With five Watts into 32 Ohms the C3X should have more than enough juice to drive any headphone. It certainly had no issue with mine, including the HiFiMAN Susvara. I pretty much exclusively used the 4-pin XLR output. What I want to note, is that the Conductor 3X does have very faint noise when using my Meze Empyrean or the Shinola Canfield. It’s noticeable during quiet parts of the music. Other headphones did not pick up any hissing. I should note, that I am very sensitive to hiss, so just because I notice it, doesn’t mean you’ll pick it up too.
In the case of you wanting to use In Ear Monitors with the Conductor 3X, be warned, hissing is very audible. I tried it with my 64 Audio Fourté Noir, which usually runs quietly with just about any gear. Not with the C3X. I can pick it out even with music playing.
Between volume setting 1 and 20 there is only little difference in loudness to me. After 20 it increases more noticeably. Some headphones I could practically enjoy at volume 1.
HiFiMAN – Susvara (83dB/mW; 60 Ohms)
The Susvara is one of the hardest to drive headphone on the market right now. But the Conductor 3X truly has no problem getting this beast to uncomfortable volumes. As we know, loudness isn’t everything and it’s more about the quality and layout of the circuit to get to really good sound. There’s a difference between driven right and driven to loudness. My comfort level is reached at volume setting 25-30 in high gain.
The Burson x HiFiMAN combo sounds right out beautiful. You get a fast and energetic bass, with great body and weight. Lows are well controlled and dynamic. The Susvara reaches deep into sub-bass with good punch and authority. What you get is the best performance for layering, texture and resolution. Similar to the Burson, the Susvara also features a balanced sound with an excellent mix of pleasure and technicalities.
You get an emotionally and musically engaging sound, that is filled with blood and soul. And it doesn’t matter what type of music you’re listening to. This combo just masters everything. From IDM to Jazz, to Rock and Classical. The Susvara is one of the most versatile headphones available, and for the price it’s going for it better be.
Mids are full and rich, with perfect speed and agility. You get high resolution and wonderful rendering. The sound stage is well structured and every musician finds its place with enough space to breathe. Each and every instrument is clearly separated from each other and has very good tonal accuracy. You get a timbre that is uncolored and realistic.
Highs are fast, precise and clean from impurities. You don’t get any sharpness or sibilance with the pairing, as the Burson manages to tame treble in the right places.
Abyss – Diana Phi (91dB/mW; 32 Ohms)
The Diana Phi is a hard to match headphone. I’ve heard it with many different products, and some really don’t do it justice. The Abyss really asks for quality amplification. With the Burson the Abyss reaches a very high level to me. I’ve set the C3X to high gain and volume level 20.
You get really good body and weight in the mids and lows. This is typically the hardest part for the Diana Phi in my opinion. Some products make it sound thin and shouty, the Conductor 3X does not. The Phi reaches remarkably deep with authority and thunder. Bass is a bit shy of neutral, but it features a natural physicality to the sound, that makes it through when called for.
Mids are super transparent and open. You get good body, but compared to the Susvara, HE1000se or Empyrean it’s still lighter. The Diana Phi features airy vocals that remind me often of electrostatic headphones. It creates a sound stage that is holographic in appearance. Musicians and singers are all portrayed in front with vocals taking center stage.
The treble on the Diana Phi is special to me. It’s fast and very precise. Some people might have a problem with the slightly more forward tuning of them though. To me the Diana Phi’s top end is very well extended and together with the Conductor 3X it has superb body and weight. The Burson matches really well with the Abyss here, as it gives them a dose of richness, that they sometimes really need.
In terms of technicalities there’s nothing left to want here to me. You get a big stage, excellent control and structure. On top the resolution is very high, and the same goes for accuracy and precision. Instruments are separated with care and placed precisely in the room. The Diana Phi images very well with a clean cut between musicians. Every single one is enjoying well lit spotlight and is standing out on a very dark background.
Meze – Empyrean (100dB/mW; 32 Ohms)
Alright, so the Empyrean usually isn’t one of my first grabs. Sure, it does many things right, but to me the bass sometimes is too big. It covers up a lot of the midrange and treble often sounds a bit held back and partially muted. But with the Burson I probably found the best pairing for it in my entire inventory. I set the C3X to low gain and enjoy the Empyrean at level 15-20. Although I could also listen to them on level 1. Not kidding. For me that would be loud enough, given my surroundings are quiet.
With the Empyrean you get a fuller and denser sounding pairing. It’s a more intimate sounding combo, that gives high attention to body and weight. Bass is thick and lush, it has decent speed but can’t match other headphones in that regard. You get a big and bold bass, that gets the most attention in the signature, but with the Conductor 3X I feel it’s being better controlled than with other pairings. Bass has good authority, but it’s missing some punch and impact.
The mids are again nicely full and dense. You get a traditional rich tuning with a lot of weight. Singers, especially female, can sound a bit chesty and closed in. But what you get is high emotions and that can really connect you to the music. It’s a tuning that’s best to be enjoyed rather than analyzed.
I mentioned it earlier, the Empyrean has a tendency to make highs sound held back. With the Burson as main driver, I don’t necessarily feel that way. Yes, it’s still laid back and calm, but the C3X lets the treble shine more on the Empyrean. It feels like the Empyrean finally is driven right with the Conductor 3X. Highs have a soft note, with good extension and air.
On a technical note, you get a nice sound stage. It does not compete with the one of the Diana Phi or the HiFiMAN’s Susvara or HE1000se. You get a smaller room, but with wonderful imaging and separation. The stage still reaches out of your head, with great stereo separation. The depth and layering of the Empyrean are really good too, where the room feels deep.
Although the Empyrean is not my favorite headphone, it still holds up very well in many aspects. And with the Conductor 3X it has a source that truly elevates it.
In this segment we’ll take a look at how the C3X compares against some of the current competition. I can only let the Burson step into the ring with other gear that I have at home. We will learn how the Conductor 3X measures against the mighty Chord Hugo2 and the Matrix Audio Element M. Please be aware, that I won’t cover any comparisons based on short term listening experiences or based on memory. Neither of them are credible and therefore I won’t give any impressions like that ever.
Comparisons were done by using a shared zone between the sources in Roon and going back and forth between the units. I switched inputs on my integrated amp (using the DAC outs) and used the headphone outputs of the respective DAC/Amps. All mentioned prices are in US Dollars and correct at the time of writing.
Chord Electronics – Hugo2 (2,495$)
On paper the Hugo2 already fills a very different purpose. It’s a transportable, battery powered DAC/Amp that has served me personally as one of my most cherished products on the go. It comes with me to the office and from time to time also feeds amplifiers at home. The Conductor 3X is a solely stationary DAC/Amp and ADC. The Burson boasts a lot more power for headphones and is aimed more at high fidelity over ear headphones. The Hugo2 on the other hand is also very capable of driving IEMs without hiss. On a technology standpoint the Chord uses a custom coded FPGA, while the Burson uses an off the shelf silicone DAC chip.
In a sound perspective these two are not much alike to me. The Chord features a more analytical sound, that misses out on the body and weight the Burson brings to the table. Both have a more or less neutral sound, but the Hugo2 gives a more direct top-end. I’ve heard from a few people that they find the Chord too bright, I doubt the C3X would create the same sentiment.
The Burson features a fuller body throughout with higher levels of richness in the sound. It brings more weight to each note and rounds treble edges more. The Hugo2 on the other hand has the upper hand when it comes to sheer resolution and precision. It has a treble tuning that is brighter, faster and a harder edged. The Chord has more precision and accuracy, but misses out on emotions and soul. Both of which the Burson has.
Also of note, the Burson does handle my headphones better. Yes, the Hugo2 is a solid performer as a transportable unit, but the Conductor 3X just does a better job. It handles my hardest to drive headphones with a more powerful grip.
Find the last words on the final page of this review!