Not all of us are aware of Burson audio. They don’t push their products through fancy sellers and barely do much promotion on their own. But this is supposed to change as I have got a review unit from them. Hailing from Australia since 1996 their inception and they started their sales from 2005. Critically acclaimed by all the reviewers I personally hadn’t heard a lot of buzz about their products before I got a message from them Through Bhav. They make a lot of DACs and Amps and DAC/Amps but what I have here with me is the Playmate 2, the sequel to the Playmate.
Burson is an interesting brand, they have their own ways.
In their words:-
“Burson Audio is an Australian audio manufacturer making products with no op-amps and all discrete circuitry for a lavish musical experience.”
Head over here to know about their circuit design:-
The Playmate 2 I am reviewing here is a very versatile thing on its own. It is a 3w Class A desktop headphone amp and can be used as pre amp if you pair it with some other DAC. You can connect your mobile phone through an OTG data cable.
The Playmate uses the flagship ES9038 DAC chip and you can opt for two types of op-amps. The Basic NE5532 and NE5534 op-amps set costs $544 and comes in only one color, Black. The V6 Vivid set costs $744 and has two color options, Black and silver. (You can always choose yours from their sets available separately).
I would like to thank Bhav from Burson audio for the unit.
Check the Playmate out:-
I do not have a lot of DAC in the arsenal but I do have a two to compare the playmate with.
PACKAGING AND ACCESSORIES:-
The package of the Burson Playmate 2 is very good. It is nicely packed with proper padding to protect the DAC/Amp from any damages. All the cables are places inside a card board box.
The playmate 2 is nicely placed in the foam and inside the cardboard box one can find a Type-C to C USB cable and a power adapter, no RCA cable this time around.
With a dimension of 190mm x 150mm x 60mm the Playmate 2 is smaller than the original. Build quality of the Playmate is very solid, it feel dense and solid to the hand. It is kind of heavy at around 3kg but the weight is nicely distributed across the board. There are no loose parts on the body, all the bolts are tight and the Playmate feels very sturdy. The rubber shoes on the base of the playmate have very good traction and don’t let it slide easily. The new unified heat-sink outer design helps the Playmate 2 breathe better, even if it gets hot, it has better heat dissipation now.
The digital display on the playmate 2 is okay but could have been bigger. It is hard to see the letters clearly from a distance of around 4ft.
Another complain I have with the playmate 2 is that the volume knob doesn’t respond to every step, it doesn’t feel accurate as it needs extra steps to specially when moving the dial very fast, it doesn’t register every time. It nit picking but yes, it’s a small flaw but wasn’t rectified from the original which is kind of disappointing.
I like to take my music where ever I go so these heavy stuff seldom manage to seduce me but when on the PC these are the best things one can ask for. The playmate in fact is a complete setup with a flagship grade DAC chip and swappable op-amps. The good thing is these desktop things have plenty of power to handle heavy stuff like Planar and full size power hungry headphones. I have had a hard time finding a very demanding earphone as they are mostly designed to be power efficient and carried around.
I know most of us don’t use their AMPs for speakers but if you have a nice set of multi driver speakers, you should invest on a DAC amp to get the best out of them. The Playmate 2 has an impedance of 15ohm and it is on the easier side for a pre-amp, it preps the signal to be processed well by next stage while cutting out the noise and distortion. Smaller speakers have a lower impedance of just 4ohm and 8ohm but good quality speakers with multiple drivers will definitely respond better with refined source and more power.
Let’s move on to the output most of us are going to use, the 6.5mm headphone one. And the output impedance is just 2ohm which means it can drive nearly everything to without much problem except a few very efficient IEMs. (Just to be clear, please don’t but a desktop stuff for IEMs) I have tried a handful of headphones with the Playmate 2 and they respond with more agility and precision.
Moving to the power output the Playmate does 3.5w at 16ohm, 2.5w at 32 ohm, 600mw at 100ohm, 400mw at 150ohm and 150mw at 300ohm.
Burson Playmate 2 can virtually drive anything with a headphone jack that can be inserted in to its port, let be your LCD XC or HD800 the playmate can drive them with ease.
The decoding power of the SABRE ESS9038 is top class. It can do 768kHz up to 32bits and can play Native DSD 64 / 128 / 256 / 512 without any problem.
The Playmate 2 was available with more variations but as of now you can chose between basic NE5532/34 op-amps set, which I am reviewing the Playmate 2 with, and the more expensive V6 vivid. The V6 Vivid is fairly more expensive with a premium of $200 and it delivers better clarity that the basic one. I have the V6 Vivid with me and I will swap them to check the difference in sound. If you opt for the V6 vivid you will get a remote.
Here is my review of the V6 Op-amps.
OPERATIONS AND I/O OPTIONS:-
As I said earlier the Playmate 2 is very versatile. To use it with a win 7 PC it needs the driver which can be downloaded from here. You don’t need anything if you have win 10 or Apple system (I haven’t tried it with MAC OS).
Let me get the portable part out here, not really portable at all but somehow portable in the sense that you can use this with your mobile phone or audio source.
Connecting with USB:-
So.. How to do that? You set your mobile device’s USB output to audio out from developer options in some of the Android devices, if needed. (IOS doesn’t need anything but a simple lightening to type-c adapter) Get yourself a USB type-C to C cable, connect it and you are good. Now press the little button on the on the left side of the 6.5mm headphone jack to turn the device on. Now press the small button aside the volume knob. The first option is input, press the volume knob and dial it anticlockwise which is come down to USB and you are ready to go!! Yippee!! It’s not transportable but you can use your portable device with it.
PC use is similar, use a Type-C to A cable, connect any if you PC and Windows 10+ or IOS it doesn’t need any driver. The other input method is toslink, use it for a more Organic sound.
The only other connectivity option is the back RCA out to connect it as a pre-AMP. No RCA in this time aroud.
This time around the power button is a small round button placed at the bottom left corner. The operation is pretty basic. Press the small button aside the volume knob and you have the whole menu at your disposal. Rotate the knob clock wise to browse through the menu and press it to enter the menu, rotate it again to see the options and press in the option you feel you would like to choose. I have made a video to show you guys the menu.
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 P2 when it comes to op-amps. If you feel that you need to change the chip to extract even more out of it, all you have to do is to head over here and get yourself their upgrade op-amp chips.
The Playmate 2 with its flagship grade components delivers fantastic clarity and details with immaculate notes presentation which are clean and clear with excellent precision. It is just right on the money. The tuning is nicely balanced with no particular emphasis on anything but compared to the P1 the P2 has a bit more emphasis to the lower end and more evenly spread stage. The tonality and timber are a bit more on the musical side with better weight and body, the dry feeling is gone now. Of you find the notes to be on the forgiving side turn the emphasis off. Thanks to its versatile output capabilities P2 pairs well with a whole lot of headphones and IEMs with little tweaking.
P1 used to be dry and lifeless but the P2 is very much satisfying with the lower end delivery. It now has more punchy and weighty notes with fantastic rumble to them. Its capabilities can be told by the fact that, BQEYZ Autumn with its treble module delivers satisfying level of sub-bass rumble and extension with the P2, which is not the case with any other source. With sources like Micro sig it has the extension but the rumble wasn’t this good. P2 doesn’t tinker with the mid bass much, letting the IEMs maintains their natural body and weight but does help it tighten it up if it’s unnaturally loose. I do still find the decay not to be immediate with emphasis on, with its turned off the P2 gets more analytical with tighter and less voluminous lower end.
While the P1 was drier and mid focused with a bit of aggression in the finishing region, the P2 is fairly relaxed in this regard. It isn’t mid focused and notes have more appropriate body and formation. Unlike the P1 the P2 doesn’t take a large share of the stage but doesn’t miss out on details, precision, accuracy and clarity. While using the P2 I realized that I don’t need to use top end IEMs or headphones to perceive the resolution and definition of individual notes. The way it distinguishes each note and the texture on the body of vocal notes is special. Male vocals have accurate, throaty and fuller feel while the females have required amount of sharpness and aggression to them. Instruments around the vocals are slightly more energetic that the vocals but vocals have more body with a spacious feeling. The way the P2 defines the edges and bodies, especially with two notes of the same instruments is something special. There is no extra attack or energy, not even in the upper treble region. That’s how a DAC should operate.
I was expecting improvements from P1 and its here. This time around the treble region isn’t dull or lacking air. It has very good amount of emphasis and doesn’t lack with energy or extension. Instruments here are nicely in line with the mid range with even better depth and height. P2’s directional cues are as vivid as it gets but doesn’t have the dry and cold feel to them. Notes have accurate sharpness and definition. The contrast between back and foreground instruments are very good. It doesn’t put the background notes on the face, giving them a subtle feeling helps with its musical and technical department. Love the way the P2 defines the notes, its very accurate with the body as the base are as thick as they are supposed to be while the mid body isn’t thin while the finishing region has better sharpness and edge definition with excellent separation. Layering needless to mention is of the highest quality. I used a $7 IEM, TCL Elit200 and the resolution and definition I was able to extract out of it was exceptionally good. It patched the slightly laggy and frames dropping of this IEM in the treble region while bringing better extension. When paired with the BQEYZ Summer Its a pure pleasure. It brings out the best of it with excellent clarity and details.
Unlike the original the Playmate 2 has a much better distribution of instruments. The playmate had the mid range taking the majority share but here all the 3 parts of the spectrum give enough room and space to each other. The lower end is mostly placed inside ear while some the mids and highs do originate inside the ear but have most of the projection out of the head. Most of the treble notes are placed completely out of the head. I love the layered feeling here, if a note starts of move in an odd direction the notes around it make way for it, this is exceptionally cool, giving it one of the best imaging capabilities. Sonically too it has excelled. If you have a HP with big stage, this thing is seriously exciting.
Sound altering options:-
Not many reviewers will warn you about this but in the menu there is an option called “Emphasis”. When it is off the notes are sharp and have more than average bite and attack. The transparency is super high. The finishing on notes is sharp and pin pointed. The whole sound quality is tuned to deliver accuracy and precision. Turn it on you will be treated with more subdued notes, losing some attack and bite but plenty to enjoy it.
In the FirFilter Menu there is another option to reduce a hint of sharpness and that is Brickwall, it will deliver the sharpest notes and CMFR will reduce some sharpness. Your choice, choose what you like.
Playmate 2 supports headphones with MICs too. The socket is placed just aside the 6.5mm socket. Use it with for gaming, my brother does gaming on it and its good, it supports all the headphones with 3.5mm jack, even the wired IEMs we use with our mobiles phones can be used for gaming.
VS Micro Signature:-
The biggest difference here is the lack of balanced output with the Playmate 2. It has plenty of power nevertheless, so does the Micro Signature. Which one gets louder? I won’t test that, I don’t want to go deaf. Remember I do not have super demanding headphones..
Nevertheless the Micro signature is very similar to have the Playmate has to offer. Playmate 2 though has a bit better cleanliness, instruments have exceptionally good edge definition and the overall resolution is much superior. Overall P2 has better details, resolution and transparency. Stage size though is nearly 30% bigger on the Playmate 2. I do find the Micro Sig to have better control over power with its IE-Match and 3 step power output options to handle various head gears better.
When used with balanced out the Micro Sig delivers slightly better definition and space between instruments but still the stage is nearly 15% smaller than the P2.
V6 Vivid vs NE5532/34:
There isn’t a lot of difference here, the biggest one being the tonality and timber. While the NE set gets slightly more energetic notes and a bit more finishing definition with a bit of dry and cold feeling notes the V6 set provides a more musical and fuller notes. The stage is bigger by around 15% on the V6 SET and the energy is more even across the spectrum. NE set can feel a bit less forward in the vocals region, while the V6 has better uniformity.
Is it worth the upgrade? Yes, if you want the extra bit of musical feeling and stage. Or else if you can pair the NE version with a warmish headphone or IEM it delivers desired output.
If you are more of a purist and love to enjoy the technical bits you will love the Playmate to the core. It has the delicacies that you might not have experienced with this much of distinction. This time around the whole spectrum is marvelous. The transparency and clarity is exceptional and the level of details is outstanding.
The Playmate 2 is not for the casual user. If you like to be on the move, not much into headphones, you think you are an audiophile but don’t think you need a desktop setup, please stay away. The playmate 2 is heavier, immobile and even if it has friendlier connectivity options it’s hard to power it on the go, so if you are not into power hungry stuff, please don’t make yourself sweat unnecessarily.
This is a more mature and evolved sounding DAC/Amp compared to the original.