The Conductor 3X is relatively easy to control. On the front plate you have the aforementioned buttons. Input- and output selection, settings and screen rotation. With the last button you can flip the screen by 90° should you want to use the C3X vertically. I really don’t see myself using the Burson in that position though. For one because there is nothing that gives considerable support to the unit on the side, nor are there any feet to stand on. Personally, I think it would be too risky to have the C3X stand up like this. Maybe if you have a dedicated stand or a similar solution.
The volume knob is a stepped attenuator, where you can feel every click it makes. It rotates 360° and every adjustment to volume is recognized almost every step. Sometimes it happens that the C3X doesn’t recognize an in- or decrease or jumps two steps. For that the remote control is a better and more reliable solution. The centered screen will give you information about the current volume setting as well as in- and output, plus the current sample rate of the track you’re listening to.
In settings you have a whole bunch of options. You can set different digital filters to apply, you can switch between high and low gain for the headphone output and you can set the oled display’s brightness. To get out of the settings menu, you either have to push the button again, or wait until the C3X leaves it on its own. What I am missing deeply on the screen is the info what gain setting currently is used. This would be really useful in my opinion.
The small button above microphone-input turns the C3X on or sets it into stand-by mode. If the latter is the case, you’ll notice a bright blue LED shining up above the button.
If you’re using the Conductor 3X as a pre-amp or if you’re sitting far away with your headphones you can of course use the remote control to adjust volume or mute it entirely. You can also switch inputs with the supplied remote.
Burson recommends that you don’t unplug either the headphone or the XLR cables while the C3X is playing music. This could potentially damage the Conductor 3X. Press pause before you unplug your cans.
If you read the manual completely, you might have seen that Burson states that the Conductor 3X steadily improves during the first minutes of operation. This is rather common in Class A products, and it didn’t surprise me they mentioned it in the manual.
Over the last couple of weeks, my listening was done with the Conductor 3X integrated in my stereo system (DAC out) as well as using it’s headphone outputs to feed my over-ears. My most used headphones with the C3X are the HE1000se, Susvara, Diana Phi and V2 as well as the Meze Empyrean and MrSpeakers Ether 2.
The Conductor 3X features a wonderfully balanced, neutral and natural signature. It is best described as a linear sounding product that brings the typical Class A qualities with it. The C3X has good body throughout the entire response and sports a rich and meaty midrange, to make instruments and singers sound spectacularly realistic.
Bass has superb depth and extension. It is well layered and brings good resolution. With the linear approach you don’t get any over emphasized section here. The entire low end has a physical character with good body and weight. Bass is fast paced in delivery and comes with nice impact and rumble. It’s full and dense with excellent texture. The Burson gives great dynamics to the lows, which can make you want to tap your feet.
The entire midrange has excellent body and precision. The Conductor 3X does not over-saturate anything in particular, but gives everything the same kind of attention. Instruments sound realistic, full and physical in the sense of that you can almost “feel” them in front of you. Singers have a good dose of emotions in their voices, which at no point sound chesty or nasal. What you get is a right out harmonic sounding midrange with great clarity and body in it. Mids are accurate and precise in their sound. Throughout the mids there is excellent richness, that makes the notes sound just a touch wet.
When going up to the highs, it’s always a hit and miss for me with ESS DAC implementations. There are some products out there that feature the typical Sabre top-end, and others that manage to keep it at a safe level. ESS DACs usually have the reputation of being bright sounding. The Conductor 3X delivers a clean sounding top, but it’s missing the over emphasized treble edges that other units have. The Burson puts a layer of smoothness on the highs, that makes them sound softer and less grainy. Again, you get a linear top with good richness and body, just like in the mids. Highs bring in a nice level of clarity and air into the sound. Which gives the below frequencies good space. Treble has good energy and sparkle to it as well.
In terms of technical performance, the Burson Conductor 3X is a winner to me. It has great resolution, texture and separation. Instruments are clearly distinguishable in the constructed room. They do stand out from each other with clear spotlight and a precise cut. You get a naturally sized sound-stage that sounds open with good dimensions in width and depth. What I particularly want to note, is the Burson’s ability to capture fine details from far behind. I can pick out small information from the back of the room. For example, when I was watching a movie the other day, I could get bits of chatter from the background clearly.
With the C3X I never have the feeling of it losing control. Even in information-loaded Electronica and big orchestras the Conductor 3X manages to separate them with high resolution. It renders a finely nuanced picture with a very accurate and precise ability.
It starts with headphone pairings on the next page.