Less Blockage, More Music: Burson Soloist


Disclaimer: Burson is a sponsor of Headfonia. I received the Burson Soloist amplifier directly from Burson for the purpose of this review and unlike the previous Burson amplifiers that I reviewed and had to purchase from them, they were nice enough to let me keep this amp.

When I received an email about Burson’s new Soloist amplifier, I wasn’t sure if it was the 4 Watts number or the simpler circuit design that excites me more. The 4 Watts number sounds really promising for the Hifiman orthodynamics, while the simpler circuit in my experience usually yields a more organic sound. The fact that Burson is also coming up with a new design after three amplifiers (HA-160, HA-160D, HA-160DS) is also what’s making this Soloist amp exciting from my perspective.

Unboxing and Overall Build

The amplifier finally arrived but I was not that excited with the unboxing process. I wrote an email to Burson afterwards that the cardboard box that the amplifier came in was flimsy and didn’t support the product’s premium image. I’ve always thought that packaging plays a big part in the overall product image and that they should source out a better cardboard box supplier. The amplifier casing follows the usual thick and resonance free aluminum panel that has always been Burson’s trademark.

On the front panel, me and my friends who had the chance to audition the amps all preferred the old Burson Audio logo with the circle on it, instead of the new, simply “Burson” engraving. I also wrote to Burson that the lettering on the back panel is a bit rough, and the font size a little too big. All of these, I said was getting in the way of me appreciating the otherwise solid build quality of the amplifier. Good thing is Burson replied that my amplifier is sort of a pre-production unit and the lettering on the back panel should be all good on the production unit. Well, not so good for me, but I was glad to hear that. Outside of all these complaints, I have to say that I love having the three level gain switch and the three different input sources on the front panel. More amplifiers should come with relay based gain switches, and the soft touch selector button ala Burson’s Soloist amp. It makes the amp very nice to operate, and adds a touch of class, instead of the usual dip or toggle switch gain selector.

Initial Impressions

I think the first headphone I tried the Soloist with was the Hifiman HE-500. After discovering that the Soloist drove it easily, I proceeded to the HE-6. This time it’s a bit harder, but it was doable in medium gain, with the volume knob almost maxxed out. Just for the record I always prefer having the volume knob close to or fully open, and as long as the amplifier doesn’t have a high noise floor, and is able to supply the current without distorting, it always yield a more open sound. Surprisingly the high gain setting didn’t really add that much loudness on the HE-6, and so it was simply a matter of preference if you want to go with the high or medium gain with the HE-6. A while ago I wrote on this post that I mostly prefer my amps on low gain. Not the Soloist. While the same low gain = lower noise floor theory applies to the Soloist, the low gain didn’t quite have the forwardness that made the Soloist a lot of fun to listen to.

The Soloist definitely had what it take to drive the HE-6. Not only does the amplifier’s rated 4 Watts output sufficient for the HE-6, it also had a better synergy than my $3,500 RSA Dark Star amplifier. You all know how I am always for full bass and midrange body, and the Soloist comes with that sort of coloration. Driving the HE-6, it colors the HE-6 to be more Sennheiser HD650-like, boosting the low end body of the HE-6 to very musical levels. On the other hand the Dark Star gives a more spacious soundstage, but it doesn’t add body to the bass and mids the way the Soloist did.
Continue to the next page…

Less Blockage, More Music: Burson Soloist
4 (80%) 12 votes

  • Mike, how would you compare this with the HA-160?

    • Trent_D

      I think the answers you seek lie in this review. With a keen eye, look it over again. Page 2 has some good stuff. Just remember, the HA-160D equals the HA-160.

      • Thanks, Trent.

        • Hi Mike, with Alessandro MS-PRO and W3000ANV, which one, the soloist and the HA-160, will be your better recommendation?

          • I like the MS-Pro with the Soloist better than the HA-160.

            For the W3000ANV I like it with the Soloist, but never compared it to the HA-160.

            The nice thing about the MS-Pro + Soloist combo is that it add bass body and relaxes the treble. Pretty much the same with the HE-6.

  • Great review, Mike! I must say though, I think the Burson logo looks good even without the original logo we all know. It kind of makes it live to its name in terms of originality. Anywho, great review again, Mike! 🙂

    • Thanks, Chris! 🙂

  • Pingback: Burson Audio Soloist – High End Hodetelefonforsterker()

  • Liviu Raicea

    Hi Mike, How does the Soloist pair with the HD800?

    • I didn’t try it with the HD800 to be honest. I tend to like the 800 with tubes.

  • Hi Mike,
    the Soloist and 160DS, Which one is better with Denon D7000?

    • Terry,
      I didn’t check it with the Denon D7000. Personally I like the Soloist far more than the 160 series. So I’ll probably like it better with the Denon as well.

  • johthor

    Thanks Mike for another excellent review. I have owned the 160DS for some time now and the only HP I own that it does not seem to have enough power for is my HE 500. I have to pretty well max out the volume with this HP and I am concerned that I am not getting the best out of this oustanding HP. In your review you mentioned that the new Soloist works well with the HE500. Would you be able to elaborate as to how the Soloist manages this. Thanks Mike and I really like the review

    • With the HE-500, the Burson amp on medium gain, I’m listening at about 12 O’clock, while at 1-2 O’clock it’s getting too loud for my ears.

      • johthor

        Thanks for the reply Mike. I must be missing something here. How do I adjust the gain on the Burson 160DS?

        • You can’t. The DS only comes with one gain setting.

          • johthor

            Well that sucks because otherwise the DS160 is a very nice DAC/AMP combo. I will not be selling it as it powers everything else I have. It is actually worth keeping for my HD650s alone. Could I get a recommendation from you for a combo DAC/AMP for the HE 500 and for a future HE 6. Budget $500 to $1000. Thank you in advance

            • Nothing that I know of at the moment.

  • Mike, how much does the Soloist sound open, airy, and fresh compared to its competitors? What can you tell me about its clarity, and bass quality? When you said “the best sounding solid-state amplifier you’ve listened to” you mean you personally prefer this amp to the likes of RSA Dark Star?

    More importantly, I’d like to know how the Burson Soloist performs with low impedance closed dynamic headphones, such as those from Audio-Technica. As you know I’ve recently bought myself a Fostex TH900, and now I’m looking for a decent solid-state amp to drive it. The Soloist is one of the amps I’m considering to buy, and I have high expectations for it, but it’s the headphone matching with the proper headphone amp that’s really important.

    • Yes I truly love the Soloist more than any other solid states I’ve owned or had auditioned. The Dark Star I still have, but I think the Soloist, while not sounding as spacious as the Dark Star, offered more for me in that I find it to be more musical due to the thicker mids and lows. The sound is not as clean in the Soloist, but again it’s not always about pure technicalities superiority.

      I enjoyed the Soloist with the W3000ANV and W5000 and that’s the amp that I use the most to do the Audio technica review.

      I’m not so sure about the Fostex TH900 though.

      • Thanks for your input. I’m selling my current Schiit Lyr (not quite suitable for driving sensitive TH900) and ordering the Soloist. I’ll share my impression with it once it’s in my hands. But so far everyone I’ve asked said nothing but positive things about it, especially with low impedance dynamic headphones.

        • Yes I’m listening to the Burson with Sony’s Z1000 at the moment. Superb combination.

          • One more question… what is the preferable gain setting for low-impedance, high-sensitive headphones? Does the gain setting matter with such specifications, at all?

            • You can try either the low or the medium gain. You’ll get less volume control range with medium gain, but I think the sound is more forward and more fun at medium gain, while at low gain it’s more laid-back but with a lower noise floor.

        • Zero hiss with the Z1000 on Burson’s low gain, and I’m listening at about 12 O’clock with the Z1000.

          • One more question… what is the preferable gain setting with low-impedance, high-sensitive headphones? Does gain setting matter with such specifications at all?

  • Hi Mike,
    Which DAC would you recommend with the Soloist?

    • Mate,
      I really don’t think it has to be one particular DAC, but the ones I’ve been using with it with good results are: HRT HeadStreamer, KingRex UD384, and Matrix M-Stage DAC.

      • Thanks Mike! How about pairing it with Burson’s own DAC?

        • I actually haven’t tried that combo, Mate.

  • Hi Mike, after trying the HE-500 on the Soloist, will you think that this is a better match compare to HE-500 with Graham Slee Solo?

    • The signature is different, Victor. The Solo is smoother and mellower, the Soloist more PRaT and bass, but less clean than the Solo.

  • Seeing how you haven’t done an exact comparison, down memory lane, what are the sound characteristics that stand out between the V200 and Soloist, or even the Solo SRGII? You’ve mentioned their synergy driving the Hifimans, so was thinking about the ideal amp driving the Hifimans. Thx Mike

    • Nick,
      The V200 I still haven’t listened to.

      Simply put, Solo SRG II is smoother and slower paced. Burson is more lively, stronger bass, more energy.

  • Alexander Ivanov

    Did you try this amp with Sennheiser 800 / 650 / 600?

    • Yes.
      I tried it with the Senns and they were good, but not particularly stellar. Especially the HD800 I think is best with tubes.

  • I wonder if you are having the same issue with your Soloist. I just noticed it pretty recently, and wonder if this is normal. Now I’m usually listening to it at low or medium gain depending on what I listen to. However, other than the sonic differences between gains you’ve mentioned in a previous article (laid-back/forward, clearer, soundstage, etc.), I also notice a volume difference between the two channels. When I switch from low to medium gain while listening to music, I can definitely feel that the volume increase in the right channel was greater than that of the left channel. In other words, at low gain the music sounds relatively tilted to the left, while at medium gain it sounds more tilted to the right. Could you try this yourself and tell me if you notice the same thing?

    • Hi,
      No such problem with my Soloist.

      Can you try this though: unplug your headphones, and rotate the volume knob clockwise and counter clockwise really fast, about 10-20 times. Just checking if it’s just the dirty contacts on the volume attenuator.

      Again make sure there is no headphone connected.

  • Shahrose

    Hey Mike, I’m wondering what you think of the Soloist vs the Arete + Volcano in terms of SQ.

    • Hi,
      I don’t have both here at the moment, but from memory I think the Arete + Volcano is more spacious.

  • Horatiu Mihalache

    Hi Mike,

    I asked the same question in the Lehmann Black Cube Linear preview, I hope you don’t mind I repeat it hear. How does the Soloist compare with the BCL? Especially when paired with HD 650 or LCD-3 (LCD-2?).

    Thank you!

    • Sorry missed your question!

      The Lehmann is very clean, precise, a little sterile, more laid back.
      The Burson is more organic, more analog, fuller mid and low end body, more grainy, stronger bass punch, more forward.

      With high quality digital classical and Jazz recordings I think the Lehman is very nice to listen to. Pop/Rock mainstream stuff, I’d go for the Burson.

      • Horatiu Mihalache

        Thank you, Mike, I appreciate your efforts. I think I might go for the Soloist, though I found an used BCL at a very good price.

        • You’re welcome. Next time I’m not answering your question again, please repost. 😉

          It’s easy for me to miss questions.

    • I have both at the store, let me check it out next week and get back to you.

  • Elroy

    I like what I’ve read about the Soloist and am considering buying it but wonder what would be a good DAC to pair with it. I ask because I have read that the Conductor is outstanding but the DAC is not quite equal. Am liking what I have read about the Rein X-DAC. This combo will more than likely be used with Senn. HD700’s or Audeze LCD 2’s. Also, it will be used to listen to a variety of generes ripped at lossless. Any other suggestions as to DAC would be greatly appreciated, looking to keep the entire setup in the $3000 range.

    • Trent_D

      Does that budget include the headphones? I thought I should mention that if you don’t need the preamp function, Burson just released the Soloist SL, which is the same amp, just smaller and $400 less.

      • Elroy

        It was to include the headphones. Regarding the preamp function and to quote my 4 year old nephew “I do not know!” Do I need the preamp function, what does it do for me, or what else would do that function for me. It gets more complicated, in searching for info on the Rein and Burson combo I am now leaning towards the Violectric V200 & V800 combo. Any thoughts?

        • I really have no experience with the the Rein units and how they compare to the Burson.

          There are a lot of DACs to recommend, perhaps you can start by browsing the Source page?

  • aras87

    Hi Mike,
    Can you compare soloist and centrance dacmini? Thanks!