Burson Conductor Virtuoso

Device Type: DAC/Preamp/Headphone Amp
Input: 1x Asynchronous USB Connection (Support up to 24bit/192kHz), 1x Coaxial RCA (Support up to 24bit/192Khz), 1x Toslink S/PDIF (Support up to 24bit/192Khz), 2x RCA line level input
Output: 1x headphone jacks 6.35mm, 1x RCA Pre out, 1x RCA DAC out
Dimensions: 265 x 255 x 80 mm
Weight: 6 kg
Availability: Online and Authorized Dealers
Price: $1995 w/ESS9018 DAC (as reviewed), $1495 x/PCM 1793 DAC
Website: www.bursonaudio.com

Built Burson Tough!
The Conductor Virtuoso's 6mm Resonance Free Aluminum (RFA) enclosure, constructed from precision-machined panels, is not used for looks alone. From Burson, "We took great care to ensure the thickness of each wall varied from the others to increase the mechanical damping factor. The RFA enclosures display superior mechanical noise rejection (internal and external) compared to conventionally folded-steel enclosures used by many audio manufacturers."

The Conductor Virtuoso is a 24-bit/192kHz capable DAC, preamplifier, and headphone amp. The stock unit comes with the ESS9018 SABRE32 DAC but Burson also offers the Burr Brown PCM1793 DAC as a less expensive and different sounding option. The Conductor offers digital inputs including USB, S/PDIF, and Toslink all capable of resolving 24/192 data, as well as two analog inputs. Outputs include a Pre Out for using the Conductor's internal Burr-Brown analog PGA2310-based 100-step volume control and DAC Out which bypasses the volume control so you can use your own.

The Virtuoso's headphone amp "is essentially the Soloist", the Soloist being Burson's Class-A driven dedicated headphone amp. The Virtuoso, like the Soloist, puts out 4wpc with a rated output impedance of 3 Ohms.

All of the Virtuoso's ins and outs reside around back with the exception of the headphone jack. Completing the backside is the IEC for the included power cord. Around front we also have a stepped volume control, a very nicely integrated blue LED volume display, and a source selector button. Burson also includes a nice machined aluminum remote to remotely control volume. Overall, the Conductor Virtuoso looks and feels reassuringly solid and very well made.

Virtuoso
Burson appears to take great pride in the quality of their products. One of the improvements they discuss in the Virtuoso over earlier models resides in the unit's "low noise power supply". I'll let Burson explain:

"Burson’s new Musician Series takes the already improved IC-free power supply of our first generation Classic Series to the next level. It’s now built around a noise-filtering network employing twice as many filtering stages as the previous design for even greater noise rejection. The new power supply is fed by new custom-built low-noise transformers that deliver clean and stable power resulting in greater 3D imaging emerging from a pitch-black background."
I listened to the Virtuoso using my MacBook Pro as source running Pure Music or Audirvana as well as the Auralic Aries both connected to the Burson's USB input via a Light Harmonic Lightspeed cable. The Burson was also connected to my Pass INT-30A using Auditorium 23 ICs. Speakers were my reference DeVore Fidelity The Nines.

Solid. That's the best word I can think of for describing one stand out sonic feature delivered by the Conductor Virtuoso. Players within the sound image are as solid, stable, and well defined as I've heard. This attribute allows you to clearly and easily see into the performance, where applicable, which enhances the listening experience. I'd also suggest it reduces longer-term listening fatigue since our brains don't have work as hard trying to put things into clearer focus. Nice.

During my initial listening time, I found that the Virtuoso could sound a tad...hard. Since I've heard this before with other DACs, I tried the simplest fix I know of—I swapped out the Light Harmonic USB cable and put in the AudioQuest Diamond and as expected, the perceived hardness softened right up. Make of this what you will but my experience has shown that different USB cables can impact the sound coming out my speakers.

Once settled in with the AQ USB cable, I relaxed into tons of music of all stripes. Album after album worth including old favorites, new favorites, and plain old new music. THEESatisfaction's EarthEE was positively earthy, the Virtuoso doing a wonderful job of unraveling the multiple layers of sensual sounds, textures, and voices. While my reference Auralic Vega offers even greater timbral richness and body, the Virtuoso is no sonic slouch. I would say that there's very little perceived embellishment with the Burson, so music feels clean and sturdy as opposed to a soft, warm embrace.

The Virtuoso's great sense of control extended from end to end of the sonic spectrum, delivering nice dynamic slam. My old warhorse Art Deco from Don Cherry lit up with sizzling cymbals from Billy Drummond, Charlie Haden's bass snapped with resounding body, while Cherry's horn and James Clay's tenor sax blurted and blew with convincing force and texture. Moving to some solo piano from Marie-Luise Hinrichs playing Soler's Sonatas further showed off the Virtuoso's fine grip on the sounds from both of Hinrichs's hands.

When comparing the Virtuoso's fixed and variable outputs, the first thing I noticed about using the latter was a slight hiss coming through my speakers which was not present when using the fixed output. In terms of level, the hiss was only audible with my ear a few inches from the speaker so I would not call it distracting in listening to music terms. The Virtuoso as preamp performed very well otherwise and for those looking to do away with a separate preamp, the Burson may just fit the bill.

In terms of comparisons with a like DAC/Preamp/Headphone amp, the closest I can come is the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC (see review) which I listen to nearly every day in my desktop system but put into the room system for this comparison. First off, the Mytek adds DSD playback, it includes multiple filter options, both analog and digital volume controls, as well as balanced XLR outputs. On the sound quality side, I'd say the Mytek offers a different set of strengths as compared to the Burson including a richer presentation in terms of the overall lushness of the sound picture, but it does not deliver the Virtuoso's super stable sound image. Another way to say essentially the same thing is I find the Mytek to have a wet sound whereas the Virtuoso sounds comparably dry.

Since I'd imagine many prospective buyers will also be interested in the Virtuoso's headphone savviness, I leashed up the NAD Viso HP 50's (Impedance: 32 ohms, Sensitivity: 106.3 dB/mW) and gave a listen. The first thing I heard was hiss, even with the volume set to zero. Hmm. I then tried my Audio Technica ATH-W1000s (Impedance: 40 ohms, Sensitivity: 102 dB/mW) and while still present, the noise level dropped as compared to the NAD. If I were to generalize, I'd stay away from high sensitivity 'phones with the Burson.

Solid Is As Solid Does
The Burson Audio Conductor Virtuoso is one solid performer delivering a compelling sound image portrayed with exacting detail and delineation. While some care needs to be taken when mated with high sensitivity headphones, the right match will offer similarly sonically solid results. For those looking to add a 24/192-capable DAC/Preamp/Headphone amp into their hi-fi picture, the Burson offers a crystal clear view into your music.


Associated Equipment

Also in-use during the Conductor Virtuoso review: Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC

COMMENTS
VK's picture

...you have something to say about Schiit Yggdrasil? Any chance of a review of it? I'm a bit curious about it's different approach, with the 21 bit DAC.

Best regards!

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...the day I received the announcement. Schiit currently does not have any review samples available but I'll be getting one when they do. No time frame at this time.
VK's picture

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Venere 2's picture

I know this is off topic, but is there any chance you will be reviewing the Rega DAC R? There is a review sample or samples going around.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
It's in the works.
Venere 2's picture

Thanks for your reply Michael.

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