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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
When you think Burson, you think of 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, an 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.
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. I can’t wait to see what’s next from you in the near future.
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)
Burson Audio Soloist SL MK2
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