Founded in 1996, Burson Audio is one of those companies that has been here basically forever. I remember having their Conductor Virtuoso in 2016 for quite some time, and I really liked this little thing. I still remember the volume indicator in the form of little holes punched in the front panel, gently lighten up with led lights. This thing was crafted to perfection.
But, Burson Audio has always been legendary thanks to its Opamps. I’m not an engineer, I have never been into the whole DIY game, I’ve never modded or repaired any of my amplifiers myself. That’s why I have never tested their Opamps before, simply because I was scared if I’ll be able to do it on my own.
Fast forward to a couple of weeks back, when Burson Audio contacted me, asking if I’d be interested in reviewing their Opamps. I thought to myself – okay, this cannot be as scary as I always thought, let’s do it.
I decided not to read any reviews of any of Burson’s Opamps, to create my own opinion on whether this upgrade is really worth its heavy price tag. After playing with the V6 Vivid Dual and Single for a while with my Playmate 2, I can now give you my answer.
Why the heck is there an unboxing paragraph in an Opamp review? Well…apparently, it’s just the way I roll. Let’s get it out of the way, and it won’t be too long, trust me.
Both pairs come packed in a plastic box with some protective foam inside, to ensure that the Opamps are safe and that they won’t fly around that tiny plastic box. That’s literally it.
How To Install
Installing the Burson V6 Opamps is…as easy as it gets.
First, you have to unscrew four screws of your Playmate 2 – two top ones on the front, and two top ones on the back. Easy peasy.
After unscrewing these screws, you can now grab the upper lid of your Playmate 2 and lift it up easily. After doing that, you’ll be greeted by this view.
You can see four stock Opamps that came with your Playmate 2. Those are NE5532D Dual and NE5534 Single. Removing them is a rather easy task, all you have to do is to lift them…it’s best to use a small plastic thingy to you won’t damage anything with your fingers. You just lift them up, no soldering or desoldering needed.
After uninstalling the default Opamps, you have to put in these new, shiny V6 vivids. Installing them is even easier than uninstalling the old ones. Just grab them by their huge body, and press them gently into the socket. No rush, you don’t want to damage anything, trust me. Just make sure the pins and the sockets are aligned, and gently push them down. Boom, you’re done.
Oh, last thing – the orientation. Just see the picture below for reference. Opamps have these small indicators on one side, and it tells you which way to insert them. Trust me, once you’ll see it, you’ll know which way they go.
I’ll keep it simple. Instead of writing an essay about Opamps, I’m just going to paste what experts have to say, and by experts, I mean Burson Audio:
What’s Right About Discrete Circuits?
“Discrete circuits are custom built by Burson for specific applications rather than an op-amp’s jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none specifications. The art of circuit design yields superior sound in every way in comparison to simple plug-a-chip engineering. A system can only sound as good as its weakest link. All our products use thick, quality, temperature-stable printed circuit boards with high-purity copper traces and gold-plated soldering pads. And extra coating is applied to both sides of the PCB preventing oxidation. The boards are hand-built use high-spec metal-film resistors and other audio-grade parts using as few hand-matched components in the signal path as possible.”
What’s So Entirely Wrong With IC Op-Amps？
“There is a common misconception among audiophiles: That is an Integrated Operational Amplifier (IC Opamp) is equivalent or even superior to a discrete design. Nothing can be further from the truth! Restricted by the fabrication process and technological limitation an IC Opamp is an inferior substitute for a proper discrete design. An IC Opamp is entirely constructed on a single dice of a silicon wafer, which is smaller than a grain of rice. Limited by its size and heat dispersion, it is impossible to incorporate a top-quality audio transistor like the A970, or K170 which feature in the Burson Audio discrete design. During the construction of a discrete transistor, a chemical optimisation process takes place for each piece of silicon according to its application (NPN or PNP). This optimisation process is critical to the performance of the final product. Some of the benefits include:
optimized for breakdown voltage and performance
optimized for near-true complementary
But this process can not take place on an integrated circuit since all transistors are fabricated on the same piece of silicon. This is one of the major drawn back of an integrated circuit compare to a discrete circuit. All components on the silicone dice are formed by a droplet of chemical (very much like inkjet printer printing on paper). This fabrication process can not create parts like the 1% tolerant metal film resistor, or the super stable silver mica capacitor (please see table above to compare how discrete parts are different to their integrated substitute) Since they are all connected (hence integrated) they can not be individually tested and matched. In an IC opamp the conductor layer that connects all the parts is formed by a layer of aluminium vapour that is thinner than the water vapour left on foggy windscreen. This poor conductor is the silent killer to musical texture. The close proximity of components also poses a problem for audio signals, where that delicate signal that music lovers pursue, will be masked by EMI noise. In the end, the consumer is getting an opamp that is built with a bunch of second grade parts that is unable to yield the best results, connected via a thin layer of aluminium foil. An IC opamp is nothing more than a cost cutting substitute in audio application which we hate with a passion!”
Today, I’m reviewing V6 Vivid Opamps, but there are also the V6 Classic version. Here are two cents from Burson Audio about their differences:
“The V6 Vivid is dynamic, transparent and exciting. It is the V5 sound improved on all aspects. From its incredible dynamic range, three-dimensional soundstage to its ability to reproduce the finest micro details. It invites you to witness that moment of recording. Play Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me, and suddenly you are in the best seat in the house. Norah and her handsome band materialize vividly on stage and you are immersed in magic. The V6 Classic deviates further from its V5 foundation. With an entirely different output stage design, it is intimate, exquisite and very engaging. With the V6 Classic, Norah is asking you to come closer. She wrote the song for you and she is singing it to you. It was time to stop analyzing and start living in the moment. We love both equally, and we know fellow music enthusiasts will too.”
All of the above might sound great, but I know what are you here for – do they actually make a difference? We’re talking $230 for the whole set of Opamps for the Playmate 2, which is substantial when you’ll think that the Playmate 2 is retailing at $544.
So, long story short, is it worth getting the upgraded Opamps for your Playmate 2? Oh damn, yes it is.
If you’re curious about my opinion on the stock Playmate 2, click here to read its review.
Okay, I really don’t want this review to be overcomplicated. If you want science stuff, you’ve got plenty of places on the internet for that. Here, I want to tell you if this upgrade is worth it, and what are the differences in sound, so here it goes.
After changing the stock Opamps to the full set of V6 Vivids, I can easily say that the Playmate 2 sounds like an entirely different device, and actually a significantly better one. It just got so much more technically capable.
The detail retrieval and resolution are the easiest to spot right from the beginning. I would never call the Playmate 2 lacking in detail or resolution, but the V6 Vivids opened it up to an entirely different dimension. The whole frequency response got so much more insightful, snappy, textured, and detailed. If someone blindfolded me and said that I’m listening to something from Burson, I would have guessed that I’m listening to one of their higher models, such as the Conductor 3P. I have never heard it, and I’m not saying that the Playmate 2 with V6 Vivids sound like one. All I’m saying is that the upgrade is so significant that I wouldn’t have guessed that this is the same device.
Thanks to its upgraded technical capabilities, the Playmate 2 now plays in a different league. It’s not a well-priced, affordable AIO anymore, it got really serious.
What about the timbre? As I said in the review of the Playmate 2, it has that great, Class-A-like timbre that is thick, powerful, and melodic. The V6 Vivids transformed it into a slightly more neutral and technical-sounding device, but it’s rather cosmetic. Because of it, this is still a highly engaging unit that has beautiful vocal performance and a forgiving character. Everything just got clearer, cleaner, and snappier, without losing any of its magic.
Actually, the biggest difference is in the treble. It’s now even more textured, there’s literally zero grain and the amount of details is outstanding. Everything sounds natural, saturated, and incredibly clean, and it’s also more extended now. While the stock Playmate 2 has that smooth yet detailed treble performance, the upgraded one is crispier and better-controlled, while not being even so slightly harsh, never.
The vocals still have that magical timbre, but they are now more insightful and better defined, especially female ones. This is still the Playmate 2, but better in every aspect, and better by quite a lot.
So, there’s not even the slightest doubt that the V6 Vivid Opamps are a big upgrade for the Playmate 2, but the question is – is it actually worth it to invest near half of the original price for this upgrade?
Yes, I believe it is. The Playmate 2 is an incredibly built, beautiful little device that has a great timbre and is great for a “one and only device” on your desk. With V6 Opamps, it gets frighteningly good for the price, and it’s still a rather small, sexy-looking device that will get you covered with just about everything.
You can actually use the V6 Vivids with other devices as well. So if you’ll ever decide to go into a more high-end realm, these can stay with you and upgrade your new device as well. Because of that, you can actually think of them as a continuous upgrade to your HiFi setup, even if you’ll wander into more expensive stuff in the future. Burson Audio gives you a lifetime warranty for these, so they can actually grow old with you. Brilliant.
The V6 Vivid Opamps are by no means an affordable upgrade, but their sound quality is just incredible. I wasn’t expecting them to give me such an impact on the sound quality of my Playmate 2, as they easily transformed it into a much better sounding device immediately.
They are easy to install and handle, are covered with a lifetime warranty and you can actually use them to upgrade a lot of different devices on the market, so you can basically use them for many, many years and enjoy their remarkable quality. Having all that in mind, I’m going to say it…
It’s a steal.
Gear used during this review for the sake of comparison and as an accompanying equipment:
- Headphones – Hifiman Susvara, Meze Elite, Final D8000 Pro, Hifiman HE1000se, Audeze LCD-X 2021, Hifiman HE-R9, Hifiman Arya SE, Hifiman Edition XS, Fir XE6, Fir M5, Dunu Perpetua, Unique Melody MEST, Final A8000, Campfire Audio Solaris 2020
- Sources– Burson Playmate 2
Big thanks to Burson for providing the V6 Vivids for this review. I wasn’t paid or asked to say anything good or bad about this product, all of the above is just my personal, unbiased opinion. Burson hasn’t seen this review before publishing it.