Note, this review follows our new scoring guidelines for 2020 which you can read up on here.
The Burson Conductor 3 Performance DAC and amplifier sells for $1044. Do you know what I love about this company? They never cease to strive to improve. Always expect an improved or customized model to be released soon after the primary Flagship DAC/AMP is released.
This is what I love about them the most! Variety. They know that audiophiles want their pick of the litter and have different listening preferences, depending on the usage and context. Never stop being Burson, Burson!
Packaging & Design
Not much to gloss onward about. The Burson Conductor 3 Performance presentation box is standard cardboard, but thick and offering a foam insert for protection. Beyond that, no accessories beyond the power cable and a remote. The exterior chassis is stunning, to say the very least. Solid metal and quite heavy for being on the smaller side.
The power button and mode shift button are a bit loose feeling though when I jiggle them, as is the main volume and selector knob. Nothing too serious.
I spoke to Burson about the looseness factor of the volume knob and was told that it was an intentional design element for the Burson Conductor 3 Performance. Due to its “3way axel” design, it allows the knob to rotate freely left and right, as well as be pushed inward to function as a confirmation selector in the UI.
The Burson Conductor 3 Performance primary LED light is blue in color and it is very bright. I have placed a piece of felt over it to block the spotlight that is cast in my bedroom each night.
I had this same problem on the original Conductor 3, it is just a bit too powerful of a light for usage in a dark listening area. Lights up my entire corner at night. Beyond that, the front LED panel is crisp and easily navigated. I like the simplicity factor.
LED Control Menu
Thankfully, the Burson Conductor 3 Performance UI is immensely easy to get around with. To start, you will need to tap the far-right button to activate mode selection and then use the volume knob to shift around inside the menus.
Pressing the knob in with a click will set the option highlighted currently. There are not many options, and I am glad it is not a mess of a complex system, everything is neat and tidy.
I prefer it very easily cycled through and intelligently laid out in a physical manner. I have received just that. You get some DSD functions and basic input and output/gain selection and not much else. I like this. Simple is better.
The Conductor 3 Performance has some modern decoding capability up to DSD512 native and PCM 32BIT/768kHz level though still no MQA unfolding or rendering.
I still giggle each time I see DSD512 offered so commonly these days. I recall back a few years ago, like 5 or 6 years ago, with my Red Wine AK120 DAP from Astell and Kern that was modded. It supposed DSD64 and I was like “oh man, this is awesome, so fancy!”.
Now, half a decade later, DSD 512 and 256 are common and the new standard. Ya’ll costing me so much in DSD inventory! Damn you!
The Burson Conductor 3 Performance also has a Bluetooth 5.0 antenna on the backside, I use it often. I absolutely love streaming from Spotify Premium via my iPhone SE 2020. I’m moving away from DAPs on my personal rig and preferring the streaming experience these days. So, having this as an option is lovely.
The fully aluminum chassis and 3 sets of MCPS Power Supplies help cool the unit cool, it seems. And if you want to roll some OP-amps, go for it, the Burson Conductor 3 Performance supports that too. If you want a pure sound in tone or a warmer vivid one. You have options such as the stock V6 Vivid or the V6 Classics.
The Conductor 3 Performance is a pure sounding unit, no doubt about it. However, the tonality is a bit on the warm side too at times. This is not sterile sound, and it offers some interesting dynamic textures that I was surprised by.
If you know me or read many of my reviews, you will note that my favorite sound was the old school Burson HA160D, as well as the Burson Conductor SL 1793 DAC option. They are fun, highly musical, yet offered a pure sound in terms of fidelity. They were a little boosted on the low end, making them an absolute pleasure to use.
The Conductor 3 Performance feels like it has some oomph on the bottom side and a gleaming sparkle up top. Musicality seems the aim here. It is still within the natural tonality that one would expect a DAC like this to offer, but there are certainly some hints at warmth now and then.
A/B testing against the more expensive Conductor I have reviewed recently resulted in the cheaper Conductor 3 Performance model having more of a tendency to sound a bit deeper reaching on the low end. Same track, same headphone, disabled DSP, and EQ. My ears seemed to agree that the Conductor 3 Performance model had more bass quantity on a flat EQ setup.
As mentioned, the stock Burson Conductor 3 Performance I have feels like is just a smidgen boosted on the low end, so I consider this amplifier experience slightly warmer than natural/neutral sounding. This is likely due to the Vivid opamp coloration.
It pairs immensely well with every headphone I have, even the hyper pure Fostex TH909, so do not worry about rig pairing. A touch of warmth can easily be dropped off via EQ and likely not even noticed with very, very pure headphones or speakers.
And yes, you can use this as a great option for speaker usage too, so long as the speakers have 3.5mm or RCA inputs…like my Edifier S2000 Pro. My goodness do they sound lovely with the Conductor 3 Performance fueling them. Damned fine.
Typically, I run right out of my TV 3.5mm direct into the Edifier, because I had more expensive speakers that sound much better. However, I have gotten rid of them as those expensive ones were a real pain to use.
So, lately, I am back on the Edifiers as the general all-purpose experience and the difference between non-Burson fuel and Burson fuel is quite severely amazing. Truly a spectacular DAC experience feeding mid-tier speakers like this. Highly recommended.
The physical strike factor is moderate on the Burson Conductor 3 Performance. Again, I think the aim is to be set up for engaging and some musical factors.
The physicality of the Conductor 3 Performance is very enjoyable. Never wince-worthy, or painful, but certainly not something I would call extremely soft or harsh. The middle ground, right where it should be.
My Feliks Audio Euphoria ANV is extremely soft-sounding, extremely elegant and it masks the moderate kick of the Conductor 3 Performance nearly entirely.
So, that is a sign that the dynamic punch factor on the low-end is not a problem at all on the Conductor 3 Performance, and that it can rig pair with other amps and sound totally different and not affect the amplifier higher up in the chain.
As always, the Burson family house sound is on the forward end, always vivid and engaging. And I love them for it. I dislike U-sound on a subjective level, and I dislike harsh treble combined with weak bass. I get none of that last part as a problem here. The Conductor 3 Performance is lovely, to put it delicately.
The midrange is fully bloomed and large sounding, if you own Audio Technica’s better headphones, you will love this model from Burson. They mesh very well together.
Undoubtedly, the Conductor 3 Performance here is stellar for vocal tracks and podcasts on Spotify or YouTube. I very much enjoy that excellent forwardness factor. What I also love is that this model tames the Fostex TH909 into something a bit softer on approach, less sterile, and more vivid in the vocals. The end result is that I can use the 909 to listen for longer periods now.
And honestly, the experience with the Grado HEMP is shockingly good too. Vivid factor in the musicality department is important to me and the spoken word through the Conductor 3 Performance is sublime. You tend to get that rich, thickness factor in amps that do not offer a totally sterile tonality.
Typically, the hyper neutral-sounding ones are thinner sounding and lose vividness in Jazz and slower-paced tracks that focus on vocals.
Burson generally plays it very safe with treble and that makes me happy. I do not think the words “harsh treble” and “Burson” have ever been said together. This Conductor Performance model is similar to most of the past models over the last few years.
The top end is feeling just a little elevated, but never harshly so and never into the bright territory. I consider it highly engaging and offering a particularly good luster factor. That means it is just a little bright and fun. But, never painful or annoying.
As far as fidelity goes, the experience is good enough to make me hate using it with the TH909 because two amazing products together make some of my podcasts sound truly awful.
This is no fault of the headphone or the Performance, it is the fault of just having such a good rig that “meh” quality microphones spoken into sound terrible. I regard the upper end of this amp and DAC as something among the best options out there for the price.
At the $1000 or so level, the Conductor 3 Performance is one of the purest and vivid sounding products out there. That gentle bit of extra oomph up top really sells it for me. High purity + fun factor and thickness equals a win for me. If you enjoy the musicality factor, this is a great option for you.
It is a Burson. What else do I need to say? They are almost always known for exceptional imaging prowess and this model is no different. The Conductor 3 Performance does not sound as vast as the Conductor 3 I had just recently reviewed, but it is not that far off.
The Width and Height factor is sublime, very expansive sounding, and regarded as such by nearly everyone who listens to it. That is why I love it for speaker usage. It really livens up my Edifiers a lot.
That depth of field factor is greatly improved over the source I was using prior, and especially so over the normal 3.5mm output of my TV.
Imaging is one of the most important factors for me personally, so I will absolutely kick something to the curb and out of my personal rig if it sounds small and closeted. I will not use it. Simple as that.
I do not have that issue with the Conductor 3 Performance. It is immensely aired out, wide, and deep feeling. I absolutely adore it. Sennheiser HD800 lovers would love this, due to the power output on high gain plus the excellent imaging factor. You get a ton of power and also exceptional imaging properties.
As mentioned, the Conductor 3 Performance is a bit of a can-do-anything integrated component system and I think it was purposely made to be that way.
The vivid and thickness factor of the physicality of the experience from top to bottom is more than moderate in heft, which means you can pair with more types of amplifiers out there on the very high end. Why? Well, neutral amplifiers will mask the vividness more than a warm amplifier masking a neutral source.
By that, I mean the warm DAC will sound far less warm with a neutral amplifier. The very neutral DAC will still sound more vivid and boosted with a warm amplifier. So, in this case, you can shift to the very neutral and soft Feliks ANV tube amp and achieve a super soft and neutral sound combo. Or you can shift to the Heron 5 type amps and retain warmth.
Variety is nice and the Conductor 3 Performance overall tonality is right in the middle, offering a route either back to neutral, or warm if you want it.
As a soundstage nutbar, I love this Conductor 3 Performance. It reminds me of a greatly improved HA160…my favorite DAC of all time. So naturally, I am subjectively this is excellent for me.
Also, the option to source my mid-tier speakers at long last is a great new thing for me. Burson thought this one out and kept it right in the middle of the road, able to play with pretty much whatever amplifier you want if you want to use a much more expensive high-end rig.
Hearing others are also enjoying this one as a speaker source (it has no speaker taps, so you need a speaker with normal analog input) has been stellar and so fun to share with others. I highly recommend the Conductor 3 Performance to anyone looking for a great high-end USB DAC and headphone amplifier combo.