Review: Burson Burson PI-160 Amplifier
When one seeks musical enjoyment one must be true to oneself and trust one’s own ears. I trust what I’ve found in the Burson PI-160. It is my second Burson integrated, the first being the impetus for the second. Having won a used Burson, I was lucky enough to appreciate the design and reasoning behind their amps: all discreet, no ICs, custom in house voltage regulators, etc. Before 2005, they just made stuff for each other in their circle of audiophiles. The first unit shows it with its homemade DIY look but the sound was the clincher.
This latest unit is several generations improved over the older unit and continues to improve without fanfare or notice. It is still only the 2nd model. Units prior to mine are slightly different as units made after mine will no doubt have subtle but appreciated increases in performance. The 24 step attenuator is a welcome substitute for the older pot. Each level seems like it were hardwired, being the only level intended. Clear, clean, detailed, information rich. The 380W toroid replaces the two 500W toroids in the older unit and yet goes deeper, with greater detail and finesse. It has only a 3.5W core loss and with the newer generation voltage regulators that keep the incoming power stable to within 1% the sound is so clear, clean, relaxed and yet dynamic and forceful making everything seem effortless. The casing is 6mm thick all around making it part of the heat sink which allows a higher idle current allowing less distortion and effectively damping the unit from vibrations.
With my Tonian Labs TL-D1s and their 95db efficiency, I only use 5-6 settings of volume and have gotten used to (very quickly) the limits of apartment life. Even at low settings, everything comes through with the realism of louder levels minus the visceral impact. I’ve never been able to hear such a wealth of information without the drawbacks before I got the Burson. I listen primarily to European jazz (Quadro Nuevo, Paris Combo, anything by Anouar Brahem), Norah Jones, Jack Johnson, Jacintha, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Carrie Rodriguez, Diana Krall, lite classical, to give you an indication of my tastes. With the Burson, I’ve found myself going back to alternative and now enjoy bands like the Black Keys. I wouldn’t have before. All this is due to the marriage of the Burson with the Tonians. With the super clean sound I get from the Burson, the Tonians are allowed to do their thing: they allow the tone, body, and life of a recording to recreate itself right in my humble living room. At first I thought there was too much of a good thing going on here as the sound was so rich and full but I can hear all the way back in a recording and nothing gels or gets lost. Each instrument and voice is clear and distinct with its own decay pattern, even it they overlap. Modualtion is not a word I would have used to desribe anything but now its part of my lexicon. Anything with a key (accordian, piano, sax, flute, any horn and the reed as well) that can be played softly or forcefully comes across making it easier to appreciate what the player is doing. Intent, skill and dexterity of musicians are a major factor simply because they are so apparent. Emotion is now part of the game. Guitars, forgettaboutit. They sound fabulous. Acousitc or amped. Voices sound just like that, real, live voices. Another way to say all of this is that everything has that wet and fleshy quality to it. What more can I say? I love what I’m hearing.
I would be remiss if I left out the rest of my system. I use Zu Mission cabling throughout and my source is a TEAC PDH-600 CDP, a very underrated CDP at that. I would also like to add that dealing with partsconnexion.com was great as when I ordered my Burson, it was to have all 3 inputs unbalanced, with no ‘booster’ function but came standard, instead. Having Chris Johnson fix it himself was a relief and his prices are great (better than buying from Burson direct!). One more thing, cosmetically, the units now have a sandblasted finish to the casing, reducing the brightwork of earlier units which, I think, improves on the looks.
Tonian Labs TL-D1 speakers
Zu Mission cabling throughout
NAD 4300 tuner
Timbernation audio rack