8.5
Score
Starting at $399

Disclaimer: The Burson Playmate sent to us is a sample unit in exchange for our honest opinion.

We thank the team at Burson for giving us this opportunity. 

You can find out more about Burson products reviewed on Headfonics here.

A few weeks ago, Burson sent me an interesting DAC and AMP combo called the Playmate. It comes in a few different variants for an extra cost. Today, we will be covering the base model, which sells for $399

Design

As with all Burson products, the build quality offered has always been primed in the excellent tier. The chassis is made of a nice cut of black anodized aluminum and feels very heavy and dense at about 1.5kg.

For such a small product, it puts out a high-quality vibe. I am glad that the Playmate isn’t large and cumbersome. The volume dial is fantastically smooth. The visual screen on the front of the unit is bright and vivid I feel like I am moving out of that territory and prefer, at least, these days, a smaller footprint.

Something slick and stylish looking is my desired setup now and I am trying to move off the large, retro looking amplifiers and DAC’s so I can save space. I can safely say the Playmate looks like a proper pinup on my desk and I enjoy it very much.

Burson Playmate

Variations

Just a brief rundown of each extra optional components that you can add on for extra cost:



  • Basic (NE5532 X4 ) $399 <— What I am reviewing now
  • V6 Vivid (V6 Vivid Dual X4 ) $649
  • V6 Classic (V6 Classic Dual X4) $649
  • Playmate Everest V6 (V6 Vivid Dual X 2, V6 Classic X2) $749
  • Playmate Noir + Bang V6 (V6 Vivid or Classic Dual X5) $1,248

The addition of OPAMPs will alter the sound of the stock version, so assume fully that each other Playmate type here that is offered will sound a bit different. Assuming also that there is a price to fidelity ratio (of course) then the Noir Everest and Noir + Bang V6 would likely be the one that offers the highest fidelity.

I cannot say much about these variants, as I’ve not heard them. Stay tuned because we do have the V6 Classic opamps on the way from Burson and we will update this review in due course.

The base model is the only variant that does not come with a remote.

Burson Playmate

Connections

The Playmate only has a single USB and a Toslink input, alongside a standard RCA and ¼ headphone output. Due to the quality of the audio experience, the overall fidelity, I would never have expected Burson to design in a dedicated Microphone input as well on the front of the Playmate.

The Playmate also supports Android and iOS with a Micro-C connection on the front of the unit. If you want to use that with iOS though, you’ll probably need a C to Lightning adapter.

There are also some brackets and cables included that will let you connect to the inside of your PC as well. Although, if you do plan to jack in directly to your motherboard with that option, make sure you have a powerful PSU for your computer. This amp pulls up to 2 watts out, so a low-tier to moderate tier PSU won’t cut it.

Gaming

Are you a gamer looking for a fantastic DAC to pair with your standard, non-USB enabled microphone? Well, look no further. This is one solid mid-tier amplifier and DAC combo that offers it to begin with.

I recall talking about this to Burson years ago in another review and mentioning that I would love a dedicated mic option. One that is separate from the standard headphone jack. Now, I can use a 3.5mm desktop mic, or even a Zalman clip and also use some supreme headphones like my LCD-MX4 or my new Massdrop DT17xx.

This kinda destroys the digital-based microphones out there, like the Audeze Mobius. Not in fidelity, per se but, in connection mic quality type. Sure, the Mobius (speaking of only the microphone quality) is nice but that offers only a USB-C connection that is used as a DAC and that requires connection into the USB to use the VoIP solutions out there.

I would actually prefer to use my Mobius via 3.5mm and a separate, much nicer microphone with the Playmate.

Burson Playmate

I Swear I Don’t Cheat!

 I’ve been banned from the very small community who still plays CoD Modern Warfare 2. HAHA. I’m not even kidding. My voice quality suddenly improved with the Playmates mic option and the combination of that + my Massdrop DT17xx made my a force to be reckoned with in the game world.

Why is this a big deal? Because at long last, we don’t have to deal with internal sound card nonsense on a PC that can offer some lovely ground noise and hiss. For the first time in a long time, my desktop mic can be used in conjunction with a fantastic, audiophile-grade DAC and AMP combo. I couldn’t be happier.

One of my favorite games is Borderlands 2 on the PC and I’ve clocked countless hours on it. It is heavily reliant on voice communications between team members and most of my peers refer to my excellent quality now.

Beyond that, I can hear game audio and peer communications on a supremely high fidelity factor. Life is good. I prefer analog connections for Mics. I just don’t have good luck with USB variants of microphones these days. It is a driver issue with me, almost always.

Sound Impressions

Fidelity – DAC Tone

The Playmate is equipped with an ESS 9038Q2M, which recently, I’ve come to enjoy. However, in this basic configuration, I am not at all fond of the overall tonality. It feels overly cold to me up top no matter what EQ or DSP I drop in.

Comparisons with the older Burson Conductor SL I own is a no contest A/B test for me. The Conductor, using the 9018 sounds more natural to me, less metallic on the top end. And I think that is what is causing my negative feelings toward tonality on this Playmate: the treble tone and presentation.

Remember, this has nothing to do with fidelity and clarity, which is excellent overall and which I will detail in each area of the frequency in just a minute. This is a metallic sheen tonality issue I have with the Playmate in this configuration. I am sure the upgraded versions sound much better.

If you enjoy the Objective o2 DAC, you will probably really enjoy this type of sound. But, as a music enthusiast and one who prefers less neutrality on a subjective level, this isn’t desirable for me on a personal level.

Again, if you like neutrality, then you should feel happy with the top end tonality. I draw clear lines between what I feel to be subjective and objective information. Objectively, the fidelity factor is fantastic for the price.

Subjectively, I dislike neutrality and tonality of this type and that intense on the top end. Those with warm sounding headphones or amplifiers, where this DAC will be used as a music source, will not pair nicely with this version of the Playmate. Neutral rigs will pair nicely.

Burson Playmate

Bass

The base version Playmate option is mildly and moderately setup in quantity on the low end overall. The physical potency of the low end, the literal amount on a flat or deactivated EQ, is less than desirable.

I consider it the low end of moderate and unable to do justice to bass canons like my JVC SZ2000. It is more elegantly set up for something like the Massdrop Beyerdynamic DT17xx, which is a great meshing with the Playmate overall.

Even with plentiful DSP added in, the Playmate isn’t responding nicely to low end boosting and requires a lot of extra boosting to hear any audible change. Don’t worry about that if you are a neutral enthusiast. You won’t be adding in anything, to begin with, likely. But, if you do need a bit more, you can surely get it with headphones or speakers that aren’t offering a focus on bass, or lower mids.

Purity

The pure fidelity factor is excellent though. Talk about clean and then some. Pristine even. The 9038 series is getting better over time and we’ve only just begun with this family of DAC’s. I really enjoy this amp with IEM’s, as it offers a lower impedance factor that is suitable for IEM usage, where the last gen Play had some issue with that.

Do note that this Playmate base model is going to sound different from the other variants, so select carefully, ask questions and do your research. Rig pairing is vital and you can tailor the opamp options to your preferences to achieve a much better sound presentation set up just for your tastes.

I’m sure Burson will help you rig pair with options suited for you if you ask them. Hopefully, in the near future, I can experience all the variants and also help out with questions.

Mids

Typically, Burson products have a great sense of vocalism and midrange appeal. So too, this Playmate sounds like an amped up 9018 inside the Conductor series. Better in every way. Solidity factor and smoothness is what I am hearing as the biggest upgrade over the last generation.

This amplifier sounds so slick and liquid sometimes. Sorry for the flowery language, but the word liquid is the best I could come up with to describe it. The effortlessness factor is off the chart good on this model and if you are experienced enough in audio to denote what that means in regard to sound type, then you should be salivating at the moment for this Playmate. The A/B comparisons back to the older Conductor series using the 9018 chip sound noticeably grainier and forceful.

The Playmate sounds lush, thicker and also more “effortless” and sublime. This is a great option for neutral headphones that are not very forward sounding, but typically sound more relaxed or moderately presented. It pairs immensely well with my Audeze MX4.

Usually, very forward speakers or headphones sound less effortless and more impacting, at least, for the most part. My ATH-ESW11LTD, a very forward mid sounding headphone, doesn’t mesh with this Playmate.

However, my DT17xx does. Anything with a less than forward sounding midrange sounds excellent in the way of rig pairing. The overall fidelity factor is, again, excellent for the $399 tier. I enjoy it very much, especially so when used as a speaker source via RCA output.

Moreover, the Playmate is a fantastic music source for my HDP6 speaker setup, which is mostly natural/neutral. However and again, not a good source for my Edifier S2000Pro, which are warm and vivid sounding in tonality. Opt-in, wisely.

Burson Playmate

Treble

As mentioned before, the tonality of the upper end that is presented to me feels a bit too metallic. It has a tendency to sound a little muted, but prone to sudden bursts of brighter than usual treble instances.

In essence, the top end is a bit problematic, but not overly so. It really depends on the headphone I am using before I even notice it is an issue. For example, the DT17xx will pick that up clear as day. However, my JVC SZ2000 ( a bassy headphone ) will not showcase that so intensely.

This isn’t a sibilance issue, the Playmate isn’t sibilant or hostile at all up there. It is nice and clear for the price, at least, in my opinion. It is merely a tonality type that is a stark difference from the bass and midrange, which I consider to be more natural sounding and less colored into the cool spectrum than the top end is.

I would say be a bit careful using old recordings and very neutral sounding speakers or headphones with this base version of the Playmate. If your gear is a bit warmer, odds are good you won’t notice it as an issue.

Imaging

This is the first Burson DAC/AMP that I am going to refer to as moderate in spaciousness and one with a better focus on intimate sounding gear than wide and vast sounding gear. There isn’t much treble air and space on this model and that is not at all a bad thing.

If you own a T1 from Beyerdynamic, you will love this Playmate. It is immensely well suited to focused sound field gear, it is not suited for HD800 intense imaging headphones. This is a large contrast to what I know Burson to generally offer, as a step backward into the 1793 Burson Conductor SL sounds noticeably larger everywhere than this Playmate.

However and again, the Playmate sounds much more focused, solid and of a higher fidelity in sound from bass to treble. It only lacks in width and height factor, depth of field and realism is still excellent for the price. It actually makes me happy, because, in the way of sound staging, my HA160 of old and my Conductor SL don’t jive with a few headphones I’ve recently come to enjoy.

I feel like I’ll be using the Massdrop DT17xx as my casual and FPS gaming headphone and it doesn’t fit as well with my older Burson’s as it does with this Playmate. However, the reverse is true with a number of other headphones I own and use. So again…rig pairing. So vital.

Burson Playmate

Our Verdict

For $399, you are going to be hard pressed to find a better solution if you need a microphone jack on your amp and DAC. Further, you’ll be in a world of hurt if you need a 2w small footprint amp that is great for powering moderately difficult to drive headphones, but also one that is well suited for IEM and sensitive headphone usage.

I do enjoy this model and I dearly want to hear the alternate versions and see how they mesh with my personal setup. Objectively though, the Playmate base model is punching above its weight class in overall fidelity in the bass and midrange quality areas. However, the treble is a bit of an issue and hopefully gets a cleanup in the other OPAMP options out there.

The Playmate is not as useful when it comes to very large sounding headphones or speakers. It is, at least in my opinion, a sidestep alternative for those who needed a highly focused sound field. Burson is giving you options and I love them for it.

Intimacy is the name of the game here and not vast spacial presentation. I love it, actually. So don’t take that as a negative. We need options and this Playmate offers them. I am able to plug into my Android based Oneplus6T when I am over my S.O’s house and working on stuff like this review. I can tote big headphones like my LCD MX4 and immediately switch to my Empire Ears Nemesis Customs and feel right as rain.

This is a very rare thing in the DAC world. And hey, if I want to plug in a microphone and destroy some newbs in the gaming world, I can do that too.

Playmate Technical Specifications

Measurement Package Content
Input impedance: 38 KOhms Burson Playmate Unit PC Connection Cable Set
Frequency response: ± 1 dB 0 – 35Khz Remote Control (optional) 6.5mm to 3.5mm Socket Adaptor
THD: <0.002% RCA Cable 2.5mm hex key
Output impedance (Head Amp): <2 Ohm Power Supply 100-240V AC
Output impedance (Pre Out): 15 Ohm
General
Inputs: USB, Toslink Weight: app. 2Kg
Outputs: RCA Pre-Amp / Headphone Jack Dimensions: 210mm x 145mm x 45mm
Impedance (Headphone Jack) Power Signal to Noise Ratio Separation
16 Ohm 1.8W 96db 99%
32 Ohm 2W 97db 99%
100 Ohm 0.5W 98db 99%
150 Ohm 0.3W 96db 99%
300 Ohm 0.1W 95db 99.5%
DAC Spec XMOS USB Spec
Channel Separation: 132 dB @ 1KHz, 121 dB @ 20KHz Desktop OS: Win XP, 7, 8, 10 Mac OSX
THD+N: 0.0018% @ 1KHz, 0dBFS Mobile OS: iOS* & Android (OTG support)
PCM & DXD Support: PCM ? 768kHz up to 32bits
Native DSD: Native DSD 64 / 128 / 256 / 512
DSD over PCM: DoP64 / DoP128 / DoP256
Asynchronous Isochronous
Burson Playmate Review
4.5 (90%) 2 vote[s]

Tonality (BASIC)8
Build Quality9
Functionality9
Matchability8.1
8.5
Score
Starting at $399
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2 Responses

  1. Dominique

    “… the tonality of the upper end that is presented to me feels a bit too metallic. It has a tendency to sound a little muted, but prone to sudden bursts of brighter than usual treble instances.” Have you tried to switch the de-emphasis to off (default is on) and change the filter settings to LP Fast? I have exactly the same sound sensation of sudden brighter bursts with all ESS9038 dacs when used with the Sabre recommended Apodizing Fast filter setting. Changing to Linear Phase Fast makes it much more balanced and opens the soundstage.

    Reply
    • Michael

      I felt like the playmate didnt respond well, at least audidbly so, with dsp, eq and filter switching. The differences were very slight on my testing gear, sadly.

      Reply

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