Several months ago, I began looking for a headphone amp. My reference system is an LSA Statement integrated amp, a heavily modified Shanling 3000 cd player from John Tucker at Exemplar Audio, and the wonderful LSA Statement speakers.
Trying a headphone amp from a highly regarded British company was discouraging. It simply didn’t have the power to make my AKG K701s come alive. An amp from another manufacturer gave me plenty of power, but to be kind, it was less than musical. It seemed an impossible task to find a head amp that would maintain the lifelike sound of my big system.
A trusted audio friend recommended the amp from a company called Burson Audio. After a little research, and After exchanging a few emails with the company, I took a fly and purchased the HA-160 amp.
The package made it from Australia to my door in the United States in less than a week. Nothing’s more fun than new toys. They say anticipation is 90% of fulfillment, so, of course I couldn’t wait to listen.
It’s important to break in new gear before forming any real impressions, but after some initial listening, I couldn’t resist sending the company this email.
“I don’t do audiophile speak well, but here are a few thoughts. When critically listening to amps, I always listen for how “effortless” it’s sounds, or how hard the amp has to work. Real music doesn’t sound strained, so if the amp isn’t really up to the task, It doesn’t touch me.
My initial impressions are that this is a real man’s amp that can easily drive any headphones. The AKG K701s are a bit difficult to drive, but your amp seems to handle them effortlessly.
The amp and phones are putting things in space and separating instruments, and I’ve never heard the AKG’s sound this good!
It’s also been fun to switch phones. I’ve always heard differences between my 701s, my Grado SR60s and my Sennheiser HD580s, but your amp delineates those differences spectacularly. I hear both the strengths and flaws of each pair of phones like never before.
The amp also seems to be a low level detail king. Low level detail is really the essence of music for me. It can make the difference between just humming a tune, or going to that emotional place where only music can take me.
I’m more of a tube guy, but tubes and solid state products both have their strengths. I love the lucidity, space, warmth and palpability of tubes. I also like the control and power of really good solid state.
It’s dangerous to listen right out of the box. Admittedly, my excitement might be clouding my judgment, but your amp seems to have some of the strengths of really good tube gear in addition to the obvious strengths of the best engineered solid state products. I’m getting lots of both textures and detail.”
Time has confirmed my first impressions. It’s now several weeks later, it’s fully broken in, an things have gotten even better. The amp has opened up more. It’s more 3 dimensional and life like, and things are even better placed in space.
The differences between sources is easily heard on the HA-160. My Exemplar sounded like the world class player it is through the headphone amp with tons of textures and incredible micro-dynamics. The musicality of the Cambridge 840c shines through, as did the characteristics of the Oppo 980 universal player.
As both a broadcaster and audiophile, I’ve played with lots of equipment.
If other Burson electronics sounds like their headphone amp, I’d have to put it on my short list of must auditions when it’s time to upgrade.
The company has an audio buffer, the AB-160, they recommend with the head amp if you’re listening with an IPod or computer based system. I’m looking forward to trying it when I get a music server up and running.
My audio buddy who suggested I look at the headphone amp says the buffer is a great device, and it also helps to make dvd or older cd players come alive. He calls it an incredible value.
The Burson HA-160 ended my search for an outstanding headphone amp that would measure up to the rest of my system. If you’re looking for an amp that will allow you to really hear what your headphones can do, do your self a favor, and audition the Burson HA-160.
More about Joe Elliott
Joe works for a news/talk AM station in Louisville Kentucky.
There he hosted the evening talk program for about 15 years. He now hosts the Sunday Morning talk program for the station and fill in for other vacationing hosts.
He has recently launched a podcast with features and interviews, hoping to attract some local sponsors for his station.
“Traditional media is scrambling to adapt to the new technology, and the changing preferences of consumers. It’s both a challenging and exciting time.” Joe said.