The system itself looks as if there are two boxes, but in fact all the electronics are housed in the main unit at the top. The box beneath this main unit is simply a sealed shelf with a door. Phase 3 is designed specifically to fit into a more multimedia lifestyle, so that shelf is designed for housing satellite and terrestrial TV decoders. A few years ago, such a concept would be unthinkable twice over: from the TV side, that flip down door would always be open to gain access to the DVD or Blu-ray drawer, while on the audiophile side the idea of integrating audio and video was abhorrent. How times have changed. However, placing this shelf in the package does mean that the Phase 3 can connect to the outside world, thanks to a pair of XLR connectors in the analogue domain, front and rear USBs, and a coaxial and optical S/PDIF connection. Personally, given the Phase 3 lends itself so heavily to video systems, I would have hoped for an HDMI socket or possibly RCA line inputs, but most decoders also sport optical (Toslink) S/PDIF.
The loudspeakers are new, and only supplied with Phase 3. Again, they draw upon existing Burmester intellectual property, combining the fibreglass paper woofer cone of the B10 standmount and the Air Motion Transformer tweeter found in the company’s floorstanders. Like combining the 151 and 101, this is easy to write and hard to do in reality. The loudspeaker went through extensive listening tests and a range of crossovers until Burmester was truly happy with the end result. Like other speakers in the Burmester range, the drive units are computer selected for compatibility and burned in at the factory. As a consequence, there is no real running in required for the Phase 3 system, although the amplifier itself needs a few hours to come to life.
Any system that sets itself up as being convenient needs to be, well, convenient to set up. And it is here that Burmester shines because set up and installation is extraordinarily easy for a system of the Phase 3’s calibre. The loudspeakers are already supplied on their bent chrome tube stands and while these can be adjusted for height, in most cases ‘out of the box’ is more than good enough. Similarly, the main electronics also come supplied on a bent chrome tube stand. Installation is essentially as long as it takes you to move products out of the crates. Setup is slightly more long winded, because you need to connect to the Internet and that requires pressing four buttons on the supplied remote control. At most with all components unpacked, Phase 3 will be up and running inside of 15 minutes. Factor in another 15 minutes for fine-tuning speaker position (10 of which involve deciding whether or not to use the supplied foam bungs in the rear ports), and you have a legitimate high-end audio system that can be playing, and playing well, in the time it takes to get a pizza delivered. Coming from systems that are still considered ‘bedding in’ three months after you install them, this ease of installation is heavenly.
Don’t think, however, that Burmester has sacrificed performance at the altar of convenience in the Phase 3. It might be easy-to-use and easy to set up (and the iPad app makes ripping and handling stored digital audio a breeze), but the compromises you might expect simply aren’t there. It has all the sonic elements of the 151 and 101 mixed together. This means clean and precise digital replay coupled with a warm almost tube-like sound from the amplifier stage. That combo doesn’t come with much of a downside.
Let’s not downplay the convenience factor, however. There is something really great about a system that’s the size of a CD player coupled with a small pair of speakers, which can be a CD player, a ripping CD player, an internet radio, a media server, a music streamer, and a sound system for a TV, all controlled from an iPad that comes preconfigured and ready to rock. That it does it all and does it with great sound is not to be sniffed at.