Burson HA-160 Review (vs AMB’s Beta22)

I don’t particularly have anything against Op-amp based amplifiers, but all discrete is cool both for bragging rights and for sonic reasons. Burson Audio is a big fan of fully-discrete, and the Burson HD-160 is an all discrete headphone amplifier equipped with Burson’s discrete op-amps as well as Burson’s own stepped attenuator unit.

The HA-160, which sells for $699 (and less if you live in Australia), is actually a very good value for money in terms of solid state amplifiers. I’ve been enjoying the sound of the Burson with both the Sennheiser HD800 and the Beyerdynamic T1 headphone, and I truly think that it’s a great amplifier that can compete with amplifiers priced upwards of $1,000.

Operating the Burson is fairly simple, as you basically have one sets of RCA inputs at the back, and two headphone outs at the front. The left headphone out is for high impedance headphones, and the right headphone out is for low impedance headphones.

Hi Z output on the left, low Z output on the right.

 

One pair of RCA inputs, and an AC input.

 

I’ve been very impressed with the Burson HA-160, and I think that my freshly built 2-ch Beta22 looks like a good benchmark to measure the Burson HA-160 against. The Beta22 is equipped with the same Burson Stepped Attenuator that is used on the HA-160. The Beta22 also gets a nice treatment of Whiplash Audio’s SCSCAg wire for the input signal, WBT silver solder, and high quality 18AWG Japanese copper wire for the power and output wires. The Beta22 is built using the recommended AMB parts supplied by Glassjar Audio. To avoid damaging the output mosfets, the value of R34 and R35 has been changed to 1Ω, following AMB’s recommendation, using high quality Kiwame resistors. The Burson HA-160, on the other hand, is fully stock. Although I’m itching to do some parts upgrades for the Burson, I really have to wait until the review is finished before I can do that.

The internals of the Burson HA-160.

 

The system used for the comparison is an Onkyo ND-S1 Ipod transport, Grace m902′s DAC, and the headphone used is the Sennheiser HD800 using a single ended Whiplash TWAg cable terminated in 1/4″ Viablue connector, as well as a Beyerdynamic T1 headphone.

One of the reason that I pitched the two amplifiers together is because the Beta22 has been my long time favorite amplifier. Another reason is how similar the two amplifiers cost. The Burson HA-160 costs $699 shipped to the US. The 2-ch Beta22 build is the cheapest configuration, and depending on parts and enclosure used, would roughly end up costing about the same amount of money.

Of course $700 for the Beta22 is for a self-built amplifier, because a professionally built single ended Beta22 would cost upwards of $1,000. On the other hand, I do think that the Burson HA-160 is a good value at $699, and it would still be worth the price at $1,000 (don’t tell Burson I said that).

The Burson is overall a very nicely built amplifier, and no DIY effort can ever match the quality of the enclosure of the Burson amp. That by itself is a very good selling point, because case work is a very challenging part of a DIY amplifier project. I probably spend more time fabricating the half naked case of the Beta22 than I do soldering the parts on the PCB.

My half naked 2-ch build. I didn’t have time to build a proper case for the Beta22 for this review.

 

The 2-ch Beta22 next to the Burson HA-160.

 

There are also other factors that come into mind in terms of convenience of use. The Burson comes with two different headphone outputs, where the Beta22 only comes with one. One of the biggest worry in using the Beta22 is everytime I want to plug and unplug the headphone. The high power output of the Beta22 makes the output Mosfets liable to damage everytime you slide the headphone jack in and out the socket. Scary stuff, I know. The Burson HA-160 is much more convenient to use on a day to day basis, since you’re never scared that the output Mosfet will blow when you’re evaluating different headphones and need to plug and unplug the headphones frequently.


  • P. J.

    Mike I have an unusual question; Have you tried plugging two headphones in the Burson at the same time? Not sure if that’s a good thing to do, you will probably know better. If it doesn’t harm the amp it would be nice to make a direct comparison between two headphones.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, I’ve tried plugging two headphones at the same time. What’s the
      question here?

  • NeoDiNardo

    Question (sorry if double posted)

    Can you convert Optical to Coax with an adapter so I could use my PS3 with this amp? I like the 160D a bit more than the DACmini, but I may have to go with the DACmini due to it supporting Optical inputs.

    • Anonymous

      Yea, I’m afraid you’ll have to get the DACmini.

  • NeoDiNardo

    sorry, wrong review, nevermind on this one. I’ll repost in the right one. 

  • Tommyru

    Hello. 
    I’ve got a DT990 (600Ohm) + ESI Dr.Dac Prime. I would like to add a decent amp that would not additionally emphasize high trebles  and would not hurt the recessed mids  of the Beyr.  HA-160 is very tempting because its 500Eur price is lower than Lehmann BCL (700Eur). Another option is Graham Solo SRG II.  Not sure if I would like to switch to OTL amp like WA3. I mainly listen to pop,rock,latin. I would truly appreciate your opinion on HA-160 suitability for DT990?     

    • Anonymous

      Hi,
      In this case I would recommend the Graham Slee Solo SRG II over the Burson.
      The Burson would have a better pace and bass punch, so it’s very good for Rock. But the Graham Slee would match the need to balance out the thin mids on the Beyerdynamic better than the Burson. The Lehmann is very flat and linear, so it’s not going to help you in this case.

    • Anonymous

      No offense but I think you’ll be better off getting a different headphone and sticking to the ESI Dr. DAC Prime as the amp. The recessed mids of the DT990 is just a character of the headphone, and rather than creating a set up that tries to reverse that, I feel that you’ll get better results by getting a headphone that suits your preference better. You can try the HD600 Sennheiser for a start. .

  • Joel

    hi mike, how would the burson pair with a dacport as a dac and an alessandro ms2i? thanks!

    • Anonymous

      Should be good, Joel. I’d go with the DACport LX instead of the DACport though.

    • Anonymous

      Should be good, Joel. I’d go with the DACport LX instead of the DACport though.

  • David

    Hi Mike, If I had a chance to get a 2 channel b22 or a burson 160 at the same price, which one would you choose and why? Thank you.

    • Anonymous

      David,
      The B22 is a king of technicalities, but as I’ve found after living with it for a long time, I think the Burson’s slightly less technical sound is more fun and engaging.

      • David

        Basically I can’t go wrong with either one.

        • Anonymous

          Yes

  • Joel

    hi mike,
    do u think the burson and a he500 would be a good pairing?

    Thanks!

  • itineranti

    Hello Mike,I have thoroughly read your review on the Sennheiser HD650/Beyerdynamic DT880?AKGK701, and although the AKGs are well critiziced, I happen to own a pair of K702s, and I’m not yet prepared to get rid of them and buy new a new pair of cans.I have been trying to read my way to the better Amp to drive them, capable of enough current and voltage to get the very best out of them.As far as I have been able to read and ask around, the Amp that keeps appearing in relation to the K702s, is the Burson HA-160. I don’t know If you could give me some advice here.I have also thought about the Centrance Dacport LX as a suitable DAC to pair with the Burson, using Centrance’s Reserve RCA interconnect cable, and taking advantage of Centrance’s superior DAC technology.My second option would go for Centrance’s Dacmini and get more DAC quality and versatility for the money, and obviously including the 1 Ohm mod that they offer.As usual, we head-fiers are faced with the problem of buying equipment that you can’t audition anywhere and taking a pretty big risk. It is of course not a great feeling to spend your money in such a blind way, and we are all thankful for good reviews and advice.I hope you can give a couple of good leads here, since among the reviewers I respect (NwAvGuy, Srajan Ebaen from 6moons and you), you are the only one I had not written to yet.Thanks in advance for your help.Best Regards,Camilo

  • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

    I’m not too familiar with amplifier pairings for the Ultrasone Pro Signature sorry

  • 其軒 李

    hi mike do you think the combo burson ha 160 +HDP +HD650 could be a good one , or Corda Classic+HDP+HD650. By the way, Metal&hardrock&pop are what I always listen to…

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      What’s the HDP?

      • 其軒 李

        Nuforce icon HDP

  • Chris

    Hi Mike,

    Is this amp is still worth it? Do you think it would pair well with HE-400 and HE-500?

    Thanks.

    • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

      The HE400, I think the Soloist pairs better.

      • Chris

        But do you think they’re a bad pairing or it’s just that Soloist does better with the HE-400?

        • http://www.headfonia.com Mike

          Chris,
          the second one. I think the Soloist pairs better

          • Chris

            Thanks for the reply, Mike.

            I was a little afraid it wouldn’t have enough power to drive the HE-400s and HE-500s, but looks like it won’t be a problem.