1. HA-160 with Sennheiser HD-595

2. Logitech Squeezebox, Marantz CD-63 KI, Marantz ST-48
3. Power supply squeezebox and DAC squeezebox/CD-player

1. First Impressions
I didn’t knew Burson Audio before my search of a new headphone amp. As a die-hard do-it-yourself person, I made amplifiers myself, mostly with tubes. Buying amplifiers was not-done! But things change, and I was able to buy a demo product of the HA-160 in mint condition, which had served a couple of hours. I knew that was the signal…
As for now, I use a Sennheiser HD-595 headphone, but within a few months, I will upgrade to the HD-650. A chain is as strong as its weakest link, and in this case, it became the headphone!

When I received the HA-160 from Burson Audio, I was stunned how the device looks and feels like.
I’ve honestly never seen a device that was built on such a robust way. That is something I never expected when I saw the pictures on the internet. You feel that you have invested in quality, and that is a good thing! They know an audiophile also cares about the looks of their equipment.

Something very important to me is the contact with the company itself. It is often a good indication how professional a company is. I had an excellent contact with John and Jack. They helped me out like it should, and that is a point where other company’s can learn from ! Yes, good job guys !

Certain things of this amplifier betray that it is made by audiophiles, for audiophiles. They took care about elements that other company’s seem to forget, like:

– stepper volume control. Very rare, and no annoying clicks when turning
– double output. High and low impedance headphones are separated
– Stylish, simple and very heavy housing

So, first impression: Impressive!

2. Scalpel

Sooner or later: new device meets screwdriver. It’s an aberration that I already have since my birth.. Compare it with a surgeon and his scalpel, who is curious on the inside of a human being. I’m always interested how something is made, how it looks on the inside (I’m an electronic engineer, call it professional deformation.. ). The company’s website and the reviews gave me already a small impression, but I had to see it myself…

2.1 Transformer: R-Core-power!
The power supply uses an R-core transformer. I was surprised to see that. I expected a toroidal transformer on this place. After some research, this is a good choice from Burson Audio, cause these types of transformers have some advantages on toroidal ones regarding bandwidth and the passing of noise. Also, the EMI emission of R-core and toroidal is far less than a normal EI-core.

2.2 Rectification
Burson used ultrafast rectifier diodes from ON SEMI, type MUR460, specified at 600V/4A. Heavy diodes, which is a good job! Each diode has a small capacitor parallel with it to suppress the switching peaks. The big caps they use in the power supply are 8200µF, rated 56V electrolytic caps. Elna is very known for its caps used in audio circuits. Rated temperature of 85°C. Better would be 105°C, but nor the heatsinks close to these caps, nor the inner temperature would ever rise above 45°C. More than enough tolerance.

2.3 Power Stabilizing
Two complementary transistors from Toshiba are used as power stabilizers. Types 2SC5171 and 2SA1930. They are able to handle collector currents up to 2A. Precision trimmers are used to fine-tune the power supply.

2.4 Input Stage
Each input stage (left and right channel) is set up separately on the pcb, using Burson Audio’s special discrete opamps. Two components drew my attention. They used Dale resistors on critical places (which are high quality resistors) and Silver-Mica caps in the signal way. These caps belong among the best for use with small signals (like audio). Again, precision trimmers are used here! A nice extra on the input stage is the stepped volume switch with 24 steps. You can actually see on the pcb the footprint for an ALPS volume pot, but probably they stepped away(!) from that idea and used a way better option. It gives the amp a luxury feeling! At the input terminals, small ferrite beads are placed to keep EMI outside. Burson did a lot of effort at their design!

2.5 Output Stage
The Same transistors as used in the power supply are used at the end stage of the amp. That is quite a logical decision, as the transistors are actually meant for audio purposes. Each transistor has it’s own heatsink.

3. Dream Machine

I like all kinds of music, so I expect an all-round amplifier. Not one that is better in classic or jazz or one that makes compromises. After two weeks listening (I give each new amp about 2 weeks to burn in), I decided on a rainy Sunday to evaluate the HA-160.
I started with Laurent Garnier’s Man with the red face. The sound made me a little dreamy. Very good balance between the low, mid and high tones. Damn, why is this song only 9 minutes ?

After this impressive start. Let’s go on to some Massive attack. Lot’s of detail and a nice vibe!

Time for some harder work. The Dire Straits may give the best of themselves.
The guitar work makes me forget the bad weather outside, and gives me a warm feeling inside. The voices are superb! It’s the special live version and it’s almost like you’re on the concert. That’s the way you do it!

Lounge music has always be one of my favorites. It has a nice relaxing sound, a good vibe, easy vocals. I grabbed a cup of coffee and gave the honor to a Belgium group, called Kraak & Smaak. I heard their music once in a loungebar in Ghent, and since then I’m a big fan! This amp has a lot of punch here, something I missed on every other headphone amp I heard. Also a warm sound.. close your eyes and think you’re on a sunny beach, this amp actually makes you believe it! This little wonder will become my new dream machine!

I saw a concert of deadmau5 this summer, and I went back home with a very positive feeling, stunned with the beautiful music that guy makes. It’s a mix between lounge and dance. If I only had an amp that could give me the same feeling as this concert… well, I have now. Whatever mood you have, or whatever kind of music you want to play.. Plug your headphone in the HA-160 and enjoy!
4. Conclusion

It’s hard to describe this amp without using superlatives.
Burson Audio proves, that, when done the correct way, transistor amplification does things better than tube amplification. Very detailed, very rich sound, nu hum or noise, and a superb vibe.

This thing is the Aston Martin under the headphone amplifiers. Made with detail, powerful and it definitely makes you enjoy the ride!