The ESS9038 chip inside the playmate is the top of the line DAC chip from Esstech, one of the most renowned audio chip makers. It has 32-bit mobile audio DAC with unprecedented dynamic range and ultra-low distortion with both synchronous and asynchronous sample rate converters. With support for up to 768 kHz PCM and DSD256 the Playmate can handle anything you throw at it.
There are a handful of options with the playmate when it comes to op-amps. If you feel that you need to change the chip to extract even more out of your Playmate all you have to do is to head over here and get yourself their upgrade op-amp chips.
The Playmate with its flagship grade components delivers fantastic clarity and details with immaculate notes presentation. It is just right on the money. The tuning is exceptionally balanced with a bit of emphasis on vocals. The tonality and timber are as neutral as it gets, maybe a bit drier than expected. If you find the tonality is slightly on the metallic side you can try changing the filter, brickwall sounds dry and metallic while reserved is slightly less. Nevertheless the Playmate has a tendency to sound dry and a bit cold which will not pair well with certain kind of headphones and DACs.
The Playmate is fairly linear when it comes to bass response. It is not flat but is not very voluminous. The sub-bass have nice extension and the rumble is good if the track has plenty of it. The mid bass is slightly more voluminous and delivers fuller and meatier notes giving the lower end acceptable amount of weight. The decay speed is admirable for someone who likes more details, accuracy and precision over the heft. it is fast and leaves no bloating or wooliness even on a bass heavy track. The faster and more defined notes give the lower end very good resolution and clarity. What bothers a bit is the lack of body. It could have been a bit more fuller. The bass notes do not have a lot of body to them but have good amount texture. One can definitely pair with well balanced headphones like the Fischer audio M12s enjoy the delicacies with pin point accuracy but it is not much fun when trying to drive the bass inclined AKG K371.
Another point where it is slightly bothering is that the playmate doesn’t really respond a lot to DSPs. Nevertheless the amount of details delivered by the playmate is top notch.
The Burson Playmate is one of the cleanest, most transparent sounding DAC I have used before. It just delivers some of best clarity and details. It doesn’t try to bring extra smoothness in expense of bite or attack. Notes have fantastic definition and accuracy. The delivery is effortless and the imaging is exceptionally precise and very clean. The clarity and transparency along with a tad faster decay do make things slightly dry. Notes have good body, the finishing is accurate and with plenty of control over the notes. Notes have nice sharpness to them but are not very energetic or sibilant. The ability of details retrieval is outstanding, if your headphone is decent you will not miss a single details, even micro details have exceptional clarity and transparency. Paring the Playmate with something prone to sibilance might kill the cat.
Vocals have fantastic clarity and definition with plenty of texture and details. Let it be male or female vocals, both have very good depth and finish. Male vocals have nice throaty feel where female vocals have nice sharpness. The upper mid range has a hair less energy but the transparency and clarity is superlative. Notes have a bit of sharpness to their finishing but it doesn’t have any sibilance to worry about. Layering and separation of instruments is excellent. There is a lot of air and space between the instruments.
It would have been nice if it had a bit of fuller notes paired with slightly less sharp finishing.
After coming from mid range the treble region feels kind of dull. There isn’t much emphasis here, the energy is slightly lacking and the presentation is not as forward. It kind of feels like the instruments are playing at a greater distance compared to the mid range. The directional cues are not as vivid. Notes are good with sharpness but still not up there with the mid range. Details are very good but don’t come out with equally good enthusiasm. The treble extension is very good but the less than average stage size makes it sound clumsy and closed in. There is not much space or air here. It feels like it is fighting for air, doesn’t matter which headphone or earphone I use it doesn’t sound better than it is with the Creative E5.
The problem is not related to details or clarity but it is on the stage and energy. The stage could have been bigger, the instruments could have had better distribution.
When listening to the Playmate I tend to think what if it had a slightly bigger treble stage where the instruments have had better space and air between then. Things would have been even more impressive forgetting how the other sources perform. Compared to the Playmate none has bigger stage size. The mid range stage alone is big enough to subside each of them. It has fantastic air and space between instruments and the placement is very vivid. The expansion feels very natural with fantastic width, height and depth but the treble stage kind of makes the Playmate lose some points.
In general the stage size and the projection depend on the end equipment. The IEM and headphone does play a huge part but the playmate in general has good expansion outside the head. The Vocals are placed inside the head, mid range is half in half out while the treble is out of the head.