Tonality8.5
Build & Functionality9
Matchability8.5
Value For Money8.6
8.7
Our Score

Kind of hard to say no to Burson, isn’t it? At this point, it seems like Burson is a never-fail company that can churn out wins in their sleep. There have been far too many stellar product releases in the amplifier circuits this year to name, so I am dying to “see” if the new Soloist MK2 can truly live up to the reputation of the original model and the 2016 Bottomless Pit-O’Products, which is filling rapidly with a plethora of other great amplifiers. Can Burson’s new Class-A, 2Watt per channel amp get the job done in today’s market?

Build Quality

Great is a lowly word to use to describe the build quality of Burson’s $499 Soloist SLMK2. Perhaps, this time I will use the phrase objectively top tier, something proper to denote absurd, almost needlessly fantastic quality materials used. The entire chassis is a thick cut aluminum that nears the point of density and weight for usage as a bludgeoning weapon.

Don’t go whack an old lady with it, please…unless…it is a zombie old lady and the Apocalypse has already begun or if society has deteriorated and the horde breaks into your Hifi listening room. I’m not kidding, most of Burson’s amps (well, really all of them) earn 9/10 ratings from me for their rock solid build quality. The only way it gets better is if they start using precious stone work in their chassis.

5

Sound Impressions

Bass

Gently musical is what I am feeling on this one. Comparing directly to the Conductor SL 1793 results in the Soloist MK2 outputting more of a natural vibe, something with a small potential for just a bit of warmth in the bassy regions of the spectrum. Seems ideal, really. Over the past few years, it has become blatantly obvious that the majority of Hifi’ers are leaning towards this type of sound signature, so it is only natural Burson would turn that into an advantage for them.

Less Coloration

I was a long time owner of the older HA160, probably my favorite mid-tier, Solid State amplifier of all time. I can safely say that the newer Soloist has less coloration and striation potential in the lower areas, that much is very clear. Musical tone chasers who enjoy boosted bass may not be in the right place on this one, but those who want just a little bit of something extra down yonder are the types of listeners I’d be recommending this to.

Quality

Quality is sublime, of course. For the price, just one amplifier over the past year has been able to match it: the Feliks Audio Espressivo, which is a tube amplifier that sells for just under $300. With certain and more expensive tube rolling options, I can get both amplifiers to offer the same quality across the board. However, that Espressivo needs a few-hundred dollar of upgraded tubes just to get on par with the $499 Soloist Mk2.

With regard to bass quality, the Soloist offers a purer, quicker sound that doesn’t seem slow on decay factor at all. That means that headphone models out there with bass bloom and a lot of warmth may not be the most well suited for usage. You’ll want to stick to headphones that offer a faster bass response, something less boosted and more crystalline in setup down in those low, nether regions of yours.

3

Mids

As expected, Burson makes sure to tune their products with plenty of forwardness in the vocal experience, enough to really satisfy those who enjoy the LCD series type headphones, or really any headphone with a moderate to very in your face feel to their midrange.

Burson does midrange better than most, at least in my humble opinion. They tend to offer a moderate level heft factor, combined that with excellent forwardness in the vocals and you usually end up with a midrange lovers dream rig: the HA160, the Conductor series, the Virtuoso, it really doesn’t matter. They all seem identical in setup and of course, this newer MK2 Soloist is no different.

Quality

Quality is stellar for this price tier, as circling back to the Espressivo as really the only competition I am even aware of for the $300-500 tier. Which model was king of this tier before this? The Burson HA160. No doubts there for me. Burson amps lack nasalness of the upper midrange and any bleed from the bass into the midrange. It is ideally tuned in that regard.

If you own any of the LCD series headphones, especially the LCD2 or LCD3 models, you should really enjoy this Soloist MK2. This is a wonderful starting point for enthusiasts who purchased a nice headphone that has a moderate to very forward mid-feel. That means that vocals do not sound recessed here, they sound lively and very near field. Typically, headphones like the HD800, headphones that are known for a recessed midrange or V-shape, as the Hifi community calls it, will not be the wisest choice for the physical setup matching.

For quality? Sure, go for it. This amp has excellent quality. But, if you want proper rig pairing, stick with forward headphones and avoid using recessed headphones. If you are new to the hobby, don’t stress. The Soloist SL MK2 is an excellent choice if you want to buy a powerhouse, Solid State Amp, so I still recommend it to you. Once you get a taste for what you want and how your headphones sound on other rigs though, you’ll want to move to something else that better matches up with your V-shape sounding, recessed midrange headphones where the vocal experience is relaxed and not so vividly upfront.

Treble

Personally, I think this is the Soloist MK2’s best trait. Sweet, sexy and seductive, just like most of the other models from this company that offers a more natural tonality across the board elsewhere. I am detecting a gentle brightness, something raised above what I consider neutral. I call it wonderfully sparkled in just the right way. That gentle sheen is what I am after in my personal setup, so I’m happy to report the treble experience on this amplifier is beautiful. HD650, Fidelio X2/L2 owners and similar dark sounding headphones with a potential for a popping treble experience despite that will be right at home here with the Soloist MK2.

Quality

For quality assurance, I’ve been testing with my $1,800 Noble Audio K10 Custom IEM’s and have been unable to stop listening at times. The top end of this amp slams just right, without causing wince or shoulder shrugging when something loud or sudden occurs in an overly abundant manner. I get a sense of just the right amount of this, without it becoming annoying. Again, this is just another thing most Burson amps have in common.

As for the quality, I have heard better amps and I can exceed the beautiful quality of the MK2’s top end with sufficiently expensive tubes in the Espressivo. But again, that’s the money talking there. If you got it, flaunt it, that’s what I say. But, you ‘ll not be unsatisfied with the treble quality. I don’t consider it as pure as the bass below it, but I do not for an instant consider it anything other than very nice and very good for the price.

1

Imaging/Sound Stage

When you think Burson, you think excellent imaging and sound stage properties. That much is a given and, of course, this is no different with this newer Soloist SL MK2. Right off the bat, you are met with a very well formed, physical setup. Something of equal parts depth, width, height and with a good sense of air between instruments. No, it doesn’t sound as spacious as my Heron 5 from Airist Audio (originally around $2000,recently dropped to $999) but I can say the experience is still lovely. It won’t matter what headphones you use, whether they be very spacious or very intimate sounding, you’ll be getting the best overall staging properties in a Solid State amp that money can buy for $499.

When I paired this model with the Focal Elear ($999) and my Cowon Plenue M used as a DAC ($899) I’d experienced one of those “Hifi Moments” we audiophiles hunt for years to find. In the track titled In my Fathers House, by an artist called Eric Bibb, album titled Spirit & The Blues…I remembered why I was an audiophile for the first time all year. Of course, after using the Burson, I had swapped to a much more expensive amp to re-experience it, but what is important here is that it started on the Soloist MK2 first. There is a specific point in this track where a new, secondary artist sings into only the stereo-left channel, which caused me to literally jerk my head to the side to see if someone was standing beside me trying to speak to me suddenly.

With excellent imaging like this, the Soloist MK2 will remain top tier for sound stage requirements and will replace the older HA160 as my go to reference and prime recommendation product when others ask me what amp I would be using if I wanted the best overall sound stage experience for sub $500. For years, that answer was always the HA160 by Burson, an older amp they made years ago. Then, the Espressivo took that spot for just a few months this year in 2016. Now, Burson is right back on top as having offered the best amp for staging properties in the price range.

2

Our Verdict

At the end of this, it is very clear that Burson wanted to add just a bit of musicality on the low end, but without going too far into it like with their 1793 circuit, which tends to sound very warm and colored in their more expensive models of the Conductor series. This amp is for those just getting into the middle tier and this amp can easily become the new stepping stone into true Hifi. Yet another gateway drug from Burson, one that I can’t stop listening to with certain headphones. They did it to me for years with the HA160, then they did it to me again with the 1793 Conductor SL and now once more with the Soloist.

If you want a powerful amp that can drive almost any headphone on the market, outside of the absurd HE-6 type headphones that are massively inefficient, as well as one that sounds great overall with damn near flawless setup, then I will certainly be recommending the Soloist MK2. Undoubtedly, this model took the new crown spot right in the middle as the best overall Solid State amp I’ve come across all year.

For $499, you can’t go wrong. She’s got plenty of juice under the hood, looks sleek and sexy to boot and has exceptional staging and bass purity for the price tag. Burson can do no wrong. When they put their minds to it, they are one of the few amp companies out there that will produce a product that won’t be topped for many years to come. Great job, Burson. Can’t wait to see what’s next from you in the near future.

Technical Specifications

  • Input impedance: 30 KOhms
  • Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 – 50Khz
  • Signal to noise ratio: >96dB
  • THD: <0.03% at 30ohm with 1W ouput
  • Channel separation: >73dB
  • Output power: 2.5W at 16 Ohms
  • Input impedance: >8K Ohm @ 30 Ohm, 1W
  • Output impedance: Power dissipation: >23W, internal, regulated power supply
  • Inputs: 2 x gold plated RCA (line level input)
  • Outputs 1 x headphone jacks 6.35mm
  • Weight: app. 2.5 kg (5.5lbs)
  • Color: silver anodized aluminium
  • Dimensions: 5.5in x 3in x 8in (140 mm x 80 mm x 210 mm)

About The Author

Senior Reviewer

Self Proclaimed Musicality Guru, Photographer, Audiophile and part time Ninja. I started my audio journey back in 96' and haven't looked back. My ultimate goal in this life is to experience as many Hifi rigs as possible...because I am an audio addict.

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  • Cowpoke

    I do wish manufacturers would acknowledge the new audio reality and include USB-A inputs on their headphone amplifiers.

    • headfonics

      Why? it is an Amp, not a DAC

  • Josh

    Well this seems like a good amp to pair with my Elear also but I thought about the Supreme Sound Lycan which is also made by Burson. Now I’m looking at an all in one option with the Schiit Jotunheim which is the same price (with the dac) as the Soloist. So many choices but I’d say the Soloist SL MK2 and the Jotunheim are at the top of my list now.

  • Damian Bonadonna

    How much better than the Burson 160D are we talking about? BTW, awesome review.

    • 24bit

      Thanks!

      For some odd reason, I didn’t get a single notification of any comments here. My apologies for the super late responses, I just didn’t see them until just now.

      Noticeable improvements across the board, without question. I was a long time owner of the 160D and resold it shortly after this Soloist came in. How much? I wouldn’t begin to know how to rate that specifically. What percentage would you rate overall about a product you find audibly superior right away vs another product? Hard to say if I had to give a numerical value.

      I think the 160D is inferior in every way, but still is a great option for that used price it has been sitting at for the past few years. If not the Feliks Espressivo and another dac combo, I’d still be using the 160D.

  • Hélder

    Hello Michael,
    Thank you for the great review!
    I love the pair nighthawk + iFi micro iDac2.
    Can you tell me if the Soloist can make this pair even better?
    Thank you in advance.
    Keep going with the good job!
    Hélder

    • 24bit

      My apologies for the late response, I failed to see this comment until now. The Nighthawk isn’t power hungry and I think you can get by with it by itself. However, yes, the Soloist will certainly improve things. More power, better stereo imaging and better clarity overall I would say.

  • ductrung3993

    Hey Mike,

    Is there anyway to distinguish between this and the mark 1?

    Also, what are the improvement that these bring to the Elear? I have an incoming elear and is considering this amp.

    Thank you.

    • 24bit

      Hi!

      The MK1 is missing the – and + stamps just below the volume dial. Outside of that, everything else is the same so far as I am aware.

      The Elear will be bottle necked by this amp. But, if sub $600US is your budget, then this and the Elise by Feliks Audio are your go to amps. But, the Elear certainly sounds better on better amps than this. Hard to say what it would bring to your table specifically, that depends on what you had prior. I can’t think of any other amps in this price tier that are on the level of this Mk2 or the Elise (which is roughly the same price) so odds are good if you are amp upgrading to this Mk2, then you’ll be on point with one of the best available sounding sub $600US amp on the market (at least that I’ve heard).

      • ductrung3993

        Thank you for getting back Mike.

        I just read on how you loved the Elear + Elise combo. That does give me some second thought even I’m still leaning towards the Burson as I can find one for 60% money of the Elise. How would you compare Elear + Burson vs Elear + Elise?

        • 24bit

          Elise is a Chameleon with tube rolling and will output superior everything than the Burson, but that will be costly with tube upgrades. The stock Elise is neutral in my opinion, mean’t for accuracy and clinical tone. The Burson is the more musical, but still not what I would consider highly musical. It’s warmth is noticeably there, but not overbearing or overly colored.

          Elear is finicky with the Treble, due to having plentiful amounts of it that are moderately well responsive/sensitive depending on the track. So, the Burson will likely cover that up more than the Elise if the track is harsh.

          • ductrung3993

            Thank you for the insights Mike, I will keep those in minds. As for now though, I have just bought a Chord Mojo since I saw a deal that I could not resist. Finger crossed on Elear + Mojo then 🙂

          • 24bit

            Very Welcome. I have not had a chance to detail that Mojo combo, but others I know do own it and insist it is a fantastic pairing. I was on the fence as well about grabbing a mojo, but I decided to save up for the Onkyo Granbeat instead. Need a new phone anyway, so…you know…two birds one stone. Lol.

  • Beniamin

    Hey Mike ,
    Tell me please
    How “Soloist sl mk 2” sounds compared to Phonitor mini? I know you didn’t like “phonitor mini” but still is a 500$ amp sounds better then 850$ one ?

    And what do you think is better for akg k812 Soloist sl mk2 or Phonitor mini?

  • glangford

    Hey Mike, I’ve had this amp now for a little over a year. It’s a great sounding amplifier. I have it pair with Senn 650 HDs. For s music source I’m using an Oppo BDP-95 stereo analog outs with a combination of CDs, SACDs, and flac files. A great set up. That gentle treble ‘sheen’ you refer to does seem to bring out the best of the 650s. I have to wonder if that is a design trait carried over from the HA-160, that as I understand was developed for the 650s.

    I particularly like the dual inputs. I now have an oppo bdp-203, so for late night movie viewing I can use the senns/soloist combo for that with just a push of a button. Before I had to just plug my senns into the AVR, not my preferred option, of course.

    • 24bit

      Not quite. The HA160 and D version were noticeably warmer and more prone to exaggeration on the low end. Of course, you can still use it with it and get good sound. It just won’t be as warm and velvet-ish as it would on the older HA 160’s. Still a solid choice though.

  • RussMan77

    Hey Mike,
    Awesome review. BTW i grabbed a Burson Soloist Mk2 to use with my Focal Elears. I am feeding it from a Modi (First gen). I wanted to upgrade to a better DAC. What do you recommend?

    • 24bit

      Thanks! The Modi isn’t clinical, nor overly warm, so if you want to retain that tone but also clean up and expand the stage, I’d hunt for a Burson HA160D, just the DAC version (hard to find though). I’d also consider the Schiit Bifrost gen1 used.

      If your budget is lower, I’d opt for the SPECTRA by Nextdrive, I recently reviewed that and found it a nice combo for my Soloist MK2 during testing.

      • RussMan77

        I was considering the 160D but I can’t find it anywhere. What are your thoughts on an IDac2 instead of a Bifrost? my budget is about $500

        Thanks in advance

        • 24bit

          This depends on .DSD and if you require it or not. If you do, then don’t try for the older HA160D, as it doesn’t handle DSD at all.

          If you do require DSD functions, then of course the iDAC2 is the better option, but it is very musical to me and pairing it with the Burson Soloist MK2 kind of negates the tone. To me, that is an improper rig pairing. The reason being:

          IDAC2 – very musical, exaggerating, fun
          Soloist MK2 – not lacking musical tone, but has a hint of it, its closer to neutral in that regard with subtle instances of warmth in the bass area.

          This pair would result in a slightly boosted bass experience with a dry tone overall, something I subjectively dislike. But, for quality purposes this is still a great rig. The IDAC2 is fantastic in quality across the board and so is the MK2. So in that sense, the pairing is great. But, I think the tone will be wonky for usage with the Elear if you wanted to retain what the Elear is best for.

          But sure. I would still recommend the IDAC2 if that is in your budget range. Fantastic DAC, no doubt. But, one that is more musical than the MK2 is capable of, at least in my opinion, so that tone loss would be too substantial for those who want a very musical sound, which the Elear can produce with a very warm and musical DAC + very warm musical AMP.

          My initial reason for not recommending it was the quality difference between the iDAC2 and the MK2 amp being too close to justify, which is a good thing if you have the money. Wasn’t sure if you were on a budget or not. The MK2 is great enough to use a DAC a little bit less nice than the IDAC2 and still get the same sound in quality, at least the same ball park, as it would with the Nextdrive SPECTRA ($129).

          The reason for that is because the MK2 shoots hell and beyond above its price point in quality. So, using a $349 iDAC2 with the MK2 amp is going to result in a very close call in quality, compared to using the $129 Spectra with the MK2.

          The tonality will be vastly different, but in terms of pure quality of bass, mids and treble, I doubt even a proficient reviewer would be able to tell which was certainly superior to the other rig..

          Sorry, that was a long post. Using Dragon Speaking makes this so easy. Haha.

          • RussMan77

            Thanks Mike! I ordered the SPECTRA.

          • 24bit

            Great, hope you enjoy it!

          • RussMan77

            Hey Mike for a second rig setup using the IDAC2 and Elears, which amp would you recommend to unlock the Elear’s full musical tonality potential? Heron 5?

          • 24bit

            Considering the Heron 5 is now often sold for just $500 used, yep. It would be the only amp sub $1000 these days I’d ever “Want” to use with the Elear.

  • BobbyBane

    Thanks for the review. Because of it I picked up the Soloist SL MK2 but I want to upgrade as I just bought a pair of the new MrSpeakers Aeon, which have a similar sound signature as the Ether C FLow. As you really like the Heron 5, would you recommend it as an upgrade from the Soloist SL MK2? If not what would you recommend?

    • 24bit

      I do recommend the Heron 5, especially since the price was significantly dropped and used prices range around $500 now. Hell of an amp for that price and very musical. A nicely noticeably improvement over the MK2 here, for sure.