Reviewers sometimes pride themselves on their ‘firsts’. I was the first UK reviewer to review a DVD player and the first to test plasma TV technology, for example. Occasionally, however, these ‘firsts’ are not something to be happy about – and this assay of the BA31 floorstanding loudspeaker will likely be the first review of a Burmester product not seen by Dieter Burmester, who died in mid-August this year.
When someone so strongly associated with a company passes away, there is a tendency for people to think the company dies with that leader. Witness the ‘Apple is lost!’ panic following the death of Steve Jobs. The reality is that a good leader creates a good team; a team that will be defined, but not hide-bound, by the legacy that good leader created, and a company that can and will survive after that leader has gone. In a way, such a pessimistic vision of a company’s outlook is disrespectful to both the good leader and the team they created: Apple didn’t disappear after Jobs died, and neither will Burmester in the years following Dieter’s passing.
Part of the reason Burmester’s future is assured is products like the new BA31, the second device in the company’s new Ambience line of loudspeakers. The term Ambience is more than just marketing speak – at the back of the BA31 (and the original, larger BA71) is a second rear-firing Air Motion Transformer (AMT) folded ribbon tweeter, with a large level control, designed to introduce an extra degree of ambience into the system.
This is a radical departure for Burmester, in more ways than one. For some time, Burmester has been creating a range of smaller, slightly less uncompromising looking loudspeakers; less like the imposing B100 and more like, well, loudspeakers non-Burmester fans might buy. Speakers like the BA31 have one-piece front baffles that don’t have a chrome insert shining back at you, and braced, curved MDF cabinets finished in domestically-chummy veneers and glosses.
Back-mounted AMT tweeter aside, the rest of the design is a two-and-a-half way, with a newly-developed version of the AMT tweeter, coupled with a pair of 170mm GRP-treated paper cone mid-bass units. It sits on a heavy, integrated plinth and four spikes, and there is a large rear-firing port, which comes with foam bungs that are a ‘get out of jail free’ card for close-to-wall locations. Well, almost free… if it’s at all possible, get the loudspeakers at least half a metre from rear and side walls and between 2.5m and 4m apart. The manual is very clear and comprehensive on this: it also has a quaint throwback to past times, because the loudspeakers are not magnetically shielded. This means that anyone still using a cathode-ray tube television needs to keep the loudspeakers at least 50cm from the loudspeakers to prevent magnetic field interaction. Presumably, that will undermine your viewing of upcoming episodes of Beverley Hills 90210, Dynasty, and SeaQuest DSV.
The loudspeaker is a diminutive floorstander by Burmester standards, but is still over a metre tall. However it is claimed to deliver -3dB points at 38Hz and at 45kHz, meaning a flat frequency response from about 40Hz on up, and this is realistic in a medium sized listening room. Moreover, although Burmester is known for its power-house amplifiers, its 87dB efficiency and benign impedance (nominally four ohms) means the BA31 could be driven by products from other brands (we used it very successfully with a Hegel H160 integrated amp, and there was no sense of unbalance or struggle). That being said, the advantage of more power and more current delivery means improved performance and integration at low listening levels, but the H160 was suitably ‘grippy’ to drive the speakers well at high volumes and low.
The rear connection panel is a little confusing, but actually extremely logical. It allows the BA31 to be bi-wired or bi-amped (the manual shows three different methods of bi-amping: ‘vertical’, ‘horizontal’ and dual-mono), but there is twice the number of terminals expected for such an arrangement. In fact, the explanation is simple; the outer WBT connectors are designed specifically for spade connectors, while the inner set are designed for 4mm banana plugs. There are jumpers designed to connect the HF and LF terminal blocks.