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.
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.
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