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It’s peculiar that I find its performance as headphone amplifier decent but not phenomenal when in theory that’s actually its primary function. Because of the high-level transparency of headphones and the treble purity of my AKG K700, I feel slightly short-changed when using the Burson. I actually much prefer using the Burson as DAC feeding my Musical Fidelity XCan v3. Although the XCan does not have the bass prowess of the HA160D, it strikes back with much more delicate treble and midrange transparency.

For CA$1250 the Burson is clearly the steal Srajan found it to be and its DAC alone is worth the price. Although one can do better in ultimate resolution and air, one probably cannot in tonal density and sheer ease of listening. Its preamp ability is impressive though likely bested by pure preamplifiers in the same price range. The headphone amplifier is a nice add-on but to my ears certainly not the main attraction. That said, the Burson does have a few functionally irritating traits. The main one is its absolute hatred of unshielded cables which Srajan already encountered. I tried using my ASI Liveline interconnects and was greeted by far more hum than I can put up with regardless of amplifier used. This forced me to revert back to the Zu Varial, not a major step back by any means but more of an annoyance that the Burson won’t let me use my cables of choice.

The second annoyance is no indication of synchronization speed between DAC and computer. When Pure Music indicates that the DAC is converting 96kHz files you had better believe it. There is no indication from the Burson that it is really happening. For all you know it could be 44kHz and you wouldn’t be any wiser. The last annoying factor for me was the lack of 88.2kHz support through USB. I do own 24/88.2 files that I would like to listen to in native form. As importantly I usually prefer to upsample 44.1kHz files to 88.2kHz using Pure Music’s NOS algorithm. I find it to make for a slightly more natural presentation (relaxed yet with tremendous presence). I am unfortunately prevented from doing so by the Burson’s inability to accept 88.2kHz via USB. In my experience upsampling from 44.1 to 96kHz simply does not yield the same benefits. Call me a member of the 'power of two' upsampling crowd. Those are three minor areas of complaints which don’t prevent me from enjoying music fully.

When it first appeared the HA160D was close to the only one of its kind and certainly the most advanced in value. Today competition is starting to catch up though interestingly enough none close to the Burson’s price. This probably speaks volumes about the challenging balance of features and price achieved by the Australians. Yet the April Music Eximus DP1, the AMR DP-777 and an increasing number of preamplifiers with digital inputs like the Fonel Simplicité are starting to circle the wagons to prove that the concept of an all-in-one high-quality DAC with analog volume control and analog source selection is gaining traction. I know I am sold on the idea but I would certainly like to try the next level up in treble finesse and ambiance retrieval.

To finish this odds and ends piece, two quick updates; one on cables, the other on a tweak that works. In 2010 I reviewed Gary Koh’s Absolute Fidelity speaker cables. Although I found them to offer superb resolution with incredible tonal sweetness, I ultimately favored the ASI Liveline which exhibited almost the same tonal qualities but with greater dynamic capabilities and better control. Gary’s hypothesis was that his cables were designed for speakers far more current hungry than my Zu Essence. The coupling between amplifier and speaker was probably not ideal especially with my Yamamoto A08s and its 2 watts of triode goodness. So he returned to the drawing board. A few months later FedEx dispatched a prototype to my house designed specifically for low current applications. By the time the cables were burnt in I was in full trans-border jojo mode and never had a chance to try them in my main system. Enter now.

I’ll keep this short. Those new speaker cables are spectacular. They retain the tonal density and sweetness of the original but add better dynamics and far better control of the speakers. This translates to far more defined bass and much grander soundstage scale as though the recording venues had suddenly lost their walls. In the continuum of cables reviewers I consider myself a pragmatist. More expensive is not always better, .System matching matters far more than technology, buzz word or dollar signs. The effects although audible are more often than not subtle. That’s why I do fewer and fewer cable reviews.

That said, the Absolute Fidelity high sensitivity speaker cable simply had the most audible effect of any cable I ever tried, combining the speed and control of an ASI Liveline with the tonal lushness the brand is recognized for without dropping any resolution or transparency. Because Genesis and Absolute Fidelity aren’t exactly household names in the high sensitivity and triode worlds, you will not find this cable version on their website. If you do contact them they will happily make a pair for you just as they already have for a few of us. Like with any other speaker cable I can’t promise that your results will be identical to mine. I’ll simply say that those cables are worth looking into if you are fine-tuning a system with high-impedance low-current speakers. How many speaker cables do you know which were designed specifically with that application in mind?

Closing out this odds and ends collection, there is an accessory I bought from the Parts ConneXion a few weeks ago which had a much greater impact on my system than I thought it would. I am talking about Duende Creatura’s Golden Dragon tube rings. These Teflon and Titanium clamps slide on top of the Emission Labs 45 triodes in the Yamamoto A08s with the ambition to reduce distortion, self oscillation and microphony.

What you will initially hear if you are used to listening to your triodes without the accessory is a certain dry or matte sound quality that will probably not appeal but give it a day or so to get your ear retrained. What you will likely notice then is greater resolution due to the elimination of reverberations that created a soft focus around transients. Some of the side benefits will be tighter bass and more precise imaging but to me the real value of the rings is their ability to significantly reduce the triode halo that blurs micro dynamics while maintaining the core of what makes triodes magical.

It is particularly obvious on massed orchestral forces. Now it is possible to hear nuances much deeper into the orchestra instead of listening to mushy peas. Listening to a mechanically undamped triode is like listening from the back of a reverberant concert hall. Listening to the same triode with Duende Creatura’s ring moves you to the front of the same reverberant hall. It obviously takes a quality solid-state amplifier to hear all the musicians separately as though you were the conductor. Whether that’s a desirable quality is listener dependent. I prefer my orchestras with a certain degree of blending but your mileage may vary.

Of course this would be of little value if the damper removed any tonal richness from the triode or diminished its magical ability to preferentially ‘showcase’ certain parts of the music over others. From my experience over the past three weeks I don’t think the 45 has lost any of its qualities but it certainly gained in clarity and microdynamics - a very welcome change as its 2 watts probably operate under significant stress and distortion most of the time with the Zu Essence being of borderline sensitivity for such flea-watt power.

Odds and Ends is nothing but an informal excuse to throw together unrelated observations which on their own wouldn’t warrant a review because there's not enough to say. If there is a common thread to this latest adventure, it is that rebuilding an almost new system in a novel environment is not easy even when one is used to changing bits and pieces for review purposes as I do on a consistent basis. Starting with an area to improve usually takes me new places I never thought of; or to gear I had previously discarded. For me computer audio is a new area and I probably should have braced myself for more work, pain and stress than expected. The good news is that it actually works. There is light at the end of that tunnel even if on certain days it feels like the onrushing headlights of an engine headed my way.

I’ll leave you with my last advice for today. If you choose the computer audio route, do not just dabble. Be prepared to invest money and a lot of time to make it work properly. Remember lesson #7. It ain’t easier! If you are not ready to jump in with both feet and start swimming without looking back, don’t jump.