessories: Isolpads, ASI Heartsong racks
Room size: 12.5' x 18' x 8'
Review component retail: $1.850

This follow-up to Srajan's review of Burson's new Conductor will be short and sweet. In a nutshell, Srajan got it all right. In the end I simply have to disagree with his conclusion. But before getting to our point of divergence, a little context. The Conductor is Burson's latest effort at a DAC/preamp/headphone amplifier in one box. It replaces their HA160D with a substantial price increase from $1.200 to $1.850. Two years ago I underwent a massive downscaling of my audio system and hit the ‘reset’ button on ever escalating audio prices for decreasing musical enjoyment. I thus settled on the HA160D as the heart of my reshaped music enjoyment system.

I did not pick the Burson by chance. It offered unmatched quality for the price with a decent DAC (although with limitations), a surprisingly capable preamp and a gutsy headphone amplifier. More importantly it did not sound hi-fi in that it neither had the dissecting tendencies of the most transparent solid-state gear nor the heavy distortion of triodes. Instead it focused on massive tone density with quite lively dynamics and the rest be damned - exactly what the doctor ordered as I was trying to reground my expectations. So when they announced a new and improved HA160D by way of the Conductor, I immediately fired off an email to the good folks at Burson asking whether they had messed up the Burson sound. The answer came back immediately. "No we have not, we just made more of it. Wanna try for yourself?" Would I ever? That's how this follow-up came to be.

I've now had the Conductor in my main system for over a month. As my sample arrived broken in, I had a good chance to assess it in detail especially over the past two weeks as the Metrum Hex joined the team to provide a true state-of-the-art reference. All in all Srajan's assessment was right on the money. Burson kept the very gutsy tonally intense sound of the HA160D but sprinkled over it added microdynamics and resolution from top to bottom. It is most obvious in the top end where the HA160D could sometimes sound a little dull (a price I happily paid over hyper-clinical sound) and where the Conductor offers good sparkle whilst staying with the house sound and philosophy that favors richness over sharpness.
When I first read Srajan's review I feared his mention of added treble resolution meant that tonal balance had been tilted up. This isn’t at all the case. There is simply more resolution, more micro-dynamic capability, more separation in that range but not necessarily more energy. Team Burson must be commended for maintaining that precious balance.

Similarly the enhanced ability to perceive detail holds true throughout the midrange and bass. Bass has always been Burson's trademark and strength but somehow they managed to make the Conductor a little faster, a little more nimble and significantly more resolved here whilst  not losing one ounce of prior weight and impact. It is very obvious when listening to cello or upright bass and switching between Conductor and predecessor. The new machine reveals bass nuances that were simply not present with the HA160D - like showing textures in the darker areas of a picture without shifting the overall tonal balance or stage lighting.

Compared to the Hex converter which costs close to double without any preamp or headfi functionality, the Conductor is still a little reserved on microdynamics and does not have the same sense of flow or uncanny tonal rightness of the Hex but it comes close - quite close indeed. All my comments thus far applied to the Conductor as DAC/preamp to drive a FirstWatt F5 stereo amp into a pair of Ocellia Calliope .21 speakers. In addition to having significantly improved on their DAC section, Burson somehow managed to squeeze a little more performance from the preamplifier too.

First and foremost the volume control which on the HA160D used to be a little rough and noisy is now smooth as silk and completely silent in operation, i.e. commensurate with the new price of the Conductor. Sonically the preamp has progressed too but less than the DAC section. With my turntable and Esoteric E03 phono preamplifier connected into both Bursons it was easy to tease out small improvements in dynamics and transparency, mostly a slightly better illumination in the back corners of the soundstage which allowed for greater depth perception and a better layout of the instruments on stage. We are not talking night and day but certainly a move in the right direction.