This is not a system that needs analysis. It’s entertaining, refined, and very easy to live with. It can rock when called upon (very well in fact, Phase 3 goes pleasantly and dynamically loud indeed), but can set aside its party animal demeanour at a moments notice. I comfortably flipped between ‘Chameleon’ by Trentemøller [The Last Resort, Poker Flat] and Rachmaninov’s ‘Symphonic Dances’ [Telarc], both as a measure of how efficient the iPad app was and as suitable contrasts in musical performance. Even though it’s app is designed for creating playlists on-the-fly, Phase 3 switched between the two tracks instantaneously and effortlessly. The tonal quality also moved between the two, suggesting a system that is extremely evenhanded with all kinds of musical genre. Typically, Burmester is demonstrated with (and plays perfectly) well recorded rock. It’s almost unheard of to go through a Burmester demo without hearing Chris Jones’ ‘No Sanctuary Here’. The track came preloaded on five different Stockfisch and Burmester discs on the Phase 3’s internal 2TB RAID array, so it’s almost inescapable. But it must be said that this particular track sounded amazing through the system. It sounds pretty good through everything, but here Jones’ voice was crystal clear, projected well into the room, and was clearly delineated from the guitar, chorus, and the rest of the band. I don’t agree with the idea of ‘made for rock’ systems, but given how successful Phase 3 was at playing Chris Jones’ music, I do find it hard not to recommend this system to lovers of blues-rock, blues, and well recorded rock and pop.
In comparing the system to bigger separates, Phase 3 covers its tracks well. There are systems with greater inner detail, more transient attack and speed, and occasionally more midband clarity. At similar prices, however, you lose as much as you gain in other aspects. More transient attack at this level comes with a more aggressive, less enjoyable sound. More midband clarity often comes at the expense of a dynamic and powerful bassline (Dieter’s legacy as a bassist will always resonate through the Burmester line). In short, what Phase 3 offers is a sense of balance. It creates a system that most people would be more than happy to live with for the longest time. Audiophile box swappers, who are never content with anything audio related, need not apply.
They need not apply because Phase 3’s only real weakness is a lack of upgradability. This system does not lend itself toward adding separate preamplifiers or power amplifiers, and neither is the amplifier open-ended enough to form the basis of an upgradable system. Whether this is a problem or not comes down to the listener. If you view an audio system in terms of future audio systems, Phase 3 is not for you. If you are done with all of that, and simply want a good sounding system with no eye toward future changes, then Phase 3 is ideal. Personally, I think Phase 3 represents a significant part of audio’s future, as people move away from multiple boxes and toward simpler, uncompromised solutions.
I can’t help thinking that Phase 3 is Burmester’s way of leveraging those new potential customers driving round in Porsche and Mercedes-Benz cars with Burmester systems inside. Such people are unlikely to become full-blown users of Burmester’s Top or Classic Line separates, but they might buy Phase 3. This is very much a lifestyle product, and it’s a lifestyle that comes with a price. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in that. In fact, Burmester should find Phase 3 fits well into this market; it would fit into this market without its automotive division, but it will find it a lot easier thanks to those high-end drivers staring at a Burmester logo every time they sit in the driving seat. It’s not the only company to do this–Bowers and Wilkins works with Jaguar, Meridian allies itself to Land Rover, Naim runs with Bentley, Mark Levinson works with Lexus, and Bose works with just about everyone else. Many of these audio brands have seen an uptick in both sales and market presence as a result of these automotive hook ups. Burmester is no different, and the Phase 3 will capitalise on this.