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The upshot for the Soloist? By handling HifiMan's HE-6 differently but as well as their matching EF6, it's an equal-opportunity employer for all commercial headphones. While HifiMan's class A Mosfet voicing points at valves in its shift away from the leading edge toward the trailing decay—not exactly like tubes but similar—Burson's Soloist wears its transistor colors more openly on the sleeve. This isn't a sound trying to be like tubes. It's recognizable but refined solid-state sound. It's a transient tracker for on-the-ball grippiness with excellent definition of shapes and high separation of individual events. It's firm and robust rather than fluffy and airy. It's more T5p than HD800. To a point. Which for this design exercise (putting it point blank) rather seems to have been the whole point.

Hard work in the hifi cockpit

Sibling rivalry. Compared to the HA-160 whose power cord needed to run floated to eliminate a ground loop, the Soloist was less solid-statish by downplaying the former's incisiveness which on rapidly plucked strings can become steely. That particular sharpness or edge-centric cayenne action was mellower. How had that been accomplished? Not by retreating from the leading edge like the EF6. The Soloist instead seemed to load up the tonal bloom portion more. This increased color saturation and subjective density. When leading-edge definition combines with deeper tone colors, transient fidelity and rhythmic tautness remain. It's the shadow side of edgi/etchiness which softens up. Nothing lost, something gained.

DA-160 with its two outputs feeding Soloist and HA-160 simultaneously - T5p at left, Audez'e LCD2 at right

To be clear, the EF6's softness vis-à-vis the Soloist described on the previous page was different. There a certain decay mistiness—Sam Tellig's famous Mosfet mist perhaps?—had shifted the tonal weighting away from the attacks. Think of a bit more reverb and/or greater mic distance. The Soloist instead stayed on the attack but added bloom emphasis. That made it feel softer and more saturated than the HA-160 but still clearly attackier and more focused down on detail than the HifiMan.

As have all prior Bursons of my acquaintance, the Soloist makes superb bass. Perhaps that's the established recipe of high-bias fully discrete class A circuitry in action. Whether it's getting the full measure of AKG's tuff-nut K-702 or maximizing control over the LCD-2's generous if fulsome low end, the Soloist is a real hard ass despite that artsy name. It's one reason why I've championed the combo of HA-160D/LCD-2. The darkish voicing of the original Audez'e orthos—I've not heard the LCD-3—was exceptionally well complemented by the muscular and fresh HA-160. If Sennheiser's HD800 particularly with stock leash struck you as too lit up and bright as they did me, that original Oz amp would have been less ideal. Burson's circuit advances of more tone color saturation plus greater power delivery into the Senn's high impedance (which translates into more buxom bass) make for a mellower more becoming pairing at least to these ears - taming the shrew like.

With NWO-M as 20 x AKM 4399 32/192 DACs per channel USB converter, Audirvana in direct/integer mode

As our own Frederic Beudot discovered happily if surprised when relocation to Canada involved certain hifi liquidations to have his HA-160D perform double duty, that headfi amp cum D/A converter made for a surprisingly good preamp in his now shared hifi/AV system. Here the Soloist goes even farther. To test for undesirable switching noise of the new resistor ladder control as a preamp, I ran 100-watt hi-gain amps—usually FirstWatt's 10wpc SIT monos hold court here—and hi-gain mode on the Soloist. On my 91dB boxes, volume changes up or down produced either no transients at all or the occasional very tiny pin prick. Useful range was quite narrow but setting the Soloist to low gain took care of that. Brilliant!

Aries Cerat Gladius with Red Wine Audio Liliana monos

In this usage the deeper penetration into tone paid perhaps even greater dividends. Hence the lack of remote control (understandable though it is for the sticker and resistor-ladder attenuation) hurts just a wee bit. At the sonic level the Soloist performs, real preamps come with remotes. And cost more.

Audiophilia at large entertains the persistent notion that transistor circuits need help with tone. Those sand amps which are universally acknowledged to be good at it—say the ARS Emitter—are usually anything but minimalist. Thus simpler circuits which presumably offer less room for trickery that might 'add' tone conflict conceptually. I predict that the average audiophile would rather suspect a leaner more stripped-back starker rawer sound. That the Soloist's stripped-down circuit goes the other way should perhaps tell us that less really can be more if one knows which parts to part with. Which would seem to rest entirely on longwinded experiments and keen auditions. The Soloist is a case officer of simpler equals more signal purity equals more not less tone. It's not about add-ons for strategic voicing. It's about less interference. At least so it appears to this jury.

With ALO-recabled Beyerdynamic T1 on Klutz Design's CanCan stand

If you've been amongst those who've long since applauded Burson's house sound and value-for-money approach, the Soloist won't seem that different. By improving on something that was very good already, one doesn't rewrite history. It's a hard-earned victory of a few won points. Call it clear family resemblance but greater maturity. That translates to more substance. And it's not like the Soloist doubled the HA-160's tariff. Its pricing remains in the same general vicinity as though to stress 'I'm newer and better but not radically different'. And that's both true and admirable for the admission. Aside from the sonic blossoming into richer tone, the Soloist throws in more features. Where the HA-160 had a single input, the newcomer gets three plus a line-out. There's more power to drive anything and deliver more gumption into high-impedance cans. There's the clever three-position game no gain changer. There's a superior preamp. In my book then the biggest overall change of Soloist versus HA-160 is value. It was high already. Now it's become even more... valuable. Should we expect a 3-in-1 Soloist à la popular HA-160D then? I'd say absolutely but would petition team Burson for an XMOS-based USB transceiver like an OEM hiFace II to up that game (and perhaps power that board's linear regulators from their own supply to hang up bus power). For the Soloist I can't think of any nits or wish-they-hads. And I tried. Hard. It really is a peach!
Burson Audio website