Burson Audio Conductor Headphone Amplifier/Preamplifier/DAC Part 2

Device Type: Headphone Amplifier/Preamplifier/DAC
Input:1 x USB, 1x Coax S/PDIF, 1x Toslink, 2x RCA line level
Output: 1 pair RCA (fixed), 1 pair RCA (variable)
Dimensions (H x W x D): 80 mm x 255 mm x 265 mm
Weight: 6 kg
Availability: Through Authorized Dealers
Price: $1,850.00, w/CM6631A USB Module + $60.00, $1,700 for the Conductor w/1793 DAC PCB
USA Dealer's Website: Clear Sound Audio
Website: www.bursonaudio.com

The Conductor Gets A New DAC
When Burson read my sonic impressions of their Conductor DAC (see review), one of their reactions was to suggest I try the 1793 DAC PCB option which sports a Burr Brown PCM1793 DAC, taking the place of the ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC that comes in the standard version. This 1793 DAC PCB option also lowers the price from $1,850 to $1,700 while delivering a different sonic palette. But which is better?

The ESS Sabre DAC

One of things I noted about the ESS-endowed Conductor was a hardness that crept into the musical picture. I spent some more listening to this version of the Conductor before making the DAC switch and I'd add that this hardness appears to ride on the coat tails of resolution. There's a very fine-grained level of detail to the presentation that can, to my ears, get a bit grating over time. A bit too much resolution that causes an unnaturally edgy presentation. On the plus side, the various pieces that make up the entire musical puzzle are very easy to differentiate, almost appearing as being distinctly cut out from one another. Lovers of detail and delineation might just love the Conductor as is.

The Burr Brown 1793 DAC (the top chip)

I swapped in the 1793 DAC PCB, which took all of a few minutes, powered everything up and went about listening. First up, and this was last up through the ESS Sabre version, was Tom Waits "I'm Still Here" from Alice and I could immediately recognize changes to the presentation. Tom Waits was fuller, more rounded and more weighty with less emphasis on s's and spit and more focus on throat and chest and gravel. There was also less delineation between Mr. Waits, his piano, and the subtle cello and saxophone accompaniment. They were there to be sure, just less apart from one another. Things gelled a bit more as a single sonic picture.

Next up was the lovely and highly recommended Bal Kan from Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI (see review) and again I was treated to more meat on everything's bones and a warmer overall sound. It should be getting fairly obvious which I preferred, Burson made a good call in sending over the 1793 DAC PCB. Instrumental voices ring out truer to my way of hearing and things are richer, fuller, and generally more relaxed while still offering up a nice sense of detail.

Its worth noting that I've heard other DACs that use the ESS Sabre32 Reference DAC, the exaSound e20 Mk III DAC being just one (see review) and while I did note a similar sense of "gobs of resolution" I did not note the same hardness I heard in the Burson with the ESS DAC. The exaSound also adds DSD playback which is something the ESS Sabre DAC is capable of and something Burson has chosen not to implement in the Conductor.

Horses for Courses
Would I say that one DAC chip is better than the other? Nope. What I would say is that each version of the Burson Conductor has a lot to offer and which one you prefer will come down to your system and tastes. I can see why Burson chose to deliver the Conductor with the ESS Sabre DAC, and I can also see why they offer the 1793 DAC PCB option. In hi-fi, choice is generally a good thing.

Associated Equipment

deckeda's picture

On their site I see two Conductor SL models available, one for each of the DAC boards they offer: $1,250 and $1,550. I suppose if you didn't want the preamp that the non-SL Conductor has, it might swing the value equation closer in their favor, especially if you liked the less expensive version.

I agree, choice is good.

tef8568's picture

Hello Mr. Lavorgna,

On the Burson website, I see the Burson Conductor is a 4W Headphone Amplifier and DAC and Preamplifier that comes (only) with the ESS Saber32 Reference DAC. I listned to it last year with a pair of Audeze LCD-2's and it was absolutely amazing. It was my first time listening to a high end headphone amp with a high end DAC and my first time listening to a pair of high end headphones; so it was awe inspiring together.

I see that the Burson Conductor SL comes in two versions / models as follows:

1. A 2W Headphone Amplifier and DAC using the ESS Saber32 Reference DAC

2. A 2W Headphone Amplifier and DAC using the Burr Brown PCM 1793 DAC 

My questions are:

1. Does the Burson Conductor (the 4W, three components in one product) now offer a choice of DAC's via two models or via a user swappable board as described ?

2. Are you actually talking about the two versions / models of the Conductor SL ?

If so, please clarify.

Thank you.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

One easy way to identify them visually is the Conductor includes three level gain settings with three associated LEDs on the front panel whereas the Conductor SL has two level gain settings so only two LEDs (it would have helped if included the front pic in this review as well).

So you are correct with #1 - the 4W Conductor is available with the 1793 DAC PCB for $150 less than the ESS Sabre version. I've edited the references to the read 1793 DAC PCB and removed the "SL" since I can see how this is confusing.

tef8568's picture

"Hi Thomas,

Thank you for your email and your very kind words.

By default the Conductor comes with the ESS9018 DAC chip.

This DAC chip has higher specs compared to any other DAC chip in the industry including the 1793 chip.

If you prefer, you can also obtain a full size (4W) Conductor with our 1793 chip for 1700 USD per unit.

The difference in price basically reflects the difference in price between these two DAC chips.

Best regards,

John Delmo"

While that clarifies a few things, the problem is that there is no way to select which version on the Burson website even when you click on buy it now / order. (at least not that I can see or find)

tony333's picture

Hello. What difference in sound between conductor and exasound e20?
I use conductor for listening lossless with my headphones and thinking - do i need exasond or not.

tony333's picture

My conductor with sabre32 and tenor. I don't like tennor sound and use rme baby face with optical out or vlink192 with coaxial.