Burson Playmate with V6 Vivid and Classic – Sound Impressions

My previous post was a little bit of ‘unboxing’ and installation how-to kinda thing. This post is dedicated for the review of the sound impressions. Everything is my own opinion and observations, and this is a long term review, so I no longer suffer from new toy syndrome. In order to give you a context, I’ll share with you the current state of my audio system:

I built the speakers myself, and for reviewing the headphone amp section I am using Audio Technica ATH-AD500X, Samson SR850, and modded Edifier H840. I choose them because they represent open back, semi open, and closed back headphones construction. The playlist for testing is as follows:

  • Sting – Fields of Gold
  • Daft Punk – Giorgio by Moroder, Lose Yourself to Dance
  • Diana Krall – Various tracks
  • Deep Purple – Various tracks
  • Pink Floyd – Various tracks
  • Tulus – 1000 Tahun Lamanya
  • Payung Teduh – Akad, and many more from them
  • Jennifer Warner – Fool for the Look in Your Eyes
  • Gregor Hamilton – Another Day
  • And many more, all in lossless formats (FLAC, WAV) and 320kbps mp3 that I ripped myself from original CDs.
Burson Playmate with 4x JRC5532D

In its Basic configuration, the Playmate sounds clean and energetic. It extracts detail from the music, it is transparent and accurate. I have owned one V6 Classic and one V6 Vivid. Carlos from Burson Audio kindly sent me another pair so I can compare the Basic sound to the ‘upgraded’ sound with all-V6 opamps. I tried swapping the opamps to find out more, first with the Vivid in I/V stage and the Classic in LPF stage.

They sound alright, nothing wrong per se, but at the same time it doesn’t sound right. To be honest I feel it’s a downgrade from the Basic configuration. I feel the sound is lazy and lifeless. I ran the amp through a burn in cycle for a week, I didn’t listen to it, just using it to burn in a new IEM I got at that time. I don’t know if the Classic pumps out less current, but I found myself reaching for the volume knob more often. With my speakers, the Playmate is set at high gain on volume 99, and -6dB on my DBX input. With my 32 Ohm ‘phones, the volume is around 28-32 on High Gain. That was in the Basic configuration. With the Classic in LPF position, I found myself raising the volume on my DBX to -3dB or even -1dB and up to 36-40 on the Playmate when listening to headphones. I don’t like the sound, it sounds lifeless, muffled, not exciting.

My eureka moment came when I read that the Burson Playmate Everest came standard from the factory with the Classic in I/V stage and the Vivid in LPF stage. I immediately switched them up. And this is where the magic happen.

Inside of a stock Everest

I closed the unit, switched it up, and started listening. I like it. And it’s been a few weeks now, I didn’t bother to open it up to take a picture. We already know how it looks like. If you have a pair of Vivids and a pair of Classics, follow the photo above this paragraph. The vertical red PCB is the display LCD, so you know which side is ‘front’.

On to the sound. Having the V6 replaced the JRC5532 brings to you the last 5% that brings you to perfection. We’re talking about texture, weight, and air. I don’t know how you can use weight and air in the same sentence to describe sound, but they do! They reveal layers in records I’m familiar with, records I grew up with! I do notice details, layers, emotion, and texture that wasn’t there before.

Soldier of Fortune is a mainstream track that I was never really fond of. But listening with this setup, I realized there is so much emotion in David Coverdale’s voice. The guitar intro never sounded that sparkly. The bass solo on ‘Pictures of Home’. That organ solo on ‘Highway Star’. Honest to goodness, rediscovering Deep Purple is exciting for me. The same goes with my Pink Floyd collection. More sparkle, and at the same time, the bass digs deeper than before.

Payung Teduh is an Indonesia band, they have a unique style and their lyrics are poetic. Their hit ‘Akad’ contains a trumpet solo that I really like, and I enjoy it immensely with my upgraded Playmate. On Low Gain, this track sounds ‘lazy’ I have to say, but the High Gain mode brings it to its full glory. ‘Berdua Saja’ is another hit with awesome acoustic guitar and contrabass playing that is rendered beautifully by the Playmate. Definitely check them out if you’re not familiar with them.

Female vocalists, such as Salena Jones, Diana Krall, Sade, and Emi Fujita benefit from the clean and noiseless performance of the Playmate. It allows their emotion and expressions to shine through. With my Samson SR850 in High Gain mode, I detect a touch more tendency to sound sibilant on female vocals. I will not defend myself if you say my eyes and brain are conspiring to trick me – this is a sighted, subjective review after all. On certain tracks with ‘hot’ mastering, I can see owners of ‘bright’ headphones such as the Samson may like the polite presentation of the Low Gain mode.

The Playmate has no problem driving my low impedance headphones and my 150 Ohm DIY earbuds, doing so with great ease, never running out of breath. I haven’t tried it with 300 Ohm full-sized headphones, but I have no doubt the Playmate will drive them to your satisfaction. Noise is non-existent, instead the black background allows the dynamic of the music to come forward.

Conclusion: The 5532 was (and to a certain extent- still is) the industry standard opamp. For a long time I used a genuine Signetics NE5532AN in my CMoy preamp. Objective testing shows that it is a good opamp, even compared to modern competitors. In the case of the Playmate, however, the installation of the V6 opamps is definitely an upgrade. Having the V6 Classic in the I/V stage and the V6 Vivid in the LPF stage improves the already technically-excellent Playmate by adding texture and revealing more details in the recording. Even with the increased detail, there is no harshness to speak of. It is pleasant to listen to, it provides ample detail for those who demand it, and it has enough power to drive any headphones or power amp to satisfy any listener. Congratulations, Burson Audio, on this fine product.

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