Burson Audio Conductor Virtuoso 2+ headphone DAC preamp

Headphone amps and amp/DACs
Burson Audio Virtuoso 2+

Burson claims the ESS Sabre32 DAC to be “the most expensive and highest performing DAC chip in the world”. For the new Conductor V2+, Burson completely redesigned all the support circuits around the Sabre chip in order to improve overall performance. The new output stage of the DAC has been improved thanks to the company’s latest V6 SS audio op-amp. Pure Class A, the new output stage with its V6 op-amp is claimed to be able to “reveal micro-dynamics that others can only dream of”.

The new DAC design also utilises the DSP volume control that is built in the Sabre 32 DAC. Such an arrangement means when using with any digital inputs, volume control is handled by the Sabre 32 DAC, bypassing Burson’s own PGA2310 volume control. This arrangement helps deliver those absolutely state-of-the-art objective figures.

Burson also uses the flagship XMOS six-core USB module on the Conductor V2+, which allows for 32bit 346k sampling and DSD 256 streaming and an extremely high level of connectivity with both computer and mobile devices. The Conductor V2+ implementation employs a triple low-jitter clock structure for strong jitter correction.

What hasn’t changed in the move from Conductor to Conductor V2+ is Burson’s commitment to tank-like performance criteria in shows. This remains one of the best made devices you can buy, especially at the price. Everything is solidly built and works together as one.

Like its predecessor, the Conductor V2+ includes a pair of line level analogue inputs, three digital inputs, and a choice of variable output to a power amp or fixed DAC output to a full amplifier. If you go this route, the volume control still works to drive the headphone socket. The five inputs are controlled by touch buttons on the front panel. Then there’s the volume display to contend with. This is a good idea in theory, with the blue LEDs hidden behind precisely drilled holes on the front panel, however, the panel is so thick, they essentially disappear unless you are staring right at the LEDs. This works on an aesthetic level, because the front panel is smooth and the display subtle, but I’d go with less style and more readability.

The last iteration of the Conductor came with a range of DAC options, but this proved more confusing for many (myself included). The latest Conductor is more simple in approach; whether you buy a Conductor V2 (which doesn’t have a DAC) or a V2+ (which does). We tested the full V2+.

I really liked the original Conductor, but this shows just how far the company has come. This is a more mature product from a more mature brand, and it shows. The Conductor V2+ is a beast of a headphone amp, in a good way. It can drive practically everything (to the point where more sensitive headphones have some slight gain issues (you have to treat the volume dial with care if you don’t want to deafen yourself, and there’s a slight amount of hiss when playing quiet music at low levels). Through every headphone, however, the Burson Conductor V2+ is always authoritative and stentorian. There’s a tremendous grip over the music that makes headphones sound bigger than they are, but not in an inaccurate, mellifluous manner. Just through sheer grip, especially in the bass. I used a motley collection of headphones from the great (LB Acoustics 3.2) through the good (Sennheiser HD 660 S) to the reasonably hard to drive (a classic pair of HiFiMAN HE-500s) and more. No amplifier is the ideal model for all headphones, and there will always be high points and low points as you plough through a room filled with headphones. But the Conductor V2+ has a better hit rate than most. That’s a big step in the right direction.

This amp copes with all kinds of music too, I played everything from 1920s Jazz [Louis Armstrong, ‘West End Blues’, Hot Fives and Sevens, Okeh] to Infected Mushroom crunking up acoustic guitar [‘Becoming Insane’, Vicious Delicious, BNE] and all points in between. The Burson didn’t favour one side over the other, keeping the surprising dynamics of a trumpet recorded 90 years ago, while handling the driving rhythms of Infected Mushroom (‘driving rhythms’ they may be, but don’t drive and listen to Infected Mushroom at the same time, or wave goodbye to driving for a few months!). In fact, the purity and impact of Armstrong’s opening salvo on ‘West End Blues’ was surprising, given I’ve been listening to that track time and again for years.

Beyond the grip on the bass, though, there’s a sense of refinement and at the same time a lot of detail on offer. Those two don’t normally go hand-in-hand, but the combination is as sweet as it is well received.

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