Its been a few years since I used a Burson Audio product for any length of time but this has always been a company that has earned my respect by offering outstanding products for good prices. We got the Burson Audio Playmate in for review and have been loving spending time using this excellent little desktop Amplifier and DAC combo.
A bit about the Burson Playmate. The Playmate is an interesting combined AMP and DAC unit designed to be used with your headphones. It comes in a number of options that are said to increase the performance and also the pricing. We have the entry level 5535 model of the Playmate in for review and that one has a RRP of $399 on the Burson website.
The Burson Audio Playmate - Technical Specs
The Playmate is made with some seriously high quality components, most of them you will see on products many, many times the price of this Amp/DAC unit.
Right at the heart of the Playmate is the much loved and lauded ESS9038 SABRE DAC. This is a top component and one that audiophiles and head-fiers around the world recognise as being one of the best sounding DAC’s on the market.
It has an incredibly high dynamic range of 140DB supports 32 bit and runs on 8 channels. DSD 512? No problem for this DAC
If you are someone who likes to roll their Op Amps the playmate will give you plenty of room for tinkering with four plug and play dip-8 sockets.
Build and Design
It really doesn’t get much simpler than this when it comes to the design of the Burson Playmate. There's no bells and whistles, there’s no flashy lights, there’s no oddly shaped body. Its just a simple black box.
The body is all metal and very well put together. its tough and built to last but its not exactly what I would call beautiful. Functional or industrial are perhaps better terms to describe the appearance.
The front consists of the jack points, a USB-C connection, a small screen and a volume pot. The back just ports. Its really nothing fancy but it gets the job done and just kind of blends in nicely when put on a desk.
The Playmate is a very simple device with a set purpose so it won’t have all the bells and whistles of my Oppo and Questyle Amp and DACs. Still for its use as a simple desktop headphone unit it is more than sufficient.
On the front of the Playmate is a quarter inch output jack and on the back is a Toslink and USB connector. The really cool addition for me though is the USB-C port on the front of the device which gives support for Apple and Android devices.
Finally there is a 3.5mm connector for an analogue microphone input that when hooked up to your PC can work well for gaming, podcast and dubbing.
The connections as I mentioned are simple but they provide a surprising amount of functionality and different ways to use the Playmate.
Multiple use Cases
The Burson Playmate is at its heart and audiophile Amp and DAC designed for listening to music and for that purpose it is unmatched at its price point.
However, over the past week I have found myself just leaving it hooked up to my PC tower at my office desk and using it as an external sound card its good and offers a massive bump over my PC’s outdated internals.
I'm somebody who likes to have a neutral uncoloured and unbiased source and then I choose my headphones or speakers to fit around that. It gives me a good base that lets me play with headphones and test their qualities based on their own tuning and untainted by the source components.
Every headphone that I have ever reviewed on this site has been tested on my O2 DAC and Amp from JDS Labs. Its transparent as hell and ruthless to boot. in many ways the Playmate is similar to that and is a colder presentation that is devoid of any coloration in its midrange. It's tight through the lows with no extra emphasis.
A lot of people talk about the Sabre shine and I agree that a lot of their DAC’s do lean this way. Personally I see it as a good thing but I do know that many people prefer a warmer and more intimate sounding DAC. It does however raise concern if your intention is to use it with top end heavy headphones and IEM’s, personally this would be too much as the treble runs to the hotter side (although not sibilant). The treble being as crisp as it is you would expect that to make for a large and airy soundstage yet the Playmate is not overtly wide or deep in its presentation. You don’t feel like it presents an out of head experience but its ability to image and place instrumentation accurately is excellent.
I was continually impressed at the definition that lay between different aspects of musical compositions. Even using 1812 overture as a reference point the full orchestra is easy to place and distinctly separate from one another.
The midrange is smooth, very clean and detailed but it is devoid of an overlaying warmth. This is when I think it can really shine with a slightly warm set of headphones like the Campfire Audio Cascade of Final Audio Sonorous VI. The cans bring the warmth while the Burson Playmate gives a accurate background from which the headphones can feed off.
The bass is noticeably absent. Well not absent but it is in no way bass enhanced. Again its very neutral and flat sounding and but is very well detailed and clearly defined.
Overall I really like the sound of the Playmate I find it to be extremely detailed and revealing of the source material. Choosing the right headphones to go with it is going to depend on what you are intending on doing. If its for sheer listening pelasure then something with a little warmth in the midrange and emphasis on the bass combined with the Playmate works beautifully. If it was for analytical listening then go with a neutral headphone. The only setup I see being not optimal would be if I was to use it with as set or treble happy headphones which thankfully I own not of anyway.
Considering this is the base model of the playmate series its clear to see that you get an awful lot of value for the money. The connectivity is perfectly in line with how I would use a device like this and I don’t feel like I am paying a premium for having connections and ports I would never use. If you want more fidelity then there is always the option of going further up the Playmate line with additional features but I think for the majority of people looking to step up to mid-fi AMP/DAC units this is an excellent purchase.