The 9018 Dac Chip
The Burson Conductor SL can be outfitted with two Dac options: The 9018 or the 1793. Both are very different and offer tonally opposite flavors, each pairs well with certain types of audio gear and sell for roughly $300 each individually. The 9018 is a vibrantly pure, tonally balanced and liquid-like chip that offers excellent pairing with the likes of the more neutral or natural headphones out there. Some purists absolutely love the sound this chip has through the Audeze LCD-3 ( $1945 ). Offering exceptional transparency and plenty of kick, the experience with most headphones in general will only be heightened that much more with a chip that sounds like this. With such a high level of clarity and purity comes a more reference tonality to the stereo presentation, a tonality that lacks musicality and warmth on the low end. This is a preference thing, so if you prefer the reference tone with a more solid and transparent sound approach, get yourself the 9018.
The low end of this Chip is moderate in quantity but lands a 10/10 in overall clarity. It pairs exceptionally well with the likes of the Sennheiser HD-800 and AKG K-812 headphones, so much so that I find no external amplification needed beyond the 2watts into 8 ohms that the Conductor SL offers. For dynamic headphones up to 300 ohms, I don’t think you would have any issues at all with output power needs but you will want to up your game a little with another amplifier of sufficient quality to help out with those Planar Magnetic headphones from Hifiman. My LCD-3 pairs extremely well with the 9018 and offers absolutely pristine quality and texture throughout the entire frequency spectrum. Top to bottom, the LCD-3 sounds stellar with a powerful, solid and weighted feel to the bass. I’ve found that on a flat and neutral EQ setup, the 9018 doesn’t provide much of a boosted low end at all yet remains tonally focused and concise no matter what headphone I am using with it. Due to being a basshead at heart, I always find myself cranking the bass up a bit, especially so with the Audeze LCD-3 and AKG K-812. I’d liked to have seen Burson include a simple bass output dial for EQ boosting, maybe even a treble response dial as well but I may be asking for too much. They went for quality in the basics over offering as many additional features as they could.
I find them lacking in a sense with most of the headphones I own, due mostly because of that sky high level of clarity in the midrange that really doesn’t set itself apart from the more moderate in quantity low end experience. On sets like the LCD-3, a set known for stellar midrange and bass, the experience is shoulder shrug worthy at best and I find myself yearning for more of a musical approach over the 9018’s more sterile approach to everything. With regard to the vocal experience, it is shockingly clear and realistic depending on your headphone being used. With highly dynamic sets like the Sennheiser HD-800 or similar, the 9018 offers some seriously realistic and deep sounding experiences. The better the sound stage in the headphone, the better this chip is going to sound. The Conductor prior to this SL model, as well as the HA-160 were both known for offering one of the most dynamic and well setup, spacious and airy stereo images there ever was in headphone amplifiers or dacs. Nothing really even came close and Burson was always known for having exceptional sound staging. the overall super dynamic and almost non existent background of the Conductor SL make for a very special combination pairing with the likes of the HD-800 or similar headphones with any sound staging reputations. In a physical sense of the word, the Conductor SL is neutral ground in terms of placement of the midrange, its not overly forward but certainly is not lacking in location.
I find it a bit bright but far from annoyingly so. The 9018 offers vibrancy and a hint of brightness throughout the entire presentation, almost shimmering and glistening in the night sky. Like moonlight on a dark and calm lake after the sun sets, the 9018’s natural and hard to feel background makes for a more pronounced treble recreation. I’m not a purist, nor am I into the reference tonality so I find this chip highly boring in general. However, the treble on this dac option is nothing short of beautiful. I would avoid usage with headphones like the Sennheiser HD-800 or AKG K-812 when it comes to treble response, as the 9018 is really unforgiving and will accurately push whatever the source material is emitting. Sadly, if your headphone sounds like ice bullets being shot into your eardrums I would avoid the 9018 at all costs. It’s not the fault of the 9018 at all, it’s your headphones fault. The 9018 sounds fantastic with the Hifiman HE-6 ( $1299 ), a headphone with perhaps the most beautiful and well developed treble response of any headphone ever made. The HE-6 treble makes the Audeze LCD-3 treble sound muffled and hissy, yet the LCD-3 is pretty good on the treble to begin with so that only tells the tale of how good the upper end on Bursons 9018 dac chip really is.
Click on next page for sound impressions with the 1793 DAC Chip