This review page is supported in part by the sponsor whose ad is displayed above
Reviewer: Edgar Kramer
Source: Sony XA-5ES as transport; Bel Canto Design DAC 2
Preamp/Integrated: Supratek Sauvignon with NOS RCA and Sylvania tubes
Amplifiers: Pass Labs X 250.5; NuForce Reference 9 Special Edition monos
Speakers: Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppy System 6
Cables: Cerious Technologies Digital; Harmonic Technology Magic Digital; Cerious Technologies; Harmonic Technology Magic and Truthlink Silver; DanA Digital Reference Silver; Eichmann eXpress 6 Series 2; Bocchino Audio Morning Glory interconnect cable; PSC Audio Pristine R30 Ribbon [on loan]; Cerious Technologies and Harmonic Technology PRO-9+ loudspeaker cables; Cerious Technologies AC; Harmonic Technology Fantasy; Shunyata Research Diamondback, Eichmann eXpress AC power cables; PSC Gold Power MKII AC cable [on loan]
Stands: Lush 4-tier, partly sand filled
Powerline conditioning: PS Audio P-300 Power Plant (digital equipment only), dedicated 20 amp circuit
Sundry accessories: Bright Star Audio IsoRock Reference 3, Bright Star Audio IsoRock 4 isolation platforms and BSA IsoNode feet; Bocchino Audio Mecado isolation diodes; Black Diamond Racing cones; Stillpoints ERS paper in strategic positions around DAC, Shakti On Lines; Densen CD demagnetizer; Auric Illuminator CD Treatment; ASC Tube Traps
Room size: 16' w x 21' d x 10'/11' h [stepped ceiling] in short wall setup, opens to adjoining office room
Review component retail: Direct Price AUD$325, eBay Store Price AUD$345, AUD$255 kit form
When diplomacy works
We live in an age of converging synergies and compatibilities. Our mobile telephones talk to our computers which in turn talk to our iPods and so on and so forth down the USB line. It's a form of electronic Esperanto. Increasingly, modern devices need to mate universally to other machinery and as a result, contradict the convergence theory. Our stockpile of useful/useless things continues to snowball.
So, one of the key elements of our modern technology is compatibility. Incompatible devices don't operate in conjunction and within their technological community, therefore are destined to becoming obsolete.
How does the above scenario, simplified as it may be, apply to audio? Well, a surprisingly little-understood yet common malady of our hobby are inter-component impedance mismatches - what you could call a component miscommunication. This incompatibility arises mainly from the inclusion of cheap op-amps in the output stages of components built to a lower price point, resulting in higher-than-necessary output impedance. This inter-component impedance imbalance can have varying degrees of influence on the sound you hear, from a perception of stunted macro and micro dynamics to a lack of top-end extension to a weaker, leaner bass.
Enter the Burson Audio Buffer. By substantially lowering the output impedance of the source component, the Burson Audio Buffer claims to remarkably increase perceived dynamics, detail and bass power. This diminutive black box is a true electronics diplomat that increases the amicable interaction and accord between audio components. It facilitates compatibility that allows for a more effective communication between units that must be mated together.
Burson Audio is a company of Aussie audio enthusiasts who create enhancement products for their own enjoyment and in turn for audiophiles in general. They clarify: "In recent years, we have been seeing many market-driven manufactures pulling the pin on quality in exchange for bigger profit margins. Most of them use ICs (integrated circuits) in their products to cut cost. In our opinion, ICs give solid state equipment a bad name (i.e. that cold digital sound). In terms of stability, consistency and bandwidth, ICs can never match up to a refined discrete circuit.
"Burson Audio's Buffer is based on the well-developed Burson Discrete Op-amp technology. We hand-solder each of the Audio Buffers to perfection and set them to work in single-ended Class A mode for minimum distortion. We then match it with a cost-no-object parallel voltage power supply which allows the Burson Audio Buffer to achieve a whopping 118dB of S/N ratio and less than 0.01% THD @ 10Hz - 10Khz.
"Our external buffer is built on the same philosophy. The entire buffer is hand-built with discrete components (no ICs). Even the power supply is fully discrete. We have even upgraded those 3-pin regulators with discrete networks for the best performance. As mentioned, our HDAM Buffer is designed to resolve the issue of impedance mismatch associated with most HiFi systems. The best place to put our buffer is between the CD player/DAC and the preamp as the signal is weakest at that interface.
"Taking advantage of the transparent sonic signature of our Burson discrete op-amp, the Burson Audio buffer is able to reduce the output impedance of a typical CD player to a range between 15-30 ohms [from typically 100 ohm to 1000 ohm - Edgar Kramer]. That will translate to more micro and macro dynamics; better control at the lower end and less effort at the top. Many who have tried it agreed that the Burson Audio Buffer is an effective upgrade for any digital source."
Apart from the figures quoted, other specifications are equally impressive: dual mono design with ultra short signal paths; high quality internal components; Teflon-coated single-core internal conductors; a large fully isolated power supply; frequency response of 0 - 220kHz (- 3dB) and 6dB of gain. The simple brushed aluminium face plate sports a solitary and fashionable blue LED and power switch and at the rear you'll find high-quality and very solid RCA input/output sockets and IEC power inlet. The unit can also be ordered with XLR connectors. For those who can swing a soldering iron, there is the option to purchase the buffer as a module for personal installation.
I hooked up the Buffer as the intermediary between the Bel Canto DAC-2 and Supratek Sauvignon preamplifier. A side effect of the Buffer is a 6dB gain boost which in my high-gain system meant that 9 o'clock was plenty loud. Thankfully, the Buffer is dead quiet so any noise problems will stem from systemic issues, not the Burson - though I would have preferred zero gain.
The influence on the sonic presentation brought about by the inclusion of the Burson Audio Buffer is pretty much summed up by the statements above. Yes, the buffer subtly increases the perceived impact of transient attacks and seems to extend the treble up further into the 'air' regions. Bass also tends to bloom and acquires a heavier punch as well as a little more perceived depth.
|But I stress that these sonic observations whilst using the DAC-2 were appreciable yet somewhat subtle. Having said that, I was impressed with the total lack of omissions and negatives due to the additional
|set of electronics, connecting socketry and interconnecting cable. The buffer is so transparent as to be non-existent and completely gets out of the way of the signal flow.
Let me tell you though that taking the Bel Canto out of the equation and strapping our electron diplomat at the end of my Sony player usually run as transport only reaps benefits that are anything but subtle. Big difference. The unusually high 10K output impedance of the Sony was the perfect client for the Burson impedance-lowering portfolio.
Bass power improvements were primary in the perception ladder. With the Burson in place, bass becomes deeper and tighter. Bass speed is not marred by the increase in heft and music becomes a much more enjoyable and involving experience. Dynamic contrast throughout the whole frequency range is also much improved. I additionally enjoyed the marked improvement in palpability in the midrange where vocals tend to move a little forward in perspective.
Further up the frequency range, the Burson Audio Buffer's influence renders hi hats and cymbals with a crisp and airy extension that shimmers and decays wonderfully. As a result, recorded ambience in live productions sounds more real, more reminiscent of the live event as I imagine it would have been had I been there.
In conclusion, I would have to say that the Burson Audio Buffer reaps solid improvements in audio quality from mid-priced CD players, especially those with higher output impedance. Further up the price scale of CD playback where output stages may be of higher quality and impedances lower, the Burson influence becomes more subtle but still recognizable. Furthermore, potential improvements could be had from lowering the preamplifier's output impedance into the power amplifier by using the Burson as mediator between the two. Likely subjects for such a scenario would be certain valve preamps when mated with the low input impedance of typical solid-state power amps.
Given the internal parts quality, hefty power supply, decently built box and sonically positive influence, the Burson Audio Buffer represents a bit of a bargain. Further, it should be treated not as tweak but a proper component.
Who said diplomacy didn't work?