Recently Burson updated their Conductor line up to include 2WPC variants similar to the concept of the Soloist SL to the Soloist. Less power output minus pre-amp functions to provide a cheaper option for mainly headphone users.
Along with this change Burson also re-introduced the PCM1793 based DAC first seen in the Burson HA-160D yet with a new FET input stage featuring fewer components for better transparency. Therefore potential customers now have the choice of either the Conductor SL PCM1793 and the Conductor SL ESS9018, while the original Conductor (non-SL) will still stick with ESS9018.
I received a request to review the new PCM1793 based DAC but since I already have a Conductor in my possessions, I thought it’d be more economical to do the review on the 4WPC Conductor (instead of the 2WPC Conductor that the PCM1793 is intended to be paired with) by swapping the DAC module inside the Conductor. The question here is if the PCM1793 can compete with the supposedly higher end ESS9018 DAC. According to Burson it can as the design surrounding the DAC chip plays a big role in the final sound.
I’ve compared the two DACs and found that the PCM1793 to have a bigger soundstage, more air, more relaxed and more flow. The ES9018 is stiffer, more forward, more energy and engagement. The result was not that surprising as previous experiences with ES9018-based and PCM179X-based tend to give similar adjectives. While the ES9018 is more in line with the Burson sound signature with the forward and energetic sound, I find the PCM1793 to help relax the Burson sound a little. In general I enjoy the PCM1793 more on the Conductor, not only due to the more spacious sound but also to the more relaxed sound. Pace and PRaT is definitely better on the ESS and for fast paced songs needing PRaT the ESS should be the way to go while the PCM1793 is the better option for instrumentals and Jazz requiring good ambiance.
In the big view picture, the final sound output of both DAC modules are still influenced a big deal by the design of Burson’s output stage, and so both DACs do inherit a little “Burson DNA” that is fast paced, forward, well-articulated sound.
If you wish to obtain the PCM1793 DAC module or the ES9018 separately (for existing Burson amps with the other DAC module), they can be purchased direct from Burson for $250 AUD for the PCM1793 and $350 for the ES9018.