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Reviewer: Edgar Kramer
Source Digital: Metronome T-1i CD player with DAISy HE Remote Control
Preamp/Integrated: Supratek Sauvignon with NOS RCA and Bendix tubes; NuForce P9
Amplifier: NuForce Reference 9 V2 Special Edition monoblocks
Speakers: Wilson Audio Specialties WATT/Puppy System 6
Cables: digital: Cerious Technologies; Harmonic Technology Magic; analog interconnect: Cerious Technologies; CRL Gold [in for review]; Harmonic Technology Magic and Truthlink Silver; DanA Digital Reference Silver; Eichmann eXpress 6 Series 2; Bocchino Audio Morning Glory; PSC Audio Pristine R30 Ribbon [on loan]; speaker: Cerious Technologies and Harmonic Technology PRO-9+ loudspeaker cables; power: Cerious Technologies AC; Harmonic Technology Fantasy; Shunyata Research Diamondback, Eichmann eXpress AC power cables; PSC Gold Power MKII AC cable
Stands: Finite Elemente Pagode Signature equipment racks
Powerline conditioning: PS Audio P-300 Power Plant (digital equipment only)
Sundry accessories: Burson Audio Buffer, 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: 17' w x 35' d x 12' h in short wall setup, opens to adjoining kitchen
Review component retail: AUD$1,420

Bare-boned Burson
The high-end audio industry is beleaguered. New companies morph up from the remnants of past corporate identities or from the fruits of relentless technical, manufacturing and design talents. Some of these gifted designers manifest their version of the audio truth by producing complex and highly sophisticated products with advanced features, a multitude of operational options and plentiful cosmetic flair. Others seek a path of simplicity and purity with little adornment. Both approaches can be successful - or not.

Squarely of the second school of design and from a DIY background is Australian company Burson Audio. Their realistically priced output stages and buffers (see my review of the Burson Audio Buffer here), low-jitter clocks and Super Regulators are the staple diet of audio enthusiasts on a tight budget but with a refined audio palate. Achieving success with DIY-style products has helped the company launch a 'commercial' component design and manufacturing campaign that has resulted in an integrated amplifier, the PI-100, and the subject of this review, the P-100 preamplifier.

The Burson Audio P-100 is a low feature-count preamplifier that skimps on the unnecessary and hopes to make up for it in terms of sonic prowess. On offer is an acceptably finished brushed aluminium fascia that fronts a reasonably solid chassis. But the word solid does not come to mind when describing the back panel where moderate pressure to insert connectors results in precarious flexing. A simple solution would be to machine a channel on the top and bottom plates to slot in and brace the rear panel. One side of the rear panel holds three RCA inputs on quality sockets, one of which is a theater through-put. The opposite half has two outputs (at least Burson has catered to bi-amplification and subwoofer users with its second output) and the IEC socket. That's it. Similar sparseness features in front - the on/off rocker with the ubiquitous blue LED plus volume and input selector knobs. That's also it. Annoyingly, neither the volume nor the input knobs have any marking or indent to identify their positions. This may not be crucial on the inputs but the volume control's lack of ID was a constant source of annoyance. I was never able to judge the volume position from a fresh start and neither was I able to visually return the knob to a position I knew provided appropriate level.

The P-100 has a moderate high gain of 15dB, a very low and amplifier-friendly output impedance of 25 ohms and a source-friendly input impedance of 220K. THD plus noise is 0.005% from 20Hz to 20Khz. The specified frequency response is 20Hz to 20Khz +/- 0dB, with the lack of -3dB point disguising how wideband the circuit is. The unit weighs in at healthy 7kgs and measures 430 by 100 by 360mm WxHxD. And that is pure simplicity in specifications. Some other important design features are the use of custom-built low-noise shielded transformers, hand-picked and closely matched transistors, symmetrical layout with optimized signal paths and high-quality internal wiring.

Wanting more, I approached Burson designer Jack Thomas for a bit of additional information on the P-100's internal design and the company's goals: "First off, our preamp is true dual mono in design. That's ideal at this very fragile stage of signal amplification because only a dual mono design can completely separate two channels and eliminate related distortions. We have a tradition of and belief in building discrete circuitries (devices without IC op-amps). Our preamp continues that tradition. It is fully discrete in design, from the power supply to the amplification stages. We are very proud of this as very few manufactures in the market can produce discrete output stages and even fewer offer discrete power supplies. The complexity in design and its associated production cost puts most manufactures off.

"The discrete power supply of our Pre-100 is based on our discrete low noise regulator technology, which continues to be very popular among hard core DIY audiophiles. A super low noise power supply as combined with our class A discrete amplification stage allows the preservation of those finer details often masked by unclean power from the wall socket. Our Burson Audio Buffer has already demonstrated the importance of impedance matching in audio systems. Our Pre-100 employs an even more sophisticated buffer stage to ensure that it will synergize with any audio system."

"Being a discrete design, we were able to tune the sonic characteristic of our Pre-100 to reflect Burson Audio's musical preferences. You asked what makes our preamp special. I suppose it is the combination of all the above plus our absolute passion for music."

"Being a discrete design, we were able to tune the sonic characteristic of our Pre-100 to reflect Burson Audio's musical preferences. You asked what makes our preamp special. I suppose it is the combination of all the above plus our absolute passion for music."

The power and the passion
The P-100 slotted in quite well as driver for my reference NuForce Ref9SE V2. Electrically, no mismatches here, especially with the on-board Burson Buffer contained within the pre's chassis already. These synergies went well beyond the electrical realm. Sonically, things were cookin' too. The first CD I played was one of my long-term references, Nils Lofgren's Acoustic Live. I was profoundly impressed. After reviewing the NuForce V2 amplifiers as they rocked and rolled with their stable mate pre, the P-9, I was getting awesome, if slightly different, sonic results again.

The Burson preamplifier possesses an inherently warm and full-bodied character that negates common perceptions of what a solid-state component should sound like. Nils' guitar sounded full and tonally correct while retaining his stylistic speed and attack. There was a sense of image body, fluidity and lack of grit that opens the doors to all those seeking valve-like performance with solid-state reliability and low maintenance. Back to the Lofgren, perhaps there was a little less air to the acoustics of the venue as compared to the NuForce but this difference was minor. Very minor.

Brian Bromberg's Wood is a well-produced CD that highlights the man's skill and intimate knowledge of his instrument. On his cover of the Beatles' "Come Together", the Burson reproduced the tone and body of the bass in a way that represented the instrument most realistically. And although the NuForce P-9 is still the bass champ as far as this writer is concerned, the Burson, again, was damn close. Timbre in the bass was as good as I've heard. Brian's instrument stuns with its speed and authority and on the transients, up there in the upper mids and lower highs, the attacks were not stunted by a lack in dynamic contrast.

Another outstanding aspect of the P-100 was its ability with harmonic content. Nothing better than piano to test this all-important area of performance and Australian modern Jazz virtuosi and young guns Misinterprotato were prime subjects for this purpose. Their Variations CD is a gorgeous production of acoustic instruments and the P-100 in no way detracted from its inherent musical and recorded beauty. Sean Foran's piano had all the air and decays transmitted unscathed, all the high notes shimmer and the lows resonates, with tone and timbre that once again reflected the live instrument.

Ditto for Pat Marchisella's bass and John Parker's drums. In the case of the latter, the snare
and kick had a transparency of presence and dynamic contrast was like removing a Burkha veil. And all this transparency, detail and life-like presence was not an etched and hyper-real mirage, not an unreachable overlay of reality but a smoothly and warmly presented facsimile. There is a difference here. One strives for reality but that's no more than a ploy that disillusions in the end. The other is an honest and up-front attempt at reproducing reality while never insinuating more.

I'm going through a phase where I can't stop listening to A Perfect Circle's The Thirteenth Step. I can't seem to get enough of this most moving fare. The music and lyrics create an atmosphere and mood that cause a chemical reaction in this listener's grey matter. The Burson presents this sometimes aggressive, sometimes mellow music without detracting from any emotiveness. Yet, there's speed, resolution and tremendously powerful slam, be it guitars, bass, drums or manic vocals. There's never a stray into harshness either, although it's all presented without diminishing information.

The Burson Audio P-100 preamplifier is far from the last word on fit and finish and when one
inspects features, things are quite Spartan. But sonically, this is among the best preamplifiers I've had the pleasure of auditioning. When looking at the asking price, that alone makes it one of the best bargains this writer has come across in a long career in high-end audio. All manner of music as directed by the Burson P-100 -- yes, a preamp directs but the more skilful the director, the less obvious his personality -- retained its liveliness, transparency and detail and while being furnished with a subtle warmth, it made this director more Fellini, the NuForce P9 more De Sica.

I like them both, fantasy and reality. When spurred by imagination, what places one may reach...
Quality of packing: Single box with foam protection.
Reusability of packing: Can be reused.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Very easy.
Condition of component received: As new.
Completeness of delivery: Basic - product only.
Quality of owner's manual: No manual or documentation of any kind.
Ease of assembly: None required.
Website comments: Informative, with some theory, information and pricing
Warranty: 1 year,
Human or web interactions: Prompt and professional.
Pricing: Excellent value.
Final comments & suggestions: Very basic package that ideally would require an owner's manual and stouter back panel integration.
Manufacturer's website