Burson Audio HA160 Headphone Amp Review
The term audiophile was known only to a select few up until recently. This audio elitist mentality was only perceivable to those capable of funding their audio addiction with very impressive bank rolls. Even if you were going to purchase yourself a mid-fi set up you were still looking at a price tag in and around the 10k mark. Don’t confuse my syntax, hi-end audio has not gotten any cheaper, in fact high end audio is reaching prices never before seen until now. What I am referring to is audiophile grade products that are actually achievable for the average user. Personal audio technology has finally reached the heights of a high end floor model system, without the floor model price tag. For under $3000 you can achieve the same listening experience that the elitist audiophiles have been enjoying for years, and they paid a lot more than $3K for their setups. Headphone amps like the Burson Audio HA160 make it possible for almost anyone to achieve high end sound on a budget. Let’s check it out:
Provided by: Burson Audio
Specifications and Features:
- Input impedance: 47 KOhms
- Frequency response: 5Hz (-0.3dB) to 35 kHz (-1dB)
- Signal to noise ratio: >98dB at 0dB gain
- THD: <0.001% at 6mW/300 Ohms
- Channel separation: >70dB/10kHz
- Output power: 650mW/300 Ohms, 800mW/60 Ohms
- Output impedance: line out 60 Ohms, phones out 5 Ohms
- Power dissipation: <10W, internal, regulated power supply
- Dimensions: 180mm x 250mm x 80mm
- Connectors (audio): 2 x phone jacks 6.35mm
- 2 x gold plated RCA connectors with Teflon isolation
- Weight: app. 4.5 kg
- Colour: silver anodized aluminium
Listening to music is a very personal and life long adventure. We know!
The HA-160 is an uncompromising reference class headphone amplifier packed with Burson technologies, Burson refinement and Burson passion. It will cleanse your soul from the daily racket of life and make you fall in love with your collections all over again.
Most headphone amps are built with ICs (integrated circuitry). Listening to an IC based head amp is like trying to listen to a grand concert through a key-hole! With ICs you are missing out on the micro detail that makes music musical and the macro dynamic that makes our hearts beat with excitement. There is only one reason for an IC to appear in audio gear, and that is cost saving at the expense of music!
The HA-160 has been designed with no ICs within its circuitry. Our discrete (IC free) approach allows us to optimise our design and tune our machines to achieve the best in audio reproduction. The elimination of ICs has made the HA-160 far more superior to its IC based competitors – on all fronts.
In order to test the Burson Audio HA160 Headphone Amp properly I burned it in for 3 days straight. The reason for burning an electronic device in (especially an audio based products) is due to the inherent improvement of the product and to achieve the full potential of the product. Another reason for burning in products like amps is: after prolonged use you find out right away if there are any cold solder points on the amp pretty quickly and it does happen, especially with smaller companies that don’t have as much quality control as larger companies (not to say that mass products produces good product by any means). In order to burn in a audio device properly it is best (in my opinion) to rotate white, black, and what is sometimes called “red noise” every few hours at a medium volume then for shorter 1 hour bursts at medium high volume. Make sure your headphones can handle the burn in process because properly burned in headphone is just as important as burning in your amp (in fact more so).
I decided to test the monitor abilities of using the Burson Audio HA160’s with 2 sets of IEMs from Head-Direct. I chose audio tracks that I know quite well for having background noises that only really high-end amps have been able to pick out in the past. Yoyo Ma’s rendition of Beethoven prelude is an amazing track but because of the recording situation, with the right monitors, you can pick out little background noises and the clicking of the bow across the cello. Using just a standard iPhone or MP3 player doesn’t produce the right circumstances or audio quality to pick out these noises. I have been able to pick them out once before with the Hifiman EF2A Tube Amp. Even though this amp isn’t exactly considered “high end” I was very impressed with its performance even through USB DAC which personally I do not like but was impressed with this particular models take on it.
The Highfiman RE-252’s IEM’s are very impressive in ear monitors so the pairing of them with the HA160 was a match made in heaven for audio sampling and track mixing. This combo runs you about $900 give or take, and the end result is a very impressive audio editing set for a lot less than your standard monitor systems.
For straight listening I decided on the legendary Grado SR60’s, all be it one of the lower end in the Grado series, it is one of the most popular due to its cost performance ratio. I decided to work through a standard folk classical play list to test sibilance and mids; the performance was flawless. I know my play-list and I know where others have faltered; when it comes to folk most people scoff when I say it is one of the best tests for audio because it is seemingly monotone and the range doesn’t inherently shine through. The truth is (again in my opinion) spoken word is one of the best tests for the quality of audio monitors and mics; folk is the closest to spoken word next to jazz but it also combines the mids of acoustic guitar and the bass notes are usually much clearer than your average jazz or R and B song.
Now that I am done justifying I also choose folk; because folk is usually recorded in analogue and I wanted to test the analogue values of the Burson Audio HA160’s; in my opinion solid-state amps are horrible for analogue audio. Tube amps have always reined supreme when it comes to analogue sounds because solid-state has always been the king of digital. I will make a confession I am a tube amp enthusiast and always have been, being a guitar player I have always favored tube amps over solid-state and my musically trained ear has copied over into my personal audio setup choices. So as of right now I will say: I didn’t want to like the HA160 from the beginning and I feel like a traitor saying this: I love the HA160 like it was a tube amp. Somewhere between design and application the people at Burson made a tube quality solid-state amp. Whether it was the exclusion of the IC, or the design of their Opamp, somewhere in the mixed they made the best solid state amp I have ever heard.
I decided to also try some Rap on the Burson Audio HA160’s, even though rap is usually overproduced, muddied bass, with a ton of clipping, it does hit the bottom end of the spectrum I need to make an educated opinion. Don’t get me wrong I love rap music and always have but purely for listening pleasure rather than technical appreciation. The Burson Audio HA160 had no issue with low bass notes. Even at low volume the bass hits are prominent but not over powering.
So I figured this is a mainly a PC based site so I had to do some gaming and watch a movie I decided to stick with a Steelseries headset because most of you won’t be gaming with high end headphones. For both tests the Burson HA160’s made the overall experiences better than ever. I have an Asus Xonar Sound Card which Asus specifically designed with the Audiophile in mind and I must say the pairing of the Xonar and the Burson Audio HA160 are a fantastic match. The virtual Surround sound effect couple with the audio quality of the Burson audio made a magnificent gaming and movie watching experience.
Overall my opinion of the Burson Audio HA160 headphone amp is a surprising one, especially to myself. This is the first solid-state amp I have ever used that I truly loved equal to, or even more than my tube based amps. The clean power the unique philosophy and the discrete engineering of this amp make it more than just another Head Amp, this desktop amp is a thing of beauty and is easily the equivalent of amps that are twice its price. I do have a few things that are petty that I was a little concerned about. When changing the volume there is slight audio distortion and it seems that the 32ohm impedance headsets have a bit of an issue with overall loudness even at max settings (Creative Fatal1ty and Steel Series Siberia Neckband). This could just be the headsets themselves but even though it isn’t as loud as the other headphone I used the sound levels where well within nominal listening range it was just something I noticed during testing.
Would I recommend the HA160’s? For everyone, no, but if you love your audio and can’t afford the toys the big boys are playing with then Burson HA160’s are a great place to start. Even if you have a high-end audio system you are very proud of, I would still recommend adding a Burson Audio HA160 to your listening collection, you won’t be disappointed.
- Price to Quality Ratio
- Solid-State Power With Tube-Like Fidelity
- Discrete Non IC Philosophy
- Beautiful Aesthetics
- Great for Multiple Impedance Making it a Fantastic One Size Fits All Headphone Amp Pairing Choice
- Non Resonating Case Design
- Slight Audio Distortion When Adjusting Volume (Might Just Need Cleaning)