Burmester 089, 036, 948, B25 (Hi-Fi+ 88)

Solid-state power amplifiers,
Disc players,
AC conditioners
Burmester Audiosysteme 036,
Burmester Audiosysteme 089,
Burmester Audiosysteme 948,
Burmester Audiosysteme B25
Burmester 089, 036, 948, B25 (Hi-Fi+ 88)

Burmester is one of those brands that sells complete systems. You don’t necessarily buy a piece of Burmester, you buy into the Burmester idea. Every single component, from mains plug to loudspeaker, can have a Burmester logo on it, and in most cases there seems to be no overarching reason to break rank.

It thinks of systems even down to the product number. And it’s those product numbers that show just how long-term Burmester thinks. To decode a Burmester product, those first two digits represent the year the product was launched. So, the £13,783 089 CD player released in 2008, the £6,198 036 power amp was launched in 2003, the £5,273 948 was unveiled in 1994 and the £6,735 B25 loudspeaker was released in the hexadecimal year 20B2. OK, the nomenclature doesn’t quite work with loudspeakers, but given there’s an 808 preamp (admittedly a Mk 5 version) and several other products 20+ years old still on the Burmester books, the company isn’t likely to release a duff product, because it knows it goes on the company’s roll call for decades.

The system here takes the CD player from Burmester’s Top Line (there’s a 069 Reference Line above this and a 061 Classic Line below) and uses it as both CD and preamp into the Classic Line 036 power amplifier. This is joined by a 948 power conditioner and B25 three-way floorstanding loudspeaker, which sort of stands outside Burmester’s traditional lines. Burmester also specs its own mains, interconnect and speaker cables (sharing much with the internal wiring of the products) and even has a range of equipment stands that provide a visual match for the products.

We don’t need to say too much about the 089… it’s an old friend. We reviewed it back in issue 78 last year and what holds then holds now. The belt-drive, top-loader CD player upsamples up to 24/192, can act as a preamp as well as a CD player and any software upgrades through RS232 or USB (USB here is not an audio input). The volume attenuation is not performed by bit truncation; it’s a proper line preamp in its own right. No, it’s not going to be as good as slotting a good line preamp in the circuit, but this is almost a jumping off point for building a thorough system step-by-step.

So, in the absence of preamp, the 089 goes straight into the 036 stereo power amp, via balanced cables. It’s a slimline 171W stereo chassis, which can be driven as 300W bridged monos (both figures rated at 4 ohms). Burmester’s power amp designs all have no capacitors in the signal path. It is fully balanced and completely DC coupled. The input stage and output stage transistors are on their own separate heatsinks, with the side external heatsinking deals with the massive output. This helps keep the temperature fluctuations from individual sections of the amp from influencing the others. The circuit is also extremely well monitored, akin to the engine-management system of a car. The amp is monitored for overdrive, overheat and DC offset. This circuit design is similar to the company’s bigger 911 and 956 power amplifiers.

The electronics should all be fed into the 948 power conditioner. Now this is a controversial choice – picking a power conditioner before a preamp in the hierarchy of things. Nevertheless, it does actually work in this context. It is essentially a high-pass power line DC offset compensator (rather than a simple blocker), coupled to a low-pass AC line filter. The DC offset compensation works in parallel to the AC supply, so it doesn’t strip out dynamic range, while the two AC filters can be assigned to separate outputs for individual custom filtration. Eighteen years after its launch, it’s still the power conditioner to beat.

Then there’s the B25 loudspeakers. Slim, elegant floorstanders, these three-ways feature an oval side-firing bass driver. Best used with these firing inwards unless there’s some furniture (or a system) in between the speakers, the B25s feature a 130mm Kevlar midrange and an 30x40mm AMT ribbon tweeter in a deep horn to the front baffle. They are bi-wired, have a huge rear port that can be bunged (at the expense of deep bass energy) and come in three finishes. They are the ideal British room loudspeaker because they can be used just a few inches from the rear wall.

Checking out this system involves a process of building and rebuilding. Start by reducing everything to its component parts, find out what’s good and what’s not so good, then rebuild piece by piece to see what fits snugly and what could be extracted and replaced with something better performing or better value. Often, this process unveils some hidden gems and some hidden howlers. This time it was gems all the way down.

The sound is the pinnacle of refinement and elegance. There’s a real sense of beauty to the sound, too, but it isn’t so refined and graceful that it loses any sense of real-world dynamics and grip. The CD player is the star of the show, of course. It creates a sense of musical structure and refinement that you will struggle to find from any digital player, regardless of price. There’s an inner detail and tonality that really picks up the interplay of musicians in ‘I’ve Been To Memphis’ from Joshua Judges Ruth by Lyle Lovett and makes the almost ambient Anouar Brahem album The Astounding Eyes of Rita truly hypnotic in approach. What Chris Thomas said in issue 78 still holds today. It’s a captivating CD player, one that helps redefine what the medium is capable of, and the kind of player that has few rivals. Put simply, it draws you in and keeps you there.

The 089 is good enough to sound good on an old plank of wood, but the better the support, the better the playback. It’s not ‘fussy’ in that sense, but think of it as a high performance device, one that demands a similarly high performance from all it works with; just as you probably wouldn’t put remoulds on a Ferrari, you wouldn’t want to put a player this good on any ol’ support. While Burmester makes its own rack, at this level, you should be considering Stillpoints or similar.

What’s surprising though is not the 089. It’s a known benchmark. It’s the 948 that goes with it, and what it does to the sound that’s really exciting. It helps reinforce that refinement of the 089. It also does the same to practically anything it plugs to; it ‘Burmestered’ a good Primare all-in-one, making the sound smoother but no less dynamic and more captivating. When inserted into the Burmester system, it gave everything an additional layer of insight and involvement. With the Primare, the improvement was somewhat fundamental, although with the Burmester it was more like the final coat on an already glossy finish.

The amplifier sealed the deal. It did more than just hired muscle, but it helped balance the refined refinement of the 089+948 combination. This was every inch the big-small power amp everyone wishes they could own; an amplifier that thinks it’s a 30 watter when it comes to transient speed and dynamic shading, but knows it’s got a few hundred watts in reserve when it needs to move air, tough speaker loads, for bottom end grunt and dynamic range. The net result is a deft touch; a goldilocks amp that’s not too big, not too small. It’s also a clean detail resolver of exceptional quality. I’ve had relatively limited exposure to the bigger Burmester amps, but from what I’ve heard, this amp has exactly the same tonal character to bigger designs in the range, just faster, a lot less power and a smidgen less bass.

If that gives the perception that this Burmester package sounds bass shy, I want to put this one to rest fast. The system isn’t bass light. It’s fast and can go surprisingly deep. It grips the loudspeakers tight, if perhaps not to the steel jaw levels of its bigger brothers. But here’s the thing; take the Burmester system to a pair of loudspeakers you know well and see if you can find the brightness or bass lightness. It just isn’t there.

Burmester creates an effective complete system, but it also makes for an excellent ‘complete system… just add loudspeakers’ package. That said, Burmester frequently gets overlooked in this manner because the company demonstrates all-Burmester systems in shows. The B25 is an excellent loudspeaker in its own right, but unlike the rest of the Burmester equipment, it isn’t as universal. I can see this system forming from any one of the components in the system. I can imagine inserting CD, power amp or power conditioner in a previous mix, and it’s just a matter of time before the other aspects of that power trio appear too. The loudspeakers, on the other hand, are the last link in the chain for the Burmester user, not a starting place.

This is surprising because they are fundamentally honest sounding loudspeakers, with an exceptionally open treble and possessed of excellent imagery. They do, however, create a very narrow sweet spot, both in the horizontal and vertical axes, and there is some over-emphasis to bass guitar – perhaps that is hardly surprising; Dieter Burmester is a keen bass player, after all.

Finally, I want to kill off this crazy concept that permeates the UK in particular; the idea of the ‘German Sound’. It’s xenophobia, dressed up in audiophile garb. There is nothing about this system that restricts it to playing ‘Ooom-pah’ music, it isn’t ‘ruthlessly efficient’. It doesn’t ‘sweep majestically eastward’ and doesn’t put its towel on the sun-lounger at 4am. What it does is make good sound. It makes it well, and it makes it with the sort of build quality that means you’ll be listening to Burmester equipment 25 years after almost anything else this side of an SME turntable gave up the ghost. That part of the German myth – the one that says everything is built to last – is at least true; last year, a bunch of audio journalists from the UK visited Burmester’s Berlin factory. There’s a room there with endless parts and almost no products, called the ‘repairs department’. We saw a few CD players there, mostly for updating. They looked new. They were all more than 20 years old. Burmester even fabricates parts that no-one else can get to service its long-legacy customers. So, the products are expensive, but you get what you pay for.

And that’s the big thing with Burmester. It plays a long game. Buying a Burmester system is an investment for the future. That chrome front panel will not have lost its lustre decades from now… and the product behind the panel will still sound remarkable too. In some respects, however, the common chrome front is Burmester’s biggest shortcoming, because it prevents those who like to think of their system as a Best Product Ever collection of components from buying into the brand. The thing is though, you could spend years trying to find the Best Product Ever, going from product to product to product, and still end back with all Burmester. So, perhaps the best thing to do is not fight it. Give in to the Shiny Side.

The total price of the system comes to a healthy – frisky even – £31,989. Which seems like a lot to pay for a one-source system from one brand. But the brand is Burmester. In most audiophile’s books, that’s Rolls-Royce money well spent, because you are spending it on one of audio’s Rolls-Royce brands. Given the number of times the average Burmester owner changes his or her system, and given the life expectancy of each product, you are talking an investment of about £1,000 per year on your audio equipment. Seriously – this is the kind of audio system you buy once per lifetime, and this is the kind of system you could confidently use to see you through the rest of the 21st Century.

Technical Specifications

Burmester 089
Type: Single-box CD player/preamp
Transport: Phillips with belt drive
Sampling rates: 96kHz/24 bit – 192kHz/24 bit
Digital Inputs: 1 x optical (TOSLINK); 1 x RCA
Digital Outputs:1 x optical (TOSLINK); 1 x RCA
Analog Inputs:1 x XLR
Analog Outputs:1 x XLR (balanced)1 x RCA (Unbalanced); 1 x RCA (TAPE) (Unbalanced) with preset volume
Dimensions (WxHxD): 48.3 x 11.4 x 33.5 cm
Weight: 13 kg
Price: £13,783

Burmester 036
Type: Stereo power amplifier
Power Output: 170W into four ohms

Burmester 948
Type: Power conditioner
Active power amplification: 500W
Power outputs: Eight, 13A
Dimensions (WxHxD): 46.2x15.5x36.5cm
Weight: 17kg
Price: £5,273

Burmester B25
Type: Floorstanding loudspeaker
Driver Compliment: 1x 30x40mm AMT ribbon tweeter, 1x 130mm woven Kevlar midrange, 232x165 oval doped paper bass unit (side-firing)
Frequency response: 35Hz-45kHz
Sensitivity: 88dB
Impedance: four ohms
Dimensions (WxDxH): 20x98.2x35cm
Weight: 40kg
Finish: macassar gloss, Elsberry, silver laminate
Price: £6,735 per pair

Total System Cost: £31,989

Manufacturer: Burmester Audiosysteme GmbH
URL: www.burmester.de
Tel: +49 (0)30 78 79 68-0

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