A TRANSPARENT, MUSICAL, POWERFUL BEAST (IN A DIMINUTIVE PACKAGE)!
Burson Audio, based in Melbourne, Australia, has been in operation for nearly a quarter of a century. Burson prides itself on “quality build, thoughtful circuit design, value for money and elegant, engaging sound.” Additionally, Burson Audio espouses a low-key marketing paradigm which does not include advertising and relatively little actual marketing and PR. It is easy to understand the desire not to advertise, however, in a world with so very, very many audio/headgear choices, is this then not a zero-sum game for Burson Audio (relative to its many competitors)?
Case in point, the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP, which we now consider a very musical “killer of high-priced giants,” was almost virtually unknown, even among audiophiles and headfiers (via a non-scientific survey). Perhaps a rethink of the marketing campaign might well help to address this unfortunate dilemma.
Our time with the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP allowed us great insight into its voice, its power, and its ease of use. Its voice—musical, transparent, powerful, and yet delicate—as we have discovered fits very nicely into our “wheelhouse.” Its power finds it delivering six (6) watts into a 16 ohm, balanced load and three (3) watts into a single-ended load of the same impedance. There are few, if any, headphones that will not dance/sing to its dictates. And despite the fact that its instruction manual is, well, truly bereft of detailed instruction, we found that employing the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP was fairly intuitive and straightforward.
The Conductor 3XP is, by all means, a desktop solution, whether at home or at work. Of course, when allied to “open” headphone designs it becomes a decidedly at home, desktop solution.
REFRAIN: Unlike most reviews, this review will be non-sequential, as it will start with how the headphones actually sound and not the process of physically “undressing” them and/or laying out their various parts, specifications, etc. Think of this review then, as a non-linear movie—Memento, Kill Bill, Arrival, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, etc—that, likewise, starts at the end and winds its way to the beginning.
The Burson Audio Conductor 3XP embraces iOS, Android, Mac, and PC alike and to them it will deliver a powerful, yet delicate, musical, and transparent experience. For this review, I utilized the services of the Meze Empyrean, the oBravo EAMT-2C, and the FiiO FH5 to gauge the Conductor 3XP’s ability to both scale and to lift, respectively, products a great deal more expensive and products a great deal less expensive.
I listen now to Olafur Arnald’s Written in Stone (The Chopin Project, Mercury (Universal France)). A cello, violins enter and they are brooding and melancholy, the stage holographic. An electronic keyboard soon joins the mix and brings tone, timbre, and weight, that act as anchor. It is a slow-motion waltz, that is haunting, somber, beautiful. The Conductor 3XP, via this track, weaves an emotional pastiche of notes, weight, air, timbre, and tone, that appear to free the music from both headphones (Meze Empyrean) and the Conductor 3XP’s pleated, aluminum container. Perhaps it is the power of the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP and/or its transparency and/or its delicacy via the Meze Empyreans, that renders unfamiliar, that which is very familiar to me. Perhaps you too will begin the rediscovery of your media, as you engage the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP for your home, office, bedroom. I listen through Olafur Arnald’s “The Chopin Project” in its entirety, hooked on the music rendered via the Conductor 3XP. Natural and transparent are the words that remain center stage, as I listen to album after album with the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP.
The Conductor 3XP’s volumetric cube—its soundstage—is quite large. It is wide, though naturally so, deep, and with excellent height. Impressive. There is a profound unity/cohesion across its frequency range, that one remembers when forced to contemplate it. Otherwise it is simply there as the music plays and draws you in, naturally, transparently.
I listen now to Eiji Oue’s Symphonic Dances, Op. 45 III Lento assai (Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances, Reference Recordings) a long, beautiful movement interwoven with transitions, complexities, dynamic swings, and the rumblings of thunderous bass notes. And they are all handled with aplomb via the Conductor 3XP. The Conductor 3XP places us, the listener, in the concert hall amid the music’s raw power and thunderous bass. Yet, it lays bare the sweet and delicate extension of strings and woodwinds, achieving a musicality and sophistication far beyond its price point. The Meze Empyrean is, of course, grateful for the power and is responding accordingly—sublimely. In sum, the bass of the Conductor 3XP is powerful and has great transparency, speed, musicality, and separation.
I return to Olafur Arnalds, but this time the song is Árbakkinn (Island Songs, Mercury (Universal France)). In this piece Icelandic poet—Einar Georg Einarsson—recites one of his poems in his native language. The Burson Audio Conductor 3XP brings a clarity of articulation, transparency, and naturalness to Einarsson’s recital that is, to date, unmatched. A piano soon enters to accompany and its timbre and tone are as well natural, engaging, beautifully melodic. As Einarsson ends his recital, a cello and violins join the mix and their truth of timbre, their tonality are sweet and delicate and ethereal. There is an analog-like warmth and, yet, crystal clarity rendered across this track. The partnerships of the Conductor 3XP as allied to the Meze Empyrean and the oBravo EAMT-2C have been sublime, beautiful. In sum, the midrange of the Conductor 3XP is transparent, natural, rich with very good layering, and separation. Impressive!
The Conductor 3XP’s treble is sweet, extended, never fatiguing, and possesses very good transparency, air, and drive. Vilda Frang’s Andante (Veress: String Trio – Bartók: Piano Quintet, Alpha) brings a quiet dissonance, as interspersed notes from violin, viola, and violoncello compete amid a black-quiet background. The clarity and extension and speed of rendering are very good, as are timbre and tone. The Conductor 3XP empowers a wondrous transparency and immediacy to this track. And the sense of space and air and separation are, likewise, beautifully portrayed.
THE WRAPPINGS AND ACCESSORIES
The Burson Audio Conductor 3XP comes in a rather plain, white, cardboard box. Only its top is printed and that is with the Burson Audio trade name/logo and its byline—“A Lavish Musical Experience,” which, in this case, proves to be quite accurate.
Inside, the box top lifted, one finds the Conductor 3XP in the front most part of the box. A second smaller box, a few inches in width, spans the rear of the larger box from left to right. In it are the various items as listed below:
1-Slim, aluminum remote
1-USB-C (male) to USB-C (male) adapter cable
1-24V Power Unit
4-Vivid V6 Opamps
DESIGN—LOOK AND FEEL
The Burson Audio Conductor 3XP is wrapped in a pleated, space-grey, high-density aluminum case, whose top, bottom, and sides have been fashioned as heat sinks, which Burson refers to as its “Cool Case.” The “Cool Case” is said to reduce the overall temperature of its Class A dissipation by “three (3) times.” Though the Conductor 3XP’s “Cool Case” will, indeed, still get warm, it will not singe small hands, sniffing noses, or curious paws.
Its front panel, from left to right, bears a small on/off button an XLR, 6.3mm balanced, and a 3.5mm single-ended headphone-out (PO) sockets, a small digital display, a volume knob to its right, and a selector button on the far right above its remote-capture eye. The Conductor 3XP’s back panel features a BlueTooth (BT) antenna, three digital inputs—USB-C, Coaxial, Optical—and RCA Preamp/DAC and XLR Preamp/DAC outputs.
The Conductor 3XP comes with a slim, elegant, aluminum remote control, that sports a mute button, an input selector (USB-C, Coax, Toslink) and up and down volume controls.
The design is straight-forward, nicely proportioned, and industrial, as in clean and quite handsome. It is by all means a desktop solution, as it will decidedly not fit in one’s pocket and will add a nice bit of weight to one’s shoulder bag, backpack, purse, etc.
The Conductor 3XP via its SABRE32/ESS9038Q2M DAC supports up to DSD512 and 38bit/786kHz audio. The Conductor 3XP also contains a Qualcomm/CSR8675 Bluetooth 5.0 receiver, which is capable of 24bit/96kHz play back and it includes the aptX audio codec.
The Conductor 3XP’s input options consist of a USB-C (PCM 32bit 786K / DSD512), Coaxial (PCM 24bit 192K), Toslink (PCM 24bit 192K), and Bluetooth (PCM 24bit 96K). The USB-C option, in our testing, was optimal and sounded by far the best and most powerful. Whereas Bluetooth was apt to sound good at much higher volume levels compared to USB-C, but was still unable to match the weight of the USB-C’s rendering. The Burson Audio Conductor 3XP, however, does not enlist MQA.
The Conductor 3XP also houses Burson Audio’s Max Current Power Supply (MCPS), which Burson explains as follows:
“A technology developed, owned and used exclusively by Burson Audio, the MCPS raises voltage frequency from 50Hz to 170kHz, pushing noise beyond human hearing. It completely overcomes the disadvantages of both linear power supplies and conventional switching power supplies, resulting in incredible dynamic and micro-details ([+] Learn More).”
The Conductor 3XP is powerful enough to drive even the demigods of inefficiency with its 330mW of XLR power and 115mW Single-Ended into 300 Ohms.
It features a PreAmp Output with volume control and a DAC Out at 2V RMS at line level (no volume control). It has two Gain levels—High, Low. High provides a maximum of six (6) watts and Low provides a maximum of three (3) watts.
The Conductor 3XP makes available a number of FIR Filters, that help to tailor the sound profile. Additionally, the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP can have its overall sound changed dramatically via Burson’s own Opamps, which are “specifically designed to optimize audio performance” and to change the tonality. And there are a range of Burson Opamps—Vivid V6, V6 Classic, V5, V5i—to chose from.
Input Impedance: 39kOhms
Frequency Response: ±1 dB 0 —58kH
Output Impedance (Headphone amp): 0.5 Ohm
Output Impedance (Pre Out / DAC out): 1 Ohm / 25 Ohm
Inputs: USB, Optical, Toslink, BlueTooth 5.0, Microphone
Outputs: 1 x XLR Preamp/DAC
1 x RCA Preamp/DAC
1 x 6.3mm Headphone
1 x XLR Headphone
Weight: 3kg (approximately)
Dimensions: 200 x 250 x 60mm
Impedance (Headphone Jack) Power XLR/SE
16 Ohm 6 / 3 W
32 Ohm 3 / 1.5W
100 Ohm 1 / 0.5W
150 Ohm 660 / 330mW
300 Ohm 330 / 115mW
Channel Separation: 142dB @ 1kHz, 135dB @20kHz
THD+N: 0.0005% @ 1kHz, 0dBFS
COAX & Toslink/SPDIF: up to 24bit 192k
PCM Support: 768kHz @ 16, 24 or 32bits
Native DSD: DSD 64 / 128 / 256 / 512
Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD
DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256/Dop512
The Burson Audio Conductor 3XP ($1,399) delivers a transparent, natural, and highly engaging, musical experience, well beyond its price point. Further, it is coherent from top to bottom, provides a dead-quiet background, a very generous soundstage, and it has the ability to simply disappear, which is rare regardless of price. However, that the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP does not lend itself to MQA, at its price point, is disappointing, as far less expensive DACs and DAC/Amps do so and quite well (AudioQuest DragonFlys, iFi Hip-DAC, etc.). And, perhaps, a more ‘instructive’ instruction manual should, at some point, be addressed. That said, the Burson Audio Conductor 3XP is highly recommended!
MUSIC—QUBOZ, TIDAL EXCLUSIVELY
Alexander Tharaud—Tharaud Plays Rachmaninoff
Omar Sosa—Ballads, Calma
Rickie Lee Jones—Pop Pop
Sheku Kannah Mason—Inspiration
Tracey Chapman—Where You Live
Olafur Arnalds—Island Songs
Olafur Arnalds—The Chopin Project
Melody Gardot—My One and Only Thrill
Melody Gardot—My Worrisome Heart
Eiji Oue—Rachmaninoff: Symphonic Dances
Jordi Savall—Tous les Matins du Monde
Maxwell—Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite
Igor Stravinsky—Stravinsky: Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring)
Annie-Sophie Mutter—Mendelssohn, Brahms: Violin Concertos
London Grammar—If You Wait
Miles Davis—Kind of Blue
Dave Holland—Emerald Tears
Gidon Kremer, Daniil Trifonov, Giedre Dirvanauskaite—Preghiera/Rachmaninov Piano Trios
Joan Shelly—Joan Shelly
Magdalena Kožená—French Arias
Andy Bey—American Song
Kronos Quartet—Kronos Caravan
OBravo EAMT-2C IEMs
Final Sonorous III
Burson Audio Conductor 3XP
AudioQuest Dragon Tail
Apple X iPhone