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Burson Play Review: Good Headphone Amp, Great Pre-Amp

Burson builds audiophile-grade DACs and amps. Based in Australia, they use their technical expertise to build high-grade amplification and source devices nearly entirely out of discrete components, a trait that Burson says improves the performance of their products. They’ve recently released a DAC/Amp called the Play: a device that can be used as a part of your audio stack or even slotted into a 5.25in bay in a PC!

You can find the Play for sale here, ranging from $300 to $550 depending on the configuration you order. The cheapest option comes with a basic opamp set and no remote, while the most expensive one comes with two sets of Burson’s premium opamps and a remote.

About My Preferences: Heads up, I’m a person! As such, these words are my opinion, and they are tinged by my personal preferences. While I try to mitigate this as much as possible during my review process, I’d be lying if I said my biases are completely erased. So for you, my readers, keep this in mind:

  • My ideal sound signature would be an extended sub-bass with a leveled, but textured, mid-bass.
  • I have a mild treble sensitivity.

Audio Stack

  • Motherboard -> USB -> Burson Play -> Sherwood AD230B -> JBL 990X
  • Motherboard -> USB -> Headphones

All testing was done using the Classic opamps.

Tech Specs

  • Input impedance: 35 KOhms
  • Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0–35Khz
  • THD:<0.02%
  • Output impedance (Head Amp): 8 Ohm
  • Power Supply: 100–240V AC
  • Output impedance (Pre Out): 35 Ohm
  • DAC: SABRE32/ESS9018
  • Channel Separation: 132 dB @ 1KHz, 122 dB @ 20KHz
  • THD+N: 0.0015% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS
  • Native DSD: 64 / 128 / 256
  • DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256

Sound Signature

Performance and Pairing

The Play has a very subtle warmth to it but is otherwise completely transparent. It is incredibly resolving and lets you get the most out of your lossless file formats if that’s your thing. The amplification range of this thing is great, and it pairs much better with my AD230b than my HiFiME 9018 or my PC’s line-out. Gone is the anemic, thin, sound of old. In its stead is a much more balanced and fully weighted tone that’s much improved the quality of my sound system’s stack.

The Play also handles IEMs fairly well. Very sensitive ones will have an audible noise floor, but the majority of IEMs that I tested had a negligible noise floor if one at all.

Using it with more demanding headphones like planars suited the Play much better, and it really sang. No noticeable noise floor hear either.

Packaging / Unboxing

Build

Construction Quality

The Play’s build is top notch. Every inch of it is finely machined and free from flaws. It is assembled with careful hands, as each removable component came tightly and securely fixed to the chassis.

The volume knob is milled from metal and has a very tasteful metallic ring around the front. It’s free-rotating, so there’s no limit to the degree to which you can twist it. It has a satisfying bump for each adjustment of the knob and is satisfying to crank up. Pressing it in mutes the device.

Besides the volume knob is an analog volume display that lights up in blue to show you what your current volume level is. Further besides that is the 1/4in jack out and the microphone-in.

On the rear is the line in, power adapter socket (for if the Play is being used discretely), a Molex power socket (for if it’s being used in a PC case), the power switch, and the RCA out.

Speaking of being used in a PC case, the Play has grooves milled into its chassis that make it easy to install into a PC case with an empty 5.25in bay. Having a DAC/Amp in the front of my PC was super handy for the week I tested it there, especially while gaming. Connecting and disconnecting different headphones and mics (some are better than other for online shooters) was a breeze, at least when compared to having to reach being my PC and yank the cables out from my motherboard.

Depending on your model, the Play will come with a remote. It features a volume up, volume down, and mute button. Each is milled from a reflective metal and feels incredibly premium to the touch. Its weight gives it a near-perfect heft. The remote works really well and has a good range. There’s no point in my (admittedly small) room where it can’t reach the Play unit.

And good news for opamp junkies: the Play makes it easy to swap in your own opamps. Just remove the top half of the case and bam, you have access to the fully-discrete internals of the Play. All you need is the included hex-wrench and a couple minutes. Its so easy, even an idiot can do it! I’m living proof, after all.

Accessories

There’s a lot to unpack in the Play’s box! So in my unit, which is the “ Play with V6 Classic”, you’ll find:

  • 1x set of V6 Classic opamps
  • 1x set of V6 Vivid opamps
  • 1x set of RCA interconnect cables
  • 1x USB cable
  • 1x power brick
  • 1x Molex power adapter
  • 1x motherboard header adapter
  • 1x remote
  • 1x set of rubber adhesive feet
  • 1x 1/4in adapter
  • 1x RCA passthrough slider

The utility cables are pretty par for the course, exempting the RCA cables. Those are premium Burson stock. The cable is thick, but pliable, and has high-quality and aesthetically pleasing terminations.

This accessory set is comprehensive. It gets the job done and does so with style (where applicable). Its almost a shame to have all this nice-looking hardware tucked away inside a PC case! But if you’re like me and have a need to show off your cool things, then just take it out and plug it into a wall outlet: it’ll work all the same!

Summary

The Play is a DAC/Amp with an innovative take on form-factor. Allowing users to install it into a PC case or use it discretely, the play reflects a flexibility not often found in audiophile hardware. Good format compatibility, strong amping, relatively low noise floors, a highly resolving presentation, and the ability to freely mix opamps in an out represents an unprecedented level of tinker-ability for those with restless hands, at least if you’ve got the cash. So if you’re in the market for a competent DAC/Amp and have a knack for swapping opamps, the Play is for you.

As always, happy listening!

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Resonance Reviews is a publication dedicated to bringing fair and rich reviews to the table while skipping the fluff that reviews usually have. We are dedicated to providing you the best in audio hardware reviews. Want to get in contact? Email us: aaron@resonancereviews.com

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Aaron

Aaron

Tech enthusiast. Audiophile. PC builder. Reviewer. Writer.

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