Burmester doesn’t do things by halves. When it does a thing, it commits to that thing. It plays the long game and it does it right from the outset. So perhaps no surprise then that Burmester wasn’t the first out of the starting gates with a DAC when they suddenly became fashionable again. But instead of doing it quick, it did it right, and the 113 digital converter is the result.
Like any Burmester product, the 113 is expensive, and like any Burmester product, it’s expensive because it is astonishingly well made. Unlike most Burmester products though, it doesn’t have the mirror-chrome front panel. Instead, the 113 has a brushed aluminium front to match the sleeve-like case and the rear panel. It’s what is becoming the standard half-size box shape for upper-end converters. Except that compared to most of these DACs, the 113 feels exceptionally solid.
Perhaps the build quality is overkill in a DAC (no moving parts, no demands to be used during an earthquake, virtually no need for it to be used in hand-to-hand combat), but in this case it means it will still be in service a decade or two from now, probably looking just as shiny and new as it does today. On build alone, it’s the Chuck Norris of digital conversion.
Inside the 113 is a lot of common ground. The DAC project itself began as a spin-off of the MMI upgrade module that brings USB and Bluetooth connectivity to the 061, 069 and 089 players, and it uses many of the same circuit elements as seen in these fine CD players; so it uses Burmester’s ‘secret squirrel’ DACs featured in the 069 flagship, it can stream Class 1 and Class 2 USB (Class 2 is native on a Mac, but needs a driver for Windows computers) which means potentially 24-bit, 192kHz audio from your computer. There’s only five buttons and a power switch, but that doesn’t stop it coming with a handy remote control and with four digital inputs (a Bluetooth aerial, USB, S/PDIF phono and ‘TORX’ or Toslink), two digital outputs (S/PDIF RCA and Toslink) and balanced and single-ended outputs. USB and RCA inputs are transformer decoupled to limit the ingress of RFI and ground loop noise.
There’s a belt and braces approach to jitter reduction. The USB input is asynchronous, and therefore locked to the 113’s own clocks, but the data stream is then put through sample-rate conversion. This means a 16/44 datastream from a computer gets locked to the internal clock and reconstituted as a 16/48 datastream, with the option for 24/96 or 24/192 upsampling. Any input (including 176kHz samples) is corralled into those three sample rates. I am slightly concerned that this is an enforced redrawing of the original datastream, and that 16/44 generally performs best as 16/44 and I’d like the option to keep it that way, but the end result sounds good regardless.
As with almost all DACs today, the 113 goes for clarity and detail. Fret noises on guitars, finger squeaks on violins, the faint ringing of the kit as the drummer hits the snare, everything gets through here. But the surprising thing about the 113 is not the excellent clarity and the detail. You’d kind of expect those, given from whence it came. It’s the big and lively sound it bestows on the music. And that is ‘bestows’ not ‘imposes’. Some devices seem to be like the Tito Puente fan club, in that you could play some Messiaen and they’d make it sound like a salsa. The 113 will give everything the correct musical structure and balance of melody, harmony and rhythm required. This can make things hard to listen to – I ‘get’ Fiona Apple here; she’s more than emo hippy crap through the Burmester DAC, there’s some genuine struggle and torment that somehow seldom escapes the clutches of other converters. In this, the DAC performs very much in line with the audio output from its bigger brothers, the Burmester CD players.
It’s also a very full sound. Not overly rich and not stodgy sounding. Just full. Instruments have a grounded, rooted solidity to them. The separation around instruments is perfectly delineated, and the low noise floor gives them a sense of three dimensionality, and when it comes to presenting an orchestra in full throat, the 113 more than rises to the challenge.
Part of this comes from the assured top-to-bottom coherence the DAC presents. This becomes exceptionally important with left-field jazz piano; hitting out a seemingly random array of notes from the same instrument can seem a little disjointed, even to jazz aficionados, but the 113 makes some sense of the cacophony. That coherence is pure Burmester, especially the big yet not lush sound. And that’s the killer part of the 113. Five years ago, if you wanted this grade of sonic performance, that big, bold, confident and effortlessly musical presentation, you’d have probably bought a Burmester CD player, and it would have set you back as much as a new Audi. Now, the same performance is available for the price of a set of good alloys for that Audi. Isn’t progress wonderful?
Finally, the philosophical debate about the need for resampling to 48, 96 or 128kHz aside, there’s Bluetooth. No, not the performance of the Bluetooth circuits itself, because it’s almost up there with the wired-in full fat sources. It’s that bright blue molar that shines out right in the middle of the DAC if you use Bluetooth. Blue-tooth… geddit? As it’s a Burmester device, you can guarantee that light will burn just as brightly, just as blue 10 years from now. And probably just as silly.
I’ve long thought the only impediment to widespread Burmester domination was the price of admission. If there was a gateway product that delivered at least some of the performance of the company’s top CD players, people would stop thinking them just as shiny objects and start hearing some of the world’s best audio electronics. And in the case of the 113, that’s precisely what you can do. I can see this making Burmester a lot of new friends, and this DAC comes very highly recommended.
Inputs: Bluetooth (via supplied aerial, A2DP, APT-X), USB (Class One and Two), RCA S/PDIF, TORX/Toslink
Outputs: RCA S/PDIF, Toslink, RCA and XLR analogue outputs
Sampling rates: 16-bit, 48kHz, 24-bit, 96kHz, 24-bit, 192kHz
Dimensions (WxHxD): 20x6x16.5cm
Burmester Audiosysteme GmbH