“Some hi-fi gear I like, some I admire and some I keep. The shipping box to the Burson HA-160s is already stored in my attic, because this little piece of magic will stay! “

Full Text:

Bringing life back to music

Review Setup:

Modified Tascam DV-RA1000HD
Burson HA-160 Headphone Amplifier
AKG K701 Headphone

The best thing about head-fi is the fact that the music is feed directly into your ear. Nothing comes in its way. The worst thing is the feeling of “too close for comfort”. The Burson amp gets closer than most, but without any hint of discomfort.

For the dedicated head-fi enthusiast the term “too close to the music” probably won’t be in his or hers vocabulary. It shouldn’t be for the “normal” hifi-nut, either, but the experience of getting the music that close to your ears, may at least be a bit unusual for some.

The first thing you’ll notice using a set of high-end headphones and a dedicated headphone amplifier, is the sheer amount of detail on display. In some combinations that might lead to a sound so analytical it could be mistaken for being clinical.

My reference headphones, AKG K701, isn’t famous for their midrange warmth. However, after a lengthy run-in period, they’re able to achieve levels of detail from top to bottom, that only very expensive headphones can match. I’ve heard my 701’s on the wrong end of a mismatched head-fi combination, the result being a midrange as chilly as the Norwegian winter.

My cure has been to match the 701s with a tube-powered headamp, but I ‘ve felt there should be ways to get it even better. Then I received the Burson HA-160.

A famous hi-fi brand from the US has a slogan that goes “it just sounds right”. After spending quite some time with the Burson head-amp, I wouldn’t blink an eye if the ozzies borrowed it.

The first thing you’ll notice when you connect your ‘phones to the Burson HA-160, is the sense of getting the full picture of the music. It’s almost like going from a standmounted speaker to a full range floorstander. However, in contradiction to what happens when you switch to a floorstander, it’s not in the bass region you’ll get the largest improvement . The most dramatic effect this little headamp does to a pair of AKG K701s is in the midrange. The feeling of “being there” is just like you’ll experience through a brilliant tube amp, but the HA-160 will take you even further. Compared to my former tube headamp, the Burson gives you a truly awesome transparency in the midrange. I’ve read reviews where the writer has described the added openness from a pair of speakers, a cd-player or an amp as if someone has cleaned the windows to give a better view of the music. With the HA-160 it’s like the window’s been removed. If you want see-through transparency: Look no further.

I’ve listened to gear with extreme openness before. This must be the first time I’ve heard both such openness and warm, full midrange in any product in this price range. Voices sound organic and with a fantastic timbre. There are so many layers of information on display, you must pay really silly money for an amp and speaker to match it.

When it comes to the bass and treble, they are just as brilliant as the midrange! The bass is refined, digs deep and excels with the same resolution as in the midrange. You’ll never accuse it for being too fat. Actually, I wouldn’t have complained if the bass felt a bit more physical, although I realize that could be caused by the AKGs.

The top end of the frequency spectrum is of the highest standard as well. I’ve got a few cds which in the wrong set-up sound like a circular saw on top speed. There’s no hint of softening the top from the HA-160. There is still an unpleasant edge to the female voices and some transients are more than razor sharp, but the Burson-amp doesn’t add to the woes.

I only have one minor criticism of the Burson HA-160 when it drives my 701s. I would’ve liked slightly better macro-dynamics. I fully understand that a pair of headphones never will kick ass like normal speakers, but I feel that it should be possible to get a little bit closer than what this combination gives me. In comparison to all the things this amp does so well, this criticism won’t change the fact that this is an astonishing amp.

Some hi-fi gear I like, some I admire and some I keep. The shipping box to the Burson HA-160s is already stored in my attic, because this little piece of magic will stay!

Moiz audio